Fat-Shaming Doesn’t Work and Can Increase Health Risks

If you think harping on someone about their weight will convince them to drop some pounds, you couldn’t be more wrong. Not only does it not work, but it may also raise their risk for heart disease and other health problems.

As someone who has battled the bulge, it seems ridiculous to me that anyone would even think that shaming an obese person would have any positive effect. And as someone who has counseled people in 12-step recovery, I can tell you that pressuring someone or making fun of someone with a weight problem – which is often a sign of an eating problem – only makes things worse.

If someone is burying their problems in food, harping on it only makes them withdraw even more into food.

To me, it’s obvious. But plenty of people – too many people – think fat-shaming is effective.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia found that overweight women who believe negative messages about their bodies – called “weight-bias internalization” – had higher rates of metabolic syndrome, a combination of health problems that increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Dr. Rebecca Puhl, deputy director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity said that the increased risk shows that weight stigma and fat-shaming “go much deeper than the inappropriate remarks or hurt feelings.” [1]

Overweight and obese people are often viewed as lazy, unattractive, incompetent, and lacking willpower. That doesn’t give heavy people a sense of motivation and confidence; it leaves them feeling hopeless and stigmatized. Depressed, really. And we know that depression can make you physically sick.

Published in the journal Obesity, the study suggests that it’s not just the stigmatizing, but also the level of a person’s reaction to fat-shaming, that can cause health woes.

The Research

Researchers asked 159 adults how much they devalued and blamed themselves when they were stigmatized for their weight. The team also looked at how often metabolic syndrome was diagnosed among the participants.

In all, 51 of the participants met the criteria for metabolic syndrome. Those who felt the most devalued and had the highest levels of self-blame were approximately 46% more likely to have metabolic syndrome. Those participants were also found to be 6 times as likely to have high triglycerides. [1], [2]

People with the highest levels of internalizing devaluation and self-blame – in other words, they really took those nasty words and stereotypes to heart – had 3 times the risk of metabolic syndrome, compared with the lowest-level group.

The study lends support to earlier research, said Dr. Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, D.C. He said:

“Numerous studies have shown that experiencing weight stigma increases stress hormones, blood pressure, inflammation and ultimately increases the risk of several diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.” [1]

For example, studies have shown that being fat-shamed can cause increased inflammation and stress-hormone levels in the body. People who dislike themselves also have a harder time exercising and eating healthy. [2]

All of that “poking fun” at obese people has also been linked to binge eating, as I mentioned, and premature death.

Rebecca L. Pearl, PhD, said:

“There is a misconception that sometimes a little bit of stigma is necessary to motivate people to lose weight. But time and time again, research shows that this is just not the case.” [2]

So, what does all of this mean? Firstly, that you have to love yourself before you can make positive changes for your health. And secondly, it’s not OK to shame overweight people. And if you’re one of the people being stigmatized for your weight, the problem lies with the person stigmatizing you not you!

Pearl added:

“People with obesity are portrayed in negative ways in the media; there’s bullying at school and on social networks; people even feel judged by family members or in health-care settings.

Rather than blaming and shaming people and being dismissive of their struggle, we need to work collaboratively to set goals to improve health behaviors.” [2]

You Should Still Try to Make Improvements for Your Health

Now, none of this is to say that if you’re overweight or obese, you should stay that way just because you have a positive self-image. Excess weight isn’t healthy. Even if you don’t have health problems now, chances are if you don’t lose weight, you’ll develop them in the future.

If you struggle with your weight and struggle with how you feel about yourself, set small, attainable goals to help you shed the pounds. Give yourself reasons to pat yourself on the back and tangible successes to encourage you along the way.

Sources:

[1] HealthDay

[2] Health

Fat-Shaming Doesn’t Work and Can Increase Health Risks

If you think harping on someone about their weight will convince them to drop some pounds, you couldn’t be more wrong. Not only does it not work, but it may also raise their risk for heart disease and other health problems.

As someone who has battled the bulge, it seems ridiculous to me that anyone would even think that shaming an obese person would have any positive effect. And as someone who has counseled people in 12-step recovery, I can tell you that pressuring someone or making fun of someone with a weight problem – which is often a sign of an eating problem – only makes things worse.

