Does dieting work better in pairs? Angela’s novel study discussed in SHAPE magazine!

Angela Incollingo Rodriguez, one of our grad students, recently published a study that was featured in SHAPE magazine. Her team examined whether dieting might be easier and less stressful when using the diet “buddy system.” Interestingly, she found that it may be most helpful if one person is dieting and the other isn’t. Click here to read the full article.

Congratulations to Angela, who just won the 2016 Health Psychology Research Paper Award!

One of our incredible DiSH grad students, Angela Incollingo Rodriguez, just won the 2016 Health Psychology Research Paper Award for her systematic review “Hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis dysregulation and cortisol activity in obesity: A systematic review! In the paper, Angela delves into the link between cortisol and obesity, finding that while certain trends seem to emerge, the literature is inconsistent overall. Moreover, this systematic review came out of an incredible effort from Angela, and we’re so proud of her for familiarizing herself with an entire body of work on the HPA axis and adipocyte cortisol metabolism – and for doing it so well!

Congratulations to you, Angela – you are so deserving of this award!

Here, see a figure summarizing adipocyte cortisol metabolism in the context of HPA Axis activity from the paper:

Screen Shot 2016-06-23 at 12.14.08 PM

Stop Using BMI to Determine Health – DiSH research featured in NPR & LA Times!

Check out the NPR Interview & LA Times articles!

Last week, Dr. T, DiSH Collaborator Jeff Hunger, DiSH Lab Manager Jolene Nguyen-Cuu, and UCLA statistician Christine Wells published a really important paper in the International Journal of Obesity; as it turns out, one of the most common measures of population health, Body Mass Index (BMI), actually misclassifies millions of Americans as unhealthy when they’re not! In many cases, people had healthy measures of blood pressure, insulin resistance, triglycerides, cholesterol, and other factors, but fell into “overweight” or “obese” BMI categories and were therefore classified as “cardiometabolically unhealthy.” On the flip side, many Americans who fell into the “normal” BMI category were actually cardiometabolically unhealthy, even though they were assumed to be healthy based on their BMI.”

In Dr. T’s words: “There are healthy people who could be penalized based on a faulty health measure, while the unhealthy people of normal weight will fly under the radar and won’t get charged more for their health insurance. Employers, policymakers, and insurance companies should focus on actual health markers.”

Of course, BMI is popular because it’s so easy to obtain – all you need is a person’s height and weight! However, Dr. T. argues that getting a more accurate measure of cardiovascular health, like blood pressure, can be easy too, saying “it takes maybe 20 seconds if you have the machine. And so I really think focusing on better health markers like blood pressure is a better way to go about it — particularly when we’re talking about financial penalties.”

To U.S. News, Jeff Hunger explained that “the bigger picture we want to draw from our findings is that the dominant way of thinking about weight — that higher-weight individuals will always be unhealthy — is flawed,” and, that “the general public should try to focus on improving their health behaviors — eating well, staying active and getting enough sleep — and forget about the number on the scale.”

Ultimately, Dr. T emphasized that “we have this laser focus on weight, when this measure of body size doesn’t get under the skin of what healthy markers are. We need to focus on actual health markers, rather than this outdated, very broad measure called BMI.”

This paper has been picked up left & right by the media, check out some of its coverage here!

NPR Interview & Article

Los Angeles Times

Science Daily

U.S. News

UCLA Newsroom

DiSH Research in a Special Feature on Informing Policy Initiatives!

“Psychology has so much to offer policymakers, so I’m beyond excited to be part of this super exciting lineup designed to read like Memos to the President.” – Dr. T.

This week, Perspectives on Psychological Science published a special section on “Council of Psychological Science Advisors”. A selection of papers (including one from Dr. T & DiSH collaborators Dr. Andrew Ward and Dr. Traci Mann) that use psychological research to make policy suggestions are included in this special section of the journal. In the first article of the section, “Memos to the President From a ‘Council of Psychological Science Advisers'” (Teachman, Norton, & Spellman, 2015), authors explain that communication between researchers and policymakers is vital in order for psychological research to benefit humanity.

