Stanford Study: Inactivity, More Than Diet, Linked to Obesity Increase

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

New research from Stanford shows that physical activity — or lack thereof — may be a bigger driver of the obesity epidemic than diet is.

The rate of Americans reporting inactivity has skyrocketed.

The researchers looked at national survey results of people’s health habits — including diet and exercise — from 1988 to 2010. The stunner was the increase in people who reported no leisure-time physical activity.

In 1988, 19 percent of women were inactive. By 2010, that number had jumped to 52 percent. Continue reading

Should There Be a Ban on Using Food Stamps to Buy Soda?

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Banning the use of food stamps to purchase sodas and other sugary drinks could reduce both obesity and Type 2 diabetes rates, according to new research from the Stanford University School of Medicine.

‘Shift in policy could prevent 400,000 cases of obesity.’  
About one in seven Americans — more than 46 million people — currently receive food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Government surveys show that the average SNAP recipient drinks the equivalent of a little more than a can of soda a day.

Stanford researchers used two data sets, one on diet and another on price data for food, and then used simulations to estimate the effect of a ban on using SNAP funds to buy sugary beverages, including sodas and sports drinks, but excluding 100 percent fruit juices. Continue reading

Can Air Pollution Make Children Fat?

(Jeff Swenson/Getty Images)

(Jeff Swenson/Getty Images)

By Chris Richard

Studies have linked air pollution exposure, especially exposure to pollution from congested roadways, with serious health conditions ranging from asthma, to heart disease, to cancer, to low birth weight.

Now a research team at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine has received funding to investigate whether children living near busy roadways are more prone to obesity.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and the federal Environmental Protection Agency recently awarded $7.8 million to the medical school’s Southern California Children’s Environmental Health Center to fund research by over the next five years.

Scientists will conduct new studies and analyze existing data on whether and how roadway pollution may make children obese. They’ll also study metabolic abnormalities linked to air pollution from roads that might increase the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Continue reading

Study Finds Girls Entering Puberty Younger; Obesity Implicated

Retailer J.C. Penney features a Girls Plus clothing department tailored to overweight girls in this April, 2004 photo. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Retailer J.C. Penney features a Girls Plus clothing department tailored to overweight girls. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Building on earlier research a major new study has found that girls are starting puberty at even younger ages. The most significant changes were seen in Caucasian girls and in girls who are overweight or obese. Still, girls who were not overweight were also entering puberty younger, the study found.

Researchers at three sites around the country — including the San Francisco Bay Area — followed 1,239 ethnically diverse girls from 2004 to 2011. They looked at breast development, a key marker for the start of puberty.

Girls who mature earlier are at risk for lower self-esteem and higher rates of depression.
Earlier studies had shown that African-American girls had reached this milestone at younger ages. “Now it looks like it’s happening earlier for Caucasian girls,” said Dr. Louise Greenspan, a pediatric endocrinologist with Kaiser San Francisco and one of the authors of the study. “Particularly, the overweight Caucasian girls are developing earlier than they have in the past.”

Researchers looked at a number of factors, but the “obesity epidemic appears to be a prime driver in the decrease in age at onset of breast development,” the authors wrote.  Continue reading

Community Activists Work to Fight Obesity in the San Joaquin Valley

Farmworkers in Los Banos, CA. Many Central Valley farmworkers lack access to buy the produce they harvest. (Vinnee Tong/KQED)

Farmworkers in Los Banos, CA. Many Central Valley farmworkers lack access to buy the produce they harvest. (Vinnee Tong/KQED)


By Alice Daniel, California Healthline

The town of Ceres, near Modesto, is like many small towns in the San Joaquin Valley. The farmworkers who pick the fruits, nuts and vegetables or work in the canneries often don’t have convenient ways to buy the produce they harvest. The lower-income side of town doesn’t have a grocery store, but there’s plenty of fast food. Residents say the tap water is cloudy and smells funny. At the convenience store, bottled soda is cheaper than bottled water.

It’s a story that can be told time and again in the small towns and unincorporated areas that dot the eight counties that make up the San Joaquin Valley. It’s a story the advocates at the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Project, or CCROPP, are trying to rewrite.

“We are not your typical obesity prevention program,” said Brandie Banks-Bey, with CCROPP. “We focus our efforts on environmental and policy changes that support healthy eating.”

Partnerships Address Problems Regionally

CCROPP partners with community organizations and also trains local residents to become more civically engaged through programs such as Powerful People Building Leadership for Healthy Communities. Continue reading

Why Sleep Deprivation Makes You Crave Junk Food

People who are sleep deprived had changes in the brain that led them to crave high-calorie foods, study suggests. (Getty Images)

People who are sleep deprived had changes in the brain that led them to crave high-calorie foods, study suggests. (Getty Images)

Science has been pretty strong on connecting sleep deprivation to weight gain. Now a new study from UC Berkeley shows one reason might lie in the brain and how it is affected by sleep deprivation.

While the study was small — 23 people — it’s certainly intriguing. The recruits were monitored for two individual nights, a week apart. On one night, they got a normal night’s sleep (they slept 8.2 hours on average). On the other night, they were not allowed to sleep at all. After they had not slept, the study participants showed a much stronger preference for high-calorie foods, such as pizza and doughnuts, over more healthful choices like strawberries and carrots.

In addition, researchers, led by Matthew Walker, a UC Berkeley psychology professor, measured areas of the brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging. The preference for high-calorie foods among the sleep-deprived matched with greater activity in an area of the brain called the amygdala, which the authors say has been “strongly implicated in governing the motivation to eat.” At the same time, those who were sleep-deprived had “significantly reduced activity” in three areas of the brain that have to deal with decision-making. Continue reading

Yes, Even Pre-Schoolers at Risk of Obesity from Sugary Drinks

The pre-schoolers weren’t necessarily drinking soda. Kool-Aid also is a sugar-sweetened beverage. (Dimmerswitch/Flickr)

The pre-schoolers weren’t necessarily drinking soda. Kool-Aid also is a sugar-sweetened beverage. (Dimmerswitch/Flickr)

Adults have been studied; teens have been studied; other school-age children have been studied. And the evidence shows pretty conclusively that sugar-sweetened beverages are linked to increased risk of obesity.

But one group has not been studied so much: pre-school aged kids. In a major new study released today in the journal Pediatrics, researchers found that, yes, sugar-sweetened beverages also put such very young children at greater risk for obesity.

About one in 10 children drank one or more servings of sugar-sweetened beverages daily.
Specifically, researchers followed 9,600 children (in other words, a really big sample) from birth to age 5. It’s this kind of “longitudinal” approach that gives this study a great deal of research power. “We were more interested in looking at children over a period of time,” said lead author Mark DeBoer, in the department of pediatrics at the University of Virginia. He says they wanted to see whether those children who drank sugary drinks were more likely to gain an unhealthy amount of weight over those who didn’t. Continue reading

Food Deserts Not Strongly Connected to Obesity, Study Shows



A new study found “no strong evidence” that being within walking distance to food outlets was associated with being obese or not.

Researchers at UCLA and the Rand Corporation analyzed data from the California Health Interview Survey — nearly 100,000 people were included — and published their findings in Preventing Chronic Disease.

The L.A. Times picks up the story:

Given the attention to the idea of food deserts – areas with limited access to healthful food – and their effect on people’s health, the researchers wanted to find how much it mattered to have stores and restaurants within walking distance, which they defined as a mile from home.

But the number of fast-food outlets within three miles of home was associated with eating more fast food, fried potatoes and caloric soft drinks, and with less frequent consumption of produce, the researchers said. And they found that the number of large supermarkets within 1.5 miles and three miles of home was associated with drinking fewer caloric soft drinks.

Continue reading

Most Californians Support Soda Tax If It Benefits Children’s Health

 (La Piazza Pizzeria/Flickr)

(La Piazza Pizzeria/Flickr)

Just over three months since voters in two California cities — Richmond and El Monte — flatly turned down soda taxes, a new Field Poll released Thursday found a majority of California voters say they would support a soda tax if the funds raised were devoted to children’s health.

While only 40 percent of voters said they favor a sugar-sweetened beverage tax, that number jumped to 68 percent if the proceeds will benefit school nutrition and physical activity programs.

“Voters in general don’t trust taxes that aren’t earmarked. They prefer to see taxes linked to something beneficial,” said Dr. Tony Iton, senior vice president of The California Endowment, which sponsored the poll. “People that are engaged in constructing policy … should take heart in this poll and be able to look to it to construct subsequent measures for trying to engage the public support behind obesity prevention.”

Fully 75 percent of voters said they see a link between regular soda consumption and a person’s risk of being overweight or obese.
The Field Poll reported that support for such an earmarked tax was especially strong among Latinos (79 percent), Asian Americans (73 percent) and African Americans (70 percent).

“I think this poll shows that a campaign either statewide or locally in cities has an excellent chance,” Wendel Brunner, Contra Costa County’s director of public health, told the San Jose Mercury News.

But in the poll voters had the highest support — more than 80 percent — for increasing opportunities for being physically active, such as improved school sports fields and playgrounds — and keeping those facilities open after school and on weekends. Continue reading

Sex Doesn’t Burn Weight and 4 More Popular Myths About Dieting Debunked

Woman's feet on scale.

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

I don’t cover a lot of dieting stories here on State of Health. I figure you get enough of that elsewhere. For example, here are 88 million places I found by Googling “How can I lose 10 pounds?”

But I love evidence-based medicine. So when a group of respected researchers shatter widely-held beliefs about weight loss, I’m there. In Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine, a group of researchers does just that.

In the review, the researchers categorized as myths those “beliefs held to be true despite substantial refuting evidence.” In other words, people have been repeating these ideas for so long, everyone thinks they’re true. But they’re not.

So, here we go:

Myth #1: Small changes — eating less or exercising more — done over time will yield large weight loss.  This myth comes from the idea that a pound is equal to 3,500 calories. But the short-term studies that looked at burning 3,500 calories to lose one pound were done 50 years ago. More recent research shows that individuals will burn calories differently as they lose weight. So the 100 calories you’re burning in exercise today will affect your body differently than the 100 calories you burned, say 18 months ago, when you started these small changes. Note that it’s not to say that exercising more — or eating less — is pointless (you will see why later in this post).

Myth #2: If you lose a lot of weight really fast, you’ll just gain it back really fast; you’ll have better long-term results if you lose weight slowly. When researchers actually looked at the studies, they found “no significant difference” between the two approaches in relation to long-term weight loss. Continue reading