Leafy green vegetables improve heart function and reduce diabetes and obesity risk

Three independent studies have linked leafy green vegetables to reduced health risks associated with obesity, diabetes and heart complications, reinforcing the benefits of consuming a diet rich in such foods.

In particular, the scientists involved in these University of Southampton and Cambridge studies point to nitrate as a key factor that makes these vegetables so effective.

According to Dr. Andrew Murray of the University of Cambridge, “There have been a great many findings demonstrating a role for nitrate in reducing blood pressure and regulating the body’s metabolism. These studies represent three further ways in which simple changes in the diet can modify people’s risk of type 2 diabetes and obesity as well as potentially alleviating symptoms of existing cardiovascular conditions to achieve an overall healthier life.”

Leafy greens helpful in preventing heart attack and stroke

For the first study, which was published in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, experts delved into the role that nitrate-rich vegetables play in the amount of red blood cells people have, which provides more of an understanding about oxygen transport in the body as well as blood viscosity. Consumption of leafy green vegetables such as nitrate-containing spinach allows for a reduction in the production of a hormone called erythropoietin, which determines the behavior of the aforementioned bodily occurrences.

It’s important to maintain a balance of this hormone, since too much of it can wreak havoc on the body. For example, excessive amounts of blood cells can cause death and altitude sickness, while too-thick blood is most commonly associated with heart problems due to oxygen deprivation in areas that it can’t easily pass through such as small blood vessels. Therefore, the researchers maintain that reducing blood thickness also reduces the risk of clot formations that may lead to heart attack and stroke.

The journal states, “Suppression of hepatic erythropoietin expression by nitrate may thus act to decrease blood viscosity while matching oxygen supply to demand, whereas renal oxygen sensing could act as a brake, averting a potentially detrimental fall in hematocrit.”

The connection between leafy green consumption and better blood flow

The second study bolstered the finding of nitrate’s health benefits, noting that leafy greens are an effective way to help the heart pump with more efficiency.

This study, published in The Journal of Physiology, outlines that nitrate in the diet protects the heart and improves overall blood flow. Some of the key points from this journal state that “nitrate supplementation suppresses cardiac arginase expression and increases tissue L-arginine levels under both hypoxic and normoxic conditions” and that “Nitrate supplementation may thus be of benefit to individuals exposed to hypobaric hypoxia at altitude or in patients with diseases characterised by tissue hypoxia and energetic impairment, such as heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or in the critically ill.”

Fight fat cells, reduce diabetes risk by eating more greens

Obesity was the focus of the third study, which was published in Diabetes.

Researchers discovered that nitrate has the potential to help convert “bad” fat cells, which are white, into beige cells which are similar to the “good” brown fat cells that work to reduce obesity and type 2 diabetes risks. “Since resulting beige/brite cells exhibit anti-obesity and anti-diabetic effects,” the study notes, “nitrate may be an effective means of inducing the browning response in adipose tissue to treat the metabolic syndrome.”

Nitrate-rich foods include spinach, parsley and lettuce.

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A class of food additives used in nearly all processed foods may be partially to blame for inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD) such as Crohn’s disease, and may also lead to obesity and diabetes, according to a study conducted by researchers from Cornell University, Emory University, Georgia State University and Bar-Ilan University in Israel, and published in the journal Nature on February 25.

The study was funded by the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America and the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers found that emulsifiers, detergent-like additives used to improve the texture of food and lengthen its shelf life, alter the composition of the gut’s microbiota. This change leads to an increase in inflammation that has been linked with various health conditions.

“These results … suggest that the broad use of emulsifying agents might be contributing to an increased societal incidence of obesity/metabolic syndrome and other chronic inflammatory diseases,” the researchers wrote.

The importance of gut bacteria

The human gut is home to roughly 100 trillion bacteria of a wide variety of different species, collectively known as the microbiota or microbiome. The microbiome is known to play a key role in metabolism and immune function, and prior studies have shown that a disturbed microbiome could play a role in certain chronic inflammatory diseases. Studies have also shown that people who suffer from both IBD and metabolic syndrome have abnormal microbiota.

“A key feature of these modern plagues is alteration of the gut microbiota in a manner that promotes inflammation,” said researcher Andrew T. Gewirtz.

