News from all over on the obesity front

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Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls: there are obesity updates for all. For all the kids out there, the Institute of Medicine (IOM) released a new report Wednesday offering early childhood obesity prevention advice for daycare centers and households alike. Government data show that one-third of school-age children are obese or overweight and, according to the IOM report, approximately 20 percent of kids are overweight or obese before they enter school. Here’s a sample of the IOM recommendations: increase physical activity in young children, decrease sedentary time for young children by limiting such activities to 30 minutes at a time; encourage age-appropriate sleep durations by prohibiting TV or other screen media in rooms where kids sleep, and maintain low noise and light levels during sleep time; try to exclusively breastfeed your babies for at least the first six months; limit screen time and exposure to food and beverage marketing to less than two hours a day for children ages two to five. Though ACSH’s Dr. Gilbert Ross finds the latter recommendation to be a bit gratuitous, overall, the recommendations appear to be commonsense guidelines that parents can use to prevent childhood obesity. “Notice, too, that there is absolutely no mention of reducing your children’s intake of sugary beverages, so-called ‘junk food,’ or avoiding chemicals and other so-called ‘obesogens,’” he adds. For a complete list of the IOM’s recommendations, you can access the report here.

For adults, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health appear to have found that certain foods and lifestyle choices, over the years, will increase one’s likelihood of packing on extra pounds. Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the meta-analysis of nearly 121,000 U.S. men and women from three large health professionals studies examined changes in participants’ lifestyle and weight (which was normal at the study’s outset) every four years over a 20-year study period. On average, the subjects gained a total of 17 pounds, and researchers sought part of the explanation in the food logs these participants maintained. The researchers believe that the foods consumed daily that led to the most weight gain over a four year period were potato chips, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages, unprocessed red meats, and processed meats. They also found that watching TV for an hour each day added 0.31 pounds every four years while, on the other hand, sleeping six to eight hours and increasing physical activity appeared to reduce the risk of weight gain. Lead study author Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian says that dietary factors had the largest impact on weight status, and he believes that “the idea that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods is a myth that needs to be debunked. You can’t just say a calorie is a calorie. It doesn’t address your feelings of fullness, your blood glucose levels, your blood insulin levels, and the other biological responses in your body.”

ACSH’s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan finds this claim to be quite disturbing. “Meanwhile,” she says, “there is no mention of whether the consumption of excess calories itself could have caused the weight gain. Although the authors claim that certain foods may be ‘bad,’ this does not mean that we should be afraid of indulging in the occasional treat. In fact, the less than two pounds gained by the potato chip eaters in this study was from daily consumption.”

Dr. Whelan recommends replacing high calorie foods with low-fat alternatives, such as those containing Olestra, and eating desserts and other “fun foods” in moderation.   

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