Interval Training Workout Cuts Exercise Time

If you have trouble finding the time to exercise, there might be a solution for you according to experts – interval training workout sessions can help you squeeze a whole week’s exercise quota into less than an hour.

Known as interval training, this type of workout was first developed for Olympic athletes and believed to be too tough for the rest of us. It involves bursts of work at very high intensity alternated with times of rest or low activity – that’s the interval.

Research over the last few years has shown that older folks and even those with health problems might actually be able to handle these tough workouts, though more research is needed before anyone will recommend them.

If the benefits of interval training pan out, this could revolutionize how all kinds of patients are advised on exercise, perhaps saving them hours at the gym every week.

So far experts have tested workouts like running and biking, but believe swimming and rowing should be other good interval training options.

“High-intensity interval training is twice as effective as normal exercise,” explains Jan Helgerud, an exercise expert at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. “This is like finding a new pill that works twice as well… we should immediately throw out the old way of exercising.”

Sounds good, but experts caution that ordinary people, especially those who haven’t been active for a while, shouldn’t start an interval training program without first talking to a doctor. Warm ups are also vital. Working with a trained fitness professional to be sure you’re using proper form so that you get the most from your workout is also a smart move.

If you do get the okay from your doctor to give interval training a try, Helgerud suggests you do four sessions that last 4 minutes each with 3 minutes of recovery time in between. Only elite athletes should be making an all out effort, for the rest of us, work up to this level. During the exercise session, you want to be a bit out of breath, but not coping with an obvious feeling of exhaustion.

The research suggests interval training could really impact how much time you spend in the gym each week. As an example, a man in his mid 30s who is already active could get in top shape in about 6 weeks with weekly 45 minute interval training sessions. The same level of fitness would take about three months of regular training. Experts tell us this is due to the fact that body needs intense bursts of activity to build stronger muscles, to change one type of muscle fiber into another that uses oxygen more efficiently.

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This cuts exercise time by half Continued…

Traditional workouts just don’t push the body enough.

When you compare a normal exercise routine, jogging for example, to an interval training workout, researchers find you double your endurance; improve your oxygen use and strength by 10% and your speed by at least 5%.

Even studies among populations like the elderly and heart patients showed better oxygen use and fitness after interval training.

And remember, all types of exercise (interval training workouts and more moderate) are able to improve blood pressure and lower cholesterol. Not to mention help you manage stress, burn calories, strengthen your immune system and give your body benefits that will last today and for years to come.

To your good health,

Kirsten Whittaker
Daily Health Bulletin Editor

Belly Fat in Women Increasing Stroke Risks

The past ten years hasn’t just added inches to belly fat in women; USC researchers have found that stroke risks for women have risen inline with their expanding waistlines.

The gap between men and women when it comes to stroke rates keeps getting bigger according to work presented at the 2010 American Stroke Association’s (ASA) International Stroke Conference held in San Antonio.

Women between the ages of 45 to 54 are now three times more likely than men of the same age to have had a stroke, and University of Southern California in Los Angeles researcher Amytis Towfighi, MD suspects belly fat as a likely culprit.

In the latest analysis, risk factors for stroke were worse in men than in women, except when there was weight gain around the waistline.

Higher rates of stroke in this age group are certainly surprising.

It wasn’t all that long ago that the same team of researchers reported that between the years 1999 and 2004 women of this age group (45-54) were more than two times as likely as same age male counterparts to have had a stroke.

At the time, this caused a stir in the medical community as women of this age had been thought to be protected from heart disease by hormones.

The new analysis using data from the National health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) was conducted to see if the gender gap that appeared in the earlier work could be supported… and it was.

The latest work on stroke risk involved an analysis of data on 2,136 male and female survey participants between the ages of 35 to 64.

Just about 3% of women in this age group had suffered a stroke, compared to a mere 1% of the men. The disparity appears most strongly in the 45 to 54 year olds, where females had 3.12 times the risk of having a stroke compared to men. Towfighi points out that the stroke risk of middle aged women is still low, just over 3 in 100.

