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Posts Tagged: obesity

The devil -- er, bacteria -- made me do it

Gut bacteria may affect both our cravings and moods to get us to eat what they want.
Many people worry about the outside of their gut – watching their weight and suffering through sit-ups in search of six-pack abs.

Research from UC San Francisco is showing that we also should pay attention to what's inside the gut.

Gut bacteria may affect both our cravings and moods to get us to eat what they want, and often are driving us toward obesity, according to an article published this month in the journal BioEssays.

Researchers concluded from a review of recent scientific literature that microbes influence human eating behavior and dietary choices to favor consumption of the particular nutrients they grow best on, rather than simply passively living off whatever nutrients we choose to send their way.

“Bacteria within the gut are manipulative,” said corresponding author on the paper Carlo Maley, director of the Center for Evolution and Cancer with the Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCSF. “There is a diversity of interests represented in the microbiome, some aligned with our own dietary goals, and others not.”

We also can influence this diverse community of microbes, collectively known as the gut microbiome, by altering what we ingest, Maley said, with measurable changes in the microbiome within 24 hours of diet change.

“Our diets have a huge impact on microbial populations in the gut,” Maley said. “It's a whole ecosystem, and it's evolving on the time scale of minutes.”

The gut is a growing field for research.

Michael Fischbach, a UCSF assistant professor of bioengineering and therapeutic sciences, studies gut bacteria and how they could help reveal the causes and new treatments for Crohn's disease and obesity.

“When I look at a person, I don't just see a warm, shiny human being,” Fischbach said. “I see bacteria crawling all over you and living on every surface that's exposed and not exposed in your entire body. And you're lucky that they're there because these bacteria do very important things for you. They make your immune system function properly. They help you digest foods. And they produce important chemicals that serve as vitamins for your body.”

With advancements in genetic sequencing technology, Fischbach and colleagues are mining gut bacteria for natural products – small molecules from microbes – that could hold the key for treating diseases.

“You used to have to travel to the coast of Palau to mine the ocean sediment for drugs,” Fischbach said. “Now we can just check our gut!”

Fischbach discussed his gut research with collaborator Justin Sonnenburg, a Stanford University microbiologist with degrees from UC Davis and UC San Diego, at the recent New York Times Health for Tomorrow conference at UCSF Mission Bay Conference Center.

“The beauty of being in basic research is you don't know where you're going to end up,” Fischbach said after their panel presentation. “It's nice to be on a journey where you don't know where the ship lands. I hope it's going to improve human health.”

Read more:
-Do gut bacteria rule our minds?, UCSF
-Our microbiome may be looking out for itself, New York Times
-The next frontier of medicine, Slate
-Culturing for cures, UCSF

Posted on Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 10:02 AM
Tags: gut (1), obesity (22)

Childhood obesity: It's a disease

I spent last week at the Childhood Obesity Conference in Long Beach representing UC Agriculture and Natural Resources. I had heard that obesity was an epidemic. I had heard it's an issue that needs to be tackled. But I hadn't ever heard the extent of it before.

One serving of Ragu has as much sugar as 3 Oreo cookies

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), childhood obesity has more than doubled in the past 30 years. Adolescent obesity has tripled. In 2010, more than one-third of children and adolescents were obese. Last week, the American Medical Association went as far as to declare obesity a disease. The CDC has stated this is a direct result of caloric imbalance - children aren't expending enough calories, and they're eating too many.

In his keynote address, Michael Moss, investigative reporter with the New York Times and author of Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, mentioned that a half cup of tomato sauce has as much sugar as several Oreo cookies. I researched this, and sure enough according to MyFitnessPal, a leading food tracking software and app, a half cup of Ragu Roasted Garlic Pasta Sauce has 11g of sugar, while a serving of three Oreo cookies has 12g of sugar. As Moss mentioned, kids are taught to expect sweetness in everything they eat. According to him, the food industry is exploiting the biology of children. No wonder we can't get our kids to eat their vegetables.

