Team McCallum

R&D for Lifetime of Life

Udiet: the battlefield.

2010 was stuffed with debate over the reasons why people in developed countries are getting heavier.

 The most simplistic explanations focussed on overeating, or inactivity, or both. HFCS (high fructose corn syrup) also came in for a beating. The problem with this is that Europe imports very little HFCS, but countries in Europe are reporting more and more problems associated with obesity. comes up with a much larger range of interesting possibilities. But in 2005, the New York Times linked this site to sponsorship from fast food producers such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s, in this article.

Two reputable groups of scientists published work where they found that the mantra of ‘eat less and exercise more’ doesn’t cover all of the potential reasons.

 A government group in the UK called Foresight was asked to predict what will happen there over time, based on best evidence, and building in realistic assumptions. In order to do so, they had to scour published research to identify the drivers of obesity and build a very detailed model of which drivers are most important. Written in simple English, this is probably the best explanation there is of the obesity epidemic.

The full report is available as a free PDF download here. However, at over 160 pages, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

The second group of scientists published a summary of obesity drivers in November 2009. Again, this is available free using this link.

Their findings outline the battlefield for the Udiet.

1. Overeating, particularly re heavily marketed energy dense foods.

2. Underactivity, again with an organisation driver behind it.

3. Infection caused by bacteria and viruses.

4. Epigenetics, whereby prenatal and early postnatal exposure to the environment alters how genes are expressed without changing the genes. For example, babies born very underweight at birth who are incubated and fed rich diets to catch up weight have a higher risk of obesity and associated issues later in life.

5. Increasing maternal age. Animal studies have shown that babies born to older mothers are fatter than those born to younger mothers.

6. BMI breeding effect. Studies have found that those with a body mass index somewhat above average are producing slightly more children, on average, than the rest of the population, causing the population BMI to increase over time.

7. Assortitative mating is taking place. This hypothesis is that those with higher BMI prefer partners of similar kind, and due to the genetic effect, this leads to even heavier children. A wide range of population studies support this idea.

8. Sleep debt is happening, and leads to increased eating, increased fat deposition and lowered activity. Research shows metabolic changes occur to support this, and also leads to higher risk of diabetes and heart disease. For example, one study shows that getting one and a half hours less sleep than ideal over a two week period results in a diabetic-like profile for glucose and insulin.

9. Endocrine disruptors interfere with estrogen and androgen signalling, and have been building up in the human environment for some time.  These have been found to be involved in obesity in animals and in humans.

10. Commonly used medicines are known to contribute to weight gain. These include medicines for diabetes, high blood pressure, steroids, contraceptives, and anti-histamines.

11. Artificial ambient temperature. The hotter your environment, the less energy you burn keeping warm. The UK home went from 13 centigrade in 1970 to 18 centigrade by 2000. US homes went from 18 centigrade in 1923 to nearly 25 centigrade in 1986.

12. Mothers input. The state of the mother’s glucose and insulin handling systems directly affect the number of fat cells and the fat cell content of the baby.

13. Reduction in smoking rate. The scientists considered this so well documented they excluded it from their list.

14. Altered US demographics. A 2006 article along the same lines had found that alterations in the US population were increasing the races which tend toward higher BMI, therefore  increasing the average BMI of the nation.

The aim of the scientists’ report was not to remove the first two reasons from focus, but to show that the battlefield is considerably more complex than simply food and exercise.

These 14 points are not comprehensive. For example, other researchers have found that altering the circadian rhythm, by staying up late in artificial light and not synchronising your body clock to early morning light, is also a risk factor for weight gain. Also, breastfeeding v formula milk wasn’t mentioned, although formula milk is associated with higher risk of obesity.


January 9, 2011 Posted by | Activity, BMI - body mass index, Breastfeeding, Child Health, CVD - cardiovascular disease, Diabetes, Environment, Epigenetics, Exercise, HFCS - high-fructose corn syrup, High blood pressure, Obesity, Pregnancy, Pregnancy, Success, Thermogenesis, UK, United States, Weight management | Leave a comment

Why tranquility works.

It is known that pleasant natural scenes induce feels of calmness and tranquility whereas man-made urban environments don’t.

Dr Michael D Hunter played the same sound, a constant roar, and used brain scans to find out what was happening when people listened to this while looking at a beach scene versus roar plus a motorway scene.

The research team found the motorway scene shut down connections between different areas of the brain, whereas the beach scene connected the auditory input to several other processing regions. One of these, the medial prefrontal cortex, is involved in the evaluation of mental states.

Beach view + ‘roar’ of the sea, leads to brain connections, and evaluates as pleasant and tranquil!

September 14, 2010 Posted by | Brain, Environment, Michael D Hunter, Natural healing, Nature, Positive Psychology, Stress, Success | 1 Comment

Socialising v cancer.

The news story is that in mice with cancer, moving them to a richer environment was enough to reduce tumour size significantly and increase the rate of remission. Increased exercise was ruled out as a cause. The benefits were obtained with more space to explore, more mice to interact with and more toys to play with.

The medical experts have questioned whether this would work in humans. But read on – another effect of a richer environment was that the mice lost weight.