“Women in NHANES 1999-2004 were significantly more obese than women a decade prior, with an average BMI of 28.67 kg/m2 versus 27.11 kg/m2 the decade prior. In addition, women in NHANES 1999-2004 had an average waist circumference of nearly 4 centimeters more than women in the earlier study,” Towfighi points out.

Your doctor will tell you the most common risk factors for stroke are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and increasing age.

In general, the men in the latest round of research were more likely to have the cardiovascular risk factors we expect, the difference in risk came from abdominal fat – 62% of the female subjects had abdominal obesity (waist measurements of 35 inches or more, 40 inches for men), commonly known as belly fat. Only half the male subjects in the study had unsightly belly fat.

“Our hypothesis is abdominal obesity increases the risk of other risk factors – diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol. Together, they drive up the risk of stroke,” Towfighi explains.

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More Women Suffering From Strokes Continued…

No one yet knows why, but fat in the belly area seems to be a stronger risk factor for stroke in women. Traditional stroke risk factors like smoking and high blood pressure do not appear to be going up in this age group of women.

To manage your risk you need to start by taking a hard look at your risk factors and make changes where you can.

Exercising at least a half hour a day, opting for healthy food choices (5 or more servings of fruits and veggies/day) and cutting down on the junk foods full of fats, additives and other not-so-good for you ingredients are all smart moves.

Man or woman, if your doctor has told you that you need to lose weight, or that you have poor blood sugar control, you need to take steps now to improve your health, and reduce the stroke risks within your control.

To your good health,

Kirsten Whittaker
Daily Health Bulletin Editor

New Tax on Food to Prevent Obesity

Not good news for junk food lovers… a recent U.S. study finds that taxing high fat and sugar-laden junk food would be a more effective way to fight obesity than making healthy foods more affordable.

Looking for ways to prevent obesity is not a new idea, especially with almost a third of U.S. adults over 20 and one in five U.S. kids aged 6 to 19 considered obese according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control. Still there hasn’t been much research on how taxes (or subsidies) might influence the way people make food choices at food stores.

The team out of the University at Buffalo, a highly respected research university, gave 42 lean and overweight mothers $22.50 per family member to spend at a “supermarket” set up at the UB Division of Behavioral Medicine Laboratory as a grocery store stocked with images of all types of food – cola drinks, cookies, bananas and whole wheat bread etc – a total of 30 healthy options and 30 junk foods. There were four healthy drink choices – 2 juices, skim milk and water – and four sugar sweetened beverages.

The subjects were sent on a two hour grocery shopping trip, told to imagine they had nothing in the house and were going to the market to get the week’s groceries for their family.

The women shopped five different times. For the first visit, the prices of all the foods and drinks were what they would be at a local market. Two shopping trips saw the prices of the healthier foods lowered, while for another two trips the prices of the unhealthy foods and drinks were raised.

Raising the price of junk food, as might happen under a so-called “sin tax” was far more effective in getting the subjects to buy a week’s worth of groceries lower in overall calories than was cutting the prices of the healthy choices.

In fact, reducing the prices of healthy foods actually increased the overall calorie value of the foods and drinks the women bought.

When junk foods were taxed by 10% subjects bought 14.4% fewer high fat and sugar-laden foods and drinks. This brought down the overall calories of the week’s shopping by 6.5%.

Sin taxes have been levied successfully against cigarettes and been mentioned quite a bit lately as a way to help fund restructuring the U.S. healthcare system. No one in Congress has yet to endorse them.

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Warning: New tax on food Continued…

Still, fattening foods are usually cheap, while healthier options like fresh fruit and veggies are often more expensive.

The argument goes that a tax could offset this, and urge people toward buying more healthy options. The University of Buffalo research certainly seems to offer support for this idea.

“The results of this study suggest that the goal would be to develop a strategy that simultaneously reduces purchases of less healthy foods while increasing the purchase of healthier options,” says study lead author Leonard H. Epstein, Ph.D., a UB Distinguished Professor of Pediatrics and also head of the Division of Behavioral Medicine.

