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Obesity

Biomed Bites, Cancer, Obesity, Research, Stanford News

Stanford researcher tackles tricky problem: How does a cell become a fat cell?

Stanford researcher tackles tricky problem: How does a cell become a fat cell?

Here’s this week’s Biomed Bites. Check each Thursday to meet more of Stanford’s most innovative biomedical researchers.

Mary Teruel had no intention of becoming a biology professor — after all, she was in a PhD program for aeronautical engineering. But the more she learned about cells, the more fascinated she became.

“I became very interested in the challenging problem of trying to understand the complex network in cells and trying to see if you could apply some of the principles from engineering to understand theses processes and make an insight into human disease,” Teruel says in the video above.

Teruel’s drive to investigate cells led her into her current role as an assistant professor of chemical and systems biology, where she’s striving to unravel a puzzle that underlies the obesity crisis in America: How do cells called pre-adipocytes (or pre-fat cells) become adipocytes (or adipocytes)?

By learning more about cell differentiation, Teruel’s research can also shed light on processes — and potential treatments — involved in cancer.

Learn more about Stanford Medicine’s Biomedical Innovation Initiative and about other faculty leaders who are driving biomedical innovation here.

Previously: Secrets of fat cells discovered, Fed Up: A documentary looks for answers about childhood obesity and How physicians address obesity may affect patients’ success in losing weight

Ask Stanford Med, Health and Fitness, Nutrition, Obesity

How to keep New Year’s resolutions to eat healthy

How to keep New Year's resolutions to eat healthy

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New Year’s Day always offers the opportunity to hit pause, reflect on our lives and set goals to improve our health and well-being. For many of us, this year also involved making promises to eat healthier and lose weight. To help you achieve your nutrition goals, I reached out to Stanford health educator Jae Berman. Below she shares how to select New Year’s resolutions that you’ll actually keep (perhaps you’ll have to tweak the ones you made last week!), offers strategies for eating healthy even when you’re pressed for time, and explains why cooking for yourself is a key factor in changing nutritional habits.

What are some examples of smaller, more manageable, goals that could help someone make better food choices?

People often jump in too hard, too fast when creating New Year’s resolutions. This perfectionist and “all or nothing” attitude tends to result in grand, lofty goals that we quit if we have a setback or don’t see immediate results. When considering health and weight loss-related goals make sure they are realistic and sustainable.

Instead, closely examine your routine and note one thing you can improve. This behavior may be something obvious, such as you drinking soda every day and wanting to stop. Or, it could be an aspiration to make healthy habits more sustainable, for example, bringing your lunch to work so you can lose weight and save money. Those who already eat well and exercise regularly may want to adopt a goal on a larger scope and learn to cook or try a new form of exercise.

Pick one thing (just one!) and make sure it is SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused and time-bound. Pick a resolution that is within reach, yet a bit of a stretch so that it’s a challenge. Additionally, goals should lead towards creating a sustainable habit. Some ideas include: Bring your lunch to work Monday-Thursday for the entire month of January; eat five fist-sized servings of vegetables every day; drink coffee only at breakfast; go to sleep at at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning for the month of January; or do 30 minutes of weight training three times a week.

In an effort to slim down in the New Year, some individuals may go on the Atkins diet and other popular weight-loss plans, or decide to do a juice fast, like the Master Cleanse. What’s your advice for those considering these approaches?

It’s very difficult to change someone’s mind when they decide to try these types of weight loss plans. So I usually say, “Go for it!” After a few days, the person often feels miserable and wants to create a long-term plan for managing their weight. I will say the one benefit of these quick fixes and fad diets, which I do not endorse, is that they teach a person what it feels like to be hungry. This may sound strange, but this awareness is an important lesson.

Many people overeat and are used to eating to avoid being hungry. We also tend to mindlessly eat out of boredom, or simply because food is in front of us. Going on a restrictive diet results in some feeling hungry for the first time in long time and, as a result they learn their hunger cues. When you experience a hunger cue, which is right when you think “I could eat,” then you should eat just enough food to get through the next three to four hours. You don’t need a huge meal to feel stuffed and small; unsatisfying snacks aren’t helpful either. Understanding what it feels like to be satiated is very important for long-term success.

