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If you ever dare to venture into the comments section of any article about weight, weight loss, obesity, exercise or health, eventually you’ll find someone who says some version of the following: “All people have to do is eat less and exercise more, and they’ll lose weight.”  In a broad sense, this is true; calories are energy, and our bodies use that energy to fuel our basic bodily functions, like circulation, respiration, digestion, and physical activity.  Excess calories are stored by the body as fat.  Yet it also grossly oversimplifies the complexity of our metabolisms.

 
 
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In our traffic-light food labeling study at Harvard dining halls, recently published in the American Journal of Public Health, I used several nutrition criteria to label foods as “green”, or most nutrient rich; “yellow”, or nutrient neutral; and “red", or least nutrient rich. The most challenging criteria to assess were “Whole Grain” vs. “Refined Starch,” and with the public’s general fear of all things carbohydrate, it’s important to know the difference between types of carbs. But since whole grains account for only 10-15% of grains available for sale in supermarkets, how do we find them? After labeling hundreds of foods and beverages, here’s what I learned.

 
 
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by Wei Perng, PhD


Last week, I met with a prospective Master’s student wrapping up her B.S. in Nutritional Sciences. She told me about her background in nutrition, her laboratory training, and her desire to conduct nutrition-related research in human populations. I asked her whether there was a particular focus area that piqued her interest and she said, “I feel as though there isn’t a lot known regarding what a healthy diet is supposed to look like for normal people. I’d like to look into that.”

 
 
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by Marie-France Hivert, MD, MMSc


Diabetes that appears for the first time in pregnancy is called gestational diabetes, and affects 5 to 20% of pregnant women. High blood sugar – also known as hyperglycemia – in pregnancy is associated with adverse outcomes for both mother and child, including higher rates of pre-eclampsia, caesarian section, babies born large for their gestational age and shoulder dystocia, and hypoglycemia in newborns. We also know that treatment of gestational diabetes decreases the risk of these complications.

 
 
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Harvard Medical School has removed nutrition education from its curriculum.

Last summer, I taught a section of the week-long HMS nutrition course for second year medical students, and there were rumblings of this possibility then. But at least to me, it still seemed likely that with nutrition-related diseases being of such overwhelming concern to the general public, HMS leadership would change its mind.



 
 
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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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by Jen Thompson, MPH


Full disclosure: all of my colleagues refused to write a blog post on this topic.  “Ewww,” one said.  “I don’t feel comfortable writing about that,” said another.  Even when I pointed out that our department has written papers on very similar topics, they all declined.  So I decided to tackle it myself, because a) it’s a topic that applies to everyone who was ever born, b) is biologically very important and interesting, and c), I think it’s an excellent example of how the implications of a small but interesting scientific study can be misinterpreted, exaggerated, or distorted.

 
 
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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?