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Weight Control & Obesity

Cutting 100 Calories/day Might Prevent Weight Gain & Obesity

The average adult slips on about 2 extra pounds a year, a weight creep that some researchers argue could be prevented merely by eating one less cookie a day. That treat or even three fewer bites of a fast-food hamburger – the equivalent of 100 calories daily – can keep the pounds off in the first place so people do not face the harder battle of losing weight, contends Dr. James Hill of the University of Colorado’s nutrition center.

IT is just a theory, and Hill acknowledges he has not proved yet that such a simple step works. But scientists are searching for different approaches to what is fast becoming a national epidemic. Sixty percent of U.S. adults are overweight, and the government blames 300,000 deaths a year on weight-related diseases. “The biggest problem we face in America is not terrorism. The biggest health problem we’re facing is obesity,” Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told The Associated Press last week. Fixing the problem will require changing societal norms starting with children, she added, such as doing more and eating less in a society that encourages more driving than walking and provides unfettered access to calorie-laden foods. To focus attention on the problem, the journal Science, in Friday’s edition, turned to some well-known obesity researchers for opinions on what it will take to lower the scales. Hill’s response was to examine government figures showing about 40 million adults are obese and how steadily Americans have put on weight in recent years.

“The future is not hopeful unless we act now,” he concluded. Hill estimated that if current trends continue, 39 percent of adults will be obese by 2008, compared with 31 percent in 2000.

Preventative Weight Control

Losing weight and keeping it off can be hard. The possibly easier short-term goal would be to get no fatter. So Hill and colleagues calculated what he calls the energy gap – how many calories are eaten but not burned off. Using that same government data, he estimates that on average people gain 2 pounds a year, which equals 50 extra calories stored each day. Because the body can store half of calories consumed, he said preventing that 2-pound weight gain might simply require eating 100 fewer calories a day. There are problems with that simple approach, says Dr. Jeffrey Friedman of Rockefeller University, who discovered the obesity hormone leptin in 1995. Some people gain 10 pounds in a year while others gain none. Few people actually know how many calories they consume, a key difficulty in cutting them.

“We don’t simply need to reiterate the old nostrums. We need to develop a fuller understanding of how to deal with” obesity, he said. Indeed, the overweight are fighting “a battle against biology,” Friedman writes in his own Science article, because obesity arises from a complex interplay of genetics and the environment.

Scientists have discovered a number of hormones and genes that generate a basic biological drive to eat that can be difficult to fight, he explains.

Genetics aside, scientists also know that the more volume and variety of food people are offered – think super-sized restaurant portions and buffets – the more they’ll overeat, adds CDC nutrition chief Dr. Willian Dietz. “Portion size is an issue. How one goes about controlling it is not so simple,” he cautions. For people reluctant to eat less, Colorado’s Hill points to a current experiment in which Colorado is encouraging people to buy $20 battery-operated step-counters and take an extra 2,000 steps a day, enough to walk a mile and burn 100 calories. Hill is studying 500 participants to see if that extra little bit helps their weight; results are not due for another year or two. He plans to add his theory on eating 100 fewer calories to the study, too.

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