Mind-body interventions (MBIs), such as meditation, yoga and tai chi, don’t just relax us. According to a new study, they can reverse the molecular reactions in our DNA that cause ill health and depression.
The research, published in the journal Frontiers in Immunology, reviews over a decade of studies analyzing how the behavior of our genes is affected by different MBIs, including mindfulness and yoga.
Researchers at Coventry University in the U.K. and Radboud University in the Netherlands conclude that, when examined together, the 18 studies — featuring 846 participants over 11 years — reveal a pattern in the molecular changes that happen to the body as a result of MBIs, and how those changes benefit our mental and physical health.
The researchers focused on how gene expression is affected — in other words, the way that genes activate to produce proteins that influence the biological makeup of the body, the brain, and the immune system.
When a person is exposed to a stressful event, their sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response, is triggered, which increases production of a molecule called nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB), which regulates how our genes are expressed, the researchers explained.
NF-kB translates stress by activating genes to produce proteins called cytokines that cause inflammation at a cellular level, a reaction that is useful as a short-lived fight-or-flight reaction, but if persistent leads to a higher risk of cancer, accelerated aging, and psychiatric disorders like depression, the researchers noted.
However, people who practice MBIs exhibit the opposite effect — a decrease in the production of NF-kB and cytokines, leading to a reversal of the pro-inflammatory gene expression pattern and a reduction in the risk of inflammation-related diseases and conditions, according to the study’s findings.
The inflammatory effect of the fight-or-flight response, which also serves to temporarily bolster the immune system, would have played an important role in mankind’s hunter-gatherer prehistory, when there was a higher risk of infection from wounds, the researchers said.
Today, however, where stress is increasingly psychological and often longer-term, pro-inflammatory gene expression can be persistent and more likely to cause psychiatric and medical problems, they noted.
“Millions of people around the world already enjoy the health benefits of mind-body interventions like yoga or meditation, but what they perhaps don’t realize is that these benefits begin at a molecular level and can change the way our genetic code goes about its business,” said lead investigator Ivana Buric from the Brain, Belief and Behavior Lab in Coventry University’s Centre for Psychology, Behavior and Achievement.
“These activities are leaving what we call a molecular signature in our cells, which reverses the effect that stress or anxiety would have on the body by changing how our genes are expressed. Put simply, MBIs cause the brain to steer our DNA processes along a path which improves our well-being.”
She added that more needs to be done to understand these effects in greater depth, for example how they compare with other healthy interventions like exercise or nutrition.
“But this is an important foundation to build on to help future researchers explore the benefits of increasingly popular mind-body activities,” she concluded.
Source: Coventry University
Early life stress encodes lifelong susceptibility to stress through genetic changes in a brain region implicated in mood and depression, according to a new study.
The study, conducted at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, focuses on epigenetics, the study of changes in the action of genes caused not by changes in DNA code we inherit from our parents, but instead by molecules that regulate when, where, and to what degree our genetic material is activated.
This regulation derives, in part, from the function of transcription factors — specialized proteins that bind to specific DNA sequences in our genes and either encourage or shut down the expression of a given gene, researchers explain.
Previous studies have suggested that early life stress increases the risk for depression and other psychiatric syndromes, but the neurobiology linking the two has remained elusive until now, according to the scientists.
“Our work identifies a molecular basis for stress during a sensitive developmental window that programs a mouse’s response to stress in adulthood,” said Catherine Peña, Ph.D., lead investigator of the study. “We discovered that disrupting maternal care of mice produces changes in levels of hundreds of genes in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) that primes this brain region to be in a depression-like state, even before we detect behavioral changes.
“Essentially, this brain region encodes a lifelong, latent susceptibility to depression that is revealed only after encountering additional stress,” she said.
The researchers identified a role for the developmental transcription factor orthodenticle homeobox 2 (Otx2) as a master regulator of these gene changes.
The research team showed that baby mice that were stressed in a sensitive period (from postnatal day 10-20) had suppressed Otx2 in the VTA. While Otx2 levels ultimately recovered by adulthood, the suppression had already set in motion gene alterations that lasted into adulthood, indicating that early life stress disrupts age-specific developmental programming orchestrated by Otx2, the researchers said.
The mice stressed during the early-life sensitive time period were more likely to succumb to depression-like behavior in adulthood, but only after additional adult stress.
All mice acted normally before additional adult social stress, but a “second hit” of stress was more likely to trigger depression-like behavior for mice stressed during the sensitive time period, the study found.
