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High-fructose corn syrup

A sweet problem: Princeton researchers find that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain

by Hilary Parker       Posted March 22, 2010

A Princeton University research team has demonstrated that all sweeteners are not equal when it comes to weight gain: Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.

In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides. The researchers say the work sheds light on the factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States.

“Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn’t true, at least under the conditions of our tests,” said psychology professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction. “When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they’re becoming obese — every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don’t see this; they don’t all gain extra weight.”

In results published online Feb. 26 by the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, the researchers from the Department of Psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institutereported on two experiments investigating the link between the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup and obesity.

The first study showed that male rats given water sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup in addition to a standard diet of rat chow gained much more weight than male rats that received water sweetened with table sugar, or sucrose, in conjunction with the standard diet. The concentration of sugar in the sucrose solution was the same as is found in some commercial soft drinks, while the high-fructose corn syrup solution was half as concentrated as most sodas.

The second experiment — the first long-term study of the effects of high-fructose corn syrup consumption on obesity in lab animals — monitored weight gain, body fat and triglyceride levels in rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup over a period of six months. Compared to animals eating only rat chow, rats on a diet rich in high-fructose corn syrup showed characteristic signs of a dangerous condition known in humans as the metabolic syndrome, including abnormal weight gain, significant increases in circulating triglycerides and augmented fat deposition, especially visceral fat around the belly. Male rats in particular ballooned in size: Animals with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained 48 percent more weight than those eating a normal diet.

H F C S“These rats aren’t just getting fat; they’re demonstrating characteristics of obesity, including substantial increases in abdominal fat and circulating triglycerides,” said Princeton graduate student Miriam Bocarsly. “In humans, these same characteristics are known risk factors for high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer and diabetes.” In addition to Hoebel and Bocarsly, the research team included Princeton undergraduate Elyse Powell and visiting research associateNicole Avena, who was affiliated with Rockefeller University during the study and is now on the faculty at the University of Florida. The Princeton researchers note that they do not know yet why high-fructose corn syrup fed to rats in their study generated more triglycerides, and more body fat that resulted in obesity.

High-fructose corn syrup and sucrose are both compounds that contain the simple sugars fructose and glucose, but there at least two clear differences between them. First, sucrose is composed of equal amounts of the two simple sugars — it is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose — but the typical high-fructose corn syrup used in this study features a slightly imbalanced ratio, containing 55 percent fructose and 42 percent glucose. Larger sugar molecules called higher saccharides make up the remaining 3 percent of the sweetener. Second, as a result of the manufacturing process for high-fructose corn syrup, the fructose molecules in the sweetener are free and unbound, ready for absorption and utilization. In contrast, every fructose molecule in sucrose that comes from cane sugar or beet sugar is bound to a corresponding glucose molecule and must go through an extra metabolic step before it can be utilized.

This creates a fascinating puzzle. The rats in the Princeton study became obese by drinking high-fructose corn syrup, but not by drinking sucrose. The critical differences in appetite, metabolism and gene expression that underlie this phenomenon are yet to be discovered, but may relate to the fact that excess fructose is being metabolized to produce fat, while glucose is largely being processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles.

In the 40 years since the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup as a cost-effective sweetener in the American diet, rates of obesity in the U.S. have skyrocketed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1970, around 15 percent of the U.S. population met the definition for obesity; today, roughly one-third of the American adults are considered obese, the CDC reported. High-fructose corn syrup is found in a wide range of foods and beverages, including fruit juice, soda, cereal, bread, yogurt, ketchup and mayonnaise. On average, Americans consume 60 pounds of the sweetener per person every year.

“Our findings lend support to the theory that the excessive consumption of high-fructose corn syrup found in many beverages may be an important factor in the obesity epidemic,” Avena said.

The new research complements previous work led by Hoebel and Avena demonstrating that sucrose can be addictive, having effects on the brain similar to some drugs of abuse.

In the future, the team intends to explore how the animals respond to the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in conjunction with a high-fat diet — the equivalent of a typical fast-food meal containing a hamburger, fries and soda — and whether excessive high-fructose corn syrup consumption contributes to the diseases associated with obesity. Another step will be to study how fructose affects brain function in the control of appetite.

