Addiction researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have found that a risk for alcoholism also may put individuals at risk for obesity. The researchers noted that the association between a family history of alcoholism and obesity risk has become more pronounced in recent years. Both men and women with such a family history were more likely to be obese in 2002 than members of that same high-risk group had been in 1992. “In addiction research, we often look at what we call cross-heritability, which addresses the question of whether the predisposition to one condition also might contribute to other conditions,” says first author Richard A. Grucza, PhD. “For example, alcoholism and drug abuse are cross-heritable. This new study demonstrates a cross-heritability between alcoholism and obesity, but it also says — and this is very important — that some of the risks must be a function of the environment. The environment is what changed between the 1990s and the 2000s. It wasn’t people’s genes.”
Obesity in the United States has doubled in recent decades from 15 percent of the population in the late 1970s to 33 percent in 2004. Obese people – those with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or more – have an elevated risk for high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, stroke and certain cancers.
Reporting in the Archives of General Psychiatry, Grucza and his team say individuals with a family history of alcoholism, particularly women, have an elevated obesity risk. In addition, that risk seems to be growing. He speculates that may result from changes in the food we eat and the availability of more foods that interact with the same brain areas as addictive drugs. “Much of what we eat nowadays contains more calories than the food we ate in the 1970s and 1980s, but it also contains the sorts of calories — particularly a combination of sugar, salt and fat — that appeal to what are commonly called the reward centers in the brain,” says Grucza, an assistant professor of psychiatry. “Alcohol and drugs affect those same parts of the brain, and our thinking was that because the same brain structures are being stimulated, overconsumption of those foods might be greater in people with a predisposition to addiction.”
Grucza hypothesized that as Americans consumed more high-calorie, hyper-palatable foods, those with a genetic risk for addiction would face an elevated risk from because of the effects of those foods on the reward centers in the brain. His team analyzed data from two large alcoholism surveys from the last two decades. The National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey was conducted in 1991 and 1992. The National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions was conducted in 2001 and 2002. Almost 80,000 people took part in the two surveys.
“We looked particularly at family history of alcoholism as a marker of risk,” Grucza explains. “And we found that in 2001 and 2002, women with that history were 49 percent more likely to be obese than those without a family history of alcoholism. We also noticed a relationship in men, but it was not as striking in men as in women.” Grucza says a possible explanation for obesity in those with a family history of alcoholism is that some individuals may substitute one addiction for another. After seeing a close relative deal with alcohol problems, a person may shy away from drinking, but high-calorie, hyper-palatable foods also can stimulate the reward centers in their brains and give them effects similar to what they might experience from alcohol.
“Ironically, people with alcoholism tend not to be obese,” Grucza says. “They tend to be malnourished, or at least under-nourished because many replace their food intake with alcohol. One might think that the excess calories associated with alcohol consumption could, in theory, contribute to obesity, but that’s not what we saw in these individuals.” Grucza says other variables, from smoking, to alcohol intake, to demographic factors like age and education levels don’t seem to explain the association between alcoholism risk and obesity. “It really does appear to be a change in the environment,” he says. “I would speculate, although I can’t really prove this, that a change in the food environment brought this association about. There is a whole slew of literature out there suggesting these hyper-palatable foods appeal to people with addictive tendencies, and I would guess that’s what we’re seeing in our study.” The results, he says, suggest there should be more cross-talk between alcohol and addiction researchers and those who study obesity. He says there may be some people for whom treating one of those disorders also might aid the other.
Two specific eating patterns increase the risk of death for older adults, a 10-year study finds.Compared to people who ate healthy foods, men and women in their 70s had a 40% higher risk of death if they got most of their calories from high-fat dairy foods or from sweets and desserts. University of Maryland researcher Amy L. Anderson, PhD, and colleagues monitored the eating patterns of 2,582 adults aged 70 to 79. They found that these diets fell into six patterns or clusters.
After adjusting for risk factors such as sex, age, race, education, physical activity, smoking, and total calories, “the High-Fat Dairy Products cluster and the Sweets and Desserts cluster still showed significantly higher risk of mortality than the Healthy Foods cluster,” Anderson and colleagues found.
The six dietary patterns were:
- Healthy Foods: Higher intake of low-fat dairy products, fruit, whole grains, poultry, fish, and vegetables. Lower intake of meat, fried foods, sweets, high-energy drinks, and added fat.
- High-Fat Dairy Products: Higher intake of ice cream, cheese, and 2% and whole milk and yogurt. Lower intake of poultry, low-fat dairy products, rice, and pasta.
- Sweets and Desserts: Higher intake of doughnuts, cake, cookies, pudding, chocolate, and candy. Lower intake of fruit, fish and other seafood, and dark green vegetables.
- Meat, Fried Foods, and Alcohol: Higher intake of beer, liquor, fried chicken, mayonnaise/salad dressings, high-energy density drinks, nuts, snacks, rice/pasta dishes, and added fat. Lower intake of low-fat dairy products, fiber/bran breakfast cereal, and other breakfast cereal.
- Breakfast Cereal: Higher intake of fiber/bran and other breakfast cereals (especially the latter). Low intake of nuts, refined grains, dark yellow vegetables, and dark green vegetables.
- Refined Grains: Higher intake of refined grains (such as pancakes, waffles, breads, muffins, and cooked cereals such as oatmeal) and processed meat (such as bacon, sausage, ham, and other lunchmeats). Lower intake of liquor, breakfast cereals, and whole grains.
Several of the groups got an unusually large amount of their total calories from just one food group:
The sweets and desserts cluster got 25.8% of its total energy from sweets.The refined grains cluster got 24.6% of its total energy from refined grains.The breakfast cereal group got 19.3% of its total energy from cold cereals other than those full of fiber and bran.The high-fat dairy products group got 17.1% of its total energy from higher-fat dairy foods.
