TAG: "Obesity"

UCSF sugar science initiative launched


Researchers highlight strong links between sugar and chronic disease.

By Kristen Bole, UC San Francisco

Researchers at UC San Francisco have launched SugarScience, a groundbreaking research and education initiative designed to highlight the most authoritative scientific findings on added sugar and its impact on health.

The national initiative is launching in partnership with outreach programs in health departments across the country, including the National Association of City and County Health Organizations and cities nationwide.

Developed by a team of UCSF health scientists in collaboration with scientists at UC Davis and Emory University School of Medicine, the initiative reflects an exhaustive review of more than 8,000 scientific papers that have been published to date on the health effects of added sugar.

The research shows strong evidence of links between the overconsumption of added sugar and chronic diseases, including Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and liver disease. It also reveals evidence linking sugar to Alzheimer’s disease and cancer, although the team assessed that more research is needed before those links can be considered conclusive.

Laura Schmidt, UC San Francisco

“The average American consumes nearly three times the recommended amount of added sugar every day, which is taking a tremendous toll on our nation’s health,” said Laura Schmidt, Ph.D., a UCSF professor in the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies and the lead investigator on the project. “This is the definitive science that establishes the causative link between sugar and chronic disease across the population.”

The initiative aims to bring scientific research out of medical journals and into the public domain by showcasing key findings that can help individuals and communities make informed decisions about their health. For example, SugarScience.org cites research showing that drinking just one can of soda per day can increase a person’s risk of dying from heart disease by nearly one-third, and can raise the risk of getting Type 2 diabetes by one-quarter.

More than 27 million Americans have been diagnosed with heart disease, which is the nation’s leading cause of death. Another 25.8 million Americans have Type 2 diabetes, caused by the body’s resistance to the hormone insulin coupled with the inability to produce enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels. Of greatest concern is the rising number of children suffering from these chronic diseases.

Kristen Bibbins-Domingo, UC San Francisco

“Twenty years ago, Type 2 diabetes was unheard of among children, but now, more than 13,000 children are diagnosed with it each year,” said Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, M.D., Ph.D., a UCSF professor of medicine, epidemiology and biostatistics, and director of the UCSF Center for Vulnerable Populations at San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. “Diabetes is a devastating disease and we know that it is directly related to the added sugar we consume in food and beverages.”

Another rising concern is the impact of added sugar on Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), which affects 31 percent of adults and 13 percent of children, and can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.

“As pediatricians, we had evidence of the connection between sugar and diabetes, heart disease, and liver disease for years, but we haven’t had this level of definitive scientific evidence to back up our concerns,” said Robert Lustig, M.D., M.S.L., a pediatric endocrinologist at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco and a member of the SugarScience team. “Our goal is to make that science digestible to the American public, and take the first step toward a national conversation based on the real scientific evidence.”

Robert Lustig, UC San Francisco

While there are no federal recommended daily values for added sugar, the American Heart Association recommends consuming less than 6 tsp. (25 g) for women and 9 tsp. (38 g) for men. Guidelines for children depend on caloric intake, but range between 3-6 tsp (12-25 g) per day. Americans currently consume 19.5 tsp. of added sugar, on average, every day.

Added sugar is defined as any caloric sweetener that is added in food preparation, at the table, in the kitchen or in a processing plant. It can be difficult for people to know how much sugar they are consuming, since roughly 74 percent of processed foods contain added sugar, which is listed under at least 60 different names on food labels.

The 12-member SugarScience team will continue to monitor scientific research about added sugar and will track findings at SugarScience.org. The initiative harnesses the power of UCSF’s extensive health sciences enterprise, which ranges from basic laboratory research to clinical, population and policy sciences, with an emphasis on translating science into public benefit. All four of UCSF’s graduate schools – dentistry, medicine, nursing and pharmacy – lead their fields in research funding from the National Institutes of Health, reflecting the caliber of their research. It also is aligned with the UC Global Food Initiative, which seeks to harness UC resources to address global food needs.

