July 2024


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OPUS Workshop Recordings and Slides Now Available Online

July 2024, NCCOR

NCCOR’s recent Obesity-Related Policy, Systems, and Environmental (OPUS) workshop is now available for viewing. This workshop, the first in a two-part series, featured over two dozen distinguished speakers who explored best practices and future innovations in childhood obesity prevention. Now you can access all the recordings and speaker slides on our newly launched OPUS I project page.

The new page features the workshop’s two impactful keynote addresses that laid the foundation for engaging discussions. Dr. Ross Hammond from the Brown School at Washington University in St. Louis and The Brookings Institution presented “Systems Approaches to Obesity Prevention,” highlighting the importance of integrated, multi-level strategies. Dr. Wilma Waterlander from Amsterdam UMC shared insights from the Amsterdam Healthy Weight Program in her address on “Applying Systems Thinking in Community-Engaged, Participatory Research.”

In addition to the keynotes, all six panel discussions featuring global leaders in prevention research are available on the OPUS I project page.

  • Advancing Success in Obesity Prevention: What Works Where and for Whom?, moderated by Dr. Shiriki Kumanyika,
  • Building the Next Generation of Multilevel Interventions to Prevent Obesity, moderated by Dr. Bill Dietz.
  • Authentically Engaging Communities to Maximize Relevance and Impact, moderated by Dr. Caree Cotwright,
  • Food and Physical Activity Environments: Thinking Beyond Food Retail and Green Space, moderated by Dr. Angela Odoms-Young
  • Social Policy as Obesity Policy: The Impact of Addressing Social Determinants of Health, moderated by Dr. Andrea Richardson
  • Where Do We Go Next? Scaling Systems Approaches for Equitable Obesity Prevention, moderated by Dr. Jamie Chriqui

Visit the OPUS I project page for speaker bios and more information about the first workshop. OPUS II is scheduled for October 9-10, 2024.

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Publications & Tools

New NCCOR Timeline Graphic Available

July 2024, NCCOR

NCCOR is recognizing 15 years of advancing progress in childhood obesity research. Take a trip down memory lane with our new timeline! Explore some of NCCOR’s greatest achievements over the past decade and a half, from developing innovative research tools to fostering a collaborative research network.

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New WHO Report Highlights Commercial Determinants of Health

A pioneering report from the WHO Regional Office for Europe spells out clearly how specific powerful industries are driving ill health and premature mortality across Europe and central Asia, including through interfering in and influencing prevention and control efforts for non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cardiovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes, and their risk factors including tobacco, alcohol, unhealthy diets and obesity. The report calls on governments to implement mechanisms to identify conflicts of interest and protect public policies from industry interference.

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USPSTF Recommendation Statement on Interventions for High BMI in Children and Adolescents

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends that clinicians provide or refer children and adolescents 6 years or older with a high body mass index (BMI; at or above the 95th percentile for age and sex) to comprehensive, intensive behavioral interventions. Approximately 19.7% of children and adolescents ages 2 to 19 in the U.S. have a BMI at or above the 95th percentile for age and sex, based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention growth charts from 2000. The prevalence of high BMI increases with age and is higher among Hispanic/Latino, Native American/Alaska Native, and non-Hispanic Black children and adolescents and children from lower-income families. The USPSTF routinely makes recommendations about the effectiveness of preventive care services and this recommendation is consistent with its 2017 recommendation statement on screening for obesity in children and adolescents.

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Childhood Obesity Research & News

Children Born Underweight are at Increased Risk of Disease if They Develop Obesity

June 24, 2024, EurekAlert!

Hundreds of millions of people live with obesity, which is normally measured as a higher-than-optimal body mass index (BMI). While an elevated BMI increases the risk of a range of cardiometabolic diseases and is responsible for around five million deaths a year according to the World Health Organization, not everyone is equally at risk.

Scientists at the University of Copenhagen have now discovered that children born with a low birth weight are especially at risk of health complications if they later develop obesity.

“Our study shows that the link between low birth weight and cardiometabolic disease risk can be detected already in childhood – and that this is the case for both the actual birth weight and the genetic determinants of birth weight,” says Sara Stinson, Postdoctoral research fellow, and first author of the study.

“It also supports the theory that individuals who were born low birth weight, or who are genetically predisposed to low birth weight, may be more vulnerable to health hazards – such as excess visceral fat – throughout the course of life.”

Interrogating the link between disease risk and birth weight
Scientists have already discovered that people born with a high birth weight are more at risk of developing a higher-than-optimal BMI later in life. On the other hand, there is strong evidence that people born with a low birth weight, or have a genetic predisposition to low birth weight, have an increased risk of cardiometabolic diseases like type 2 diabetes.

What is less well understood is how and when in life people with these risk factors actually develop cardiometabolic disease. It is also unclear how overweight and obesity plays a role in the development of cardiometabolic disease, depending on birth weight.

To learn more, the team of scientists analysed a Danish cohort called The HOLBÆK Study of more than 4,000 children and adolescents with and without obesity. The cohort contains a wide variety of health-related data including birth weight, BMI, clinical evaluations, blood samples, biomarkers, and a polygenic score for birth weight  – a calculation that combines the effect of many genetic variants related to birth weight.

Underdeveloped subcutaneous fat increases disease risk
The scientists reported the results of their analysis in the journal eBiomedicine. They showed that developing obesity as a child presents more health risks if the child is born underweight. One example is sensitivity to the hormone insulin, which helps to regulate blood sugar levels. Low insulin sensitivity is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes.

