Monthly Archives: January 2014

Kids Are Unlikely to Outgrow ‘Baby Fat’

Kids Are Unlikely to Outgrow ‘Baby Fat’

January 30, 2014 | By Health Editor


By Serena Gordon
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 29, 2014 (HealthDay News) — Baby fat may not be as cute as it looks, new research suggests.

Five-year-olds who carry around extra weight may face four times the risk of being obese at 14, compared to their normal-weight peers, the study found.

Of the children who became obese between the ages of 5 and 14, nearly half were overweight in kindergarten.

“We wanted to learn what are the ages of vulnerability and greater risk for new cases of obesity? We found that new cases of obesity tended to increase early on,” said study author Solveig Cunningham, of Emory University in Atlanta.

In the report, published in the Jan. 30 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers also found that socioeconomic status or ethnicity had no impact on obesity.

“Obesity affects kids across all races and socioeconomic status. Children from the wealthiest groups tended to have somewhat lower obesity risks, but the differences weren’t striking,” Cunningham said.

Childhood obesity in the United States is a well-documented problem, growing from 4.2 percent in 1963-1965 to 15.3 percent in 1999-2000, according to background information in the study. Recent research suggests that the rates of childhood obesity may have plateaued, but it remains a serious problem.

To better identify ways to intervene and prevent childhood obesity, Cunningham and her colleagues wanted to see whether there were times of vulnerability across a child’s life span, or if certain groups had a greater risk.

To do this, they evaluated data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. This study included more than 7,700 kindergartners (average age 5.6 years) from across the United States. The children’s weight and height were measured at seven different times until they were in eighth grade (average age 14.1).

At the start of the study, 12.4 percent of the children were obese. Another 14.9 percent were overweight. By eighth grade, 20.8 percent were obese and 17 percent were overweight.

The annual incidence of obesity — that is the percentage of kids who become obese each year — went from 5.4 percent during kindergarten to 1.7 percent between fifth and eighth grade.

Although the researchers don’t know for sure why the annual incidence of kids becoming obese dropped as kids got older, Cunningham theorized, “the kids who were at high risk already became obese at younger ages.”

She added, “Obesity is a complex, multi-faceted issue. Our findings show that focusing on young kids is important. Many of the children were at an unhealthy weight before school. Preferences and tastes may be set in early years, so that may be one of the good places to intervene.”

“Parents need to stay focused on maintaining healthy weight and increasing activity.” she noted. “At young ages, the focus shouldn’t be on weight loss.”

One expert noted that efforts should start even earlier.

“When kids are coming into kindergarten overweight or obese, it puts them on an unhealthy track,” said Nancy Copperman, director of public health initiatives in the Office of Community and Public Health at North Shore-LIJ Health System in Great Neck, N.Y.

Copperman added that if children enter kindergarten overweight or obese, the problem began earlier, often at birth with a high birth weight.

Prevention efforts should really “take a step back and start looking at women of child-bearing age. We should promote health and healthy behaviors to them because having a baby who’s born at a healthy weight helps make that baby healthy throughout life. It may also help a woman work on bad habits before her child comes,” she said.

Copperman added that parents need to reinforce healthy lifestyle messages to help keep their child at a healthy weight. She recommended the American Academy of Pediatrics’ 5210 program. It calls for 5 servings of fruits and vegetables daily, no more than 2 hours of screen time a day, at least 1 hour of physical activity each day and zero sugar-sweetened beverages.

“Parents need to remember that they’re modeling behaviors for their children, even at very young ages. It’s not easy work, and public health interventions need to support parents,” she added.

More Information

Learn more about keeping your child at a healthy weight from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Stressed by Work-Life Balance? Just Exercise

By Maureen Salamon
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Jan. 30, 2014 (HealthDay News) — Feeling conflicted by the push-pull of work and family life? New research suggests that regular exercise can help balance out those feelings.

Researchers examined the responses of 476 working adults who were surveyed about their exercise behavior and their confidence in handling work-family conflicts. Those who exercised regularly seemed to experience an increased feeling of competence that carried over into work and home roles, the study authors said.

“If, for example, you go for a two-mile jog or walk 10 flights of steps at work and feel good about yourself for doing that, it will translate and carry over into other areas of life,” said study author Russell Clayton, an assistant professor of management at Saint Leo University in Florida.

“We found that [participants] who exercised felt good about themselves, that they felt that they could accomplish tough tasks, and that carried over into work and family life,” Clayton added.

The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Human Resource Management.

Volumes of research have shown that exercise lowers mental and physical stress levels, but few studies have focused on whether this stress reduction helps empower individuals to better manage their work-life balance.

Clayton said the study originated as a “pet project” after he realized his own adherence to exercise gave him perspective on integrating work and life. Also involved in the study were researchers from Saint Louis University, University of Houston-Victoria and Illinois State University.

Clayton acknowledged that the research method the study authors used — having respondents answer questions and then tallying the answers through a mathematical technique — did not offer hard numbers for the results.

Just over half (55 percent) of the study participants were women. In addition, the study noted, participants worked an average of 40 hours weekly and their average age was 41. About 29 percent had at least one child under age 18 living at home.

While the study found a link between physical activity and reports of greater empowerment at home and at work, it did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

“But the associations between exercise and work-life balance are there, and they’re very strong,” Clayton said.

For those who don’t exercise regularly, the idea of adding that regimen to a busy schedule to improve stress levels may seem counterintuitive, Clayton noted.

But he advocates the idea of “stolen moments” for exercise that add up, such as climbing the stairs for five minutes or doing jumping jacks in 30-second spurts.

“We hope our research can be a grain of sand in the beach of evidence we have to push corporations . . . to encourage employees to exercise,” he added.

Dr. Natalie Digate Muth, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise, said the study extends the evidence that physical activity offers benefits beyond the obvious.

“People should think of it as a kind of investment. If you put some time into physical activity,” said Muth, “you may be active for 30 minutes a day, but the productivity and mental focus you’re going to get out of it is going to far exceed what you put into it, from a work and family perspective.”

More information

For more about the benefits of exercise, visit Harvard School of Public Health.

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Testosterone Therapy Might Increase Heart Attack Risk: Study

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 29, 2014 (HealthDay News) — Testosterone therapy — widely advertised as a way to help men improve a low sex drive and reclaim diminished energy — might raise the risk of heart attack, according to new research.

The increased risk was found in men younger than 65 with a history of heart disease, and in older men even if they didn’t have a history of the disease. In both groups, heart attack risk doubled in the 90 days after the men began testosterone therapy, said researcher William Finkle, CEO of Consolidated Research, in Los Angeles.

“It was more or less the same increase in risk,” Finkle said.

Testosterone therapy typically is given in gel, patch or injection form, and is widely promoted in television advertisements about “low T.” Although the treatment risk to men over 65 has been documented in previous research, Finkle said, the new study is believed to be the first to look at men under 65.

The study, published online Jan. 29 in the journal PLoS One, was conducted by a research team that included experts from Consolidated Research, the U.S. National Cancer Institute and the University of California, Los Angeles.

It was triggered by a 2010 report in the New England Journal of Medicine, Finkle said. In that study, a clinical trial of testosterone gel in men over 65 was halted early after an increase in heart attacks and other heart problems occurred in the group using the testosterone supplements.

Finkle’s team used data from Truven Health Analytics, which gathers nationwide information on patient care. The researchers looked at the medical records of nearly 56,000 men who had been prescribed testosterone therapy — more than 48,000 of whom were under age 65.

“We identified the [timing of the] first prescription and followed them for 90 days,” Finkle said. The risk for heart attack doubled in that 90-day period for men over 65 and those under 65 with a history of heart disease, the researchers found.

When they continued to follow the men for another 90 days, the researchers said, the risk declined to the level it was at the study’s start for men who did not refill their initial prescription.

Even though the two-fold increase in risk in younger men was seen only in those with a history of heart disease, Finkle said he’s uncertain of the therapy’s safety in younger, healthy men.

“We don’t have enough evidence to say testosterone supplements in men under age 65 without heart disease are safe,” he said.

Although the researchers found an association between testosterone therapy and increased risk of heart attack, the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.

The study authors also did not examine the explanation for the link, but Finkle said it could be tied to the effect of testosterone in blood.

“The theory is that testosterone most likely promotes clotting,” he said. In older men who tend to have thinner vessels, that clotting could cause problems, he said.

The supplements might also increase men’s circulating estrogen, the researchers said. Estrogen therapy has been linked to an increase in heart troubles in both men and women.

AbbVie and Actavis, the makers of testosterone therapies, did not respond to requests for comment on the study.

But one expert not involved in the research expressed skepticism, citing flaws in the study design.

“Based on the best available data, testosterone replacement still appears to be safe … for properly selected patients,” said Dr. Ryan Terlecki, director of the Men’s Health Clinic at the Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

Among the flaws in the study, Terlecki said, was the use of information obtained from medical claims data, which makes it uncertain which men actually used the testosterone.

“This is important since compliance can be poor, especially with topical formulations,” he said. Terlecki reported that he previously worked as a consultant for Auxilium, which makes testosterone therapy.

The researchers did not have information on why the testosterone therapy was prescribed, so it could have been prescribed inappropriately, Terlecki said. He also cited other data that has linked low testosterone — not testosterone therapy — to an increased risk of heart disease.

Men who are discussing testosterone therapy with their doctors “should add the risk of heart attack to the discussion of the risks and benefits of testosterone,” Finkle said.

Terlecki said men who have a lack of energy should first see their doctor and ask about screening for depression and other conditions — such as thyroid disease or B12 deficiency — that could also be the cause.

Testosterone therapy is marketed so successfully that the independent medicine website reported that sales of Androgel exceeded sales of Viagra in 2013, according to UCLA researchers.

More information

To learn more about low testosterone, visit the Urology Care Foundation.

Could Antioxidants Speed Up Cancer Progression?

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 29, 2014 (HealthDay News) — Smokers and other people at high risk for lung cancer could make matters worse if they take antioxidant supplements, a new study of rodents suggests.

Antioxidants appear to accelerate cancer progression by short-circuiting one of the body’s key immune responses to malignant cells, researchers from Sweden report.

Normal doses of vitamin E and smaller doses of the antioxidant supplement acetylcysteine increased the growth of tumors in mice with early lung cancer, the researchers reported in the Jan. 29 issue of Science Translational Medicine.

“We found that antioxidants caused a threefold increase in the number of tumors, and caused tumors to become more aggressive,” senior author Dr. Martin Bergo said during a Tuesday news conference. “Antioxidants caused the mice to die twice as fast, and the effect was dose-dependent. If we gave a small dose, tumors grew a little. If we gave a high dose, tumors grew a lot.”

Bergo, co-director of the Sahlgrenska Cancer Center at the University of Gothenburg, said the findings are particularly concerning because acetylcysteine is used to improve breathing in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Most people who have COPD are current or former smokers.

Antioxidants are supposed to protect the body from disease by preventing cell damage caused by molecules called free radicals. “These radicals can damage almost anything inside the cell, including DNA, and DNA damage can lead to cancer,” Bergo said.

But this protection backfires in people who already have cancerous or precancerous cells, the researchers said.

When the body detects cellular DNA damage that can lead to cancer, it releases a key tumor-suppressing protein called p53.

In laboratory tests with mouse and human cancer cells, researchers found that antioxidants suppress the release of p53 by halting DNA damage done to cancer cells by free radicals.

“By reducing the DNA damage, the antioxidant actually helps the cancer cells escape detection,” co-author Per Lindahl, a professor of biochemistry and cell biology at the University of Gothenburg, said in the news conference.

The findings suggest that people carrying small undiagnosed tumors in their lungs should avoid taking extra antioxidants, the study concludes.

“If you have lung cancer, or if you have an increased risk of developing lung cancer, then taking extra antioxidants may be harmful and it could speed up the growth of a tumor,” Bergo said.

While studies involving animals can be useful, they may fail to produce similar results in humans.

However, this isn’t the first study to indicate that antioxidants are bad for cancer patients, said Peter Campbell, director of the Tumor Repository at the American Cancer Society.

Human trials conducted in the 1980s and 1990s found that the antioxidants beta-carotene, vitamin A and vitamin E substantially increased the incidence of lung cancer in smokers, he said.

“This study doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb,” Campbell said. “We’ve known for some time that some of these agents tend to backfire. It’s nice to have laboratory evidence to corroborate what we’ve seen in human populations.”

The human body creates its own antioxidants, and is built to use additional antioxidants gained from the food a person eats, Campbell said. By taking antioxidant supplements, people could be defeating the body’s ability to fight cancer and disease.

“There is a food supplement industry that has done a really good job marketing itself, suggesting that if we take these molecules normally found in food we will have better health and, well, a little is good so a whole lot would be better,” Campbell said. “There are very intricate, complicated pathways that are supposed to sense and signal and destroy these precancerous cells. When our body doesn’t turn that system on, these cancerous cells can proliferate.”

However, the Swedish researchers stopped short of saying that no one should take antioxidants.

“If I had a patient with lung cancer, I would probably recommend they do not take extra antioxidants,” Bergo said. “Would I make that recommendation with healthy people? Absolutely not.”

More information

For more about antioxidants and cancer, visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute.