Comment »Posted on Wednesday 8 October 2008 at 7:17 pm by Jacob Aron
In Biology

Three press releases on obesity and weight loss coming out of the Obesity Society’s annual scientific meeting caught my eye recently, so I thought I’d combine them all in to one post.

From Duke University Medical Center comes findings that even a small amount of exercise can improve quality of life for severely obese people. Under one hour a week was enough to benefit participants in the study of 1,200 by the Duke Diet and Fitness Center.

Those who increased their activity levels felt they had a better quality of life, and their ability to perform daily tasks as measured on a physical function scale was also boosted. Martin Binks, research director at the Center, hopes that the findings will encourage people to exercise, no matter how overweight they are.

“These folks weren’t reporting high levels of activity yet they still felt better,” he said. “This supports what we’ve been teaching for years – no amount of exercise is too little to have an impact. And it’s beneficial no matter what you weigh.

“When you are 100 pounds overweight, as the average participant in our program is, people often feel defeated. They have trouble moving, and they think ‘why bother.’ This study shows why they should bother. It shows the value of starting to move no matter how overweight you are.”

Meanwhile, researchers at Duke Children’s Hospital have found that reading can actually help obese children to lose weight. Obese girls aged 9 to 13 years old were given Lake Rescue to read, a novel written with the aid of paediatric experts to include “specific healthy lifestyle and weight management guidance, as well as positive messages and strong role models.”

After six months, the 31 girls who read the book had lost weight according to their Body Mass Index (BMI) score, which fell by an average 0.71%. By comparison, the BMI of 14 girls who had not read the book saw a gain of 0.05%. Both sets of girls were enrolled on a weight loss program before participating in the study.

Although the numbers are small, director of Duke’s Healthy Lifestyles Program Sarah Armstrong finds the results encouraging. Typically, BMI will increase as children grow, so a decrease is a good sign for those trying to lose weight.

“If their BMI percentile goes down, it means they are they are either losing weight or getting tall and not gaining weight. Both are seen as positive indicators in kids who are trying to lose weight,” she said.

I have to question whether it is really “reading” that is helping these kids lose weight, or simply exposure to information in an accessible format. It could be that a film or video game about weight loss could be just as useful, however anything that can help obese children can only be a good thing. Studies by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that 16% of children aged 6 to 19 are overweight or obese, a threefold increase since 1980.

Finally, Temple University has found that the presence of vending machines in schools are encouraging children to consume more calories than they need. No surprise there really, but I thought I’d just highlight one comment by Amy Virus, the senior health services coordinator for the study by the Center for Obesity Research and Education at Temple University:

“Contrary to common belief, fruit juice is not a healthy snack, if drunk in excess. It should be limited to about 6 ounces per day, but it’s common to see more than one serving in a bottle.”

It’s counter-intuitive, but fruit juice can actually be pretty bad for you. Juice can contain large amounts of sugar, which people often dismiss as “natural” – but sugar is sugar, and with it come calories. Even worse than juice are smoothies, which have gained in popularity of the recent years. Per 100ml, Coca-Cola contains less calories than a typical fruit smoothie. A 250ml serving of Coke contains 105 calories, whilst the smoothie has one third more at 140 calories.

Really, these findings can be boiled down into three simple steps towards weight loss: exercise, educate yourself, and check the labels on your food!

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