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Obesity Rates, Studies, and Childhood Obesity

Public transportation could affect obesity rates

Utilizing buses and trains requires consumers to be more active in their day-to-day lives

Public transportation is a part of many consumers’ daily routine, serving as a convenient way to get from place to place. However, many consumers probably never considered the health implications of utilizing public transportation.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Georgia Tech recently conducted a study and found that when more people utilize public transportation, obesity rates are lowered.

“Opting for mass transit over driving creates opportunities for exercise that may otherwise not exist,” said researcher Sheldon H. Jacobson. “Instead of just stepping out of the house and into his car, riders need to walk from their home to a bus stop and from their stop to a destination.”

More exercise

To see how public transportation affects consumers’ health, the researchers utilized census, transportation, and health records from over 220 counties across 45 states from 2001 through 2009.

To get the most accurate results, the researchers accounted for certain factors, including public transit funding, household income, healthcare coverage, and leisure-time exercise. The researchers’ biggest takeaway was that obesity rates go down when more people are using public transit instead of driving.

The study showed that obesity rates went down nearly 0.5 percent when public transit riders increased by just one percentage point. The researchers do note some limitations to their study, including the results reflecting counties rather than individual people.

“The results indicate that when more people opt to use public transit, the county-level obesity rate tends to drop, though it does not necessarily imply that any one particular person is less likely to be obese if they ride transit frequently,” Jacobson said.

Additionally, because the data was taken from ten to 20 years ago, there was no way for the researchers to factor in how rideshare services like Uber or Lyft would affect consumers’ health. However, the researchers are interested to see how technology will continue to shape how we get around and how it affects our bodies.

“Our research suggests that investing in public transit can provide more efficient transportation options that not only help the environment, but may also offer public health benefits,” said Jacobson.

Consistent findings

The researchers based their work off of a previous study, in which they found that increasing the use of mass transit could reduce obesity by 0.2 percent.

“The new work takes a longitudinal approach, meaning that we examined differences between 2001 and 2009, allowing us to better control for factors that could otherwise influence the analysis,” said researcher Douglas M. King. “For example, factors like weather or physical geography that can influence the obesity rate of a county in both 2009 and 2011 are controlled since their impact is present in both time periods.”

Public transportation is a part of many consumers’ daily routine, serving as a convenient way to get from place to place. However, many consumers probably never considered the health implications of utilizing public transportation.

Researchers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Georgia Tech recently conducted a study and found that when more people utilize public transportation, obesity rates are lowered.

“Opting for mass transit over driving creates ...

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    Childhood obesity may increase risk for pancreatic cancer in adulthood

    Maintaining a healthy lifestyle continues to be of the utmost importance

    As nearly 20 percent of children in the United States suffer from childhood obesity, researchers continue finding health risks that could prove to be troublesome for both adolescents in the short- and long-term..

    A new study found that childhood obesity could lead to an increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer later in life.

    “There is growing concern regarding the impact of adolescent obesity on adult health,” the researchers wrote in their report. “The objective of this study was to evaluate the association between  body mass index (BMI) in late adolescence and the incidence of pancreatic cancer during adulthood.”

    The importance of a healthy childhood

    The researchers, led by Dr. Zohar Levi of Rabin Medical Center and Tel Aviv University, analyzed medical records for over one million men and over 700,000 women from 1967 through 2002. All participants were between the ages of 16 and 19 years old.

    By the time the participants were re-examined -- an average of around 23 years after the first exam -- 551 new cases of pancreatic cancer were identified. One of the biggest findings showed that men were at a greater risk than women of developing pancreatic cancer. Of the 551 new cases, just 128 were women, while 423 were men.

    However, when factoring in weight, obesity affected slightly more women’s diagnoses than men’s. The women in the study characterized as obese were over four times as likely to be diagnosed, whereas men were 3.67 times as likely to be diagnosed.

    “The overall population attributable fraction of pancreatic cancer due to adolescent overweight and obesity was 11 percent among this...population,” Dr. Levi said.