To test the prediction that Otx2 was actually responsible for the stress sensitivity, the research team developed viral tools that were used to either increase or decrease Otx2 levels. They found that suppression of Otx2 early in life was both necessary and sufficient for increased susceptibility to adult stress.
“We anticipated that we would only be able to ameliorate or mimic the effects of early life stress by changing Otx2 levels during the early sensitive period,” said Peña. “This was true for long-lasting effects on depression-like behavior, but somewhat to our surprise we could also change stress sensitivity for short amounts of time by manipulating Otx2 in adulthood.”
According to the researchers, little is known about whether there are sensitive periods in childhood when stress and adversity most impacts brain development and, particularly, emotion-regulation systems.
This study is the first to use genome-wide tools to understand how early life stress alters development of the VTA, providing new evidence for sensitive windows in emotion development, researchers said.
“This mouse paradigm will be useful for understanding the molecular correlates of increased risk of depression resulting from early life stress and could pave the way to look for such sensitive windows in human studies,” says Eric J. Nestler, M.D., Ph.D., Nash Family Professor of Neuroscience and Director of the Friedman Brain Institute at Mount Sinai and senior investigator of the study.
“The ultimate translational goal of this research is to aid treatment discoveries relevant to individuals who experienced childhood stress and trauma.”
The study was published in the journal Science.
Source: Mount Sinai Hospital
A new European study has found that Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a form of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and mindfulness, provided a significant reduction in self-reported depression and anxiety among individuals with rheumatoid arthritis.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy focuses on psychological flexibility and behavior change. The approach provided significant reduction in self-reported depression and anxiety among patients participating in a pain rehabilitation program.
This treatment also resulted in significant increases in self-efficacy, activity engagement and pain acceptance. Self-efficacy is an important concept as it reflects the belief by an individual that they can effectively self-manage their condition.
To assess the potential benefits of an 8-week program of group Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) in people with persistent pain, measures of pain acceptance and activity engagement were taken using the Chronic Pain Acceptance Questionnaire.
Measures of psychological distress using the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale and self-efficacy were also taken at assessment, on the final day of the program, and at the follow up six-month review.
For those chronic pain patients with scores at all three time points, there were statistically significant improvements in all parameters between baseline and at six-months follow-up, including the change in mean score of depression, anxiety, self-efficacy, activity engagement and pain willingness (p<0.001).
“To further validate the role of ACT in the treatment of chronic pain, specifically in a rheumatology context, a randomized controlled clinical trial that includes measures of physical and social functioning within a Rheumatology service would be desirable,” said lead author Dr. Noirin Nealon Lennox from Ulster University in Northern Ireland.
ACT is a form of CBT that includes a specific therapeutic process referred to as “psychological flexibility.”
ACT focuses on behavior change consistent with patients’ core values rather than targeting symptom reduction alone. Evidence for this approach to the treatment of chronic pain has been mounting since the mid 2000’s.
A previous systematic review had concluded that ACT is efficacious for enhancing physical function and decreasing distress among adults with chronic pain attending a pain rehabilitation program.
In this study, patients were referred into the ACT program by three consultant rheumatologists over a five-year period. More than 100 patients’ outcome measures were available for a retrospective analysis.
Around 75 percent of people with systemic lupus erythematosus — an incurable autoimmune disease commonly known as lupus — experience neuropsychiatric symptoms, such as anxiety, depression and seizures. But until now, the mechanism behind this link has remained unclear.
Now, in a new study using a mouse model of lupus, researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital discovered a mechanism that directly links inflammation to mental illness.
The findings, published in the journal Nature, shed light on the link between lupus and mental illness and may point to a potential new drug for protecting the brain from the neuropsychiatric effects of lupus and other central nervous system (CNS) diseases.
“In general, lupus patients commonly have a broad range of neuropsychiatric symptoms, including anxiety, depression, headaches, seizures, even psychosis,” said first author Allison Bialas, Ph.D. “But their cause has not been clear — for a long time it wasn’t even appreciated that these were symptoms of the disease.”
Lupus causes the immune system to attack the body’s tissues and organs. This signals the body’s white blood cells to release type 1 interferon-alpha, a small cytokine protein that acts as an alarm, resulting in an avalanche of additional immune activity as it binds with receptors in different tissues.
Until now, however, these circulating cytokines were thought to be unable to cross the blood brain barrier, the highly-selective membrane that controls the transfer of materials between circulating blood and the central nervous system (CNS) fluids.
