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.


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

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

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.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Research on Mice Suggests We Could Be Better Off Eating More Healthy Carbs and Less Protein

Bread, Slices And Bread Knife
Getty Images

Bad news for the Paleo crowd

While calorie-restriction diets are known to have positive health benefits, a group of researchers in Australia has found that, in mice, a low-protein high-carbohydrate diet produces similar results regardless of caloric intake.

If the study bears out for humans, it could rehabilitate the image of carbohydrates, which has taken a battering in recent years, when the high-protein Atkins and Paleo diets have reigned supreme.

Scientists at the University of Sydney put mice on varying diets in terms of the proportion of carbohydrates, protein and total calories consumed. They found that, in terms of insulin, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels, mice on unrestricted low-protein high-carb diets fared best.

“It still holds true that reducing food intake and body weight improves metabolic health and reduces the risk of diseases like type 2 diabetes, obesity, and fatty liver disease,” said senior author Stephen Simpson of the University of Sydney. “However…it appears that including modest intakes of high-quality protein and plenty of healthy carbohydrates in the diet will be beneficial for health as we age.”

The next step, according to the scientists, will be to learn if specific types of proteins and carbohydrates make a difference in long-term health.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s Why Living on a Noisy Street Could Make You Fatter

man driving a car, eating a burger
Getty Images

Living next to a busy thoroughfare may affect more than just your mental well-being

The overwhelming hum from nearby traffic is often annoying, but it could also be making individuals more obese, according to new research from Sweden.

In an article featured in the Occupational and Environmental Medicine journal this week, researchers said they found that residents of Stockholm exposed regularly to noise from trains, aircraft or road traffic, all experienced growth in their respective waistlines.

For individuals that were unlucky enough to have been consistently exposed to all three categories, “the risk of a larger waist doubled from the 25% heightened risk among people exposed to only one noise source,” reports the Guardian.

The research team was unable to draw a conclusive link between noise pollution and obesity, but suggested that the increase of stress caused by audible irritants may be a possible culprit.

“Traffic noise may influence metabolic and cardiovascular functions through sleep disturbances and chronic stress,” said Andrei Pyko, lead author of the study at Sweden’s Karolinska Institutet, according to the Australian Associated Press.

And when a person’s sleep patterns are disturbed, it can easily affect “immune functions, influence the central control of appetite and energy expenditure as well as increase circulating levels of the stress hormone cortisol.”


TIME Diet/Nutrition

61% of Your Calories Are From Highly Processed Food: Study

Most of the foods we buy are highly processed and loaded with sugar, fat and salt

As much as Americans like to pretend to worship at the altar of kale, many of us are cheating with chips, a new study suggests.

We like junk food so much that 61% of the food Americans buy is highly processed, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. And almost 1,000 calories a day of person’s diet come solely from highly processed foods.

Not all processed food is the same, however. The USDA classifies processed food as any edible that’s not a raw agricultural commodity, so even pasteurized milk and frozen fruits and vegetables count. “It’s important for us to recognize that a processed food is not just Coca-Cola and Twinkies—it’s a wide array of products,” says study author Jennifer Poti, a research assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

So in the first study of its kind, researchers scrutinized our diets by analyzing a massive set of data of the foods we buy while grocery shopping. The stats came from 157,000 shoppers, who tracked their edible purchases with a barcode scanner from 2000-2012, for anywhere from 10 months to 14 years.

Using software that picked out words in the nutrition and ingredient labels, the 1.2 million products were placed into one of four categories : minimally processed—products with very little alteration, like bagged salad, frozen meat and eggs—basic processed—single-ingredient foods but changed in some way, like oil, flour and sugar—moderately processed—still recognizable as its original plant or animal source, but with additives—and highly processed—multi-ingredient industrial mixtures that are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal source.

No surprise, our favorite categories are those last two. More than three-quarters of our calories came from highly processed (61%) and moderately processed (16%) foods and drinks in 2012. Best-selling products were refined breads, grain-based desserts like cookies, sugary sodas, juice, sports drinks and energy drinks.

Preferences for highly processed foods were remarkably stable over time, Poti says, which likely has implications for our health, since the study also found that highly processed foods were higher in saturated fat, sugar and salt than other purchases. But interestingly, no U.S. study has yet looked at the link between highly processed foods and health outcomes like obesity and diabetes, Poti says.

To be clear, the researchers aren’t pooh-poohing processing, per se. “Food processing is important for food security and nutrition security of Americans,” Poti says. The study wasn’t able to capture the full spectrum of our diets—loose spinach doesn’t come with a barcode, after all—and the authors acknowledge that food purchasing doesn’t always directly translate to dietary intake. But the results suggest that we might want to swap some bags of chips for, say, cans of beans. “Foods that required cooking or preparation”—like boxed pasta and raw eggs—”were generally less than 20% of calories purchased throughout the entire time period,” Poti says.

TIME Obesity

More Than a Third of U.S. Adults Have Metabolic Syndrome

TIME.com stock photos Weight Loss Health Exercise Scale
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

35% of us are at greater risk for all kinds of diseases

Metabolic syndrome—a set of health conditions including high blood pressure and too much abdominal fat that increase risk for stroke and heart disease—now affects more than one in three U.S. adults, according to a new study in JAMA.

The study, which used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, found that the prevalence of metabolic syndrome in the U.S. increased from 32.9% in 2003-2004 to 34.7% in 2011-2012. It stayed steady between 2007-2008 and 2011-2012—a leveling off likely due to increased awareness about the risks of metabolic syndrome, the researchers write. Obesity prevalence, which is closely linked to the condition, has also stabilized, they note.

The prevalence of metabolic syndrome varied between people of different racial backgrounds. Hispanics had the highest prevalence of metabolic syndrome at 39%, followed by whites at 37.4% and blacks at 35.5%.

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