by Marion Nestle

Currently browsing posts about: Eat-less-and-move-more

Feb 26 2014

Is obesity really leveling off? Yes, and falling in kids ages 2 to 5!

The biggest story—front page, right column—in the New York Times today is CDC’s report of a 43% drop in obesity among children ages 2 to 5 in the last decade.

  • 2003-2004: 14%
  • 2011-2012:   8%

A change this large is highly unusual.

The data come from a report in JAMA which found no change in overall obesity prevalence in that decade among infants and toddlers, youth ages 2 to 19, or adults.  When looking at the data for subgroups, however, the authors found two exceptions:

  • The big decline in obesity among children ages 2 to 5
  • A big increase in obesity among women ages 60 and older (oops)

What to make of this?

The decline in obesity among young children is consistent with previous reports, although these showed a smaller change.

To examine what the data show, it helps to look at an illustration.  The JAMA paper does not provide one, but a reporter sent me this:

Screenshot 2014-02-26 08.17.27

The lower curve is for children ages 2 to 5.  It shows a sharp uptick in 2003-2004 (what was that about?), followed by a decline in 2007-2008.  The new data extend the decline a little further.

Any decline in the rising prevalence of obesity is cause for celebration.  So is the no change in a decade among almost everyone else.

The reasons?  I can only speculate but the “eat less junk food and move more” message must be getting out.

Nov 18 2013

What’s up with the new cholesterol/statin guidelines?

Last week, a Feedback comment from a reader, Judith Rice-Jones, inspired me to try to understand what’s going on with the new heart disease prevention guidelines (I can’t say I’m succeeding very well).

Looking forward to your response to the recent recommendations for more people to take statins. Don’t see anything in the new recommendations about changing lifestyle or diet to reduce risks of stroke or heart attack.

Yes, there are lifestyle recommendations.   But lifestyle changes do not make money for drug companies, and they don’t get press attention.

The American College of Cardiology (ACC) and American Heart Association (AHA) issued four sets of guidelines:

  1. 2013 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Treatment of Blood Cholesterol to Reduce Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Risk in Adults
  2. 2013 AHA/ACC/TOS Guideline for the Management of Overweight and Obesity in Adults
  3. 2013 AHA/ACC Guideline on Lifestyle Management to Reduce Cardiovascular Risk
  4. 2013 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Assessment of Cardiovascular Risk

These organizations say:

AHA and ACC are pleased to announce a series of new cardiovascular prevention guidelines for the assessment of cardiovascular risk, lifestyle modifications that reduce risk, management of elevated blood cholesterol, and management of increased body weight in adults. These guidelines are based on rigorous, comprehensive, systematic evidence reviews originally sponsored by the NHLBI. The ACC and AHA collaborated with professional organizations to finalize these AHA/ACC cardiovascular prevention guidelines, and stakeholder organizations were invited to review and endorse the final documents.

So these guidelines are a major big deal.  The New York Times said you need to know three things about them:

  • You don’t need to know your cholesterol number (unless it is very high).
  • You do need to know your risk (for this you need to use the risk calculator and, therefore, to know your LDL and HDL levels and blood pressure).
  • If you are at risk, take a statin (most, at least, are generics).

But wait!

As the New York Times also suggested, the new guidelines have taken many by surprise.

This is an understatement.

Problem #1: Authoritative clinicians say more patients should not be taking statins

This announcement is not a result of a sudden epidemic of heart disease, nor is it based on new data showing the benefits of lower cholesterol. Instead, it is a consequence of simply expanding the definition of who should take the drugs — a decision that will benefit the pharmaceutical industry more than anyone else.

This opinion piece points out that members of the group writing the recommendations have financial ties to drug makers, as do both the AHA and ACC.

The guidelines might make sense, they say, if statins

actually offered meaningful protection from our No. 1 killer, heart disease; if they helped people live longer or better; and if they had minimal adverse side effects. However, none of these are the case…as shown in a recent BMJ article co-written by one of us.

Perhaps more dangerous, statins provide false reassurances that may discourage patients from taking the steps that actually reduce cardiovascular disease…80 percent of cardiovascular disease is caused by smoking, lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet, and other lifestyle factors. Statins give the illusion of protection to many people, who would be much better served, for example, by simply walking an extra 10 minutes per day.

