Wednesday, February 19th, 2014
A woman’s diet during pregnancy may directly affect her child’s brain in a way that determines the baby’s risk of becoming obese or overweight during childhood, new research has found. More from The Atlantic:
The article, published in the journal Cell in January, looks at the impact a mother’s diet has on her offspring’s health. This line of research isn’t new—otherstudies have shown links between a woman’s health during pregnancy and her child’s weight later in life—but this is one of the first to provide a potential explanation for this phenomenon.
To explore this, researchers first fed pregnant mice a diet high in fat at varying stages during their pregnancy to figure out when the most critical period was.
It turns out that mother mice that were fed a high-fat diet while they were nursing had significantly heavier male offspring with a higher percentage of body fat than moms fed a normal diet during this time. These males also had higher insulin resistance and glucose intolerance, precursors for type-2 diabetes, even if they themselves consumed a normal diet. Interestingly, these poor health effects were only present in the female offspring if they ate a high-fat diet, but not if they ate normally.
Following this discovery, the researchers looked at what was going on in the brains of these mice that might be linked to their increase in body fat, particularly focusing on the hypothalamus, a major hormonal relay station in the brain that helps to regulate our metabolism. Two chemicals that are maintained through the hypothalamus and are key players in controlling our hunger and satiety are aGRP/Neuropeptide Y, which are released when we’re hungry, stimulating our appetites, and POMC, which is involved in triggering satiety once we’ve eaten.
In baby mice, neurons continue to develop after they’re born, but in humans, neural development is more established at birth. Therefore, the nursing stage in mice actually corresponds to the third trimester of pregnancy in humans, meaning that the most critical period for people is during the last trimester.
In the case of POMC and aGRP, the researchers discovered that there was a lower density of axon fibers—the part of the cell that connects neurons in one area of the hypothalamus to another—in mice with mothers that were fed a high-fat diet. This may then have had an effect on the processing of insulin and glucose in these mice, potentially leading to the glucose intolerance and elevated insulin levels that the scientists witnessed.
Moreover, it appears that a target of these neurons that is involved in suppressing appetite and stimulating the metabolism was also significantly affected. Specifically, the genetic expression of the thyroid-stimulating hormone TRH was significantly lower in the offspring of the high-fat mother mice. This means that there was a reduced potential for the release of this hormone, which is involved in weight-regulation.
Finally, the researchers also found evidence of abnormalities in pancreatic cells, again suggesting an impairment in the processing of glucose and insulin release.
Image: Pregnant woman eating, via Shutterstock
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Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
The good news for parents who are concerned that kids consume too much sugar in the form of soda is that kids are drinking less of those carbonated beverages. The bad news, though, is that coffee drinks and energy drinks–also packed with calories and caffeine–are replacing soda as the top choice for U.S. kids. More from Time.com on a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics:
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…[R]esearchers looked at trends in caffeine intake among people ages 2 to 22 between 1999 to 2010. They found that in 1999, 62 percent of kids and young adults got most of their caffeine from soda. But in 2010, that number dropped significantly to 38 percent.
Energy drinks were not a factor at the beginning of the study, but between 2009 to 2010, they rose to 6 percent of caffeine intake among young people. Coffee also made a jump, from 10 percent of caffeine intake in 1999-2000 to about 24 percent in 2009-2010.
Overall during the time period, researchers found that 73 percent of young people consumed some caffeine on a given day. Even more startling was the fact that 63 percent of kids aged between 2 and 5 consumed caffeine.
The researchers speculated that increased awareness over the link between soda and obesity could be one of the reasons fewer young people are guzzling sodas. But any increase in energy drink consumption among youth is concerning, given that high levels of caffeine can have a greater impact on smaller bodies. The American Academy of Pediatrics says energy drinks “should never be consumed by children or adolescents.”
Thursday, January 30th, 2014
Nearly half of children who are considered to be obese by eighth grade were already overweight when they first entered kindergarten, according to new research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The findings may change how obesity prevention programs set their strategies, especially those programs that advocate focusing anti-obesity efforts on school-aged kids. More from The Associated Press:
The prevalence of weight problems has long been known — about a third of U.S. kids are overweight or obese. But surprisingly little is known about which kids will develop obesity, and at what age.
