Why eating in America may be less healthy than in Mexico

Another angle on obesity.  I just got back from interviewing Marian Neuhouser, a nutritional scientist at the Fred Hutchinson center.  She’s launching a new study of Mexican-American women.  She says more than 76% of Hispanic women in the U.S. are overweight or obese (the overall rate for women in the U.S. is 64%).  The experience of Mexican immigrants is similar to Japanese immigrants – within one generation in this country, the rates of obesity skyrocket.  That’s why many scientists say there’s something about living in modern America that is “obesogenic” – causing people to become obese.  The most likely and most important factor: diet.

Neuhouser’s hypothesis is that the switch in diet is a trigger, going from typical rural Mexican meals dominated by beans, rice and fresh-made tortillas, to a more American diet that’s full of processed foods, white flour, fatty meats, and sugary drinks.  But, she also suspects the problem for Mexican immigrants is exacerbated by their genetic profile and how it reacts to the American foods.

She just received funding to study this in detail, by getting 50 Seattle-area Mexican women to eat their meals at the Hutch for a month, so she can control their diet, while monitoring their blood for a number of biomarkers.

The biomarkers might also help explain why Hispanic women tend to get a more virulent, hard-to-treat form of breast cancer.

The leanest kids live in …

All states are not equal, when it comes to obesity.  It’s well-known that the problem is much worse in southern states, and not quite as bad in the Rocky Mountain states and on the West Coast.  A new study is the first to allow comparisons of childhood obesity trends among the 50 states.  Here’s the condensed story from the Associated Press, although I added the third paragraph and the Washington state numbers:

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CHICAGO – A new government study finds that most states are failing to meet federal goals for childhood obesity.

The federal Healthy People initiative set a childhood obesity goal of 5%. Oregon has the nation’s lowest rate of hefty kids, at just under 10%. Oregon was the only state whose childhood obesity fell significantly from 2003 to 2007.  Washington’s obesity rate went up slightly, to about 11% – tied for third lowest among the states.  Mississippi topped the nation with more than one-in-five of its kids obese.

By another measure – how many kids are simply overweight — Washington’s near the national average, with about 30% of kids overweight.  (Oregon places 3rd in this category, with Minnesota and Utah having the lowest percentage of overweight youth, at 23%.)

What works? That’s still debated.  Diet and nutrition have a role. But poverty, race and family history all have complex links to obesity.

The study appears in May’s Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine.

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