Whole Health Source: Sleep and Genetic Obesity Risk

Evidence is steadily accumulating that insufficient sleep increases the risk of obesity and undermines fat loss efforts.  Short sleep duration is one of the most significant risk factors for obesity (1), and several potential mechanisms have been identified, including increased hunger, increased interest in calorie-dense highly palatable food, reduced drive to exercise, and alterations in hormones that influence appetite and body fatness.  Dan Pardi presented his research at AHS13 showing that sleep restriction reduces willpower to make healthy choices about food.

We also know that genetics has an outsized influence on obesity risk, accounting for about 70 percent of the variability in body fatness between people in affluent nations (2).  I have argued that “fat genes” don’t directly lead to obesity, but they do determine who is susceptible to a fattening environment and who isn’t (3).  I recently revisited a 2010 paper published in the journal Sleep by University of Washington researchers that supports this idea (4).

Dr. Nathaniel Watson and colleagues used twins to tease apart what proportion of obesity risk is due to genes vs. environment, and if sleep duration influences that relationship.  Consistent with other studies, genetics explained 60 percent of the variability in body fatness between participants.  Also consistent with other studies, people who slept less tended to be fatter.  However, what sets this study apart is that they determined how sleep duration influences the relationship between genetics and body fatness.

What they found is nothing short of remarkable.  In people sleeping less than 7 hours per night, genetics determined 70 percent of body fatness, while the environment (lifestyle/diet and ‘random’ effects) explained only 30 percent.  In people sleeping more than 9 hours per night, genetics only explained 32 percent of body fatness, while environment explained 68 percent.  In other words, in people who sleep more than 9 hours, the environment and not genes was the primary determinant of body fatness.

The result was summarized in the following graph:

According to the authors, short sleep duration appears to favor the expression of genetic risk factors for obesity:

Our work suggests latent genetic variability in susceptibility to obesity requires activation by sleep curtailment.

In other words, in an obesity-promoting (low-sleep) environment, people who are genetically susceptible to obesity gain fat, while in a non-obesity-promoting (high-sleep) environment, genetic risk factors are less relevant and don’t influence body fatness as much.  “Obesity genes” act primarily in an obesity-promoting environment.

As a whole, I find the sleep-obesity research quite compelling.  This is one of the reasons why the Ideal Weight Program focuses on improving sleep quantity and quality, a strategy that sets it apart from nearly every other fat loss program.  We combine a tracking system that provides consistent objective feedback on sleep habits, with sleep guidance that helps overcome barriers to restorative sleep.

The Obesity Conspiracy | In Their Own Words | Big Think


I think we’re facing, unfortunately, a loosely organized conspiracy to promote disease and obesity.  By default or by design, one-third of our economy profits from people being sick and fat. So big food, which is industrial food, big farming, which is agribusiness, and big pharma all profit from making people sicker and fatter. 

It’s hard to fight that battle.  We see, for example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation spends $100 million fighting childhood obesity in this country.  The food industry spends that in four days to promote junk food and processed food, and the worse the food is for you the more they advertise and promote it. 

It’s hard to fight that when government subsidies are supporting high fructose corn syrup production and trans fats, when you’re standing at the fast food restaurant and the government is standing there with you buying your cheeseburger or French fries and soda but they’re not standing with you at the produce aisle because there are no subsidies for fruits and vegetables. 

So we’re providing an obesogenic environment and we need to think about how we can change that by changing some of our policies, by changing how we market foods.  The government requested, the FTC requested, that the food industry change its marketing around food and basically restrict marketing for foods that had high salt, fat and sugar.  But this was only a recommendation to change.  It wasn’t a demand or a regulation.  And they only suggested they do it in five years, so that’s like saying to tobacco let’s stop marketing cigarettes to kids in five years, and, by the way, you only have to do it if you really want to.  That’s not how we’re going to create change in America.  

