Tag Archives: obesity

Obesity research: What to know and making sense of studies

Pia Christensen

About Pia Christensen

Pia Christensen (@AHCJ_Pia) is the managing editor/online services for AHCJ. She manages the content and development of healthjournalism.org, coordinates AHCJ's social media efforts and edits and manages production of association guides, programs and newsletters.

obesity-webcastCalling obesity an “epidemic” is almost a cliche in health reporting, but there is no question that obesity is linked to many serious health issues and quality of life, and obesity incidence has been increasing.

That reality has led to even more medical research into its causes, its treatment and management and the conditions obesity increases the risk of experiencing.

In a Jan. 13 webcast, obesity expert and physician Yoni Freedhoff will provide an overview of the state of obesity research and explain what reporters need to know and look for in medical research about obesity.

With Tara Haelle, AHCJ’s core topic leader on medical studies, Freedhoff will explain what we know, how to cut through hype, how to spot less evidence-based claims, and how to talk about the issue in a respectful way. Find out how to participate.

Why some LA kids are affected by diabetes, obesity

Wendy Wolfson

About Wendy Wolfson

Wendy Wolfson is a science writer based in Irvine, California. She covers innovation in biotechnology, medicine and healthcare. She has been a columnist for Chemistry & Biology (Cell Press), and freelance contributor to NPR, Nature Biotechnology, Science, Red Herring, The Lancet, Bio-IT World, Wired, The Boston Globe and CURE magazine.

In Los Angeles, the chances of a child developing type 2 diabetes fluctuates by ZIP code, according to Ellen Iverson, M.P.H., a medical anthropologist and public health investigator at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles.

At the Nov. 6 AHCJ chapter meeting, at the Los Angeles Times, Iverson and Steven Mittelman, M.D., Ph.D., a pediatrician/cancer researcher at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles who directs the Diabetes and Obesity Program, discussed why diabetes disproportionately affects kids in certain neighborhoods and what community interventions could be effective.

Journalist Wendy Wolfson introduced Ellen Iverson, M.P.H., and Steven Mittelman, M.D., Ph.D., both from  Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, at a Nov. 5 AHCJ chapter meeting.  Photo by Ron Shinkman.

Photo: Ron ShinkmanJournalist Wendy Wolfson introduced Ellen Iverson, M.P.H., and Steven Mittelman, M.D., Ph.D., both from Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, at a Nov. 5 AHCJ chapter meeting.

Mittelman’s field is childhood cancer. In adults, obesity raises the risk of developing cancer by 20 percent but, in children who have cancer, obesity leads to significantly worse outcomes. According to Mittelman, diabetes hits kids harder than adults. Most adults can control diabetes with drugs like metformin for years. “Most kids need insulin within three to five years,” Mittelman said.

Factors that include the barrage of junk food advertising aimed at kids, our evolutionarily developed efficiency at storing fat, the upswing in portion size (in the past 70 years, serving sizes increased 63 percent) and ubiquitous sugar (soda drinks containing sugar don’t have the same degree of satiety as sugar in food) contribute to obesity.

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Food deserts: Just one facet of an obesogenic world

Joe Rojas-Burke

About Joe Rojas-Burke

Joe Rojas-Burke is AHCJ’s core topic leader on the social determinants of health, working to help journalists broaden the frame of health coverage to include factors such as education, income, neighborhood and social network. Send questions or suggestions to joe@healthjournalism.org or @rojasburke.

Image by kardboard604 via flickr.

Image by kardboard604 via flickr.

It seems pretty far-fetched that bringing a supermarket to a disadvantaged neighborhood could, in a matter of months, turn back the tide of obesity.

So I wasn’t exactly shocked by the study in Health Affairs (AHCJ members have free access) this week finding that the addition of a supermarket made little impact on nearby residents’ diet or weight gain. The authors compared two demographically similar Philadelphia neighborhoods. Both were considered food deserts, but one received a new 41,000-square-foot-supermarket in 2009. Six months later, the authors found no significant difference in body mass index or daily fruit and vegetable intake between residents of the two neighborhoods. (In the neighborhood with the new supermarket, most residents didn’t even adopt it as their main store.)