“Public health initiatives aimed at modifying food purchasing by manipulating prices may be an important addition to clinical interventions to treat or prevent obesity.”

To your good health,

Kirsten Whittaker
Daily Health Bulletin Editor

This vitamin Protects Against Heart Disease Risks

We’re learning more and more about powerhouse nutrient vitamin D. Supplements of this vital nutrient might not just be good for your bones, a new review of research that appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine shows, they may also offer protection against heart disease risks.

While science knows vitamin D plays an important part in calcium absorption and healthy bones, a growing body of work is now suggesting supplementing with vitamin D might lower the risk of heart disease too.

Over the course of the last two decades, American’s vitamin D levels have dropped dramatically and deficiencies are a known problem among the elderly populations of the world.

The body naturally produces vitamin D when you’re out and about (without sunscreen) in the sun; the nutrient can also be supplied to the body by consuming one of a few natural food sources or a fortified dairy or grain product. Supplements can also provide the body with what it needs.

The current Institute of Medicine recommended intake of vitamin D is 400 IU a day for those aged 51-70, and 600 IU per day for anyone over 71 – though these levels are currently (and rightfully according to many experts) under review. Updated recommendations are due by May 2010. The upper limit for vitamin D intake, according to the IOM’s current standards, is 2,000 IUs a day.

To help understand the role of vitamin D and calcium in heart disease, the researchers looked at 17 studies published from 1966 to 2009.

Six studies, five involving patients on dialysis, showed a consistent reduction in heart related deaths among those who took vitamin D supplements.

Four studies of healthy subjects found no difference in heart disease between subjects who took calcium supplements and those who didn’t.

Researchers point out that few studies have investigated the effect of vitamin D supplements alone (or in combination) with calcium on heart disease risk.

A second analysis of eight studies found a slight, though statistically insignificant, reduction of 10% in heart disease risk among those who took either moderate to high doses of vitamin D supplements. No such reduction was found among those who took calcium or a combination of calcium and vitamin D supplements.

Evidence to date, “suggests that vitamin D supplementation at moderate to high doses may have beneficial effects on reducing the risk for CVD [heart disease], whereas calcium supplementation seems to have no apparent effect,” write researcher Lu Wang, MD, PhD out of the division of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and colleagues. The team calls for more research to explain the role of vitamin D in heart disease.

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This vitamin Protects Against Heart Disease Continued…

Don’t take this as a knock on calcium supplements. While it may be that calcium has a neutral effect on your heart, this doesn’t mean it isn’t critical to your health, especially your bones.

As with vitamin D, an altogether too large portion of the U.S. population isn’t getting enough of this vital nutrient according to experts.

While more work is done, if you’re concerned about your heart health, look to your vitamin D levels as one of many things to help this all-important muscle stay healthy.

Remember, you should speak with your doctor before you start taking any supplement you read about or if you change your diet and exercise program dramatically.

Keeping your heart disease risks to a minimum is within your control… you need only take the first steps.

To your good health,

Kirsten Whittaker
Daily Health Bulletin Editor

Post Workout Diet Matters

What you eat after a workout affects the health benefits of the exercise according to a new study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.

The work finds that eating a low carb meal after aerobic exercise enhances insulin sensitivity and this makes it easier for the body to take sugar from the bloodstream, store it in muscles and other tissues where it can be used later as fuel. On the other end of the spectrum, impaired insulin sensitivity, also known as insulin resistance, increases the risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

The results of this new work support a growing body of evidence that finds many of the health benefits of exercise come from the most recent session, rather than the weeks, months or years of training that came before. Several earlier studies have shown that the health benefits of being active to the body taper off, within hours or days.

The study examined the effects of three different meals on metabolism after a period of moderate-intensity exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike compared with the resting metabolism in 9 healthy, though sedentary, male subjects.