“There had not been any indication that type 1 interferon could get into the brain and set off immune responses there,” said first author Michael Carroll, Ph.D., senior author on the study and a professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School. He and research fellow Bialas are part of the Boston Children’s Program in Cellular and Molecular Medicine.
While working with a mouse model of lupus, the research team was quite surprised to discover that enough interferon-alpha did indeed appear to permeate the blood brain barrier to cause changes in the brain. Once across the barrier, it launched microglia — the immune defense cells of the CNS — into attack mode on the brain’s neuronal synapses. This caused synapses to be lost in the frontal cortex.
“We’ve found a mechanism that directly links inflammation to mental illness,” said Carroll. “This discovery has huge implications for a range of central nervous system diseases.”
The researchers set out to see if they could reduce synapse loss by administering a drug that blocks interferon-alpha’s receptor, called an anti-IFNAR.
Indeed, they discovered that anti-IFNAR did seem to have neuroprotective effects in mice with lupus, preventing synapse loss when compared with mice who were not given the drug. In addition, they noticed that mice treated with anti-IFNAR had a reduction in behavioral signs associated with mental illnesses such as anxiety and cognitive defects.
Although more research is needed to determine exactly how interferon-alpha is crossing the blood brain barrier, the new findings establish a basis for future clinical trials to investigate the effects of anti-IFNAR drugs on CNS lupus and other CNS diseases. One such anti-IFNAR, anifrolumab, is currently being evaluated in a phase 3 human clinical trial for treating other aspects of lupus.
“We’ve seen microglia dysfunction in other diseases like schizophrenia, and so now this allows us to connect lupus to other CNS diseases,” Bialas said. “CNS lupus is not just an undefined cluster of neuropsychiatric symptoms, it’s a real disease of the brain — and it’s something that we can potentially treat.”
The implications go well beyond lupus because inflammation underpins so many diseases and conditions, ranging from Alzheimer’s to viral infection to chronic stress.
“Are we all losing synapses, to some varying degree?” Carroll suggested. His team plans to find out.
Source: Boston Children’s Hospital
The suicide rate has increased by 24 percent over the last 15 years, with more than 45,000 people dying from suicide each year.
Now, new research finds that 17 physical health conditions, such as back pain, diabetes, and heart disease, are associated with an increased risk of suicide. Two of the conditions — sleep disorders and HIV/AIDS — represented a greater than twofold increase, while traumatic brain injury made individuals nine times more likely to die by suicide.
The research appears in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
While the rates of other causes of death have declined in recent years, suicide continues to trend upwards across all ages and genders. Many people who die by suicide do not have a prior mental health diagnosis, which means that patients at an increased risk for self-harm are somehow being missed by the mainstream healthcare system.
This understanding led researchers to examine whether there is a link between physical illness and suicide risk. Investigators believe new knowledge surrounding the rise in suicide rates can help them develop novel interventions to prevent the tragic outcomes.
“These data represent among the first findings from areas across the U.S. documenting an increase in suicide risk for people with a variety of major physical health conditions,” said lead investigator Brian K. Ahmedani, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., director of psychiatry research for the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit.
This study included 2,674 individuals who died by suicide between 2000 and 2013 along with 267,400 controls matched on year and location in a case-control study across eight Mental Health Research Network health care systems.
Seventeen of 19 medical conditions investigated were linked to an increased suicide risk: asthma, back pain, brain injury, cancer, congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, diabetes, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, heart disease, hypertension, migraine, Parkinson’s disease, psychogenic pain, renal disorder, sleep disorders, and stroke.
While all of these conditions were associated with greater risk, some conditions showed a stronger association than others.
For example, people with a traumatic brain injury were nine times more likely to die by suicide, while those with sleep disorders and HIV/AIDS were at a greater than twofold risk. Along with varying rates among conditions, having multiple physical health conditions also substantially increased risk.
“Although suicide risk appears to be pervasive across most physical health conditions, prevention efforts appear to be particularly important for patients with a traumatic brain injury, whose odds of suicide are increased nearly ninefold, even after adjusting for potential confounders,” Ahmedani said.
“This is the first large, multisite study conducted within the general U.S. population demonstrating a significant, large-magnitude relationship between brain injury and suicide.”
According to this study, targeted interventions in primary care and specialty care may be the key to preventing suicides. It’s reported that 80% of individuals who die by suicide make a healthcare visit in the year before their death and that 50 percent go to the doctor within four weeks of dying by suicide.
Because most these patients do not have a diagnosed mental health problem, limiting suicide prevention efforts to standard behavioral healthcare settings may miss many of the individuals at risk.