We couldn’t agree more, and Dr. T, Dr. Andrew Ward, and Dr. Traci Mann’s article “Promoting Public Health in the Context of the ‘Obesity Epidemic’: False Starts and Promising New Directions” (2015) clearly outlines some of the misconceptions about obesity that have prevented policy initiatives from being fully effective at promoting health. They also provide suggestions for how to better promote public health, such as making environmental changes that encourage people to engage in healthy behaviors. Read the full article here! 

BMI Can Be Misleading – But How Often Is It?

In the past few years, BMI (Body Mass Index) has come under a lot of fire for being an inaccurate measure of health. Because BMI only takes height and weight into account, an individual with a low body fat percentage but high muscle mass could be categorized as overweight or obese according to BMI. Similarly, an individual could fall in the normal or underweight BMI category, but still have a high body fat percentage.

According to the Centers for Disease control, these “healthy obese” and “skinny fat” individuals make up about 18% of the U.S. Population.  These miscategorized individuals are a major cause for concern, especially considering that medical professionals frequently use BMI to inform medical advice and decisions. Although body fat percentage is more expensive and less convenient to measure than BMI, these graphics clearly illustrate the population of individuals that the BMI scale is missing. Moreover, the article presents two new groups that researchers need to learn more about – the 11% of the U.S. population that is “healthy obese”, and the 31% that is “skinny fat”.

Read more about this fascinating study here.


Rather than Focusing on Weight, Focus on Actual Indicators of Health

In a Letter to the Editor, Dr. T and DiSH lab collaborator Jeff Hunger respond to an article recently published in the American Journal of Public Health, “Probability of an obese person attaining normal body weight: cohort study using electronic health records” (Fildes et al., 2015). In the original article, authors discuss the relatively low probability of overweight and obese individuals achieving and maintaining weight loss, and emphasize the need for obesity prevention and weight loss maintenance treatment options.
In the words of Dr. T & Jeff, “We agree that advances in research and policy should be leveraged to promote population health. However, we assert that this can best be achieved by shifting the focus away from markers of weight such as body mass index…a fervent emphasis on weight is likely to do more harm than good. Thus, to effectively promote the health and well-being of all individuals (regardless of their size), researchers, clinicians, and policymakers should eschew weight as the primary outcome of interest”.


Check out the full Letter to the Editor here!

The original article can be found here.


Citation for article:

Fildes A, Charlton J, Rudisill C, Littlejohns P, Prevost AT, Gulliford MC. Probability of an obese person attaining normal body weight: cohort study using electronic health records. Am J Public Health. 2015; Epub ahead of print.

New paper from Laura & Dr. T!

Comfort eating is certainly delicious, but does it really comfort us? In a new paper recently published in Appetite, DiSH lab grad student Laura and Dr. T investigate whether or not comfort eating can actually decrease our perceptions of psychological stress. Specifically, they were curious to find out how comfort eating may function in depressed individuals. Using data from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute Growth and Health Study, Laura and Dr. T found that for non-depressed women, comfort eating did in fact buffer the perceived-stress impact of adverse life events, but for depressed women, comfort eating did not reap the same benefits.

Read the full study here!

What you didn’t know you learned in college -The order effect of marriage and education

Ample research has indicated a positive relationship between weight gain and marriage, as well as a negative relationship between obesity and the earning of a college degree. However, findings from a recent study add a puzzling contribution to the proposed effect of these factors; it indicates that the order in which people go about college and marriage matters.

The researchers investigated data from 1400 participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health that collected data between 1995 and 2008. Participant’s BMI, marriage records, and education level were examined at various time points. The findings suggest that getting married before earning a college degree may increase the risk of obesity by 50%, compared to those who completed a degree and later got married.

In order to be able to argue that the marriage timing had an effect on weight gain, the participants’ parents’ socioeconomic status was controlled for, as well as their BMI before reaching college age. Thus, the observed differences between the groups cannot be attributed to these pre existing factors.

How can the order a person go about marriage and college have an effect on the risk of obesity, you might wonder? The researchers hypothesize that it may be the critical thinking skills that people usually acquire when attending college that may make it easier for them to manage weight under changing circumstances, as well as the probable differences in salaries between the groups that make those with college degrees more likely to be able to afford buying healthy food.

