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Personal Health: News and Notes

Those who were paid shed more pounds, a Philadelphia weight-loss study reports

Financial incentives can help you shed pounds, according to a Philadelphia study of weight-loss programs published last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania randomly placed 57 obese people between ages 30 and 70 in three groups. They were recruited from the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center.

The goal for all was to lose 16 pounds in 16 weeks. Each got a scale and an hour-long, one-on-one consultation on diet and exercise strategies for weight loss.

Participants in two groups were also given incentives to achieve goals. One group could earn up to $252 in four weeks. Those in the other incentive group were eligible for a daily lottery.

Those given financial incentives lost more weight. About half in both groups met the goal of a 16-pound loss, compared with 10.5 percent, or two people, in the control group.

A year after the study, the participants who got incentives weighed less than at the start of the study, but had not fully sustained their initial losses, suggesting more study of long-term incentives is needed.

- Josh Goldstein

Simple frustration may cause young children to act violently

For some children, violence can begin as early as day care. They hit, bite and scream. Yet the problem may be simple frustration, wrongly expressed.

A new program at the Université de Montréal day-care center intervenes early and encourages children to express their anger more constructively. The program involves a series of "observation sessions" and then developing a plan to use personalized strategies.

For instance, a child who is upset by surprises may have to be briefed on what will happen on any given day. Another child who can't stand to be touched may need to be seated farther from classmates.

"It's really important to intervene early - before violent behavior is too ingrained," said Jacinthe Guèvremont, the interim director of the day care. That's because "violent behavioral problems that persist in early childhood are good indicators of school drop-outs and future delinquency."

- Sandy Bauers

Breast-cancer drug Zometa reported to be effective in early study

Women who received the drug Zometa for initial breast-cancer treatment had greater tumor shrinkage and were less likely to need radical surgery, according to a preliminary study reported last week at a cancer conference in Texas.

Study leaders gave a mini-report on 205 participants who had chemotherapy to shrink tumors before surgery.

Those given infusions of Zometa with chemo had a third more tumor shrinkage and were less likely to need their whole breast removed rather than just the lump, said study leader Robert Coleman of the University of Sheffield in England.

Eleven percent of Zometa takers had a complete response to treatment - no evidence of cancer in their breasts or lymph nodes - versus 6 percent of women given chemo alone.

Partial studies like this are not enough to change practice, but the results are surprising, said Eric Winer of the Dana-Farber Cancer Center in Boston, who had no role in the work.

The study leader consults for Zometa's maker, Swiss-based Novartis AG, which sponsored the study.

- Associated Press

How sweet it wasn't: Rats got hooked on sugar

Sugar might get you hooked, according to a study out of Princeton University that showed the seemingly innocent ingredient in sodas, ice cream, Tastykakes, and many holiday treats could drive our cousin the rat to act like a crazed addict. Psychologist Bart Hoebel presented his findings at a meeting of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology.

Worse still, his experiments showed that sugar may act as a gateway to other, harder substances.

"Craving and relapse are critical components of addiction," said Hoebel, "and we have been able to demonstrate these behaviors in sugar-bingeing rats in a number of ways."

Hoebel hooked his lab rats on sugar by making them hungry and then letting them binge on a solution of the stuff. He said that behavior led to neurochemical changes in the brain mimicking those produced by cocaine, morphine and nicotine. Then he took away the sugar and brought it back, causing the deprived rats to binge with even more gusto.

When offered alcohol, the sugar-addicted rats also lapped up more than did ordinary mice.

"In certain models, sugar-bingeing causes long-lasting effects in the brain and increases the inclination to take other drugs of abuse, such as alcohol," Hoebel said.