TIME China

New Study Blames Chinese Grandparents For Obese Kids

Weight-Loss Summer Camp For Students In Shenyang
ChinaFotoPress—Getty Images Overweight students attend military training during a weight-loss summer camp on July 30, 2009 in Shenyang of Liaoning Province, China.

China is already the second fattest country in the world

Chinese children raised by their grandparents are twice as likely to be overweight or obese, according to a study published this month in the International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity.

China is already the second fattest country in the world, with more than a quarter of its adults overweight, or obese, in 2014.

The new study’s researchers set out to determine the factors leading to China’s high obesity rate, and they discovered that grandparents often work at cross-purposes with parents and schoolteachers when it comes to child nutrition.

Chinese grandparents, the study found, tend to overfeed the kids under their care: “Fat means wealthy,” some grandparents in the study told the researchers, believing that obesity indicates that children are well cared for. For many grandparents in China, who came of age during a famine that killed as many as 45 million people, high-calorie foods are viewed as healthier.

According to the study, children who live with their grandparents eat two more servings of junk food each week.

The widespread obesity among Chinese youth — with 23% of boys and 14% of girls considered overweight or obese, according to NPR — is creating problems for the rising country. Those figures have already surpassed other wealthy countries like Japan and South Korea. It’s posing problems for the Chinese military, since some soldiers are too fat to fit into their tanks. Last year, the People’s Liberation Army relaxed its weight standards slightly to allow “more portly young men” to join the ranks. Meanwhile, the prevalence of diabetes across China increased by 56% over the past two decades.

So don’t blame McDonald’s for China’s rapidly growing waistlines. Blame the grandparents.

TIME Transportation

‘Fat Guy’ Biking Across America to Lose Weight and Save Marriage

Eric Hites, rests at the Bliss Congregational Church in Tiverton, R.I on July 21, 2015, while he waits for a new bicycle so he can continue his cross-country ride. The about 560-pound man is biking across the United States to lose weight.
Marcia Pobzeznik—The Daily News/AP Eric Hites, rests at the Bliss Congregational Church in Tiverton, R.I on July 21, 2015, while he waits for a new bicycle so he can continue his cross-country ride. The about 560-pound man is biking across the United States to lose weight.

Eric Hites resolved to make his 40th year on Earth a little bit better

Self-proclaimed “fat guy” Eric Hites was 560 lbs and unhappy with his weight. His marriage was falling apart. And he wanted to get a new job.

So he decided to do something unexpected: go on an epic bike ride across America. The goals? Lose weight, write a second book (his first was a quirky cookbook titled Everybody Loves Ramen), and rescue his flailing relationship with his wife.

“I hit 40 and I said, ‘I’ve got to change this,'” Hites told The Newport Daily News. He’s 90 miles into his journey, which began in Falmouth, Mass. In the first two weeks, Hites shed 60 lbs.

“By completing this ride I hope to encourage others to get up and get moving no matter their weight,” he wrote on his blog, Fat Guy Across America, which chronicles his trip.

Hites is two months into his trip and had expected to finish in four months but is currently stuck in Tiverton, R.I., with a bent rim in his bike. Hites should be on his way soon, though: a local bike shop owner is outfitting Hites with a new bike that will last him to California and beyond.

TIME medicine

Dad Bod Is Explained By Science In a New Study

A first-of-its kind study to follow men for up to 20 years from adolescence shows that dads do get a little squishier after the kids

According to Clemson student Mackenzie Pearson, who wrote a viral essay essay on the appeal of the dad bod, it’s a physique that’s a “nice balance between a beer gut and working out,” the result of going to gym but indulging in a few pizzas once in a while and being okay with that. (Think John Hamm, and Chris Pratt before he went Jurassic.)

And according to scientists, Pearson and her demographic have pretty much nailed it. The source of that “more human, natural and attractive” body is unique to fathers and can be traced to simply having kids.

