Walk Georgia is back


Obesity Initiative at UGA

walkGeorgiaSmallBannerIf you missed the chance to traverse the state last fall, join your fellow Georgians in tracking your weekly workouts this spring.

Walk Georgia is a fitness program sponsored by UGA Cooperative Extension. Individuals or four-person teams log their physical activity online for 12 weeks. The time spent burning energy is translated into miles “walked” across the state. As they add miles, exercisers travel across a virtual map of Georgia and learn interesting facts about the different counties they pass through.

The goal for all participants is to reach 15 miles per week. People with a competitive streak can also see how they stack up against other walkers. Last fall the WalkGeorgia blog posted the leading individuals and teams for each week. The blog also featured places where Georgians could enjoy being active, such as High Falls State Park.

Registration for the upcoming session starts February 1 and lasts until March 10. Participants will then track their activity from February 2 to April 26. Head over to http://www.walkgeorgia.org/index.cfm for more details.

Virus may play role in obesity and bone loss


Obesity Initiative at UGA

Source: Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

Source: Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

A sinister virus is creeping up to young, impressionable cells and influencing them to turn into insidious globs of fat.

Or so scientists think.

The idea that viruses are invading cells and making people fat is controversial. Researchers from the University of Georgia (UGA) are adding to a growing pile of evidence linking a virus called adenovirus 36 (Ad36) to obesity in humans.

A previous post detailed some of this research.  Earlier this year, the researchers published one study on Ad36, obesity and bone strength in Journal of Bone and Mineral Research.

The researchers reported that female obese teenagers were more likely to have antibodies against Ad36 than their normal weight counterparts. The antibodies show that the person was previously infected with the virus. In addition, obese teens with Ad36 antibodies had weaker and more brittle bones than obese teens without the antibody.

“The big picture when we had this idea [was] to prove solidly that adenovirus has an effect on obesity in humans,” said Srujana Rayalam, one of the co-authors of the study.

However, Rayalam said that the group still needs to do more studies, preferably in people of different ages and genders to truly say that bone loss and weakness in obese individuals is caused by Ad36.

Ad36 belongs to a family of adenoviruses that cause pinkeye, the common cold, gastroenteritis and other human miseries.

It is still unclear how Ad36 is involved in bone and obesity. Emma Laing, lead author of the study, thinks bone loss and weakness is due to Ad36 attacking a group of cells called mesenchymal stem cells. These stem cells are highly suggestible and have the potential to mature into bone, muscle or fat. Ad36 is thought to steer the stem cells away from a life in bone and force them to become fat instead.

A 2012 study on the same line of cells supports this idea. Researchers infected human stem cells with Ad36 and another adenovirus, Ad2. Only stem cells infected with Ad36 stored fat.

The link between Ad36 and obesity is clear in animals.

After being deliberately infected with the virus, mice, chickens and marmosets fattened up.

However, the connection is harder to demonstrate in humans. It would be unethical, of course, for researchers to infect humans with a virus to see if they gain weight.

Instead, scientists have used antibody tests to look back in time. Like the UGA researchers, others have tested blood from obese and non-obese people to see if they had been exposed to Ad36 in the past and had antibodies against it.

The first definitive link between fat and Ad36 in humans came in 2005. A group of scientists tested four different viruses and found Ad36 to be the only virus associated with increased weight.

“There is little convincing data [that viruses cause obesity],” said Ralph Tripp, the virologist for the UGA group. “However, we have made a strong association.”

In the future, Rayalam says that their study needs to be repeated at least one more time, especially to look at effects in older adults.

“Because with aging and adiposity, what you see is bone loss,” she said. “We have to see whether with adiposity and Ad36, [we] still have a positive correlation in late adults.”

Eventually, the group hopes to develop a vaccine against Ad36 to stop the production of more fat cells and keep bones strong. Tripp thinks that day will come, though it won’t be tomorrow.

