April 19, 2010

Study shows fatty foods may cause drug-like addiction -- similar brain responses to cupcakes and cocaine

According to a study published March 28, 2010, online in Nature Neuroscience journal, researchers have found that fatty foods may be addictive. When rats are exposed to high-fat junk foods their brains react similarly to when they are exposed to cocaine. This research, which confirms previous studies, is further evidence that the same addictive reaction between the brain and junk food may occur in humans.

The researchers divided similar rats into three groups.  Each group had unlimited access to regular rat chow, and in addition each group received either: 1) nothing else -- just regular rat chow, 2) some fattening human foods for one hour a day (plus unlimited rat chow), or 3) access to fattening human foods for 18-23 hours per day (plus unlimited rat chow). The study measured calories eaten, weight gain, and brain reward center response.  Rats with access to the high-fat palatable foods showed reduced brain responses, as well as increased calorie consumption and weight gain.

From a CNN Health Article describing the study:

Doing drugs such as cocaine and eating too much junk food both gradually overload the so-called pleasure centers in the brain, according to Paul J. Kenny, Ph.D., an associate professor of molecular therapeutics at the Scripps Research Institute, in Jupiter, Florida. Eventually the pleasure centers "crash," and achieving the same pleasure--or even just feeling normal--requires increasing amounts of the drug or food, says Kenny, the lead author of the study.

Thank you to William Mitchell College of Law students Scott Allen and Lauren Sparks for preparing this post.  Mr. Allen and Ms. Sparks are students of Professor Donna M. Byrne.

April 19, 2010 in Obesity, Scientific studies | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 16, 2010

Michelle Obama Leads Campaign Against Obesity

President Obama signed a memorandum February 9, 2010, creating a Task Force on Childhood Obesity to support the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign, aimed at ending childhood obesity in the United States within one generation. 

From the New York Times:

. . . The much-anticipated “Let’s Move’’ campaign, nearly a year in the making, marks the first lady’s official debut in a high-profile powerful policy role, and it was clear that Mrs. Obama has a broad vision for it. The White House has secured the cooperation of food industry executives, who have pledged to reduce the amount of sugar in school lunches, and beverage makers who promise to more clearly label their sugary drinks. The American Academy of Pediatrics announced that, from now on, it will encourage its members to measure the body mass index, an indicator of obesity, of their young patients.

The memorandum notes:

Nearly one third of children in America are overweight or obese -- a rate that has tripled in adolescents and more than doubled in younger children since 1980.  One third of all individuals born in the year 2000 or later will eventually suffer from diabetes over the course of their lifetime, while too many others will face chronic obesity-related health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, cancer, and asthma.  Without effective intervention, many more children will endure serious illnesses that will put a strain on our health-care system. We must act now to improve the health of our Nation's children and avoid spending billions of dollars treating preventable disease.

The President’s memorandum grants The Task Force 90 days to develop an interagency plan of action to achieve its objectives.

This post was contributed by William Mitchell College of Law student Adam Brady.  Mr. Brady is a student of Professor Donna M. Byrne.

February 16, 2010 in Obesity | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 03, 2010

Menu Labeling Updates: New Research Shows that Menu Labeling is Curbing Consumers’ Caloric Intake – and also Leading Major Restaurant Chains to Offer Healthier Menu Options

This is a guest post by Kate Armstrong, Staff Attorney, Public Health Law Center, William Mitchell College of Law.

According to two recent studies, nutrition labeling on menus in chain restaurants is leading consumers to make lower-calorie menu selections for themselves and for their children. 

The first study, released in early January 2010, was conducted by the Stanford Graduate School of Business.  The Stanford study, Calorie Posting in Chain Restaurants, focused on the impact of mandatory calorie posting on consumers’ purchasing decisions using sales data from Starbucks stores in New York City, where calorie labeling has been required by city regulation since April 2008.  It found that Starbucks consumers began switching to lower-calorie food options after menu labeling was required, resulting in average calories per transaction falling by six percent (6%).

From an Atlantic article about the Stanford study (which also references two complementary studies conducted by the NYC health department and researchers at Yale University):

The Stanford study, which compared data from Starbucks stores in New York City against stores in Boston and Philadelphia, where calorie-labeling laws are going into effect (they did on January 1 in Philadelphia, and will this November in Boston) is the first widely noted sign that people do change their ordering behavior when they see calorie counts—though not the first, as New York City health department preliminary studies, and a new study at Yale, published last month, are showing. Starbucks customers reduced calories in their food (but not their drink) orders by 6 percent overall and, more dramatically, by 26 percent if they had previously been ordering high-calorie Starbucks items. Starbucks profits didn't decrease—an answer to initial fears from food companies over labeling laws. But, unreassuringly for fast-food chains, sales at Starbucks stores within 100 meters of Dunkin Donuts stores increased by an average of three percent.