The link between food deserts and obesity has always been somewhat tenuous. For instance, having a nearby supermarket or grocery made no difference in the amount of fruits and vegetables people ate or the overall quality of their diets in one of the largest observational studies to date. More recently, researchers analyzed data from 97,678 adults in the California Health Interview Survey and found “no strong evidence that food outlets near homes are associated with dietary intake or BMI.” They figured it’s because most people go by car and don’t limit their shopping to nearby stores.

News outlets tended to cast the latest study as a policy fail for the Obama administration. Obama’s $400 million Healthy Food Financing Initiative is based on the idea that making fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible in underserved neighborhoods will help reverse diet-related health problems.

I’m not sure that a six-month pilot study on a single store is the final word. In a thorough report by Sarah Corapi at The News Hour, study author Steven Cummins says he remains convinced that better food stores are needed in many disadvantaged neighborhoods: Continue reading

Uncovering the real drivers of obesity in young people

Joe Rojas-Burke

About Joe Rojas-Burke

Joe Rojas-Burke is AHCJ’s core topic leader on the social determinants of health, working to help journalists broaden the frame of health coverage to include factors such as education, income, neighborhood and social network. Send questions or suggestions to joe@healthjournalism.org or @rojasburke.

Image by phalinn via flickr.

Image by phalinn via flickr.

It’s great that the rapid rise in youth obesity since the 1980s has started to level off. But there’s an unsettling trend hidden in the data: Progress has largely been limited to kids from more educated and higher income families, according to a recent analysis that got less news coverage than it should have.

Robert Putnam and colleagues at the Harvard Kennedy School compared outcomes by education and income using data from two nationally representative health surveys (the 1988–2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys and the 2003–2011 National Survey of Children’s Health).

Among teenage children of parents with a college degree, they found that the prevalence of obesity began to drop about 10 years ago, while it continued to climb among the teenagers of parents who have at most a high school degree. They found the same trend when they used estimates of family income, rather than education, to measure socioeconomic status. (The growing gap is not merely a reflection of racial or ethnic differences, they say, because it persisted even when they limited the analysis to non-Hispanic whites.)

Los Angeles Times reporter Melissa Healy raised an important point in her coverage: Continue reading

Gout incidence grows; new tip sheet offers coverage ideas

Liz Seegert

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in NextAvenue.com, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Gout is a devastating disease at any age, but can hit older adults especially hard. It is the most common inflammatory arthritis seen in the elderly. As this tip sheet by Eileen Beal describes, gout is very painful, manifesting with pain, swelling, heat, tenderness and stiffness in the joints.

A report published in the Jan. 15 issue of Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases shows an escalating incidence and prevalence of gout among people in the UK. As Medscape reported, researchers found gout prevalence increased by some 63 percent (from 1.52 percent to 2.47 percent) and incidence rose from 1.36 to 1.77 per 1,000 person-years between 1997 and 2012. A similar increase had been previously seen among people in the U.S. According to a 2011 study, researchers thought the higher rates were likely due to rising incidence of obesity and hypertension. Gout is also linked to a higher incidence of heart attack or stroke. Continue reading

Health care quality study: Good news, bad news and in between

Joseph Burns

About Joseph Burns

Joseph Burns (@jburns18), a Massachusetts-based independent journalist, is AHCJ’s topic leader on health insurance. He welcomes questions and suggestions on insurance resources and tip sheets at joseph@healthjournalism.org.

Image by thor_mark via flickr.

Image by thor_mark via flickr.

Health plans had poor results last year on reducing the use of antibiotics and on ensuring that chemically dependent patients received recommended and timely follow-up care, according to the State of Health Care Quality Report 2013 from the National Committee for Quality Assurance (NCQA) released last week.

Health plans had good results last year on getting more children to have their body mass index (BMI) measured and get referrals for nutrition counseling, NCQA reported.

By showing trends in how managed care plans deliver care, this annual report is a rich source of data for health care journalists. Continue reading