outlook: OBESITY epidemic

MAY 01, 2007
Susan Farley

Spice It Up!

Experiments by food scientists in Taiwan have shown that the size of fat cells can be reduced by capsaicin—the naturally occurring compound that gives red peppers their hot and spicy flavor. Previous research asserted that obesity could be contained if immature fat cells, known as adipocytes, were prevented from developing into mature cells. This is not the first study to tout the positive effects capsaicin may have on obesity. Other studies have linked the spicy compound to a decrease in the amount of fat tissue as well as a decrease in blood fat levels. In this latest experiment, researchers found that capsaicin prevents these pre-adipocytes from filling up with fat. The level of spiciness required to enjoy these effects would be slightly greater than that found in a typical Indian or Thai diet. Capsaicin works by sending biochemical signals to fat cells, causing them to undergo apoptosis, a cell self-destruction process.

As Weight Increases,Testosterone Declines

As time passes for men, their testosterone levels naturally decrease, but something that can speed up that process is weight gain, according to a recent report in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism. This hormone decrease could, in turn, lead to health problems such as diabetes, bone loss, loss of muscle mass, and sexual dysfunction.

A data review of 584 men aged 40 to 70 years, who were followed for about 15 years, revealed various causes of testosterone decline besides aging. Researchers noted this decline in men who had chronic illness, men who had lost a spouse, men who took 6 or more medications, and men who quit smoking.

They also found that men whose body mass index increased by 4 to 5 points experienced a testosterone decline equal to that seen in 10 years of aging. On the bright side, these results also suggest that a healthy lifestyle could possibly decelerate age-related testosterone decline.

New Book Sheds Light on Teen Dieting

In her new book, I'm, Like, So Fat: Helping Your Teen Make Healthy Choices About Eating and Exercise in a Weight- Obsessed World, Diane Neumark- Sztainer, PhD, "encourages people to think less about weight, talk less about weight per se, and really place the emphasis on engaging in these behaviors for long-term health, of which a healthy weight will be one of the outcomes." Dr. Neumark-Sztainer also is lead author of a study out of the University of Minnesota which suggests that teens who go on diets are more likely to skip breakfast and binge eat. As part of the study, researchers interviewed 2516 teens in 1999 and again in 2004. In 1999, 56% of the girls were dieting; 5 years later, these girls had gained 0.69 more body mass index points than their nondieting classmates. Ultimately, Dr. Neumark-Sztainer says parents should steer their teens away from dieting and toward healthy eating habits and physical activity that they will be able to sustain throughout their lives.

What to Expect from Weight-loss Supplements

When Alli becomes available over the counter this summer, it joins a diverse group of other OTC weight-loss pills. It is important to note that, although these pills occupy pharmacy shelves, they have not been approved by the FDA, and their long-term effects have yet to be determined. The Table lists some important information about common weight-loss supplements.

Ms. Farley is a freelance medical writer based in Wakefield, RI.