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Monthly Archives: January 2017

Why Obesity Rates Are Rising Faster Than Ever

It seems everywhere we turn we hear about obesity. The statistics. The dangers. The effect it has on all areas of one’s life. The annual Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Indexsurvey released this week, which tracks respondents’ self-reported height and weight data, revealed that its tracked national obesity rate has risen to 27.7 percent — up from 25.5 in 2008. Mississippi has the highest obesity rate at 35.2 percent, while Hawaii is the only state where fewer than 1 in 5 residents are obese. And for the first time since 2008, there has been a sharp increase in the number of obese Americans ages 65 and older.

We know weight gain — especially excessive weight gain — is bad, but when you’re surrounded by all-you-can-eat buffets and communities not designed for walking, is there any hope of winning the battle of the bulge? The answer is a resounding yes, and the first step is knowing what obesity is and how it affects all of us.

Obesity: What Is It?

Over the last 25 years, obesity rates have been climbing steadily. While the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index finds 27.7 percent of Americans are obese, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimate that nearly 35 percent of adults and 18 to 21 percent of children are obese.

In layman’s terms, obesity is carrying enough body fat to put an individual at risk for a variety of ailments including diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, stroke, pulmonary disease, reproductive disorders, osteoarthritis, and cancer, among others. “In short, obesity can affect functioning of all major body organ systems,” says Jennifer Nasser, RD, PhD, assistant professor in the department of biology at Drexel University in Philadelphia.

Obesity is typically determined by figuring out an individual’s body mass index (BMI) using a formula that includes his or her height and weight. For an adult, a number of 25 or larger falls in the overweight category, while a value of 30 or more is considered obese.

This formula is not appropriate for children and teens, however. “BMIs for children and teens are age- and gender-specific because the amount of body fat changes with age and growth and differs between boys and girls,” says Rose Clifford, RD, clinical dietitian in the department of pharmacy services at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. The CDC offers an accurate BMI calculator for those under age 20 with their Child and Teen BMI Calculator.

Obesity: What Causes It?

A variety of factors are converging to cause the current obesity epidemic. “More people are becoming obese because of the foods that are available and inexpensive,” says Caroline M. Apovian, MD, director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at the Boston Medical Center. “We are eating 200 more calories per day than we did 50 years ago.”

Technology has made our lives easier, yet also more sedentary as we drive instead of walk and e-mail instead of wandering by a colleague’s desk. The environment, too, can be causing us to add extra pounds. “Weight gain results from the interaction between genes and environment,” says Linda Bacon, PhD, associate nutritionist at the University of California, Davis. “Environmental conditions are changing and some people’s genes make them susceptible to gaining weight in the current environmental conditions.” Bacon says that these include increased toxins in the environment, some of which cause changes in hormones which lead us to store fat, and changes in our eating habits — some of the nutrients more common today don’t trigger our internal weight regulation mechanisms as readily as foods from nature do.

Obesity: What Are Its Effects?

Besides health dangers, obesity can cause economic hardships and psychological effects including depression and self-esteem issues. Perhaps worst of all is the discrimination suffered by those who are obese. “Discrimination against larger people now exceeds that based on race and gender,” says Bacon.

And the effects don’t stop there. The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index also asked respondents to rate their overall well-being. The survey defines well-being through five key areas: purpose (liking what you do each day), social (relationships), financial, community (liking where you live), and physical (having good health and energy to get things done). The survey found that obese Americans are more likely to suffer in these key areas than those who are not obese.

While obesity can be affected by genetics and the environment, there is still plenty you can do to fight it. Schedule an appointment with your doctor to discuss which weight-loss and treatment options are right for you. Stay active by scheduling exercise into your routine and avoid spending too much time on sedentary activities like TV-watching. And make healthy diet choices — with correct portion sizes and at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily.

Measuring Body Fat

Many people who are watching their weight — or trying to lose some pounds — turn to their bathroom scale. But that old familiar standby is not the only way to measure one’s size. Another possibility to consider is your body fat percentage.

Body Fat: What Are the Dangers?

