Category: Obesity Updates

Are Antibiotics Making Us Fat?

…[D]ecades of agricultural research has shown that antibiotics seem to flip a switch in young animals’ bodies, helping them pack on pounds. Manufacturers brag about the miraculous effects of feeding antibiotics to chicks and nursing calves. Dusty agricultural journals attest to the ways in which the drugs can act like a kind of superfood to produce cheap meat.

Of course, while farm animals often eat a significant dose of antibiotics in food, the situation is different for human beings. By the time most meat reaches our table, it contains little or no antibiotics. So we receive our greatest exposure in the pills we take, rather than the food we eat. American kids are prescribed on average about one course of antibiotics every year, often for ear and chest infections. Could these intermittent high doses affect our metabolism?

In 2002 Americans were about an inch taller and 24 pounds heavier than they were in the 1960s, and more than a third are now classified as obese…

…New evidence shows that America’s obesity epidemic may be connected to our high consumption of these drugs… (NYT)

Childhood Obesity: The Rest of the Story

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The nation is celebrating a new study reporting that the obesity rate for children ages 2 to 5 has plummeted over the last decade. But one of the sadder parts of the study released Wednesday was that the U.S. obesity rate is a reflection of the nation’s racial divide: Blacks and Hispanics suffer much higher levels of obesity compared with whites.

As you can see in the chart above, obesity rates among babies are fairly similar across racial lines. But the disparities rapidly emerge. A black child age 2 to 5 is more than three times as likely to be obese as a white child that age. Hispanic children in that age group are nearly five times as likely to be obese. (Zachary Goldfarb)

Studying Obesity, Learning Nothing

Weight ChangesIn 1960, fewer than 13 percent of Americans were obese, and diabetes had been diagnosed in 1 percent. Today, the percentage of obese Americans has almost tripled; the percentage of Americans with diabetes has increased sevenfold.

Meanwhile, the research literature on obesity has also ballooned. In 1960, fewer than 1,100 articles were published on obesity or diabetes in the indexed medical literature. Last year it was more than 44,000. In total, over 600,000 articles have been published purporting to convey some meaningful information on these conditions. (NYT)

Overweight People Think Differently

About food:

ATHK67For some time, scientists have known that many overweight people’s brains operate differently than the brains of thinner people when they look at images related to eating. In previous neurological studies, when heavier volunteers viewed pictures of food or food preparation, they typically developed increased activity in portions of the brain involved in reward processing, or an urge to like things, including in an area called the putamen. At the same time, their brains showed relatively blunted activity in areas that are thought to induce satiety, or the ability to know when you are full. These changes generally are reversed in the brains of thinner people shown the same images.

About exercise:

The resulting readouts revealed that overweight women’s brains were put off by exercise…

Emotionally, the brain scans suggested, they anticipated disliking physical activity much more than they expected to disdain sitting.

Leaner women’s brain activity, by and large, was the opposite, with the putamen lighting up when they watched others work out and envisaged doing the same themselves. (NYT)

Is the Obesity Epidemic a Real Epidemic?

Your digestive system is actually a complex ecosystem, playing host to hundreds of species of bacteria that do things as diverse as fermenting undigested carbohydrates and providing vitamins. They also regulate how much fat your body stores.

Not et1larg_high_obesity_ratesveryone, however, has the same gut bacteria. And, interestingly, the composition of this bacteria correlates with obesity…

Researchers harvested bacteria from pairs of twin mice, where one twin was obese and the other was not. Then they transplanted these bacteria into different mice. The mice who received bacteria from the obese twin gained weight, while the others did not. The mice did not eat more: Their metabolism changed so that they put on more weight even with the same caloric input…

A study…shows that obesity seems to “spread” across social networks, with people infecting their friends and neighbors. I had always assumed that was because birds of a feather flock together — and that is surely part of the explanation. But because gut bacteria can also spread among people in close proximity, perhaps the obesity epidemic really is, well, an epidemic? (NYT)

Failing to Change Behavior

According to the July 11, 2013 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine, the Look AHEAD trial has been canceled on the “basis of a futility analysis” after 9.6 years of follow-up. It was designed to study whether an intensive lifestyle intervention for weight loss would decrease cardiovascular morbidity and mortality among overweight or obese patients with Type 2 diabetes. Short of interning people in exercise camps, it is hard to imagine a more intensive intervention.

The 5,145 participants were randomly assigned to either a control group or an intensive lifestyle intervention group. The control group received the usual information about behavioral strategies for adopting standard recommendations about how to eat right and exercise.

The Cost of Being Fat

In the past 30 years, the percentage of American adults who are obese has doubled, driving a sharp rise in such chronic conditions as diabetes, heart disease and hypertension.

The ramifications for health spending are significant. Annual health costs for obese individuals are more than $2,700 higher than for non-obese people. That adds up to about $190 billion every year. And many of these costs are borne by Medicare, which will spend a half-trillion dollars over the next decade on preventable hospital readmissions alone.

Ken Thorpe and Tommy Thompson in USA Today.

Who Pays For Obesity?

A common starting point is the assertion that those who are obese impose higher health costs on the rest of the population — a statement which is then taken to justify public policy interventions…We will argue that the existing literature on these topics suggests that obese people on average do bear the costs and benefits of their eating and exercise habits. We begin by estimating the lifetime costs of obesity. We then discuss the extent to which private health insurance pools together obese and thin, whether health insurance causes obesity, and whether being fat might actually cause positive externalities for those who are not obese. If public policy to reduce obesity is not justified on the grounds of external costs imposed on others, then the remaining potential justification would need to be on the basis of helping people to address problems of ignorance or self-control that lead to obesity…

Oops. There goes the whole reason for Mayor Bloomberg’s soda ban and his call for a soda tax. The study. HT: Jason Shafrin.

Weight Loss Therapy a Bargain for Medicare

Emory Professor, Kenneth Thorpe, examines the costs of treating obesity-related conditions and found medications that help Medicare enrollees lose weight could save money for Medicare in the long term.

Permanent weight loss of 10 to 15% will yield $9,445 to $15,987 in gross per capita savings throughout their lifetime, and $8,070 to $13,474 over ten years. Similarly, initial weight loss of 10 to 15% followed by 90% weight regain will result in gross per capita savings of $7,556 to $11,109 over their lifetime, and $6,456 to $8,911 over ten years. Targeting weight loss medications to adults with obesity (BMI ≥ 30) produces greater savings to the Medicare program.

Three Oreo Cookies a Day

That’s all it takes to make us fat. From Timothy Taylor at the Conversable Economist:

The rise in American rates of obesity can be traced back to what seems like a fairly small rise in daily calories consumed, I learned this lesson from an article on the causes of obesity about 10 years back in my own Journal of Economic Perspectives. In “Why Have Americans Become More Obese?” David M. Cutler, Edward L. Glaeser and Jesse M. Shapiro wrote that the “10- to 12-pound increase in median weight we observe in the past two decades requires a net caloric imbalance of about 100 to 150 calories per day. These calorie numbers are strikingly small. One hundred and fifty calories per day is three Oreo cookies or one can of Pepsi. It is about a mile and a half of walking.”