    The researchers also found that overweight men were at a greater overall risk of developing any cancer -- and not just the pancreatic variety. The male participants that were classified as obese had a 97 percent higher risk of developing cancer compared with those of normal weight and BMI.

    Being aware of health risks

    A great deal of research has been done on health risks associated with obesity -- for both children and adults -- in an effort to promote healthier choices and lifestyles among consumers.

    A recent study conducted by Harvard researchers found that a mother’s lifestyle can greatly impact a child’s likelihood of developing obesity.

    Mothers who were found to follow five healthy habits -- eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, keeping a healthy body weight, drinking alcohol only in moderation, and not smoking -- had children who were 75 percent less likely to develop obesity. When both mother and child practiced the habits, the risk of obesity was 82 percent less.

    A study conducted earlier last month found that asthma is linked to childhood obesity. While countless studies have explored the ways obesity leads to asthma, this was the first to explore the reverse relationship. Overall, the study found that children who have asthma were 66 percent more likely to develop obesity, while children who were on asthma medication were at an even greater risk.

    A group of researchers from the University of Bristol recently found that obesity is tied to a greater risk of mortality, as it can lead to cardiovascular disease and several different kinds of cancer.

    “The findings highlight the need for a global effort to reduce the surging levels of obesity within society and suggest that in most cases, any reduction in body mass index to a normal, healthy level is likely to be beneficial,” said lead researcher Dr. Kaitlin Wade.

    As nearly 20 percent of children in the United States suffer from childhood obesity, researchers continue finding health risks that could prove to be troub...
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    Study finds withdrawal from junk food as painful as drug withdrawal

    But if you can make it through the first week, you should be fine

    The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America's Health recently reported that the adult obesity problem in the U.S. is getting worse. A new study from the University of Michigan may explain why.

    Researchers studied the withdrawal symptoms people go through when they have been consuming large quantities of junk food on a regular basis, then suddenly stop or taper off. The withdrawal, they discovered, is very much like what drug addicts experience.

    Erica Schulte, the study's lead author, says there isn't a lot of research on the topic. She says previous studies have focused on sugar withdrawal among animals. The literature regarding humans, she says, is based only on anecdotal evidence.

    In the study, participants were asked to report what happened to them when they reduced or eliminated highly processed foods. They reported sadness, irritability, fatigue, and cravings that peaked during the first week after they quit eating junk food.

    Good news

    There is good news for consumers who want to kick the Twinkie habit – if you can make it through the first week, it gets a lot better. Nearly all participants who experienced withdrawal symptoms said they began to taper off within five days. That's actually very similar to the timeframe for drug withdrawal symptoms, the study found.

    The addictive qualities of junk food may partially explain why it seems to be so difficult to reduce obesity in the U.S. The annual obesity study, released last week, found that seven states had adult obesity rates of 35 percent or greater in 2017, up from five states the year before.

    Obesity levels vary widely from state to state, with a low of 22.6 percent in Colorado and a high of 38.1 percent in West Virginia.

    The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America's Health recently reported that the adult obesity problem in the U.S. is getting worse. A new stud...
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    Using mass transit leads to drop in obesity rates, study finds

    Researchers say taking the bus or train increases physical activity

    The daily commute to work can often be the low point of many consumers’ day, but a new study suggests that taking advantage of certain modes of transportation can help fight obesity.

    Researchers from the University of Illinois have found that counties that rely more on their mass transit systems produce residents that have lower obesity rates. They say that putting more funds into these systems could promote better overall wellbeing.

    "As local communities seek to allocate public funds to projects that will provide the most benefit to their residents, our research suggests that investing in convenient and affordable public transit systems may improve public health by reducing obesity, thereby providing more value than had been previously thought," said researcher Sheldon H. Jacobson, a professor of computer science at Illinois.

    Cutting obesity rates

    Jacobson, along with graduate student Zhaowei She and lecturer Douglas M. King, came to their conclusions after analyzing public county health and transportation data.

