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A better way to lose weight

If your child has weight problems, putting him or her on a diet is a natural and reasonable response. The bad news: as for most people, a diet alone probably won’t keep the weight off for long.

What does work, says Mary Savoye, a registered dietician and a research associate at Yale’s Center for Clinical Investigation, is a comprehensive approach that teaches both parents and children about nutrition, self-awareness, and coping skills, and that makes exercise fun and non-threatening. Savoye and her colleagues have developed just such a program.

“Dieting doesn’t offer the tools overweight children need to make informed decisions over the long term,” says Savoye. But in research highlighted in the June 27 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the Savoye team showed that during a yearlong test period, the comprehensive approach enabled youngsters to become leaner than those who followed a traditional clinical weight management program.

Savoye’s approach is an intensive behavior-modification program called Bright Bodies, which she helped develop at Yale in 1998. She currently directs the Bright Bodies program. For the randomized clinical trial study, the researchers worked with 209 overweight children, aged 8 to 16, from Yale’s pediatric obesity clinic.

The children assigned to the control group received checkups and counseling twice a year at the clinic, while those assigned to the Bright Bodies group attended discussions twice weekly for the first six months and twice monthly for the second six months. Topics ranged from making healthier choices at fast food restaurants to identifying activities other than eating for coping with stress. The children also participated in age-appropriate fitness activities. In addition, parents were taught how to create a home environment supportive of good nutrition, exercise, and healthy food choices.

On average, the Bright Bodies group lost 8 pounds of body fat while the control group gained 12 pounds of body fat. More significant, study group participants reduced body mass index (BMI) by an average of 1.7 points while the control group added 1.6 points to their BMIs. (Since the children are still growing, the BMI—which relates weight to height—is a better indicator than weight alone.) Many in the Bright Bodies group also reduced diabetes risk by improving their sensitivity to insulin, the hormone that controls blood sugar.

Savoye stresses that the comprehensive approach, the continuing contact between families and staff, and the group support are central to the positive results seen in the study. “With all the negative cues out there,” Savoye says, “a child can’t make these lifestyle changes alone.”



Names can hurt you

 “The damage done to children by weight bias can be serious and long-lasting,” says Rebecca Puhl, director of research and weight stigma initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity. Puhl and Janet D. Latner, of the University of Hawaii-Manoa, analyzed more than 100 medical, sociological, and psychological studies on stigmatization published over the past 40 years. They found that adolescents teased about weight are two to three times more likely to report thinking about or attempting suicide than their peers, and they are at risk for—among other problems—unhealthy weight control attempts, binge eating, and reduced academic performance.

The study, published in Psychological Bulletin this July, also found that overweight children are teased not only by their peers, but even by teachers, parents, and other adults. Parents, in fact, are a frequent source of derogatory remarks—out of frustration, Puhl says, at not knowing how to help their children. And parents absorb the culture’s attitudes about weight. “The increase in childhood obesity has not fostered tolerance,” Puhl says. “Weight bias has actually worsened as obesity has increased.”



The frog mystery: no answer yet


October 2002

In October 2002, this magazine’s cover featured a frog t hat was missing one of its hind limbs. “What’s wrong with this frog?” we asked.

Widespread and unexplained amphibian deformities had become a major ecological concern in the United States. Yale ecologist David Skelly and his team were conducting experiments in Vermont that seemed to point toward a parasite called Ribeiroia as the culprit.

But today Skelly and his colleagues have disproved their own hypothesis. In an upcoming issue of the journal EcoHealth, they describe evidence that exonerates the parasite—at least in Vermont.

Ribeiroia had come under suspicion because many biologists believed it was capable of causing a wide range of limb deformities. Indeed, in western species such as Pacific tree frogs and boreal toads, scientists had shown in 2001 that Ribeiroia infection plays a clear role in causing multiple limbs.

But Skelly’s team didn’t find amphibians with these kinds of deformities. “Our frogs were missing limbs and pelvic elements,” he says.

The researchers examined more than 12,000 frogs (seven species) from 41 sites in Vermont during a two-year period. Of the total, 3,420 were in the process of changing from tadpole to adult. Among these “metamorphs” were 117 that lacked either all or part of a limb. Most critically: neither the affected amphibians nor the population as a whole had the Ribeiroia parasite.

In the absence of the parasite, scientists are left without a general explanation for the plague of deformed frogs in the Northeast, the Midwest, and the Pacific Northwest. Skelly is starting to look at another culprit: agricultural chemicals. “We found that frogs growing up in wetlands near farm fields are twice as likely to have limb deformities as amphibians in more pristine areas,” he says. “We know that chemical agents and their breakdown products can cause deformities. We’re beginning work to determine whether they play a significant role.”