SugarScience is made possible by an independent grant from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation. It is supported by the Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies at UCSF.

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Obese kids burdened by more than weight


UC San Diego study finds higher risk for liver disease, high blood pressure, heart problems.

High blood pressure and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) are two emerging health problems related to the epidemic of childhood obesity. In a recent study, researchers at the UC San Diego School of Medicine sought to determine the prevalence of high blood pressure in children with NAFLD, which places them at risk for premature cardiovascular disease.

The study, published in today’s (Nov. 24) edition of PLOS ONE, found that children with NAFLD are at substantial risk for high blood pressure, which is commonly undiagnosed.

“As a result of our study, we recommend that blood pressure evaluation, control and monitoring should be included as an integral component of the clinical management of children with NAFLD, especially because this patient population is at greater risk for heart attacks and strokes,” said Jeffrey Schwimmer, M.D., in the Department of Pediatrics at UC San Diego School of Medicine and principal investigator of the study. “Hypertension is a main cause of preventable death and disability in the United States in adults, but much of the origin occurs in childhood.”

NAFLD – the inappropriate storage of fat droplets inside liver cells – is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in the United States and affects nearly 10 percent of all children. Although children with chronic liver disease often have no symptoms, some children with NAFLD will have fatigue and/or abdominal pain. The initial evaluation for NAFLD is via a blood test and diagnosis is ultimately based upon a liver biopsy. The disease is most common in children and teenagers who are overweight and can develop in conjunction with other health problems, such as diabetes.

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UC Merced, community programs join to prevent obesity in families


Effort will focus on reducing obesity in young children.

In an effort to combat the increasing rates of obesity among Latino residents, UC Merced and the Merced County Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program will join forces.

Funded by a three-year, $90,000 grant from National Institutes of Health’s Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, the campus and nonprofit will look at efforts in other areas that have scientifically proven successful in reducing obesity, particularly in young children.

They also will develop partnerships with community groups and hold public meetings to learn what obesity-related issues are of particular concern in the community. Forty-three percent of fifth-, seventh- and ninth-grade Merced County students were overweight or obese, according to the 2011 study A Patchwork of Progress.

“This is a powerful partnership that stands to benefit an underserved population within the San Joaquin Valley,” said psychology professor Jan Wallander, who co-authored the grant proposal. “By connecting talented researchers with community partners and members, we hope to help reduce the number of children who are plagued by this serious problem.”

The research project is an example of how the UC Merced Health Sciences Research Institute matches community needs with its multidisciplinary faculty affiliates. The research team will include Wallander, public health professor A. Susana Ramirez, sociology professor Zulema Valdez, anthropology professor Robin DeLugan and Blum Center interim Director Steve Roussos.

There are multiple challenges in helping people adopt healthy diets, said Claudia G. Corchado, program manager for the Central California Regional Obesity Prevention Program and lead community partner in the project. For example, some people believe chubby children are healthy children, she said, and others don’t fully understand the health impacts of high-sugar beverages.

“If we don’t understand what a calorie is, how can we understand and learn to control portion sizes?” Corchado said. “How can we know that a 20-ounce bottle of soda has 100 more calories than a can if we don’t know how to read and understand a nutritional label and what exactly that means to our overall health?”

In addition to education, Corchado said, some families need more access to fresh fruit and vegetables. Without nearby grocery stores, they must shop at corner stores that generally stock foods higher in fat, sodium and sugar, which cost less than healthier options.

“We’re living in a world of intervention, but we need to go back to a world of prevention,” she said. “We can teach Latino families to avoid obesity and diabetes through healthy eating and drinking habits.”

Corchado and Wallander hope the quarterly community forums are strongly attended. They’ll also organize an annual conference to share information and findings. With input from community groups and members, Wallander said, UC Merced researchers would likely have many projects they could pursue.

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Immunotherapy for cancer can be toxic with obesity


UC Davis researchers link increased body fat and lethal drug reactions in mice.

