Outlook: Obesity

Pharmacy Times, April 2011 Allergy & Asthma, Volume 77, Issue 4

Can a Smile Get Kids to Eat Healthier?

Helping children develop better eating habits may not be all that complicated. In fact, something as simple as a parent smiling while eating foods that they want their children to eat can result in a higher consumption of fruits and vegetables.

Results from a study published in the journal Obesity in March found that photographs of people happily eating a child’s favorite food made them want it even more, while a photograph of a person looking “disgusted” by that same food tended to make them want it less. If a child disliked a certain food, seeing someone with a pleasant expression eating it made the child more open to trying that food.

The results build on research published in 2008 in Preventive Medicine suggesting that parents can increase the amount of fruits and vegetables their children eat simply by eating more themselves.

“We have always known that parents have a tremendous influence on what their children eat,” said Elizabeth Pivonka, PhD, RD, president and CEO of Produce for Better Health Foundation. “These two studies demonstrate that this influence extends from simply making fruits and vegetables available for their children, to modeling their own enjoyment of eating a healthy diet.”

Weight Loss Surgery Can Lessen Migraine Pain

In addition to helping severely obese patients lose weight, bariatric surgery can help alleviate the pain of migraine headaches, according to results of a study published in the March issue of Neurology.

Researchers from The Miriam Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, found that obese patients who had suffered painful migraines before bariatric surgery reported improvements in headache frequency, severity, and disability just 6 months after undergoing the procedure.

“Obesity is thought to contribute to worsening of migraine, particularly for severely obese individuals, yet no study has examined whether weight loss can actually improve migraine headaches in these patients,” said lead author Dale Bond, PhD, of The Miriam Hospital. “Our study provides evidence that weight loss may be an important part of a migraine treatment plan for obese patients.”

In the study, researchers used a standard questionnaire to assess 24 severely obese patients who suffered from migraines. They found that headache frequency was significantly reduced from before surgery to 6 months postoperatively, with nearly half of patients showing at least a 50% reduction in frequency. Patients who experienced greater weight losses were more likely to experience substantial improvements in headaches and migraine pains.

The study also revealed substantial reductions in headache pain severity and related disability. Prior to surgery, half of all participants reported moderate to severe disability related to their migraines that often required medical treatment and intervention. However, 6 months after surgery, only 12.5% of participants reported this degree of disability.

Stigma Weighs Heavily on Obese People

For obese people, dealing with discrimination at work or in a social setting can have more than just a psychological impact. A new study published in Social Psychology Quarterly in March found that the negativity many overweight individuals face can take a significant toll on their physical health as well.

“Obesity is a physiological issue, but when people have negative interactions in their social world—including a sense of being discriminated against—it can make matters worse and contribute to a person’s declining physical health,” said Markus H. Schafer of Purdue University, the study’s lead author.

Schafer and fellow researcher Kenneth F. Ferraro, PhD, also of Purdue University, found that approximately one-third of severely obese people in the United States report facing some form of weight discrimination, which “plays into people’s own perspective about their weight. It seems that many people are internalizing the prejudice and stigma they feel, and it contributes to stress, which ultimately affects their health,” he said.

In the study, Schafer and Dr. Ferraro compared body mass indexes to subjects’ health and perceptions of weight discrimination using data from a survey on aging and health equality that was distributed to more than 1500 adults aged 25 to 74 years from 1995 to 2005.

About 11% of those who were moderately obese and 33% of those who were severely obese reported weight discrimination. These individuals, according to the authors, were the ones who had the sharpest decline over time in their functional abilities, such as the capacity to climb stairs or carry everyday items.

“We’ve seen considerable progress to address racial and gender discrimination in the United States, but the iceberg of weight discrimination still receives relatively little attention,” said Dr. Ferraro. “This is an interesting paradox because as the rates of obesity rise in this country, one might expect that antifat prejudice would decline. The stigma that many obese persons experience also exacts a toll on health.” PT