The research was supported by the U.S. Public Health Service.

source: princeton.edu


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High-fructose corn syrup

A sweet problem: Princeton researchers find that high-fructose corn syrup prompts considerably more weight gain

by Hilary Parker       Posted March 22, 2010

A Princeton University research team has demonstrated that all sweeteners are not equal when it comes to weight gain: Rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained significantly more weight than those with access to table sugar, even when their overall caloric intake was the same.

In addition to causing significant weight gain in lab animals, long-term consumption of high-fructose corn syrup also led to abnormal increases in body fat, especially in the abdomen, and a rise in circulating blood fats called triglycerides. The researchers say the work sheds light on the factors contributing to obesity trends in the United States.
“Some people have claimed that high-fructose corn syrup is no different than other sweeteners when it comes to weight gain and obesity, but our results make it clear that this just isn’t true, at least under the conditions of our tests,” said psychology professor Bart Hoebel, who specializes in the neuroscience of appetite, weight and sugar addiction. “When rats are drinking high-fructose corn syrup at levels well below those in soda pop, they’re becoming obese — every single one, across the board. Even when rats are fed a high-fat diet, you don’t see this; they don’t all gain extra weight.”

In results published online Feb. 26 by the journal Pharmacology, Biochemistry and Behavior, the researchers from the Department of Psychology and the Princeton Neuroscience Institute reported on two experiments investigating the link between the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup and obesity.

The first study showed that male rats given water sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup in addition to a standard diet of rat chow gained much more weight than male rats that received water sweetened with table sugar, or sucrose, in conjunction with the standard diet. The concentration of sugar in the sucrose solution was the same as is found in some commercial soft drinks, while the high-fructose corn syrup solution was half as concentrated as most sodas.

The second experiment — the first long-term study of the effects of high-fructose corn syrup consumption on obesity in lab animals — monitored weight gain, body fat and triglyceride levels in rats with access to high-fructose corn syrup over a period of six months. Compared to animals eating only rat chow, rats on a diet rich in high-fructose corn syrup showed characteristic signs of a dangerous condition known in humans as the metabolic syndrome, including abnormal weight gain, significant increases in circulating triglycerides and augmented fat deposition, especially visceral fat around the belly. Male rats in particular ballooned in size: Animals with access to high-fructose corn syrup gained 48 percent more weight than those eating a normal diet.
H F C S“These rats aren’t just getting fat; they’re demonstrating characteristics of obesity, including substantial increases in abdominal fat and circulating triglycerides,” said Princeton graduate student Miriam Bocarsly. “In humans, these same characteristics are known risk factors for high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, cancer and diabetes.” In addition to Hoebel and Bocarsly, the research team included Princeton undergraduate Elyse Powell and visiting research associateNicole Avena, who was affiliated with Rockefeller University during the study and is now on the faculty at the University of Florida. The Princeton researchers note that they do not know yet why high-fructose corn syrup fed to rats in their study generated more triglycerides, and more body fat that resulted in obesity.

High-fructose corn syrup and sucrose are both compounds that contain the simple sugars fructose and glucose, but there at least two clear differences between them. First, sucrose is composed of equal amounts of the two simple sugars — it is 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose — but the typical high-fructose corn syrup used in this study features a slightly imbalanced ratio, containing 55 percent fructose and 42 percent glucose. Larger sugar molecules called higher saccharides make up the remaining 3 percent of the sweetener. Second, as a result of the manufacturing process for high-fructose corn syrup, the fructose molecules in the sweetener are free and unbound, ready for absorption and utilization. In contrast, every fructose molecule in sucrose that comes from cane sugar or beet sugar is bound to a corresponding glucose molecule and must go through an extra metabolic step before it can be utilized.

This creates a fascinating puzzle. The rats in the Princeton study became obese by drinking high-fructose corn syrup, but not by drinking sucrose. The critical differences in appetite, metabolism and gene expression that underlie this phenomenon are yet to be discovered, but may relate to the fact that excess fructose is being metabolized to produce fat, while glucose is largely being processed for energy or stored as a carbohydrate, called glycogen, in the liver and muscles.