This reminds me of a video clip I saw on YouTube of Jamie Oliver's television show Food Revolution. He goes into a classroom, hoping to have kids identify fresh vegetables, only to discover they don't know the difference between a tomato and a potato.

How did we get to this point? How have we become so disconnected from the food we eat and the things we put into our body? How did we get to a point where Oreos, Happy Meals and Cheez-Its were cool, but vegetables and fruits weren't? And most importantly, what do we do about it?

Is this next video a sign of where we are headed?

Posted on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 at 11:37 AM
  • Author: Marissa Palin
Tags: childhood (1), epidemic (1), fast food (1), health (2), nutrition (11), obesity (22), obesity prevention (1), processed food (1)

Follow your bliss (point)

Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Michael Moss is best known for coining the term “pink slime,” a reference to a meat additive that, thanks to Moss’s reporting, had a particularly bad PR day in 2009, when his high gross-out factor exposé was published in the New York Times. Products containing the cringe-inducing substance were subsequently banished from many grocery stores and schools.

In his most recent book, Salt, Sugar, Fat, Moss shined daylight on the happier sounding, but no less alarming phrase “bliss point,” a food industry term for the exact combination of those titular ingredients that stimulates our brain’s pleasure center and makes us — and our kids — crave these highly engineered products, from spaghetti sauce to Doritos.

The book is an investigative reporting piece that exposes the cold, hard scientific and business calculations made in the highly competitive food industry. But with his appearance as the opening keynote address at the 7th Biennial Childhood Obesity Conference, taking place in Long Beach, Calif., this week (June 18-20), Moss places his research squarely in the middle of its public-health context.

That context will be drawn by the country's preeminent experts on children’s health, who will present their current thinking on topics such as strategies for protecting children from food industry marketing tactics, how we can use health care reform to address childhood obesity, and how zoning and the built environment can have positive influence on the children’s health. The Prevention Institute’s Julie Sims will talk about innovative messaging that promotes policy change, like in this video:

The conference is designed for public health practitioners, researchers, health workers and educators, and nutrition professionals. They will be treated to an event bookended by two best-selling authors — Marion Nestle gives the closing keynote.

Nestle, an NYU professor and author of Food Politics and What to Eat, will close the conference with a talk on how a focus on policy can reverse current obesity trends. She will provide examples of how advocacy for environmental and policy changes that promote healthier diets and more physical activity “can be linked to positive sustainable action,” according the conference website.

Ultimately, the goal of the conference is nothing short of wiping out childhood obesity.

“Conferences such as this are crucial to creating and maintaining the movement to eliminate childhood obesity,” said Ces Murphy, conference planning chair and a project manager at California Project LEAN at the California Department of Public Health, one of the conference’s co-sponsors. “By sharing information, leveraging resources and creating partnerships that lead to positive sustainable change, we will accelerate the progress of reaching this goal.”

Pat Crawford, director of UC Berkeley’s Atkins Center for Weight and Health, is one of the founders of the conference and has an integral role in shaping it each year. Crawford says that the work is starting to pay off. "The effort to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic has expanded exponentially during the past few years, and we are beginning to see some of the positive outcomes from these efforts.” 

Posted on Tuesday, June 18, 2013 at 7:31 AM
Tags: atkins center (1), childhood obesity (1), cwh (1), food (4), marion nestle (1), michael moss (1), obesity (22)

Obesity researchers leave no molecule unturned

Obesity research plotted onto an illustration of the human digestive system.

The biennial Childhood Obesity Conference is taking place in Long Beach June 18-20. Book-ended by two world-class keynote speakers Michael Moss, the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times reporter and author of Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us, and Marion Nestle, a New York University professor of food studies and public health, and author of Food Politics and What to Eat — the event promises a no-holds-barred, systemic look at the problems of obesity in all their complexity.

Public outreach on the part of dynamic writers and activists like Moss and Nestle is critical and gets much-needed information, messages, and questions out in the world. But the hard science, where many of the breakthroughs will take place that will advance understanding and treatments, is hidden in laboratories across UC, where faculty and their graduate students and post-doctoral researchers toil away in obscurity.