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think’s studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock


Obesity's Death Toll May Be Much Higher Than Thought – WebMD

Obesity’s Death Toll May Be Higher Than Thought

Study finds higher rates of chronic disease,

By Dennis Thompson

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Aug. 15 (HealthDay News) — Researchers have vastly underestimated the number of deaths caused by obesity in the United States, a new report reveals.

Obesity accounts for 18 percent of deaths among black and white Americans between the ages of 40 and 85, according to a study published online Aug. 15 in the American Journal of Public Health. Previous estimates had placed obesity-related deaths at only 5 percent of all U.S. mortalities.

“This was more than a tripling of the previous estimate,” said study author Ryan Masters, who conducted the research as a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation scholar at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, in New York City. “Obesity has dramatically worse health consequences than some recent reports have led us to believe.”

Earlier estimates erred by overlooking generational differences in the way the obesity epidemic has affected Americans, Masters said.

Because younger generations have been exposed longer to risk factors for obesity, they are at even greater risk of becoming overweight or obese and suffering all the health problems that accompany the extra pounds, the researchers warned.

“A 5-year-old growing up today is living in an environment where obesity is much more the norm than was the case for a 5-year-old a generation or two ago. Drink sizes are bigger, clothes are bigger and greater numbers of a child’s peers are obese,” study co-author Bruce Link, a professor of epidemiology and sociomedical sciences at Columbia, said in a statement. “And once someone is obese, it is very difficult to undo. So, it stands to reason that we won’t see the worst of the epidemic until the current generation of children grows old.”

The researchers investigated this possibility by breaking the population down into “cohorts,” or generations, and studying the effect of obesity on deaths for those age groups.

Using these generational groups, they analyzed 19 years’ worth of annual U.S. National Health Interview Surveys from 1986 through 2004 and compared those findings to individual mortality records from the National Death Index. They focused on ages 40 to 85 to exclude deaths caused by accidents, homicides and congenital conditions, the leading causes of mortality for younger people.

“Successive cohorts are living in this new environment and are at greater risk of obesity at earlier times in their lives,” Masters said. “Each specific cohort looks like a wave that’s grown bigger than the cohort that has come before it.”

For example, Masters and his colleagues noted obesity’s increasing effect on mortality in white men who died between the ages of 65 and 70 in the years 1986 to 2006.

Obesity accounted for about 3.5 percent of deaths for those born between 1915 and 1919, but it accounted for about 5 percent of deaths for those born 10 years later. Obesity killed off around 7 percent of those born another 10 years later.

Is obesity a symptom or a disease?

There’s a great scene in the classic West Side Story in which members of the Jets gang go through all the different things people say is wrong with them.

“The problem is he’s crazy, the problem is he drinks, the problem is his mother, the problem is he stinks.”

“I’m depraved on account ‘a I’m deprived!”

It’s satire, and it’s funny, and it’s a catchy song, but it illustrates the complexity of social and behavioral problems and their origins and solutions.  The theme still rings true, the most recent example being the recent labeling obesity as a disease by the American Medical Association.  Oh! The problem is I gotta disease!

This move effectively creates sick people where none existed.  Which takes said sick people off the hook.  Cancer is a disease.  Type 1 diabetes is a disease.  Plague is a disease.  Those are things that happen to you despite your best efforts and through bad luck, bad genes, bad karma, whatever your belief system might be.

Obesity is, with few exceptions, created by the person who is obese, or by his or her surrounding environment.  Moreover, obesity in and of itself is not even bad.  It can create disease, but is not a sickness itself. So a person with a BMI in the obese category who is otherwise completely healthy and happy  is now sick.  And the person who has sleep apnea, diabetes, high blood pressure, and poor circulation from a lifetime of doughnuts and pizza is also sick, but it’s not his fault, because he has a disease.  Wow. That ought to be a load off a lot of peoples minds.  Once you allow people to assume the sick role, personal responsibility tends to fade away.