In the 40 years since the introduction of high-fructose corn syrup as a cost-effective sweetener in the American diet, rates of obesity in the U.S. have skyrocketed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 1970, around 15 percent of the U.S. population met the definition for obesity; today, roughly one-third of the American adults are considered obese, the CDC reported. High-fructose corn syrup is found in a wide range of foods and beverages, including fruit juice, soda, cereal, bread, yogurt, ketchup and mayonnaise. On average, Americans consume 60 pounds of the sweetener per person every year.

“Our findings lend support to the theory that the excessive consumption of high-fructose corn syrup found in many beverages may be an important factor in the obesity epidemic,” Avena said.

The new research complements previous work led by Hoebel and Avena demonstrating that sucrose can be addictive, having effects on the brain similar to some drugs of abuse.

In the future, the team intends to explore how the animals respond to the consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in conjunction with a high-fat diet — the equivalent of a typical fast-food meal containing a hamburger, fries and soda — and whether excessive high-fructose corn syrup consumption contributes to the diseases associated with obesity. Another step will be to study how fructose affects brain function in the control of appetite.

The research was supported by the U.S. Public Health Service.

source: princeton.edu


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Soft drinks: Public enemy No.1 in obesity fight?

By Caleb Hellerman, CNN
April 27, 2012 

(CNN) — Pushing her meal cart into the hospital room, a research assistant hands out tall glasses of reddish-pink liquid, along with a gentle warning: “Remember, you guys have to finish all your Kool-Aid.”

One by one, young volunteers chug down their drinks, each carefully calibrated to contain a mix of water, flavoring and a precisely calibrated solution of high fructose corn syrup: 55% fructose, 45% glucose.

The participants are part of an ongoing study run by Kimber Stanhope, a nutritional biologist at the University of California, Davis. Volunteers agree to spend several weeks as lab rats: their food carefully measured, their bodies subjected to a steady dose of scans and blood tests. At first, each volunteer receives meals with no added sugars. But then, the sweetened drinks start showing up.

For the final two weeks of the study, volunteers drank three of the sweet concoctions daily — about 500 calories of added sugar, or 25% of all calories for the adult women in the study. Within just two weeks, their blood chemistry was out of whack. In one striking change, the volunteers had elevated levels of LDL cholesterol, a risk factor for heart disease.

While force-feeding junk food may sound extreme, this controlled diet is not so far from the real world. A 20-ounce regular soda contains 227 calories, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). That single drink is more than 10% of the total calories an adult woman needs to maintain a healthy weight, according to USDA diet guidelines. Meanwhile, about 1 in 4 Americans gets at least 200 calories a day from sugary drinks. These numbers, along with work like Stanhope’s, gives ammunition to doctors and public health officials who say soda should be treated as public health enemy No. 1.

“Soft drinks and sugar-containing beverages are the low hanging fruit in public health today,” says Dr. David Ludwig, director of the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center, at Children’s Hospital in Boston. “Many children are consuming 300 calories per day or more, just in sugar-containing beverages. Compare the challenge of giving up three glasses of sugary beverages, versus getting them to do two hours of moderate physical activity.”

“If you switch from Coke to water, that’s easy,” says Elizabeth Mayer-Davis, a professor at the University of North Carolina and a recent president of the American Diabetes Association. “You don’t have to make big complicated changes in how you cook, and shop, and all that. And the number of calories you can save, can be substantial.”

Some in the soft drink business say their product has been unfairly singled out. “Consumption of added sugars is going down,” says Karen Hanretty, Vice-President of Public Affairs for the American Beverage Association. “Soda consumption has declined, even as obesity has increased. To say that sugar is solely responsible for obesity, doesn’t make sense.”

Coca-Cola has adapted to meet consumer demand, says Rhona Applebaum, the company’s Vice President and Chief Scientific Regulatory Officer. More than ever, she says, those consumers choose low-sugar products. Today, Diet Coke and Coke Zero make up 41% of Coke’s North American soda sales, up from 32% a decade ago. “Our products are part of a balanced, sensible diet, and they can be enjoyed as a valuable part of any meal, including snacks,” says Applebaum.

Buried in the flood of horror stories about America’s obesity crisis, are a few hopeful signs. Not only is sugar consumption going down, but obesity rates among girls and women have actually stayed flat since 1999, according to Cynthia Ogden, a scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For boys and men, those levels have increased only modestly since around 2006, Ogden says.

