Recent research emerging from UBC Okanagan delivers a stern warning: the unhealthy eating habits fostered during one’s university tenure could set the stage for a lifetime mired in significant health challenges, including obesity, respiratory ailments, and depression.
The caution comes from Dr. Joan Bottorff, a distinguished Professor affiliated with UBCO’s School of Nursing, who is part of a global team of investigators delving into the dietary habits of university attendees. The extensive study encapsulated the dietary patterns of nearly 12,000 medical scholars from a total of 31 universities located in China, striving to decipher the correlation between dietary behaviours, obesity, and a gamut of diseases.
Dr. Bottorff emphasised the crucial fact that the foundations for many unhealthy eating patterns are laid during the university phase and could persist for a substantial duration of an individual’s life.
“There’s a considerable amount of data that outlines how the consumption of high-calorie meals and sugar-laden foods and beverages by many students during this period can be a precursor to obesity,” Dr. Bottorff stated. While she acknowledged that these aren’t the sole contributing factors to obesity, they are significant and warrant attention.
The groundbreaking study, which recently graced the pages of Preventive Medicine Reports, was spearheaded by Dr. Shihui Peng from the School of Medicine at Jinan University in China. Although prior research robustly associates unhealthy diets with numerous chronic diseases, this particular inquiry aimed to unveil the link between poor dietary habits and infectious diseases, including common colds and diarrhoea.
Dr. Bottorff highlighted that while the structure of the study didn’t allow for a cause-effect demonstration, the association between unsound eating habits, obesity, and respiratory diseases was robustly substantiated.
She further brought to light the biomedical research backing the nexus between obesity and infectious diseases, a linkage further spotlighted amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Bottorff explained, “Recent studies concerning COVID-19 reveal a tendency of individuals with obesity experiencing severe symptoms and outcomes, with explanations pointing towards compromised breathing due to excess weight and subpar inflammatory and immune responses.”
The quintessence of the problem, as per Dr. Bottorff, is rooted in the high-sugar, high-calorie dietary routine embraced by many students, which potentially morphs into a long-term plight, as these habits could segue into obesity. Moreover, she noted a vicious cycle where stress and anxiety could trigger overeating, which in turn could lead to further stress and depression.
She underscores the importance of not overlooking this perilous trend among university-goers, where a substantial fraction is known to indulge in unhealthy diets. “The nutritional quality of the food they consume is directly tied to obesity, which opens the gates to a host of other health issues extending beyond chronic diseases to infectious diseases,” she reiterated.
Dr. Bottorff recommends a university-wide initiative where students are educated on the principles of healthy eating. Additionally, she stresses the imperative for institutions to shoulder the responsibility of offering healthy and affordable food alternatives to the entire student body.
Reflecting on the matter, Dr. Bottorff advocated for a thorough examination of the food environment presented to students, ensuring that cafeterias and vending machines are stocked with healthy food choices. The collaborative effort between UBC Student Wellness and Food Services is a move in the right direction, addressing food security and literacy to mitigate the adverse impact of unaffordable food options and university-induced stress on students’ dietary choices.
Students facing food insecurity now have the recourse of a low-barrier food bank and a meal share program. Concurrently, the culinary team at UBCO Food Services, working in tandem with a registered dietitian, has been prioritising locally sourced, organic, and sustainably produced ingredients to diversify the food options available.
Encouraged by the progress, especially with healthier choices being more accessible in cafeterias and the reorganisation of vending machine items to place healthier options at eye level, Dr. Bottorff acknowledges the strides taken by many post-secondary institutions in addressing these issues. “The momentum gathered over the last four or five years is heartening,” she remarked, “It’s a positive deviation from the past, although there’s still a long journey ahead to fully tackle this issue.”Read More
A recent study has established a concerning connection between long-term intake of artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharin, as well as diet sodas, and an augmented risk of obesity. The findings were featured in the International Journal of Obesity, following an extensive examination of the relationships between the consumption of these substances and a variety of health parameters.
Undertaken as part of the Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) initiative, the research embraced a diverse participant group of 5,115 individuals, comprising both black and white men and women. The focal point of the study was to dissect the potential relationships between artificial sweetener and diet beverage consumption and the volumes of visceral adipose tissue (AT), intermuscular AT, and subcutaneous AT, while accounting for demographic factors and lifestyle elements such as total caloric intake and adherence to healthy eating guidelines.
