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Meal replacements may not help teens keep weight off

A new study at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia found that meal replacements like shakes, bars and prepackaged entrees aren't a good long-term solution for obese teens. For the new study, researchers randomly assigned 113 obese teens and their families to different diets for a year. One group of teens ate self-selected low-calorie meals not exceeding 1,300 to 1,500 total calories per day. The other group ate meal replacements (three SlimFast shakes and one prepackaged entree), along with five servings of fruits and vegetables. Four months into the study, participants in second group were randomized to a second-phase diet: some were put on the low-calorie self-selected diet, while the rest stayed on meal replacements.

At the four-month mark, all participants had lost weight, but the teens on meal replacements lost more — a 6.3% reduction in body mass index (BMI) versus 3.8% for the low-calorie group. But by the end of the one-year study, many participants had regained much of the weight they had lost, resulting in no significant differences in weight loss between the groups: on average, the teens had reduced their BMI 3.4% since the beginning of the study.

The results underscore one of the many difficulties of dieting: keeping the weight off long term. Many dieters regain weight because they can't stick to rigid eating programs for long: one-third of the participants in the current study dropped out before its conclusion. The monotony of the meal-replacement diet couldn't have helped either: teens in the meal-replacement group started out drinking SlimFasts 5.6 days a week (in Month 2); by the end of the study, they were only able to tolerate the shakes 1.6 days each week.

“The potential benefit of (meal replacement) in maintaining weight loss was not supported,” the researchers concluded. So for those of you who are gearing up to begin a weight-loss program in the New Year, it helps to remember that austerity isn't the best strategy long-term. Focus on variety — both with your diet and your exercise regimen — and manageability instead. A regular visit with Nastaran can ensure that you stay on track and keep the weight off long term.

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Those who exercise when young have stronger bones when they grow old

The researchers also looked at bone density and structure in the lower leg in around 360 19-year-old men who had previously done sports but had now stopped training. They found that men who had stopped training more than six years ago still had larger and thicker bones in the lower leg than those who had never done sports.

“This result is particularly important, because we know that a bone with a large circumference is more durable and resistant to fractures than a narrower bone,” says Nilsson.

The researchers also studied bone density throughout the body in around 500 randomly selected 75-year-old men. Those who had done competitive sports three or more times a week at some point between the ages of 10 and 30 had higher bone density in several parts of the body than those who had not.

The researchers have therefore established that there is a positive link between exercise while young and bone density and size. The connection is even stronger if account is taken of the type of sports done.

“The bones respond best when you're young, and if you train and load them with your own bodyweight during these years, it has a stimulating effect on their development,” says Nilsson. “This may be important for bone strength much later in life too, so reducing the risk of brittle bones.”

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