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.
To test their hypothesis that environmental influences experienced by the father can be passed down to the next generation in the form of changed epigenetic information, Rando and colleagues fed different diets to two groups of male mice. The first group received a standard diet, while the second received a low-protein diet. To control for maternal influences, all females were fed the same, standard diet. Rando and colleagues observed that offspring of the mice fed the low-protein diet exhibited a marked increase in the genes responsible for lipid and cholesterol synthesis in comparison to offspring of the control group fed the standard diet.
These observations are consistent with epidemiological data from two well-known human studies suggesting that parental diet has an effect on the health of offspring. One of these studies, called the Överkalix Cohort Study, conducted among residents of an isolated community in the far northeast of Sweden, found that poor diet during the paternal grandfather’s adolescence increased the risk of diabetes, obesity and cardiovascular disease in second-generation offspring. However, because these studies are retrospective and involve dynamic populations, they are unable to completely account for all social and economic variables. “Our study begins to rule out the possibility that social and economic factors, or differences in the DNA sequence, may be contributing to what we’re seeing,” said Rando. “It strongly implicates epigenetic inheritance as a contributing factor to changes in gene function.”
The results also have implications for our understanding of evolutionary processes, says Hans A. Hofmann, PhD, associate professor of integrative biology at the University of Texas at Austin and a co-author of the study. “It has increasingly become clear in recent years that mothers can endow their offspring with information about the environment, for instance via early experience and maternal factors, and thus make them possibly better adapted to environmental change. Our results show that offspring can inherit such acquired characters even from a parent they have never directly interacted with, which provides a novel mechanism through which natural selection could act in the course of evolution.” Such a process was first proposed by the early evolutionist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, but then dismissed by 20th century biologists when genetic evidence seemed to provide a sufficient explanation.
Taken together, these studies suggest that a better understanding of the environment experienced by our parents, such as diet, may be a useful clinical tool for assessing disease risk for illnesses, such as diabetes or heart disease. “We often look at a patient’s behavior and their genes to assess risk,” said Rando. “If the patient smokes, they are going to be at an increased risk for cancer. If the family has a long history of heart disease, they might carry a gene that makes them more susceptible to heart disease. But we’re more than just our genes and our behavior. Knowing what environmental factors your parents experienced is also important.”
The next step for Rando and colleagues is to explore how and why this genetic reprogramming is being transmitted from generation to generation. “We don’t know why these genes are being reprogrammed or how, precisely, that information is being passed down to the next generation,” said Rando. “It’s consistent with the idea that when parents go hungry, it’s best for offspring to hoard calories, however, it’s not clear if these changes are advantageous in the context of a low-protein diet.”
Guinness World Records has reported the death of the world's oldest person aged 114 years and 357 days, a week shy of her 115th birthday.
Kama Chinen, a resident of a sub-tropical island in Okinawa, Japan, died on May 2, 2010. She lived to see three different centuries, the Gerontology Research Group (GRG) commented.
“Though confined to a wheelchair in her later years, Chinen enjoyed the wonders of nature and being outside,” the organization said.
Okinawa has a reputation for its long-lived residents, put down to the local diet of green tea, miso soup, vegetables, rice and fresh fish.
The title of oldest human now passes to 114-year-old Frenchwoman Eugenie Blanchard, who was born in February 1896. She lives on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, GRG said.
Chiyono Hasegawa, 113, in southern Japan's Saga prefecture is now the country's oldest person.
Japan has the world's highest life expectancy, and Okinawa has been home to many centenarians, a fact variously attributed to the healthy diet and environment of the island.
According to the study, old Okinawans also have lower rates of cancer, in part due to a generally low caloric, low-fat and high-fiber diet that is rich in vegetables and fruits, as well as to their physical activity.
Average life expectancy in Japan climbed sharply after World War II. In 2008, life expectancy at birth was 86.05 years for women and 79.29 years for men, according to official statistics.