In a study published in the American Journal of Men’s Health, Dr. Craig Garfield, a pediatrician at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and his colleagues dove into a database of 10,263 men beginning when they were 12 years old and followed them for up to 20 years. They looked specifically at how body mass index (BMI), a combination of height and weight, changed over time as the men either became fathers or did not, and for those who did, whether they were what the researchers called resident fathers who lived with their children, or non-residents who lived separately.

Read more Why We Accept ‘Dad Bod’ on Rich Men

Whether or not they lived with their kids, becoming a father was linked to around a four pound increase in weight over the study period, while remaining child-free was associated with a 1.4 pound weight loss for a six-foot-tall man.

“It’s a unique look at the influence that a social phenomenon, becoming a father, has on a biological marker, namely BMI,” says Garfield. “It really plants fatherhood as a potential social determinant of health for men.”

That’s a critical finding, especially since men, and in particular young men, are typically less proactive about taking care of their health. Garfield notes that while many men will quit smoking and drink less and otherwise try to become healthier when they become fathers, there may be other factors associated with caring for kids that counteract those good intentions, such as being surrounded by more kid-friendly, high calorie foods and snacks, as well as their leftovers.

“From my own point of view, we wouldn’t have as many pizzas in the house if the kids weren’t around, and we wouldn’t have the brownies my wife makes if the kids weren’t around,” says Garfield. “Having kids around changes not only the food in the house and what is available to you for meal, but also for snacks. It also changes whether you are able to find time to get out and exercise and get enough sleep and take care of yourself.”

Read more Dadbod, Mombod and Our Pretty Bad Bod Prob

Dads, of course, are not alone in experiencing these effects of parenthood. But this is the first study to tease out specifically the effects of fatherhood on weight gain over time. Since men are less likely to be seeing doctors regularly, if they are joining their partners during prenatal visits or pediatric visits, says Garfield, those are good opportunities to talk to them about their own eating, exercise and sleep habits to make them aware of the sneaky way that pounds can creep up on dads and potentially affect their health (even if the look seems to have its own kind of physical appeal).

Read next: For the Dad Who Is Confident About How He Looks in Swim Trunks

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TIME Cancer

Why Breast-Cancer Survivors Gain More Weight

Tumors and treatment may make it easier to put on pounds, and the latest research shows why breast cancer patients should be aware of the dangers of gaining too much

Studies have hinted that breast cancer survivors tend to gain weight after their diagnosis and treatment, but it’s not yet clear why. Because breast cancer rates tend to rise around menopause, doctors weren’t sure whether the weight gain was part of normal aging and changes in women’s reproductive status, or whether something about cancer made patients more vulnerable to gaining weight.

In a new study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, researchers compared a group of women who survived breast cancer with a similar group of women who did not have the disease. All women were at higher risk of developing breast cancer because of family history. The scientists found that even after they adjusted for the influence of age, menopause and other factors, those who survived breast cancer did indeed gain more weight—almost four pounds more, on average, within five years of their diagnosis compared to those who didn’t have cancer. Among these women, those who were treated with chemotherapy were twice as likely to gain weight—about 11 pounds more, on average—compared to women who were treated with hormone-based therapies (who did not get any heavier with their treatments) and women who didn’t have cancer.

MORE: New Genetic Test for Breast Cancer Would Be Cheaper and Easier

While weight has been implicated in possibly playing some role in certain cancers, this study is among the first to tease apart what effect cancer itself, and treatments for cancer, might have on changing metabolism, inflammation, the immune system and other body functions to make weight gain more likely. By following the women for four years, the researchers, led by Dr. Kala Visvanathan, director of clinical cancer genetics and prevention service at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center, compared their weight changes from diagnosis onward. The team is planning to continue to follow the women for a longer period of time to track other patterns in weight.

“Obviously treatment [for the cancer] is a priority,” says Visvanathan. “But these findings show that it’s also important to take note of weight changes, especially for women getting chemotherapy. Chemotherapy treatment usually goes for six months or a year, so monitoring weight in that time and taking steps to intervene if weight is clearly increasing is important.”