Of all organizations, the members of the AMA should know the difference between a symptom and a disease.  It is basic first year medical school stuff.  Obesity, in people who are obese and also sick with the things associated with obesity, is a symptom.  All doctors know any isolated symptom can be caused by a host of different processes, some lethal, some benign.  A healthy person might be obese by classification.  Many football players would fall in this category.  A lot of sick NFL stars out there.

Obesity could be a symptom of low self-esteem, a symptom of poverty, a symptom of environment, a symptom of hormonal imbalances (in which case there is a disease, but it’s not obesity), a symptom of medication.  As Dr. Paul Farmer would say, “Sure, he’s got TB, but problem is he’s starving.”

Or, I guess semantically, obesity could be a cause of disease.  Pneumococcus is a cause of pneumonia.  Is pneumococcus a disease?  No, it’s a bacteria.  The thing about causes is, if you can treat the cause, the disease goes away.

Finally, the AMA has added another way for the health care industry to make money.  Label something a disease and suddenly drug companies, procedures, and specialists spring up from the earth ready to reap the benefits of the fact that now Medicare is going to pay for all this new stuff.  Because there are so many more sick people now.

That need drugs.  And surgery.  To treat their disease.

Shirie Leng is an anesthesiologist who blogs at medicine for real.

Bioethics Forum blog

Since the 1960s, obesity has become one of the most significant health problems in industrialized nations. In the U.S., the percentage of obese adults increased from 13 percent in the 1960s to 32 percent in 2004. According to some estimates, 41 percent of U.S. adults will be obese by 2015 and 75 percent will be overweight or obese. The U.S. spends on an estimated $150 billion annually in health care costs attributable to obesity – more than it spends on smoking-related illnesses. Obesity is primarily a lifestyle disease resulting from excessive caloric intake and inadequate physical activity, though genetics plays a role in food metabolism, fat storage, and the tendency to overeat.

Responding to the obesity epidemic presents a conundrum for policymakers because many of the strategies designed to address obesity conflict with deeply held moral values and legal protections, as Daniel Callahan argued in his article in the Hastings Center Report. For example, banning certain types of foods, such as artificial trans-fatty acids, restricts the freedom to decide what one eats and can undermine cultural traditions associated with food. Many people object to paternalistic government control over the human diet, such as New York City’s rule prohibiting restaurants, movie theaters, and other businesses from selling sugared drinks in portions larger than 16 ounces.

Taxes on foods tend to be regressive because economically disadvantaged people spend a higher percentage of their income on food than economically well-to-do people. Food taxes can be regarded as unfair because they have a disproportionate impact on individuals who are already economically disadvantaged.  Regulating food advertisements that are not inherently deceptive may conflict with legal protections for freedom of speech. 

Many of the government strategies for dealing with the obesity epidemic that focus on controlling diet are not well-supported by the evidence. Although studies have shown that restrictions on portion sizes can impact caloric intake, it is not known how consumers and businesses will respond to New York City’s rules concerning the size of sugared soft drinks.  Consumers might take in the same amount of sugared drinks or total calories, and businesses might circumvent the ban by offering free refills or other discounts. The impact of taxes on soft drinks is also uncertain. Economic models indicate that taxes on soft drinks may have only a marginal impact on obesity, because soft drinks represent a small percentage of caloric intake (7% or less) and taxes that are not so high as to be regressive will have only a minimal impact on consumer behavior.

The specter of a slippery slope toward increased government control over the human diet looms large in any attempt to ban, regulate, or tax specific foods or portion sizes. If the government can ban trans-fatty acids, for example, the door is open for banning other types of foods, such as processed meats, sugared drinks, potato chips, and donuts.  Strategies that deal with role of the built environment in the obesity epidemic are well-supported by the evidence and do not raise troubling concerns about paternalistic interference with the human diet or regressive taxation. The built environment includes structures humans have created for housing, business, industry, recreation, education, and transportation, such as roads, sidewalks, bike lanes, open areas, single-family homes, apartments, office buildings, schools, and shopping malls. Governments can impact the built environment through zoning ordinances, urban planning, annexation rules, housing codes, and construction of roads and parks.

