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News & Views Outlook: Obesity

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Junk Food Loyalties Begin in Preschool
If given the choice, most preschoolers would subsist on diets composed entirely of salt, fat, and sugar, according to a new study. Researchers say these tastes develop early in childhood, and that kids quickly learn to associate them with brand-name snacks and sodas.

In a study conducted at the University of Oregon, researchers found that children as young as 3 years showed awareness of fast food and soda brands. Reporting on their findings in the journal Appetite, the researchers urged parents to think carefully about which foods their children are exposed to during these formative years.

“Our findings present a public policy message,” said T. Bettina Cornwell, lead author of the study and a professor of marketing at the University of Oregon Lundquist College of Business. “If we want to pursue intervention, we probably need to start earlier.” In her study of 67 children aged 3 to 5 years, “flavoradded” foods earned the highest marks, whereas whole, natural foods, such as plain milk or bananas, were less favored. For the second part of the study, researchers took a closer look at these preferences to find out how they contributed to kids’ awareness of food brands.

Cornwell recruited 108 children from 5 urban preschools to participate. Children were shown a series of 36 randomly sorted cards—12 were related to popular fast food chains, 6 to leading cola companies, and 6 to irrelevant products. Nearly all the children were able to match at least some products to their respective companies.

The results, the researchers concluded, “suggest that fast food and soda brand knowledge is linked to the development of a preference for sugar, fat and salt in food.”

Obese Women More Likely to Avoid Mammograms
Women who are obese are more likely to avoid regular mammograms and report pain when receiving the procedure, according to a new study conducted by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research and published online in the Journal of Women’s Health.

The study, funded by the National Cancer Institute, looked at medical records of 4708 women aged 50 to 69 years whose last mammogram was more than 20 months prior. After cataloguing the women’s physical and demographic information, the researchers surveyed them to learn why they avoided mammograms despite having health insurance.

In addition to being obese, other factors linked to lower screening rates were being younger than 60 years, having an annual household income of less than $40,000, and having been insured for less than 5 years. Obese women were nearly twice as likely as nonobese women to cite pain as the primary reason they avoided mammograms. Among all women, the most common responses were embarrassment, pain, or simply being too busy.

“Even when women have access to health care, there are still barriers to getting this important screening test. We need to do more to understand these barriers and help women overcome them,” said lead author Adrianne Feldstein, MD, of Kaiser Permanente.

Racial Disparities Seen in Obesity Counseling
Public health experts have long touted education as a critical tool to help Americans live healthier, more active lives. But new data suggest their efforts aren’t measuring up—especially for the disproportionate number of African Americans who are obese.

Compared with Caucasians, obese African Americans receive less guidance from their physicians on proper nutrition and exercise, according to a new study. This finding was true regardless of the physician’s race, researchers from the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health reported.

The disparity might be linked to physicians’ negative perceptions of African Americans, said lead author Sara Bleich, PhD, an assistant professor with the Bloomberg School’s Department of Health Policy and Management. It could also indicate a lack of sensitivity to the unique factors that increase obesity risk in this patient population.

To complete the study, Dr. Bleich and colleagues reviewed data on 2231 physicians’ office visits involving African American and Caucasian obese patients. They used statistical analysis to compare how often weight-related counseling was provided to patients in each group. Their findings were published in the January issue of Obesity.

“Previous studies have shown disparities in the proportion of black obese adults informed by physicians that they were overweight compared to white obese adults,” said Lisa Cooper, MD, MPH, study coauthor and a professor with Bloomberg and the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.

“We now also see that black patients are receiving different medical counseling as well. Further research is needed to understand how to improve obese patient counseling, particularly among the black population,” she said.