Ample research has shown that stress is bad for our health. In a new NBC article, Dr. T discusses the evolutionary benefit of stress and its relation to modern-day work stressors. In regards to our health, she notes: “Research shows your brain lights up more in response to [high-fat and high-sugar] foods when you’re stressed. It prompts you to eat more and makes these foods taste even more delicious than usual.” Check out the full article here.
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.
When we get stressed out, it can be easy to let exercise & physical activity fall by the wayside. Even though we know that exercise is great for us, and has more benefits than we could ever list – it takes a lot of effort, and we may not feel so inclined to get up and go to the gym around, say, final exams or deadlines.
However, a new study out of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany provides some convincing evidence that exercise really can help reduce exam-related stress. In the study, the researchers recruited 61 undergraduate students and randomly assigned them to participate in a 20-week exercise program that was timed to finish right around students’ final exams. The outcome variable examined in the study was heart rate variability (HRV), which is a measure of the small variations in time between heartbeats. According to Dr. Richard Sloan, a professor at Columbia University in New York, “the heart is happiest when it dances..it’s good to have a lot of heart rate variability.” As predicted, the researchers found that students who participated in the exercise program had HRV patterns indicative of lower stress levels than those of students who were not in the exercise program.
The study is closely related to research by DiSH collaborator Eli Puterman, whose lab at the University of British Columbia studies fitness, aging, and stress. In regards to this new study out of Germany, Dr. Puterman commented that “it’s really exciting to see an intervention that changes the physiological response to stress.”
We agree with Dr. Puterman – these results are very compelling! Exercise has so many benefits for health & well-being, we’re happy to see real-world evidence that it can help us control our physiological responses to stress.
This past Monday, California State University at Northridge (CSUN) held a “Mirrorless Monday” for Eating Disorder Awareness Week. The Northridge Joint Advocates on Disordered Eating (JADE) organized the event, to kick off a week of programming for Eating Disorder Awareness at CSUN.
To help their fellow CSUN students go mirrorless for the day, JADE members covered up mirrors all over the campus with positive affirmations written on butcher paper. Going mirrorless has been gaining traction in the media as a way to promote positive body image, and it’s exciting to see this trend taking place in a university setting! The idea is that by covering up mirrors temporarily, people will be reminded that they are more than their appearance and will be encouraged to look in mirrors a bit more mindfully in the future. Importantly, JADE covered up mirrors in both men’s and women’s rooms and were careful to create programming that is inclusive of all genders. Although eating disorder awareness efforts are frequently targeted at women, JADE has been careful to advocate and educate about men who have eating disorders as well.
This sounds like a great way to spread eating disorder awareness and promote positive body image, and we’d love to see UCLA do something like this in the future!
Check out coverage on “Mirrorless Monday” from CSUN Today!
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!
“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!
September is National Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, and recently First Lady Michelle Obama spoke with AOL.com about nutrition, exercise, and her own family’s experience with adopting a healthy lifestyle.
She makes a lot of interesting points in the interview, and, most notably, touches on how parents can encourage their children to maintain a healthy weight while maintaining a healthy body image: “Being healthy isn’t about inches, pounds, or how kids look – it’s about how they feel and making sure they feel good about themselves”. She goes on to explain that “rather than focusing on appearance, it’s important to emphasize to kids that when we eat healthy food and stay active, we feel better”. In the interview, she also stresses the importance of helping children find a physical activity that they enjoy doing, as well as involving children in the preparation of healthy meals.
This coming Friday (Sept. 11), Dr. T will be giving a talk to middle and elementary-school students at the New Roads School about the psychological and biological consequences of body shaming. She was invited to speak by the GLASS (Girls Learning Achieving and Succeeding in Science) organization on the New Roads campus, which is a program intended to promote women and girls’ leadership, involvement, and recognition in STEM fields. Specifically, Dr. T will be speaking about the way that body shame can be damaging emotionally, as well as about how it may trigger a hormonal response that can perpetuate overweight and obesity for up to a decade.
Read the full story here!
Exciting news from the lab today – we’re featured in the American Psychosomatic Society’s “Meet the Lab” section of their Summer 2015 newsletter! “Meet the Lab” is a new addition to the APS newsletter, and it’s meant to recognize the APS members, postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and lab managers from new labs that “push the science along”.
Check out the feature here!
This past Thursday, Dr. T traveled to Toronto to give a talk about the psychological, behavioral, and health consequences of weight stigma at the annual American Psychological Association Convention. Dr. T’s talk covered her “vicious-cycle” model of weight stigma, known as the cyclic obesity/weight-based stigma (COBWEBS) model, as well as results from two recently-published papers about the prevalence of weight stigma among clinicians and about participants’ perceptions of the smell of thin vs. heavy people. Not surprisingly, Dr. T gave a dynamic and engaging talk, not to mention one full of fascinating research!
Read more about Dr. T’s APA talk here.