How Lyme disease gets around

Ticks have plagued the larger life forms on this planet for more than 90 million years. During that time, the parasites have developed many ways to thwart the defenses of their hosts. Even tick saliva is adapted for invasion. Recently, medical school researcher Erol Fikrig discovered that the Lyme disease microbe has also evolved a way to use tick spit.

The deer tick typically dines on small mammals such as mice and chipmunks. (It bites us more or less by accident.) Ticks aren’t born with the Lyme disease microbe in their systems. They acquire it when they feed on an infected animal. Once infected, the ticks can pass on the bacteria to their next mammal host.

But when a mammal is bitten, its immune system secretes chemicals that attack the tick’s mouthparts. Those chemicals can kill any Lyme pathogen trying to exit or enter. And so, says Fikrig, “getting the pathogens in and out of the tick requires an ingenious subterfuge.”

Fikrig’s team found that to make the journey from mouse to tick, the bacterium is helped by a protein called Salp25D, a potent antioxidant in tick saliva that neutralizes chemical defenses in mouse skin. The researchers found that when they knocked out the gene that enables a tick to produce Salp25D, few of the Lyme microbes got into the tick’s body. (The research appeared in the July 12 Cell Host and Microbe.)

“These pathogens are very sneaky,” says Fikrig. “But we may be able to turn off the proteins the bacteria rely on, to greatly lower the number of infected ticks and mice.”



Anger management

Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton '73JD is in a bind. When the Democratic front-runner talks tough on the issues, some opponents label her an “angry woman.” This designation, at least some pundits have suggested, renders her unelectable.

According to Yale social psychologist Victoria Brescoll '06PhD, there's some truth to this assertion. In research presented at the August meeting of the Academy of Management, Brescoll presented the results of three experiments on how people perceive female anger. In the first study, participants—both male and female—watched videotapes and read job interview transcripts in which men and women (actually actors from the drama school) expressed either anger or sadness about a job situation. The subjects were asked to rate the applicants' employment potential and status and assign salaries. Across the board, says Brescoll, “angry men are assigned more status and they’re paid a lot more than sad men. Sad women are rated somewhat lower than sad men, but angry women just get slammed by viewers.”

The median salary offer for angry men was $37,807; for sad men, it was $30,033. On the other hand, sad women were offered $28,970; angry women, $23,464.

In a second experiment, Brescoll explored the possibility that the salary discrepancy had more to do with status than sex. The researcher presented videos in which the viewers were asked to compare their reactions to angry and unemotional CEOs, both male and female, and angry and placid trainees. Male CEOs, regardless of their emotional levels, were rated the highest, in terms of both salary ($73,643) and competence, and they were paid considerably more than trainees ($36,810). Unemotional females were regarded as intermediate in competence and salary ($55,584), but angry women—even those with CEO status—were penalized greatly, ranking lowest in competence and salary ($33,902).

“Angry women are seen as emotionally out of control,” says Brescoll, “while angry men are clearly rewarded for their behavior.”

But for women in the workplace and on the hustings, a third experiment by Brescoll points toward a way to turn anger into a positive. When the researcher had the actors present a reason for their anger, the negative responses disappeared. “The whole phenomenon went away—for the women, at least.”

For men, however, Brescoll discovered that Tom Wolfe '57PhD had it just about right in his novel A Man in Full: “an occasional outburst of unexplained anger is good.” In fact, “men lost status when they attributed their anger to external sources,” says Brescoll. “Men really shouldn’t explain themselves, but women, in expressing anger, need to be clear about why.”  the end








Pharmacology professor Joseph Schlessinger and his colleagues have provided the first detailed, atomic-level view of the behavior of a receptor protein implicated in several cancers. The work, published in the July 27 issue of Cell, provides researchers with new targets for drugs that can disrupt the activation of the molecules.


Astrophysicist Kenneth Rines and colleagues have discovered four huge galaxies, nearly five billion light-years away, in the process of colliding. The pileup, one of the largest ever observed, is “like four sand trucks smashing together, flinging sand everywhere,” says Rines, who did most of this research as a Mead postdoctoral fellow at Yale during 2003-2006. He is now at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. A paper on the discovery will appear in Astrophysical Journal Letters.


Need to change unhealthy behavior? Ask your spouse to change first. In the online Health Research Services, Jody Sindelar, professor of epidemiology and public health, and a colleague analyzed a survey in which more than 6,000 married adults were asked about smoking, drinking, exercise, and getting flu shots and cholesterol screening. They found that, over a four-year period, if one spouse upgraded his or her health habits, the other spouse was “likely to do so as well.”


Immune system cells called macrophages use minute tentacles known as filopodia to catch and reel in disease-causing bacteria. Researchers led by Holger Kress, now a postdoc in mechanical engineering, have shown that instead of proceeding in a “continuous, smooth process,” filopodia retractions require “discrete steps.” The study in the July 10 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences may help engineers design nanotechnology devices based on filopodia.


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