Overall, people in the healthy foods cluster had more years of healthy life and a lower death rate than all other groups. Moreover, their blood tests came back with significantly more indicators of health than the other groups.
But not all of the study findings were so predictable. “Unexpectedly, in this and in several other studies, a [dietary] pattern higher in red meat was not significantly associated with increased risk of mortality,” Anderson and colleagues note. It's also not entirely clear why the Meat, Fried Food, and Alcohol cluster didn't have a significantly higher death risk, as most diets warn people to limit or avoid such foods.
“In our study, the Meat, Fried Food, and Alcohol cluster did have a slightly higher percentage of total energy from vegetables, fruit, and whole grains than both the High-Fat Dairy Products and Sweets and Desserts clusters, which showed higher risk of mortality,” Anderson and colleagues suggest.
This was by far the most common eating pattern seen in the study: 27% of participants were in the meat, fried food, and alcohol cluster. But Anderson and colleagues do not recommend such a diet. Instead, they point to the fact that 14.5% of study participants were in the healthy foods cluster. “Adherence to such a diet appears a feasible and realistic recommendation for potentially improved survival and quality of life in the growing older adult population,” Anderson and colleagues conclude.
The study appears in the January 2011 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
This month the federal Department of Agriculture and Health and Human Services will release the 2010 dietary guidelines. These guidelines directly impact the eating habits of one in every four Americans whose meals are subsidized by federal programs. The precise timing of the release this month is unknown, according to John Webster, a spokesman for the USDA.
The major question here is whether or not the new guidelines will impact the obesity epidemic that is increasing ever so quickly in our country. Decisions about what to eat are generally made at the supermarket, not while reading federal guidelines. “What we need to do is put more effort into figuring out how to engage people who don’t use nutrition as a major deciding point when buying food,” says Alice H. Lichtenstein, a professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University. “We really need to learn more about consumer behavior.’’ Some experts wonder if more nutrition information helps or confuses shoppers.
It is arguable that the guidance needs to be much clearer, more like the wildly popular “Eat This, Not That!,’’ a magazine column, which was then reworked into a book and an iPhone app, that made its mark by telling readers which fast food was nutritionally better than others. Dr. David L. Katz, director of Yale University’s Prevention Research Center and an associate professor at the university’s School of Medicine, is an advocate for more specific guidance. For example, 45 to 65 percent of daily calories should come from foods that contain carbohydrates. But “lollipops and lentils are both carbs,’’ Katz says. And while the current federal recommendations do stress eating carbohydrates from whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, he adds, “We need to do a better job of specifically defining highly recommended foods.’’
While no one is talking about the final 2010 recommendations before their release, a June advisory report, open for public comment, gives some clues. Cohen of UMass Amherst expects the final guidelines to place even greater emphasis on physical activity and continue to recommend that people include more fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, foods with Omega-3 fatty acids, and a suggestion to eat three servings of low-calorie dairy products a day (some argue that calcium supplements should be used in place of the third serving).
According to a new study by researchers at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), National Cancer Institute (NCI), and the USDA, conducted a study with 15,000 adults in the United States, and found that people who drink too many alcoholic beverages are more likely to eat less fruit and consume more calories from a combination of alcoholic beverages and foods high in unhealthy fats and sugar.
“Heavy drinking and dietary factors have independently been associated with cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and other chronic health problems,” said NIAAA Acting Director Kenneth R. Warren, Ph.D. “This finding raises questions about whether the combination of alcohol misuse and poor diet might interact to further increase health risks.”
“We found that as alcoholic beverage consumption increased, Healthy Eating Index scores decreased, an indication of poorer food choices,” said first author Rosalind A. Breslow, Ph.D., an epidemiologist in NIAAA's Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research.
A previous study by Dr. Breslow showed that the more alcohol people drink, the poorest quality diets they had. In addition to eating less fruits and vegetables, the researchers also found that increased alcoholic beverage consumption was associated with a decreased intake of whole grains and milk among men.
“Our findings underscore the importance of moderation for individuals who choose to consume alcoholic beverages, and a greater awareness of healthy food choices among such individuals,” says Dr. Breslow.
It is very important to control the amount of alcohol you consume. It could greatly affect you health.
The UK Government has made available a new, free cookbook for all 11-year olds today, to help them learn healthy versions of old favourites – from spaghetti bolognaise; risotto; lamb hot pot; lamb rogan josh; roast chicken legs; chow mein; and apple crumble.
The 'Real Meals – Simple Cooking Made Easy' cookbook containing 32 classic recipes and sauces and endorsed by top chef Phil Vickery, was chosen after the public was asked to nominate the basic dishes every child should learn how to cook.
The cookbook is available online at
Can eating less be as simple as leaving serving dishes on the stove and off the table? According to a team of researchers from Cornell University, it can.
At this week's Experimental Biology conference in Anaheim, Calif., researchers led by Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, shared findings of their “Serve Here; Eat There” study of 78 adults.
“We looked at whether serving foods from the kitchen counter, instead of at the table, would reduce the number of times a person refilled his or her plate,” Wansink said.
“Quite simply, it is a case of 'out of sight, out of mind,'” he continued. “When we kept the serving dishes off the table, people ate 20% fewer calories. Men ate close to 29% less.”
The same strategy can be used to help increase the consumption of healthier foods, Wansink explained.
“If fruits and vegetables are kept in plain sight, we'll be much more likely to choose them, rather than a piece of cake hidden in the refrigerator.”
Dining environment, plate and portion size, and other hidden cues that determine what, when and how much we eat are familiar topics in Wansink's work. He is the author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think.