Coincidentally or not, the leveling off of obesity coincides with a drop in the amount of soda that Americans consume. Consumption of soda — both regular and diet — has fallen by 17.3% since 1998, according to Beverage Digest.

Of course soda isn’t the only concern. An 8-ounce glass of fruit punch or apple juice has nearly 130 calories. The same glass of chocolate milk has more than 200 — a solid 20 percent of all recommended daily calories. Overall, added sugars — which includes both natural sugar, and high fructose corn syrup — make up about a sixth of all calories taken in, according to USDA figures. Somewhat more than a third of those sugars come from soda and other drinks.

That’s why most people who take a hard look at American diets say that cutting out sweetened drinks, is the first step for anyone struggling with weight or diabetes.

“If we create the assumption that doing one thing will reduce the epidemic [of obesity], we’re making a mistake,” says Dr. William Dietz, director of the CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. “But within the dietary side, we have to focus on where the biggest action is.”

The action, says Dietz and others, lies with sugar and its close cousin, high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Most sweet drinks, including nearly all soda in the United States, use HFCS.

Not everyone agrees they’re equivalent. While most studies show that table sugar and HFCS play an equal role in weight gain, some research suggests that HFCS — which usually contains 10% more fructose than sucrose — is more likely to change the body’s metabolism, in ways that can increase risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

But most scientists say the differences are subtle. That includes even Stanhope, whose work has focused on comparing the effects of fructose and other sugars. In terms of advising patients or making public health policy, she says, there isn’t much difference. “I think we really, at this point, need to treat them all alike.”

“Are sweetened drinks the only reason we have epidemics of obesity and diabetes? No, they’re not,” says Mayer-Davis, the past ADA president. “But sometimes the easy answer, is the answer.”

source: CNN


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Dieters in Weight Watchers study drop up to 15 pounds in a year

By Amanda MacMillan
January 4, 2012


(Health.com) — Overweight and obese adults who followed the Weight Watchers program lost more than twice as much weight as those who received weight-loss advice from a doctor or nurse, according to a new yearlong study funded by the company.

The study, which was published Wednesday in the Lancet, included 772 men and women in Australia, Germany, and the United Kingdom who were recruited during ordinary doctor’s appointments. The researchers randomly selected about half of the participants to receive a free 12-month Weight Watchers membership (including access to weekly meetings), and encouraged the other half to attend monthly one-on-one weight-management sessions at their doctor’s office.

The 61% of Weight Watchers users who stuck with the program for a full year lost 15 pounds, on average, compared with 7 pounds among the 54% of people in the other group who continued to visit their doctors each month. When the researchers included the people who dropped out of either program before the year was up, the average weight loss was lower but followed the same pattern: 11 pounds in the Weight Watchers group and 5 pounds in the other group.


Michael Jensen, M.D., an endocrinologist at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, says it’s only natural that the weekly weigh-ins and “group spirit” of programs such as Weight Watchers would prove more effective than occasional guidance from a doctor or nurse, since research has shown that dieters are more likely to stick with weight-loss programs that stress accountability.

“It’s not terribly surprising that a group whose whole career is basically helping people with weight management would do a better job than a primary-care group that has a lot more responsibilities on top of that,” says Jensen, who was not involved in the study.

Similar studies of other commercial weight-loss systems, such as Jenny Craig and prepackaged food programs, have produced comparable results in the past. In a 2010 study funded by Jenny Craig and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, for instance, women who completed one year of the program lost about 20 pounds, three or four times more than women who received occasional advice from a nutritionist.

Still, the authors of the new study say they were surprised by how dedicated the Weight Watchers participants were—they attended three meetings a month, on average—and by how much weight they actually lost.

“I don’t think we could have predicted that people randomly allocated to Weight Watchers by their doctor—rather than choosing to attend of their own accord, which would give a selected group of probably more motivated people—would lose significantly more weight,” says lead author Susan Jebb, Ph.D., a diet and population health researcher at the UK Medical Research Council, in Cambridge.

People may be more likely to stick with a program like Weight Watchers when they’re participating free of charge, however. The cost of Weight Watchers can run as high as $500 per year, a price tag that could sap the motivation of real-world dieters who are paying out of pocket. At the same time, Jensen says, it’s possible that some people paying out pocket might be less likely to drop the program because they’d feel obligated to get their money’s worth.

