Parasitic worms could help fight obesity-related diseases

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Obesity in the News, Obesity Initiative at UGA, Obesity Studies

Say what? Now this is an interesting story written by James Hataway, a colleague in the Office for the Vice President of Research.

The intro is pretty great. Check it out this UGA News release:

On the list of undesirable medical conditions, a parasitic worm infection surely ranks fairly high. Although modern pharmaceuticals have made them less of a threat in some areas, these organisms are still a major cause of disease and disability throughout much of the developing world.

But parasites are not all bad, according to new research by a team of scientists now at the University of Georgia, the Harvard School of Public Health, the Université François Rabelais in Tours, France, and the Central South University, Changsha, Hunan, China.

A study published recently in Nature Medicine demonstrates that once inside a host, many parasitic worms secrete a sugar-based anti-inflammatory molecule that might actually help treat metabolic disorders associated with obesity.

The story was immediately featured in several outlets, including this Atlanta Business Chronicle article. Want to know how this is possible? Check it out:

A study demonstrates that once inside a host, many parasitic worms secrete a sugar-based anti-inflammatory molecule that might actually help treat metabolic disorders associated with obesity.

The sugar molecule, or glycan, is released by parasites to help them evade the body’s immune system. By reducing inflammation, they are better able to hide in tissues, and humans experience fewer symptoms that might reveal their presence.

“Obesity is an inflammatory disease, so we hypothesized that this sugar might have some effect on complications related to it,” said Donald Harn, Georgia Research Alliance Distinguished Investigator in the UGA College of Veterinary Medicine’s Department of Infectious Diseases.

New Mexico State University researchers study student and staff obesity

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

University of Georgia professors hope to start some wellness programs on campus for staff and faculty. It looks like some other universities around the country have the same idea and could provide some insight.

From the Associated Press:

New Mexico State University researchers have launched a study to examine obesity among NMSU students and employees.

Researchers recently developed an online survey aimed at finding out more on obesity and lifestyle factors of students and employees, especially in southern New Mexico

So far, the survey has found that 47 percent of NMSU and employee respondents self-reported as overweight or obese.

Susan Wilson, an associate professor in NMSU’s Department of Health Science and the study’s lead researcher, says she would like to see future studies that look more closely at stressors in the environment and “culturally acceptable versus ideal notions of weight and obesity.”

Obesity bigger health crisis than hunger, global report states

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

Here’s the second huge media crazy about obesity recently. Obesity is now a bigger health concern globally than hunger. Are we really surprised? And if that’s true, how can we reconcile these two ends?

Here’s a bit of the CNN story that’s being featured in countless outlets:

Obesity is a bigger health crisis globally than hunger, and the leading cause of disabilities around the world, according to a new report published Thursday in the British medical journal The Lancet.

Nearly 500 researchers from 50 countries compared health data from 1990 through 2010 for the Global Burden of Disease report, revealing what they call a massive shift in global health trends.

“We discovered that there’s been a huge shift in mortality. Kids who used to die from infectious disease are now doing extremely well with immunization,” said Ali Mokdad, co-author of the study and professor of global health at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, which led the collaborative project.

“However, the world is now obese and we’re seeing the impact of that.”

The report revealed that every country, with the exception of those in sub-Saharan Africa, faces alarming obesity rates — an increase of 82% globally in the past two decades. Middle Eastern countries are more obese than ever, seeing a 100% increase since 1990.

“The so-called ‘Western lifestyle’ is being adapted all around the world, and the impacts are all the same,” Mokdad said.

The health burden from high body mass indexes now exceeds that due to hunger, according to the report.

And for the first time, noncommunicable diseases like diabetes, stroke and heart disease top the list of leading causes of years spent sick or injured.

Youth obesity falls in several cities

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

The latest obesity news to go big in the media — obesity rates are falling in some cities. But does this mean we can rest easy? I don’t think so.

