Are grocery stores to blame for nation’s obesity problems?

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Obesity in the News

Interesting thought. The way food is placed around stores may influence what we buy, and of course, what we eat. This impulse marketing technique has certainly tricked me before.

Check the Washington Post blog for details:

A paper published in Thursday’s New England Journal of Medicine argues that the prominent placement of unhealthful food items in stores contributes to the obesity epidemic — and that it therefore should be curbed.

Deborah Cohen of RAND Health in Santa Monica, Calif., and Susan Babey of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research write in their Perspective piece “Candy at the Cash Register — A Risk Factor for Obesity and Chronic Disease” that our response to the nation’s obesity problem has relied on a “basic misconception” that our food choices are conscious and deliberate and are guided by our actual desires. But if that were the case, they observe, people who say they want to lose weight would easily be able to do so; their desire to lose weight would compel them to seek foods that comport with that goal.

Instead, the authors say, our food choices are largely guided by our responses to outside signals and stimuli. In the grocery store, it’s those chips, sodas and baked goods displayed on the end-rack shelves and the candy at the checkout line that do us in; vendors pay extra money to have their products placed in such prominent positions, and the foods so displayed beckon to us, even though we haven’t sought them out.

In this realm of “impulse marketing,” much of that enticement takes place on a subconscious level, so we’re pretty much helpless when it comes to resisting temptation. As the authors note, “Often people regret their purchases of candies, sodas, chips and cookies. They may recognize that they were impulsive but have no way of avoiding being confronted with these goods, even if they initially went into the store seeking other products.”

Communities tackle obesity: An insurance company and a soup company step up

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Obesity in the News, Obesity Initiative at UGA

As several UGA professors have discussed this fall, obesity is a community challenge, and it seems a few companies may have been listening.

From Associated Press in New Orleans:

A national health insurance company and the Louisiana Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs are bringing a 12-month program to help obese and overweight children lose weight. The classes are only for families on the company’s Medicaid plan in the New Orleans area.

UnitedHealthcare says the program, called Join for Me, gets families involved in lifestyle and behavior changes to help children lose weight.

“Children who are overweight and obese often want to lose weight, but can’t figure out how to do it,” said Dr. Ann K. Logarbo, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare Community Plan of Louisiana.

And then there’s Campbell’s stepping up in New Jersey:

At Campbell Soup Company, every day is food day. As we work to “Nourish Our Consumers” we are also dedicated to “Nourishing Our Neighbors.” In February 2011, Campbell announced a $10 million, ten year commitment to reduce childhood obesity and hunger in our hometown city of Camden, New Jersey. Since that time, we have developed our Healthy Communities program whose focus is to measurably improve the health of our children in the communities where we live and work. The initial phase of the program is focused on Camden, Campbell World Headquarters; the program will grow to our other Campbell plant sites nationally and globally.

The Healthy Communities program strategies include: food access; physical activity/access; nutrition education, and public will. Camden is a city of approximately 78,000 residents, 23,000 of whom are children. There is one full service grocery store on the outskirts of town and about 160 corner stores or bodegas. Access to fresh, healthy affordable foods is not only a challenge in our city; it is a matter of equity. To begin to address this issue, the Healthy Communities program is working collectively with local and regional partners to implement programs on a community level and devise strategies for an equitable food economy on a systems level. Our collective work extends from gardens to groceries. Among our strategies is a Healthy Corner Store Initiative led by The Food Trust. All of the corner stores in the program have been strategically selected based on their proximity to the sites with which we work.

And finally, the CDC gives a grant to help minority neighborhoods with obesity, according to 89.3 CA radio:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has awarded UCLA a $20 million grant to battle obesity in minority neighborhoods. The aim is to make it easier for people to drop sedentary habits and poor diets and embrace healthy living.

The UCLA project moves away from requiring busy, stressed individuals in low-resource neighborhoods to seek out physical activity and nutrient-rich foods. Instead, it aims to engage them as “captive” audiences in settings they already frequent — including schools, offices and churches — making healthier options a default that can only be avoided with effort or by “opting out.”

The central idea in the newly funded UCLA obesity project is called “Instant Recess”. It was developed 14 years ago by UCLA professor of health policy and management Dr. Antronette Yancey to bring 10-minute dance and sports-themed exercise breaks into the daily routine at work, in the classroom or even at Sunday church services.