Over a span of 25 years, 3,088 individuals — including 869 black women, 867 white women, 590 black men, and 762 white men aged between 18 and 30 at the onset — were rigorously examined, with their dietary intakes tracked at intervals of the inception, the 7th year, and the 20th year. This meticulous approach allowed for a nuanced breakdown of aspartame and saccharin consumption patterns across quintiles and tertiles, respectively.
Drawing a strong parallel between heightened artificial sweetener intake and expanded volumes of all three types of AT assessed — visceral, subcutaneous, and intermuscular — the study spotlighted worrying trends. Individuals in the uppermost quintile of aspartame consumption demonstrated greater AT volumes in comparison to those in the lowest quintile. Furthermore, higher aspartame intake was associated with pronounced increases in body mass index (BMI), weight, and waist circumference throughout the quarter-century follow-up period.
Similar trends were observed in saccharin consumption, with the highest tertile group reporting up to 14% higher subcutaneous AT alongside substantial augmentations in BMI, weight, and waist circumference. The consumption of diet beverages mirrored these patterns, revealing significant escalations in AT volumes and BMI in those indulging more frequently in these drinks.
Although sucralose intake depicted an upward trajectory in BMI and weight, it remained distinct by not showing a noticeable impact on AT volumes or anthropometric changes over the long-term period studied.
This seminal study foregrounded the alarming implications of prolonged artificial sweetener intake, connecting higher consumption levels with a substantial upswing in obesity risks — with the upper quintiles exhibiting up to a 78% greater propensity for obesity compared to their lower quintile counterparts.
Despite offering unprecedented insights, the research is cognisant of potential limitations including self-reporting biases and the possible influence of altered microbiomes on adipogenesis.
In light of these potent revelations, the researchers advocate a reevaluation of prevailing national advisories encouraging the substitution of added sugars with artificial sweeteners. Highlighting the potential adverse health repercussions of both options, the study calls for a more nuanced approach to fostering healthier dietary choices.Read More
A groundbreaking study by researchers at the University of Cambridge has provided new insights into the role of the hypothalamus in controlling appetite. This small yet critical region of the brain, which is about the size of an almond, appears to have structural differences in those who are living with overweight or obesity compared to those of healthy weight.
Dr. Stephanie Brown from the Department of Psychiatry and Lucy Cavendish College, University of Cambridge, noted the importance of the hypothalamus in regulating appetite but also acknowledged the difficulty in studying it in living humans due to its small size.
The study team addressed this challenge by using a machine learning algorithm to analyse MRI scans of 1,351 young adults across different BMI categories. Published in Neuroimage: Clinical, their findings revealed that the hypothalamus’s overall volume was significantly larger in those who with overweight or obesity.
These findings offer further evidence to the connection between brain structure, weight, and food consumption, as obesity is a global concern affecting over 1.9 billion people worldwide. The condition increases risks for numerous health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and mental health issues.
The team also explored the possibility that the changes in the hypothalamus might be related to inflammation. Previous animal studies have shown that a high-fat diet could cause inflammation in the hypothalamus, leading to insulin resistance and obesity. In some cases, just three days of a fat-rich diet was enough to trigger inflammation.
Dr. Brown emphasised that if similar processes occur in humans, a high-fat diet could impact our ability to sense when we’ve eaten enough, leading to weight gain. The researchers hypothesised that the brain might react to inflammation by enlarging specialised immune cells, known as glia, causing the hypothalamus to be larger.
Professor Paul Fletcher, the study’s senior author, expressed hope that this new approach to analysing brain scans would deepen our understanding of appetite control in obesity. While the exact implications of these findings are still unclear, more research is needed to confirm whether the increase in hypothalamic volume is a cause or result of being overweight, or if those with larger hypothalami are naturally inclined to eat more.
Supported by the Bernard Wolfe Health Neuroscience Fund, Wellcome, NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre, and additional funding from Alzheimer’s Research UK, the study presents a transformative view of obesity. It opens new avenues for exploring obesity from a neurological perspective, potentially revolutionising how obesity and overweight conditions are understood and treated. Future studies may provide essential insights into intervention strategies, reshaping the way we approach this global health challenge.Read More
A group of scientists are working on an unprecedented approach to dietary tracking, drawing inspiration from the concept of constant surveillance. The researchers are creating minute cameras that can be attached to the ear, recording every food item consumed by the wearer.