If someone is burying their problems in food, harping on it only makes them withdraw even more into food.

To me, it’s obvious. But plenty of people – too many people – think fat-shaming is effective.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia found that overweight women who believe negative messages about their bodies – called “weight-bias internalization” – had higher rates of metabolic syndrome, a combination of health problems that increase the risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Dr. Rebecca Puhl, deputy director for the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity said that the increased risk shows that weight stigma and fat-shaming “go much deeper than the inappropriate remarks or hurt feelings.” [1]

Overweight and obese people are often viewed as lazy, unattractive, incompetent, and lacking willpower. That doesn’t give heavy people a sense of motivation and confidence; it leaves them feeling hopeless and stigmatized. Depressed, really. And we know that depression can make you physically sick.

Published in the journal Obesity, the study suggests that it’s not just the stigmatizing, but also the level of a person’s reaction to fat-shaming, that can cause health woes.

The Research

Researchers asked 159 adults how much they devalued and blamed themselves when they were stigmatized for their weight. The team also looked at how often metabolic syndrome was diagnosed among the participants.

In all, 51 of the participants met the criteria for metabolic syndrome. Those who felt the most devalued and had the highest levels of self-blame were approximately 46% more likely to have metabolic syndrome. Those participants were also found to be 6 times as likely to have high triglycerides. [1], [2]

People with the highest levels of internalizing devaluation and self-blame – in other words, they really took those nasty words and stereotypes to heart – had 3 times the risk of metabolic syndrome, compared with the lowest-level group.

The study lends support to earlier research, said Dr. Scott Kahan, director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, D.C. He said:

“Numerous studies have shown that experiencing weight stigma increases stress hormones, blood pressure, inflammation and ultimately increases the risk of several diseases, including diabetes and heart disease.” [1]

For example, studies have shown that being fat-shamed can cause increased inflammation and stress-hormone levels in the body. People who dislike themselves also have a harder time exercising and eating healthy. [2]

All of that “poking fun” at obese people has also been linked to binge eating, as I mentioned, and premature death.

Rebecca L. Pearl, PhD, said:

“There is a misconception that sometimes a little bit of stigma is necessary to motivate people to lose weight. But time and time again, research shows that this is just not the case.” [2]

So, what does all of this mean? Firstly, that you have to love yourself before you can make positive changes for your health. And secondly, it’s not OK to shame overweight people. And if you’re one of the people being stigmatized for your weight, the problem lies with the person stigmatizing you not you!

Pearl added:

“People with obesity are portrayed in negative ways in the media; there’s bullying at school and on social networks; people even feel judged by family members or in health-care settings.

Rather than blaming and shaming people and being dismissive of their struggle, we need to work collaboratively to set goals to improve health behaviors.” [2]

You Should Still Try to Make Improvements for Your Health

Now, none of this is to say that if you’re overweight or obese, you should stay that way just because you have a positive self-image. Excess weight isn’t healthy. Even if you don’t have health problems now, chances are if you don’t lose weight, you’ll develop them in the future.

If you struggle with your weight and struggle with how you feel about yourself, set small, attainable goals to help you shed the pounds. Give yourself reasons to pat yourself on the back and tangible successes to encourage you along the way.

Sources:

[1] HealthDay

[2] Health

It’s a Mindset: In Order to Get Fit, You Must THINK of Yourself as Fit

If you know you’re not as physically active as you should be, stop thinking about it and start doing something about it. People who view themselves as lazy compared to others are more likely to die at a younger age, even if their actual activity levels were the same. [1]

That means people who thought they were less active than their peers likely weren’t reaping the full benefits of exercise, all because of their negative attitude.

Lead author Octavia Zahrt, a Stanford PhD student in organizational behavior, says she knows firsthand how negative self-talk and toxic comparisons can make a solid effort seem lazy.

She explained:

“I am from Germany, and back there I felt really good about my activity level. I biked to work, and went to the gym maybe once a week.”

Zahrt says that when she moved to California, she was suddenly “surrounded by people who exercise all the time. Compared to them I felt really inactive, and I developed what I know now was a really negative mindset about my physical activity.”