Study: Weight Watchers measures up to clinical programs

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Obesity in the News, Obesity Initiative at UGA

In the journal Obesity, there’s an interesting study about Weight Watchers that’s making the news rounds.

From ABC News:

Commercial weight-loss programs like Weight Watchers may be just as effective in losing weight as clinical programs, and the key ingredient to success in both programs is buddying up, according to a new study published Tuesday in the journal Obesity.

In the study, 141 overweight and obese adults were randomly assigned into one of three groups — a weight-loss behavioral program led by a health professional, or Weight Watchers, led by peers who had achieved their own weight-loss success, or a combination of both programs.

Overweight and obese adults who participate in any of the three weight-loss treatments that involved group counseling, whether it was with a health professional or with peers, as well as physical activity and diet change lost a significant amount of weight nearly a year later, the study found.

“When people who are working on a similar problem get together, they can support each other so they don’t feel alone in this weight-loss journey,” said Angela Pinto, assistant professor of psychology at Baruch College of the City University of New York and lead researcher.

“With the group idea, there’s a sense of belonging,” said Pinto, adding that participants may be more likely to complete their weight-loss goal when others are working with them.

From LA Times:

In a head-to-head contest pitting a pair of psychologist-led “behavioral weight loss” programs against a 48-week membership to Weight Watchers, a new study found that subjects participating in the ubiquitous commercial program stuck with their regimen longer and shed more pounds.

Compared with people who met regularly with a professional counselor, those assigned to Weight Watchers were more likely to lose at least 10% of their body weight by the 48-week mark. On this measure, Weight Watchers also bested a hybrid program that researchers had expected to be the most effective — a 12-week introductory course led by a clinical psychologist to jump-start subjects’ weight loss, followed by 36 weeks of Weight Watchers.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal Obesity, suggests that physicians scrambling for ways to counsel overweight and obese patients may be best served by referring them to well-established commercial programs with a track record of working.

Allstate: Obesity counters fuel efficient car improvements

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

Whoa. This is definitely a different angle. Have you considered that as we get heavier, our fuel efficiency goes down?

Check out this story on the Allstate blog and awesome infographic they included. (Note: I removed the link because Allstate removed the article from its blog! I’m not sure why, but as I investigate, I still want to present this to you.):

Americans are gaining weight, and cars are losing it.  It’s a seesaw battle that’s making it difficult to realize the gains expected by a big push for lighter, more  fuel efficient cars.

Federal regulators are requiring 54.5 MPGs for cars and trucks by 2025. But even as the automotive industry goes to extremes to shed weight to meet these rules, heavier drivers are adding unexpected pounds.

And that can impact fuel consumption.

We partnered with Cars.com to develop an infographic that documents the complex struggle between fuel efficiency and passenger weight, and the ways automakers are finding new ways to cut pounds (and even ounces) from their cars.

 

More than half of U.S. pets are overweight, watchdog group says

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Obesity in the News, Obesity Initiative at UGA

Did you know today is National Pet Obesity Awareness Day? There’s an interesting Patch article about it.

In addition, The Epoch Times produced an article  about fat pets yesterday, and one of UGA’s own researchers was included.

The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, or APOP, estimates that 54 percent of the pets are too fat, and are at risk for type-2 diabetes, insulin resistance, heart disease, respiratory disease, cranial cruciate ligament injuries, high blood pressure, kidney disease, and a generally shortened life expectancy.

“The most distressing finding in this year’s study was the fact that more pet owners are unaware their pet is overweight,” APOP founder Dr. Ernie Ward said in the report. Around 22 percent of dog owners and 15 percent of cat owners “characterized their pet as normal weight when it was actually overweight or obese.”

In the report and the story, Dr. Steve Budsberg, orthopedic surgeon, APOP Board member and Director of Clinical Research at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine says:

“The prevention of obesity needs to be at the forefront of all discussions people have about the health of their pet with their veterinarian. The body of evidence that shows the negative impact of obesity on all the body’s systems is overwhelming. As an orthopedic surgeon I see, on a daily basis, the effects of obesity on dogs and cats with osteoarthritis. It is very frustrating to see how much pain and discomfort excess weight has on my patients. Veterinarians and owners have the ability to stop obesity in our pets. No animal goes to the refrigerator or the pantry and helps themselves. We enable our pets to get fat!”