A particular part of the brain, the hypothalamus, was found to have higher levels of BDNF (brain derived neurotropic factor).

BDNF influences the amount of leptin produced by fat cells in the body. BDNF was up, and the fat cells were found to produce less leptin and more adiponectin, in mice in the richer environment.

Blocking the BDNF increase blocked the cancer improvement, so BDNF is key.

Leptin is considered an appetite suppressant. The more body fat you have, the more leptin is produced, signalling to stop eating. This breaks down in obese people, who do not produce or do not respond to increased leptin.

Adiponectin regulates uptake of fat and sugar and insulin response. It also has an anti-inflammatory effect. Low levels of adiponectin are found in people who are obese, and those at risk of a heart attack.

The scientists focussed on BDNF up, leptin down as the key cancer reduction cause, when they showed that adding leptin stopped the improvement.

The researchers also found that the spleens of the mice in the enriched environment were more enlarged after they were injected with cancer cells, indicating they had a stronger immune response.

The mice also showed higher levels of stress hormones known as glucocorticoids.

So there is a lot going on here, some of it quite strange. Which means it will take a lot more research before there are results that can easily be applied to humans.

July 10, 2010 Posted by | Activity, Brain, Cancer, Environment, Fun, Health, Lei Cao, Matthew J During, Obesity, Social networks, Success | Leave a comment

Nature = vitality!

Prof Richard M Ryan has published the results of 5 experiments in the Journal of Envirnmental Studies to show that a short time in nature boosts your vitality.

The media is reporting this on the lines of ‘fresh air/being outside is really good for you’, but Ryan’s work is specifically designed to show that it is not being outside, not fresh air, not exercise and not meeting other people that makes the change.

It is being in the presence of nature. It works inside. It even works if you simply imagine it! Ryan’s study is clear that bringing nature into man-made environments confers these benefits.

The paper builds on earlier research by Ryan and others showing that people are more caring and generous when exposed to nature.

“We have a natural connection with living things,” says Ryan. “Nature is something within which we flourish, so having it be more a part of our lives is critical, especially when we live and work in built environments.”

June 5, 2010 Posted by | Environment, Health, Inspiration, Natural healing, Nature, Positive Psychology, Psychology, Richard M Ryan, Success | Leave a comment

US 21st century health?

A team of national health care experts appointed by the President and Congress produced its second report. This is a roadmap to make the US the healthiest nation in the world.

The background – the US spends over 17% of GDP on health care—nearly twice as much as any other nation—but ranks only 49th on life expectancy.

The report proposes 4 action areas
•Re-engineering America’s health care system (to cover everyone)
•Advancing public health and prevention in the US
•Promoting global health and health diplomacy
•Strengthening U.S. medical and public health research.

By coincidence, Dr Gopal Singh has just published the first nationwide survey of obesity among 10 to 17 year olds since results in 2003. This time round obesity rates in these youngsters rose in 36 states, and was 10% up in overal terms.

High TV and computer time and reduced access to playgrounds and parks are linked to the increase.

May 5, 2010 Posted by | Activity, Child Health, Environment, Gopal K Singh, Health, Obesity, United States | Leave a comment

Kids need dirt 2 – asthma.

Professor Raina M Maier found that asthma in young children is linked to bacteria in household dust, and that these bacteria are influenced by whether the child attends daycare and dogs and cats in the household.

The team sampled homes in Tucson, Arizona and compared the bacteria found to a recent study in Finland.

Farms and day care centers are associated with asthma prevention due to high levels of microbial exposure, while actions that reduce bacterial populations in the home may actually increase allergy development.

Kids need dirt 1 – skin healing – is here.

April 18, 2010 Posted by | Asthma, Child Health, Environment, Natural healing, Raina M Maier, Success | 1 Comment

Breast cancer from work chemicals.

A study in Montreal looked at over 1,100 women aged 50-75 to examine the link between exposure to chemicals at work and post-menopausal breast cancer.

There were increased risks if working with hydrocarbons (petro-chemicals) and man-made fibres, particularly acrylic. The risks increased further the longer the exposure to these chemicals before age 35.

The report in Occupational And Environmental Medicine, by France Labrèche, concludes “Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that breast tissue is more sensitive to adverse effects if exposure occurs when breast cells are still proliferating.”

April 1, 2010 Posted by | Breast cancer, Environment, France Labrèche, Work | Leave a comment

Bees decline with plant variety decline

Cedric Alaux from INRA (the French National Institute for Agriculture Research) has found a link between variety in bee diets and the strength of their immune systems.

Bees feeding on a mix of five different pollens had higher levels of glucose oxidase than those fed on a single high quality pollen.

Glucose oxidase is used by bees to preserve both honey and food for larvae, to protect the hive against infestation by microbes.

Bees fed a variety of pollens also have more fat, an indicator of a more robust immune system, as they make anti-microbial bodies in their fat.

The decline may tie in with the use of bees to pollinate monoculture commercial crops.

The French government has just announced a project to sow nectar-bearing flowers by roadsides in an attempt to stem honeybee decline.

The research appears in the journal Biology Letters.

January 20, 2010 Posted by | Cedric Alaux, Environment | Leave a comment