The second study, published in the January 25, 2010, online version of Pediatrics, was conducted by researchers at the University of Washington and the Seattle Children’s Research Institute.  The researchers used McDonald’s menus and looked at how parents reacted to nutritional information when making fast food selections for their children.  They found that when nutritional information is available on fast food restaurant menus, parents are more apt to pick lower-calorie foods for their children.

From a BusinessWeek article on the study, quoting lead researcher Dr. Pooja Tandon:

"When parents are provided with calorie information they chose about 100 calories less [per meal] for their 3- to 6-year-old child compared to parents who didn't have that information," said lead researcher Dr. Pooja Tandon, a graduate fellow in the department of general pediatrics at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Finally, the Wall Street Journal notes that local and state menu labeling legislation is leading several national restaurant chains to reformulate existing menu items to make them healthier, and to introduce new, lower-calorie menu options.  While national restaurant chains say that product reformulation is driven by customer demand for healthier options, it is also likely motivated by pending national menu labeling legislation:

The restaurant chains say the low-calorie shift was driven by customer demand rather than impending legislation. But providing calorie counts now will help them get ahead of a proposed federal law calling for chains with 20 or more restaurants to post calorie information on menus and menu boards.  The proposed menu labeling requirements are part of health care legislation being debated in Congress.

Click here for the proposed national menu labeling legislation (see Section 4205, Nutrition Labeling of Standard Menu Items at Chain Restaurants) contained within the Senate health care reform bill, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed in the Senate on December 24, 2009.

Although national menu labeling legislation is packaged within the larger – and now up-in-the-air health care reform bill – it is still anticipated to pass this year, whether as part of national health care reform or as stand-alone legislation.

Post by Donna M. Byrne, Professor of Law, William Mitchell College of Law

February 3, 2010 in Labeling, Obesity, Restaurants | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 02, 2010

Are we healthier after a decade? Not really

From the Associated Press:

Did Americans get any healthier over past decade?

By MIKE STOBBE, AP Medical Writer Mike Stobbe

ATLANTA – About 10 years ago the government set some lofty health goals for the nation to reach by 2010. So how did we do? By many measures, not so hot. There are more obese Americans than a decade ago, not fewer. We eat more salt and fat, not less. More of us have high blood pressure. More of our children have untreated tooth decay.

. . .

As we move into a new decade, the government is analyzing how well . . .


Post by Donna M. Byrne, Professor of Law, William Mitchell College of Law

January 2, 2010 in Current Affairs, Obesity | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 30, 2009

Junk food binges may lead to addiction

Using junk food as rewards stimulates the reward centers in the brain, leading to addictive behavior. A recent study presented at Neuroscience 2009 last week is being reported all over the internet. 

Interestingly, this is the basic premise of former FDA Commissioner David Kessler's recent book, The End of Overeating (blogged here).  

From Science Daily.com:

Brain pleasure centers became progressively less responsive in rats fed a diet of high-fat, high-calorie food, a new study has found. As the changes occurred, the rats developed compulsive overeating habits -- and became obese. The overeating continued even when it meant the rats had to endure an unpleasant consequence (a mild foot shock) in order to consume the food. . . .

The researchers also found that as the activity of the brain's pleasure centers decreased, the rats became less likely to eat a well-balanced, nutritious diet -- even when the less palatable healthy food was the only food available to them.

Read the rest of this article at Science Daily.com -- Junk Food Diet Causes Rats’ Brain Pleasure Centers To Become Progressively Less Responsive

New York Daily News:Binging on junk food encourages addictive behavior: study

Science News: Junk Food Junkies -- Rats on a junk food diet behave like drug addicts

October 30, 2009 in Obesity, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 17, 2009

Soda Tax in the News

Proposed taxes on sugar sodas seem to be getting a lot of ink lately. President Obama thinks it's worth considering (blogged here).

A recent study by a star-studded cast of nutrition and obesity experts published in the New England Journal of Medicine this week is stirring things up. :The Public Health and Economic Benefits of Taxing Sugar-Sweetened Beverages, (by Kelly D. Brownell, Ph.D., Thomas Farley, M.D., M.P.H., Walter C. Willett, M.D., Dr.P.H., Barry M. Popkin, Ph.D., Frank J. Chaloupka, Ph.D., Joseph W. Thompson, M.D., M.P.H., and David S. Ludwig, M.D., Ph.D.)