“Several conditions, such as back pain, sleep disorders, and traumatic brain injury were all associated with suicide risk and are commonly diagnosed, making patients with these conditions primary targets for suicide prevention,” said Ahmedani.
“Given that nearly every physical health condition was associated with suicide, widespread suicide prevention efforts in all health care settings seem warranted.”
A decade of research indicates that loneliness increases self-centeredness and, to a lesser extent, self-centeredness also increases loneliness.
Investigators at the University of Chicago believe that as people feel lonely, the trait heightens self-centeredness which then contributes further to enhanced loneliness. Intervention, however, can help to break the vicious cycle.
“If you get more self-centered, you run the risk of staying locked in to feeling socially isolated,” said Dr. John Cacioppo, a Distinguished Service Professor in Psychology and director of the Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience.
Findings from the study by Cacioppo and co-authors Dr. Stephanie Cacioppo and graduate student Hsi Yuan Chen, appear in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.
The researchers wrote that “targeting self-centeredness as part of an intervention to lessen loneliness may help break a positive feedback loop that maintains or worsens loneliness over time.”
Their study is the first to test a prediction from the Cacioppos’ evolutionary theory that loneliness increases self-centeredness.
Such research is important because, as many studies have shown, lonely people are more susceptible to a variety of physical and mental health problems as well as higher mortality rates than their non-lonely counterparts.
The outcome that loneliness increases self-centeredness was expected, but the data showing that self-centeredness also affected loneliness was a surprise, Stephanie Cacioppo said.
In previous research, the Cacioppos reviewed the rates of loneliness in young to older adults across the globe. Five to 10 percent of this population complained of feeling lonely constantly, frequently or all the time. Another 30 to 40 percent complained of feeling lonely constantly.
Their latest findings are based on 11 years of data taken from 2002 to 2013 as part of the Chicago Health, Aging and Social Relations Study of middle-aged and older Hispanics, African-Americans and Caucasian men and women.
The study’s random sample consisted of 229 individuals who ranged from 50 to 68 years of age at the start of the study. They were a diverse sample of randomly selected individuals drawn from the general population who varied in age, gender, ethnicity and socioeconomic status.
Early psychological research treated loneliness as an anomalous or temporary feeling of distress that had no redeeming value or adaptive purpose. “None of that could be further from the truth,” Stephanie Cacioppo said.
The evolutionary perspective is why. In 2006, John Cacioppo and colleagues proposed an evolutionary interpretation of loneliness based on a neuroscientific or biological approach.
In this view, evolution has shaped the brain to incline humans toward certain emotions, thoughts and behavior. “A variety of biological mechanisms have evolved that capitalize on aversive signals to motivate us to act in ways that are essential for our reproduction or survival,” the UChicago co-authors wrote.
From that perspective, loneliness serves as the psychological counterpart of physical pain.
“Physical pain is an aversive signal that alerts us of potential tissue damage and motivates us to take care of our physical body,” the UChicago researchers explain. Loneliness, meanwhile, is part of a warning system that motivates people to repair or replace their deficient social relationships.
The finding that loneliness tends to increase self-centeredness fits the evolutionary interpretation of loneliness. From an evolutionary-biological viewpoint, people have to be concerned with their own interests.
The pressures of modern society, however, are significantly different from those that prevailed when loneliness evolved in the human species, researchers found.
“Humans evolved to become such a powerful species in large part due to mutual aid and protection and the changes in the brain that proved adaptive in social interactions,” John Cacioppo said.
“When we don’t have mutual aid and protection, we are more likely to become focused on our own interests and welfare. That is, we become more self-centered.”
In modern society, becoming more self-centered protects lonely people in the short term but not the long term. That’s because the harmful effects of loneliness accrue over time to reduce a person’s health and well-being.
“This evolutionarily adaptive response may have helped people survive in ancient times, but in contemporary society may well make it harder for people to get out of feelings of loneliness,” John Cacioppo said.
When humans are at their best, they provide mutual aid and protection, Stephanie Cacioppo added.
“It isn’t that one individual is sacrificial to the other. It’s that together they do more than the sum of the parts. Loneliness undercuts that focus and really makes you focus on only your interests at the expense of others.”
The Cacioppos have multiple loneliness studies in progress that address its social, behavioral, neural, hormonal, genetic, cellular and molecular aspects, as well as interventions.
“Now that we know loneliness is damaging and contributing to the misery and health care costs of America, how do we reduce it?” John Cacioppo asked. That is the next big question to answer.