For many parents, dealing with an overweight child is a delicate issue. These four steps can put you and your child on the right path to a healthier lifestyle.
An important first step is to let your overweight child know she's OK, whatever her weight. A child's feelings about herself often reflect her parents' feelings about her. For example, if your child gets the message that you are unhappy with the way she looks, that impacts how she feels about herself. If you accept your child at any weight, and emphasize her strengths (e.g., good grades, musical talent, leadership skills), she learns how to feel good about herself. Let your child know she can talk openly with you and share her concerns about her weight. This issue may come up when she is shopping for clothes, participating in an athletic event or donning a bathing suit when it's time to hit the beach or pool. Your child probably knows better than anyone else that her weight is an issue. For that reason, she needs your support, acceptance and encouragement.
Focus On the Family.
Don't set your overweight child apart because of his weight or make a special issue out of it. Instead, make gradual, healthful changes in the whole family's physical activity and eating habits. Family involvement helps to teach everyone healthful habits and does not single out the overweight child as “being on a diet.” Changing the family environment provides your overweight child with the support he needs.
Increase Your Family's Physical Activity.
Regular physical activity, combined with good eating habits, is a must for promoting a healthy weight–and good health–among the whole family. Below are some simple ways to get the whole family moving:
- Be a role model for your children. If your children see you enjoying regular physical activity, they're more likely to get active and stay active for life.
- Plan family activities that are fun for everyone such as walking, dancing, biking or swimming. For example, schedule a walk with your family after dinner instead of watching TV. Make sure the activities you plan are done in a safe environment.
- Be sensitive to your child's needs. Overweight children may feel uncomfortable about participating in certain activities. Help your child find physical activities he enjoys and that aren't embarrassing or too difficult.
- Reduce the amount of time you and your family spend in sedentary activities such as watching TV or playing video games.
- Find ways for you and your family to be more active throughout the day. For example, walk up the stairs instead of taking the elevator, do some stretching during a work or school break, or encourage your child to walk to and from school, if possible.
- If your child likes structured sports activities or classes, sign him up and support his regular participation.
Teach Your Family Healthy Eating Habits Right from the Start.
Teaching good eating habits early and by example will help children develop a healthy attitude about food–that it's enjoyable, and required for energy to keep the body running right and to grow properly. Parents should provide children with the structure of regular meals and snacks, and choose the foods offered. Parents should allow children to choose what to eat from among the foods offered and how much.
To learn more about nutrition for children, make an appointment with Nastaran. See your doctor if you think your child has a serious weight problem.
A referral to Nastaran Habibi should be made when your patient needs more intensive dietary, nutritional and lifestyle behavior education than you can provide in your office environment. Nastaran can help particularly when the patient is in the preparation, action or relapse stages of change.
A consultation generally includes a diet and lifestyle assessment, and nutrition education and counselling. Nastaran will review your patient’s medical and social status, including biochemistry and othe relevant test results, dietary and family history and home environment. In addition she will take anthropometric measurements and collect information on the patient’s individual food preferences and cultural, socio-economic and lifestyle needs. Taking into account the patient’s own goals, knowledge, skills and access to resources, Nastaran will custom design a program for your patient based on the principles of Medical Nutrition Therapy. She integrates self-management training regarding information on nutrient content, food choices, and meal preparation based on each patient’s particular and unique circumstances. Initial appointments are more than 1 hour.
What happens next:
- You will receive a formal report assessing your patient’s nutritional, physical activity and lifestyle status including Nastaran’s recommendations for improvement, possible barriers to success and guidelines for evaluating progress.
- During the 45-90 minute follow-up visits, Nastaran will review your patient’s progress, provide further education, encourage continued adherence to the plan and identify any obstacles to success.
In order for your patient to qualify for a Medicare rebate, referral must be through an Enhanced Care Plan. Referrals outside Medicare will still qualify for a Health Fund rebate.