When most of us hear the words “body fat” they have immediate negative connotations. However, in the right proportion, fat is actually critical to our diet and health. In the not-so-distant past, the ability to store extra body fat allowed our ancestors to survive in times of famine, when food was hard to come by. Even today it’s essential to keep the body functioning, to preserve body heat, and to protect organs from trauma.

Problems arise when our bodies store too much fat. This can lead to a variety of health issues, including high cholesterol, hypertension, glucose intolerance, and insulin resistance. Especially dangerous is fat stored at the waist, creating what is often called an “apple-shaped” body, as opposed to fat on the hips and thighs, a “pear-shaped” body.

“Normal body fat for men is around 8 to 15 percent of their total body weight and for women approximately 20 to 30 percent,” says Caroline Apovian, MD, associate professor of medicine and pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine and director of the Center for Nutrition and Weight Management at Boston Medical Center.

Body Fat: How Can It Be Measured?

There are a variety of ways to measure the amount of body fat a person is carrying. “The most accurate way is ‘underwater weighing,’ which weighs the person on land and then underwater,” says Mary M. Flynn, PhD, RD, chief research dietitian and assistant professor of medicine at the Miriam Hospital and Brown University in Providence, R.I. “But equipment for this is very expensive and not readily available.”

Another fairly accurate option is Bioelectric Impedance Analysis (BIA). BIA consists of electrodes being placed on a person’s hand and foot while a current (which is not felt) is passed through the body. Fat has less water and is more resistant to the current, whereas muscle, which contains more water, is less resistant. The resulting numbers are entered into an equation which figures the percentage of fat and lean tissue.

The easiest method is measuring waist circumference and determining the Body Mass Index (BMI). A waist circumference over 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men is cause for concern.

Figuring BMI involves a little more calculation. BMI is done by multiplying your weight in pounds by 703, then dividing that number by your height in inches two times. If the end result is less than 18.5, the individual is underweight;18.5 to 24.9 is normal; 25.0 to 29.9 is overweight; and over 30 is obese.

“However, you must be aware of this disclaimer. BMI alone is not an indication of body fat, especially in athletes and bodybuilders. Growing children under 18 years old should also avoid using BMI,” says Elizabeth Downs, RD, clinical dietitian at the Montefiore Medical Center at the University Hospital for the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx, N.Y.

One final way of determining body fat is using skin calipers to measure fat at specific places in the body. However, not only is it easy to make errors, but this method also doesn’t measure any interior fat or fat contained in thighs and women’s breasts.

Ultimately the percentage of body fat is just another number in the health equation. And if you are not happy with the result, all it takes is adding exercise and cutting calories to get it moving in the right direction.

Several Types of Drinking Tied to Poor Diet

Spanish researchers surveyed more than 12,000 adults aged 18 to 64 about their drinking and eating habits. They found that heavy drinking, binge drinking, a preference for hard liquor and even drinking at mealtimes were associated with poor adherence to major nutrition guidelines.

Although drinking during mealtimes is traditionally associated with good health, the researchers found that this was not true if the drinkers ate carelessly.

“Our results are of relevance because they show that drinking at mealtimes is associated with insufficient intake of healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and with excessive intake of animal protein,” said study corresponding author Jose Lorenzo Valencia-Martin, a doctor at the Universidad Autonoma de Madrid, said in a journal news release.

“In Spain, alcohol is frequently drunk during meals, particularly lunch and dinner. Because of this, and the lower prevalence of abstainers, our findings apply to most adults in Spain and in other Mediterranean countries in Europe,” he added.

Valencia-Martin pointed out that heavy drinkers were likely to develop liver disease, and that many tended to favor high-energy fast foods high in trans fat. Unfortunately, a diet high in trans fats might also contribute to liver disease, he said.

Excessive drinking and an unhealthy diet are two major preventable factors that contribute to health problems in developed nations, the researchers noted.

“Drinking alcohol may reduce maintaining a healthy diet, leading to adverse metabolic effects which, in turn, add to those directly produced by alcohol,” Valencia-Martin said.

“Alcohol may indirectly contribute to several chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes mellitus, cardiovascular disease or cancer,” he added.

Trendy Foods With Serious Health Benefits

Food, like fashion, has its trends. And when it comes to the best foods for dieting and weight loss, trends come and go — what’s cool one day is passé the next. Usually, foods come into fashion because they’re thought to be more healthful than their more mainstream counterparts (think swapping brown rice for quinoa). Here’s what you need to know about the most recent batch of trendy foods.