“I think the future is very close for showing this academically; however, it will be a decade away from FDA approval due to compliance and related issues commonly associated with vaccinology,” he said.

The above post is a guest post by Hyacinth Empinado, a graduate student in UGA’s Health and Medical Journalism Program.

Researchers talk about weight loss in older people at Obesity Week 2013


Obesity Initiative at UGA

obesity week logo-2013_r02

The following post continues Weighing In’s coverage of Obesity Week 2013. It was contributed by Jing Hong, a University of Georgia graduate student the in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, who attended the Obesity Week 2013 conference.

The prevalence of obesity in the United States is an issue in all age groups, including older people, who may already have existing medical problems. When overweight, older people also have an increased risk of having diabetes and heart disease. However, intentional weight loss by older people can have medical issues of its own.

Limited evidence suggests that intentional weight loss does not increase risk of mortality, but it could result in the loss of spine and hip bone mineral density, according to lecture given by Kristen Beavers at the Obesity Week 2013 conference last month.

Beavers, an assistant visiting professor at Wake Forest University, said people will also lose a certain amount of lean mass during intentional weight loss. And if people regain their weight afterwards, they regain less lean mass than they lost.

Fortunately, older people can lose weight and maintain their healthy weight status successfully.

“Old people are among people most likely to lose weight and keep it off,” said Mary Ann Johnson, a University of Georgia (UGA) foods and nutrition professor, referencing a talk by Johns Hopkins researcher Lawrence Appel she heard at the Obesity Week 2013 conference.

Johnson suggested that older people watch their diet and lead a healthy lifestyle. “They need to keep eating healthy, keep exercising, weigh themselves at least twice a week,” Johnson said.

While older people may be concerned about their health, they may also worry about their ability to eat well on a budget, as many of them are nearly or already retired.

Kevin McCully, a UGA professor of kinesiology suggested inexpensive but healthy foods, such as vegetable salad, over less healthy options, such as fried chicken. “Eat more vegetables, don’t put too much sauce in [your food], don’t put too much sugar in it,” McCully said.

More research on weight loss still needs to be done. A new study through UGA’s Obesity Initiative will focus on helping a hundred overweight women age 50 or older to lose weight. The program includes a six-month period of weight loss and weight maintenance afterwards. Johnson said the project will begin in early 2014.

Obesity Week Keynote Highlights Fat Cell Browning


Obesity Initiative at UGA

obesity week logo-2013_r02

Fat, exercise and a molecule with a peculiar name took center-stage in the Obesity Week 2013 keynote by Bruce Spiegelman in Atlanta last week. Recent experiments indicate that molecule, called “meteorin-like,” can cause calorie-storing fat to more closely resemble a type of fat that actually burns calories.

The two types of fat are known as “white fat” and “brown fat.”  White fat cells are used to store excess energy, while brown fat cells are used to burn energy for heat. Newborns and small mammals have high amounts of brown fat that help them survive cold temperatures. Recently, researchers have started investigating brown fat as a way to fight obesity. The meteorin-like molecule is a polypeptide, or protein component, that may play a role in the fight.

Muscles release meteorin-like during exercise. Spiegelman showed that injecting the polypeptide into the tail veins of mice causes white fat to become more like brown, heat generating fat.  As a result of the injections, mice use up a lot more energy than usual.

The polypeptide drives the production of two molecules – interleukin 4 (IL4) and interleukin 13 (IL13) – that give rise to white blood cells called M2 macrophages. Unlike “classical” macrophages, which Spiegelman described as “spitting out nasty things,” these cells release anti-inflammatory hormones called catecholamines. These catecholamines act on white fat cells and make them more closely resemble the energy-burning profile of brown fat cells.

The global increase in obesity and Type 2 diabetes underlines the need for multiple therapeutic approaches to these issues. However, it is unlikely that meteorin-like treatments will be available for humans soon. The molecule used in mice was unstable, and its effects were short lived.  But someday, Spiegelman hopes, some variation on the polypeptide with the awkward name will help treat obesity in humans.