The study participants had a body mass index (BMI) between 27 and 35 and at least one additional risk factor for obesity-related disease, such as excess belly fat or a family history of diabetes. (People with a BMI over 25 and 30 are considered overweight and obese, respectively. A 5-foot, 6-inch woman with a BMI of 27 weighs 167 pounds.)

People in the Weight Watchers group were three times more likely than the other participants to lose 10% or more of their initial body weight. And nearly two-thirds of the Weight Watchers users lost 5% or more of their body weight, versus one-third in the other group.

“Those really are medically very significant numbers,” Jensen says. “For overweight or obese people, that kind of loss results in pretty substantial improvements in health and disease risk—to the point where, if you’re on medication for blood pressure or cholesterol or diabetes and you can [lose] 10% of your weight, you’ve got at least a reasonable chance of decreasing or discontinuing that medication.”

Jebb and her colleagues say that partnerships between primary care physicians and commercial weight-loss programs like Weight Watchers could be an effective and inexpensive way to treat certain people who struggle to maintain a healthy weight.

A cost-benefit analysis will be needed to determine whether doctors should recommend such programs to their patients more often, and which patients might benefit the most, Jebb says. But, she adds, the programs appear to be promising and may be more cost-effective than one-on-one doctor’s appointments, not to mention untreated obesity complications.
Although Weight Watchers sponsored the study, Jebb stresses that the company had no control over the design or results. “Our research contract included a clause to allow us the right to publish the data regardless of the outcome,” she says.



source: cnn.com


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Can Food Really Be Addictive?

Yes, Says National Drug Expert

Compare the proportion of obese people in America to those who are addicted to drugs and then try to argue that food isn’t as addictive as crack cocaine, says Dr. Nora Volkow, the director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

By MAIA SZALAVITZ April 5, 2012

Can food really be as addictive as drugs? In an impassioned lecture at Rockefeller University on Wednesday, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, made the case that the answer is yes and that understanding the commonalities between food and drug addictions could offer insights into all types of compulsive behavior.

Volkow began by acknowledging that the idea is controversial. “This is a concept that is rejected by many people,” she said. “It has polarized the [addictions] field.”

Many experts dismiss food as an addictive substance because it doesn’t lead to most people behaving like addicts — compulsively seeking food despite negative consequences. So, the reasoning goes, food can’t be as addictive as a drug like crack cocaine.

What that fails to recognize, however, is that crack cocaine itself isn’t as addictive as is commonly believed. “If you look at people who take drugs, the majority are not addicted,” Volkow said. Indeed, even for drugs like crack and heroin, fewer than 20% of users become addicted.

In contrast, if you look at the proportion of people who are currently obese — some 34% of adults over 20 — it’s a significantly larger group. Add in those who are overweight, and fully two-thirds of Americans clearly have significant difficulties controlling their food intake. So, measured by the proportion of those who behave in health-risking ways with each substance, food could actually be considered several times more “addictive” than crack.

Volkow went on to describe the common dysfunctions in the areas of the brain involved in pleasure and self-control that are seen in both food and drug addictions. These systems rely on the neurotransmitter dopamine; in both drug addictions and obesity, reductions in the number of dopamine D2 receptors are common.

In brain areas associated with self-control, the loss of D2 receptors is linked with a weaker ability to resist temptation. In regions that process pleasure, a reduction in receptors is associated with diminished enjoyment of food or drugs. “You can create animals that do not produce dopamine,” said Volkow. “They die of starvation. They don’t eat. It’s as dramatic as that.”

Drugs were once thought to be uniquely addictive because of their outsized effect on the brain: they can raise dopamine levels far higher than natural experiences like sex and food, at least in the lab. This was believed to create chemical imbalances that the brain isn’t equipped to regulate.

However, many argue that the modern food environment, a universe of plenty that has been engineered to deliver as much sugar and fat as cheaply as possible — certainly a stark contrast to the feast-or-famine circumstances in which humans evolved — may have actually created a similar imbalance.