The ‘Side Effects’ of Negative Attitudes

That feeling of inadequacy led Zahrt and her faculty adviser, Alia Crum, PhD, to study the possible effects of such an attitude on long-term health. The duo analyzed data from more than 61,000 adults who were surveyed between 1990 and 2006 followed until 2011.

The participants were asked about their activity levels, and some were given accelerometers to wear so they could track their real-time activity for a week. All of the volunteers were also asked, “Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about as active as other persons your age?”

The researchers found that those who believed they were less active than others were 71% more likely to die during the study’s follow-up period. That was the case even after the team adjusted for disability, general health status, and demographics, plus actual activity levels.

Pretty heavy stuff when you think about it – you could be bending and lifting a lot at work, or weeding the garden and mowing the lawn every weekend and still have a startling higher risk of death just because you don’t consider those activities “exercise” and you don’t consider yourself “fit.”

The researchers found that, most of the time, the participants underestimated their activity levels when comparing themselves to others.

Zahrt said:

“It can be easy to compare how much exercise we get with the people around us, as opposed to what’s recommended for everyone. Plus, a lot of people think that exercise has to mean running or going to the gym, and they don’t give themselves credit for all of the other activity they do – cleaning their house, walking to the store, carrying their kids, those sorts of things.”

I hate to credit a saying that’s become so cliché, but in this case, it’s gospel truth: Attitude is everything.

Crum first studied the “placebo effect” of exercise a decade ago. She explained:

“These women were getting lots of exercise, but when we asked them they didn’t have the mindset that their work was good exercise.” [2]

The participants – all hotel attendants – were given a presentation explaining that all the heavy lifting, walking, and physical labor they did at work was good exercise. Then, Crum and her teammates tracked the women for a month.

Crum said:

“The women who started to look at their work as good exercise had improvements in blood pressure and body fat.”

She added:

“What’s surprising to me is how robust the accumulated evidence is on the power of mindset in shaping our health, and yet people are still so shocked when they hear results like this.” [1]

Yes – How You Think Affects Your Health (and much More)

People shouldn’t be shocked because there is a ridiculous amount of scientific evidence that how you think affects your health, for better or for worse. Seriously, let’s look at just a few examples.

In the End…

You have to see yourself as an active person, but be careful; it would be so simple to actually backslide and become less active than you should be. It’s important to recognize the activeness revolving around certain activities, but be sure not to over-estimate the value of those activities and then avoid other exercises because of it.

One more thing – and I’ll be blunt… If your idea of “exercise” is walking to the fridge, or going to the mall once a month, telling yourself you’re plenty active won’t make it so. You deserve to be realistic with yourself.

Crum said:

“This is not an excuse to just stop doing anything but believe you’re doing everything. It’s a reminder that, yes, you should work to get active in your life – but you should also be mindful of those negative thoughts that can creep in and the effects they might have.

Just because you didn’t get to that Spin class or that fancy new fitness class, doesn’t mean you’re not as healthy as those who do.” [1]

Zahrt agreed, adding:

“If we can change our perceptions to view all activity as good activity, we think that could be a first and really important step to improving our health.”

Sources:

[1] Health

[2] NPR

It’s a Mindset: In Order to Get Fit, You Must THINK of Yourself as Fit

If you know you’re not as physically active as you should be, stop thinking about it and start doing something about it. People who view themselves as lazy compared to others are more likely to die at a younger age, even if their actual activity levels were the same. [1]

That means people who thought they were less active than their peers likely weren’t reaping the full benefits of exercise, all because of their negative attitude.

Lead author Octavia Zahrt, a Stanford PhD student in organizational behavior, says she knows firsthand how negative self-talk and toxic comparisons can make a solid effort seem lazy.

She explained:

“I am from Germany, and back there I felt really good about my activity level. I biked to work, and went to the gym maybe once a week.”

Zahrt says that when she moved to California, she was suddenly “surrounded by people who exercise all the time. Compared to them I felt really inactive, and I developed what I know now was a really negative mindset about my physical activity.”

The ‘Side Effects’ of Negative Attitudes

That feeling of inadequacy led Zahrt and her faculty adviser, Alia Crum, PhD, to study the possible effects of such an attitude on long-term health. The duo analyzed data from more than 61,000 adults who were surveyed between 1990 and 2006 followed until 2011.