Metabolic syndrome is a group of symptoms (such as central obesity and high fasting blood sugar) associated with an increased risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes and liver disease. It has been linked with high levels of systemic inflammation. IBD, which includes Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis, is a chronic and often debilitating inflammation of the digestive tract that can have serious health consequences. Both conditions have increased in prevalence dramatically since the middle of the 20th century.

“The dramatic increase in these diseases has occurred despite consistent human genetics, suggesting a pivotal role for an environmental factor,” researcher Benoit Chassaing said. “Food interacts intimately with the microbiota so we considered what modern additions to the food supply might possibly make gut bacteria more pro-inflammatory.”

Disrupted bacteria actually produce overeating

The addition of emulsifiers to foods roughly corresponded with the increase in both conditions. In addition, prior studies have shown that, by dissolving the mucus layer that covers the intestinal wall, emulsifiers can allow gut bacteria access to the epithelial cells lining the intestine – an area that they are normally kept out of. This bacterial migration could in turn produce inflammation of the gut.

To test this idea, the researchers fed mice the common emulsifiers polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulsose at doses comparable to those found in processed foods. They found that as expected, the microbiota of the mice changed to a more pro-inflammatory makeup. In addition, the microbiota gained an increased ability to digest and penetrate the mucus layer of the intestine, and produced more pro-inflammatory chemicals.

In mice with abnormal immune systems, this led to the development of chronic colitis. In mice with normal immune systems, it led to mild intestinal inflammation and metabolic syndrome (including obesity, insulin resistance, high blood sugar and increased appetite).

When the experiment was repeated in mice lacking a microbiome, no inflammation or metabolic syndrome occurred.

“Our findings reinforce the concept suggested by earlier work that low-grade inflammation resulting from an altered microbiota can be an underlying cause of excess eating,” Gewirtz said.

The findings strongly support the idea that disruption of the microbiome can produce inflammatory gut diseases. They also suggest, the researchers noted, that current food safety testing measures are inadequate, as they do not look for low-grade inflammatory effects.

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Of all the seed oil produced in the US, 90 percent comes from soybeans. The shelf life and temperature stability of soybean oil is increased through the process of hydrogenation, which also generates unhealthy trans fats in the oil.

DuPont developed genetically modified soybean oil that has a fatty acid composition that is low in linoleic acid. Linoleic acid was thought of as the unhealthy component of the oil that causes obesity, diabetes and fatty liver in humans; however, new in-depth research has found hardly any health benefits of GM soybean oil over regular soybean oil.

When scientists at the University of California, Riverside, and UC Davis investigated the differences of the soybean oils, they found that the genetically modified soybean oil was not “healthier” at all. The reduced linoleic acid profile does not reduce diabetes, obesity and fatty liver like the industry had promised.

“While genetic modification of crops can introduce new beneficial traits into existing crops, the resulting products need to be tested for long-term health effects before making assumptions about their impact on human health,” said senior investigator Frances Sladek, a professor of cell biology and neuroscience at UC Riverside.

GM soybean oil not healthier than regular soybean oil, despite industry’s health claims

Genetically modified soybean oil has 0 grams of trans fat and a linoleic acid profile similar to olive oil. On the other hand, regular soybean oil contains about 55 percent linoleic acid. The scientists found out that the linoleic acid profile wasn’t the difference maker. The GM soybean oil caused the same problems in studies on mice as the regular soybean oil did. The only advantage that GM soybean possessed: It didn’t cause insulin resistance. However, the scientists reported that both olive oil and especially coconut oil are much healthier alternatives.

“Our previous results on mice showed that replacing some of the fat in a diet high in saturated fats from coconut oil with soybean oil — to achieve a level common in the American diet — causes significantly more weight gain, adiposity, diabetes and insulin resistance than in mice fed just the high-fat coconut oil diet,” Sladek said.

To conduct their study, the researchers created a parallel diet which replaced soybean oil with GM soybean oil on a gram per gram basis. They were surprised to find out that GM soybean oil induced weight gain and fatty liver just the same.