Annie Mirsoian, UC Davis

Immunotherapy that can be effective against tumors in young, thin mice can be lethal to obese ones, a new study by UC Davis researchers has found. The findings, published online today (Nov. 3) in The Journal of Experimental Medicine, suggest a possible link between body fat and the risk of toxicity from some types of immunotherapy.

The study comes at a time of great excitement about immunotherapy drugs, which are being developed and used increasingly against cancer, particularly in melanoma and kidney and prostate cancers. Immunotherapies use immune components, such as antibodies or cytokines, to stimulate or suppress the immune system to help the body recognize, fight and kill tumors.

Immunotherapies fall into many classes, including systemic stimulatory regimens, inhibitors of checkpoint blockade and cell-mediated vaccines. Despite the progress made in their development in the last decade, many of these agents induce severe, often limiting toxicities in patients, hindering their use. UC Davis researchers have been working with mouse models to determine if there is a subset of patients for whom certain types of immunotherapies are especially toxic.

“Cancer is primarily considered a disease of the aged, and yet preclinical studies generally use young, lean animal models that may not be reflective of the ‘typical’ cancer patient,” said study lead author Annie Mirsoian. “Aging is a dynamic process that is characterized by increases in inflammatory factors, as well as a shift in body composition, where there is a gradual loss of lean muscle mass and an increase in fat accumulation, which effect how the immune system functions.”

Mirsoian, part of the immunology graduate group in the UC Davis Department of Dermatology, said the study sought to determine if by adjusting the mouse model to more closely reflect the cancer patient phenotype (advanced age and  overweight), researchers could better understand the discrepancies between animal study outcomes and those in patients in the clinic. Their studies examined aged mice on standard diets and compared those to aged mice that were calorie-restricted throughout life.

The researchers found that calorie restriction plays a protective role against toxicity. When laboratory aged mice ate their standard diet freely throughout life, they became obese and ultimately experienced lethal adverse reactions after receiving a systemic immunotherapy regimen.

“We know that people who are obese in general are at higher risk for complications from surgery, radiation and chemotherapy,” said study co-author Arta Monjazeb, assistant professor in the UC Davis Department of Radiation Oncology. “We know that obese people have higher levels of inflammatory markers in their blood, but there is a lack of data examining the effects of obesity on cancer treatment outcomes.”

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UC Irvine pediatric exercise research expert to speak at White House summit


The summit will focus on improving health and fitness for Americans with disabilities.

Dan Cooper, UC Irvine (Photo by Steve Zylius, UC Irvine)

A White House summit next week focused on improving health and fitness for Americans with disabilities will include the voice of a UC Irvine pediatrician nationally renowned for childhood exercise research.

Dr. Dan Cooper, founding director of UCI’s Pediatric Exercise and Genomics Research Center and chair of the Department of Pediatrics, has been invited to discuss the benefits of clinically tested exercise regimens for children with chronic diseases and disabilities at the White House Summit & Research Forum on Improved Health & Fitness for Americans with Disabilities. The event will take place Oct. 6-7 in Washington, D.C., in the Great Hall of the Hubert H. Humphrey Building.

Speaking on a panel for exercise physiology on Oct. 7, Cooper will outline the work accomplished by PERC researchers, focusing on the positive effects of exercise – stimulating the growth of many tissues, strengthening the immune system and curbing obesity. He will also stress the need to pursue rigorous translational and clinical studies to understand how to properly “prescribe” exercise to maximize its benefits in children. Cooper said that the number of children and adults with long-term diseases and disabilities, ranging from cerebral palsy to cystic fibrosis, is increasing. Typically, these individuals are simply unable to exercise with the same intensity, frequency and duration as their peers, and more often than not, they live completely sedentary lifestyles.

“We simply do not yet know how to provide these children and adults with the necessary and powerful ‘medicine’ of exercise to advance health across the lifespan. The clinical and research communities must work together to build a robust biological basis for the ‘exercise prescription’ in children with chronic diseases and disabilities,” said Cooper, who also directs UCI’s Institute for Clinical & Translational Science, which supports PERC efforts.

