Saturday, March 6, 2010
Being at risk for developing heart disease or having a stroke was once something only adults had to worry about. But now children are being added to the meld, many of them as young as three years old. In fact, a recent study found that about twice as many obese 3-to-5-year old children had elevated levels of C-reactive protein (CRP)—an inflammatory marker that experts say has been shown to predict the risk of heart disease, stroke and death under certain conditions—compared to those at healthy weights. And that difference grew to more than four times the frequency in teenagers from 15 to 17 years old.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of North Carolina, involved 16,000 children and adolescents aged 1 to 17; nearly 70 percent of which were a healthy weight, 15 percent were overweight, 11 percent were obese, and 3.5 percent were severely obese. Overall, 40 percent of obese children aged 3-5 had increased levels of CRP, compared with 17 percent of those at healthy weights. By age 15-17, 83 percent of the severely obese had increased levels of CRP, compared with 18 percent of the healthy weight adolescents.
High levels of CRP are an indication of inflammation in the body. Because the damage seen in heart disease is caused by inflammation in arterial walls, it follows that CRP could be used as a general marker for the risk of heart disease. Previous studies have linked high levels of CRP in overweight and obese adults with an increased risk of heart disease, but less has been known about CRP levels in children. “We’re seeing a relationship between weight status and elevated inflammatory markers much earlier than we expected,” said study lead Dr. Asheley Cockrell Skinner, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the UNC School of Medicine.
The researchers observed a similar pattern of elevation when they check two other inflammation markers, although one wasn’t elevated in obese children under six. Levels of one were higher in obese children from the age of six and the other from age nine. “In this study we were unable to tease apart whether the inflammation or the obesity came first but one theory is that obesity leads to inflammation, which then leads to heart and vessel disease later on,” said study co-author Dr. Eliana Perrin, who is with the Department of Pediatrics at the University of North Carolina Medical School. “A lot more work needs to be done before we figure out the full implication of these findings, but this study tells us that very young, obese children already have more inflammation than children who are not obese—and that’s very concerning.”
Historically, cultural generations in America have been defined by multiple names, each representing something different about that generation. For instance, the G.I. Generation, also dubbed the Greatest Generation by journalist Tom Brokaw, includes those born from around 1916 to the mid-1920s and who came of age during the Great Depression. The Baby Boom Generation is the generation born between 1946 and the mid-1960s, a time marked by an increase in birth rates. Those born between 2000 and 2009 are being referred to as Generation Z, as well as Generation I, Digital Natives, the Internet Generation—various names given them due to their status as the first generation to grow up almost entirely within the Digital Era. But if they continue their current snacking habits, Generation Z may become known as the Generation of Non-Stop Nibblers.
After analyzing data on 31,337 children aged 2 to 18 from four different federal surveys on food and eating, researchers at the University of North Carolina discovered that on average nearly a third of the calories taken in by American kids come from snacks—food eaten outside regular meals. “Childhood snacking trends are moving toward three snacks per day, and more than 27 percent of children’s daily calories are coming from snacks,” they reported. “The largest increases have been in salty snacks and candy. Desserts and sweetened beverages remain the major sources of calories from snacks.”
Dr. Barry M. Popkin, study co-author and director of nutrition epidemiology at UNC says that while these are averages, the data showed that half of American children snack about four times a day and some appear to be eating almost constantly, consuming either snacks or meals as often as 10 times a day. “They are eating more times, and they’re not eating healthy foods,” Popkin said. “It would be great if they were eating fruits and vegetables and reduced-fat milk—and every now and then a cookie or two—but the foods are going from bad to worse.”
The data showed that, compared with children in the late 1970s, today’s kids are scarfing down 168 more snack calories per day, with 2-to-6-year-olds consuming an extra 182 calories a day. CBS News medical correspondent, Dr. Jon LaPook says that when you put that increase into perspective, at 3,500 calories per pound it translates to an extra 17.5 pounds a year.
“We have to reduce the number of snacks kids are eating, but we also have to change their choices,” said study co-author Carmen Piernas. “Kids are eating high-fat snacks and fruit juices out of vending machines, instead of eating fresh fruits and milk,” unhealthy choices that may lead to iron deficiencies, delays in physical development and poor school performance.
A second study by researchers at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis-St. Paul shows just how available those unhealthy choices are. Data found that vending machines were available in 21 percent of U.S. public elementary schools, 62 percent of public middle schools, and 86 percent of public high schools. The study authors, led by Nicole Larson at the University’s department of food science and nutrition, said that while schools depend on competitive foods for revenue, “the data do not show that improving the nutritional quality of competitive food or restricting certain food or beverages hurts school revenue.”
If you were to do a little time traveling, flashing back to when you were 18, how would your weight differ from what it is today? According to research by the American Cancer Society, the amount of weight a woman gains after the age of 18 is a strong indicator as to whether she will get breast cancer later in life.
Weight gain and body mass were identified long ago as risk factors for breast cancer. The Cancer Society estimates between one-third and one-half of all breast cancer deaths among older women have been contributed to weight.
Fat tissue makes estrogen, and estrogen can help breast cancer grow. Heather Spencer Feigelson, senior epidemiologist with the American Cancer Society said, “Breast cancer is strongly dependent on body weight. Even modest amounts of weight gain lead to a significantly increased risk of breast cancer.”
One of the largest studies of breast cancer and weight included 1,934 breast cancer cases among 62,756 women involved in a separate long-term study. Women ages 50 to 74, who were post-menopausal, were asked their weight in 1992 when the study began and their weight when they were 18 years old. They were also sent questionnaires at yearly intervals.
The researchers said older women who gained 20 to 30 pounds after high school graduation were 40 percent more likely to get breast cancer than women who kept the weight off. If the weight gain was more than 70 pounds, the risk was doubled. Lean post-menopausal women not taking hormone replacement therapy produce very little estrogen and had the lowest cancer risk in the study.
Associate professor of surgery at Columbia University, Dr. Paul Tartter said, “The more fat you have—fat cells are capable of synthesizing estrogen—the heavier you are, the higher your estrogen levels. There’s no question that estrogen is the common denominator of most of our risk factors for breast cancer.”
Saturday, February 27, 2010
Hope is on the horizon for children who suffer from potentially fatal peanut allergies. A cure for the disorder may be available in the next three years. In a pilot study, 21 of 23 children between the ages of seven to seventeen were successfully treated for peanut allergies, which allowed them to consume foods containing the nut without suffering a reaction. The groundbreaking research conducted at Cambridge University Hospitals in the United Kingdom was recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.Childhood peanut allergies commonly cause the constriction of airways, breathing difficulties, asthma, itching and swelling. However, about 10 percent of children who suffer from peanut allergies face a serious, multisystem allergic reaction known as anaphylactic shock that for some can lead to death. In addition, sensitivity to peanuts very rarely lessens over time, meaning that children do not outgrow the dangerous disorder.
The new treatment that gradually desensitizes the immune system to peanuts has shown the most promising results to date. According to researcher Dr. Andrew Clark, the research team will launch a major clinical trial involving 104 children beginning in March.In the pilot study, the researchers treated a group of 23 children with peanut allergies by having them consume about 1 milligram of peanuts each day, and then gradually increasing the amount bi-weekly until the children were able to consume about five peanuts daily. The children then continued taking their daily dose for a minimum of six weeks. According to the researchers, the therapy was generally well tolerated with the exception of temporary mouth itching or abdominal pain.
Findings of the study showed that 91 percent of the children were able to consume at least five peanuts daily with no reaction. Of the remaining two children, one was able to safely eat two peanuts daily, and the other dropped out of the study. In addition, after a total of six months, 19 of 21 were able to tolerate 12 peanuts daily, and after one year, 15 of the children were able to tolerate 32 peanuts. For families of the participants, the results were dramatic, as it was no longer necessary for them to carefully read food labels, or live in fear of an allergic attack.