The participants were asked about their activity levels, and some were given accelerometers to wear so they could track their real-time activity for a week. All of the volunteers were also asked, “Would you say that you are physically more active, less active, or about as active as other persons your age?”

The researchers found that those who believed they were less active than others were 71% more likely to die during the study’s follow-up period. That was the case even after the team adjusted for disability, general health status, and demographics, plus actual activity levels.

Pretty heavy stuff when you think about it – you could be bending and lifting a lot at work, or weeding the garden and mowing the lawn every weekend and still have a startling higher risk of death just because you don’t consider those activities “exercise” and you don’t consider yourself “fit.”

The researchers found that, most of the time, the participants underestimated their activity levels when comparing themselves to others.

Zahrt said:

“It can be easy to compare how much exercise we get with the people around us, as opposed to what’s recommended for everyone. Plus, a lot of people think that exercise has to mean running or going to the gym, and they don’t give themselves credit for all of the other activity they do – cleaning their house, walking to the store, carrying their kids, those sorts of things.”

I hate to credit a saying that’s become so cliché, but in this case, it’s gospel truth: Attitude is everything.

Crum first studied the “placebo effect” of exercise a decade ago. She explained:

“These women were getting lots of exercise, but when we asked them they didn’t have the mindset that their work was good exercise.” [2]

The participants – all hotel attendants – were given a presentation explaining that all the heavy lifting, walking, and physical labor they did at work was good exercise. Then, Crum and her teammates tracked the women for a month.

Crum said:

“The women who started to look at their work as good exercise had improvements in blood pressure and body fat.”

She added:

“What’s surprising to me is how robust the accumulated evidence is on the power of mindset in shaping our health, and yet people are still so shocked when they hear results like this.” [1]

Yes – How You Think Affects Your Health (and much More)

People shouldn’t be shocked because there is a ridiculous amount of scientific evidence that how you think affects your health, for better or for worse. Seriously, let’s look at just a few examples.

In the End…

You have to see yourself as an active person, but be careful; it would be so simple to actually backslide and become less active than you should be. It’s important to recognize the activeness revolving around certain activities, but be sure not to over-estimate the value of those activities and then avoid other exercises because of it.

One more thing – and I’ll be blunt… If your idea of “exercise” is walking to the fridge, or going to the mall once a month, telling yourself you’re plenty active won’t make it so. You deserve to be realistic with yourself.

Crum said:

“This is not an excuse to just stop doing anything but believe you’re doing everything. It’s a reminder that, yes, you should work to get active in your life – but you should also be mindful of those negative thoughts that can creep in and the effects they might have.

Just because you didn’t get to that Spin class or that fancy new fitness class, doesn’t mean you’re not as healthy as those who do.” [1]

Zahrt agreed, adding:

“If we can change our perceptions to view all activity as good activity, we think that could be a first and really important step to improving our health.”

Sources:

[1] Health

[2] NPR

Giving Up on Losing Weight? Here’s How to Stick with It

If you’ve never tried to lose weight, let me fill you in on something: It can be hard if you don’t know what to do. What’s more, though it can be frustrating only losing a few pounds at a time, that’s the healthiest way to do it. But it doesn’t have to be as hard as it you think. I’m here to help you NOT give up on your weight loss goals.

In the United States, 1 in every 3 people are obese, compared to 1 in 5 just 2 decades ago. But unlike in years past, Americans are now less likely to try to lose the extra weight. People surveyed between 2009 and 2014 were 17% less likely overall to say they’d tried to lose weight in the previous year compared to those surveyed between 1988 and 1994. [1]

It’s a problem when the simply ‘overweight’ have given up on weight-loss the most, putting them at risk of becoming obese.

Senior researcher Dr. Jian Zhang, an associate professor of epidemiology at Georgia Southern University, says:

“This is not good. We are missing the opportunity to stop overweight from becoming obesity.” [1]

Mixed Messages

It’s hard to adhere to a healthy eating pattern when you’re not sure what that even means. Dr. Mitchell Roslin, chief of obesity surgery for Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, says:

“First they were told don’t eat fat, and now we are telling patients to reduce simple carbohydrates. While I believe that reducing carbohydrates is key, what the public hears is, ‘I might as well eat what I like because all this advice has not worked.’” [1]

It wasn’t long ago that fat was considered a harbinger of stroke and heart disease, and weight gain. People turned to low-fat and fat-free food, believing them to be the healthy alternatives. In reality, these products are loaded with added sugar to improve flavor, which leads to an increase in those health conditions, as well as diabetes and obesity.