All the participants were 28 to 30 years old. The study included four different sessions in the Michigan Clinical Research Unit in the University of Michigan Hospital. Each session lasted about 29 hours and involved fasting overnight before reporting the next morning.

The control part of the research had subjects not exercising and eating meals to match their daily calorie intake. The other three visits involved the subjects exercising for 90 minutes at moderate intensity and then eating one of three different meals…

- Meal one: a balanced meal with a carbohydrate, fat, protein and calorie content that matched their calorie expenditure during the exercise session.

- Meal two: matched the calorie count of their exercise expenditure, but only had about 200 grams of carbs (less than half the carbs of the balanced meal).

- Meal three: fewer calories than those burned during the aerobic workout (about one-third less than the other two meals), but a relatively high carb content.

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Post Workout Diet Matters Continued…

The researchers saw a trend for an increase in insulin sensitivity in all three exercise sessions.

When the subjects ate the low carb meal after the workout this increased their insulin sensitivity even more.

Eating the low calorie meals after working out didn’t improve the insulin sensitivity any more than when subjects ate enough calories to match what they burned during the exercise.

This suggests that you can get the important health benefits from exercise, and best of all, you don’t have to starve yourself after a workout.

To get the most from being active, experts suggest eating a healthy breakfast, and consume any large meal three to four hours before the workout, smaller meals two to three hours before.

While everyone’s experience of eating and exercise is different, you might try a light snack that includes both protein and carbs within two hours of finishing your workout to be helpful. Women, in particular, need protein after strength training.

More work in the area of eating and exercise is underway, involving experiments with obese subjects aimed at better identifying the minimum amount of exercise that will improve insulin sensitivity into the next day.

Third Hand Smoke New Danger…

We’ve all heard of “second hand smoke,” the result as smokers exhale and send carcinogens into the air around them. The harmful effects of second hand smoke are well established. Third hand smoke is less familiar.

The term was coined in 2009 by doctors out of Mass General Hospital for Children, and is used for the lingering gases and particles from tobacco smoke that cling to clothing, hair, skin, carpets, upholstery and even wallpaper.

We’ve all caught the odor of smoke after a smoker exits a confined space… this is a real world example of third hand smoke according to new work in a paper appearing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS).

Science has long known that tobacco smoke is absorbed onto surfaces; until now no one had looked at what might happen when these residual molecules came into contact with common pollutants in the atmosphere.

Scientists from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory ran lab tests and found “substantial levels” of toxins on smoke exposed material. Such residue can react with a common indoor pollutant to generate dangerous chemicals known as tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs). This residue can hang around for weeks or even months.

So smokers who may not indulge around their children, or crack the window in the car and smoke with their children in back, are unknowingly exposing them to heavy metals, carcinogens and even radioactive materials long after the smoke from the cigarette has cleared.

According to the researchers, third-hand smoke is an unappreciated health hazard, adding fervor to the anti-smoking movement and the call for bans on smoking in homes, vehicles, hotels and other public places. Young children are especially susceptible because they are breathing in closer proximity to these surfaces, and are not hesitant about licking or sucking on them.

In the tests, contaminated surfaces were exposed to high but reasonable amounts of nitrous acid, a common enough thing in the air that can come from unvented gas appliances as well as most car engines and exhaust.

The exposure increased levels of newly formed TSNAs ten-fold. Traces of TSNAs were also seen on the inner surfaces of a truck that belonged to a heavy smoker.

Researcher Lara Gundel of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, concedes, “Smoking outside is better than smoking indoors but nicotine residues will stick to a smoker’s skin and clothing. Those residues follow a smoker back inside and get spread everywhere. Think about the lingering odor after a smoker comes back inside after a “smoke break”.

“Dermal uptake of the nicotine through a child’s skin is likely to occur when the smoker returns and if nitrous acid is in the air, which it usually is, then TSNAs will be formed.”

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“Third Hand Smoke” New Danger… Continued…

Of course smoking advocates are skeptical of the danger. Simon Clark, director of the UK smokers’ lobby group Forest said, “The dose makes the poison and there is no evidence that exposure to such minute levels is harmful. That doesn’t seem to matter, though. The aim, it seems, is to generate alarm in the hope that people will be stopped from smoking or will give up.”

