Weekend open thread: Anti-obesity edition

First Lady Michelle Obama visited Des Moines on February 9 as part of her Let’s Move campaign. After the jump I’ve posted the priceless video of her doing the “Interlude Dance” with University of Northern Iowa students, Governor Terry Branstad and former Governor Tom Vilsack dancing on the right-hand side of the screen. Olympic gold medalist Shawn Johnson moves in and out of the frame in this clip.

I hadn’t heard of the Interlude Dance before last Thursday, but anything fun that encourages people to exercise is all good as far as I’m concerned. I wish kids had physical education every day in school and more time to run around at recess. Besides burning calories, exercise improves brain function and mitigates some behavioral problems.

Preventing obesity in kids is critical for lifelong health, because it is much more difficult for people who have been obese to stay at a healthy weight, even after a successful diet and exercise program. Excerpts from Tara Parker-Pope’s article “The Fat Trap” are below, but I encourage you to click the link and read the whole piece.

The Let’s Move campaign focuses on eating well and increasing physical activity. While those factors are extremely important, new research suggests a baby or toddler’s emotional security is also correlated with the risk of becoming obese. I posted some findings below from a long-term study of nearly a thousand children.

This is an open thread.

Just for fun, here’s a “tutorial” Interlude Dance video featuring lots of UNI students:

From The Fat Trap by Tara Parker-Pope:

While researchers have known for decades that the body undergoes various metabolic and hormonal changes while it’s losing weight, the Australian team detected something new. A full year after significant weight loss, these men and women remained in what could be described as a biologically altered state. Their still-plump bodies were acting as if they were starving and were working overtime to regain the pounds they lost. For instance, a gastric hormone called ghrelin, often dubbed the “hunger hormone,” was about 20 percent higher than at the start of the study. Another hormone associated with suppressing hunger, peptide YY, was also abnormally low. Levels of leptin, a hormone that suppresses hunger and increases metabolism, also remained lower than expected. A cocktail of other hormones associated with hunger and metabolism all remained significantly changed compared to pre-dieting levels. It was almost as if weight loss had put their bodies into a unique metabolic state, a sort of post-dieting syndrome that set them apart from people who hadn’t tried to lose weight in the first place.

“What we see here is a coordinated defense mechanism with multiple components all directed toward making us put on weight,” [Joseph] Proietto says. “This, I think, explains the high failure rate in obesity treatment.” […]

The research shows that the changes that occur after weight loss translate to a huge caloric disadvantage of about 250 to 400 calories. For instance, one woman who entered the Columbia studies at 230 pounds was eating about 3,000 calories to maintain that weight. Once she dropped to 190 pounds, losing 17 percent of her body weight, metabolic studies determined that she needed about 2,300 daily calories to maintain the new lower weight. That may sound like plenty, but the typical 30-year-old 190-pound woman can consume about 2,600 calories to maintain her weight – 300 more calories than the woman who dieted to get there.

Scientists are still learning why a weight-reduced body behaves so differently from a similar-size body that has not dieted. Muscle biopsies taken before, during and after weight loss show that once a person drops weight, their muscle fibers undergo a transformation, making them more like highly efficient “slow twitch” muscle fibers. A result is that after losing weight, your muscles burn 20 to 25 percent fewer calories during everyday activity and moderate aerobic exercise than those of a person who is naturally at the same weight. That means a dieter who thinks she is burning 200 calories during a brisk half-hour walk is probably using closer to 150 to 160 calories.

Another way that the body seems to fight weight loss is by altering the way the brain responds to food. Rosenbaum and his colleague Joy Hirsch, a neuroscientist also at Columbia, used functional magnetic resonance imaging to track the brain patterns of people before and after weight loss while they looked at objects like grapes, Gummi Bears, chocolate, broccoli, cellphones and yo-yos. After weight loss, when the dieter looked at food, the scans showed a bigger response in the parts of the brain associated with reward and a lower response in the areas associated with control. This suggests that the body, in order to get back to its pre-diet weight, induces cravings by making the person feel more excited about food and giving him or her less willpower to resist a high-calorie treat.

“After you’ve lost weight, your brain has a greater emotional response to food,” Rosenbaum says. “You want it more, but the areas of the brain involved in restraint are less active.” Combine that with a body that is now burning fewer calories than expected, he says, “and you’ve created the perfect storm for weight regain.” How long this state lasts isn’t known, but preliminary research at Columbia suggests that for as many as six years after weight loss, the body continues to defend the old, higher weight by burning off far fewer calories than would be expected. The problem could persist indefinitely. (The same phenomenon occurs when a thin person tries to drop about 10 percent of his or her body weight – the body defends the higher weight.) This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to lose weight and keep it off; it just means it’s really, really difficult.

From Science Codex:

Researchers analyzed national data detailing relationship characteristics between mothers and their children during their toddler years. The lower the quality of the relationship in terms of the child’s emotional security and the mother’s sensitivity, the higher the risk that a child would be obese at age 15 years, according to the analysis.

Among those toddlers who had the lowest-quality emotional relationships with their mothers, more than a quarter were obese as teens, compared to 13 percent of adolescents who had closer bonds with their mothers in their younger years.

The findings mirror previous research by these scientists that showed toddlers who did not have a secure emotional relationship with their parents were at increased risk for obesity by age 4 ½. This body of work suggests the areas of the brain that control emotions and stress responses, as well as appetite and energy balance, could be working together to influence the likelihood that a child will be obese.