    After controlling for factors like household income, poverty rate, education level, access to health care, and leisure physical activity, they found that a 1% increase in a county’s population that frequently used mass transit systems correlated to a 0.2% drop in obesity rates.

    "By viewing this link at the county level, we provide a national perspective by considering data from counties throughout the United States. Our research suggests that, in addition to benefits to the environment and greater access to transportation for residents, community-level investments into public transit systems may also benefit public health by reducing obesity rates," said King.

    Increases physical activity

    The researchers explain that the health benefits of using mass transit come from the increased level of physical activity that travelers need to engage in, something that is lost when simply driving directly to their final destination.

    "For example, when someone rides a bus, they may begin their trip by walking from their home to a bus stop before boarding the bus. Then, once they get off of the bus, they may still need to walk from a bus stop to their destination. Alternatively, if they had driven a car, they might simply drive directly from their home to their destination and eliminate the walking portion of the trip," said Jacobson.

    The full study has been published in Preventive Medicine.

    The daily commute to work can often be the low point of many consumers’ day, but a new study suggests that taking advantage of certain modes of transportat...
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    Standing desks help children avoid obesity and perform better in school

    The key, researchers believe, is encouraging movement during class time

    A number of studies have been published recently which show that sitting for prolonged periods can be bad for your health, leading to weight gain and obesity. When you consider how long our children sit down in class when they’re at school, it starts to make sense why childhood obesity rates are so high in the U.S.

    Many experts have suggested that schools could benefit from standing desks -- tall working areas that would get students out of their chairs. A new study validates these assertions, showing that standing desks could provide both academic and health benefits to the children that use them.

    “Research around the world has shown that standing desks are positive for the teachers in terms of classroom management and student engagement, as well as positive for children for their health, cognitive functioning and academic achievement. It’s literally a win-win, and now we have hard data that shows it is beneficial for weight control,” said Dr. Mark Benden, one of the authors of the study.

    Healthier outcomes

    The “hard data” that the researchers gathered came from experiments conducted in 24 classrooms across three elementary schools in College Station, Texas. At each school, four classrooms were outfitted with stand-biased desks -- which allowed students to either sit on a high stool or stand – and four were left as standard, controlled classrooms.

    Participating students were followed over the course of two school years to see if the stand-biased desks had any effect on their weight or academic achievement. At the end of the trial period, the researchers found that students with stand-biased desks had a 3% drop in BMI compared to students who gained the typical 2% in BMI due to aging.

    Students who only spent one year with a stand-biased desk also benefitted from the experience, showing a lower mean BMI than students who never used them at all. Researchers attribute these results to encouraging active movement during class time.

    “Classrooms with stand-biased desks are part of what we call an Activity Permissive Learning Environment (APLE), which means that teachers don’t tell children to ‘sit down,’ or ‘sit still’ during class. Instead, these types of desks encourage the students to move instead of being forced to sit in poorly fitting, hard plastic chairs for six or seven hours of the day,” said Benden.

    "Sit less, move more"

    Benden and his colleagues had conducted previous studies showing that standing can allow a person to burn 15% more calories when compared to those who sit down. The results of this study seem to corroborate those findings, which could help keep our children healthy in the long run.

    “Sit less, move more. That’s our message,” concluded Brenden. The full study has been published in the American Journal of Public Health

    A stand-biased desk similar to those used in many classrooms (Staff photo)A number of studies have been published recently which show that sitting fo...
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    Medical costs higher for obese children, study finds

    Adopting prevention strategies to prevent childhood obesity is key to keeping costs down

    Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the U.S., and a new study from the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health shows that the parents of obese children could be paying for it in medical bills.

    Researchers found that obese children between the ages of two and five are 2-3 times more likely to be admitted to a hospital. Additionally, parents and guardians will need to pay 60% more to cover healthcare costs.

    “Childhood obesity is a serious public health issue, and is becoming an increasing problem in children under five years old. . . In addition to the health impacts of childhood obesity, there are major economic impacts, which may occur earlier than previously thought,” said Alison Hayes, lead researcher of the study.

