Monthly Archives: December 2013

Rules of Attraction

Impulsive people are less able to inhibit responses. Thus it seems likely that people struggling to maintain a proper weight also struggle to say “no” to tempting high-calorie foods like cake and candy. Is this impulsive nature only with food or also with other areas of life as well?

One interesting study from Maastricht University in the Netherlands looked at 87 females who were tested with general stimuli and also with food-related pictures. A higher body mass index (BMI) was linked more often with impulsivity with food-related photos. No real surprise there. But interestingly, there was no more impulsivity linked with general stimuli in those with higher BMIs.

The message?

The authors write: The implication is that weight loss interventions need to focus on decreasing food-specific impulsivity rather than on reducing general impulsivity.”



Why Stress Adds Pounds

Some of us gain weight when under stress.
It is a response far more complex than keeping our hands or mouths busy. One type of chronic stress called post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) elicits complicated hormonal developments.

Recently researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology  observed rats exposed to stressors and found increases in circulating ghrelin, a hormone which enhances appetite. Also, the MIT scientists found a link between ghrelin and growth hormone. Find the study here at Molecular Psychiatry journal.
What this means for us: our body will defend against trauma in various ways which can eventually be nefarious if extra pounds are an outcome. Our care model for PTSD must include prevention (weight management, cognitive therapy) as well as mental health treatments.

Can You Catch Obesity Like a Cold?

The human adenovirus 36 (Ad-36) is linked to increased fat in animals and humans.

A recent survey in Chilpancingo, Mexico of 75 children found more Ad-36 present in obese than normal weight children. The human adenovirus 36 (Ad-36) is linked to increased fat in animals and humans. A recent survey in Chilpancingo, Mexico of 75 children found more Ad-36 present in obese than normal weight children.

Other global studies concur:

  • Sweden: Earlier research in children saw that Ad-36 infection was linked with obesity.
  • United States: Antibodies to Ad-36 was higher in a population of obese children. In fact, it was associated with as much as 35-pound greater body weight.
  • South Korea: a group of obese schoolchildren, infected children had higher BMIs.

Infectious agents can be a contributor to the obesity epidemic. How does this happen?

Scientists think that Ad-36 infection increases preadipocytes as well as fat accumulation in mature fat cells. Obesity is caused by many things and infection should be considered as one more piece of this epidemic puzzle.



No Sleep Leads to Big Portions

Scientists publishing in December’s issue of Appetite journal compared portion sizes in young men after a night of sleep and after an entire night without sleep. The researchers from Sweden and the UK found that after total sleep deprivation, the men had raised ghrelin, the hormone that increases hunger. Indeed, the subjects chose larger portions than when they had gotten a regular night of sleep. The supersizing continued as they snacked throughout the day.

But even short sleeps will play havoc with hormones. In earlier experiments at another university setting, students limited to 4 hours for two nights, ghrelin levels increased and leptin levels decreased.

The increased appetite and probable weight gain which comes with short and disturbed sleep—or zero sleep as in the European evidence—may be manageable if it is random, such as studying for a big exam or New Year’s Eve. But for night shift workers, it presents serious challenges.

One solution is to defend against the greedy ghrelin and lazy leptin. How? Keep lots of low-calorie foods and snacks at the ready. Then when you start foraging at 5 AM, your kitchen will offer fruit salad, creamy yogurt, popcorn, favorite soups…anything but the ice cream and cookie trap. Plan ahead.


Eating Well on SNAP

One of six Americans subsists on food stamps, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). An individual receives about $4.30 a day, an amount that wouldn’t last long if a daily latte is part of the routine. But most lower income people aren’t regulars at Starbucks.

And as Mark Bittman wrote in his column in The New York Times: “The alternative to soda is water, and the alternative to junk food is not grass-fed beef and greens from a trendy farmers’ market, but anything other than junk food: rice, grains, pasta, beans, fresh vegetables, canned vegetables, frozen vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, bread, peanut butter, a thousand other things cooked at home—in almost every case a far superior alternative.”   

Brett Arends, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal recently put his $4.30 where his mouth is– by trying to eat nutritiously on that small amount.

First, he looked to peanut butter, eggs and legumes for protein instead of expensive meats and fish.

Then he added “whole-wheat pasta, brown rice, baked potatoes and sweet potatoes, and whole-wheat bread..” In the end, Arends reported that he ate well, felt healthy and even gained a few pounds. Read his story here.


Fixing Obesity is No SNAP

Food stamps or the SNAP program are the subject at many dinner tables these days in America and not just the 47 million receiving them.

Seems there are many stories to tell: a person whipping out a SNAP debit card to pay for pint-size cartons of Haagen Dazs ice cream—at $4 a pop–at the supermarket checkout; the family buying a pile of shrink-wrapped steaks; the carts filled with soda, potato chips and the litany of junk foods–all paid for by taxpayers.

The questions I hear break along two lines:  

  • Why is the government paying for premium ice cream and expensive steaks when those just above the cutoff must settle for budget options?
  • And why are we allowing sugary, fatty foods when obesity is epidemic, especially among SNAP recipients?

Limiting choice is too difficult –does a soda have more sugar than a sports drink?—as well as insulting, say defenders. The holes in this argument are clear: another federal program called Women, Infants and Children (WIC) tells recipients their grains must be whole and milk must be reduced-fat as well as allowing only a defined list of foods deemed nutritious. This solution would show immediate improvement in SNAP purchases. But powerful food lobbies fight this plan and so far are winning.  

Tina Rosenberg wrote an excellent analysis of this issue in The New York Times recently: “To Fight Obesity, a Carrot, and a Stick” is a conversation starter for all involved in public health and obesity issues.