He went onto say, “The real danger is not third-hand smoke but propaganda dressed up as science.”

Whatever you believe the new work suggests that making your home and vehicle smoke free is a smart choice, especially if you have small children about.

You can also limit exposure to smoke and its after affects as much as possible – wash your hands, change clothes, brush your teeth after smoking and before holding or feeding babies and young children.

Bacteria Found In Packaged Greens

We’ve all seen the “prewashed” and “triple-washed” salad in a bag in the produce section of the supermarket, and they’re a welcome convenience. Available since the early 1990s, annual sales of the easier than ever side dish has reached almost $3 billion a year.

The trouble is that despite what it says on the package, the contents may not be as clean as you’d like.

A new investigation from the Consumers Union, publishers of Consumer Reports, found high levels of bacteria usually linked to poor sanitation and fecal contamination in many of the packaged salads they sampled. The report will appear in the March 2010 issue of the magazine.

The organisms investigators found don’t pose a health risk to the public, but because bacteria were there, this makes it more likely there’s contamination by rare (and potentially deadly) pathogens such as E. coli and salmonella.

The last E. coli outbreak, coming in the fall of 2006, was traced to packaged spinach and killed three, hospitalizing more than 100. The cause of the contamination was never confirmed, but E. coli was widely believed to have reached the spinach via groundwater that had cattle and pig feces in it.

The sample for the testing included 208 packaged salads that were bought last summer in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York. Sixteen brands were represented, and the salads were sold in either bags or plastic clamshell containers.

Bacteria levels varied quite a bit, with some samples having undetectable levels while others were literally teeming with organisms, more than 1 million colony forming units (CFUs) per gram.

The investigators found that 39% of the samples had more than 10,000 CFUs per gram – a measure of total coliforms, bacteria associated with fecal contamination. What’s more, 23% had more than 10,000 CFUs per gram of the bacterium enterococcus. Experts contacted by Consumer Reports as part of the research found that these levels were unacceptable.

The investigation also found the following:

- Salad mixes that had spinach tended to have higher bacteria levels.

- Packaging, either bagged or clamshell container, didn’t effect contamination levels.

- National distributed brands and smaller, regional brands showed little difference in bacteria levels. All brands with more than four samples had at least one package with relatively high levels of total coliforms or enterococcus.

- Products labeled “organic” were just as likely to have bacteria as those not labeled this way.

- Packaged produce tested within 5 days of the use-by date had higher levels of bacteria than those tested at the 6-day mark.

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Bacteria Found In Packaged Greens Continued…

The produce industry has responded to the piece in Consumer Reports by reminding everyone that the bacteria found by the investigators did not pose a health risk to people.

“Consumer Union found only harmless, naturally occurring bacteria, for which no detection standards have been established by the federal government,” reads a joint written statement from the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Produce Association.

The trade groups are also calling on Congress to pass food safety reform and adequately fund the FDA to allow the agency to fulfill its mission to protect the public.

Consumers Union senior scientist Michael Hansen, Ph.D. suggests that consumers should look for products that are at least 6 days from their use-date when shopping for packaged salads.

To protect yourself, you need to wash the contents again, no matter what it says on the package, to make sure the good-for-you greens really do your body good.

Internet Addicts Suffer Depression

Today, surfing the web has become as accepted and mainstream as going to the movies, out to dinner or for drinks after work. However, for a small number of users, the internet becomes more than a way to get information, shop or stay connected… the web becomes a consuming passion that takes up increasing amounts of time, energy and focus.

For those who come to rely on the internet to socialize online via social networking sites, message boards and chat rooms instead of meeting people face-to-face, new research out of the UK finds that the risk of depression is higher than for other users of the world wide web.