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Bariatric center accreditation linked to improved patient outcomes


UC Irvine’s Ninh Nguyen co-leads study of surgery center performance.

Ninh Nguyen, UC Irvine

Patients who underwent weight loss operations in recent years, when most bariatric surgical centers were accredited, had fewer postoperative complications and were 2.3 times less likely to die in the hospital than patients who had bariatric procedures performed before a national movement toward facility accreditation occurred, according to a study published in the September issue of the Journal of the American College of Surgeons.

Study authors said the findings suggest that accreditation of bariatric surgery centers contributes to improved safety for patients who undergo weight loss operations and saves lives. “The patient’s most important concern is, am I going to survive this operation?” said study co-investigator Ninh T. Nguyen, M.D., professor of surgery and chief of gastrointestinal Surgery, at UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange.  “We found that death is very uncommon when the operation takes place at an accredited facility, meaning it has met rigorous standards for high-quality surgical care.”

A surgical approach is now widely considered a very effective treatment for severe obesity.  Potential benefits of bariatric operations include substantial long-term weight loss, an improvement or reversal of Type 2 diabetes, and improved risk factors for heart disease, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery (ASMBS).  Common bariatric procedures include the Roux-en-Y gastric bypass, gastric banding, and sleeve gastrectomy.

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New mouse model points to therapy for liver disease


UC San Diego findings could have impacts on obesity, organ transplantation.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common affliction, affecting almost 30 percent of Americans, with a significant number suffering from its most severe form, called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH, which can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer. In recent years, NASH has become the leading cause of liver transplantation.

Development of effective new therapies for preventing or treating NASH has been stymied by limited small animal models for the disease. In a paper published online in Cancer Cell, scientists at the UC San Diego School of Medicine describe a novel mouse model that closely resembles human NASH and use it to demonstrate that interference with a key inflammatory protein inhibits both the development of NASH and its progression to liver cancer.

“These findings strongly call for clinical testing of relevant drugs in human NASH and its complications,” said senior author Michael Karin, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology in UC San Diego’s Laboratory of Gene Regulation and Signal Transduction. “Our research has shown that, at least in this mouse model, chemical compounds that include already clinically approved drugs that inhibit protein aggregation can also be used to prevent NASH caused by a high-fat diet.”

The increasing prevalence of NAFLD is linked to the nation’s ongoing obesity epidemic. In the past decade, the rate of obesity has doubled in adults and tripled in children, in large part due to a common diet rich in simple carbohydrates and saturated fats. NASH is characterized by inflammation and fibrosis, which damage the liver and can lead to cirrhosis, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the major form of liver cancer, and loss of function. Often, the only remedy is organ transplantation.

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Monitoring a new vital sign


Biosensor may help doctors determine which patients should be fed following surgery.

AbStats, developed by a team at UCLA, is a non-invasive acoustic gastrointestinal surveillance biosensor that monitors gut sounds.

A disposable plastic listening device that attaches to the abdomen may help doctors definitively determine which post-operative patients should be fed and which should not, an invention that may improve outcomes, decrease health care costs and shorten hospital stays, according to a UCLA study.

Some patients who undergo surgery develop a condition called post-operative ileus, a malfunction of the intestines. The condition causes patients to become ill if they eat too soon, which can lengthen an affected patient’s hospital stay by two to three days. Until now, there was no way to monitor for post-operative ileus other than listening to the belly for short periods with a stethoscope, said study first author Dr. Brennan Spiegel, a professor of medicine at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

If proven successful, the device, a non-invasive acoustic gastrointestinal surveillance biosensor called AbStats, could also be used to help diagnose irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease as well as helping obese people learn by the sounds from their gut when they should or shouldn’t eat, which could help them lose weight.

Spiegel and his team worked with researchers at the UCLA Wireless Health Institute at the Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science to develop the sensor, which resembles a small plastic cap and has a tiny microphone inside to monitor digestion.

