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Lifestyle Choices & Big Results

By on June 25, 2011
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Small choices can add up to big results. Most studies on diet focus on changes needed to help obese people lose weight, a study by the Harvard School of Public Health 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. So not only are food choices important but the quality of food is key as well.

Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian of the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital has his study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

“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.”

The research team analyzed data on 120,877 U.S. women and men from three large studies of health professionals that tracked changes in lifestyle factors and weight every four years over a 20-year period.

All study participants were normal weight and healthy when they started. Over time, they gained an average of 3.35 pounds during each 4-year period for a total average weight gain of 16.8 pounds at the end of the 20-year study.

Foods that added most to weight gain over a four-year period included daily consumption of the following:

  • Potato chips (1.69 lbs)
  • Potatoes (1.28 lbs),
  • Sugar-sweetened beverages (1 lb),
  • Unprocessed red meats (0.95 lbs)
  • Processed meats (0.93 lbs)

More than a third of adults and nearly 17 percent of children in the United States are obese, increasing their chances of developing health problems including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, fatty liver disease and some cancers.

Those in the study who lost or maintained their weight over time tended to eat minimally processed foods.

“Fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts — if you increase their intake, you had relative weight loss, presumably because you are replacing other foods in the diet,” Mozaffarian said.

The study contradicts the notion that all foods are good for you in moderation.

Mozaffarian said different foods have a different effect on the body. “You can’t just say a calorie is a calorie. It doesn’t address your feelings of fullness, your blood glucose levels, your blood insulin levels and the other biological responses in your body,” he said.

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