UAMS Professor Says Americans are Literally ‘Super-Sizing’ to Death

By todd

It’s a harsh way of saying it, but the science of nutrition doesn’t lie, said Reza Hakkak, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Department of Dietetics and Nutrition in the UAMS College of Health Related Professions and associate professor in the UAMS College of Medicine.

Hakkak is also a research investigator at the Arkansas Children’s Hospital Research Institute (ACHRI),

March is National Nutrition Month, sponsored by the American Dietetics Association (ADA), and Hakkak said that while the awareness campaign has highlighted some positive steps being taken toward better health, overall the outlook isn’t good. Americans are shortening their own life expectancies, making themselves vulnerable to disease, and worse teaching their children poor health habits – all by eating large portions of unhealthy foods and limiting their daily activities.

“We have to pay attention to the rate of obesity in our society,” Hakkak said, “since it is linked with several diseases, including high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes.”

Hakkak recently received a $250,000 grant from the Susan G. Komen Cancer Foundation through ACHRI to continue his research on obesity and breast cancer. When comparing data from obese and lean rats, he found that a carcinogen called DMBA found in cigarette smoke, car exhaust and some cooked foods causes mammary tumors to increase more than two times in obese rats compared to lean rats. He said it isn’t a far stretch to assume that the same thing is happening in women with weight problems.

”It’s important that you make a healthy decision for your own life before someone has to make a decision for your medical treatment,” Hakkak said. “The cheapest way of preventing chronic disease is through a healthy diet and increasing physical activity.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control, Arkansas’ obesity rate in adults in 1991 was 10 percent to 14 percent, but by 2003, it had jumped to 20 percent to 24 percent. That trend was seen nationwide, as 31 states in 2003 reported similar levels, and four states reported levels even higher. Today, 65 percent of the national population is overweight and 31 percent is considered obese.

Hakkak said that even if you are currently overweight and sedentary right now, it is never too late to change your habits and head down the road to a healthier lifestyle. “The bottom line is, we have a choice to stay healthy and live longer,” he said.

Parents have an even bigger reason to adopt healthy habits. According to the UAMS College of Public Health, about 40 percent of Arkansas’ children are overweight or at risk of becoming overweight. Diseases and conditions such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure, typically seen in adults, are becoming more prevalent in children.

“A healthy diet should start at home. Be an example for your family, neighbors and community,” Hakkak said.

Changes that can make a big impact include:

• Looking up when you walk through the cereal aisle. Hakkak said most of the low sugar, high fiber cereals are kept on the top shelves, while the highly processed sugary cereals are kept down low, where children are more likely to see them. He said to look for high fiber content in cereals. Hakkak said you can expect to spend about a dollar more for cereals that are rich in fiber, but it is well worth it when considering the consequences of eating cereals packed with sugar.

• Once you choose a healthy cereal, keep up the trend by pouring only low fat milk on it. Hakkak said children need the calcium in dairy, but not the fat.

• Don’t let children replace healthy drinks with soft drinks. Hakkak said that when a child picks a soft drink over milk, not only do they get empty calories, but they miss out on the calcium, vitamins and minerals they need. Doctors are seeing some children with bone diseases that may be tied to a lack of calcium in their diets.

• Give children a variety of healthy drinks to choose from. Fruit and vegetable juices can help give children a quick energy boost and provide needed nutrients. Soy beverages are becoming more palatable to children and are a healthy alternative to soft drinks. Again, Hakkak said, it is important to read the label carefully, since some drinks touted as being healthy may include large amounts of sugar or fat.

• Read the labels on the foods you buy. Hakkak said it is important not just to read the label, but to understand what you are reading. He said you should always aim for lower calories, fat and sugar, and higher fiber.

• Include more activity in your everyday life and make sure your children do as well. Hakkak said that doesn’t necessarily mean joining a health club, but it does mean evaluate the situation if you find yourself playing couch potato instead of playing outside.

• Walk anywhere and everywhere. He said walking can greatly improve your health. If you are at work, walk to see another employee instead of emailing them. Use the stairs instead of the elevators. If the weather is bad, walk in the mall.

“It’s ironic that we spend two to three dollars to have a high-fat, high calorie cheeseburger, with no real nutritional value, but at the same time, we spend $100 to be members of a gym to lose the results of those two to three dollars,” Hakkak said.

UAMS is the state’s only comprehensive academic health center, with five colleges, a graduate school, a medical center, five centers of excellence and a statewide network of regional centers. UAMS has more than 2,200 students and 660 residents and is the state’s largest public employer with almost 9,000 employees. UAMS and its affiliates have an economic impact in Arkansas of $4.1 billion a year.

UAMS centers of excellence are the Arkansas Cancer Research Center, Harvey and Bernice Jones Eye Institute, Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, Myeloma Institute for Research and Therapy and Jackson T. Stephens Spine and Neurosciences Institute.