Beyond the University of Georgia research projects mentioned in the previous post, the Obesity Week conference included presentations on a variety of topics – from possible causes to new treatments. The above post is a guest post by Hyacinth Empinado, a graduate student in UGA’s Health and Medical Journalism Program, who attended the conference.

UGA researchers present at ObesityWeek


Obesity Initiative at UGA

obesity week logo-2013_r02 Atlanta was the place to be last week for obesity researchers and doctors. Over 20 University of Georgia faculty and students joined researchers and health professionals from around the world at ObesityWeek, a conference that joined the annual meetings of The Obesity Society and the American Society of Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

Nearly 25 UGA researchers – both faculty members and graduate students – attended the conference.  Some even presented their own obesity-related findings. Plant compounds, or phytochemicals, were the focus of several of these obesity research projects.

One project suggested phytochemicals might prevent weight gain by causing certain fat cells to work harder.  Colette Miller, a graduate student in the foods and nutrition department, presented research on phytochemicals and brown adipose tissue, a type of fat that uses energy to provide heat. Miller’s findings suggested a combination of phytochemicals could cause these fat cells to work harder in rats, potentially preventing weight gain. Her poster was entitled “Dietary Phytochemicals Increase Brown Adipose Tissue Activity in Adult Ovariectomized Rats.”

Phytochemicals may also fight obesity by affecting the brain. Damage to an area of the brain called the hippocampus can result in irregular eating behaviors. Some phytochemicals, such as genistein, can help protect the brain from damage. Emily England, a graduate student in UGA’s interdisciplinary neuroscience Ph.D. program, presented research comparing the effects on rats of a phytochemical combination with genistein alone.  Her poster, entitled “Genistein Enhances Expression of Genes Associated with Memory and Eating Behaviors in the Ventral Hippocampus of Ovariectomized Rats” showed the combination to be no more beneficial than genistein alone.

See below for the titles of other research projects by UGA faculty and students that were presented at the conference:

“Osteogenic and Anti-Adipogenic Effects of Guggulsterone in Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells” – Srujana Rayalam, Suwanee, GA; Jeong Yeh Yang, MaryAnne Della-Fera, Clifton A. Baile, Athens, GA

“Phloretin Prevents, but Not Reverses High Fat Diet-Induced Obesity and Hepatic Steatosis in Mice” – Sary Alsanea, Mingming Gao, Dexi Liu, Athens, GA

“Chlorogenic Acid Suppresses High Fat Diet-Induced Inflammation and Hepatic Steatosis” – Yongjie Ma, Mingming Gao, Dexi Liu, Athens, GA

“Affinity Tagging of Adipocyte Nuclei in Mice to Examine Epigenetic Controls in Obesity” – Richard Meagher, Suresh Ambati, Elizabeth C. McKinney, Clifton A. Baile, Athens, GA

“Isolated Nuclei for the Cell-Type Specific Analysis of Neurons and Adipocytes” – Richard Meagher Athens, GA; Eric B. Dammer, Nicholas Seyfried Atlanta, GA; Clifton A. Bail, Athens, GA

“Simplified WBC Type-Specific Isolation for Epigenetics on Obesity” – Natalie Hohos, Deanna Shade, Diane Hartzell, MaryAnne Della-Fera, Richard Meagher, Clifton A. Baile, Athens, GA

“Exercise Benefits on Cognition Vary by COMT Genotype and Sex in Overweight Children” – Cynthia Krafft Athens, GA; Jennifer L. Waller, Haidong Zhu, Norman K. Pollock, Jacob Looney, Celestine Williams, Augusta, GA; Jennifer McDowell, Athens, GA; Catherine L. Davis, Augusta, GA

