Native News Network Staff in Native Health. Discussion »
Drivers of Obesity
BERKELEY, CALIFORNIA - American Indians and Alaska Natives are 1.6 times more likely to be overweight than their Caucasian counterparts, according to the Office of Minority Health.
America's waistline has been expanding at an accelerating rate, prompting both concern about the nation's health and puzzlement over the cause. Now a researcher at the US Department of Energy Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has come up with some intriguing new data and a provocative hypothesis: that obesity itself makes people much more susceptible to risk factors that promote weight gain in the first place.
New research published in the journal PLoS One by Paul T. Williams, a staff scientist and biostatistician at Berkeley Lab, depicts a vicious circle - what researchers call a positive feedback loop - in which weight gain itself creates conditions that amplify vulnerability to well-established drivers of obesity. Williams contends that this phenomenon may be the root cause of America's runaway weight problem.
“We are getting fatter because we are fat,”
“It's depressing, isn't it?”
While the causes of this rapid increase in obesity are continually debated, there is general agreement that weight gain and obesity are associated with a number of major risk factors, including a sedentary lifestyle, low-educational attainment, family history of obesity, and poor dietary choices.
In an earlier study, Williams first detected statistical evidence that the risk of obesity posed by a sedentary lifestyle was more pronounced among people who were already overweight. The latest study builds on that finding, and revealed striking evidence that obesity magnifies those three other risk factors. These effects emerged when Williams applied a statistical technique known as quantile regression, which divides people into groups based on how fat or lean they are, and analyzes the relationship between Body Mass Index (BMI) and risk factors of the different groups. BMI is a measure of body fat calculated by a formula that compares weight and height.
Differences in susceptibility to risk emerged clearly when BMI's of the heaviest 10 percent (90th percentile) and leanest 10 percent (10th percentile) were matched to various risk factors. For example, when the effect of low educational attainment on BMI was considered, it was at least three times stronger among the heaviest 10 percent of women in the study compared to the leanest 10 percent. Among men, the difference was twice as strong in the heaviest group.
Similarly, among women the adverse effect of a diet high in meat and low in fruit was at least four times greater for the heaviest group; among men it was at least twice as strong for the heaviest group. Among both men and women, the effects of a family history of obesity were twice as strong for the heaviest groups.
Williams' statistical analysis shows a pattern of risk factor amplification.
"The three major risk factor for obesity -
While the statistics reveal a pattern of obesity compounding itself, they show only an association, not a cause. Williams says that further research is warranted to find a biomedical process responsible for this phenomenon.
Evidence to support this notion of a vicious circle of obesity is found in William's analysis of data collected from two large cohorts of Americans who have provided a rich source of information about their diet, exercise, health, and demographic background: The National Runners' Health Study, which began in 1991, and the National Walker' Health Study, which began in 1996. Together, these studies included 159,000 participants. From those two studies, Williams examined subsets totaling nearly 15,000 men and 26,000 women and began to tease out of the mountain of statistics data strongly suggesting that obesity has a way of building upon itself.
posted January 14, 2011 6:20 am est
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