MORE: Breast Cancer May Increase 50% By 2030

Many cancer patients become less active during chemotherapy, and for good reason—the regimen can be punishing on the body, leaving people feeling fatigued and less energetic. But maintaining a healthy diet and staying physically active, says Visvanathan, are critical to keeping weight down. Weight may play a role in how people respond to cancer treatments, as well as their recovery, so it makes sense to for cancer survivors to try not to gain too much.

In addition, getting heavier is associated with a higher risk of other chronic diseases. And the fact that more cancer patients—particularly breast cancer patients—survive their disease is another important reason to keep weight in check. “Most breast cancer survivors will survive their cancer for years or even decades, and die of other diseases,” says Amy Gross, a PhD candidate in the department of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and a co-author of the paper. “Our study highlights the need to be aware of the impact of weight gain on the risk for other diseases. It’s a problem we need to pay more attention to, in addition to just helping patients survive the cancer.”

TIME Obesity

Injecting This Drug Helps Patients Lose Weight

Daily shots of liraglutide (Saxenda), recently approved by the FDA, helps overweight or obese patients lose weight

In a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers say that the only injectable weight loss drug approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) helps people to lose more than 12 pounds, more than twice as much as people taking a placebo.

The study is one of several that the FDA considered before approving the drug in 2014. It included data on 3,731 patients who were randomly assigned to take liraglutide or a placebo for just over a year. The trial continued to follow the patients for another year, and that data will be published soon.

MORE: This Pill Can Trick the Body Into Losing Weight, Study Finds

Liraglutide is similar to an already approved drug to treat type 2 diabetes, but is used in higher doses for weight loss. The drug mimics the effects of a hormone that works in the gut to signal the brain that you’ve eaten enough and feel full. As a diabetes drug, it helps the beta cells in the pancreas release insulin to keep blood sugar levels in check. In the NEJM study, none of the patients had diabetes, although some were pre-diabetic, and the FDA says liraglutide for weight loss should not be used together with the diabetes drug, also made by Novo Nordisk.

According to the study’s lead author, Dr. Xavier Pi-Sunyer, director of the obesity research center at Columbia University, liraglutide works as well as phentermine-topiramate (Qsymia), which doctors believe works by suppressing appetite. They key to making any weight loss medication effective, he says, is combining it with diet and exercise changes as well, which is what the participants in the study did. One advantage of liraglutide is that it can be used by women in their child-bearing years.

So far, the side effects of litaglutide, which include nausea, diarrhea, gall bladder abnormalities and pancreatitis, were minimal and did not outweigh the benefits of weight loss. But in approving the drug, the FDA asked the company to continue to study the drug to ensure that the adverse events remain within an acceptable range.

TIME medicine

How This Common Drug Can Have Lasting Effects on Kids

Antibiotics are prescribed for a range of childhood ailments, from ear to throat infections. But the drugs may be changing kids’ health in potentially unwelcome ways

In a study published in Nature Communications, scientists document the possible long-term effects of antibiotics when they’re used early in life. Their study involved mice, but the team used the drugs in doses and treatment regimens that mimic those frequently administered in young children.

Dr. Martin Blaser, professor of medicine and microbiology at New York University Langone Medical Center, and his colleagues tested three different antibiotic regimens: one involving amoxicillin, another involving macrolides and a final one that combined the two. They compared these animals to mice that received a placebo. The mice got antibiotics 10 to 15 days after birth, then again 27 days later and finally after day 39. They lived for 160 days, at which point they were sacrificed and their gut bacteria were studied.

MORE: Here’s What Eating Nothing But McDonalds for 10 Days Does to Your Gut Bacteria

Compared to the mice taking the placebo, the antibiotic-treated animals had less diverse communities of bacteria, and the proportions of the bugs living in their guts were also different. The macrolides seemed to have the biggest effect on reducing microbial richness, while amoxicillin led to abnormally large bones. The changes in the microbiome persisted even to the animals’ death, nearly four months after their last antibiotic dose.

“There are really long-term, probably permanent effects on the microbiome from antibiotics,” says Blaser. “We showed changes in the richness and the community structure, and also the genes present in the bacteria.”