    Lifelong problems

    The study analyzed healthcare use for 350 children, including all doctor and specialist visits, medical tests, diagnostics, prescriptions, and other medical costs. They found that obese children were not only admitted more often, but paid a heftier price when all was said and done. The most common issues that plagued obese children included respiratory disorders and diseases of the ear, nose, mouth, and throat.

    While worldwide obesity statistics for children are at roughly 7%, the researchers point out that countries like the United States, United Kingdom, and Australia have much higher numbers of obese children -- with some estimates showing as high as 23%. They caution that this early form of obesity can lead to lifelong problems.

    “We know that children who are obese in early childhood are more likely to be obese in later childhood, adolescence and adulthood, which can lead to serious chronic diseases that have a huge impact on our health care system,” said Hayes.

    Keeping costs down

    The researchers say that their results point to the need for early prevention strategies that can help curb the onset of obesity and keep costs down.

    “Our results are important for health care funders and policy makers because preventing obesity in the early childhood years may be a cost-effective way to tackle the obesity crisis, improve the nation’s health and reduce the economic burden of obesity,” said Hayes.

    The full study has been published in the journal Obesity.  

    Childhood obesity is a growing problem in the U.S., and a new study from the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health shows that the parents of obese...
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    Report: Obesity is getting worse

    CDC research finds 40% of U.S. women can be classified as obese

    The trend has been undeniable for at least three decades. Americans are increasingly overweight and even obese.

    A report published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) shows more women and children are now classified as obese, with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 and above.

    By one accounting, 38% of all U.S. adults are obese and 40% of U.S. women are now in that category.

    More distressing for health researchers, one-third of adults are overweight, meaning that they have a BMI of between 25 and 30. People who are overweight are at risk of becoming obese.

    By the study's accounting, fewer than a third of all adults in the U.S. have a normal, healthy weight.

    Women gaining weight faster

    This latest study finds women have been putting on weight faster than men, at least they have recently.

    “For women, the prevalence of overall obesity and of class 3 obesity showed significant linear trends for increase between 2005 and 2014,” the authors wrote. “There were no significant trends for men. Other studies are needed to determine the reasons for these trends.”

    Analyses of data from 2013-2014 found that for both men and women, the likelihood of obesity varied by race. For men, it also varied by smoking status. Men who smoked cigarettes were less likely to be obese, compared to those who never smoked. For women, there were no significant differences by smoking status. However, women who had attended college were significantly less likely to be obese.

    More pessimistic

    The report, compiled by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is more pessimistic than last year's annual obesity assessment from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. It found obesity had increased in isolated spots, but had held steady in the country overall.

    Health researchers have spent a lot of time and effort trying to pinpoint the cause for the unhealthy surge in obesity. Some have pointed to a much more sedentary American lifestyle. Others point to high calorie diets, in particular, diets heavy on processed food.

    Health advocates are trying to reduce America's obesity rate, since the added weight can lead to a whole host of conditions, from diabetes to heart disease.

    To see whether you are normal weight, overweight, or obese, use this BMI calculator from the National Institutes of Health.

    The trend has been undeniable for at least three decades. Americans are increasingly overweight and even obese.A report published in the Journal of the...
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    Childhood obesity rates continue to climb, study finds

    Researchers say that severe obesity, in particular, is on the rise

    Despite signs that healthier eating habits have been emerging amongst millennials in recent years, it seems that obesity rates are still very high. That’s the takeaway from a new study conducted by researchers at the Duke Clinical Research Institute.

    Most alarmingly, the researchers have found that childhood obesity rates are increasing, a conclusion that contrasts with other reports that state the opposite.

    “Despite some other recent reports, we found no indication of a decline in obesity prevalence in the United States in any group of children aged 2 through 19. . . This is particularly true with severe obesity, which remains high, especially among adolescents,” said Dr. Asheley Skinner, associate professor at Duke and lead author of the study.