There’s no doubt that the Internet is a big part of modern life, but there are darker sides to the technology according to lead study author Catriona Morrison of the University of Leeds. “While many of us use the Internet to pay bills, shop and send e-mails, there is a small subset of the population who find it hard to control how much time they spend online, to the point where it interferes with their daily activities.”

The work, the first large scale study of its kind, appears in the February 10, 2010 issue of Psychopathology and involved 1,319 subjects aged 16 to 51 whose internet usage was evaluated as part of the research.

Eighteen, 1.2% of them, were identified as addicted to the Internet. The number might seem small, but it is larger than levels of other addictive behaviors, such as gambling, and has the researchers urging for internet addiction to be recognized as a distinct medical disorder.

In the study, young people were more likely to be addicted to the internet than middle-aged users, with 21 being the average age of the addicted group. The study sounds a warning that over-indulging in websites that replace normal social interaction might also be linked to problems like depression and addiction.

When it comes to what those hooked on the net were doing, your guess is correct. The internet addicts spent proportionally more time browsing online gaming sites, sexually gratifying websites and online communities.

Those classified as internet addicts also had a higher incidence of depression, either moderate or severe, according to the researchers. No one can say if the Internet use causes the depression, or if depressed people are naturally drawn to the web, but the association is there.

“Our research indicates that excessive Internet use is associated with depression, but what we don’t know is which comes first: Are depressed people drawn to the Internet, or does the Internet cause depression?” Morrison says. “What is clear is that, for a small subset of people, excessive use of the Internet could be a warning signal for depressive tendencies.”

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Internet Addicts Suffer Depression Continued…

And while feeling down every once in a while is a normal part of life, when that sense of emptiness and despair takes hold, and won’t go away, you need to seek help.

If you’re wondering how your own online habits stack up… there is no one magic number because so many of us need the internet for different things. Instead, try and answer these questions honestly.

1. Are you more comfortable with your online friends than your real friends?

2. Can you not stop yourself from playing a game, gambling or just surfing the net?

3. Are you neglecting other things – work, kids, exercise or chores etc – to be online?

If you’re answering, “yes” to any one of the three, it’s time to make some changes and try to strike a better balance between your online time and offline time.

Very Obese Have Missing Genes

Theories that associate DNA to weight have just gotten a major boost due to the discovery by European researchers of a genetic variation that almost guarantees a person will be obese.

The variation in question appears in 7 out of every 1,000 severely obese people, and may also be linked to mental retardation and learning disabilities. The investigation appears in the February 4. 2010 issue of the British journal Nature.

The work, conducted by a team of European scientists, began by examining the genes of teens and adults who had learning problems and developmental delays.

Of these, 31 were missing the genes in question and all of these subjects were obese, with BMIs over 30.0. This led the researchers to look at the genomes of 16,053 healthy people who were either of normal weight or obese, of these, 19 people had the same set of missing genes, and all were severely obese. The genetic variation was not found in any of the normal weight subjects.

Interestingly, the obese subjects reported being average weight toddlers, but steadily gaining weight during childhood, and getting to the severely obese stage as an adult.

“Obesity is definitively a genetic trait, and it is very likely that additional small chromosomal abnormalities exist that may dramatically increase the risk of obesity and may also be linked to brain developmental problems,” explains study co-author Dr. Philippe Froguel, the head of genomic medicine at Imperial College London.

While other studies have looked at different genetic variations that might contribute to obesity, this is the first to clearly show that a relatively rare genetic variation is also part of the obesity puzzle.

Obesity in otherwise healthy adults may be caused by a variation where a section of that person’s DNA is missing. But just what the missing genes do in the body, and how the lack of them brings on obesity, remains unknown.

Some basic genetics might help here. We all inherit two copies of our DNA, one from our mother, the other from our father. The trouble starts when a child is missing a copy of one, or several, of these genes, and this can have a profound impact on the body. Experts believe these defects may make the bodily reaction to our modern unhealthy environment (junk food, no exercise, lack of sleep) far different from another person’s.