Researchers think there may be a window of opportunity to prevent it, and ‘‘we keep pushing our critical window earlier and earlier on,’’ said Solveig Cunningham, a scientist at Emory University. ‘‘A lot of the risk of obesity seems to be set, to some extent, really early in life.’’
She led the new study, which was published in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine and paid for by the federal government.
It tracked a nationwide sample of more than 7,700 children through grade school. When they started kindergarten, 12 percent were obese and 15 percent were overweight. By eighth grade, 21 percent were obese and 17 percent were overweight.
Besides how common obesity was at various ages, researchers focused on the 6,807 children who were not obese when the study started, at kindergarten entry. Here are some things they found:
WHO BECAME OBESE: Between ages 5 and 14, nearly 12 percent of children developed obesity — 10 percent of girls and nearly 14 percent of boys.
Nearly half of kids who started kindergarten overweight became obese teens. Overweight 5-year-olds were four times as likely as normal-weight children to become obese (32 percent versus 8 percent).
GRADE LEVELS: Most of the shift occurred in the younger grades. During the kindergarten year, about 5 percent of kids who had not been obese at the start became that way by the end. The greatest increase in the prevalence of obesity was between first and third grades; it changed little from ages 11 to 14.
RACE: From kindergarten through eighth grade, the prevalence of obesity increased by 65 percent among whites, 50 percent among Hispanics, almost 120 percent among blacks and more than 40 percent among others — Asians, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans and mixed-race children.
By eighth grade, 17 percent of black children had become obese, compared to 14 percent of Hispanics and 10 percent of whites and children of other races.
INCOME: Obesity was least common among children from the wealthiest families and most prevalent among kids in the next-to-lowest income category. The highest rate of children developing obesity during the study years was among middle-income families.
BIRTHWEIGHT: At all ages, obesity was more common among children who weighed a lot at birth — roughly 9 pounds or more. About 36 percent of kids who became obese during grade school had been large at birth.
Image: Girl eating apples, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, January 30th, 2014
Children who have poor breakfast habits in their adolescent years may be more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, which is a group of cardiovascular risk factors, later in life, according to a new Swedish study published in the journal Public Health Nutrition. Researchers from Umeå University said in a statement:
The study revealed that adolescents who ate poor breakfasts displayed a higher incidence of metabolic syndrome 27 years later, compared with those who ate more substantial breakfasts.
Metabolic syndrome is a collective term for factors that are linked to an increased risk of suffering from cardiovascular disorders. Metabolic syndrome encompasses abdominal obesity, high levels of harmful triglycerides, low levels of protective HDL (High Density Lipoprotein), high blood pressure and high fasting blood glucose levels.
The study asked all students completing year 9 of their schooling in Luleå in 1981 (Northern Swedish Cohort) to answer questions about what they ate for breakfast. 27 years later, the respondents underwent a health check where the presence of metabolic syndrome and its various subcomponents was investigated.
The study shows that the young people who neglected to eat breakfast or ate a poor breakfast had a 68 per cent higher incidence of metabolic syndrome as adults, compared with those who had eaten more substantial breakfasts in their youth. This conclusion was drawn after taking into account socioeconomic factors and other lifestyle habits of the adolescents in question.
Image: Child eating breakfast, via Shutterstock
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Monday, January 20th, 2014
American families are eating more meals at home, and those meals are healthier, a new study conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture has found. The findings include that Americans are consuming fewer calories overall, family meals are becoming more common, and more people are paying attention to the quality of the food they buy. More from Time.com:
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You can thank the recession, but when the economy started to sour in 2007, Americans stopped eating at restaurants and started to cook more meals at home. And most families have been listening to the onslaught of advice about how to eat healthier, since those meals were also respectably nutritious. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report, adults born from 1946 to 1985 who were asked about their diets from 2005 to 2010 consumed fewer calories and less cholesterol and unhealthy fats.
“It’s good news for us,” said Kevin Concannon, USDA Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, in a press conference.
Concannon said that while meals at home still make up a minority of the average American’s diet, the trend is encouraging and hopefully represents the beginning of a shift in the way families eat.