“People who earn a college degree before getting married are more likely to have developed problem-solving skills that allow them to overcome obstacles that may prevent them from exercising and eating healthy as they adjust to married life,” said Richard Allen Miech, one of the main researchers of the study. “On the other hand, our research suggests that people who earn a college degree after marrying may have established exercise and diet habits that are more difficult to change later.”

As stated in the article, these findings emphasize the difficulty of staying healthy in today’s society, as the findings suggest that you may even need to use critical thinking skills in order to avoid the various food temptations and other external cues that may probe you into the direction of eating unhealthy.

Read more about this interesting relationship here!

Exercisers have the upper hand, regardless of body size

One of the many things we look at here in the DiSH lab is how health can come in many different sizes and several of our studies emphasize the importance of understanding that weight is not a good indicator of health.

Results from a recent study conducted at the University of Cambridge mirror this paradigm. The researchers found that twice as many early deaths may be attributable to lack of physical activity as to obesity. The researchers measured the link between physical activity and premature death, and its interaction with obesity. They found that the association between early death and exercise was independent of a person’s BMI, and that the greatest risk group for premature death was being inactive.

The study was conducted by analyzing data from 334,161 European men and women participating in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) Study. Over the course of 12 years, participants’ height, weight, and waist circumference were measured, and levels of physical activity was recorded through participants’ self-reports.

Results from the study indicated that even just engaging in a 20 minute walk per day would take an individual from the inactive to the moderately inactive group, and that this would reduce the risk for premature death by between 16% and 30%.

“This is a simple message: just a small amount of physical activity each day could have substantial health benefits for people who are physically inactive”, says Dr. Ulf Ekelund from the Medical Research Council (MRC) Epidemiology Unit at the University of Cambridge.

Professor Nick Wareham, Director of the MRC Unit, adds: “Helping people to lose weight can be a real challenge, and while we should continue to aim at reducing population levels of obesity, public health interventions that encourage people to make small but achievable changes in physical activity can have significant health benefits and may be easier to achieve and maintain.”

Read more about the study here!


Misperceptions about children’s weight (and what to do about it!)

As you may know, Dr. T was featured in Larry Mantle’s KPCC Air Talk last week where she discussed the issue of parent’s misperceptions of their children’s weight and what parents can do in order to improve their children’s health habits. If the thought-provoking interview intrigued you, here is some more information about the NYU study that served as the background for the interesting talk:

Researchers from the NYU Langone Medical Center found in their recent study published in the journal Childhood Obesity that along with the great increase in childhood obesity over the last decades, there also seems to be an increase in the discrepancy between children’s weight and their parent’s perception of their weight.

The researchers analyzed data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), and studied two groups of children ages 2-5, the first group from 1988-1994, and the second group was studied between 2007-2012. The data was collected through surveys that asked parents whether they considered their children to be overweight, underweight, or just about the right weight. Most parents reported that they though their child’s weight was “just about right”.

What is so interesting about this data is that even though the rate of childhood obesity has increased dramatically over this period, the rate of parents who think their child is obese has remained constant. That is; at both points in time most parents described their child’s weight is “just about right”, yet the actual weight of the children is drastically different.

Jian Zhang, senior author of the study and an associate professor of epidemiology at Georgia Southern University, emphasizes that parental recognition of their child’s overweight status is paramount to obesity prevention efforts.

However, as Dr.T stated in the interview, this issue is fairly complicated and there are many important considerations to take when deciding how to deal with childhood obesity. A longitudinal study conducted by Jeff Hunger and Dr. T has indicated that calling girls “fat” when they’re age 9 increases the risk of obesity 9 years later in life, which emphasizes the importance of understanding implications of a negative body image. “Childhood and adolescence is a time when risk for eating disorders and negative self image starts up, so it is important to be super careful about what you say to your child”, Dr. T explains in her interview with Mantle. You can read more about Dr. T and Jeff Hunger’s longitudinal study here.

So how do we deal with childhood obesity then, one might ask. “Take the focus off weight and re-shift to what the child is doing (health behaviors)”, Dr. T says. These are things that your child can change and something you can talk to your child about – don’t focus on the number on the scale. As Dr. T stated in the interview “there is a way to instill healthy habits in your children without mentioning the number on the scale”.

Read more about the NYU study here, and if you missed Dr. T’s radio talk and want to get more insights into how to tackle this complicated issue, here is the link.