“If we look at measures of insulin sensitivity, we see that being born with a low birth weight does not have an adverse effect in children with normal weight. However, in children with obesity, we see near normal insulin sensitivity in children born with a high birth weight and drastically decreased insulin sensitivity in children with low birth weight,” says PhD Student Pauline Kromann Reim, from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research at the University of Copenhagen and second author of the study.

The reason could be, literally, skin deep. The body normally stores fat in fat cells beneath the skin, called subcutaneous fat. But these fat stores are may be underdeveloped in children who are born underweight, and they can therefore not expand as needed to store more fat.

Instead, their body stores fat, called visceral fat, around their organs. While subcutaneous fat is not dangerous for the body – but is essential for its proper functioning – higher levels of visceral fat have a range of negative health impacts including an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.

The scientists also found a link between low birth weight and increased levels of fat in the liver, which decreases insulin sensitivity and could explain why low birth weight individuals are – already in childhood – at a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Blood samples from people with low birth weight also had higher levels of obesity-related biomarkers in their blood.

Low birth weight children need tailored prevention and treatment
Based on the findings, Clinical Associate Professor Jens Christian Holm from The Children’s Obesity Clinic, Copenhagen University Hospital Holbæk, and co-senior author on the paper, calls for prevention and treatment approaches that are tailored specifically for children with obesity who were born with a lower birth weight.

“Such targeted strategies could potentially reduce their risk of developing obesity-related cardiometabolic complications,” says Jens Christian Holm.

“Early intervention and more precision in who to treat and who not to treat are key elements in the battle of cardiometabolic disease”, adds Professor Torben Hansen from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research at the University of Copenhagen, and co-senior author on the paper. [Source]

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Global Prevalence of Overweight and Obesity in Children and Adolescents

June 10, 2024, EurekAlert!

This study’s findings indicated 1 of 5 children or adolescents experienced excess weight and that rates of excess weight varied by regional income and Human Development Index. Excess weight among children and adolescents was associated with a mix of inherent, behavioral, environmental, and sociocultural influences that need the attention and committed intervention of primary care professionals, clinicians, health authorities, and the general public. [Source]

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Father's Diet Before Conception Influences Children's Health

June 5, 2024, EurekAlert!

Dr. Raffaele Teperino, head of the “Environmental Epigenetics” research group at Helmholtz Munich, along with his research team, has examined the impact of paternal diet on children’s health – specifically, the influence of diet before conception. The researchers focused on special small RNA molecules in sperm, known as mitochondrial tRNA fragments (mt-tsRNAs, see background). These RNAs play a key role in the inheritance of health traits by regulating gene expression.

For their study, the researchers used data from the LIFE Child cohort, which includes information from over 3,000 families. The analyses showed that the father’s body weight influences the weight of the children and their susceptibility to metabolic diseases. This influence exists independently from other factors such as the mother’s weight, the parental genetics, or environmental conditions.

The Father’s Diet Influences the Children
To verify the results of their analysis, the research team subsequently conducted experiments with mice. These mice were fed a high-fat diet, meaning food with a higher fat content than a normal diet. This had effects on the reproductive organs of the animals, including the epididymis. The epididymis is the area in the male reproductive system where freshly formed sperm mature. “Our study shows that sperm exposed to a high-fat diet in the mouse epididymis led to offspring with an increased tendency to metabolic diseases,” says Raffaele Teperino.

To deepen the findings, the research team conducted additional studies in the laboratory. They created embryos through in-vitro fertilization (fertilization “in a test tube”). When Teperino’s team used sperm from mice that had been exposed to a high-fat diet, they found mt-tsRNAs from these sperm in early embryos, significantly influencing gene expression. This, in turn, affects the development and health of the offspring.

“Our hypothesis that acquired phenotypes over the course of life, such as diabetes and obesity, are transmitted via epigenetic mechanisms across generations, is reinforced by this study. Here, epigenetics serves as a molecular link between the environment and the genome, even across generational boundaries. This occurs not only through the maternal line but, as our research results indicate, also through the paternal line,” explains Prof. Martin Hrabě de Angelis, co-author of this study and Research Director at Helmholtz Munich.

Preventive Health Care for Men Wishing to Become Fathers
The findings from the researchers at Helmholtz Munich underline the role of paternal health before conception – and offer new approaches to preventive health care: “Our results suggest that preventive health care for men wishing to become fathers should receive more attention and that programs should be developed for this purpose, especially with regard to diet,” says Teperino. “This can reduce the risk of diseases like obesity and diabetes in children.”

Background: The Indirect Influence of Fathers
Mitochondria are often referred to as the powerhouses of the cell. They have their own DNA, independent of the DNA in the cell nucleus. This mitochondrial DNA (mt-DNA) produces proteins in the mitochondria via the intermediate mt-RNA and is typically inherited from mothers to offspring. Previously, it was assumed that fathers had no part in the genetic makeup of their offspring’s mitochondria. However, recent studies like this one now show that sperm carry fragments of mt-RNA (“mt-tsRNA”) into the egg during fertilization. The mt-tsRNAs play a role in epigenetics, regulating gene expression in the early embryo: they can indirectly influence the development and health of the offspring by modifying the activity of certain genes in the mitochondria. Thus, fathers have an important, albeit indirect, influence on the genetic imprinting of mitochondria and thereby on the energy metabolism of their children. [Source]

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