To illustrate the point, Volkow summarized the research on the hormone leptin, a key player in humans’ feelings of hunger and satiety. Leptin, which is released by fat cells, helps regulate appetite by telling the brain, “We’re full, stop eating.” Normally, when leptin levels are high, food becomes less attractive. Our old friends, the D2 receptors, seem to be involved here: leptin reduces their activity. Obese people, however, lose their sensitivity to leptin, meaning that the hormone is no longer able to signal effectively, “That’s enough.”

There’s some evidence that leptin also plays a role in substance addictions. “In animal models, we know that leptin modifies the rewarding effects of alcohol and possibly cocaine,” Volkow told me. “In obesity, there is leptin tolerance but we do not know if there are changes in leptin sensitivity associated with drug addiction [in humans].”

One key difference between food and drug addictions is that when it comes to eating, both the body and the brain can send signals about whether the stomach is full and no more food is needed, or whether blood sugar is low and hunger should kick in. But with drugs, while such signaling hormones as leptin may have some influence, there are no similar bodily signals of being “full.”

Basically, regulation of food intake is more complex than drug use. That may help explain why there have been so many failures of anti-obesity drugs. But the similarities between hunger for food and for drugs suggest that if we do develop a drug that fights obesity, it may also help treat other addictions — and vice versa.

While the is-food-addictive debate shows no signs of ending, the label itself may not be that important. What matters most is finding ways to adapt our brains and behavior to the modern environment, one that contains intensely attractive food and drugs — along with highly politicized arguments about how to regulate them.

Volkow’s lecture was sponsored by the PATH Foundation, a nonprofit brain research organization in New York City, and was attended by Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) as well as by the former Democratic New York governor David Patterson. (His predecessor, Republican George Pataki, was also scheduled to attend, but couldn’t make it at the last minute.)

In his introduction of Volkow on Wednesday, PATH Foundation head Dr. Eric Braverman noted that the need for action is urgent. The best predictors of quality of life and longevity, he said, involve the amount of fat stored in people’s bodies — and more is not better.

Maia Szalavitz is a health writer at TIME.com


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Parents Should Lead By Example in Weight Loss, Study Finds

THURSDAY, March 22 (HealthDay News) — Losing weight themselves is the best way for parents to help their children shed excess pounds, new research suggests.

The study included 80 parent-child sets with an overweight or obese 8- to 12-year-old. The participants took part in a parent-only or parent/child treatment program for five months.

The researchers assessed the effectiveness of three types of parenting skills taught in the family-based treatment programs for childhood obesity. The skills included: leading by example, or parents who took steps to lose weight themselves; changing the home food environment; and parenting style, such as encouraging the child to take part in the weight-loss program or helping limit what the child ate.

As in previous studies, this one found that parents’ weight loss was the only significant predictor of children’s weight loss.

“The No. 1 way in which parents can help an obese child lose weight? Lose weight themselves,” Kerri Boutelle, an associate professor of pediatrics and psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, said in a UCSD Health Sciences news release. “In this study, it was the most important predictor of child weight loss.”

The findings were published online in the journal Obesity.

“Parents are the most significant people in a child’s environment, serving as the first and most important teachers,” said Boutelle, who is also head of the eating disorders behavioral treatment program at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego. “They play a significant role in any weight-loss program for children, and this study confirms the importance of their example in establishing healthy eating and exercise behaviors for their kids.”

About 31 percent of children in the United States — between 4 million and 5 million kids — are overweight or obese, according to recent data.

— Robert Preidt

2012 HealthDay

SOURCE: University of California, San Diego Health Sciences, news release, March 14, 2012


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Work Burnout Tied to Emotional Eating

Mon Mar 12, 2012

(Reuters Health) – Women who are fed up with their jobs may be more likely to turn to food for comfort in times of stress, a new study suggests.

The study, which followed 230 Finnish women, found that those who reported work burnout were also more likely to have a habit of emotional” eating — that is, eating when you’re stressed, anxious or down, rather than just hungry.

What’s more, they were more prone to uncontrolled” eating, the feeling that you’re always hungry or can’t stop eating until all the food’s gone.

The findings, reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, are not surprising, said Sherry Pagoto, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and a clinician at the university’s Weight Center.

It’s all connected to stress,” said Pagoto, who was not involved in the study.