MORE: Antibiotics Before Age 2 Increase Risk of Childhood Obesity

What this means for humans still isn’t clear from this study, but the findings do provide hints. Other studies that have analyzed the potential effects of antibiotics found that children receiving more rounds of the drugs because of early infections tend to be heavier and are more likely to be obese as adolescents and adults. And the earlier children are exposed to the drugs, the more likely their metabolism is to be affected.

Blaser notes that antibiotics are a necessary and potentially life-saving treatment for some, but for many infections, their risks might be greater than their benefits. “If what we found in mice is true for human children, then this is yet another reason to be cautious in using antibiotics,” he says. “We know there are kids who are severely ill who must have antibiotics. But there is a larger number of kids who are only mildly ill. The question is, what proportion of them really need antibiotics?” Based on the animal data, he says, the first two to three years of life are particularly important for development, and doctors and parents should be judicious about prescribing antibiotics during this sensitive time.

TIME Obesity

More Than Two Thirds of Americans Are Overweight or Obese

Most U.S. adults are an unhealthy weight

Most Americans are overweight, according to a new study looking at overweight and obesity rates in the United States.

In a report published in JAMA Internal Medicine, researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis studied data from 2007 to 2012 of a nationally representative group of 15,208 people ages 25 or older.

The researchers estimate that during that time period, 40% of men were overweight and 35% of men were obese. They estimate that 30% of women were overweight and 37% were obese. The numbers are similar to those estimated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)., which suggest that one third of American adults are obese.

“Our estimates are very close to CDC’s estimates, and there is clearly not a trend of decline on the prevalence of overweight and obesity in the United States,” says study author Lin Yang, a postdoc researcher at Division of Public Health Sciences in the Department of Surgery in an email. “Thus, we strengthen the case for implementing policies and practices that span multiple sections and [are] designed to combat overweight and obesity. This will need a political will to support multi-level approaches through individual, health professional, community, environment and policy engagement to address this epidemic as a whole.”

The new data show Americans’ waistlines have continued to grow over the last 20 years, the study authors write. People who are overweight or obese are also at a greater risk of other chronic diseases like heart disease and type 2 diabetes. According to the CDC, the estimated yearly medical costs of obesity in the U.S. reached $147 billion in 2008, the latest data available.

The researchers conclude that interventions should prioritize healthy diet, physical activity and healthy social norms to get Americans back in shape.

MONEY Debt

5 Weird Ways Credit Card Debt Can Hurt You

credit card crushing woman
Stephen Swintek—Getty Images

It's not all about the money -- it's how the unpaid bills mess with the rest of your life.

Personal finance experts remain divided on whether using credit cards is a good idea, but the verdict on credit card debt is clear: It’s bad, and eliminating it should be a top priority. The talking heads usually use financial facts and figures to back up their advice, arguing that credit card debt is expensive and damaging to our FICO scores.

All this is true, but credit card debt is also harmful in nonfinancial ways. For instance:

1. It’s depressing.

Most people agree that credit card debt is a drag, but it turns out it may actually be contributing to a clinical mood disorder for some. A 2015 study published in the Journal of Family and Economic Issues establishes a link between unsecured, short-term debt (like credit card debt) and symptoms of depression. This association was especially strong for the following subgroups:

  • People between the ages of 51 and 64
  • People with no postsecondary education
  • People who were not “stably married” during the time of the study

Even if you don’t fall into one of these categories, paying off credit card debt could improve your emotional state. If financial factors don’t motivate you to bring down your balance, let the prospect of a little extra cheerfulness be your driving force.

2. It could raise your blood pressure.

People with high blood pressure are often advised to keep their worries to a minimum, but if you’re grappling with debt, this can be hard to do. A 2013 study from Northwestern University proves this out; in a survey of existing longitudinal data, researchers found that young adults with high debt-to-asset ratios reported greater levels of stress than their peers with lower debts.

These adults ages 24 to 32 also had higher blood pressure levels, suggesting there may be an inverse relationship between debt and this important measure of heart health. You get only one ticker, so do it a favor and get that credit card debt paid down.

