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What factors may predict whether your child will be a slim adult?

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What type of experiences with food, lifestyle, family traditions, and encounters with other people might help make your child a slim adult? Researchers use crowdsourcing as novel childhood predictors of adult obesity. A novel new study published in PLOS ONE asked 532 international English speaking adults to submit or "crowd-source" predictors of whether a child is going to be an overweight or a slim adult.

The results of a new study indicate that crowd-sourced information could be used to identify new predictors that may, after further study, be useful in understanding and reducing obesity. The body-mass-index (BMI) is a measurement that shows the amount of fat in your body based on your weight and height. Furthermore, the trends in body-mass-index (BMI) obtained through this new study provide insights into behaviors that should be encouraged to help children maintain a healthy BMI into adulthood.

In the study, each participant offered what they believed to be the best predictor of what a child would weigh as an adult and submitted it in the form of a question

Questions were related to factors of participants' childhood experience including home environment, psychosocial well-being, lifestyle, built environment, and family history. Interestingly, the adults who reported a lower BMI used fresh ingredients rather than lots of processed foods.

And the adults reporting a high body-mass-index (BMI) in the family drank more sodas and juices instead of water. It's of interest to see that those with low BMI reported that they had many friends, whereas those with high BMI measurements reported they were bullied by peers. It's almost as if what someone eats perhaps for emotional reasons could be influenced by how someone is treated by others, whether the person is liked or bullied.

Each participant also supplied his or her height and weight (to determine BMI) and answered questions generated by other participants about their own childhood behaviors and conditions. Several of the questions asked had a significant correlation with participants' current BMI as listed below.

Adults who reported a lower BMI also reported having the following childhood experiences in common:

  • Their families prepared meals using fresh ingredients.
  • Their parents talked with them about nutrition.
  • They frequently engaged in outdoor physical activity with their families.
  • They slept a healthy number of hours on weeknights.
  • They had many friends.

Adults who reported a higher BMI, also reported having the following childhood experiences in common:

  • Food was used as a reward or punishment at home.
  • They had obese parents and/or grandparents.
  • They drank juice and soda more than water.
  • Their parents restricted their food intake.
  • They were bullied by peers.

While some of the factors listed above have been researched previously in relation to BMI, others have not been studied much or at all. These results indicate that "crowd-sourced," or publicly-generated, information could be used to identify new predictors that may, after further study, be useful in understanding and reducing obesity, says the February 5, 2014 news release, "Will your child be a slim adult?"

Furthermore, the trends in BMI obtained through this study provide insights into behaviors that should be encouraged to help children maintain a healthy BMI into adulthood! Parents should make note of these predictors and create a nurturing and healthy home environment and lifestyle for their children that includes: meals made from scratch, healthy eating conversations, plenty of sleep, outdoor exercise, and supporting healthy friendships with peers.

The project was an international collaboration involving Kirsten Bevelander of the Department of Communication Science, University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands; Kirsikka Kaipainen of VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland; Robert Swain, Josh C. Bongard, and Paul Hines of College of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences, University of Vermont; Simone Dohle of the Institute for Environmental Decisions, Consumer Behavior, ETH Zurich; and Brian Wansink of Cornell University's Food and Brand Lab.

Fighting bad fat with good fat

Otttawa scientists have discovered a trigger that turns muscle stem cells into brown fat, a form of good fat that could play a critical role in the fight against obesity. Fighting fat with fat? The recent stem cell discovery identified a potential obesity treatment, says research from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. The study is a collaboration that included researchers from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, University of Ottawa, University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Nordion, Erasmus Medical Centre in the Netherlands and University of Copenhagen.

The findings from Dr. Michael Rudnicki's lab, based at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, were published online ahead of print on February 5, 2013 in the prestigious journal Cell Metabolism. You can check out the abstract of the study, "MicroRNA-133 Controls Brown Adipose Determination in Skeletal Muscle
Satellite Cells by Targeting Prdm16."

"This discovery significantly advances our ability to harness this good fat in the battle against bad fat and all the associated health risks that come with being overweight and obese," says Dr. Rudnicki, according to the February 5, 2013 news release, "Fighting fat with fat: Stem cell discovery identifies potential obesity treatment."

Rudnicki is a senior scientist and director for the Regenerative Medicine Program and Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. He's also a Canada Research Chair in Molecular Genetics and professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Ottawa.

Globally, obesity is the fifth leading risk for death, with an estimated 2.8 million people dying every year from the effects of being overweight or obese, according to the World Health Organization

The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that 25% of Canadian adults are obese. In 2007, Dr. Rudnicki led a team that was the first to prove the existence of adult skeletal muscle stem cells. In the paper published today, Dr. Rudnicki now shows (again for the first time) that these adult muscle stem cells not only have the ability to produce muscle fibres, but also to become brown fat. Brown fat is an energy-burning tissue that is important to the body's ability to keep warm and regulate temperature. In addition, more brown fat is associated with less obesity.

Perhaps more importantly, the paper identifies how adult muscle stem cells become brown fat. The key is a small gene regulator called microRNA-133, or miR-133. When miR-133 is present, the stem cells turn into muscle fibre; when reduced, the stem cells become brown fat.

The recent study reveals how adult muscle stem cells become brown fat

Dr. Rudnicki's lab showed that adult mice injected with an agent to reduce miR-133, called an antisense oligonucleotide or ASO, produced more brown fat, were protected from obesity and had an improved ability to process glucose. In addition, the local injection into the hind leg muscle led to increased energy production throughout the body—an effect observed after four months.

Using an ASO to treat disease by reducing the levels of specific microRNAs is a method that is already in human clinical trials. However, a potential treatment using miR-133 to combat obesity is still years away.

Will stem cells help obese adults to lose weight?

"While we are very excited by this breakthrough, we acknowledge that it's a first step," says Dr. Rudnicki, according to the news release. "There are still many questions to be answered, such as: Will it help adults who are already obese to lose weight? How should it be administered? How long do the effects last? Are there adverse effects we have not observed yet?"

The article's authors are: Hang Yin, Alessandra Pasut, Vahab D. Soleimani, C. Florian Bentzinger, Ghadi Antoun, Stephanie Thorn, Patrick Seale, Pasan Fernando, Wilfred van IJcken, Frank Grosveld, Robert A. Dekemp, Robert Boushel, Mary-Ellen Harper, and Michael A. Rudnicki. This research was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the National Institutes of Health, the Ontario Research Fund and EuTRACC, a European Commission 6th Framework grant.

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