Work permeates our lives,” she noted in an interview. And when people have a source of chronic stress, it can sometimes lead to emotional eating and problems with weight control.

People may be in a job where they’re unhappy, or a marriage where they’re unhappy, and eating can become one of the few pleasures in their lives,” said Pagoto.

So, she said, it’s not surprising that burnout — feeling overwhelmed at work, or feeling that your work has no meaning — would be related to emotional eating.

But this study is the first to show that this is true, according to the researchers, led by Nina J. Nevanpera of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health in Oulu.

The findings are based on 230 women ages 30 to 55 who were part of a clinical trial looking at healthy lifestyle changes. All were employed, and at the start of the trial they completed surveys on job burnout and eating habits.

Overall, 22 percent of the women had some degree of work burnout, according to Nevanpera’s team. And as a group, they scored higher on measures of emotional eating and uncontrolled eating.

On top of that, women who did not have job burnout at the study’s start tended to cut down on uncontrolled eating over one year. But, on average, the burnout group failed to make that change.

There was no obvious effect of burnout on the women’s weight, however. At the outset, half of the women reporting work burnout were normal weight — compared with a third of women reporting no burnout.

It is true that based on this study we can’t say that occupational burnout is associated with higher weight,” Nevanpera, the study’s lead researcher, told Reuters Health in an email.

One reason might be education, she noted. Women with work burnout generally had a higher education level, and education, in turn, was linked to lower weight.

Still, Nevanpera said, emotional eating is a potential risk factor for becoming heavy in the future. And it’s not a particularly healthy habit, she pointed out, since stressed-out people are more likely to reach for chocolate or fast food than an apple.

I agree that addressing sources of stress, in general, is important,” Pagoto said.

If you have a big stressor in your life,” she noted, you may have a lot of trouble losing weight, and keeping it off.”

And even if a person isn’t overweight, Pagoto said, emotional eating is still not a good idea. It’s reinforcing a habit that’s not healthy,” she said. If you reach for food to deal with an emotion, Pagoto said, you’re sending yourself the message, ‘I can’t handle this.'”

If you do tend to eat to deal with work stress, Pagoto suggested keeping your desk clear of snacks — or at least stocking up on healthy ones — and avoiding any workplace vending machines.

And when stress arises, choose other ways of managing it, like going outside for a walk. People often skip exercise when they feel stressed out, Pagoto noted. But that’s a mistake, she said, because exercise is the biggest antidote to stress.”

SOURCE: bit.ly/yeSCiv American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, online February 29, 2012. Reuters.com


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Can Mindfulness Curb Restaurant Overeating?

By Anne Harding

MONDAY, January 9, 2012 (Health.com) — Supersized portions and high-calorie dishes in restaurants are often blamed for contributing to America’s obesity epidemic, and for good reason. People tend to carry more body fat if they eat out frequently, and they tend to consume more calories and fat in restaurants than they do when eating at home, studies suggest.

Eating 200 or 300 extra calories in a restaurant once or twice a week may not seem like a big deal, but those calories can add up. “The restaurant is a high-risk food environment,” says Gayle Timmerman, PhD, a nursing professor at The University of Texas at Austin who studies eating patterns. “There’s a pretty good chance if you eat out frequently you’re likely to gain weight over time.”

How can people fend off these extra calories? We can stay away from restaurants altogether, of course, but for most of us that’s not a viable—or particularly appealing—option. A small new study, led by Timmerman and published this week in the Journal of Nutrition and Education Behavior, offers another potential strategy: mindful eating, a series of dining techniques that stress close attention to the enjoyment of eating and feelings of hunger and fullness.

The study included 35 middle-aged women who ate out at least three times per week and ranged in body size from slim to morbidly obese. (Roughly 30% of the women were dieting when they enrolled in the study, and another 23% were actively trying to maintain their weight.) The researchers randomly selected about half of the women to serve as a control group, and assigned the other half to a six-week mindful eating program.

The program consisted of weekly two-hour sessions in which an instructor taught the women how to limit overeating and make healthy food choices in different settings—choosing steamed rice instead of fried in Chinese restaurants, for example, or black beans instead of refried in Mexican restaurants. Then, at the end of each session, the women completed a mindful eating exercise, such as focusing on their feelings of hunger while eating cheese and crackers, or on their sensations of fullness while eating chocolate.