“Unidentified component” of soybean oil causes fatty liver and overall weight gain

“These results indicate that linoleic acid may contribute to insulin resistance and adiposity but that another as yet unidentified component of the soybean oil affects the liver and overall weight gain,” said researcher Poonamjot Deol.

Four groups of 12 mice each were fed different diets for 24 weeks. A control group was put on a low-fat diet containing just 5 percent of daily calories from fat. The other groups were fed a diet similar to the American diet, deriving 40 percent of daily calories from fat. The groups differed according to the source of the fat they received. One ate regular soybean oil; one consumed GM soybean oil, and the other was given coconut oil. Both soybean-oil-based diets (GMO and non-GMO) produced mice with a much worse fatty liver, obesity and glucose intolerance profile than mice fed a coconut oil diet. When compared to controls, the group on soybean oil weighed 38 percent more. The group on GM soybean oil weighed 30 percent more, and the group on coconut oil only weighed 13 percent more.
“While the GM soybean oil may have fewer negative metabolic consequences than regular soybean oil, it may not necessarily be as healthy as olive oil, as has been assumed by its fatty acid composition, and it is certainly less healthy than coconut oil which is primarily saturated fat,” Sladek said. “It is important to understand the metabolic effects and health impact of the GM soybean oil before it is widely adopted as a healthier alternative to regular soybean oil. It is equally important to understand the health effects of regular soybean oil, which is ubiquitous in the American diet and seems to be much more detrimental to metabolic health than saturated fat.”

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The introduction of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) in the seventies coincided with a marked rise in obesity in the U.S., leading to speculations that there might be a causal connection between HFCS consumption and weight gain.

This seemed all the more plausible since HFCS consumption grew much faster than any other food intake.

On the other hand, obesity rates also increased in Europe and other parts of the world where sucrose (table sugar) remained the major caloric sweetener. This seemed to argue against a connection between HFCS and weight gain, particularly since the fructose/glucose ratios of high fructose corn syrup and sucrose are quite similar.

What sucrose and high fructose corn syrup have in common, and what distinguishes them from dietary carbohydrates such as starch, is their fructose content. Fructose contributes the same amount of energy as glucose, but it doesn′t trigger the same satiety signals. The sharp rise in the consumption of soft drinks and processed foods sweetened with HFCS and sucrose led to a dramatic increase in fructose intake, a source of energy that goes essentially unnoticed.

What is high fructose corn syrup?

High fructose corn syrup is made from corn starch, a glucose polymer. First, enzymatic starch breakdown yields corn syrup which is essentially free glucose. The glucose is then further enzymatically converted to fructose. After various purification steps, a mixture of 90% fructose and 10% glucose (HFCS-90) is obtained. HFCS-90 is mixed with appropriate amounts of corn syrup to make either HFCS-55 or HFCS-42, mixtures with 55% and 42% fructose, respectively. HFCS-55 is mainly used for soft drinks, whereas HFCS-42 is primarily used to sweeten baked goods.

Not only are sucrose and high fructose corn syrup similar in their fructose/glucose ratios, but soft drinks are acidic enough to hydrolyze sucrose. An analysis of sucrose-sweetened soft drinks showed that ten days after manufacture only 50% of the sucrose was still intact. After three months 90% of the sucrose was hydrolyzed, i.e. even sucrose-sweetened soft drinks contain mostly free fructose and glucose.

HFCS has largely replaced sucrose in commercial foods in North America. It is cheaper than sucrose, partly because of import tariffs on sucrose and agricultural subsidies to corn producers.

HFCS versus sucrose in drinks – is there a difference?

37 men and women in their twenties and in the healthy weight range were recruited to compare the effects of soft drinks sweetened with sucrose and HFCS on subsequent food intake (2). At mid-morning the participants were given one of six preloads: 215 kcal from sodas sweetened with sucrose, HFCS-42, or HFCS-55, 215 kcal from 1% milk, 4 kcal from aspartame-sweetened diet soda, or no drink at all. Later all subjects were given the same lunch and they were free to eat as much as they wanted. Leftover food was weighed, giving the investigators an accurate measure of energy intake. Averaged over six lunches, the following total calorie intakes (in kcal) from preload plus lunch were found: HFCS-42 1193, HFCS-55 1182, sucrose 1170, 1% milk 1129, aspartame 1011, and no drink 1008.