Ongoing research at the Stanford Prevention Research Center shows that “one diet really does not fit all.”  So I can’t tell you exactly what to eat, but I can tell you that creating a long-term sustainable plan is key.

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Chronic Disease, Nutrition, Obesity, Videos

The role of nutrition in diabetes prevention and management

The role of nutrition in diabetes prevention and management

Can certain diets help patients prevent or manage their diabetes? Which foods are best for diabetics and which ones should they avoid? If you increase your coffee consumption, will it reduce your risk of diabetes? Kathleen Kenny, MD, a clinical associate professor at Stanford, and Jessica Shipley, a clinical dietitian at Stanford Hospital & Clinics, answered these questions and others about diabetes and nutrition in a recent Stanford Health Library talk.

In the above video, Kenny and Shipley also discuss the glycemic index and how it should be used to tailor dietary choices; examine how Mediterranean, low-carb and low-calorie diets affect diabetes; and explain how eating healthy can prevent or reverse the disease. The lecture is a must-watch for anyone wanting to make healthier food choices to benefit their health.

This video is the final lecture in a three-part series addressing important questions related to diabetes and lifestyle choices.

Previously: Diabetes and nutrition: Healthy holiday eating tips, red meat and disease risk, and going vegetarian, Diabetes and nutrition: Why healthy eating is a key component of prevention and management, Diabetes self-management program helps at-risk teens and their families make healthier choices and New evidence for a direct sugar-to-diabetes link, Examining how diet soft drinks impact your health

Behavioral Science, Health and Fitness, Nutrition, Obesity, Public Health, Research

Perceptions about progress and setbacks may compromise success of New Year’s resolutions

3336185391_60148a87fa_zMy physical therapist is constantly telling me to pause during the workday and take stretch breaks to counter act the damage of being hunched over a computer for hours on end. After every visit to his office, I vow to follow his advice, but then life gets busy and before I know it I’ve forgotten to keep my promise.

So I decided that one of my New Year’s resolutions will be to set an alarm on my phone to serve as a reminder to perform simple stretches throughout the day. Keeping in mind that a mere eight percent of people who make resolutions are successful, I began looking for strategies help me accomplish my goal. My search turned up new research about how the perception of setbacks and progress influence achievement of behavior change. According to a University of Colorado, Boulder release:

New Year’s resolution-makers should beware of skewed perceptions. People tend to believe good behaviors are more beneficial in reaching goals than bad behaviors are in obstructing goals, according to a University of Colorado Boulder-led study.

A dieter, for instance, might think refraining from eating ice cream helps his weight-management goal more than eating ice cream hurts it, overestimating movement toward versus away from his target.

“Basically what our research shows is that people tend to accentuate the positive and downplay the negative when considering how they’re doing in terms of goal pursuit,” said Margaret C. Campbell, lead author of the paper — published online in the Journal of Consumer Research — and professor of marketing at CU-Boulder’s Leeds School of Business.

Given these findings, researchers suggest you develop an objective method for measuring your progress and monitor it regularly.

Previously: Resolutions for the New Year and beyond, How learning weight-maintenance skills first can help you achieve New Year’s weight-loss goals, To be healthier in the new year, resolve to be more social and Helping make New Year’s resolutions stick
Photo by Laura Taylor

Nutrition, Obesity, Stanford News, Videos

Easy-to-follow tips to avoid overeating this holiday

Easy-to-follow tips to avoid overeating this holiday

‘Tis the season for overindulging. A recent report showed that we can easily consume 2,000 calories (or more) during a holiday dinner, particularly if the celebration includes appetizers and a few glasses of wine. As Neha Shah, a registered dietitian at Stanford, explains in the above Stanford Health Care video, overeating during this time of year is tied to many factors. She says, “There is so much food available at one given social setting that it’s easy to overeat and not realize it.”

There are simple techniques, however, that can help you resist the temptation to pile your plate high and go back for seconds. Watch the full video to learn easy-to-follow tips for making healthier choices this holiday season as you eat, drink and be merry.