The other sad reality is that people are so used to hearing about the obesity epidemic in America, many have come to believe that obesity is the “new normal” and something they must simply accept.

Read: 4 Mantras for Lasting Weight Loss

Overweight is the New Norm

The researchers behind a study published last year point to a 2010 study in the journal Obesity which detailed “a generational shift in social norms related to body weight.” According to that body of research, between 1998 and 2004, both men and women became less likely to classify themselves as overweight, even when their body mass index (BMI) proved otherwise. [2]

Then there’s the very real frustration of having lost weight only to regain it. It’s easy to feel like a failure when you’ve watched the pounds you’ve shed start to creep back onto your frame. The authors of the new report wrote:

“The longer adults live with obesity, the less they may be willing to attempt weight loss, in particular if they had attempted weight loss multiple times without success.” [2]

According to a 2011 study in the New England Journal of Medicine, after dieting, the body undergoes a series of changes designed to make sure that all the lost weight is gained back.

Thanks for that slap in the face, nature.

6 Simple Tips to Just ‘Stick with It’

If you want to lose weight and keep it off, you need a plan. And no matter how often the food and ‘nutrition’ industry shifts, stick to that plan and see if it works. As many people can tell you, simply deciding to “diet” and getting rid of unhealthy food in your home may not be enough to sustain you for the duration of your weight-loss.

Here are a few tips to help you on your journey.

1. Set Reasonable Goals

If you want to lose, say, 100 pounds, then you need to start small. There’s no way you can really lose 100 pounds quickly, so you need to set smaller goals that help you get to your ultimate one.

June Kloubec, Ph.D., a professor in the department of nutrition and exercise science at Bastyr University, explains:

“Most experts agree that losing more than 2 pounds per week is difficult to sustain and an unhealthy way to manage weight loss.” [3]

Read: Eating These 3 ‘Fatty’ Foods Can Make You Thinner

Instead, try setting a goal of losing just 5 pounds. You could pick a date to achieve that goal by – but I would simply aim to lose 1-2 lbs per week. If you don’t lose that for 2 weeks straight, re-evaluate your lifestyle and think about cutting something else from your normal diet.

The absolutely best thing you can do for yourself, at least for a few weeks or months, is to vehemently track your calorie intake. No one wants to do it, but it may be the key to your weight loss goals.

2. Reward Yourself

When you reach a new goal, don’t just pat yourself on the back, celebrate! Try including a reward for each 5 pounds lost, for example, so that you have further motivation. I would recommend that you stay at that goal for at least 2 weeks, though, before rewarding yourself.

3. Make Yourself Accountable

There’s a reason people have weight loss blogs. It’s easier to stick to something when there are other people holding you accountable. If you mess up and “fall off the wagon,” confess it to someone. Consider some safe-but-annoying repercussions, too, like completing a household chore you’ve been avoiding. Maybe wash the dishes by hand, even if you have a dishwasher. [4]

4. Invest in Your Health

Got an extra $150 burning a hole in your wallet? Maybe you don’t. Maybe you’d only spend that money on something you’re really serious about, because that kind of cold cash doesn’t come around often. If it does, consider joining a gym or athletic club. If you’re not wild about the idea of working out in front of other people, buy a piece of exercise equipment.

One important note here is that you don’t need cardio to lose weight – you simply need to burn more calories than your taking in. So, if you hate cardio, just focus on diet.

5. Make it Sustainable

Don’t make the mistake that I did. About a decade ago, in an attempt to lose weight, I ate mostly salad for lunch every day at work, with things like apples and bananas for snacks. There wasn’t any protein in those salads, either. I didn’t lose any weight, but I was starving and miserable.

The tricky thing about losing weight is that is usually means you need to eat less…but if adopt a diet that is simply unsustainable, you’ll binge and ultimately end up kicking yourself while your down.

