“Chronic Disease In Later Years Is Not Predestined”

Critical update: healthy aging 

Jan 6, 2020

George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences

WASHINGTON — As food consumed in the U.S. becomes more and more processed, obesity may become more prevalent.

Through reviewing overall trends in food, George Washington University (GW) researcher Leigh A. Frame, PhD, MHS, concluded that detailed recommendations to improve diet quality and overall nutrition are needed for consumers, who are prioritizing food that is cheaper and more convenient, but also highly processed.

Her conclusions are published in a review article in Current Treatment Options in Gastroenterology.

“When comparing the U.S. diet to the diet of those who live in “blue zones” – areas with populations living to age 100 without chronic disease – the differences are stark,” said Frame, co-author of the article, program director for the Integrative Medicine Programs, executive director of the Office of Integrative Medicine and Health, and assistant professor of clinical research and leadership at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

“Many of the food trends we reviewed are tied directly to a fast-paced U.S. lifestyle that contributes to the obesity epidemic we are now facing.”

The rising obesity epidemic in the U.S., as well as related chronic diseases, are correlated with a rise in ultra-processed food consumption.

The foods most associated with weight gain include potato chips, sugar sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, refined grains, red meats, and processed meats, while lower weight gain or even weight loss is associated with whole grains, fruits, and vegetables.

Other food trends outlined in the report include insufficient dietary fiber intake, a dramatic increase in food additives like emulsifiers and gums, and a higher prevalence of obesity, particularly in women.

In mice and in vitro trials, emulsifiers, found in processed foods, have been found to alter microbiome compositions, elevate fasting blood glucose, cause hyperphagia, increase weight gain and adiposity, and induce hepatic steatosis.

Recent human trials have linked ultra-processed foods to decreased satiety (fullness), increased meal eating rates (speed), worsening biochemical markers, including inflammation and cholesterol, and more weight gain.

In contrast, populations with low meat, high fiber, and minimally processed foods — the “blue zones” — have far less chronic diseases, obesity rates, and live longer disease-free.

“Rather than solely treating the symptoms of obesity and related diseases with medication, we need to include efforts to use food as medicine,” said Frame.

“Chronic disease in later years is not predestined, but heavily influenced by lifestyle and diet. Decreasing obesity and chronic disease in the U.S. will require limiting processed foods and increasing intake of whole vegetables, legumes, nuts, fruits, and water. Health care providers must also emphasize lifestyle medicine, moving beyond ‘a pill for an ill.’ ”

Janese Laster, MD, a gastroenterologist in Washington, D.C., also co-authored the report. The project was conducted independently and did not receive outside funding.

“Beyond the Calories—Is the Problem in the Processing?” was published in Current Treatment Options in Gastroenterology and is available at link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11938-019-00246-1.

“As the USA continues to industrialize, food has become more processed and cheaper and more convenient along with the coexistent rise in obesity prevalence. This review highlights the overall trends in food: mild improvements in dietary quality in higher socioeconomic populations, but no significant increases in whole fruit, vegetables, legumes, or nuts. Consumption of ultra-processed food is associated with weight gain and may contribute to metabolic syndrome and chronic disease. To combat this epidemic, we must create and disseminate detailed recommendations to improve diet quality and overall nutrition.” – Obesity and Nutrition, Nov, 30 2019

About the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences:
Founded in 1824, the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) was the first medical school in the nation’s capital and is the 11th oldest in the country. Working together in our nation’s capital, with integrity and resolve, the GW SMHS is committed to improving the health and well-being of our local, national and global communities. smhs.gwu.edu