Here’s a snippet of the New York Times story about it all:

After decades of rising childhood obesity rates, several American cities are reporting their first declines.

The trend has emerged in big cities like New York and Los Angeles, as well as smaller places like Anchorage, Alaska, and Kearney, Neb. The state of Mississippi has also registered a drop, but only among white students.

“It’s been nothing but bad news for 30 years, so the fact that we have any good news is a big story,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, the health commissioner in New York City, which reported a 5.5 percent decline in the number of obese schoolchildren from 2007 to 2011.

The drops are small, just 5 percent here in Philadelphia and 3 percent in Los Angeles. But experts say they are significant because they offer the first indication that the obesity epidemic, one of the nation’s most intractable health problems, may actually be reversing course.

The first dips — noted in a September report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation — were so surprising that some researchers did not believe them.

Deanna M. Hoelscher, a researcher at the University of Texas, who in 2010 recorded one of the earliest declines — among mostly poor Hispanic fourth graders in the El Paso area — did a double-take. “We reran the numbers a couple of times,” she said. “I kept saying, ‘Will you please check that again for me?’ ”

More Americans say obesity is most urgent health problem, Gallup says

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

Gallup strikes again. They’re always working on interesting polls, and this one strikes to the heart of the UGA Obesity Initiative. In Gallup’s annual Health and Healthcare survey, obesity is climbing to the top as one of the nation’s urgent health problems.

Check the Gallup results here:

More Americans than in the past say obesity is the most urgent health problem facing the United States, climbing to a new high of 16%. That compares with 1% in 1999, when Gallup began asking the question on an annual basis.

These results are based on Gallup’s annual Health and Healthcare survey, conducted Nov. 15-18. As part of that survey, Gallup asks Americans, in an open-ended format, to name the nation’s most urgent health problem. The question was first asked in 1987, with obesity receiving mentions of 3% or less prior to the annual updates that started in 1999.

Americans’ increasing concerns about obesity mirror the rising rates of obesity in the United States. The percentage of adults who are obese doubled from 1980 to 2008, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And Gallup and Healthways find obesity remains high as of the third quarter of 2012, at 26.1%.

Despite the growing concern in the U.S. about obesity, it still ranks third on the list of most urgent health problems. Americans’ top health concern remains access to healthcare, as it has been since 2007, but the 23% who name the issue this year is down slightly from 27% in 2011. The cost of healthcare is a close second, with the 19% naming it as the most urgent health issue — on par with the past three years.

VA scientists manipulate enzyme to reduce obesity

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

We know that UGA professors are looking at epigenetics and other ways to manipulate and study obesity. Check out this interesting study at the Virginia Commonwealth University regarding obesity and enzymes in mice:

From Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News:

Scientists say thay have successfully reversed obesity in mice by manipulating the production of an enzyme known as tyrosine-protein kinase-2 (Tyk2). In their experiments, the team at the Virginia Commonwealth University Massey Cancer Center discovered that mice lacking Tyk2 become progressively obese due to aberrant development of Myf5+ brown adipose tissue (BAT), and they claim that this applies to humans as well.

The researchers say the study is the first to provide evidence of the relationship between Tyk2 and brown fat. Previous studies by the team, led by Andrew Larner, M.D., Ph.D., revealed that Tyk2 helps suppress the growth and metastasis of breast cancer, and now the current study suggests this same enzyme could help protect against and even reverse obesity.

Tyk2 RNA levels in BAT and skeletal muscle, which shares a common progenitor with BAT, are dramatically decreased in mice placed on a high-fat diet and in obese humans. The scientists were able to reverse obesity in mice that do not express Tyk2 by expressing a protein known as signal transducer and activator of transcription-3 (Stat3). Stat3 mediates the expression of a variety of genes that regulate a host of cellular processes. Tyk2-negative mice expressing CAStat3 transgene in brown fat also show improved BAT development, normal levels of insulin, and significantly lower body weights. The researchers found that Stat3 formed a complex with a protein known as PR domain containing 16 (PRDM16) to restore the development of BAT and decrease obesity.

