Research reveals new obesity prevention target

August 7, 2018, Louisiana State University
This is Dr. Melinda Sothern, Professor and Jim Finks Endowed Chair in Health Promotion at LSU Health New Orleans schools of Public Health and Medicine. Credit: LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health

A team of LSU Health New Orleans researchers has found a lower prevalence of overweight and obesity among youth in Grenada compared to US adolescents. The differences may reflect the impact of the westernized diet and lifestyle. The research may lead to a change in worldwide obesity prevention strategy. The LSU Health New Orleans team collaborated with researchers at St. George's University, and their results are published in Frontiers in Public Health.

"After years of conducting studies in children with overweight conditions residing in environments that promote , our translational research team decided that it was time to examine healthy weight children living in areas that provided opportunities for outdoor physical activity and access to healthy foods, such as fruits and vegetables," says senior researcher Melinda Sothern, Ph.D., Professor and Jim Finks Endowed Chair in Health Promotion at LSU Health New Orleans schools of Public Health and Medicine. "The island of Grenada, a middle-income Caribbean country undergoing a transition to a westernized diet and lifestyle, was the perfect setting to examine differences between children and adolescents in the US versus youth residing in a country in the midst of this epidemiologic transition. Our study identified for the first time that Grenadian female adolescents adhering to a traditional diet rich in healthy foods that are high in antioxidants and other inflammation-lowering nutrients have lower rates of obesity than those consuming a more westernized diet. In general, Grenadian youth were less overweight than US children and adolescents with males demonstrating the lowest levels of obesity in Grenada."

The team studied Grenadian school children, whose average age was 12.7 years. The researchers took detailed information about diet including traditionally prepared and ultra-processed food consumption and family history, as well as physical measurements—height, weight and waist circumference. They found the prevalence of overweight/obesity among Grenadian girls was half that of their American counterparts—22.7% vs. 44.7%. Grenadian boys showed an overweight/obesity prevalence three times less than that of American boys—12.2% vs. 38.8%.

As the Grenadian infrastructure and economy changed to permit the introduction of ultra-processed foods and sugar-sweetened beverages to the island, obesity rates rose among Grenadian adults. There is evidence that this change did not occur until the early 2000s.

"The finding is consistent with the 'developmental origins of ' perspective," notes lead author Richard Scribner, MD. MPH, Professor at LSU Health New Orleans School of Public Health. "Namely, that during critical periods in the lifecourse gene expression is malleable, meaning that during these periods genes can be turned on or off through epigenetic mechanisms. Pregnancy is one of those periods. In the case of Grenada, the global food infrastructure that makes junk food available at inexpensive prices had not affected pregnant Grenadian mothers when the cohort of adolescents we studied were born. Consequently, when these adolescents were in utero they were not exposed to high blood sugar and high insulin levels and, as a result, did not have epigenetic changes to the genes regulating these metabolites leading to obesity. The phenotypic result is the absence of in Grenada despite widespread obesity compared with Grenadian adults and their US counterparts. This is a generational effect."

Researchers expect this generational effect to reverse in future generations, switching from protective to obesity-promoting as the prevalence of obesity increases, but more research will be needed to confirm this.

"A greater understanding of the physiologic and societal exposures that drive obesity will be critical to prevention," Dr. Sothern concludes. "Further studies may support shifting our efforts to women of child-bearing age rather than whole populations as a more effective strategy."

Explore further: Children are less likely to be obese if mothers stick to a healthy lifestyle

More information: Richard A. Scribner et al, Absence of Adolescent Obesity in Grenada: Is This a Generational Effect?, Frontiers in Public Health (2018). DOI: 10.3389/fpubh.2018.00204

Related Stories

Children are less likely to be obese if mothers stick to a healthy lifestyle

July 4, 2018
Children of mothers who follow a healthy lifestyle have a substantially lower risk of developing obesity than children of mothers who don't make healthy lifestyle choices, finds a study published in The BMJ.

War, lack of democracy, urbanisation contribute to double burden of malnutrition in adolescents in developing countries

June 27, 2018
A new study from the University of Warwick blames macro-level factors for the double burden of malnutrition among adolescents in developing countries.

Obesity rates are not declining in U.S. youth

May 5, 2016
A clear and significant increase in obesity continued from 1999 through 2014, according to an analysis of data on United States children and adolescents age 2 to 19 years.

Could there be a better way to estimate body fat levels in children, adolescents?

May 15, 2017
Reducing childhood obesity is an international effort and central to that effort is being able to accurately determine which children and adolescents are overweight. Body mass index (BMI) is used worldwide to screen for obesity, ...

Achievement of meaningful impacts on childhood obesity requires more than single interventions

October 11, 2017
Childhood obesity is one of the greatest health challenges of the 21st century. Worldwide, there has been a more than ten-fold increase in the number of children and adolescents with obesity in the past four decades, increasing ...

Findings suggest small increase in obesity among US teens in recent years

June 7, 2016
Among U.S. children and adolescents 2 to 19 years of age, the prevalence of obesity in 2011- 2014 was 17 percent, and over approximately the last 25 years, the prevalence has decreased in children age 2 to 5 years, leveled ...

Recommended for you

Obesity linked to increased risk of early-onset colorectal cancer

October 12, 2018
Women who are overweight or obese have up to twice the risk of developing colorectal cancer before age 50 as women who have what is considered a normal body mass index (BMI), according to new research led by Washington University ...

The metabolome: A way to measure obesity and health beyond BMI

October 11, 2018
The link between obesity and health problems may seem apparent. People who are obese are at higher risk of type 2 diabetes, liver disease, cancer, and heart disease. But increasingly, researchers are learning that the connection ...

Being overweight or obese in your 20s will take years off your life, according to a new report

October 10, 2018
Young adults classified as obese in Australia can expect to lose up to 10 years in life expectancy, according to a major new study.New modelling from The George Institute for Global Health and the University of Sydney also ...

Asthma may contribute to childhood obesity epidemic

October 9, 2018
Toddlers with asthma are more likely to become obese children, according to an international study led by USC scientists.

'Genes are not destiny' when it comes to weight

October 9, 2018
A healthy home environment could help offset children's genetic susceptibilities to obesity, according to new research led by UCL.

What did americans eat today? A third would say fast food

October 3, 2018
(HealthDay)—Americans' love affair with fast food continues, with 1 in every 3 adults chowing down on the fare on any given day.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.