At the end of the program, the women were eating in restaurants (or ordering takeout) just as often as they had before—nearly six times a week, on average. Yet they’d lost an average of 3.75 pounds and were eating about 300 fewer calories per day. (Weight and calorie intake didn’t change in the control group.) What’s more, restaurant meals accounted for just 124 of those daily calories, suggesting that the participants were eating less at home, too.

Susan Albers, Psy.D., a psychologist at the Cleveland Clinic and the author of Eating Mindfully, isn’t surprised that changes in eating behavior seemed to carry over from restaurants into the home, since she’s seen a similar transformation after teaching her patients mindful eating techniques. “Once you’ve learned mindful eating skills, you tend to use them whether you are eating at your own kitchen table or at a five-star restaurant,” she says.

Mindful eating is an offshoot of “mindfulness,” a meditative frame of mind that involves practicing a concentrated, nonjudgmental awareness of one’s body and thoughts. Mindfulness belongs to the Buddhist tradition and has more recently been applied to Western psychology, stress and pain management, and the treatment of depression and anxiety.

When applied to eating, mindfulness is intended to correct Americans’ tendency to eat too fast, often while doing something else at the same time (such as watching TV). Not only do people tend to eat more when they’re not paying attention, but some evidence suggests that we even digest food less effectively.

“In general, we’ve lost the art of savoring food,” says Albers, who did not participate in Timmerman’s study. “We can eat an entire plate of food and not taste one bite. Mindful eating skills teach you how to eat less but enjoy it more.”

Although the rationale behind mindful eating makes intuitive sense, only a handful of small trials have tested whether the approach is effective for weight management. And Timmerman’s study, despite the promising results, is itself merely a pilot study that will need to be expanded and strengthened to confirm the benefits of mindful eating in restaurants.

A major shortcoming of the study is the fact that the women in the control group received no intervention at all and were simply put on a waiting list, says Barbara J. Rolls, PhD, a professor of nutritional sciences at Pennsylvania State University, in State College.

“Previous research shows that simply spending time with the [instructor] can affect the outcome, so it is important to match ‘face’ time,” Rolls says. A thorough test of Timmerman’s six-week program would entail comparing the effectiveness of the mindful eating sessions with a similar number of general nutrition sessions, as well as observing “what the patients did in the restaurants,” she says.

Timmerman is planning a larger follow-up study that will incorporate a more active control group. In the meantime, some of the principles that underlie her mindful eating program may be useful for people who are trying to manage their weight but aren’t willing to forgo nights out. Here are some tips to try on your own:

Think twice before ordering. People can fall into a rut of eating the same dishes at the same restaurant, or they may say yes without thinking if a waitress suggests an appetizer, Albers says. Mindful eating involves “breaking those autopilot habits that we have around eating,” she says.

Make each calorie count. Think about what you really love to eat, and save your calorie budget to spend on those foods, Timmerman advises. “Does that cheese on the burger really make it for you? If not, that’s about a hundred calories,” she says.

On the side, please. Gravy, salad dressing, butter—if you can ask for something on the side, do it. “Then you have control of how much…you really need or want on there,” Timmerman says.

Think before you eat. Before you dig in, take a moment to ask yourself how hungry you are on a scale of 1 to 10, and how that hunger matches up with what you’ve got in front of you. Remember, you don’t have to clear your plate.

Pay attention. “When you’re eating, really be aware of…the sight and the texture and the taste of food,” Timmerman says. “We go out to eat because it’s enjoyable, it’s pleasurable, it tastes good—all of that. If you’re really paying attention, maybe you don’t have to eat the whole basket of fries; you can eat just a handful.”

Slow down. It can take our bodies up to 20 minutes to register the fact that we’re full—and during that time we’re often continuing to stuff ourselves. Proponents of mindful eating recommend taking your time, chewing your food carefully, and treating a meal as a leisurely stroll rather than a race.

Drop the fork. While you’re eating, put your fork down for a moment and assess how you’re feeling. “We get into such a habit of picking up the fork and putting food in our mouths, without even checking in with ourselves to see, ‘Am I still hungry, or am I full?’” Albers says.

source: Health.com