Problem #2: The risk calculator greatly overestimates risk

The lead article in today’s Times summarizes studies to be published in The Lancet tomorrow concluding that the risk calculator makes the risks seem greater than they really are.

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New Picture (1)

It will lead many doctors to prescribe statin drugs to people who do not need to take them (from the standpoint of drug companies, that’s the point).

The calculator overpredicted risk by 75 to 150 percent, depending on the population. A man whose risk was 4 percent, for example, might show up as having an 8 percent risk. With a 4 percent risk, he would not warrant treatment — the guidelines that say treatment is advised for those with at least a 7.5 percent risk and that treatment can be considered for those whose risk is 5 percent.

What to do?

  • Best to discuss this one with your doctor.
  • For sure, eat your veggies and be active.
  • If you still smoke cigarettes, stop.
  • Stay tuned for further developments.

Just for fun

Let’s let Brian McFadden (Sunday’s New York Times Week in Review) have the last word for today.

May 7 2013

Grocery Manufacturers Association says: Eat less, move more (it’s your fault, not ours)

The Grocery Manufacturers Association (GMA) recently released an interactive  guide to using Facts Up Front, its front-of-package nutrition symbols.

Here’s an excerpt from the GMA’s Infographic:

The GMA’s press release said Facts Up Front

empowers consumers to make informed choices. It arms them with critical nutrition information about their favorite products…Through this website, we are providing consumers with the knowledge and tools they need to build a healthful diet.

The website includes, among other things:

The GMA says:

Facts Up Front labels…highlight nutrition information – calories, saturated fat, sodium and sugar per serving – in a clear, easy-to-understand format. The labels also provide consumers with valuable information about “nutrients to encourage”…The labeling program was developed in response to First Lady Michelle Obama’s call on the food and beverage industry to help consumers construct a healthy diet for themselves and their families.

As I’ve explained in previous posts, I can’t believe that this is what the First Lady had in mind.  I view Facts Up Front as the industry’s end run around the FDA’s long delayed attempt to make front-of-package nutrition information actually useful to consumers.

I’m greatly in favor of eating less, eating better, and moving more as a way to manage weight in today’s food marketing environment.  

But coming from GMA, the message takes on additional meaning: it’s up to you to make healthful food choices.  The companies represented by GMA take no responsibility for the effects of their products on health or of their marketing on your food choices.

Nov 1 2011

Latest US News rankings: healthy diets!

U.S. News has just released its rankings of 20 popular diet plans—the “Best Diets for Healthy Eating.”

The top five:

  • DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension)
  • TLC (Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes)
  • Mediterranean
  • Mayo Clinic
  • Volumetrics

These may be healthy, but from the standpoint of survey respondents, they don’t work very well.  To the question “Did this diet work for you?” the “no’s” hugely outnumber the “yes’s” for a whopping 16 of the 20 diets.

The four exceptions:

  • Weight Watchers (#6)
  • Vegetarian Diet (#9)
  • Eco-Atkins (#15)
  • Vegan (#16)

Diets are about maintaining or losing weight.  This means balancing food energy against the amount of energy used in metabolism and activity.   To lose weight, you have to eat less or move more or do both.  It also helps to eat better and make healthier food choices.

All of the diets on the US News list are based on healthy food choices.  But these are the only four diets on the list that seem to help a majority of people to eat better and eat less.

 

 

Feb 9 2010

Confused about nutrition? Eat food!

I can’t resist dealing with the questions just asked by Elliot and Johannes.  From Elliot:

A meta-analysis of prospective epidemiologic studies showed that there is no significant evidence for concluding that dietary saturated fat is associated with an increased risk of coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease (see: American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, January 13, 2010)…[but] in his book, Good Calories Bad Calories, Gary Taubes clearly attributes most of our chronic disease problems — including heart disease — to carbohydrates (see page 454).  In contrast, Colin Campbell in his book The China Study (pages 113-133) forcefully argues that animal proteins contribute to CVD.  Yet, Dr. David Katz in his book Nutrition in Clinical Practice (pages 130, 133) asserts that to prevent heart disease, “saturated and trans fat should be restricted to below 7% (or even 5%) of total calories . . . .”  Who’s right?  We badly need your unbiased wisdom on this topic.

