Outlook: Obesity

APRIL 01, 2008
Susan Farley

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

The Wonders of Vitamin D

Besides forming and maintaining healthy, strong bones, vitamin D also plays a part in regulating cell growth. Low levels of vitamin D may be linked to increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes—diseases often associated with obesity. It also has been associated with maintaining physical strength and balance in the elderly. Taken as a supplement or through certain foods (eg, canned salmon), adding vitamin D to the diet of overweight or obese patients can be a step in the right direction. The Table lists recommended daily intake.

Eating Habits Linked to Preclinical Cardiovascular Disease

By studying the eating habits of almost 1300 women without cardiovascular disease (CVD), researchers found that certain diets significantly raised the risk of preclinical CVD by increasing the carotid intima media thickness (cIMT).

Diet Type

Max cIMT

Empty-calorie diet

1.46 mm

Light-eating diet

1.22 mm

Heart-healthy diet

1.18 mm

High-fat diet

1.17 mm

The empty-calorie diet refers to high consumption of saturated fats and sugar and low intake of fruits and vegetables. Study results were presented at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Orlando, Florida.

Fear of Fat Keeps Women Smoking

Several studies from the University of Michigan Health System confirmed suspicions that most women smokers will not quit for fear of putting on weight. An article in Addictive Behaviors indicated that women smokers have a skewed body image and tend to binge and diet more than women who do not smoke. In fact, data showed that many women smokers often began smoking to lose weight.

These insights may help researchers come up with ways to address smoking cessation in weight-concerned smokers by pointing out that smoking causes wrinkles, thinning hair, cracked fingernails, yellow teeth, and bad breath.

Researchers, however, must address the reality that nicotine does indeed suppress the appetite and increase resting metabolic rate, and that, on average, smokers weigh less than those who have never smoked.

It is more important to note that smoking cessation does not result in the big weight gain that many women fear. One researcher points out that 1 in 4 women who quit smoking will gain <5 lb, 2 in 5 women will gain 5 to 15 lb, and 1 in 4 women will gain >15 lb.


Daily Recommended Intake of Vitamin D





Pregnant/Lactating Women


200 IU




200 IU

200 IU

200 IU



200 IU

200 IU

200 IU



400 IU

400 IU




600 IU

600 IU


IU = international unit.
Adapted from Institute of Medicine, Food and Nutrition Board. Dietary Reference Intakes: Calcium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Vitamin D, and Fluoride. Washington, DC: National Academy Press; 1999.

Recommendations from the Big Diet and Cancer Study

The landmark World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) report is a comprehensive data review spanning the globe, featuring medical records since the 1960s and data from 7000 studies linking diet, exercise, and cancer. Key findings include:

  • Maintaining a healthy body mass index is vital to preventing cancer, particularly colorectal and breast cancers
  • Processed meats increase the risk of colorectal cancer
  • Eat no more than 500 g of red meat in a week
  • Mothers should breastfeed exclusively for 6 months and continue complementary breastfeeding thereafter
  • Strong evidence links alcohol to cancer
  • Cancer prevention is not likely to be achieved through dietary supplements

Surviving Illness May Require a Few Extra Pounds

Contrary to the World Cancer Research Fund report, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that 25 extra pounds of weight may not increase the risk of dying from cancer or heart disease after all, and the number of deaths attributed to being overweight have been overstated.

In fact, when compared to their normal-weight counterparts, overweight people are 40% less likely to die from emphysema, pneumonia, injuries, and various infections, with the 25 to 59 age group benefiting the most from the extra weight.

Study authors note, however, that people who are overweight have an increased chance of dying from diabetes and kidney disease and that obese people (≥30 lb overweight) are at a higher risk of dying from cancer and heart disease.

Lead author Katherine Flegel of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggested that the extra weight might offer "additional nutritional reserves" for those fighting off certain diseases.