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by Jason Block, MD, MPH


Several months ago, I got into a twitter spat. In response to a blog post that decried how inadequately doctors were treating patients with obesity, I wrote in a series of tweets: “When will we stop blaming doctors for what they fail to do about obesity and accept that they cannot reverse the epidemic? Primary care docs have a role but not enough support or time to spend on obesity while treating myriad other issues. Reversing obesity is more of a policy and societal challenge than a health care matter. Surgery and drugs can only do so much.”  In response, the author of the original blog post wrote another piece, quoting me anonymously, lamenting that I thought there was nothing that doctors could do to treat obesity.

 
 
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Whatever your take on the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Syrian refugee crisis, or the bailout of Wall Street, there is probably at least one area where we can (mostly) agree that the Obama Administration has earned high marks over the past 8 years – Obesity. Michelle Obama, with her “Let’s Move” campaign, has been a champion for healthful dietary choices and physical activity, with a strong focus on obesity prevention in children. As great as this has been for those of us who research, treat, or are generally passionate about obesity, the era is now coming to an end. Entering the heart of the 2016 presidential campaign, I often find myself wondering – how will Obama’s successor deal with this important issue? Will the nation’s current laser focus on health and wellness fade into the background as a new family, with new issues to promote, moves into the White House?

 
 
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by Wei Perng, PhD


Advancements in high-throughput technologies have enabled us to assess health from a more holistic point of view by considering our genetic code (“genomics”), actual expression of our genes (“epigenomics” and “transcriptomics”), the structure of proteins that carry out the biological processes (“proteomics”), and the unique chemical fingerprints that reflect our physiological response to external and internal conditions (“metabolomics”). Of particular interest to an obesity-prevention researcher is the possibility of “omics” to influence nutrition counseling, a one-on-one process between a patient and a nutritionist that aims to help the patient make and maintain dietary changes necessary for good health. These recommendations have historically been based on dietary recommendations derived from nutrient needs of heterogeneous populations. Enter the concept of personalized nutrition - a diet plan designed at the level of the individual, tailored to meet their specific health needs.

 
 
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My friends and teammates frequently ask me how I avoid added sugar – sugar added to processed or pre-packaged food during the production process – in what I eat.  Here are some ways to reduce sugar without sacrificing taste or switching to artificial sweeteners.

In general, pick food items with short ingredient lists, and know one teaspoon of sugar = 4 grams to help visualize just how much sugar you are consuming when you buy processed or pre-packaged goods.  The average soda can has over 10 teaspoons of added sugar -- would you put 10 teaspoons of sugar in your cup of coffee?


 
 
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by Karen Switkowski, MPH, MS

My 1-year-old is an impressive eater. During recent holiday family gatherings, he provided regular entertainment as he sat at the table devouring near-adult-size portions of a variety of foods. Commentary ranged from “Wow, where does it all go?” “But he has such a tiny stomach!” And inevitably, the (well-intentioned, I’m sure) “so… you just let him eat as much as he wants?”

 
 
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In previous studies, we investigated if distance to a supermarket was associated with a child’s BMI or weight status. However, these studies only measured one point in time, and we wanted to know if children participating in an obesity intervention who lived closer to a supermarket would do better than those living farther away. Our findings from this study were recently published in the American Journal of Public Health.

 
 
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Oprah --  yes, THE Oprah -- recently made headline news with her $43 million dollar investment in the diet company Weight Watchers. She also announced that she is now actively participating in their famous “points” program. While I admire her for being so public with her weight struggles over the years, I started thinking about why some individuals spend half their lives trying to lose weight and keep it off, and others never count a calorie (or point or carb) in their entire life.

 
 
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Recently, I was speaking with a student about income and weight in the United States, and he described the difference he saw between his hometown in rural California, where many people appeared obese, and Cambridge (and especially Harvard), where seeing someone with overweight or obesity was a rarity. While it’s true that in the United States, socioeconomic status and rates of obesity tend to be inversely related – with lower-income groups tending to have higher obesity rates, and vice versa – other, rapidly developing countries are wrestling with high rates of both underweight and obesity, also known as the dual burden.

 
 
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by Kristina Lewis MD, MPH, SM


Beginning on December 1 in New York City, food items that are extremely high in sodium acquired a warning label. Specifically, any item that contains more than a full day’s worth of recommended sodium (>2300mg) will now have to be labeled with a somewhat innocuous image of a salt shaker, and the slightly less-subtle warning message: “High sodium intake can increase blood pressure and risk of heart disease and stroke”. 

 
 
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by Jen Thompson, MPP


Lately I’ve felt defensive when ordering food at restaurants.  “Can you let me know if this has any gluten in it? I have celiac disease,” I’ll say while silently whispering to myself: please believe me. Over the past few years, those of us with celiac disease – a genetic disorder in which the gluten protein found in wheat, rye, and barley triggers a damaging autoimmune response – have found ourselves in an awkward spot.  There’s now greater awareness than ever before of what gluten is, which foods contain it, and why people diagnosed with celiac disease need to scrupulously avoid it.  Yet eating gluten-free has also become a fad, with many people avoiding wheat without receiving a formal diagnosis. Some people self-diagnose themselves with “gluten sensitivity”, or a wheat allergy, or simply insist that they feel better when they avoid gluten.  Unfortunately, this has led to skepticism over gluten-free diets in general.