Pick something that works for you. There are so many different diets, and 99% of them can work as long as your body is burning more calories than it is taking in. The Mediterranean diet, the Ketogenic diet, the Paleo diet, and many more are tried and true ways to lose weight – if the diet works for you.

Read: Eat More Protein to Lose Weight and Prevent Diabetes

6. When You Mess up, get up, Dust Yourself off, and Keep Going

Accidents happen. Office birthday cakes happen. You get the idea – temptation is everywhere so you might as well accept that you’re going to “mess up” sometimes. It’s OK. In fact, you shouldn’t really deny yourself your favorite foods. It’s more important that you eat them in moderation, and infrequently.

When you do mess up, though, remember that it doesn’t cancel out the great progress you’ve already made. Even if it’s Day 2 and the only victory you have under your belt so far is that you ate more green beans than meat at dinner last night.

Sources:

[1] HealthDay

[2] Los Angeles Times

[3] Self

[4] Everyday Health

Can You Be Fat but Fit? Not Likely, Study Says

People who are overweight or obese are a bit misinformed if they believe that just because they don’t have any immediate health problems, it means that they can be “fat but fit.” Furthermore, they actually set themselves up for health problems by believing that they have the same disease risk as healthy-weight people, a study by scientists at the University of Birmingham in the U.K. suggests. [1]

Researchers examined the health records of about 3.5 million people in the U.K. from 1995 to 2015 who didn’t have heart disease at the start of the study, and then grouped them according to body mass index (BMI) and whether they had diabetes, high blood pressure, or abnormal blood fat levels.

Source: Drexel Medicine

Those who had a high BMI but no other health problems were categorized as “metabolically healthy obese,” yet they were found to have a 50% increased risk of heart disease, a 7% higher risk of stroke or heart attack, and an 11% greater risk of developing poor circulation to the limbs.

Rishi Caleyachetty, Ph.D., co-author of the study and an epidemiologist at the university, said:

“This is the largest prospective study of the association between metabolically health [sic] obesity and cardiovascular disease events.” [2]

“The priority of health professionals should be to promote and facilitate weight loss among obese persons, regardless of the presence or absence of metabolic abnormalities. At the population level, so-called metabolically healthy obesity is not a harmless condition, and perhaps it is better not to use this term to describe an obese person, regardless of how many metabolic complications they have.” [3]

The study contradicts past research, which has indicated that metabolically healthy obese people don’t have the complications normally associated with obesity, including high blood pressure, diabetes, or poor blood sugar control. [3]

Read: The Average American Woman Now Weighs as Much as 1960s Man

A study by Erasmus University Medical Centre in Rotterdam published earlier this year seemed to indicate that obesity doesn’t necessarily equal poor health, and that exercise reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke, regardless of BMI. [3]

However, that same study found that if people had a combination of obesity and inactivity, they were a third more likely to have a heart attack or stroke.

Now, in light of the latest study’s findings, researchers are calling for the term “metabolically healthy obesity” to be changed. [3]

Right now in America, more than one-third of adults are obese, according to the CDC. Not a single state in the union has an obesity rate of less than 20%. [2]

Source: Population Reference Bureau

Apart from future health problems, overweight people statistically earn less in their careers than normal-weight people, and women are the most affected.

Sources:

[1] Men’s Fitness

[2] New York Post

[3] Express

Drexel Medicine

Population Reference Bureau

Scientists Find Link Between Excessive Body Fat and a Smaller Brain

If it seems like your clothes are shrinking, it could be that you’ve gained weight and your clothes aren’t really shrinking. But researchers have found that something even more important may be shrinking due to excess body fat – your brain.

It seems that having excessive body fat around the middle can lead to brain shrinkage, according to recent research. Specifically, shrunken gray matter volume. Gray matter contains the brain’s 100 billion nerve cells. The brain’s white matter contains the nerve fibers necessary for connecting brain regions.

Study author Mark Hamer, a professor of exercise as medicine at Loughborough University in England, said the findings support those of previous studies.

“Previous studies have shown associations between gray matter atrophy and risk of developing dementia.”

For the study, published in the journal Neurology, Hamer and his colleagues measured the body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio of 9,652 middle-aged adults in the U.K. A BMI score between 18.5 and 24.9 is considered healthy, while a score above 30 is considered obese. A waist-to-hip ratio above 0.90 for men and above 0.85 for women indicates that a person has a bigger belly than hips.