Rather than blaming parents for childhood obesity, the researchers say these findings suggest that obesity prevention efforts should consider strategies to improve the mother-child bond and not focus exclusively on eating and exercise.[…]

The researchers analyzed data from 977 participants in the Study of Early Child Care and Youth Development, a project of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The sample in this national study included diverse families living in nine U.S. states whose children were born in 1991.

As part of that national study, trained observers assessed child attachment security and maternal sensitivity by documenting interactions between mothers and their children at three time points: when the children were 15, 24 and 36 months old.

The full study was published in the January 2012 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics. The same issue included the AAP’s new policy statement about the “adverse effects of toxic stress on brain development.” Excerpt:

Pediatricians are now armed with new information about the adverse effects of toxic stress on brain development, as well as a deeper understanding of the early life origins of many adult diseases. As trusted authorities in child health and development, pediatric providers must now complement the early identification of developmental concerns with a greater focus on those interventions and community investments that reduce external threats to healthy brain growth. To this end, AAP endorses a developing leadership role for the entire pediatric community-one that mobilizes the scientific expertise of both basic and clinical researchers, the family-centered care of the pediatric medical home, and the public influence of AAP and its state chapters-to catalyze fundamental change in early childhood policy and services. AAP is committed to leveraging science to inform the development of innovative strategies to reduce the precipitants of toxic stress in young children and to mitigate their negative effects on the course of development and health across the life span.

About the Author(s)


  • advice to kids today

    don’t abuse yourself with drugs.

    If anyone was surprised by the “black enough?” question asked of Obama during Primary08, this breakout hit for Whitney Houston in 1985 generated a lot of “acting too white” (too pop) criticism. She was also criticized for lack of dancing chops. Watching the UNI video makes me think perhaps critics had a point …

  • Well, gee...

    a.) I will not dispute the research, but I will add this thought.  In my experience, there is a serious  absence of healthy affordable food options in many cities and neighborhoods.   Feeding a family of four at McDonalds vs. a realistic diet comes down to simple economics and availability in some circumstances.  

    b.) Given media reporting following the Iowa Straw Poll, having Maine announce the GOP caucus results despite no returns from Washington County creates concerns for me.  A pre caucus poll indicated a very strong showing for Paul in Washington County.    

    The following is from one of several stories I have read on this:

    Washington County super-caucus was the only one to have been postponed because of an anticipated snowstorm. But while some media forecast six or more inches of snow, the Washington County forecast from the National Weather Service for February 11 was for a total of 3-5 inches of accumulation during the day, hardly out-of-the-ordinary for the Maine climate in February. Moreover, the Portland area was forecast to have almost as much snow, 1-3 inches, while nearby Hancock County had an identical forecast as Washington County.  Yet caucuses were not cancelled in those areas.

    I will not be voting for Paul in the general election, nor would I wish him to be President.  The trend of apparently marginalizing Paul does create concern for me, however.  

    • Washington County

      one of my favorite hiding places in summer. Mostly fishing towns dotting the border up to Canada.

      Looks like the ME GOP chair learned something from IA:

      Webster, the state GOP chairman, says Romney’s 194-vote margin over Paul is a “snapshot in time” that fairly and accurately represented the results of the Maine caucuses through the announcement Saturday evening at a Maine GOP event in Portland.

      It seems unlikely that Paul would have taken the lead based on Washington County, given turnout estimates, although who knows with recount fluctuations? But I think the message is clear — in caucus states where Romney doesn’t have a built-in advantage, we’re seeing a lot of close/split votes.

      Marginalizing Paul — well, he did not do as well as expected in Iowa, and not so great after that. I think the real story here is Romney’s inability to seal the deal. There’s no clear not-Romney, either.

      But in Iowa, the fun is just beginning w/ the election of a Paul campaign guy for GOP chair. I’m all for a more libertarian influence on the GOP.

      Agree on a). This “Let’s move” campaign kind of gives me the creeps.

    • in fairness

      the Let’s Move campaign acknowledges the problem you raise:

      More than 23 million Americans, including 6.5 million children, live in low-income urban and rural neighborhoods that are more than a mile away from a supermarket. These communities, where access to affordable, quality, and nutritious foods is limited, are known as “food deserts.”

      Hunger among our children is even more widespread. A recent U.S. Department of Agricluture report showed that in 2008, an estimated 49.1 million people, including 16.7 million children, lived in households that experienced food insecurity multiple times throughout the year. Too often, these same school age children are not eating the recommended level of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products. Let’s Move! is committed to helping ensure that all families have access to healthy, affordable food in their communities. […]

      The Healthy Food Financing Initiative, launched by the Obama administration, is a partnership between the U.S. Departments of Treasury, Agriculture and Health and Human Services to provide financing for developing and equipping grocery stores, small retailers, corner stores, and farmers markets selling healthy food in underserved areas.

      Lack of access contributes to poor diet and can lead to higher levels of obesity and other diet-related diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease. But, this is a solvable problem. And that is why the Healthy Food Financing Initiative provides financing tools for healthy food retailers in the form of tax credits, grants, or low-cost loans and technical assistance. In addition, this initiative serves the dual purpose of not only facilitating access to healthy food options, but also providing employment and business development opportunities in low-income communities.

      Farmers’ markets are another innovative yet simple approach in solving healthy food access issues in many of our communities. Many markets now participate in the WIC, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Double Dollar, and senior benefits program so that fresh produce is not out of reach for those with limited or fixed incomes.

      Through these initiatives and private sector engagement, the Administration is working to eliminate food deserts across the country within seven years.

      Don’t know how well they are addressing the problem, but they do acknowledge the problem and have a plan for dealing with it.