Agave

This sugar substitute is made from cacti, and is thought to be a healthy alternative togranulated sugar in baking. “Cup for cup, agave and table sugar are about equal in the calorie department, but because agave is about 1.5 times sweeter than table sugar, you can use less of it to reach the same sweetness,” says Rania Batayneh, MPH, a nutritionist and owner of Essential Nutrition for You, a nutrition consulting firm. Agave’s main benefit, she says, is that it scores low on the glycemic index — between 15 and 30 compared with table sugar’s 65. “This means that consumption won’t result in dangerous spikes in blood sugar that table sugar so often causes, making it a possible safe alternative for diabetics,” says Batayneh.

If you’re trying to cut calories for weight loss, agave doesn’t offer much of a benefit, Batayneh says. Instead, stick to a zero-calorie sugar substitute like stevia, or better yet, skip refined sugar foods altogether.

Nondairy Milk

For the lactose-intolerant and those wanting to avoid all animal foods, rice milk, almond milk, and soy milk are becoming increasingly popular food trends for good nutrition. “More and more people are becoming sensitive to dairy products,” says Sally Kravich, MS, a natural health expert and consultant in New York City. “I recommend almond milk and rice milk to many of my clients. For those who have a sensitive digestive system, rice milk is best. For those who are vegans and need more protein and naturally occurring calcium, I recommend almond milk. I only recommend soy milk to women who need to boost their hormones or for older men with prostate issues.”

If you’re watching your sugar intake, try an unsweetened nondairy milk, as most brands have either no sugar or less sugar than naturally occurs in dairy milk. Plus, nondairy milks are often fortified with extra calcium or vitamin D.

Almond Butter

Almond butter is another almond-based food trend that has some advantages over conventional peanut butter. “I brought up my own children on almond butter,” Kravich says. “Almond butter is preferable over peanut butter as it contains more protein and less sugar than the peanut.”

Still, it’s important to eat nut butters in moderation, as most varieties are heavy in calories and fat.

Quinoa

Nutrient-rich whole grains and their high levels of digestion-friendly fiber are an essential component of any balanced diet. A new choice on the whole grain market that’s become wildly popular is the South American grain quinoa. Prized for its versatility and high protein content, quinoa has fast become a restaurant and supermarket staple. “My favorite grain recommendations across the board are millet, quinoa, and brown rice,” Kravich says. “For those who need a higher protein grain, quinoa is my first choice.”

Chia Seeds and Teff

Chia and teff are two other whole-grain foods that Kravich recommends adding to your dieting arsenal. “Chia can be added to smoothies for added protein and easier bowel movements,” she says. “The Ethiopian grain teff is a good flour product for those who have digestive issues and cannot tolerate gluten.”

Coconut Oil

Coconut oil was once thought to be a fat to avoid, but recent research has found that its negative effects may have been overstated. “Coconut oil has received controversial attention due to the fact that, of its 15 grams of fat per serving, 13 of these are saturated fats,” Batayneh says. “The saturated fats found in coconuts, however, are medium-chain fatty acids, as opposed to the long-chain fatty acids found in meat, milk, eggs, and vegetable oils. Because of coconut’s unique form of saturated fat, it has been shown to raise metabolism and slow digestion, promoting fullness and decreasing feelings of hunger.” Coconut oil has other nutrition benefits, too. “Its lauric acid enhances the immune system and promotes health development in infants,” she adds. “It has also been shown to increase endurance and speed in cyclists, making it an ideal supplement for athletes.”

Fermented Foods

“I think fermented foods are the next big thing,” says Pamela Schoenfeld, RD, a registered dietitian in private practice in Morristown, N.J., and executive director of the Healthy Nation Coalition. “Foods like yogurt, sauerkraut, and real kosher pickles have been popular for years, but now we have kimchi, fermented beets, radishes, carrots — you name it. If these foods are not pasteurized after fermentation, they contain beneficial bacteria that promotes digestive health. These foods are not difficult to make and are a great way to preserve the bounty from the garden or farmers’ market.”