“We think what we’ve invented is a way to monitor a new vital sign, one to go along with heart rate, blood pressure and respiration. This new vital sign, intestinal rate, could prove to be important in diagnosing and treating patients,” Spiegel said. “The role of wearable sensors in healthcare has reached mainstream consciousness and has the capacity to transform how we monitor and deliver care.

“Yet, there are very few biosensors that are supported by any peer-reviewed evidence,” Spiegel continued. “This study represents peer-reviewed evidence supporting use of a biosensor, a device born and bred out of UCLA multidisciplinary research.”

The study appears in the early online edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery.

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DDT linked to slow metabolism, obesity and diabetes


Study shows developmental exposure to DDT can affect female offspring.

Exposure of pregnant mice to the pesticide DDT is linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and related conditions in female offspring later in life, according to a study led by the University of California, Davis.

The study, published online today (July 30) in the journal PLOS ONE, is the first to show that developmental exposure to DDT increases the risk of females later developing metabolic syndrome — a cluster of conditions that include increased body fat, blood glucose and cholesterol.

DDT was banned in the United States in the 1970s but continues to be used for malaria control in countries including India and South Africa.

Scientists gave mice doses of DDT comparable to exposures of people living in malaria-infested regions where it is regularly sprayed, as well as of pregnant mothers of U.S. adults who are now in their 50s.

“The women and men this study is most applicable to in the United States are currently at the age when they’re more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, because these are diseases of middle- to late adulthood,” said lead author Michele La Merrill, assistant professor of environmental toxicology at UC Davis.

The scientists found that exposure to DDT before birth slowed the metabolism of female mice and lowered their tolerance of cold temperature. This increased their likelihood of developing metabolic syndrome and its host of related conditions.

“As mammals, we have to regulate our body temperature in order to live,” La Merrill said. “We found that DDT reduced female mice’s ability to generate heat. If you’re not generating as much heat as the next guy, instead of burning calories, you’re storing them.”

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Study finds parents rank their obese children as ‘very healthy’


Parents indicate greater interest in helping their child eat healthy than encouraging exercise.

A UC San Diego School of Medicine-led study suggests that parents of obese children often do not recognize the potentially serious health consequences of childhood weight gain or the importance of daily physical activity in helping their child reach a healthy weight.

The study is published online in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

“Parents have a hard time changing their child’s dietary and physical activity behaviors,” said lead author Kyung Rhee, M.D., and an assistant adjunct professor in the Department of Pediatrics. “Our study tells us what factors may be associated with a parent’s motivation to help their child become more healthy.”

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University of California launches Global Food Initiative


UC system united in effort to help put world on path to sustainably, nutritiously feed itself.

UC President Janet Napolitano plants oregano with Matt Orke in the student-run community garden at UCLA. (Photo by Reed Hutchinson, UCLA)

By Alec Rosenberg

University of California President Janet Napolitano and chancellors from all 10 campuses are joining forces on an audacious and far-reaching goal: harnessing the collective power of UC to help put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feed itself.

President Napolitano unveiled the UC Global Food Initiative today (July 1) over the course of three events, starting at the Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, followed by a presentation to the California State Board of Food and Agriculture in Sacramento, and finally at the UCLA community garden in the Sunset Canyon Recreation Center.

The initiative brings together the university’s research, outreach and campus operations in an effort to develop and export solutions throughout California, the United States and the world for food security, health and sustainability, Napolitano said during the morning briefing.

“It is a commitment to apply a laser focus on what UC can do as a public research university — in one of the most robust agricultural regions in the world — to take on one of the world’s most pressing issues,” Napolitano said.

The Edible Schoolyard is a 1-acre garden and kitchen classroom at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School, founded by Chez Panisse chef and owner Alice Waters. It has become a model for teaching children how to grow and eat a healthy, sustainable diet. It features vegetables, herbs, vines, berries, flowers, fruit trees and chickens.

