Friday, May 27, 2011

Lack of sleep can lead to overweight kids

The fact that -- for once -- parental education and income was controlled for makes this study unusually strong. So it is amusing that diet and exercise were found to have negligible effect

A lack of sleep is more likely to lead to overweight children than a poor diet or lethargic lifestyle, a new long-term study has found.

New Zealand researchers monitored a random sample of almost 250 children, regularly tracking weight, diet, body composition, physical activity and sleep patterns from the ages of three to seven.

They took into account birth weight, parent's education, income, ethnicity and if their mother was smoking while pregnant - all factors known to affect a child's weight.

Previous studies have found poor sleep is linked to heavier children, but this is the first time such a thorough and long assessment had been done, researcher Professor Barry Taylor said.

Almost a quarter of the Dunedin children surveyed were overweight by the time they were seven, Prof Taylor said. "(But) how active you are actually seems to have no effect on whether or not you're overweight at the age of seven," he told AAP. "The food that you ate had some effect, but actually the biggest effect was short sleep."

He said the children slept an average of 11 hours each night and those that got any less shut-eye were more likely to be overweight, even if other factors were controlled. "It's a complicated connection," said Prof Taylor, a pediatrician and academic from the Dunedin School of Medicine.

He said the amount of sleep a person got altered the hormones controlling metabolism and appetite, hence, how much one eats. "We were surprised by how big a factor (sleep was)," Prof Taylor said. "I was expecting the ... percentage of food eaten as vegetables and fruit would be more important and that activity levels ... would be more important."

Evidence suggests the amount of sleep both children and adults get has dropped significantly in the past 30 years, Prof Taylor said, blaming a "modern lifestyle". He said children should generally get about nine to 10 hours of sleep a night, but some will need more.

Trials are now under way to see if teaching families how to deliberately increase their child's sleep can alter growth. "All we can say at this stage is this looks like something that needs to be done," Prof Taylor said.

The study was published in the British Medical Journal.


Aspartame in the gun again

Based on specious epidemiological reasoning. There are some very strange aspartame crusaders. I have had run-ins with them before

An artificial sweetener used in Diet Coke is to undergo an urgent EU safety review. Aspartame is ingested every day by millions of people around the world in more than 6,000 well-known brands of food, drink and medicine. However, it has been the subject of a number of studies that appear to show harmful effects on human health.

One recent study linked diet drinks containing aspartame to premature births, while another suggested it could cause cancer.

To date, health watchdogs, including the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the UK’s Food Standards Agency (FSA), have ruled out any link to ill-health.

But after several MEPs asked for a new investigation following pressure from European health campaigners, EU Commission officials have now asked the EFSA to bring forward a review that had been planned for 2020.

The concern about artificial sweeteners such as aspartame relates to the fact that they contain methanol, a nerve toxin which can be metabolised in the body to form two more nerve toxins: formic acid and formaldehyde, the chemical used to preserve dead bodies.

Earlier this year, experts on Britain’s Committee on Toxicity(CoT) ruled that ‘long-term exposure to methanol consumed through food, including from aspartame, is unlikely to be harmful to health’. The committee pointed out that methanol is also found in fruit and vegetables.

As a result of the experts’ conclusions, the FSA ruled the consumption of aspartame ‘is not of concern at the current levels of use’.

Despite this verdict, the FSA is currently recruiting volunteers for an investigation into anecdotal reports of ill health, including headaches and stomach upsets, associated with aspartame.

The watchdog announced the research project in 2009, however it has had difficulties recruiting volunteers who claim to suffer problems.

EFSA spokesman, Lucia De Luca, said: ‘Aspartame is one of hundreds of flavourings. It is on the market because it has been assessed in the past and considered safe. ‘We have received an official request for a complete re-evaluation of the safety of aspartame. ‘The re-evaluation is scheduled for 2020 but the Commission asked us to do this re-evaluation now in the light of recent events. ‘In the past year, there have been a couple of studies looking at aspartame and concerns expressed by consumer groups and others.’

In July last year, EU-funded research by Danish scientists, which looked at almost 60,000 mothers-to-be, found a correlation between the amount of diet drink consumed and an early birth.

Previously, the Independent Ramazzini Foundation in Italy has published research suggesting aspartame caused several types of cancer in rats at doses very close to the current acceptable daily intake for humans. Both of these have been evaluated by EFSA experts, who have rejected any risk to human health.

Aspartame is manufactured by Ajinomoto Sweeteners Europe. The firm said it welcomes the decision to bring forward the safety evaluation. A spokesman said: ‘EFSA reaffirmed the safety of aspartame in 2006, 2009 and 2010. In addition, recent allegations about the safety of aspartame made in France and by a handful of MEPs have already been dismissed by EFSA. ‘This review of the extensive body of science on aspartame will provide additional confirmation of the ingredient’s safety.

‘By providing an excellent sweet taste, aspartame makes a useful contribution to a healthy, calorie-controlled diet and can help people to avoid overweight and obesity, and their associated diseases.’


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