. . .Taxation has been proposed as a means of reducing the intake of [sugar-sweetened] beverages and thereby lowering health care costs, as well as a means of generating revenue that governments can use for health programs. Currently, 33 states have sales taxes on soft drinks (mean tax rate, 5.2%), but the taxes are too small to affect consumption and the revenues are not earmarked for programs related to health. This article examines trends in the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, evidence linking these beverages to adverse health outcomes, and approaches to designing a tax system that could promote good nutrition and help the nation recover health care costs associated with the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. . . .

New York Times, Sept. 16, 2009: Proposed Tax on Sugary Beverages Debated

. . . a team of prominent doctors, scientists and policy makers says it could be a powerful weapon in efforts to reduce obesity, in the same way that cigarette taxes have helped curb smoking.

The group, which includes the New York City health commissioner, Thomas Farley, and Joseph W. Thompson, Arkansas surgeon general, estimates that a tax of a penny an ounce on sugary beverages would raise $14.9 billion in its first year, which . . .

ABCNews.go.com, Sept. 16, 2009: Public Health Leaders Propose Soda Tax

. . ."A tax on sugar-sweetened beverages is really a double-win," said Dr. David Ludwig, a co-author of the paper and director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children's Hospital, Boston. "We can raise much-needed dollars while likely reducing obesity prevalence, which is a major driver of health care costs, the paper states. "Ultimately the government needs to raise more money to cover the deficit, and in terms of ways of raising that revenue, a tax on sugar sweetened beverages is really a no-brainer.". . .

September 17, 2009 in Legislation, nutrition policy, Obesity | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

September 09, 2009

Obama Says Soft Drink Tax Worth Considering

From the New York Daily News:

. . . The President, in an interview with Men's Health Magazine released yesterday, said he thought taxing soda and other sugary drinks is worth putting on the table as Congress debates health care reform.

"It's an idea that we should be exploring," the president said. "There's no doubt that our kids drink way too much soda. And every study that's been done about obesity shows that there is as high a correlation between increased soda consumption and obesity as just about anything else."

Read more from New York Daily News

Read the Men's Health interview with President Obama

September 9, 2009 in nutrition policy, Obesity | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 31, 2009

Study: A Small Molecule That Blocks Fat Synthesis

A study published in Chemistry and Biology found that a synthetic molecule dubbed "Fatostatin" can block cholesterol and fatty acid biosynthesis in mice with obesity genes.  Here's the abstract (it's rather sciency, but that's better than our attempts at translating it):

A Small Molecule That Blocks Fat Synthesis By Inhibiting the Activation of SREBP

Sterol regulatory element binding proteins (SREBPs) are transcription factors that activate transcription ofthe genes involved in cholesterol and fatty acid biosynthesis. In the present study, we show that a small synthetic molecule we previously discovered to block adipogenesis is an inhibitor of the SREBP activation. The diarylthiazole derivative, now called fatostatin, impairs the activation process of SREBPs, thereby decreasing the transcription of lipogenic genes in cells. Our analysis suggests that fatostatin inhibits the ER-Golgi translocation of SREBPs through binding to their escort protein, the SREBP cleavage-activating protein (SCAP), at a distinct site from the sterol-binding domain. Fatostatin blocked increases in body weight, blood glucose, and hepatic fat accumulation in obese ob/ob mice, even under uncontrolled food intake. Fatostatin may serve as a tool for gaining further insights into the regulation of SREBP.

Read about the study at Eurekalert.com

August 31, 2009 in Obesity, Science | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 26, 2009

Little known oxycholesterol may pose the greatest heart disease risk

Cholesterol Press release from Eurekalert:

WASHINGTON, Aug. 20, 2009 — Health-conscious people know that high levels of total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol (the so-called "bad" cholesterol) can increase the risk of heart attacks. Now scientists are reporting that another form of cholesterol called oxycholesterol — virtually unknown to the public — may be the most serious cardiovascular health threat of all. Scientists from China presented one of the first studies on the cholesterol-boosting effects of oxycholesterol here today at the 238th National Meeting of the American Chemical Society. The researchers hope their findings raise public awareness about oxycholesterol, including foods with the highest levels of the substance and other foods that can combat oxycholesterol's effects.

read more

August 26, 2009 in Dieting, nutrition policy, Obesity | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 25, 2009

Ongoing Safety Review of Weight Loss Drug Orlistat

We usually don't post news about drugs here, but since we do sometimes post about obesity and this is about a weight loss drug, here goes.  This is from an FDA News Release:

FDA Issues Early Communication about Ongoing Safety Review of Weight Loss Drug Orlistat
Review includes both prescription drug Xenical and OTC drug Alli

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced today that it is reviewing adverse event reports of liver injury in patients taking the weight loss drug orlistat, marketed as the prescription drug Xenical and the over-the-counter medication Alli.