The practice of vegetarianism involves eating a diet that excludes meat, fish, and poultry, while a variation of the vegetarian diet, known as the vegan diet, also excludes eggs, dairy products, and honey. Following a properly planned vegetarian diet can fulfill the nutritional needs of people of any age and can even significantly lower risks of cancer and heart disease, as well as other diseases. However, vegetarianism has become increasingly popular among teens for various reasons and may put them at greater risk for the development of serious eating disorders.
A study published last year in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association revealed that while young adult vegetarians were less likely to be overweight than non-vegetarians, about 20 to 25 percent of current and former vegetarians demonstrated unhealthy behaviors for weight control. Among the harmful practices were the use of diet pills, and symptoms of eating disorders, such as regurgitation, the use of laxatives and diuretics, as well as binge eating.
Lead researcher Ramona Robinson-O'Brien, assistant professor in the Nutrition Department at the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University advised, “Clinicians and nutrition professionals providing guidance to young vegetarians might consider the potential benefits associated with a healthful vegetarian diet, [but also] recognize the possibility of increased risk of disordered eating behaviors.”
During the study, called Project EAT-II: Eating Among Teens, the researchers analyzed data collected on 2,516 participants including teens and young adults. Participants were grouped according to whether they were current, former, or non-vegetarians and each group was split into two sub-groups: ages 15 to 18 and ages 19 to 23. The majority of the vegetarians in the study were female.
This week marks Lve Your Body Week (LYBW), a campaign started by the National Organization for Women (NOW) Foundation in 1998 to raise awareness of the negative and harmful advertising used by industries to sell their products, its impact on women and girls’ self esteem, and on eating disorders, which are rapidly increasing and developing at earlier ages than ever before. In fact, statistics show that 80 percent of all children have been on a diet by the time they reach the fourth grade.
It isn’t surprising that eating disorders are on the rise considering the emphasis our society places on being thin. Ads in magazines and on the television tend to use the most idealized images of women, touched up and air-brushed to perfection. TV shows feature actresses, many who have endured hours of exercise and deprived themselves of proper nutrition in order to maintain their thin figure, and some who have even resorted to plastic surgery, liposuction and breast implants to enhance their body image.
Statistics on eating disorders are staggering. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), 10 million people in the United States, mainly women, struggle with anorexia nervosa or bulimia nervosa. Both disorders involve an obsession with not gaining weight and an intense anxiety about food, though this obsession manifests differently in each case. People with anorexia have a distorted body image that causes them to see themselves as overweight even when they’re dangerously thin. Often refusing to eat, exercising compulsively, and developing unusual habits such as refusing to eat in front of others, they lose large amounts of weight and may even starve to death. Physical problems associated with anorexia nervosa include damage to the heart and other vital organs, low blood pressure, slowed heartbeat, constipation, abdominal pain, loss of muscle mass, hair loss, sensitivity to the cold, and fine body hair growth.
Tall and short, dark and light, freckled and tanned, we come in many packages with innumerable features, most of them determined by our genetics before we ever draw breath. Very few of these traits can we control, and we just have to play the hand we're dealt.But when people are earnestly trying to lose weight and failing again and again, many ultimately get the sneaking suspicion that they really are playing against a stacked deck. They may be right.
If you're one of those who subscribes to the notion that America's growing weight problem is solely a failure of personal restraint or will, it's time to reconsider. Solid research is helping us understand just how truly stacked that deck is. For some people who struggle with their weight, it seems that any given exercise effort will yield far less result than it offers everyone else because of what's already coded on their DNA.
When it comes to weight management, genetic factors get blamed for a lot of body issues where they may or may not play a role: "She's just big-boned." "He just carries his cargo up front." "The whole family is built that way." You've heard them all, and they might have sounded more like excuses than explanations.
But think about the genetically based elements that we already know are out of our control. People certainly do have different body types, with some of us thicker or thinner than others, and shorter or taller.Then there's the particular predisposition for distribution, for having our weight in certain places on our bodies, which could be the old apple/pear body-type contrast, or a tendency to carry fat on the arms.Add to those a predisposition for building muscle easily or not. And if you want to be very specific, throw in that natural love or dislike of athletic pursuits that would certainly come into play with exercise.