Source: University of Chicago
New research suggests the way a spouse responds to a partner when they have arthritic pain may influence whether the ill partner’s physical function improves over time.
Pennsylvania State University researchers studied the dynamics of spouses’ daily interactions with an ill partner and found that an empathic approach is better than becoming too protective, or conversely, becoming irritated and frustrated.
Study findings appear in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.
“We found that osteoarthritis patients whose spouses were more empathically responsive in daily interactions fared better in terms of their physical function than patients whose spouses were less responsive,” said Ohio State researcher Stephanie J. Wilson, Ph.D., lead author of the study.
“Their performance on an objective test improved over time: They were better able to stand from a chair unassisted, maintained better balance, and could walk more quickly.”
“Other research suggests that people who perform better on these tasks also are more likely to remain independent and to live longer,” Wilson explains. “Thus, our findings have direct clinical implications for chronic pain patients.”
The idea that our social environment affects our health day to day in incremental ways forms the basis of various conceptual frameworks, but Wilson and Penn State professors Drs. Lynn M. Martire and Martin J. Sliwinski noted that few studies had actually managed to capture these daily dynamics.
To address this gap in the literature, senior researcher and thesis adviser Dr, Lynn Martire designed a novel study and collected data combining daily diary assessments taken over a short term with physical function measurements taken over longer intervals.
Specifically, the team examined the association between spouses’ daily responsiveness to their partners with osteoarthritis and changes in the partners’ physical function over the following 18 months.
The researchers hypothesized that the degree to which spouses showed empathic, solicitous and punishing responses in response to their partners’ pain would be associated with the partners’ physical well-being over time.
That is, partners whose spouses provided emotional support, affection, and attention (empathic behaviors) would show improvement in functioning. Conversely, researchers hypothesized that when spouses took over tasks and encouraged rest (solicitous behaviors) or if a spouse became frustrated and irritated (punishing behaviors), the partner in ill-health would show diminished functioning over time.
The study included a total of 152 osteoarthritis patients, all of whom were over 50 years old and married or living with a partner. Participants completed short surveys in the evening every day over the 22-day daily diary period.
Spouses rated the degree to which their partners had expressed feeling pain; patients rated the degree to which spouses responded to their pain expression with a variety of behaviors. The researchers measured the patients’ physical function — including balance, gait, speed, and ability to rise from a chair — at the beginning of the study, six months later, and 18 months later.
The results showed that patients with spouses who responded to their expressions of pain with empathic behaviors on a daily basis showed improved physical function six and 18 months later relative to patients with less empathic spouses.
However, the data did not indicate that either solicitous responses or punishing responses were linked with changes in patients’ physical function.
“Based on previous work, we expected that patients whose spouses were more solicitously responsive — that is, provided more instrumental help such as retrieving medication and taking over chores — would decline in their physical function over time, but this did not hold,” Wilson said.
The findings are novel in that they specifically link patterns in couples’ day-to-day interactions to objective clinical measures, capturing the dynamic nature of how spouses influence each other.
And the results have implications for a particularly broad audience: “One in five adults is diagnosed with some kind of persistent pain in their lives, and osteoarthritis is among the most common conditions that emerge as we get older,” Wilson said.
“It will be important for future studies to examine whether the empathic responsiveness pattern also bodes well for people with other chronic conditions such as diabetes or cardiovascular disease.”
Measuring the brain activity of two key brain regions involved in emotion regulation shortly after acute trauma may help predict whether a person will develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to a new study published in the journal Biological Psychiatry.
The findings show a link between the activity of the amygdala and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), a brain region that regulates amygdala function, shortly after trauma and the development of PTSD symptoms within the following year.
For example, trauma victims who show a stronger amygdala response to fearful faces tend to have more severe PTSD symptoms initially and are more likely to maintain these symptoms over the following year. In addition, trauma victims who show a greater drop in ventral ACC activity after seeing repeated fearful images are slower to recover.
The identification of a PTSD biomarker has exciting implications for limiting or preventing symptoms of the disorder, researchers suggested.
“The search for such early biological markers of poor recovery is very important, because it will allow us to find the people who are most at risk right after a trauma, and intervene early, before the onset of disorders such as PTSD or depression,” said first author Dr. Jennifer Stevens from Emory University.
For the study, Stevens and a research team used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to measure the brain activity of 31 people approximately one month after a traumatic incident. The trauma was non-military related and involved traumatic events such as a car accident or sexual assault.