The camera’s footage will be processed by an artificial intelligence (AI) system that can identify both the type of food and portion sizes. The ultimate objective is to provide customised advice on dietary habits, bridging the gap in dietary research that has often relied on participants’ unreliable self-reporting via surveys or diaries. The common issues include forgetfulness in recording meals, inaccuracies in estimating portion sizes, and intentional omissions due to feelings of guilt, particularly with regard to treats and alcohol.
The Health Survey of England 2021 stated that approximately 25.9% of adults had obesity, with an additional 37.9% classified as having overweight. Obesity is linked to a variety of health issues, including depression, infertility, hypertension, cancer, dementia, heart failure, and type 2 diabetes. The latter condition significantly raises the risk of blindness, peripheral neuropathy, and limb amputation.
Predictions for 2035 suggest that the NHS will likely spend more on treating diet-related type 2 diabetes than on all types of cancer. However, despite nearly 700 policy interventions implemented between 1996 and 2020 to curb national weight gain, as cited by former government food tsar Henry Dimbleby, obesity rates continue to rise.
According to Professor Gary Frost, the Head of Nutrition Research at Imperial College London, “There is a glaring gap in our understanding of people’s daily dietary habits. The current tools for dietary tracking are inaccurate, making it challenging to discern the connection between diet and disease.”
The innovative project, named CoDiet, also plans to evaluate urine and blood samples to study the correlations between dietary habits, bodily changes, and the onset of diseases such as type 2 diabetes. A primary goal is to develop a tool using AI that can dispense diet advice specific to an individual’s needs.
“We anticipate the ability to formulate new individual-focused policies to counteract common diseases related to lifestyle,” Frost said.
Scheduled to commence in September (of 2023), the project will initially use the ear-mounted cameras to record the dietary practices of 50 British volunteers and an additional 150 participants from Cork in the Republic of Ireland, Spain, and Greece.Read More
Study challenges belief that moderate alcohol consumption shields against obesity and type 2 diabetes
Moderate alcohol consumption does not provide protection against conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, according to a recent study, challenging the long-debated notion of potential health benefits associated with light to moderate drinking.
The study investigated whether modest alcohol intake had any positive effects on health—a subject that has divided experts. Researchers analysed data on alcohol consumption from over 400,000 participants and discovered a higher risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes among individuals who consumed more than 14 drinks per week. Notably, this link was more pronounced in women than in men.
Dr. Tianyuan Lu of McGill University in Québec commented on the findings, stating, “Previous research has suggested that moderate drinkers may be less susceptible to developing obesity or diabetes compared to non-drinkers and heavy drinkers. However, our study indicates that even light-to-moderate alcohol consumption, defined as no more than one standard drink per day, does not safeguard against obesity and type 2 diabetes in the general population.”
The study’s results revealed that heavy drinking was associated with increased measures of obesity, such as body mass index, waist-to-hip ratio, and fat mass, as well as an elevated risk of type 2 diabetes.
Importantly, the study did not find any evidence of improved health outcomes related to moderate alcohol consumption in individuals who consumed seven or fewer alcoholic drinks per week.
Dr. Lu concluded by highlighting the significance of the research in promoting awareness of the risks associated with alcohol consumption. The study’s findings aim to inform future guidelines and recommendations regarding alcohol use, with the hope of encouraging healthier behaviours as alternatives to drinking.
For further details, refer to the full study published in JCEM.Read More
Leading scientists are urging the government to establish standard portion sizes for young children as part of efforts to combat the obesity epidemic. In a damning report, government scientific advisers have revealed that young children are consuming excessive amounts of salt and sugar while falling short on fruit, fibre, and vegetable intake.
Official data indicates that one in ten reception-age children in the UK now has obesity, with experts projecting that the obesity crisis will cost the NHS £10 billion annually by 2050. The report from the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition (SACN) highlights the absence of formal guidance on appropriate portion sizes for young children and emphasises the need for policymakers to address this issue. Oversized servings are contributing to the rapid consumption of excessive calories.
According to the report’s authors, the current diet of young children in the UK fails to meet the recommended dietary guidelines for several nutrients. They note that larger portion sizes of snacks and meals provided in preschool settings are associated with higher food and energy intake in the short term. To address these concerns, the authors recommend that the government consider developing age-appropriate portion sizes for food and beverages, including vegetables, fruit, fruit juice, and milk, targeting children aged 1 to 5 years.