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Very Obese Have Missing Genes Continued…

” The mechanism by which this genetic defect unveils itself may give us insight into how other conditions lead to obesity. There may be an enzyme or a protein that is involved in the development of obesity,” explains Dr. Stuart Weiss, an assistant clinical professor at NYU Langone Medical Center, who is familiar with the study and its findings.

This work might lead to medications and therapies that could turn something in the body on (or off) and effect body weight. It may also allow for ways to identify those at risk through genetic testing and offer support and medical intervention as needed.

Weiss points out that not all obese people can slim down just by eating less and exercising more. This may be especially true if the body is set up to extract calories or burn energy less efficiently, encouraging weight gain.

The good news for anyone struggling with obesity is that we may be getting closer to the day when medicine can offer real help, real hope, to those wanting to lose the weight.

3 Home Habits to Stay Slim

In the March 2010 issue of Pediatrics, researchers are set to reveal some unexpected weapons in the fight against childhood obesity – and all three are directly under your control.

It seems that family behaviors can have a significant impact on preschool children, helping them maintain a normal weight, and perhaps delivering other benefits as well.

The three habits?

- Sit down to dinner together as a family five or more nights each week.

- Be sure children get enough (10.5 hours a night at this age) sleep.

- Limit time in front of the TV or game system to less than two hours a day.

“Four-year-olds who regularly ate dinner with the family, got enough sleep and watched less than two hours of TV a day were 40% less likely to be obese,” points out study lead author, Sarah Anderson, an assistant professor of epidemiology in the College of Public Health at Ohio State University.

Since there are so few easy, effective treatments for childhood obesity, preventing it in the first place must get special emphasis. Childhood obesity isn’t something to brush of; it’s a serious medical condition that gets kids started on a path to health problems (high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol) once only seen in adults.

The research included a nationally representative sample of 8,550 four year olds along with one parent per child who answered questions about family routine and behavior. In children, obesity is determined by the BMI being greater than the 95th percentile when compared to others of the same age and gender. The group of children in this study had an 18% obesity rate.

Only 14.5% of the children were regularly exposed to all three of the at home behaviors, and the obesity rate for this group was 14.3%. For those kids who were exposed to none of the three, the obesity rate shot up to 24.5%. Researchers were able to link each behavior to a 17% reduction in the rate of obesity.

These results held even after the team controlled for things that might impact a child’s risk of being obese. These included obesity of the mother, race, gender, socioeconomic status and living in a single parent household.

The results show an association between the three behaviors and obesity rates, but the study was not designed to demonstrate cause and effect. “We don’t know if it’s the routines per se, or if it’s the parenting associated with these routines or something else correlated with these routines, but we do know these routines are associated with a lower incidence of obesity,” continues Anderson.

The good news for parents is that all three of the behaviors are pretty simple – things you can do in your own home, in your own way, to help your children. Not only will you be denying childhood obesity a hold on your child, you’ll also be taking part in activities that have been shown to aid behavior and cognitive development.

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3 Home Habits to Stay Slim Continued…

Even if you can’t manage making all three steps part of your family routine, Anderson says that introducing at least one can have a positive impact. Or do one as much as possible for your lifestyle and schedule.

As a parent, you will need to make these behaviors a priority… perhaps limiting the number of activities or changing your own routine to make it work. You might start by trying the one behavior you think you’ll be able to do most easily and watch the results. If you’re already doing one (or more) of these, try adding another.

Young children aren’t the only ones who can be encouraged to get their weight under control, as shown by another study set to appear in the same March 2010 issue of Pediatrics.

This work involved 81 obese teen girls enrolled in the Duke University Healthy Lifestyles Program who were randomly assigned to read an intervention novel about an obese heroine who learns about eating right, being active and thus improving her self esteem, or a control novel.

The girls who read the intervention novel were more likely to reduce their BMI percentile than those who read the control book, or a third group of subjects who didn’t read anything.

Age appropriate fiction that addresses healthy behaviors might have potential as a supplement to a weight management program.

So parents, grandparents and others… if you’re worried about childhood obesity, there are simple steps you can take to make a difference… starting tonight.