Obesity Initiative efforts reach French audience through student interviews

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

Two college students from France are traveling across America to tell stories before the November election, and when they stopped at UGA a few days ago, they decided to talk to Cliff Baile and Kevin McCully about Obesity Initiative efforts.

The main video is featured here on letudiant.fr. The UGA video is the last one, so scroll down.

You can see the students’ site here, though UGA details aren’t yet posted.

And here’s more about their trip:

Campus Campaign was born from a common desire to cover the US presidential campaign from an original point of view : college campuses. We chose several themes which were associated with the campuses where we could talk about them best. Marie and Hugo decided to undertake a road-trip from San Francisco to Washington D.C. and to publish their reports as a web-documentary.

Challenge to biomed researchers: Solve the obesity problem

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

Did you miss this excellent Viewpoint in September in the Journal of the American Medical Association about obesity? I almost did.

National Institutes of Health Director Dr. Francis Collins and National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Director Dr. Griffin Rodgers paired up to write “The Next Generation of Obesity Research – No Time to Waste.”

Here’s the gist:

Can the United States again rise to the challenge and change its attitudes, policies, behaviors, and environments in some fundamental ways? The health of the next generation depends on the answer.

Obesity is complicated, so can we collaborate to solve it? Research is key, they say:

Americans spend more than $60 billion annually on weight-loss programs and products, yet scant evidence exists that these expenditures translate into lasting weight loss. Given the health consequences of obesity, the United States needs rigorous data on what approaches can help achieve and maintain healthy body weights over the long term.

Indeed, research has provided—and will continue to provide—the foundation of evidence needed to confront the obesity crisis in the most effective and efficient manner. Among the many questions to address are: Why are some individuals more susceptible to obesity? Can the knowledge of biology and behavior be used to develop and better target intervention strategies? What current strategies really work? For whom? Can these approaches be scaled up?

To address this need, research must proceed swiftly on 2 parallel fronts. The first is to devise practical and effective strategies for intervention, with special emphasis on preventive strategies that can be rapidly implemented in health care and community settings. The second is to evaluate community-based efforts that will soon be launched or are already under way, to gather data about their effectiveness, and to use that information to develop evidence-based interventions that can be applied on a wider scale.

This research needs priority funding because it will then inform policy, they concluded:

To advance this type of real-world research, the NIH recently launched an effort that will make it possible to more rapidly fund studies of imminent program or policy changes. This will enable researchers to collect time-sensitive data just prior to implementation of a new program or policy designed to reduce obesity. Having baseline information will facilitate evaluation of the effectiveness of these approaches and will serve as a basis for ongoing comparisons.

Additionally, research can provide much-needed information for policy makers venturing into uncharted terrain to address the obesity epidemic. Like their predecessors who fought long and hard for no-smoking laws and restrictions on cigarette sales and advertisements, leaders in medicine and government who propose policies to address obesity, such as mandatory nutrition education in public schools and new taxes or quantity limits on sugary soft drinks, may be accused of supporting a “nanny state” model, unless they have rigorous data to support their efforts.

OI in the News: UGA study provides insight on Freshman 15

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

Check out another article posted last week by The Red & Black about obesity and efforts by the Obesity Initiative team. This time, it’s kinesiology professor Ellen Evans and postdoc Bhibha Das checking out the Freshman 15 phenomenon.

The “Freshman 15” is a slogan that looms over first-years’ heads as they begin college, but a new University research study could bring insight for freshmen.

This study, conducted by kinesiology professor Ellen Evans and postdoctoral kinesiology research associate Bhibha Das, will help freshmen understand where their individual bodies need improvement.

“We are looking at a variety of factors. We are looking at their blood, which includes their cholesterol levels, their insulin level and inflammation markers,” Das said. “We are looking at their height and weight when they come into college.”

Students will also fill out questionnaires, wear a pedometer to track steps taken per day and keep a food diary, Das said.

The study, which is meant to analyze but not diagnose, will show how numerous factors play a role in weight gain during the first year of college.

“Freshmen are trying to figure out and maneuver new social and physical environments,” Das said. “What we’re seeing is that the stress, the anxiety and the depression is playing a role in people’s activity habits and their nutrition habits.”

