Outook: Obesity

Pharmacy TimesJanuary 2011 Aging Population
Volume 77
Issue 1

Games Can Persuade Kids to Eat Their Vegetables

A new study suggests video games could be a valuable tool in the fight against childhood obesity. Researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas, found that games designed to encourage healthy eating can convince kids to eat more fruits and vegetables.

“We believe that video games are among the most promising approaches to promoting behavior change in children,” said Tom Baranowski, MD, the study’s lead author and professor of pediatric nutrition at Baylor. To test their belief, Dr. Baranowski and colleagues set out to determine whether certain games could impact children’s diets, exercise habits, and chances of becoming obese.

The team recruited 133 children, aged 10 to 12 years, whose body mass index scores were in the 50th to 95th percentile. Children in the treatment group played adventure games designed to exercise skills needed to enact behavior change, such as goal setting, problem solving, and decision making. Those who played the games ate two thirds of an additional serving of fruits and vegetables per day compared with the control group.

Although video games had no effect on water consumption, physical activity, or body composition, Dr. Baranowski remains hopeful about their potential to encourage healthy habits. “We’re at the early stages of knowing how best to use video games to promote behavior change, and more research is necessary to figure out how to better use the video games in this context,” he said.

The study was published in the January issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Tax on Non-Diet Sodas Won’t Prevent Obesity

Debate surrounding the so-called “obesity tax” was the focus of a study in the December issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine. According to the report, a tax on sweetened beverages would do little to actually help people lose weight.

Led by Eric Finkelstein, PhD, researchers from Duke-National University of Singapore (NUS) Graduate Medical School determined the impact 20% and 40% taxes would have on the sales and consumption of sodas and other sweetened beverages among different income groups.

The researchers reviewed data on the food and beverage purchases of US households, using statistical analysis to determine the impact of price on buying habits and weight loss.

Lower and higher income groups would be the least affected by a soda tax, the analysis showed. “Higher income groups can afford to pay the tax so they are unaffected, and lower income groups likely avoid the effects of the tax by purchasing generic versions, waiting for sales, buying in bulk, or by other cost-saving strategies,” Dr. Finkelstein explained.

The taxes would not promote significant weight loss for members of any socioeconomic group. The researchers estimated that a 40% tax on soda would trim average daily intake by just 12.5 calories, resulting in a weight loss of 1.3 pounds per person per year. Those numbers could be improved if revenue generated by the taxes—valued at $1.5 to $2.5 billion—went to support federal and state obesity prevention programs.

Familial Alcoholism Linked to Obesity Risk

Patients at risk for alcoholism may also be at risk for obesity, according to a report published in the December issue of the Archives of General Psychiatry.

Based on data from 2 large alcoholism surveys conducted from 1991 to 1992 and 2001 to 2002, analysts found that individuals with a family history of the disease were more likely to be obese. The connection was especially strong among women—those with a family history of alcoholism were 49% more likely to be obese.

The link seems to be growing more powerful over time, researchers noted. Lead investigator Richard A. Grucza, PhD, attributes that phenomenon to the increasing availability of foods that light up the same areas of the brain as addictive drugs.

“Much of what we eat nowadays contains more calories,” he said, “but it also contains the sorts of calories—particularly a combination of sugar, salt, and fat—that appeal to what are commonly called the reward centers in the brain.”

Patients with a genetic predisposition to dependency—especially those who witnessed a close relative’s struggle with alcoholism— may be inclined to replace alcohol or drugs with these “highly palatable” foods, Dr. Grucza said. PT

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