Between 1999 and 2008, the FDA received 32 reports of serious liver injury in patients taking orlistat. Of those cases, 27 reported hospitalization and six resulted in liver failure. Thirty of the adverse events occurred outside the United States. The most commonly reported adverse events included yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes (jaundice), weakness, and stomach pain.

The FDA is reviewing additional data submitted by orlistat manufacturers on suspected cases of liver injury, and the issue has been discussed at the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research Drug Safety Oversight Board.

August 25, 2009 in Obesity | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 14, 2009

Washington Post on Taxing Sugar Drinks

Last April Kelly D. Brownell (Yale Psychology) and Thomas R. Frieden (CDC) published a perspective piece in the New England Journal of Medicine: Ounces of Prevention -- The Public Policy Case for Taxes on Sugared Beverages.  This week the Washington Post picked up the topic again:

Can We Fight Obesity by Slapping a Heavy Tax on Soda?

The solution to America's ballooning obesity epidemic lies not in weight-loss counseling or programs to make people more physically active, Kelly Brownell has come to believe. To effect real change, he argues, we need to shift the economic balance between healthful and unhealthful foods, to curtail the all-pervasive marketing of junk food -- and to tax soda.

August 14, 2009 in Obesity | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 23, 2009

Agricultural Policy, Marketing, and Obesity -- 2004 Peter Jennings documentary

This comment by a UK reader was posted recently:

I think the problem is with the food source than the consumers.. The food industry has pulled the wool over every american eyes and they are lovin it..  see url

The link was to an ABC documentary from about 2004 with Peter Jennings exploring the connection between farm subsidies, the food industry, and American eating habits.  The video is quite interesting and just as timely today as it was then.  It's available on YouTube in about 5 segments.  Or you can see the full 43 miinutes here.


July 23, 2009 in Obesity | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 22, 2009

More on the TV ad study and Free Will

A few days ago, we blogged a New York Times article about a study of TV ads on snacking.

Snack Ads Spur Children to Eat More

Psychologists recognize that certain behaviors can be automatic. For example, unrecognized external stimuli can unconsciously stir us to anger, spur us to loyalty or incite us to rudeness without our knowing it. . .  continue reading

The study, Priming Effects of Television Food Advertising on Eating Behavior, was published in Health Psychology.  It examined the effects of TV ads on children as well as adults.

The study is described in an interesting discussion of free will and the role of external stimuli on behavior on the Psychology Today blog, The Natural Unconscious, by John Bargh, one of the authors of the study:

The following is another installment in an ongoing Psychology Today blog debate with Roy Baumeister concerning the existence of free will, for which the new study on automatic effects of TV ads is highly relevant. . . . 

Television and other forms of advertising is expressly directed at getting us to do something that is in the best interests of the advertiser, but not necessarily our own.  We have already recognized this in the case of cigarette (tobacco smoking) advertising and as a consequence it has been banned now for many years.  In the new study, Jennifer Harris and Kelly Brownell of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale and I showed that passive exposure to food advertising on television may contribute to the ongoing obesity epidemic by automatically triggering eating behavior, right then and there while watching TV. 

July 22, 2009 in Behaviorism, Children, Obesity, Television | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 20, 2009

TV Snack Ads Make Us Eat More

From the New York Times:

Snack Ads Spur Children to Eat More

Psychologists recognize that certain behaviors can be automatic. For example, unrecognized external stimuli can unconsciously stir us to anger, spur us to loyalty or incite us to rudeness without our knowing it. A new study finds that seeing food ads on television can induce people to eat more snacks while watching.

continue reading

July 20, 2009 in Behaviorism, Children, Obesity, Television | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 15, 2009

Book: The End of Overeating, by David A. Kessler

Kessler Here's the next book I want to read, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite, by former FDA Commissioner Dr. David A. Kessler.  The Wall Street Journal did a book review and interview with Dr. Kessler:

. . . He interviews the overweight, who say that just the sight of a favorite snack food is enough to make them feel hungry, as well [as] anonymous food executives who admit that fat, salt and sugar are often the building blocks of successful food products. The book was prompted by a question that had long nagged Dr. Kessler: Why is it that Americans continue to crave such foods as potato chips and candy bars long after they feel full? "No one has ever explained what's happening to them and how they can control their eating," he writes. "That's my goal in this book."