OI in the News: UGA professors study sleep apnea and obesity link

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Obesity in the News

The Obesity Initiative landed more coverage in the news this week in The Red & Black. Check out this article about OI team members Brad Phillips (pharmacy professor) and Richard Meagher (genetics professor) looking at sleep apnea:

Phillips said the idea for the experiment came from his and Meagher’s meeting at a conference on campus.

“We found we had a similar interest, and it focused around sleep apnea,” he said.

Meagher said they are going to do experiments to study various changes in the body, but they are just getting started.

“We are gong to set up experiments looking at obese and lean people with sleep apnea and try and tease out changes that lead to cancer and cardiovascular disease,” he said.

Phillips said sleep apnea is a disorder in which people stop breathing during the night and has been linked to increased risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer. Obesity is a factor commonly present in patients with sleep apnea.

“We knew that obesity, if it is present, actually makes sleep apnea worse,” Phillips said.

Odyssey seminars show student involvement in Obesity Initiative

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

Several professors involved in the Obesity Initiative are teaching first-year Odyssey classes that include obesity discussions. Look out for a longer story later! Check out a few of these below:

 

Childhood and Adult Obesities
Instructor: Cliff Baile, Obesity Initiative director
Currently, more than one billion adults are overweight and at least 300 million are clinically obese. This seminar will cover the latest research on causes of obesity, such as neurobiological impacts on metabolism, effects of diet composition, the role of maternal gestational obesity on development of obesity in children, and social environmental influences upon eating and physical activity behavior. We will also discuss the physiological effects of excess adipose tissue, including diabetes, bone loss, cardiovascular disease, and the economic impacts of the obesity epidemic on an already stressed healthcare system. Finally, we will discuss effective treatment and prevention modalities for both children and adults at the individual and community levels. Course activities will include reading original research papers, in-class discussion of topics, and preparation of a report on a related topic.
 
Junk Food, Health Food and Choices
Instructor: Louise Wicker, professor of food science and technology
Are you interested in science and math and like applications of chemistry? Did you know that obesity is the number one health care issue in the U.S.? Does your diet consist mainly of pizza, hamburgers, fries and soft drinks? Are you frightened by stories of red slime in your hamburger, BPA in your water bottle, genetically modified foods or pesticides in your foods? Global sourcing of foods and food ingredients, mass production of foods, a comparison of locally grown and organic with conventional foods, the healthfulness of foods from center aisles of the grocery store or from fast food restaurants will be discussed. At the end of this course, students will know how to access credible information on foods, source, function and safety of food ingredients, and make wiser decisions about food choices. Format will include readings on foods and food ingredients and impact on health, videos, written assignments and class room discussion.
 
Nutrition and Health
Instructor: Silvia Giraudo, associate professor of foods and nutrition
Why is nutrition important in today’s society? This course will examine how nutrition affects health and life in general. The seminar format will highlight visiting experts as well as class presentation of articles (including popular stuff) about today’s science followed by a class discussion of the relationship between nutrition and health. This seminar will enhance the understanding of the many relations of nutritional science to society, and how nutritional needs change throughout the lifespan and during stress and exercise, as well as of the factors affecting risk of chronic disease, including family history, health behaviors, and food intake.

 

The Obesity Epidemic: Man AND Man’s Best Friend
Instructors: Ellen Evans, associate professor of kinesiology, and Cynthia Ward, professor of veterinary medicine
The obesity epidemic is our greatest public health challenge, with children being of the highest concern. It is well documented that parent weight status predicts risk for childhood obesity from both nature (genetic) and nurture (environment) factors. But have you also heard the expression that dogs resemble their owners? Our companion animals are similar to children in that the owner largely determines lifestyle choices in terms of eating and physical activity patterns. This course will review the parallel between humans and companion animals (dogs and cats) in the following: 1) energy balance determinants, 2) diagnosing obesity, 3) clinical diseases associated with obesity, especially type 2 diabetes mellitus, and 4) treatment strategies. Although some seminar sessions will include lectures and discussions led by Professors Evans and Ward, the majority of the sessions will include lab tours and demonstrations, group discussions, in-class debates regarding current issues, and reflective writing assignments.