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Long-term weight gain: How does it happen?

June 27, 2011

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Gaining weight through the decades — we put on about a pound a year on average after age 20 — seems impossible to avoid. Like slowly accumulating credit card debt, we’re never quite sure exactly how the pounds crept on.

Well, a study last week in the New England Journal of Medicine provides an accounting of sorts for more than 120,000 non-obese individuals who participated in the ongoing Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study from 1986 to 2006. The Harvard School of Public Health researchers identified a dozen individual things that contribute to weight gain or help keep the pounds off as you age.

The study also looked at how lifestyle changes like quitting smoking or increasing the amount of sleep you get affects your body weight over time.

Here’s how much each contributes.

Potato chips. Increasing consumption of potato chips was the single biggest factor associated with weight gain through the years. For every extra daily serving that study participants ate, their weight increased by nearly 1.7 pounds over each four-year period in the study.

Other potato products. Everything from baked potatoes, to mashed potatoes, to French fries contributed to weight gain, an average of nearly 1.3 pounds over four years.

Sugary beverages. Sugar soda, energy drinks, and other beverages containing sugar took third place on the weight gain list — accounting for a 1-pound gain for every daily serving that was added through the years. Fruit juice and alcohol also contributed to weight gain, but not as much.

Red meat. Adding a daily serving of red meat contributed to weight gain of slightly less than a pound over a four-year period. That includes, steak, burgers, deli meat, and hot dogs. Reducing consumption led to less weight gain over time.

Refined grains and sweets. Each extra daily serving of white bread, pretzels, and other processed starches contributed less than half a pound over four years. Same, too, for each extra sugary dessert.

Quitting smoking. Those who quit smoking within the previous four years had an average weight gain of 5 pounds — not that this should be used as an excuse to keep smoking! Beyond that, however, former smokers who kept it up had just a small amount of subsequent weight gain, 0.14 pound per four years, that could be attributed to their old habit.

Sleep extremes. Getting fewer than six hours per night or more than eight hours led to slightly more weight gain over time compared to getting between six and eight hours per night.

TV watching. Every one hour a day that was added to TV time contributed to a third of a pound gain over four years. TV viewing may also have indirect weight gain effects since it encourages snacking and may interfere with sleep and physical activity, both of which were measured separately.

Vegetables and fruits. Increasing consumption of produce resulted in less weight gain over time. Adding just one daily serving of vegetables and one daily serving of fruit prevented a pound gain over a four-year period. While it seems paradoxical that increasing portions would lead to less weight gain, the researchers pointed out that these foods probably substituted for higher calorie foods that were reduced in the diet.

Exercise. Interestingly, total amount of exercise wasn’t associated with weight changes over time, but changes in physical activity were. Those who started exercising more gained 1.76 fewer pounds over each four-year period compared to those who didn’t alter their activity habits.

Whole grains and nuts. Adding a daily serving of nuts reduced weight gain by about a pound over a four-year period, while switching to whole-wheat products and brown rice also helped prevent weight gain, though by a smaller amount.

Yogurt. Consuming more of this food provided the biggest bang for the buck in terms of preventing weight gain. Every daily serving added was associated with a 0.82 pound prevention of weight gain. DEBORAH KOTZ

78sman3 wrote: This study is consistent with recent thought that the content of one’s diet is much more important than how much one eats. In fact, this study found that eating more calories of certain items (e.g., nuts, vegetables, whole grains) while holding everything else constant actually led to weight loss.

SurroundSound wrote: Or you could eat what you want, exercise, and feel fine.

burbie wrote: SurroundSound, no, you couldn’t. Not according to the laws of nature. If you eat what you want, no matter how you exercise, you’ll get fat, and if you’re fat, you won’t feel fine. You might be able to fool yourself that you’re healthy, but you can’t fool mother nature.

Study: 1 drink raises driving risks

In a study published online last week in the journal Addiction, researchers at the University of California San Diego reported that even a blood alcohol level as low as .01 percent — far below the legal limit of .08 percent — was enough to increase a person’s risk of being in a serious car accident compared with those who had no discernible alcohol in their blood.

The new study suggests that even having barely discernible intoxication a few hours after drinking one drink could raise the risk of being in a life-altering car accident. “With a BAC of 0.01%, there are 4.33 serious injuries for every non-serious injury versus 3.17 for sober drivers,’’ write the researchers.

They define “sober’’ as completely abstaining for the night.

The researchers analyzed nearly 1.5 million serious car accidents that occurred in the United States between 1994 and 2008, looking at injury severity, seatbelt use, travel speed, and the status of each person involved in the accident that involved at least one fatality. They also looked at the driver’s blood alcohol content, while controlling for fatigue and distracted driving. D.K.

SophmoreCamelCharlestown wrote: I am guessing talking on a cellphone is worse than 2 drinks and texting worse than 3.

lgmoney wrote: These days, you get pulled over after having one beer, that will most definitely be an issue with the officer that pulled you over, and it should be an issue. Thanks for the article, I will pass on to others.

Statin use, pros and cons

Cholesterol-lowering statins — recommended for those with type 2 diabetes to lower heart risks — may actually cause diabetes in some people who don’t already have it. That’s according to a review study published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found an extra two cases of diabetes were diagnosed in every 1,000 patients who took a high-dose statin (80 milligrams) compared with those who took a lower dose (20 to 40 milligrams).

But this finding doesn’t mean that high-dose statin users should switch to a lower dose. That’s because the high-dose group experienced nearly seven fewer heart attacks, strokes, or other cardiovascular events per 1,000 patients compared with those in the low-dose group.

So the small increase in diabetes risk was outweighed by the greater protection against more serious health outcomes, says study coauthor Dr. Christopher Cannon, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. DK

doctordick wrote: Statins are the most over prescribed class of drugs in the history of modern Western medicine. . . . Concerned about your heart health and predisposition to diabetes? Change your diet.

78sman3 wrote: Statins are not tested to determine if they reduce cardiovascular events, and they are not tested to determine whether they reduce pattern B LDL. We really don’t know whether statins are beneficial, but we do know that they are a cause of type 2 diabetes.

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