 A systematic review, published last year in the American Journal of Public Health, of 169 studies examining the relationship between the built environment and physical activity or obesity found that 89.2% of those studies demonstrated statistical associations between the built environment and physical activity or obesity. Aspects of the built environment associated with increased physical activity or reduced obesity included parks, sidewalks, trails, recreational facilities, school playgrounds, and traffic safety.  All of the studies included in these reviews were observational and did not involve controlled experiments to determine the effectiveness of interventions in the built environment. To enhance our understanding of the role of the built environment in physical activity and obesity, it is important to conduct experimental studies, such as controlled clinical trials of environmental interventions. 

Some may object to government efforts to shape the built environment that restrict property rights of landowners, builders and developers, but these restrictions can be justified as necessary to promote important government aims, such as the promotion of public health and safety. Building codes can be justified to protect people from harms resulting from poorly constructed or designed buildings. Requiring that a home have a sidewalk in front of it is no different, in principle, from requiring that it have railing on entrance steps higher than 30 inches, since both measures are designed to protect or promote human health. A zoning law that promotes the development of schools and businesses within walking distance of homes is no different, in principle, from a law that prohibits factories from being built near schools. 

While it is still important for policymakers to consider strategies for addressing the obesity epidemic that focus on caloric intake, strategies that focus on making the built environment more conducive to physical activity should be given a high priority because they do not restrict freedom in objectionable ways or constitute regressive taxation. Instead of limiting or controlling choices, they enhance one’s ability to make healthier choices: a person can choose to walk to work, enjoy a park, or take the stairs instead of the elevator, even when they are not required to do so.    

David B. Resnik, JD, PhD, is a bioethicist at the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences. This article is the work product of an employee or group of employees of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Institutes of Health (NIH).  However, the statements, opinions or conclusions contained therein do not necessarily represent the statements, opinions or conclusions of NIEHS, NIH, or the United States government. 

Erin Brockovich empowers people to make a difference

You may only know her from her Hollywood adaptation portrayed by Julia Roberts, but the real life Erin Brockovich has long been campaigning for a safer, cleaner environment.

The former file clerk turned environmental crusader is currently giving lectures on empowerment, corporate affairs and the shocking state of the environment which is suffering due to heavy industry and small scale ignorance on the part of individuals.

The film featured Brockovich fighting against a corporation who were pumping hexavalent chromium into the water supply which was causing sickness in local residents.


Hexavalent chromium, a by-product of plating processes is still a massive health problem today.

During her lecture she spoke of the residents of Hinkley, California and their plight since the film aired. There were a total of 630 residents represented in the case against Pacific Gas & Electric and to date 54 of them have died as a result of the deadly toxin.

Hexavalent chromium, or chromium 6, is still in the process of being cleaned up and according to Brockovich it will take the next thousand years to completely eradicate it.


Erin Brockovich inspires and empowers individuals into action.

She opened her talks with a bold and uncompromising statement:

We are on a collision course.”

The time has come for us to find a new way to do business…to find ways we can give back to the planet we’ve taken so much from. It is the only thing that has continually sustained us all – the earth.”

Her words echo the sentiments of the all but lost indigenous Indians who tended and respected the lands long before their eventual enslavement by Christian settlers. Their philosophy was simple, give back whatever you take from the land.

Brockovich’s greatest wish is for corporate transparency, communication and trust; that we are all able to see how companies deal with their waste products and ensure that safe practises and stringent protocols are followed to keep our environment clean.


Erin Brockovich has been campaigning against environmental problems for 21 years.

Now the president of Brockovich Research and Consulting, she is keeping an eye on many environmental issues and near the top of that list is Fracking.

Hydro-Fracking is the destructive, expensive and dangerous technique used to extract natural gas from shale beds. America is currently being exploited for this supposed ‘clean’ alternative fuel, but the cost of extracting it has a higher toll on the environment than any fossil fuels currently in use – just like coal and nuclear.

