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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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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 Wei Perng, PhD


Obesity is one of the greatest current public health concerns, as it is a major risk factor for metabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome, which is a cluster of risk factors that raises risk for heart disease and other health problems.

 
 
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by Wei Perng, PhD


We’ve all heard why eating non-organic animal products is a bad idea: the animals may be raised in poor conditions, industrial agriculture produces large amounts of air and water pollution, it’s a leading cause of deforestation in the U.S., and the animals may be fed antibiotics.

 
 
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by Avik Chatterjee, MD, MPH


In my last blog entry, I highlighted how the high fat/low carb Inuit diet could counter-intuitively be healthy for its adherents. One of my students read the article and asked me if I knew anything about the (also) high-fat, low-carb ketogenic diet. Sometimes used as a treatment for pediatric epilepsy, the diet has also become increasingly popular not just for weight loss, but to change body composition - that is, to increase muscle mass and decrease body fat percentage. The student asked me if the ketogenic diet could do that in a safe way for a young person like him.

 
 
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It’s hard to go too long in today’s 24-hour news cycle without seeing headlines announcing the “latest scientific report” on weight loss, fad diets, or why the health trend of the moment is the best thing you never knew about. And as exciting as many of these news reports seem at first, these research headlines are often a sugar-coated version of the real story. And the outcomes of these studies may not even be the most important part.