The SACN, known for its advocacy of the forthcoming ban on fast-food advertising before 9 pm from 2025 and the fortification of bread with folic acid, has identified excessive sugar consumption as a widespread issue, leading to dental problems that pose long-term health risks for individuals and place a persistent burden on the NHS.
The report reveals that nutritional imbalances are prevalent in the average diet, with children from disadvantaged backgrounds experiencing even worse dietary quality. Commissioned by the Department for Health and Social Care, the report provides the first update on recommended food and beverage consumption for children aged one to five in nearly two decades. Based on a comprehensive review of two decades of studies and data, the panel of nutrition experts and paediatricians who form the SACN made several recommendations, highlighting the urgency of addressing the “high prevalence” of overweight and obesity in children in the UK.
Official figures indicate that approximately 3% of reception-age children have severe obesity, and one in ten children at this age meet the threshold for obesity.
The report authors also suggest that repeated exposure to initially disliked vegetables can help children develop a preference for them. They recommend that parents persistently offer the vegetable to their child eight to ten times to increase acceptance.
Additional recommendations from the report include avoiding fizzy drinks for children under the age of five, consuming unsweetened yoghurt products, and making milk and water the primary beverage choices. Semi-skimmed cow’s milk is acceptable, but fully skimmed milk should be avoided until age 5.
Bridget Benelam, a Nutrition Scientist from the British Nutrition Foundation, highlighted the report’s findings, stating that the diets of 1-5-year-olds were inadequate, characterised by excessive sugar, salt, and unhealthy energy-dense foods, and insufficient fibre, fruit, and vegetables.
The report also emphasises the importance of early childhood nutrition, not only for growth and development but also for establishing healthy habits that will benefit children later in life.
The report suggests several strategies for the government to consider, including promoting continued breastfeeding into the second year of life, ensuring children receive daily vitamin D and A supplements, and providing adequate vitamins and minerals for vegan families who may lack these nutrients commonly found in animal products.
A government spokesperson acknowledged that the report’s recommendations are being noted and considered. They highlighted the Start for Life resources, which provide expert NHS advice, helpful videos, and simple recipe ideas to support families in providing healthy meals for babies and young children.Read More
According to a recent study, following a diet rich in leafy green vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and fish could result in fewer signs of Alzheimer’s disease. The study found that older adults who followed the MIND and Mediterranean diets had fewer amyloid plaques and tau tangles in their brains. While researchers are yet to establish a cause-and-effect relationship, the study showed that consuming specific foods can enhance brain health.
Individuals following the Mediterranean diet had levels of plaque and tangles in their brains similar to that of people 18 years younger than those who consumed the least brain-healthy foods. For those following the MIND diet, the figure was 12 years younger.
The Mediterranean diet contains food items from countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, such as Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and Spain, including olive oil, dairy products, poultry, fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.
The MIND diet, on the other hand, combines the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) and Mediterranean diets. It promotes eating leafy green vegetables, berries, nuts, and whole grains. It is also recommended to consume at least one serving of fish per week.
The study involved 581 older adults who agreed to donate their brains for research after death. Before dying, 39% were diagnosed with dementia, and after death, 66% met the criteria for Alzheimer’s disease. Participants completed yearly questionnaires about their eating habits, which were analysed and scored based on the type and quality of the food they consumed.
One of the most noteworthy findings of the study was that consuming green leafy vegetables corresponded to a lower amount of plaque in the brain, almost 19 years younger than those who ate less. However, researchers could not establish a direct relationship between a healthy diet and fewer brain deposits of amyloid plaques, known as an indicator of Alzheimer’s disease.
Dr. Puja Agarwal, a study author, said that improvement in people’s diets in one area, such as eating green leafy vegetables or not consuming fried foods, was associated with fewer amyloid plaques in the brain, similar to being around four years younger. The study provides evidence for a real food approach to eating, which focuses on natural, unprocessed or minimally processed foods while reducing processed or ultra-processed foods.Read More
Published in New Scientist, “Only eating between 7am and 3pm helps people with obesity lose weight” describes the results of a study that found that time-restricted eating (TRE) can be an effective tool for weight loss in people with obesity. The study found that individuals who only ate between the hours of 7am and 3pm lost an average of 8% of their body weight in just 12 weeks. The article notes that the benefits of TRE go beyond weight loss, as it has also been linked to improved metabolic health, reduced inflammation, and better sleep. The article suggests that TRE could be a simple and effective way for people with obesity to improve their health, but more research is needed to fully understand the effects of this eating pattern.Read More