Previously: “Less is more:” Eating wisely, with delight, during the holidays, Eat well, be well and enjoy (a little) candy, Learning tools for mindful eating and Enjoying the turkey while watching your waistline
Photo in featured-entry box by George Redgrave

Obesity, Parenting, Pediatrics, Research

Study shows that toddlers benefit from rules about eating habits

Study shows that toddlers benefit from rules about eating habits

toddler_eatingA recent study from pediatrics researchers at the University at Buffalo suggests that toddlers who are faced with parental rules about what to eat develop better eating habits later in their childhood, regardless of the self-restraint they demonstrate. The connection between self-restraint and eating habits has been studied widely in adults and adolescents, but this research is among the first to investigate it in very young children.

The findings suggest that self-restraint in two year-olds doesn’t itself lead to healthier habits by the time the child is four; it must be combined with parental rules about eating. Neha Sharma, a co-author of the paper, explained the significance when presenting the research at ObesityWeek 2014 in Boston, as quoted in a University of Buffalo news release:

It is amazing to see that a parental rule about which types of food a child can and cannot eat could have such a great impact on child eating habits. Without these boundaries set by caregivers, the benefits of high self-regulation on weight gain and childhood obesity could be diminished. This illustrates just how important parental involvement is in influencing child eating habits.

Seventeen percent of American children age 2-19 are obese, as are nearly 35 percent of adults, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Obesity is well-known as a pressing public health issue, and children who are obese are much less likely to attain healthy weights as adults.

Furthermore, a study published this week in Pediatrics suggests that obese youth are very likely to become obese teens, contrary to a popular idea that overweight adolescents have “baby fat” that will disappear with puberty. Researchers found that a child’s weight at age 11 is a good indicator of his or her weight at age 16: 83 percent of obese fifth-graders remained obese, and 87 percent of normal-weight fifth graders remained at a normal weight five years later.

By setting guidelines and rules for toddlers, parents and caretakers can play a key role in guiding society’s very youngest members towards healthy eating habits with life-long impacts.

Previously: No bribery necessary: Children eat more vegetables when they understand how food affects their bodies, Examining why instilling healthy eating and exercise habits in children may not prevent obesity later in life and How to combat childhood obesity? Try everything
Photo by David Goehring

Nutrition, Obesity, Public Health

A physician realizes that she had "officially joined our nation of fellow sugar addicts"

A physician realizes that she had "officially joined our nation of fellow sugar addicts"

sugar_11.11.14Over on CommonHealth, Terry Schraeder, MD, an internist at Mt. Auburn Hospital and a clinical assistant professor at Brown University, speaks candidly about her realization that she was consuming way too much sugar – likely more than 22 teaspoons – each day.

Her addiction started with a sugar-laden drink disguised as sparkling orange juice and spiraled into regular consumption of flavored coffees, muffins, snacks, desserts and “healthy foods” containing hidden corn syrup. In the piece, Schraeder explains that a high triglyceride level convinced her to change her eating habits:

For the past eight weeks, I have tried to limit adding sugar in any form to my food and started searching nutrition labels for sugar content. If the food lists the grams of sugar on the nutrition label (these may be natural or added), then I check the list of added ingredients to see if there is any added sugar in the form of corn syrup, sucrose, fructose, brown sugar, juice concentrate, honey, molasses, etc. If there is, I know it is “added” sugar. I try to limit my added sugar to less than 24 grams (or six teaspoons) each day.

It has not been easy but it has been well worth the effort. For the first time in years, my moods and energy are more level, the sweet cravings are gone and I feel calmer. The fat around my belly has disappeared. My teeth feel smoother and cleaner despite the same oral hygiene. The late afternoon slump and brain fog are no more. I will have my triglycerides rechecked soon.

I feel great but I am still in shock. I had no idea I was consuming too much sugar. If you had asked me, I would have denied it. For years, I have railed against fat and calories, smoking and lack of exercise. I had not considered my own sugar intake.

The piece is worth a read and may inspire you to take a closer look at your own daily sugar intake.