Joannes says that according to the Weston A Price Foundation,

it seems as if (naturally-occurring) saturated fats are almost better for you than the unsaturated fats we get fed these days, which mainly consist of rancid oils which more than anything contribute to heart disease, whereas many saturated fats are actually quite beneficial.

OK.  Here’s my “unbiased wisdom” (if such a thing exists).  I like to ask: What do saturated fats, sugars, and animal proteins have in common as factors in the development of heart disease?   Answer: They are all single nutrients.

Recall that nutrition research is difficult to do because diets contain many foods, foods contain many nutrients and other chemicals that affect health, and other behavioral, socioeconomic, and genetic factors influence heart disease.  Studies of single nutrients take these chemicals out of their food, dietary, caloric, and lifestyle contexts and are, therefore, reductive.

Such studies tend to produce ambiguous results that demonstrate small differences, if any.  Small differences create situations ripe for interpretation.  Interpretation depends on the viewpoint of the interpreter.  That is why it helps to know who is doing the interpreting and who sponsored the studies.

Short of that, you would have to read every study cited by these authors and come to your own decision about how to interpret them – a daunting task.

My approach to conflicting research?  I look for points of agreement. The authors cited here do not disagree about the basic principles of healthful diets: variety in food intake, moderation in calories, largely plant-based (although not necessarily exclusively), and minimally processed.  Eat according to those principles and you do not have to worry about nutritional details.

All of that boils down to the advice I propose in What to Eat: eat less, move more, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, and don’t eat too much junk food.

Let the scientists and their interpreters fight it out over single nutrients.  Eat food and enjoy your dinner.

Feb 8 2010

The Surgeon General’s Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation

I recently received this request from Daniel posted to Feedback:

Would you mind writing a blog post on the new surgeon general’s obesity report? …Is there a food politic element to why this has gone under the radar? …I find it ironic that Michael Pollan’s Food Rules generated substantially more press than a report by the United States Surgeon General.

I’m not surprised.  Pollan’s book is a hot best seller (it’s #1 on Amazon books, and for good reason, in my opinion).   The need to prevent obesity and how to do it is not exactly front-page news.  And the new Surgeon General, Dr. Regina Benjamin, is still relatively unknown as a political force.

But let’s give Dr. Benjamin credit for taking on obesity in one of her first public actions: the release of “Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation.”   The Vision, which comes with a press release and a fact sheet, recommends these actions to prevent obesity:

  1. Reduce consumption of sodas and juices with added sugars.
  2. Reduce consumption of energy dense foods that primarily contain added sugars or solid fats.
  3. Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins.
  4. Control your portions.
  5. Drink more water.
  6. Choose low-fat or non-fat dairy products.
  7. Limit television viewing time and consider keeping televisions out of children’s rooms.
  8. Become more physically active throughout the day.
  9. Breastfeed exclusively to 6 months.

These are all useful suggestions but we have heard them before.  The real issue is how to achieve them.  Here, the report disappoints.

The first two items should have grabbed attention: targeting soda reduction as as the first line of defense against obesity, and eating less junk food (my translation) as the second.

But Dr. Benjamin assigns parents the responsibility for feeding kids healthfully.  Fine, but what about about public health approaches to reducing soda consumption?  To pick a non-random example, soda  taxes are under intense debate right now.  Does Dr. Benjamin weigh in on such approaches?  Alas, no.  Only on the second-to-last page does she summarize suggestions from the Centers for Disease Control and Promotion (CDC), among them:

  • Increase availability of healthy, affordable food and beverage choices in public service venues.
  • Improve geographic availability of supermarkets in underserved areas.
  • Improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables by providing incentives for the production, distribution, and procurement of foods from local farms.
  • Limit advertisements of less-healthy foods and beverages.

I wish the report had focused on such ideas, instead of leaving them to an afterthought and personal responsibility. It’s great that the nation’s doctor cares about obesity but her Vision isn’t nearly as tough or realistic as it needs to be.  For that, we need the CDC or the report on food marketing to kids that the Institute of Medicine produced in 2005.

In 2001, Surgeon General David Satcher released the first government report on preventing obesity.  It got press. If this one didn’t, it could well be because it doesn’t break enough new ground.  Surely, it’s high time we got beyond blaming parents and instead started focusing on the need to create a food environment that makes it easier for parents and everyone else to make better food choices and be more active.

