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Dropping Preschool Obesity Rates an Encouraging Sign

Thursday, April 3rd, 2014

The news is mixed when it comes to obesity rates in the United States. The good news is that the obesity rates in preschool-age children appears to be dropping. The latest data shows a decline in preschool obesity, from 14% to 8% since 2003. However, at the same time, obesity rates in women over 60 seems to be going in the opposite direction. The overall obesity rate hasn’t changed in the last ten years.

By analyzing data from the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), researchers determined that there has been a significant drop in obesity rates in two- to four-year-old children, particularly those from low income families who participate in federal nutrition programs. The news is encouraging because it means that there is hope for affording even more widespread and long-term changes.

One piece of information the new data does not provide is the precise reasons for the changes. However, in recent years, there has been an increasing initiative at both local and regional levels to provide enhanced opportunities for increased physical activity and improved nutrition in child care centers and schools, probably playing a role in the positive changes that are occurring. For example, consumption of sodas and other sugary drinks has declined, which is most likely one major factor.

The CDC also reported last year that only one in five adults gets enough exercise, something that could certainly contribute to the rising obesity rates in older women. Healthy adults over 65 should strive for the equivalent of 30 minutes of brisk walking five days a week plus strength exercises twice a week. Children need much more; those under 18 should be getting around an hour a day of aerobic exercise, plus muscle and bone strengthening activities.

However, it’s important to recognize that adding more exercise into your daily routine alone will most likely not be enough to achieve significant weight loss. If you have extra weight to lose, and you are ready to get started, realize that while exercise plays an important role, nutrition plays a much more important one. This is partly because many people overestimate the number of calories they burn exercising, or they are hungrier after they exercise and eat more to compensate.

Sometimes creating small changes in your diet may be all you need; others will need to make more dramatic changes. Either way, making the changes gradually will probably help you develop more lasting habits and ultimately see better results. Focus on natural, healthy foods, and try some helpful tricks such as eating more slowly, planning meals ahead of time, and getting more sleep, if you don’t tend to get enough. Lots of helpful information can be found here.

The bottom line is that the unchanging overall obesity rate means that there is an ongoing need for education and initiative. However, the decline in preschool obesity is an encouraging sign that the scales may be starting to tip in the right direction.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Obesity a Direct Cause of Preterm Birth

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Though mothers shouldn’t be forced to think they need to remain svelte throughout their pregnancies, and shouldn’t be shamed of healthy weight gain during pregnancy, there is one serious issue that women need to keep in mind when they are preparing to become pregnant. It is impossible to plan out every step of a pregnancy, and there will always be unexpected complications that arise during the 40 weeks to delivery. However, there are precautions that women can take to prevent serious problems and to decrease the risk of preterm delivery, according to one study.

One of the biggest risk factors for preterm delivery is obesity in pregnant women. One study in Sweden has shown that not only is preterm delivery a risk, but some obese mothers shown signs of extreme preterm delivery. Even though this cohort study was conducted in a country that is not as heterogeneous as the United States, this is a serious concern, and one that may have serious implications for both doctors and potential parents. The most important thing for everybody involved in a birth with one of these risk factors to keep in mind is that such complications are not only possible, but that they are heightened due to the circumstances. Everybody involved must make plans for the possibility of an earlier birth, and everybody involved should be more open to the possibility of safety measures such as bed rest, gestational diabetes, kidney and heart problems as well as a host of other medical issues that can arise. In general, women who are obese when pregnant will likely need to be in contact with their physician more often than a woman who maintains a healthier weight.

Women who have not yet become pregnant and who are considered obese may want to speak with their doctors about their options before pregnancy. Even a small weight loss can be enough to curtail some of the biggest problems related to pregnancy, while a significant weight loss can have even more lasting effects. However, remember that any weight loss plan must be discussed in detail with your doctor—making yourself unhealthy just to drop a few pounds will not do your or your family any favors.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.

Yet Another Risky Pill for Weight Loss

Monday, July 23rd, 2012

Are you ready for a miraculous weight loss pill?  Aren’t we all?  As much as we’d all love to believe that they finally came up with a pill that will melt away the pounds, most of us are also worrying about the side effects, and rightly so.  The FDA just approved yet another wonder drug, but it will still be up to the public to find out just how safe it is.

On Tuesday, the US Food and Drug Administration allowed another weight loss pill to be put on the market.  It’s called Qsymia, and though it does have risky side effects, they believe the benefits outweigh the dangers.  Dr. Janet Woodcock, Director of FDA’s research department said that “Obesity threatens the overall wellbeing of patients and is a major public health concern.”  Because obesity impacts two-thirds of Americans, it does indeed seem like a major issue, but taking care of that problem with a pill is quite another matter.  Some past weight loss drugs approved by the FDA were found to have very dangerous side effects that cost people their lives.  You might remember the rise and fall of the popular diet pill Fen-Phen for example.  Even after years of testing in the lab, some drugs can prove to have side effects that either weren’t observed in the controlled tests or were ignored as minor drawbacks.

Qysymia is a combination for stimulants and anti-seizure drugs and is one of the first new diet pills to become FDA approved in 13 years.  Its side effects and risks include a fast heart rate, metabolic acidosis, birth defects, and heart damage.  It is only approved for those considered obese, which is a BMI of 30 or more, and those with a BMI of 27 or more and who have a weight-related medical condition.  The two experts on the FDA panel who voted against the approval of Qsymia worry that it will have “severe, even fatal, consequences.”  Dr. Woodcock, however, believes that if it’s used properly and in combination with a healthy diet and regular exercise, it could be just the thing we need to halt the obesity epidemic.

I don’t know about other physicians, but I plan to stick to the less-miraculous prescription for a health weight- eating right and staying active.  There just can’t be a pill for everything!


– Yvonne S. Thornton, M. D., M. P. H.



Dancing Away the Pounds and Inches

Monday, April 25th, 2011

If you’ve been watching Dancing With The Stars, you know that one of the stars, Kirstie Alley, is getting more out of her appearances than just some fun in the spotlight. According to ABC News, Ms. Alley says she hasn’t weighed herself in several weeks, but she knows she’s lost weight on the show because she’s dropped several dress sizes. The before and after photographs say it all.

This is a far cry from where she was when she started filming “Fat Actress” and her goal is to trim down even further.

Boy, can I relate, as I’m sure so many women can. Like Kirstie Alley (and maybe some of you), I’ve struggled with weight all my life. And like Kirstie Alley, I got down to my slimmest, healthiest weight when I got serious about ballroom dancing (although nobody has yet invited me to appear on Dancing With The Stars).

You can see more pictures of me at dance exhibitions and competitions, here.

Dr. Yvonne Thornton at the New York Hilton Dance Showcase

So many of us women don’t exercise enough and my guess is that’s because exercise, for the most part, isn’t a lot of fun. But dancing? Those of us who dance would do it if it didn’t offer any other benefits. Trimming down and staying fit are wonderful side-effects of a night of pure enjoyment – and there are other health benefits as well.

I’m so happy that dancing is catching on across the U.S. And Kirstie Alley is a great role model for those of us who didn’t start out with super-model bodies or metabolisms.

Give it a try. Even if you’ve never danced before, there’s almost certain to be a studio nearby where you can take your first lesson. You don’t need a partner; most schools will pair you up. You’ll feel great, you’ll look great, and you’ll have a blast.

See you on the dance floor.

– Yvonne S. Thornton, MD, MPH