Previously: Study shows banning soda purchases using food stamps would reduce obesity and type-2 diabetes, What do Americans buy at the grocery store? and Mindful eating tips for the desk-bound
Photo by Moyan Brenn

Chronic Disease, Obesity, Parenting, Pediatrics

Getting a handle on screen time: tips for parents

Getting a handle on screen time: tips for parents

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Most parents know that they should keep screen time to a minimum, but how much is too much? Moreover, with the advent of many educational apps for tablets and smartphones, it’s easy as a parent to get confused about managing their childrens’ use of televisions, computers and tablets. Watching “Frozen” for the hundredth time is clearly entertainment, but what about playing with a Dora the Explorer app that teaches vocabulary? Should that count against a child’s screen time “budget?”

The Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford blog, Healthier, Happier Lives, had a post earlier this week that offers concrete tips from Thomas Robinson, MD, MPH, director of Packard’s Center for Healthy Weight. Robinson notes that educational screen time doesn’t need to count toward entertainment screen time, which he recommends keeping to less than an hour a day. But he cautions that parents should distinguish between real educational programs and entertainment disguised as education.

He also says that it’s easier to get kids to follow screen-time rules if parents are judicious about their own screen use (this includes time in front of a computer or with a smart phone, as well as TV time). One of the key reasons to turn off the TV (and other screens) is to avoid bad habits associated with screen time like eating high-fat, high-sugar snacks, especially while in front of a TV or computer. Another is simply to get kids to move more and be more active.

The bottom line? Robinson says:

More than anything else, just having family rules about how much, what, when, where, and with whom is the most important step in making screen time and technology work for your family, instead of against it.

Previously: Examining the effects of family time, screen time and parenting styles on child behavior, Childhood obesity expert to parents: Reduce your child’s screen time and Study: Too much TV, computer could hurt kids’ mental health
Photo by Vidmir Raic

Obesity, Pediatrics, Public Health, SMS Unplugged

When the wheels on the bus (don't) go round: Driving the spread of local health programs

When the wheels on the bus (don't) go round: Driving the spread of local health programs

SMS (“Stanford Medical School”) Unplugged is a forum for students to chronicle their experiences in medical school. The student-penned entries appear on Scope once a week; the entire blog series can be found in the SMS Unplugged category.

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A few years ago, I was doing a summer internship in which I looked at health outcomes for hospitalized patients. I sat in an office and read about patients with issues like high blood pressure and cholesterol. At a certain point, I realized that the reports on their outcomes were interesting, but the real solution to the problems I was studying was happening outside my window. My window overlooked a park, where kids would run around all day until they were exhausted. And it got me thinking that if all kids were as active as those ones, there would a lot fewer reports for me to read.

So last year, I worked with several medical and law students to design a county-level childhood obesity prevention policy. The need for such programs is self-explanatory: More than one third of children in the U.S. are overweight or obese. By the time people reach adulthood, that proportion goes up to two thirds. By creating a team of both medical and law students, we hoped to come up with approaches that achieved the goal of improving health, and did so in a practical and implementable way.

Over the course of several months, we analyzed dozens of programs that have been used to bring down childhood obesity rates in various communities across the country. The programs ranged from well-known approaches (e.g. a soda tax or menu calorie counts) to some more obscure ones. My personal favorite was the “Walking School Bus” (WSB). Think about how your parents used to tell you that things were tougher in their day when they had to walk to school (in the snow, going uphill, barefoot, etc.). The goal of a WSB is to bring that world back. The catch is that parents/adults walk along a predetermined “bus” route, pick up kids along the way, and then walk them to school. Kids get a supervised walk that allows them to get some exercise every day.

Case studies, and one meta-analysis, suggest that WSBs are an effective way to increase the amount of exercise kids get. But odds are, you’ve never heard about them before. Neither have most school officials, local politicians, and others in a position to take action on childhood obesity. That’s because WSBs are not widely used. This realization led me to an interesting question: Which factors make a local program or intervention spread to other communities? What does it take to turn a single success story into a widespread strategy?

These are hardly new questions. Every business or non-profit that plans to scale up considers it. Atul Gawande, MD, attempted to figure out why certain medical interventions spread in a New Yorker article last year. Whether you’re talking about social programs, technology, or just an idea, the question remains. I don’t pretend to have the answer, but my work reviewing obesity prevention policies did lead me to a few conclusions about the spread of local programs.