I get e-mails from people all over…that the process is depleting water supplies everywhere. I am very aware of the situation you have here and in Pennsylvania with hydro-fracking,” Brockovich told her audience.


Halliburton amongst others are decimating clean water supplies to bring you safe, alternative energy.

And she explained that there are agencies already fighting the battle with companies like Halliburton (the greatest proponent of fracking) but that many of them are stretched. She told the crowd that they could do something though, that individual empowerment is the key to winning the war.

I don’t want to put down our agencies who are overburdened. We can come out and assist and get data…Hydro-fracking is a problem everywhere and we’re well aware of it. It will be a battle. This is the way that they want to get that gas. Without someone like you and communities stepping up saying that you are not going to let this happen any more…everything will fall through the cracks.”


Fracking is the destructive and extremely harmful process used to extract natural gas. Its environmental toll is catastrophic.

Erin Brockovich is an inspirational character and a fantastic role model who makes a mockery of women like Madonna and Lady Gaga. Hopefully young women (and men) will see the way she empowers others to believe they can make a real difference as the right example to follow rather than idolising idiots who are all surface and no substance.

Share your thoughts on the excellent work Erin Brockovich is doing for the environment by leaving a comment.

Read about Josh Fox’s Gasland, Hexavalent chromium found in more water supplies, the government’s admission that fluoride is dangerous, rumours that ‘statins‘ might be added to water supplies and why the IBAMA president quit during development of the Belo Monte Complex project.


images: brightempire.com, therealdesertdogs.com, dailymail.co.uk, mindfully.org, desmogblog.com,

Daryl Hannah Arrested!

I used to hate Daryl Hannah, I thought she was a big wet pile of pissy girl blanket only useful for playing long birds with diluted personalities in crap 80s films.

So when I found out she was a naughty environmentalist that did pesky stuffs at rallies and protested against environmental wrongness etc, I was delighted but disappointed that I had one less celebrity to hate. Still, plenty more smelly crap fish in the shit celebrity ocean.

Hannah, the pesky protester is in the news today having got herself arrested (again) and led away in handcuffs from outside the White House, it seems for participating in a protest to oppose the laying of a dirty great pipeline between Canada and the gulf coast in Texas. The largest in the country apparently.

Daryl Hannah

Daryl Hannah - arrested

The star, most famous for her be-patched role in Kill Bill and be-scaled role in Splash told NBC reporters “Sometimes, it’s necessary to sacrifice your freedom for a greater freedom – and we want to be free from the horrible death and destruction that fossil fuels cause, and have a clean energy future,” shortly before being arrested. Later she was released after paying a hefty fine of one hundred bucks.

The lobbyist is known more for her advocacy of green living than her film career these days and has been arrested in the past twice already for her lobbying antics. Firstly in 2006, when she chained herself to a walnut tree in order to support farmers in LA and later in 2009, when in a bid to oppose strip mining, she participated in a sit-in in West Virginia.

Well done Daryl Hannah. In a sea of pretty ugly celebrities using every opportunity to self promote, it is refreshing to see someone using their celebrity status to further a cause and not because their new album/book/film is coincidentally about due for release.

Other celebrities who don’t mind speaking up for causes they believe in, despite the consequences include Morrissey – who upset everyone in the world recently.

If you would like to comment on this article, please use the comment box below.

Images: moviecatcher.net, boshank.com, ctv.ca

Public Health News: Government urged to take tough action on obesity 'epidemic'


Obesity-related conditions will cost employers £490m a year by 2025

A third (35%) of women and almost half (48%) of men will be obese by 2030, unless the Government stops shirking responsibility for an obesity “epidemic”, according to a landmark report published in The Lancet.