3. It’s linked to weight problems.

Back in 2008, it was much easier for college kids to get credit cards than it is today. Consequently, a study was able to be conducted that year on how credit card debt affects the health of young adults, the results of which were published in the American Journal of Health Promotion. More than 23% of the students surveyed had credit card debt levels above $1,000, and researchers found that this was associated with a variety of negative health implications, including obesity.

It’s hard to say from this data alone that credit card debt causes obesity, or that eliminating your debt will help you in your weight loss efforts. But it’s probably safe to say that paying off your debt won’t hurt your waistline either, so why not give it a shot?

4. It could disrupt your relationship.

It probably seems intuitive that debt could cause a rift in your romantic relationship, but the consequences of frequent financial fights might surprise you. A 2009 study showed that spouses who fought about money once a week were almost one-third more likely to get divorced than couples who fought about money less frequently, The New York Times reports.

This data doesn’t call out credit card debt specifically, but most people who have merged finances with a significant other can recall at least one instance when a credit card bill caused a disagreement. To play it safe, cut your balance as much as you can and keep your partner in the loop before making a purchase that could push you into debt.

5. It may be standing between you and your dreams.

The average household has $7,327 in credit card debt as of June, according to a NerdWallet study. In some parts of the U.S., that’s enough for a down payment on a modest home. It could also be seed money for a business, or a semester’s tuition at a state university.

The point is, credit card debt is more than just a financial burden — it might also be a roadblock to achieving one of your dreams. By paying it off, you’re freeing up a lot of cash that could be put to better use.

More From NerdWallet:

TIME Obesity

How Obese Moms May Wire Kids for Obesity

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sot—Getty Images

Kids of obese moms are more likely to be obese, and the latest research suggests that influence may begin in the womb

In a report presented Tuesday at the American Diabetes Association, researchers say that children born to obese moms may be predisposed to being obese due to their womb environment.

Scientists led by a team at University of Colorado School of Medicine analyzed stem cells taken from the umbilical cords of babies born to normal weight and obese mothers. In the lab, they coaxed these stem cells to develop into muscle and fat. The resulting cells from obese mothers had 30% more fat than those from normal weight mothers, suggesting that these babies’ cells were more likely to accumulate fat.

Whether that means the infants are more likely to become obese and develop the chronic conditions associated with excessive weight gain, such as heart disease and diabetes, isn’t clear yet, but the early changes are worth investigating further as possible risk factors for childhood obesity. “The next step is to follow these offspring to see if thee is a lasting change into adulthood,” says the lead presenter, Kristen Boyle, in a statement. She and her colleagues are already studying the cells to see whether they use and store energy any differently from those obtained from normal-weight mothers, and whether those changes result in metabolic differences such as inflammation or insulin resistance, which can precede heart disease and diabetes.

TIME Obesity

Don’t Blame Your Job For Weight Gain

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Peter Dazeley—Getty Images

Job stress can lead to obesity, right? The latest data says maybe not

There’s a good amount of data linking people who report high work stress and obesity. But how much of that relationship is due to stress triggering normal-weight people to gain weight, and can lowering job strain also help workers to slim down?

To find out, a group of European researchers analyzed eight studies involving more than 60,000 workers who reported on-job stress and allowed scientists to record their weight over time. Reporting in the International Journal of Obesity, they say that a high-stress job can’t be blamed for the extra pounds.

They found no link in the studies between reported job stress and weight gain or obesity, and to cement that finding, they also reported that people who reported a drop in job strain didn’t report a corresponding drop in weight.

The one group that did put on pounds, however, were workers who went from a relatively stress-free working situation into one where they experienced more job-related anxiety. That suggests that the change in stress levels might be more important to weight gain than a consistent level of stress.

While the authors admit that the way people defined job stress in the eight studies varied, and therefore make the findings a little harder to interpret, the large number of workers involved and the overall lack of association between stress levels and weight hints that perhaps work worries aren’t the weight-gaining culprit that many of us like to think they are. Still, they say that the connection is worth studying more, since it’s not clear whether people under stress tend to eat more or less in response to their anxiety, and addressing psychological well being in the work environment is a good way to improve overall health too.

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