    Severe obesity on the rise

    Dr. Skinner and her colleagues came to their conclusions after analyzing data from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey (NHANES), a compilation of U.S. statistical data that covers decades of information. The researchers found that roughly a third (33.4%) of children between the ages of two and 19 were classified as “overweight” for the 2013-2014 reporting period. From that number, 17.4% were classified as obese.

    These numbers closely mirror findings from the last reporting period between 2011 and 2012, but Skinner notes that one disheartening increase was in the number of children classified as being “severely obese.”

    Someone with severe obesity is classified as having a body mass index (BMI) number of 35 or higher. For the 2012-2014 reporting period, 6.3% of overweight children fell into this category – which is also designated as class II obesity. Another 2.4% of children fell under class III obesity, which is a designation for those who have a BMI of 40 or higher.

    “An estimated 4.5 million children and adolescents have severe obesity and they will require new and intensive efforts to steer them toward a healthier course. . . Studies have repeatedly shown that obesity in childhood is associated with worse health and shortened lifespans as adults,” said Skinner.

    Time for improvement

    Skinner and her team admit that there are limitations to their study, but assert that using data from the NHANES is a more accurate gauge of obesity rates than the metrics that other studies have used to show that obesity rates have declined.

    The researchers want to make it clear that their work is not meant to put people into despair about the state of childhood obesity. Instead, it should serve as a jumping-off point for future improvement.

    “We don’t want the findings to cause people to become frustrated and disheartened. . . This is really a health problem that will require changes across the board – food policy, access to health care, school curriculums that include physical education, community and local resources in parks and sidewalks. A lot of things put together can work,” said Skinner.

    The full study will be published in the journal Obesityon April 26. 

    Despite signs that healthier eating habits have been emerging amongst millennials in recent years, it seems that obesity rates are still very high. That’s ...
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    Study: BMI not a reliable measure of health

    Having a high Body Mass Index doesn't mean a person is unhealthy, UCLA researchers find

    Can you be both healthy and overweight? The commonly accepted answer these days is no, and increasingly, the Body Mass Index, or BMI, is used as an indicator of whether one is dangerously overweight or obese.

    But a new UCLA study finds that using BMI to gauge health incorrectly labels 54 million Americans as unhealthy even though they may not be. The study is being published online today in the International Journal of Obesity.

    "Many people see obesity as a death sentence," said A. Janet Tomiyama, an assistant professor of psychology at UCLA College and the study's lead author. "But the data show there are tens of millions of people who are overweight and obese and are perfectly healthy."

    BMI is calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by the square of the person's height in meters. A BMI over 25 is currently considered as an indication that an individual is unhealthily overweight.

    Many employers uses BMI to judge the health of prospective employees and a rule pending before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission would permit insurance companies to charge higher premiums to those with higher BMIs. 

    Healthy though overweight

    Tomiyama and colleagues analyzed the link beteen BMI and several other health markers, including blood pressure, glucose levels, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, using data from the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

    They found that close to half of Americans who are considered "overweight" by virtue of their BMIs (47.4%, or 34.4 million people) are healthy, as are 19.8 million who are considered "obese."

    Given their health readings other than BMI, the people in both of those groups would be unlikely to incur higher medical expenses, and it would be unfair to charge them more for health care premiums, Tomiyama said.

    She said she was surprised at the magnitude of the numbers in the latest study.

    "There are healthy people who could be penalized based on a faulty health measure, while the unhealthy people of normal weight will fly under the radar and won't get charged more for their health insurance," she said. "Employers, policy makers and insurance companies should focus on actual health markers."

    Jeffrey Hunger, co-author of the paper and a doctoral candidate at UC Santa Barbara, said the research shows that BMI is a deeply flawed measure of health. "This should be the final nail in the coffin for BMI," he said.

    Hunger recommends that people focus on eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, rather than obsessing about their weight, and strongly opposes stigmatizing people who are overweight.

    Can you be both healthy and overweight? The commonly accepted answer these days is no, and increasingly, the Body Mass Index, or BMI, is used as an indicat...
    Read lessRead more