Clearly, there was no signficant difference between the sodas sweetened with sucrose and those with HFCS. In addition, the subjects drinking caloric preloads clearly took in more total calories than those drinking the low-cal soda or nothing at all. In other words, those who had caloric drinks before lunch did not reduce their food intake sufficiently to compensate for the preload.

Sugars in solid versus liquid form – does it matter?

To answer this question, 15 men and women were recruited for a short cross-over trial designed to compare the effects of equicaloric liquid and solid carbohydrate sweeteners on food intake.

All participants were in their twenties and in the healthy weight range.

The trial consisted of two four-week interventions, separated by a four-week washout period and cross-over. Once a week during the two trial phases the participants presented themselves to the investigators to be weighed and supplied with weekly rations of their daily 450 kcal sweeteners. The solid load consisted of sucrose-sweetened jelly beans, and the liquid load of HFCS-sweetened soda. The
participants were free to decide when to take their daily loads, and when and what to eat. Calorie intake was estimated from self-assessments of food consumption.

Analysis of the food questionnaires indicated that during their solid phase the subjects fully compensated for the energy content of their preload; the total calorie intake from food plus test sweetener was equal to the pre-trial food energy intake. This was not the case, however, during their liquid trial phase, where food intake remained unchanged, i.e. the sweetened drink added to the total calories.

While conclusions based on self-reporting of food eaten are always questionable, these were within-subject comparisons, i.e. the same bias was likely present in their estimate of food intake after liquid and after solid preloading. Furthermore, the estimated energy intakes were consistent with measured changes in body weight. The participants experienced significant weight gains during the liquid trial phase, but not during the solid trial phase, consistent with an excess energy intake in the liquid phase.

It appears therefore that caloric sweeteners contribute to weight gain if consumed in drinks, but not in solid food.

Fructose and glucose affect appetite and food intake differently

Two hormones, insulin and leptin, act as satiety signals in the brain and thus are critical to energy homeostasis. Both insulin and leptin circulate in the blood at levels proportional to body fat content, and enter the central nervous system in proportion to their plasma levels. Low hormone levels increase appetite, and high levels act to reduce energy intake.

Insulin levels rise in response to blood glucose. Insulin-mediated entry of glucose into adipocytes (fat cells) in turn causes the release of leptin. In other words, both insulin and leptin levels react to glucose concentrations. Fructose, on the other hand, does not trigger insulin release. This in turn means that fructose doesn′t affect leptin levels either. Since it increases neither insulin nor leptin levels, fructose consumption does not generate the same satiety signals as glucose. The result is overeating and weight gain.


To summarize, the rise in obesity rates with increasing HFCS consumption was no coincidence. The increased popularity of soft drinks and HFCS-sweetened convenience foods led to a rapid increase in fructose consumption. It was this excessive fructose intake that fuelled the rapid weight gain, since fructose does not generate the same satiety signals as glucose. It is likely that sweetened drinks are worse than sweet solid foods, and that sucrose has the same effect as high fructose corn syrup.

Most studies of the effects of calorically sweetened liquids on appetite and weight gain looked at soft drinks. However, fruit juices and drinks also contain added sweeteners, typically HFCS, i.e. they pose the same obesity risk. Switching to noncalorically sweetened soft drinks isn′t the answer either, since artificial sweeteners like aspartame come with problems of their own.

Of course fruit also contains fructose (“fruit sugar”), but this obviously doesn′t mean that one should stop eating fruit. It doesn′t contain nearly as much fructose as sweetened drinks and it is a valuable source of phytonutrients and fiber, whereas soft drinks provide little more than empty calories.

Clearly, one of the best things we can do for our health is to stop drinking soft drinks.

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Obesity or Overweight: Children who suffer from migraine headaches are 36 percent more likely to be overweight, according to a new U.S. study.

Researchers were not surprised by the findings, as previous studies have linked obesity to migraine headaches in adults as well.

“The numbers tell us that being overweight may contribute to kids having more headaches, most often migraines,” Dr. Andrew D. Hershey, director of the Headache Center and a pediatric neurologist at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, said in a prepared statement. “There are likely a number of causes, including poorer general health, body stress, lack of exercise and nutrition. It may not be that being overweight directly causes migraine, but that the reasons for being overweight cause these children to have worsening headaches.”