As the participants looked at images of fearful faces (an index of threat), the researchers measured how brain activity reacted in the amygdala and ACC, and how the activity changed over time with repeated viewing. Self-reported PTSD symptoms were assessed at 1, 3, 6, and 12 months after the traumatic incident.
The findings show that participants with a greater amygdala response to fearful faces had greater initial symptom severity, and were more likely to maintain PTSD symptoms over the following year. In addition, those with a sharper drop in ventral ACC activity over repeated viewing of fearful images, called habituation, showed a poorer recovery trajectory.
These results suggest that amygdala reactivity and ventral ACC habituation to a threat predict the emergence of PTSD symptoms after trauma.
“The findings also suggest that an over-active amygdala may be one of the causes of PTSD, and that we should try to develop treatments that reduce amygdala reactivity,” said Stevens.
For example, the amygdala could be targeted with interventions such as psychotherapy or pharmacological treatments shortly after trauma occurs.
New research finds that overweight children have less friends and are involved in fewer social groups than their thinner counterparts.
In the study, USC researchers assessed 714 students in the Netherlands, 210 of whom were nominated as friends but did not take the survey.
Among the 504 preteens surveyed, researchers found overweight children are excluded from friendships, call classmates friends when the feeling is not mutual, and are disliked by peers.
Moreover, overweight children dislike more classmates than their thinner peers.
The study appears in the journal PLOS ONE.
These heightened negative relationships take a mental, social and physical toll, said Dr. Kayla de la Haye, lead author of the new study and an assistant preventive medicine professor.
“Our finding is alarming because if we continue to have social environments where fat shaming is the norm, these kids will continue to be ostracized,” de la Haye said.
“Those adverse interactions increase the risk of loneliness, depression, poor eating habits and illness.”
Although overweight children, on average, listed as many people in the friend category as children with healthy weight, they were 1.7 times more likely to be disliked and 1.2 times more likely to dislike their peers.
These combined tendencies indicate that overweight children are generally involved in more unreciprocated friendships and mutual frenemy relationships, de la Haye said.
“Research by others has shown people who chronically feel isolated, lonely or socially disconnected experience greater inflammation and reduced viral suppression,” de la Haye added.
“We’re not sure if that’s at play here, but a consistent body of research shows that negative social relationships can go under the skin and affect health.”
Worldwide, childhood obesity increased by 31 percent in a little over two decades with about 42 million overweight or obese children in 2013, according to the World Health Organization.
In the United States, the number of obese children has more than tripled since the 1970s. About 1 in 5 school-aged children are obese — about 17 percent of all children in America, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The prevalence of childhood obesity is higher among Latinos (22 percent) and blacks (20 percent) than among whites (15 percent), according to the CDC.
Researchers believe that isolation can create a vicious cycle for overweight children.
The 504 preteens surveyed were between ages 10 to 12. Participants in 28 classes listed their best friends and their enemies. On average, 26 students participated per classroom.
Investigators provided questionnaires that 504 preteens answered in the Netherlands when they were aged 10 to 12. Participants in 28 classes listed their best friends and their enemies. On average, 26 students participated per classroom.
Children were assigned weight categories based on their body mass index, a measure of body fat. About 16 percent of the participants were overweight.
Researchers controlled for gender because it can steer friendships and omitted children who had skipped a grade or who were held back a grade.
On average, children were listed as a friend by five of their classmates and as an enemy by two. However, overweight kids typically were considered a friend by just four classmates and were disliked by three.
“This social environment characterized by fewer friendships and more antipathies is likely to put overweight youth at increased risk for psychosocial maladjustment,” the study stated.
“The resulting social isolation may also promote unhealthy behaviors, such as excessive food intake and decreased participation in sports and physical activities, which can lead to further weight gain and thus a cycle of poor physical and social outcomes.”
Unfortunately, it seems overweight children tend to have fewer friends and be friends with less popular kids who also tend to be overweight, de la Haye said.
“We want to reduce the stigma of being overweight,” she said. “We have anti-bullying campaigns based on sexual identity, race and ethnicity.
We should do more to integrate obesity in our anti-bullying repertoire.”
The study used data from the Tracking Adolescents’ Individual Lives Survey, an ongoing research on the psychological, social and physical development of adolescents and young adults.
USC researchers are working across disciplines to improve children’s physical and mental health, boosting health across the life span.
They have studied how “secondhand sugars” found in breast milk might negatively affect a baby’s future body weight, how a concussion might interrupt a child’s normal brain development and how teens in military families are at higher risk of depression and suicidal thoughts.