One such discovery broke out of the lab and into the news just in time for this past holiday season, when UC Berkeley molecular toxicology professor Hei Sook Sol published a paper unlocking the molecular mechanisms of how our bodies convert dietary carbohydrates into fat. The finding has the potential to be an early step in development of treatment for fatty liver and other obesity-related diseases.

For sneak peak at where the next breakthrough might come from, browse the research currently taking place at in the Department of Nutritional Sciences and Toxicology at UC Berkeley.

Posted on Wednesday, May 15, 2013 at 1:33 PM
Tags: Berkeley (1), Hei Sook Sul (1), obesity (22), obesity research (1)

Eating out … again? The nutrition of food prepared away from home

Food prepared at home is slowly getting healthier, but food prepared away from home is not, according to a new study by the USDA Economic Research Service.

  • Food prepared away from home accounts for 32 percent of Americans’ caloric intake and 41 percent of food expenditures. (Food prepared away from home includes restaurants, fast-food establishments, and take-out or delivery meals.)
  • Americans increased their away-from-home share of calories from 18 percent to 32 percent in the last three decades, mainly from table-service and fast-food restaurants.
  • Caloric intake rose over the last three decades from 1,875 calories per person per day to 2,002 calories per day.
  • Food prepared at home became significantly lower in fat content and richer in calcium over the past three decades; food prepared away from home did not.
  • Food prepared away from home is higher in saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol, and lower in dietary fiber than food prepared at home.

Poor diets contribute to obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other health conditions. The trend toward eating out is expected to continue, so Americans need to learn how their food is prepared, and what’s in it. Only then will they have the information to make wise food choices.

Consumers should be health-savvy when they eat away from home. Don’t be afraid to ask for nutritional information or preparation methods, and don’t assume that restaurants (even high-end restaurants) serve healthy food. Restaurants serve what consumers like — fat, salt, sugar and lots of calories. The American Heart Association offers a variety of very useful information for dining out, and the Center for Science in the Public Interest has guidelines on labeling at fast-food and chain restaurants.

Some fast-food restaurants have pamphlets available with nutritional information — it’s surprising to find how high in calories and fat some menu items are. Beware, though, of what they consider a serving size — it may be less than what is purchased as a single serving. A report in the Los Angeles Times notes that few entrees at fast-food restaurants meet the USDA-recommended limits for calories, sodium, saturated fat and fat combined.

Opt for healthier choices, and don’t feel compelled to “clean your plate” at meals. Some people routinely eat no more than half the restaurant meal, saving the other half for another meal. Ask your restaurants to serve healthier options — restaurants will respond only if consumers commit to making healthy food choices.

There is hope. Americans may be getting the message about dietary fat — consumption of fat has dropped from 86 grams of total fat per person per day to 75 grams per day over the last three decades. But, on average, food prepared away from home still has more fat (37 percent) than food prepared at home (30 percent).

Due to the increase in consumption of food prepared away from home, we may see more of a push to include nutritional and health information on menus (see the proposed FDA guidelines). Whether this impacts consumer food choices remains to be seen. But by learning some basics about food and nutrition, you can make healthier choices, even when eating at restaurants.

The University of California offers many free and low-cost publications on food, health and nutrition. Here are a few:

  • Nutrition and health information sheets – free downloads on fat, fiber, calcium, cholesterol, energy drinks, and other topics.
  • Lunchbox series – free downloads on healthy lunches for preschool children.
  • Healthalicious cooking – free after-school curricula on food and physical activity.
  • Food, nutrition, and health publications in the UC ANR catalog: some free, some with a cost.
  • Free nutrition publications from the Department of Nutrition at UC Davis.
Posted on Tuesday, January 29, 2013 at 9:03 AM

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This material was funded by USDA's Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - SNAP. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer. The USDA does not endorse products, services, or organizations. 

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