Researchers evaluated 440 children between the ages of 3 to 18 who visited one of seven pediatric headache centers. Of the entire population, just over 91 percent were diagnosed with migraine headaches and close to 9 percent had other types of headaches. While 15.5 percent of U.S. children are considered overweight, more than 21 percent of headache-prone children in the study were overweight, the researchers said.

Severity of headaches was also examined and calculated on a scale where a score of between 30 and 50 signified moderate disability due to headache. Children who were overweight had an average score of 41.9, those at risk of being overweight a score of 42.9, and children of normal weight a score of 28.7.

Results of the study were to be presented at this week’s annual meeting of the American Headache Society, in Los Angeles.

“Obesity is a state of chronic, low-degree systemic inflammation,” study author Dr. Marcelo E. Bigal, director of research at the New England Center for Headache in Stamford, Conn., said in a prepared statement. “Most of the inflammatory markers that are elevated in obese people also play a role in the inflammation of blood vessels in the brain that occurs during migraine attacks. Being a pro-inflammatory state, obesity may increase the chances of migraine attacks in people who are biologically predisposed to suffer from migraines.”

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Obesity or Overweight: University of North Carolina professor Barry Popkin reported to the International Association of Agricultural Economists that at the number of overweight people currently surpasses the number of starving people worldwide.

According to Popkin’s report, all of the world’s nations — regardless of economic status — have failed to address the obesity epidemic, and notes it affects 1 billion of the world’s population and is spreading quickly. Conversely, the rate of hunger is slowing and the undernourished number about 800 million.

Professor Tony Barnett, head of the diabetes and obesity group at Birmingham University, said it was clear that “this is not just happening in developed countries, the developing world also has serious problems.”

“The biggest increases are being seen in parts of Asia with certain populations more susceptible than others,” he said. “If we do not get to grips with this, problems associated with obesity, such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, are going to increase rapidly.”

“Contrary to popular belief,” explained Mike Adams, a holistic nutritionist and author of the Honest Food Guide, “most overweight people are simultaneously malnourished. They’ve been made fat by consuming empty calories that lack any real nutrition.”

Popkin reported that nations that had previously enjoyed a relatively healthy population were leaning toward having an overweight population. China, for example, has shown a major shift from diets rich in cereals to ones rich in animal fats and oils. Physical work levels have also dropped, use of motorized transportation has increased, and television watching has gone up.

Governments should combat the problem, Popkin said, through strategies such as using prices to steer people toward healthier food choices.

“For instance, if we charge money for every calorie of soft drink and fruit drink that was consumed, people would consume less of it,” he said. “If we subsidize fruit and vegetable production, people would consume more of it and we would have a healthier diet.”

Professor Benjamin Senauer of the University of Minnesota agreed with Popkin, citing a study he did of U.S. obesity rates compared to those in Japan.

“The average Japanese household spends almost a quarter of its income on food compared to under 14 percent in the U.S.,” he said, adding that exercise also played an important role in the health differences. “Japanese cities are based on efficient public transportation and walking. The average American commutes to work, drives to the supermarket and does as little walking as possible.”

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Children and adolescents who are overweight are more likely than their normal weight counterparts to suffer bone fractures and have joint and muscle pains, according to a study conducted at the National Institutes of Health.

The researchers also found that the overweight youth in the study were more likely than non-overweight youth to develop changes in the knee joint that make movement more difficult.

The study appears in the June 2006 Pediatrics.

“Bone, muscle, and joint problems are particularly troubling in this age group,” said Elias A. Zerhouni, M.D., NIH Director. “If overweight youth fail to attain normal weight, they will likely experience an even greater incidence of these problems when they reach later life.”

A total of 355 black and white Washington, D.C. area children and adolescents took part in the study, explained the study’s senior author, Jack A. Yanovski, M.D., Ph.D., Head of the Unit on Growth and Obesity at NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Of these, 227 were classified as overweight and 128 as non-overweight. Upon entering the study, the children underwent a detailed physical examination and were questioned about whether they had experienced any joint, bone or muscle-related problems. Study participants were classified as overweight if they had a body mass index above the 95th percentile for their height and weight. Youth were classified as non-overweight if they had a body mass index above the 5th percentile and below the 95th percentile.

The study volunteers also provided answers to a questionnaire designed to gauge the impact their weight had on their quality of life, ranking on a 5-point scale whether statements about impaired mobility applied to them. Such statements included: “I have trouble using stairs,” “I feel clumsy or awkward,” and “I have trouble getting up from chairs.”

The study authors also used a technique known as Dual Energy X-Ray Absorptiometry (DXA) to detect any effects of overweight on the feet, ankles and knees.

The researchers found that the overweight youth were more likely to experience bone fractures and muscle and joint pain than were the non-overweight group. The most common self-reported joint complaint was knee pain, with 21.4 percent of overweight youth reporting knee pain and 16.7 percent of non-overweight youth reporting knee pain. The overweight youth were also more likely to report impaired mobility than the non-overweight youth. DXA scans showed that overweight youth were more likely to experience changes in how the bones of the thigh and leg meet at their knees, than were non-overweight youth.

In the article, Dr. Yanovski and his coworkers noted that while overweight children and adults have a greater bone density than their non-overweight counterparts, this greater density did not protect the youth in the study from bone fractures. The researchers cited other studies which concluded that being overweight means that an overweight boy is likely to fall with greater force than a non-overweight boy, and so is more likely to suffer a fracture. Moreover, they wrote, other studies have suggested that overweight boys have poorer balance than non-overweight boys, and so are more likely to fall.

“Efforts should be made to encourage health care providers’ recognition of the orthopedic complications of excess weight so that interventions can be initiated,” the study authors wrote. “Finally, significantly overweight children and adolescents should be encouraged to engage in alternative modes of physical activity, such as bicycle riding or swimming, that could alleviate the severity of lower extremity joint loading and discomfort.”

In addition to researchers at the NICHD, researchers from the NIH Clinical Center also took part in the study.

The NIH has developed a variety of on-line materials to help young people make healthy choices regarding diet and exercise.

A new NIH curriculum, Media Smart Youth, seeks to prevent youth overweight by helping youth evaluate the messages they see in the media and by making informed choices regarding diet and exercise. The Media Smart Youth materials are available at

The NIH We Can! (Ways to Enhance Children’s Activity and Nutrition) Program provides parents, caregivers and community organizations with practical tools to help children 8-13 years old stay at a healthy weight. Tips, fun activities, and curricula for parents and youth, including Media Smart Youth, focus on three critical behaviors: improved food choices, increased physical activity and reduced screen time. The We Can! Materials are available at or by calling toll-free 1-866-35-WECAN.

The NICHD sponsors research on development, before and after birth; maternal, child, and family health; reproductive biology and population issues; and medical rehabilitation. For more information, visit the Web site at

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation’s Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases.

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Doctors should advise overweight moms considering another pregnancy to take off extra weight first because they are at greater risk of having big babies, a new Saint Louis University study finds.

Researchers found that moms who don’t lose the weight they gained during the first pregnancy and continue to gain after their first child is born are at risk of having bigger babies than mothers who do not gain weight between pregnancies. A patient’s prepregnancy weight remained the strongest predictor for the birth of a large infant in the next pregnancy.

“Our advice to moms is to take off the weight they gained during one pregnancy and not to gain weight between pregnancies,” said Robert Blaskiewicz, M.D., professor of obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health at Saint Louis University.

Large babies can be more difficult and take longer to deliver than normal weight babies because they are too big to fit easily through the birth canal. Large birth weight also might lead to a cesarean delivery.

“The ideal is to have their weight as close to normal as possible. Weight gain between pregnancies doubles the risk of having a ‘large for gestational age’ baby.”

Dr. Blaskiewicz presented the research, which was conducted in conjunction with the Saint Louis University School of Public Health, at the May meeting of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

Dr. Blaskiewicz compared 38,086 women who were of normal weight at their first and second pregnancies with 10,585 women who were of normal weight for their first pregnancy but overweight for their second.

A baby who is “large for gestational age” typically weighs about eight pounds, 13 ounces. Most babies weight about seven pounds.

Established in 1836, Saint Louis University School of Medicine has the distinction of awarding the first M.D. degree west of the Mississippi River. Saint Louis University School of Medicine is a pioneer in geriatric medicine, organ transplantation, chronic disease prevention, cardiovascular disease, neurosciences and vaccine research, among others. The School of Medicine trains physicians and biomedical scientists, conducts medical research, and provides health services on a local, national and international level.

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Obesity or Overweight: Teens at risk of developing diabetes can prevent or delay its onset through strength training exercise, a University of Southern California study has found.

Research led by Michael Goran, PhD, professor of preventive medicine in the Keck School of Medicine of USC, showed that overweight Latino teenage boys who lifted weights twice per week for 16 weeks significantly reduced their insulin resistance, a condition in which their bodies don’t respond to insulin and can’t process sugars properly. Insulin resistance is common in obese children and is a precursor of diabetes. The findings were published in the July issue of Medicine and Science of Sports Exercise.

Previous research has demonstrated that aerobic and resistance exercise is effective in improving insulin sensitivity in adults, but no controlled studies of resistance exercise had been done on overweight youth. Goran and colleagues hypothesized that overweight teens would be more likely to stick with a resistance training regimen compared to aerobic exercise because it is less physically taxing and gives visible results quicker.

The researchers chose to focus on Latino teens because they are at particular risk for diabetes. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about half of all Latino children born in 2000 are expected to develop type 2 diabetes in their lifetime.

Twenty-two boys aged 14 to 17 lifted weights two times a week on gym equipment guided by personal trainers. The trainers used increasing resistance and fewer repetitions as the participants improved. While there was no change in their total body fat mass, the percent body fat significantly decreased and lean muscle mass increased in the resistance-training group compared to the control group. Ninety-one percent of the weight-lifting participants also significantly improved their insulin sensitivity.

“This shows that lifting weights is a good form of exercise that overweight teens can excel at and benefit from,” says Goran, who is also associate director of the USC Institute for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention Research. “Whether they lose weight or not is not important – they still benefit by increasing muscle mass,” he says.

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Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) and Children’s Hospital Boston found that kids who spend more time watching television also eat more of the calorie-dense, low-nutrient foods advertised on television. Previous studies had demonstrated that children who watch more television are more likely to be overweight, but this is the first time a research team has found evidence for a mechanism explaining that relationship. The study results appear in the April 2006 issue of the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine.

“We’ve known for a long time that television viewing is a risk factor for overweight, though the common perception is that this is due to the fact that it’s a sedentary use of time,” said Jean Wiecha, the study’s lead author and a senior research scientist at HSPH. “This study provides evidence that television is effective in getting kids to eat the foods that are advertised, and this drives up their total calorie intake.”

Wiecha and her colleagues collected baseline data on dietary patterns and television viewing habits for 548 Boston-area students in sixth and seventh grade and then repeated these measurements 19 months later. When surveying the students about their food intake, the researchers asked specifically about snacks and beverages commonly advertised on television, such as soda, chips, fast food and baked snacks like cookies. Students were also asked to estimate the number of hours spent watching television each day of the week.

The results of the study showed that each hour of increased television viewing over baseline was associated with a total energy increase of 167 calories — just about the amount of calories in a soda or a handful of snack food, said Wiecha. Each additional hour of television viewing was also independently associated with increased consumption of foods commonly advertised on television, and these foods were shown to be responsible for much of the calorie increase. Viewing time seemed to have the strongest connection to additional consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages.

Twice as many children and almost three times as many teens are overweight today compared to their counterparts growing up 20 years ago. Overweight young people are more likely to become overweight or obese adults who are at risk for diseases like diabetes and heart disease. The results of this study bolster a longstanding recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics to limit children to less than two hours of television each day to both lessen sedentary time (a risk factor for childhood overweight) and reduce exposure to content associated with negative consequences.

While further research on this topic is necessary, particularly on the “dosage” of advertising necessary to influence dietary choices, Wiecha believes that her team’s results have important implications for parents and the food advertising industry. “Basically, we concluded that kids in this study eat what they watch,” she said. “This should help inform discussions about food marketing aimed at children.”

This research was funded by grants from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Charles H. Hood Foundation.

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