“We discovered that Tyk2 levels in mice are regulated by diet. We then tested tissue samples from humans and found that levels of Tyk2 were more than 50 percent lower in obese humans,” says Dr. Larner, Martha Anne Hatcher distinguished professor in oncology and co-leader of the cancer cell signaling program at VCU Massey Cancer Center. “Our findings open new potential avenues for research and development of new pharmacological and nutritional treatments for obesity.”

Calls to use social media to fight childhood obesity

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

The American Heart Association is spreading the word this week to use social media to fight childhood obesity. It’s an interesting idea, especially because younger and younger students are using apps and texting. Will it work?

From WebMD:

Kids and teens increasingly keep in touch through social media, and all that texting, tweeting, and online networking can be a powerful tool for combating childhood obesity, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).

In a newly released statement, the group calls for more research to help doctors and health policy makers incorporate social media into existing obesity prevention and management programs.

“Almost all kids have Internet access and many have smartphones,” says Duke University chief of pediatric cardiology Jennifer S. Li, MD. “We need to take advantage of social networking to connect with them because it is the way they are connecting with their friends.”

Spelman cuts NCAA funds to invest in anti-obesity program

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

Spelman College, not too far down the road, is investing in a nice gym and campus wellness program for students. Check out this interesting idea, featured on Fox News:

Spelman College, a historic college for black women, is taking a long, hard look at their NCAA funds. The school’s million-dollar sports budget — typically used for uniforms, travel and referees — will now be diverted to pay for a state-of-the-art gym and campus-wide wellness programs intended to help all students on campus. This is the last year Spelman students will be able to participate in NCAA Division III sports.

“I understand this change is disappointing to those students who have been very involved in intercollegiate athletics,” said Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, the president of Spelman College. “We can use those dollars to bring in more instructors — to focus on wellness in a way that will allow all 2,100 students to really participate.”

College officials envision a yoga room, a spin room, an indoor track and new equipment that would rival any commercial gym. It is as much about a healthy weight as it is a healthy mind and life.

“Our students – most of whom are African-American women — are twice as likely to become diabetic. They are more likely to experience a heart attack or stroke in their lifetimes. Largely because of the high levels of obesity and overweight within the African-American community,” Tatum said. “This generation of young people is not likely to live as long as its parent generation because of poor diet and lack of exercise. I have been to the funerals of young alumnae – one of the things I say to our students is, we are investing a lot in you.”

Exercise doesn’t reduce risks of sedentary lifestyle, study finds

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Obesity Initiative at UGA

Well, this is an interesting one. Apparently one study from Northwestern is showing that sitting is negating — or at least certainly not helping — regular exercise routines. What do we do now?

Check it out in the New York Daily News:

Women just can’t win. Even if you are a gym rat, if you sit the rest of the day you are at increased risk for diabetes, heart disease, obesity and premature death, a new study has found. Regular exercise, it turns out, does not reduce the risk of an otherwise sedentary lifestyle.

“We all know someone who gets a good workout in every day, but then spends a large portion of their day sitting in front of a computer with few breaks,” said Lynette Craft, lead author of the study and adjunct professor of preventive medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

“If these people could replace some of the sitting with light activity just getting up, moving around, maybe standing up when talking on the phone, walking down the hall instead of sending an email we do think they could gain health benefits.”

 The study, published in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, looked at whether women who exceed the federal government’s current Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans — getting at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity a week — are less sedentary than those who don’t meet the guidelines.

While many of the women in the study met or exceeded 150 minutes of physical activity per week, in reality only a fraction of the women’s days were spent being physically active. The women in the study spent an average of nine hours a day sitting. That number is consistent with previous results from much larger studies that examined the number of hours Americans spend sitting every day.

Emerging research has led health experts to believe that sitting is the new smoking, and women and men both need to be mindful about being couch — or desk — potatoes.