UC President Janet Napolitano (right) tours the Edible Schoolyard at Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School with founder and restaurateur Alice Waters. (Photo by Robert Durell)

Waters gave Napolitano a tour of the garden and then at a press conference gave her a basket of eggs from the garden’s chickens, quipping that she was “putting all her eggs” in Napolitano’s basket.

“I’m extremely excited and very hopeful because I know that she believes as I do that public education is the best way to solve the problems of the world,” said Waters, a UC Berkeley alumna.

Vision and leadership

Napolitano received an equally warm reception from state agricultural leaders.

“There is no better time to launch this initiative than today,” said board President Craig McNamara. “Count on us at the State Board of Food and Agriculture. We are your partners.”

The initiative will harness UC’s leadership in the fields of agriculture, medicine, nutrition, climate science, public policy, social science, biological science, humanities, arts and law, among others.

It comes at a crucial time, Napolitano said. A billion people — most of them in the developing world — suffer from chronic hunger or serious nutritional deficiencies. More than half a billion — primarily in the industrialized nations of the world — are obese. Against this backdrop, climate change and population growth fuel additional uncertainty and urgency about how to sustainably feed the world.

“This initiative shows great vision and leadership from President Napolitano and the University of California,” said Karen Ross, secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture. “Climate change and population growth will greatly strain our ability to provide healthy food to people here and around the world.

“President Napolitano’s proposal to leverage the strategic assets of the entire UC organization makes it a valuable partner in addressing the significant challenges and opportunities for our production agriculture and food system.”

Napolitano said that she and campus chancellors decided to launch the Global Food Initiative after recognizing that the university system is uniquely positioned to play a leading role in addressing the related challenges of nutrition and sustainability.

Playing to strengths

Henry Brady, dean of UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy, was among a half dozen UC leaders and members of the university’s Food Initiative Working Group to join Napolitano at the Edible Schoolyard. Also in attendance were UC Santa Cruz professor Daniel Press, executive director of the Center for Agroecology & Sustainable Food Systems at that campus, and Ann Thrupp, executive director of the Berkeley Food Institute at UC Berkeley.

Brady said that the initiative’s strength comes from the depth of work and research across the 10-campus system. Each location brings its own area of expertise, he noted.

“We at the Berkeley Food Institute are trying to see how we can transform the food system to be more sustainable and we want to do it through good science, good policy, good thinking,” Brady said.

Press echoed Napolitano’s sentiment that UC’s involvement comes at a crucial moment.

He said that UC Santa Cruz had long been the “mothership” of organic agriculture in California and the U.S.

“We feel a lot of what people are talking about with sustainable agriculture and justice in the food system — these are things we’ve been working on for 40 years,” Press said. “Now the world is much more receptive.”

Helene Dillard, dean of the College of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, talks with reporters in Sacramento. (Photo by Robert Durell)

Helene Dillard, dean of the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences at UC Davis, who joined Napolitano at the meeting with the state board, said that people at UC Davis are particularly excited about the initiative because it aligns so well with work already under way at the campus.

UC Davis last year launched the World Food Center to focus on transformative research at the intersection of food, agriculture, health and public policy.

“We’re already the No.1 agricultural school in the nation and the world,” Dillard said. “Having the UC system focusing on this really plays to our strengths.”

Stronger together

At UCLA, Napolitano was joined by UCLA Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Scott Waugh; Wendy Slusser, associate vice provost for the UCLA Healthy Campus Initiative; students who manage the garden; and Los Angeles and Riverside school district officials.

UCLA’s initiative is an integrated effort aimed at making the campus the healthiest university in the country, promoting health and wellness of students, faculty and staff, and helping other communities achieve the same objectives. The Healthy Campus Initiative was envisioned and supported by philanthropists Jane and Terry Semel. Jane Semel was present for the announcement.

Napolitano toured the garden with members of the student group DigUCLA. She also planted an oregano plant and learned about gardening basics from the students.

Slusser said that she was excited to learn that the Healthy Campus Initiative served as a starting point for what has grown into a larger and stronger UC-wide effort. “On a personal note, the initiative is bringing me back to my roots since food has been the driving force in my medical and academic career, and also my father is a fourth-generation California rancher. So thank you, President Napolitano, and thank you to all our UCLA and community partners for working so hard in making us stronger together to promote health, wellness and happiness through food.”