The report builds on the theory of “passive obesity” promulgated in the Foresight report published in the UK four years ago, which suggests that obesity is not caused by laziness or overeating, but by an “obesogenic” environment in which it is far easier to gain weight than lose it. For example, the marketing of highly processed foods and an environment which requires less physical exercise.

“Undoubtedly the final decision to consume a particular food or beverage, or to exercise or not, is an individual decision,” reads the report, the result of a four year international collaboration by experts from a range of disciplines. “However, to negotiate the complexity of the environment and the choices it poses, many of these decisions are automatic or subconscious”.

Given the impact of obesity – it is linked to type 2 diabetes, heart diseases and many cancers – and cost – obesity-related diseases will cost the UK £45.5 billion per year by 2050 – the authors argue that it is the Government’s responsibility to take tough action.

Approaches that have been shown to be cost effective include bans on advertising unhealthy food to children and taxes on unhealthy food and drinks. However, governments have proved “slow” to adopt them in the face of opposition from industry. For example, “traffic light” labelling on food, contested by manufacturers, has been rejected.

“Governments have largely abdicated the responsibility for addressing obesity to individuals, the private sector, and non-governmental organisations, yet the obesity epidemic will not be reversed without government leadership, regulation, and investment in programmes, monitoring, and research,” reads the report, which points out that “nowhere has the obesity epidemic been reversed by public health means”.

The UK Government has stated its intention to focus heavily on public health as a means of tackling healthcare costs but favours collaboration with industry, which has caused it to clash with the medical profession. Ministers have focused mainly on encouraging the public to make healthier choices (such as the Change4Life programme) and the Public Health Responsibility Deal – a partnership with a range of organisations including food and drink companies – that it claims will lead to practical action more quickly and at less cost than through legislation.

In response to the Lancet report published today, health minister Anne Milton said today that the Government has no plans to impose a “fat tax”.

“We are working with food companies to reduce fat, sugar and salt and ensure healthier options are available,” she said. “We also want to see businesses use more consistent and informative front-of-pack nutrition labelling than has been achieved in the past.”

A recent report from the House of Lords warned the Government that “nudges” (subtle means of changing consumers’ behaviour without legislating) alone will not change the behaviour of the population, but that a “range of measures”, including regulation, will be required to cope with costly lifestyle issues such as obesity.

Research commissioned by insurer Bupa suggests that obesity-related conditions will cost employers £490m a year by 2025.


No pressure on Gillian Anderson

A controversial advertizing campaign by environmentalist organization 10:10 featuring Gillian Anderson and David Ginola has been banned because of its purportedly extreme visuals. 10:10 is a group concerned with reducing carbon emissions and their message is being spread by celebrities all over the world.

This new ad campaign titled, “no pressure” however has caused uproar over its supposedly violent nature. The advert (which can still be found on Youtube) moves through several different scenes, from a classroom and corporate office to a football field featuring British soccer team Tottenham Hotspurs before its finale where Gillian Anderson is blown up (like six others in the video) at the touch of a button when she dismisses he idea of doing anything to help other than her voice over.

A statement issued by 10:10 on their website 1010global.org reads: “With climate change becoming increasingly threatening, and decreasingly talked about in the media, we wanted to find a way to bring this critical issue back into the headlines whilst making people laugh. We were therefore delighted when Britain’s leading comedy writer, Richard Curtis – writer of Blackadder, Four Weddings, Notting Hill and many others – agreed to write a short film for the 10:10 campaign.

Many people found the resulting film extremely funny, but unfortunately some didn’t and we sincerely apologize to anybody we have offended.” Clearly the campaign has stirred up a lot of media attention but it is hard to dislike 10:10 for their inventive approach to highlighting the global warming threat. The presence of the 42-year-old former X-Files star lends them credibility, even though she is playing devil’s advocate and explodes from spontaneous human combustion.

Read here about Pierce Brosnon and his concern with environmental issues. Let us know your thoughts on Gillian’s involvement.

Images: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Mulder%26Scully.jpg, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:GillianAnderson2008-cropped.jpg