Read: Energetic Walking Found to Increase Brain Size, Preserve Cognition

Nearly 1 in 5 of the participants were found to be obese.

The team also used MRI scans to look at the participants’ brain volume. They factored in age, physical activity, smoking, and high blood pressure, all of which can shrink brain volume.

The study revealed that people with both a higher BMI and waist-to-hip ratio had the lowest gray matter volume.

Hamer wrote:

“The reductions in brain size increase in a linear fashion as fat around the middle grew larger.”

By comparison, excessive body weight appeared to make no difference in white matter volume. However, fat around the middle did shrink other regions of the brain, including the pallidum, nucleus accumbens, putamen (linked only to a higher BMI), and caudate (linked only to a higher waist-to-hip ratio). These brain regions are associated with motivation and reward.

But which comes first? Brain shrinkage or obesity?

Hamer said:

“It’s unclear if abnormalities in brain structure lead to obesity or if obesity leads to these changes in the brain.”

It’s possible that brain shrinkage actually causes obesity, but there is evidence to suggest it’s the other way around. Fat around the mid-section, called visceral fat, is linked to a number of health problems: [2]

  • Heart attacks
  • Heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Stroke
  • Breast and colorectal cancer
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Harvard Health explains that fat cells – primarily abdominal fat cells – are biologically-active and should be thought of as organs. This is because visceral fat produces hormones and other substances that can have a negative impact on your health. Immune system chemicals that promote cardiovascular disease called cytokines are produced by fat cells. Cytokines and other biochemicals “are thought to have deleterious effects on cells’ sensitivity to insulin, blood pressure, and blood clotting.” [3]

Visceral fat is not the flab you can grab with your hands around your mid-section. Rather, it refers to fat that builds up around the body’s organs.

Read: 4 Proven Natural Weight Loss Tips for How to Lose Visceral Fat

In addition, due to the location of visceral fat near the portal vein, which carries blood from the intestinal area to the liver, substances released by the fat can enter the portal vein and travel to the liver, where they can affect the production of blood lipids. This is why excessive fat around the middle is linked with higher total cholesterol and LDL “bad” cholesterol, lower HDL “good” cholesterol, and insulin resistance.

In the recent study, the researchers hypothesized that excessive visceral fat may cause brain shrinkage by producing inflammatory substances that may play a role in brain atrophy. [4]

Dr. Gayatri Devi, a neurologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, who was not involved with the study, said:

“Brain gray matter shrinkage … seems to be associated with obesity and with increased visceral fat. All this goes to show that good general health is very important for good brain health.”

Sources:

[1] CNN

[2] Medical News Today

[3] Harvard Health Publishing

[4] Live Science

BrainScape

Being Overweight During Adolescence may Increase Pancreatic Cancer Risk

Being an obese teenager is not easy. As if the bullying isn’t enough, being obese during adolescence puts kids at greater risk of health problems such as Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. But that’s not all; a recent study suggests that being obese during adolescence could even increase your risk of developing pancreatic cancer later in life.  [1]

Pancreatic cancer accounts for about 3% of all cancers in the U.S. and about 7% of all cancer deaths. It is often referred to as a “silent killer” because people who have the disease often have no symptoms until the cancer has spread to other organs. [2]

There are a number of risk factors for pancreatic cancer that can’t be controlled, including age, gender, race, family history, diabetes, and inherited genetic syndromes. However, obesity is one risk factor that can be reduced or eliminated through lifestyle changes.

The Israeli researchers behind the recent study found that the odds for pancreatic cancer – which is still considered a fairly rare form of cancer – can quadruple due to obesity. As a person’s weight rises, their risk for pancreatic cancer rises right along with it, the team found. It can even affect men in the high-normal weight range.

Allison Rosenzweig, a senior manager at the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, who was not in involved in the study, said:

“It’s been known for some time that obesity can increase an individual’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer, and [this is] an important new finding suggesting that obesity and overweight in adolescence can also impact risk.”

Related Read: Obese Kids’ Health Improves Just 9 Days Without Added Sugar

Even if a teen is overweight or obese, that doesn’t mean they are destined to develop pancreatic cancer, but the findings support what researchers already know: Nothing good comes from being young and heavy, at least not health-wise.