UC is California’s land-grant university and has played a key part in helping California become the nation’s leading agricultural state. UC’s Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources has experts in every county in California, helping farmers, ranchers and others cope with tough issues like drought.

But UC’s leadership goes beyond agriculture. Students, faculty and staff have turned UC’s campuses into living laboratories for sustainable food practices. UC also is on the frontlines of addressing issues of food inequality and health, from developing flood- and drought-resistant crops to developing a highly efficient cookstove that addresses food security issues posed by displaced persons in Darfur.

Napolitano noted that the Berkeley Food Institute is studying the relationship between pest control, conservation and food safety on Central Coast farms; the World Food Center at UC Davis stands with 26 other centers dedicated to food and agriculture on that campus; students and faculty at UC Santa Cruz are transforming the field of agroecology; and the cutting-edge Healthy Campus initiative at UCLA taps all members of the campus community.

“We do much,” Napolitano said, “but, together, we can do more.”

Examples of projects that will be undertaken in the first phase of the UC Global Food Initiative include:

  • Expanding experiential learning, including demonstration gardens;
  • Creating a course catalogue of all food-related courses available on UC campuses;
  • Leveraging food purchasing power to encourage sustainable farming practices to serve nutritious fare in dining halls and cafeterias;
  • Data mining of existing information to help develop insights and action plans for agriculture and responses to climate change;
  • Organizing food pantries, so that food reaches hungry mouths instead of going to waste; and
  • Developing policies to better enable small growers to become suppliers.

Supporting student involvement

To support student engagement, Napolitano also announced the creation of the President’s Global Food Initiative Student Fellowship Program. The Office of the President will provide $7,500 to each UC campus to be used for three fellowships of $2,500 each. At the campuses’ discretion, these fellowships will go to undergraduates or graduate students, to fund student-generated research, related projects or internships that focus on food issues.

Keith Gilless, dean of UC Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources, said he was excited to see the system collaborate on such an important goal.

“I’ve been working my whole career to see how does the UC system as a whole come together so the sum is greater than its parts,” Gilless said. “The time is right to mobilize the university’s resources both to advance science and practices and to raise public consciousness about food issues broadly.”

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Immune system molecules may promote weight loss


UCSF study results raise hopes for alternative way to lose weight.

Ajay Chawla, UC San Francisco

The calorie-burning triggered by cold temperatures can be achieved biochemically – without the chill – raising hopes for a weight-loss strategy focused on the immune system rather than the brain, according to a new study by UC San Francisco researchers.

The team determined that two signaling molecules secreted by cells of the immune system trigger the conversion of fat-storing white fat cells to fat-burning beige fat cells. Ajay Chawla, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of medicine at the UCSF Cardiovascular Research Institute, led the study, published online today (June 5) in the journal Cell.

Working with mice, Chawla’s team discovered that the signaling molecules, called interleukin 4 and interleukin 13, activate cells known as macrophages, which in turn drive the fat conversion. In one experiment the researchers gave interleukin 4 to fat mice, which increased beige fat mass, leading to weight loss.

The finding builds on previous work by Chawla’s team, which reported in 2011 in Nature that cold activates part of the immune system, and specifically activates interleukin 4 in fat. In the new study, Chawla’s team determined that both interleukin 4 and interleukin 13 recruit macrophages to fat and that the production of molecules called catecholamines by the macrophages causes the browning of white fat.

When the researchers inhibited interleukin 4 signaling in white fat, they found that the mice made less beige fat, burned less energy, and could no longer maintain normal body temperature in the cold.

The study results are likely to further fuel the quest to identify new ways to pharmaceutically tame obesity by targeting how much energy we burn, not just how many calories we ingest, according to Chawla.

“If you could increase energy expenditure by even a few percent, over a period of a year or two year you would make a big difference,” he said.

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