Small habits cause a big impact on weight

Quality of food choices, and not just calories, are important.

Reuters June 23, 2011


Just a few bad habits — watching TV, eating potato chips, having a sugary soda at lunch or staying up too late at night - can add up to a steady creep of pounds  over the years.

Consultant Nutritionist from Pakistan, Ayesha Abbas, believes that apart from the inactive lifestyle and calorie-rich food intake of the general population of Pakistan, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCO) is also an underlying cause of obesity in the country.

However, while most studies on diets focus on changes needed to help obese people lose weight, a study by a Harvard team showed tiny changes in diet and lifestyle can make a big impact. The study focuses on specific lifestyle choices — foods, activity, sleep habits — that slowly pack on the pounds.

The researchers stressed that the quality of food choices, and not just calories, are key to maintaining a healthy weight.

“These small choices add up,” said Dr Dariush Mozaffarian of the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Because the weight gain is so gradual and occurs over many years, it has been difficult for scientists and for individuals themselves to understand the specific factors that may be responsible,”  he added.

Foods that added most to weight gain over a four-year period included daily consumption of potato chips, potatoes, sugar-sweetened beverages.

Moderation does not make ‘bad foods’ good

Mozaffarian said understanding ways to keep people from becoming obese may be more effective than getting people to lose weight. “Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts — if you increase their intake, you will have relative weight loss, because you are replacing other foods in the diet,” said Mozaffarian. The study contradicts the notion that all foods are good for you in moderation. “The idea that there are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ foods is a myth that needs to be debunked,” said Frank Hu of Harvard.

In the study, dietary changes appeared to have the biggest impact on weight gain over time, but other lifestyle changes also were a factor. For example, watching one hour of TV per day added 0.31 pounds (0.14 kg) over a four-year period.  Sleep also played a role. From the study, he concluded that people who get between six and eight hours of sleep are less likely to gain weight over a four-year period. But people who get less than six hours or more than eight hours tend to gain weight. It further showed that when people increase their physical activity, they tend to gain less weight.


Published in The Express Tribune, June 24th, 2011.

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