Of course, I'll have to remove the dust jacket -- the mere sight of that piece of carrot cake is likely to make me hungry all day long.  Interestingly, the farm fresh carrots just don't have the same effect.  DMB

July 15, 2009 in Books, nutrition policy, Obesity | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

July 01, 2009

TIME Magazine on posting restaurant calorie info

Interesting piece on Time.com (June 29, 2009) on the restaurant calorie labeling issue:

Fast Food: Would You Like 1,000 Calories with That?, by Sean Gregory

How sloppy is that triple Whopper with cheese? It has 1,250 calories, or 62.5% of the recommended 2,000-calories-per-day diet. The Fried Macaroni and Cheese from the Cheesecake Factory? Try 1,570 calories — according to health experts, you're better off eating a stick of butter. . . .

To be fare, the cheesecake probably has more nutrients than the butter, and it tastes better, so there are psychic benefits.  I don't think calories are the whole story.  But the article looks interesting anyway.


July 1, 2009 in articles, Labeling, Legislation, nutrition policy, Obesity | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

January 21, 2009

Coke Sued over Vitamin Water -- Sugar!!

Center for Science in the Public Interest has sued Coca Cola over its promotion of Vitamin Water as "healthful".  In fact, the drink has 33 grams of sugar per bottle, about the same as a can of pop. From the CSPI News Release:

"Coke fears, probably correctly, that they’ll sell less soda as Americans become increasingly concerned with obesity, diabetes, and other conditions linked to diets too high in sugar," said CSPI litigation director Steve Gardner. "VitaminWater is Coke's attempt to dress up soda in a physician's white coat. Underneath, it’s still sugar water, albeit sugar water that costs about ten bucks a gallon." VitaminWater typically retails for about $1.49 for a 20-ounce bottle.

For more information:

FDA – CFSAN – Structure/Function Claims

Text of the Federal Regulation
The regulation deals with labeling in regard to the health benefits of nutrients within food.  This seems to ignore the health benefits of the food product as a whole.  While it may be true that a specific nutrient in a food is beneficial, those benefits may be overshadowed by harmful effects brought about by the food product as a whole.

Read the CSPI complaint against Coke alleging unlawful business practices, fraudulent business practices, misleading and deceptive advertising, untrue advertising, fraud, misrepresentation, which was filed on 1/14/09.

January 21, 2009 in Dieting, Labeling, marketing, Obesity | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack

January 12, 2009

Study: Zip Code causes obesity

Not really, but a study in Seattle did find that zip codes of low income neighborhoods are associated with higher rates of obesity.  In other words, lower incomes are associated with obesity.  Obviously, this doesn't mean that your zip code causes obesity (but other cause-effect claims based only on associations are all over the place.)

Anyway, here's the reference to the study:

"In Seattle we have found that there are fivefold differences in obesity rates depending on the zip code -- the low-income zip codes have a much higher proportion of obese people," he said.

He said that studies conducted in California showed that a 10 per cent rise in poverty translated into a six per cent increase in obesity among adults.

Excerpt is from Spending Less Can Make You Fat, on the Times of India website.

January 12, 2009 in Obesity | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack

November 10, 2008

Buy a cupcake? Not in school

From the New York Times:

Bake Sales Fall Victim to Push for Healthier Foods

. . . The old-fashioned school bake sale, once as American as apple pie, is fast becoming obsolete in California, a result of strict new state nutrition standards for public schools that regulate the types of food that can be sold to students. . . .

It seems cupcakes and cookies don't comply with the restrictions on the fat and sugar content of foods sold to students. Since I think almonds are one of the best snack choices around (and more than 35% of the calories are from fat), I get a little ruffled every time I see this kind of restriction.  It is hard, however, to defend a cupcake. -- DMB

November 10, 2008 in Children, nutrition policy, Obesity | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack

September 12, 2008

Fat tax in Alabama

This news broke the week of August 21 (while I was out of town and about to turn 50), but it's interesting enough to post anyway. From WebMD.com:

August 26, 2008 — Obese Alabama state workers may soon pay a health insurance penalty for their excess pounds.

Beginning in January 2009, state employees will be required to receive medical screenings for several conditions, including body mass index (BMI). Those who are considered obese — along with exhibiting other negative health factors — will have a year to get in shape.

Other health measures are implicated as well as BMI. 

September 12, 2008 in Obesity | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack