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April 8, 2009

Counting Calories and Brown Fat

HEALTH - In Canada, Ontario doctors want restaurants and school cafeterias to list the caloric content of food items on their menus to counter the growing problem of obesity, particularly amongst children.

The Ontario Medical Association yesterday held a news conference to call for provincial legislation forcing restaurant chains and schools to post calorie counts, alongside prices, on menus and menu boards.

"We believe that revealing the caloric content of food ... will help provide consumers with the information they need to make healthier choices," said Dr. Ken Arnold, president of the 28,000-member body.

The OMA wants all chain restaurants to be bound by the legislation. The doctors' lobby is also pushing for an education campaign to inform Ontarians about the impact of caloric intake on weight gain and obesity. Asked about eating disorders, the OMA said the campaign will also address why it is important to eat enough calories.

A December 2008 study by the OMA said one in four Ontario kids aged 2 to 17 is overweight or obese, with a body mass index at or above the 85th percentile for those of the same age and sex. The study also found 75% of obese children grow up to be obese adults.

Health Promotion Minister Margarett Best said the government has been crusading to combat obesity. "We certainly know, as usual, there is always more to be done," she says, but remained noncommittal on whether the government would follow the recommendations.

Ontario already has mandatory calorie content labels for food bought in grocery stores/etc and many restaurants now have calorie charts (McDonalds for example now has calories and nutritional info listed on their burger wrappers), but its not mandatory in Ontario yet.

Other states and provinces have already passed similar legislation and the results has yet to be seen. Similar legislation is already in place in New York City, where chains with more than 15 locations nationally are required to list calories on menus and menu boards. A similar law has been passed in California and a bill currently before the U.S. Congress would impose national requirements for every American state.

The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association says that major Canadian restaurants are already taking steps on their own to add nutritional info to their menus and their websites, but there are still many more restaurants with no calorie/nutritional info.

BROWN FAT = GOOD?

There is three new studies out today that says brown fat is better than white fat. Why? Because brown fat keeps you warm, whereas white fat just stores energy in your belly, buttocks, etc. And brown fat is easier to burn off whereas white fat takes for-freaking-ever to exercise away.

Thin adults have more brown or "good" fat to help regulate body temperature compared with heftier folks, researchers have found — a discovery that one day may help people lose weight.

Scientists knew that mammals had brown fat and that babies used it to stay warm, but it was thought to disappear with age.

Three new studies from the United States, Finland and the Netherlands however show some adults do have brown fat, and it appears to play a role in burning off excess calories.

Normally excess calories are stored in regular or white fat that concentrates around the waistline.

In contrast, brown fat burns calories, generating heat for the body. It's found around internal organs, between the shoulder blades and is spread throughout the body to keep it warm.

American researchers from Joslin Diabetes Center at Harvard Medical Center in Boston used a type of PET/CT imaging that indicates how many calories are burned to test nearly 2,000 people diagnosed with various health problems.

The two other groups of researchers scanned small numbers of patients at room temperature and then again a few hours later at 15 C.

Collectively the three groups of researchers found:
  • Lean people had far more brown fat activity than overweight and obese people, especially among people over age 64. Thin people need more brown fat to keep warm.
  • Brown fat burns more calories and generates more body heat in cooler climes.
  • Women were more likely to have deposits of brown fat than men, and the deposits were larger and more active in women, and spread out differently.

    "This study demonstrates that it is both present and appears to be physiologically important in terms of body weight and glucose metabolism," said Dr. Ronald Kahn, head of the Joslin section on obesity and hormone action at Harvard and senior author of the U.S. study. "We hope this opens up a new therapeutic area for obesity and Type 2 diabetes by modifying the activity of brown fat."

    Theoretically, the findings could be applied as a weight loss strategy, by having overweight people turning down the heat and using more of their calories just to stay warm.

    "It might explain why there is less obesity in Canada than in the United States, despite having similar diets," says one researcher. "In theory people could move to northern Canada and lose weight by going skiing regularly."

    The next step for the researchers will be to test if they can intervene in the development of fat cells, directing them to become brown fat cells, as has been done in mice. Even if successful, a medical treatment is five to 10 years away.

    They're also going to try turning down the thermostat to see if it makes people burn more energy and consequently lose weight. Results of a small study into cold-effected weight loss are expected by the end of 2009.

    See Also:
    Obesity in Canada
    American Obesity Rates
    Obesity in China
    i'm fat and lovin' it - McDonalds and Obesity
    Diet Duds and Flops
    Get Great Abs
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