First, success is necessary but not sufficient for a program’s spread. Just because it proves to be successful does not mean anyone else will adopt it. WSBs were one example. Granted, WSBs are not adaptable to every community – they require schools to be within walking distance and rely on good weather. But the same story is true for other approaches. For instance, joint-use agreements are a strategy where schools open up their facilities (e.g. outdoor fields, basketball courts, etc.) after school hours to give children and families access to recreational space. Despite a correlation between these agreements and better health outcomes, they remain in limited use in many of the communities where recreational space is most lacking.

So if success doesn’t lead to a program’s spread, what does? I believe one factor is the involvement and enthusiasm of multiple stakeholders, potentially including local government, businesses, school administrators, and involved community members. A second factor is the development of measurable and achievable goals. It is nearly impossible to see incremental changes in health outcomes, so programs designed to change health must establish metrics that can demonstrate progress.

The list of lessons from our survey of local programs goes on, but the biggest takeaway is clear. Problems in health care require not only a solution, but successful execution.

Akhilesh Pathipati is a second-year medical student at Stanford. He is interested in issues in health-care delivery.

Image by EME

Nutrition, Obesity, Research, Stanford News

When it comes to weight loss, maintaining a diet is more important than diet type

When it comes to weight loss, maintaining a diet is more important than diet type

bathroom_scaleSelecting a weight-loss plan can be tricky. Everywhere you look, media reports bombard you with stories about how Jennifer Hudson lost 80 pounds by joining Weight Watchers, Sharon Osbourne shed 23 pounds on the Atkins diet, and other A-listers slimmed down on the Zone Diet. And then there’s that close friend who dropped three dress sizes after following the South Beach Diet. How do you determine which dieting plan is the most effective?

To answer this question, Edward Mills, PhD, a visiting associate professor at Stanford, and colleagues completed a network meta-analysis of 48 randomized trials of brand-name diets, which included a total of more than 7,200 overweight or obese adults. In addition to those mentioned above, researchers also evaluated six other diets: Ornish, Vulumetrics, Jenny Craig, Rosemary Conley, Biggest Loser and Nutrisystem. The diets were divided into three categories —  low-carb, low-fat and moderate macronutrient.

The diet that a person can maintain for the long term, or for as long as possible, is the most effective weight-loss plan

Overall, the study showed that if people stuck to their diets (no matter the type) they lost weight, but ultimately the “weight-loss differences between individual diets were minimal and largely unimportant,” according to Mills. The study authors concluded that the diet that a person can maintain for the long term, or for as long as possible, is the most effective weight-loss plan. They also found that exercise and behavioral support can enhanced weight loss.

Interested to know more about the research, I reached out to Mills, who explained how the evidence failed to support recommending a specific diet and discussed the potential of being able to combine diets to achieve lasting weight loss without having to maintain strict eating habits.

Why did you and your colleagues complete a comparison study of popular diets?

There is a massive weight-loss industry that promotes different diets that are marketed in different ways. Some diets are promoted as being more medical, such as the Ornish diet, while others target people according to lifestyle, for example the South Beach diet. With all the promotion of different diets occurring and people discussing what they believe works or does not work, we wanted to examine whether the clinical trial evidence demonstrated superiority of any particular diet, a strategy we are calling “evidence-based dieting.”

In the study, individuals on a low-carb and low-fat diet lost the most weight (8 kg over six months), compared to those who were not on any diet. Why are these diets not considered to be the most effective of those studied?

These diets do appear to offer the largest weight-loss benefits, but the difference between the different diets was so small that other issues begin to be more important. We looked at the diets using two different analyses. First, we grouped diets according to their type of diet, called a class, and then examined whether the individual diet resulted in different outcomes. Although we found differences according to the classes of diets, these were not really observed when we examined the individual diets. So at this point, we can’t recommend any particular diet over another. But those that are low carb or low fat are preferable.

What did you find most surprising about the study results?

What is most surprising about the results is that the individual diet a person chooses doesn’t seem to be the most important aspect of dieting, instead maintaining a diet is. Some people have a lot of difficulty adhering to a diet because they find the particular diet too difficult to maintain, such as avoiding carbs if they’re trying the Atkin’s diet. It appears that if all diets offer more or less the same benefits, then people should be able to switch between diets when they need to. This approach may be really helpful in adhering to dieting in general.

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