Rosenzweig said:

“Because pancreatic cancer is a relatively rare disease, though to impact around 55,000 Americans this year, even those at an increased risk have a low likelihood of developing the disease.”

The retrospective nature of the study meant that researchers could not prove that overweight and obesity cause pancreatic cancer, only that an association exists.

Delving into the Study

To examine that risk, study leader Dr. Zohar Levi, of Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva and Tel Aviv University, and a team of colleagues collected data on more than 1 million Jewish men and 700,000 Jewish women between the ages of 16 to 19 who were living in Israel from 1967 to 2002.

The researchers used the Israeli National Cancer Registry to identify cases of pancreatic cancer through 2012, which led to the identification of 551 new cases of pancreatic cancer.

Some Study Results

  • Compared to a normal-weight man, an obese man’s risk of developing pancreatic cancer was found to be 4 times higher.
  • Among women, that risk was slightly more than 4 times higher.
  • Men within the high-normal body mass index (BMI) range and overweight men were 49% and 97% more likely to develop pancreatic cancer, respectively, compared with men whose weight fell in the low-normal BMI category. [3]
  • Overall, 11% of the pancreatic cancer cases were attributed to teenage overweight or obesity.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Dr. Chanan Meydan, of the Mayanei Hayeshua Medical Center in Israel, hypothesized that overweight and obesity during the teen years may increase cell-damaging and cancer-causing inflammation.

Read: 12 Tips for Extinguishing Disease-Causing Inflammation

“It would be interesting to find whether the inflammatory process in obesity has links to the inflammatory process in malignancy. Are they connected somehow?”

The National Cancer Institute explains that inflammation isn’t always a bad thing. It is a normal physiological response that causes injured tissues to heal. In the case of chronic inflammation, however, the process can begin even if there is no injury. Sometimes it is caused by infections that don’t go away, abnormal immune reactions to normal tissues, or obesity. Over time, chronic inflammation can damage DNA and cause cancer. [4]

Meydan called the mechanism behind inflammation “a delicately balanced phenomenon with grave consequences when it’s out of balance.”

The good news is, teens who lose weight may significantly lower their risk of pancreatic cancer. Adding foods to your diet that lower inflammation – such as tart cherries, onions, turmeric, and ginger – can also help reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases associated with inflammation.

The study is published in the journal Cancer.

Sources:

[1] HealthDay

[2] American Cancer Society

[3] Newsmax

[4] National Cancer Institute

Study: This Simple Body Change can Protect You from Breast Cancer

If you’re a woman, you should know that your risk of developing breast cancer increases as you age. But just know that there are things you can do to protect yourself. One study shows that losing weight after menopause may help reduce your risk of invasive breast cancer, and you don’t have to shed a lot of weight to do it. What’s more, you can take your time doing it.

The study, published in the journal Cancer, shows that losing just 5% of your body weight cuts your risk of breast cancer.

Study author Dr. Rowan Chlebowski from City of Hope National Medical Center said of the 60,000-women study:

“The women [in the study] who lost 5% of body weight over just a 3-year period ended up having a 12% statistically significant reduction in breast cancer incidence.”

Obesity is a well-known risk factor for breast cancer in older women, Chlebowski said. But researchers didn’t know if losing weight could reduce that risk.

He said:

“It looks like once you get obese, there’s a lot of body signals that stimulate breast cancer growth and so the question is even a little moderate change in diet and moderate weight loss will reduce those signals.”

Related Read: Eating These Foods Could Increase Your Breast Cancer Risk

In the study, gaining more than 5% of body weight was not associated with breast cancer risk overall, but it was associated with a 54% higher risk of an especially serious and aggressive form of the disease, known as triple-negative breast cancer. [2]

Chlebowski and his colleagues tracked the outcomes of the post-menopausal women, with an average follow-up of 11 years. None of the women had a prior history of breast cancer and had normal mammogram results. The researchers weighed the women at the beginning of the study, and again 3 years later.

During follow-up, about 3,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed in the group.

Though the study was observational in nature, Chlebowski said the results “are also supported by randomized clinical trial evidence.”

Sources:

[1] CBS News

[2] HealthDay