Remember ME - You Me and Dementia

July 3, 2011

USA: Study finds why we gain weight as we age

WASHINGTON, DC / USA Today / Your Life / Fitness & Food / June 23, 2011

By Nanci Hellmich, USA TODAY

Adults gain an average of almost a pound a year as they age, and much of that weight gain is caused by changes in diet such as eating extra servings of foods such as potato chips, french fries, sugar-sweetened drinks, white bread and low-fiber breakfast cereals, says the largest, most comprehensive study of diet and weight gain in adults.

Other contributors: a decreased intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and other minimally processed foods; less physical activity; more time spent watching TV; and poor sleep habits.

The study provides the strongest evidence yet that weight gain is primarily caused by dietary and lifestyle choices, says senior author Frank Hu, a professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.  Photo: Getty/Stock

 Small changes in habits add extra pounds, says lead author Dariush Mozaffarian, an associate professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Brigham and Women's Hospital.

Researchers analyzed data on the weight and eating and lifestyle habits of nearly 121,000 men and women from the Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up study. Participants were tracked every four years for 20 years.

They gained an average of 3.35 pounds over four-year periods and almost 17 pounds over the two decades, according to the study reported in this week's New England Journal of Medicine. Findings:

• People who made the most unhealthful dietary changes gained nearly 4 pounds more in four years than those who had the healthiest dietary habits.

• People who ate an extra serving of chips a day gained an average of 1.7 pounds more in four years than those who didn't eat that extra serving.

• People who drank one more sugar-sweetened beverage a day added an extra pound more in four years than those who didn't.

• Other factors that led to weight gain: decreased physical activity, increased alcohol intake, less than six hours of sleep a night or more than eight, and increased TV viewing.

Although counting calories and watching fat intake have been emphasized recently, the new study indicates it may be better to focus on improving your overall diet, Mozaffarian says.

Some foods, such as nuts that are high in fat, helped prevent weight gain in this study. Other foods that are generally low in fat, such as white bread and low-fiber cereal, contributed to weight gain.

Other lifestyle factors count, too: People who increased their physical activity gained less weight, he says.

Hu says the new research debunks the myth that there are no good or bad foods. "There are clearly healthy foods and less healthy foods and least healthy foods."

2011 USA Today
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