“Genetic Variation in Neural Signaling Pathways and Exercise Adherence in the TIGER Study” – Molly S. Bray Austin, TX; Matthew P. Herring Birmingham, AL; Mary H. Sailors Houston, TX; Rodney K. Dishman, Athens, GA; Daniel P. O’Connor, Andrew S. Jackson Houston, TX

“Rutin Suppresses Palmitic Acids-Triggered Inflammation in Macrophages and Blocks High Fat Diet-Induced Obesity and Fatty Liver in Mice” – Mingming Gao, Yongjie Ma, Dexi Liu, Athens, GA

“Under The Radar: The Skinny on Obesity in Normal Weight First Year College Women” –  Michael V. Fedewa, Bhibha M. Das, Michael D. Schmidt, Ellen M. Evans, Athens, GA

“Dietary phytochemicals reduce hepatic lipogenesis and lipotoxicity in the post-menopausal rat model” – Tucker Avra, Colette Miller, Suresh Ambati, Erica Bass, Natalie Hohos, Emily England, Diane Hartzell, MaryAnne Della-Fera, Athens GA;  Srujana Rayalam, Suwanne, GA; Clifton Baile, Athens, GA


No perfect diet


Obesity in the News

Source: Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

Source: Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.

A variety of diets can be successfully used for weight loss, according to a USA Today article on the new obesity treatment guidelines released Tuesday. The goal should be to burn more calories than consumed, regardless of whether that’s achieved through a diet low in fat or low in carbohydrates.

The guidelines, prepared by the American College of Cardiology, the American Heart Association and the Obesity Society, urge doctors to fight obesity aggressively, according to USA Today. The recommendations suggest a weight loss goal of 5 to 10 percent for obese patients, using both diet and exercise.  Interestingly, USA Today reports that the guidelines also suggest bariatric surgery maybe be beneficial for adults with a BMI of 40 or higher.


Exercise could make kids better test-takers


Obesity Initiative at UGA

child with stack of books

Image courtesy of africa/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Children who spent more time exercising made higher scores on English, math and science tests, according to a study co-authored by University of Georgia’s Phillip Tomporowski, who is a professor in UGA’s department of kinesiology.

The study, which was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine in October, compared the physical activity of 4755 children from the U.K. The children wore accelerometers, devices that measure motion, to track their physical activity for three to seven days. Their performance on national exams was then measured at the ages of 11, 13, and 15/16.

The greater the amount of physical activity children had at age 11, the higher they scored on the tests. Girls with higher physical activity did especially well on the science tests.

Tomporowski and the other authors noted that physical activity could increase test scores by improving executive function, which includes mental processes such as planning, remembering details and managing attention. See this article in the Huffington Post for more on this and other studies related to exercise and the brain.

The workout plateau


Obesity Initiative at UGA

Image courtesy of vorakorn/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of vorakorn/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It’s three weeks from spring break, and you step on the scale, wondering how many more pounds you can shave off before you hit the beach.  The number you see isn’t encouraging.  It hasn’t changed in several days, despite your continued workouts.  You’ve hit a plateau.

Both weight loss and strength training efforts tend to show lots of progress at first, while results lessen with time.  This pattern isn’t random.  In fact, science can predict when you’ll plateau, as well as how much weight you can lose – or muscle you can gain – before you do.

In his new book, “The Plateau Principle,” James Hargrove explains why plateaus occur and how people can use this knowledge to set realistic weight loss and strength training goals.

“The pattern will always be one of large early change that slows over time,” said Hargrove, associate professor emeritus of foods and nutrition at the University of Georgia.

We may be trying to lose fat or increase muscle, but our bodies automatically bring us back to a balance between the gain and loss of these tissues.

“After six months of weight loss, even if the person has not lost a great deal of weight, they’ll usually plateau,” said Connie Crawley, who works as an extension nutrition and health specialist for UGA Cooperative Extension.  Continued weight loss or muscle gain requires a person to make changes to their workout plan.

