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

Best infant formula milk?

Babies fed on formula milk made from cows’ milk show more rapid weight gain in their first year than those who are breast fed. The excess weight gain in this period is linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome and other diseases later in life.

Researchers from Philadelphia wanted to know if all types of formula milk suffered from this problem, so set up a test between a cows’ milk based formula (Enfamil), and a protein hydrolysate formula (Nutramigen). Protein hydrolysate formula is typically used for babies who are allergic to cows’ milk.

The babies’ weight and height started off the same when they were randomly allocated to milk type when just 2 weeks old.

By two and a half months, babies on cows’ milk were noticeably heavier, but not taller. At seven and a half months, when the study ended, those in the cows’ milk group averaged two pounds more than those in the protein hydrolysate group. Again this was excess weight gain rather than extra height. The protein hydrolysate group was only a little heavier than breast fed babies.

The researchers speculated that the protein hydrolysate breaks down into amino acids with a similar profile to human milk and that leads to baby feeling fuller faster. Videotapes of feeding showed the protein hydrolysate stopped feeding after fewer calories.

The study appears in the January issue of Pediatrics.

December 30, 2010 Posted by | Child Health, Diabetes, Health, Metabolic syndrome, Obesity, Pregnancy, Success, Weight management | Leave a comment

Flu vaccine when pregnant.

A team including Dr Angelia A Eick has found that mothers who get vaccinated against influenza while pregnant pass significant protection on to their baby for the first 6 months of life. This is a time when the babies own immune system has not developed properly and in unprotected babies is associated with much higher rates of hospitalization from influenza.

Babies whose mothers got the vaccine had their risk of catching influenza in the first 6 months of life cut by 41%, and their risk of hospitalization for flu cut by 39%.

1,160 mother-baby pairs in the southwest US gave blood, which was checked for antibodies to influenza. Antibodies were found in cord blood and at 2 and 3 months, but by 6 months the profiles of babies born to vaccinated and unvaccinated mothers was the same.

October 5, 2010 Posted by | Angelia A Eick, Child Health, Health, Influenza, Pregnancy, Success, Vaccine | 2 Comments

Influenza fate.

Dr David M Morens and two other experts from the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases have concluded that the likeliest fate for pandemic H1N1 flu is that it will die out over time, due to high numbers of people with existing immunity.

However, their paper in the  journal mBio makes it clear that they cannot be certain of this as various pathways exist for the strain to alter its composition, in the same manner that seasonal H1N1 influenza does.

Dr Morens calculates that around 20% of the population of the US had some degree of immunity to pandemic H1N1 (swine flu) before the 2009/10 pandemic, due to similarities in prior infections that affect those aged 55 and over. He also calculates that the figure has now risen to nearly 60%.

In the US, over 99% of flu in the 2009/10 season was pandemic H1N1. The current influenza vaccine contains pandemic H1N1 as one of its 3 components, based on World Health Organization recommendations.

Dr Morens finding of residual protection in older people explains why the youngest were hardest hit in the last flu season, and possibly explains why the pandemic of 1918, another H1N1 strain, was a killer of young people rather than the old.

In the US, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is recommending vaccination for everyone over 6 months of age.

In the UK it is now advised that pregnant women should be inoculated, along with those aged over 65.

September 30, 2010 Posted by | David M Morens, H1N1, Health, Influenza, Pregnancy, Success, Vaccine | 1 Comment

Probiotic mum cuts baby eczema.

Researchers in Norway already knew that certain probiotics given to mothers and babies at risk of atopic dermatitis cut the risk at age 2 years by half.

“Atopic” refers to diseases that are hereditary, tend to run in families, and often occur together. Atopic dermatitis usually has a trio of asthma, allergies (such as hay fever) and eczema.

What the researchers wanted to know was what would happen if you fed pregnant mothers probiotics when they were randomly selected, rather than having a family history.

The probiotics were taken by the mothers in milk from week 36 of pregnancy and continued while breastfeeding to 3 months after birth.

There was no significant change in asthma rates or general sensitisation at age two. But the rate of eczema was nearly halved.

The probiotic bacteria were a mix of Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG, Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis.

See also ‘Asthma/eczema cuts cancer?’

July 21, 2010 Posted by | Asthma, Child Health, Diet, Eczema, Hay fever, Pregnancy, Probiotics, Success | Leave a comment

Chocolate in pregnancy.

In April 2008, Prof Michael B Bracken and others published a study of pregnant women in the US that examined chocolate consumption and preeclampsia (high blood pressure plus other issues).

It found that preeclampsia was lowest in women eating higher levels of chocolate, both as self-reported and as measured by a chemical component (theobromine) in chocolate.

Now Prof Bracken has had another study published. Again this looks at chocolate and preeclampsia, and high blood pressure (without other issues). The raw data was from about 10 years earlier than above.

The findings are broadly similar.

Self-reported chocolate consumption is linked to a decreased risk of preeclampsia, both in the first and third trimester. (It wasn’t tested in the second.) It was linked to lower risk of high blood pressure, without preeclampsia, but only in the third trimester.

There are several issues here. Dark chocolate appears to lower blood pressure, but these studies did not check on dark v milk. ‘Serving’ is just the number of times eaten per week, not a true count of how much. And the mechanics of how this occurs has not been worked out – antioxidant v relaxing the walls of blood vessels v magnesium etc.

The bottom line is that a regular nibble of chocolate in pregnancy is linked to a reduced risk of preeclampsia.

July 10, 2010 Posted by | Chocolate, High blood pressure, Michael B Bracken, News, Pregnancy, Success | Leave a comment