I hear that Michelle Obama will soon announce (tomorrow?) a new program to address childhood obesity.  I’m hoping that her program will take on some of the factors in the food environment that make it so difficult for everyone to eat healthfully.

Jan 8 2010

Genetic causes of obesity: 1%?

Recent news reports encouraged me to take a quick look at the January 2010 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition where investigators have attempted to identify the proportion of human obesity accounted for by genetic variation.  Their conclusion: probably no more than 1% (we used to think it was 5%).  I don’t know why anyone would be surprised.  Obesity rates rose sharply in the early 1980s, with no possibility for so rapid a change in the genetic composition of the population.

I don’t think we need complicated genetic explanations for obesity.  We have so much evidence that people started consuming more calories at about that time and are continuing to do so.  Why more calories?  Portion sizes got bigger, and – hard as it may be to believe – larger portions have more calories!

In a commentary on the study, Claude Bouchard puts it this way:

The obesity epidemic we are facing today unfolded over the past few decades and can clearly not be explained by changes in the frequency of risk alleles. It is more likely due to a changing social and physical environment that encourages consumption and discourages expenditure of energy, behaviors that are poorly compatible with the genome that we have inherited.

Hence: eat less, move more!  And have an active weekend!

Jan 6 2010

How many extra calories cause weight gain?

For years, some people – not me – have been saying that eating one extra 50-calorie cookie a day can make you put on 5 pounds per year.  This calculation comes from basic math: if about 3500 extra calories make you put on a pound of body fat, then 50 times 365 is 18,250 extra calories which, divided by 3500,  equals about 5 pounds.

This never made sense to me.  It is impossible to know how much you are eating each day within 50 calories let alone how many calories you are using in daily activities.  Yet people used to be able to keep their weight steady without thinking about calories at all.

This is because the body regulates weight and can easily compensate for such small changes in calorie intake or output with small changes in metabolic rate.  It takes more calories to move heavier bodies, and fewer to move lighter ones.

For years, I’ve been thinking that it must take a lot more than 50 extra calories a day – I guessed hundreds –  to make people gain weight.  I thought this for two reasons:

First reason: Portion sizes have increased greatly in recent years, and larger portions have more calories.  Sometimes, they have a lot more.  Foods eaten outside the home often have more calories in them than anyone suspects.

That’s why calorie labeling matters.  Labeling may underestimate the actual calories present in a food according to Tufts researchers (see this week’s Time for commentary and also see the industry response).  But even so, a new study shows that labeling encourages people to cut down on food intake, at least at Starbucks.  Make that two new studies: one from the Rudd Center at Yale comes to the same conclusion.

Second reason: I keep hearing from pediatricians who treat overweight kids that they have kids in their practices who drink from 1,000 to 2,000 calories a day from sodas alone.  I can’t judge whether these figures are correct or not, but several different kinds of studies suggest that many people today are eating a lot more calories than their counterparts of 25 years ago.

Now Martin Katan and David Ludwig have done the actual calculations in a paper in this week’s JAMA titled “Extra calories cause weight gain–but how much?”  Their conservative estimate is that it would take an excess of 370 calories to gain 35 pounds in 28 years.   To become obese in 25 years, you would need to eat 680 calories a day more than you expended.

To become 58 pounds overweight at age 17, they predict that a child would need to overconsume 700 to 1,000 calories a day from the age of 5 or so.

These figures are quite consistent with what those pediatricians were telling me.  By other estimates, average caloric intake has increased by 200-500 calories a day since the early 1980s, along with a 700 calorie-a-day rise in the availability of energy in the food supply (from 3,200 to 3,900 per day per capita).

As Katan and Ludwig conclude:

small changes in lifestyle would have a minor effect on obesity prevention.  Walking an extra mile a day expends, roughly an additional 60 kcal compared with resting – equal to the energy in a small cookie.  Physiological considerations suggest that the apparent energy imbalance for much of the US population is 5- to 10-fold greater, far beyond the ability of most individuals to address on a personal level.  Rather, an effective public health approach to obesity prevention will require fundamental changes in the food supply and the social infrastructure.

This is because on the personal level, prevention of weight gain means eating hundreds of calories a day less.  Moving more, useful as it is, will not do the trick unless people eat less as well.

On the societal level, we need measures to make it easier for people to eat less.

I can think of a bunch of examples.  You?

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