In the first part of his book, Hargrove uses illustrations from scientific studies about weight loss, weight gain and strength training to help readers understand how the body adjusts during a workout program.

The second half of the book teaches readers how to apply what they’ve learned to their own workout plans.  Readers can monitor their weight once a week and enter these data into an Excel spreadsheet that Hargrove provides on the book’s website.

The spreadsheet is built around the plateau principle, which is actually a mathematical equation.  This equation uses the rate at which a person is losing weight in their current workout plan to calculate the amount of weight they’ll drop before losses grind to a halt.  A person can also determine how long it will take to lose the weight.

A similar spreadsheet predicts how much muscle someone in a strength training program can gain over time.  People can also find out how quickly they will gain weight or lose strength if they stop their training program.

“The plateau principle can tell you if you need to increase your training or perhaps decrease it,” Hargrove said.

Experts James Hill and Rena Wing suggest only 20 percent of overweight and obese people in the U.S. have lost weight successfully without regaining it. Dietitians and personal trainers can help people find ways to change their training and break through a plateau. Hargrove explains how readers can design their own spreadsheets to help themselves or their clients make and track these training goals.

Hargrove’s book, which was published through CreateSpace in September, can be found online through Amazon.com.

Genetics and obesity expert to speak Oct. 1


Obesity Initiative at UGA

Claude Bouchard

Dr. Claude Bouchard

Eating more calories than you burn is a surefire way to put on the pounds. But do certain people’s genes put them at greater risk for weight gain and obesity?

World-renowned geneticist Claude Bouchard will discuss this and other obesity-related controversies during the fall 2013 Boyd Lecture on Oct. 1.  The lecture, titled “The Obesity Epidemic: Reflection on Contentious Issues” will take place at 3:30 p.m. in the UGA Hotel and Conference Center’s Mahler Hall.

Bouchard directs the Human Genomics Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center where he studies the genetics of obesity and related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.

“Dr. Bouchard has been active in obesity-related research for decades, and he has helped shape policy on obesity and physical activity in the U.S. and abroad,” said Clifton Baile, director of the UGA Obesity Initiative, in a recent UGA Today news release.

In addition to the Boyd Lecture, Bouchard will also be giving a scientific lecture geared at faculty and staff.  This lecture “The Genomic and Epigenomic Evidence Among the Multiple Determinants of Obesity” will take place at 11:00 a.m. on Oct. 1, in room 203 of the Ramsey Center.

Read the UGA news release here for more information.

Public health dean to help governor fight childhood obesity


Obesity Initiative at UGA

When it comes to staying fit, Georgia hasn’t always been the best place for children. Our beloved state used to have the second highest rate of childhood obesity in the U.S.  Fortunately, that rate has since decreased, moving Georgia to spot number 17.  But the state’s fight continues, and UGA’s Phillip Williams, dean of the College of Public Health, is stepping into the ring.

Williams was invited by Gov. Nathan Deal to help guide Georgia’s efforts to fight childhood obesity as a part of the newly formed Governor’s Advisory Council on Childhood Obesity, according to a recent UGA Today press release.

The council will guide Deal in the best ways to reduce the numbers of obese and overweight children, as well as support the governor’s Georgia SHAPE program, an effort to make reducing obesity a priority across the state. Georgia SHAPE includes initiatives like Power Up for 30, a voluntary program that encourages elementary schools around Georgia to add an extra 30 minutes of physical activity into each school day.

“I look forward to leveraging UGA’s assets and expertise in obesity research, instruction and outreach to address this important public health issue,” Williams said.

In addition to Williams, the 16-member council includes Deal; Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle; Dr. David Satcher, a former U.S. surgeon general and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director; and other leaders from the fields of public and private health, education, business and nutrition.

Read the rest of the UGA Today press here: http://news.uga.edu/releases/article/public-health-dean-governors-childhood-obesity-advisory-council-0913/.