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Could how high people live affect their weight?

Could how high people live affect their weight? Do slimmers need to head for the hills? Reuters has reported on a new study that suggests that people who dwell at high altitude are less likely to be obese.

The research found that people who lived at less than 500m above sea level (such as New Yorkers) were much more likely to be obese than people who lived 3,000m or more above sea level (such as people who lived in Denver, Colorado).

Even after taking into account factors that may be associated with life at higher altitudes, such as increased physical activity (possibly due to more climbing) and colder temperatures, there was still a significant link between higher altitudes and obesity rates.

Researchers found that men living at altitudes below 500m were 5.1 times more likely to be obese compared with their counterparts living above 3,000m. Meanwhile, women living at these low levels were 3.9 times more likely to be obese.

While the researchers can’t pin down the exact cause of this relationship, they speculate that low oxygen levels at high altitude, which increase energy demands and potentially influence foetal and child development, may be responsible. However, it is likely that the connection between altitude and obesity is part of a complex relationship between biology, demographics, environment and lifestyle factors.

Where did the story come from?

How do other countries match up?

If there were a direct link between obesity and altitude it could be assumed that mountainous countries would have low levels of obesity. However, comparing mountainous countries with low-lying ones gives inconclusive answers.

The notoriously flat Netherlands has an obesity rate of 11.8%, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). This is at the low end of the scale. Meanwhile, neighboring Luxembourg, which is marginally more hilly, but still relatively low, has a much higher obesity rate of 22.1%, according to the OECD.

Mexico City, on the other hand, with an average altitude of more than 2,000 metres, has a ‘massive obesity rate’ with around two-thirds of adults being obese.

This would suggest that the same link between altitude and obesity may not be seen in other countries, and further study outside the US would provide a useful comparison.

The study was carried out by researchers from the University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, and Virginia Commonwealth University and Obetech Obesity Research Center, Richmond, USA. No sources of financial support are reported.

The study was published in thepeer-reviewed medical journal International Journal of Obesity.

What kind of research was this?

The researchers highlight the observed trend that, in the US, obesity seems to be most prevalent in the southeastern states and Midwest, and less so in the ‘mountain west’ states. They say that differences in elevation provide a biologically plausible explanation, with suggested theories including increased metabolic demand and reduced childhood growth in response to altitude.

However, other observational studies of different populations worldwide have given varied results. For example, people in Peru have higher than average rates of obesity-related diseases despite living at a higher altitude.

This cross-sectional studyaimed to look at the geographic distribution of obesity across the US and see how it related to elevation level, temperature and urbanisation, while also adjusting for other behavioural and demographic factors.

Such a study can demonstrate an association between obesity levels and altitude. But it cannot prove that altitude has a direct effect on BMI or say what biological process causes this.

What did the research involve?

This research used 2011 data gathered from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), which is said to be a nationwide telephone health survey representative of the US population.

The collected data included information on diet and physical activity and demographic details (age, sex, race or ethnicity, education and income). Obesity was defined as body mass index (BMI) of 30 kg/m2 or greater – which is an internationally agreed definition.

Elevation above sea level, average annual temperature and urbanisation for participants was based on their county of residence reported in the 2011 survey. They had these data for 3,134 administrative areas (counties) within the US.

The researchers used statistical methods to look at the association between obesity and elevation above sea level, average annual temperature and urbanisation, taking into account the demographic and lifestyle factors data they had.

What were the basic results?

The researchers had full data available for 422,603 US citizens. The researchers found that, compared with the 322,681 people at the lowest level of elevation (less than 500m above sea level) those 236 people at the highest level of elevation (3,000m or more above sea level) were less likely to smoke and were more likely to comply with physical activity and diet recommendations.

After taking into account temperature, urbanisation, demographic factors and lifestyle factors (such as physical activity and diet), men living at less than 500m above sea level had 5.1 times the odds (95% confidence interval [CI] 2.7 to 9.5) of being obese compared with those living at 3,000m. Women had 3.9 times the odds (95% CI 1.6 to 9.3) of being obese. Those living at more than 3,000m had an average BMI 2.4 units lower than those living at less than 500m. They found a tendency for obesity prevalence to decrease with each 200m increase in elevation, although this was not a straight line relationship.

When looking separately at the relationship between obesity and temperature, the researchers found that people tended to have lower BMI at the extremes of temperature (lower annual averages or higher annual averages), while the highest BMIs tended to be observed among those with average annual temperature around 18°C.

When looking separately at the effect of urbanisation they found that the prevalence of obesity tended to decrease with increasing urbanisation.

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers conclude that obesity prevalence in the United States is inversely associated with elevation, after adjusting for urbanisation, temperature, diet, physical activity, smoking and demographic factors. Obesity prevalence is also inversely associated with urbanisation, after adjusting for these other factors – bigger cities have lower average obesity rates.


So would moving to a high altitude really help you lose weight? Potentially, but you’d have to leave Britain. The 3,000m height that researchers looked at is more than twice as high as Ben Nevis, Britain’s tallest mountain.

This was a large study that included a nationally representative sample of US citizens and used reliable geographic data on elevation, temperature and urbanisation. As such it was a strong study and the results can be believed.

The researchers suggest that the observed link between elevation and obesity is unknown but could be due to mechanisms such as the lower oxygen levels at high altitude, which are known to increase metabolic demands and influence hormones involved in metabolism. It could also possibly influence foetal and child growth, which could have a corresponding effect on a child’s future weight. However, the evidence of obesity levels from other mountainous countries suggests it may not be as simple as that. The relationship recorded by this research may be unique to the US.

Despite the reliable measures used in this study it does have limitations. Its cross-sectional design means that it is very difficult to conclude that altitude has a direct effect on BMI. Nor does it allow us to determine what biological process underlies the link.

Although the researchers have found that the relationship was independent of temperature, urbanisation, physical activity, diet and other lifestyle factors, as well as demographic factors (such as education and income), it is possible that the influence of all of these factors has not been completely removed or that not all factors have been considered.

It is likely that the connection between altitude and obesity is part of a complex relationship between biology, demographics, environment, lifestyle and historical factors. Due to the fast-changing demographics of the United States, the ethnic and genetic make-up of a region such as New York State (known for its large immigrant population) may be significantly different to a state such as Colorado.

One final point raised by the researchers is that, if it were proved that environmental factors associated with high altitude were responsible for weight loss then oxygen tanks could be used to replicate these conditions to aid weight loss. However, this does seem rather extreme, as would moving to a higher altitude, such as Colorado.

Despite the media headlines, the study has not examined whether, if you are overweight or obese, moving to a higher altitude country will help you to lose weight. The best advice for those wanting to shed a few pounds remains that you need to combine a healthy, balanced diet with around 150 minutes of exercise each week.


Analysis by Bazian. Edited by NHS Choices.

How Colors Affect Mood

We all have certain colors we love, and others we aren’t so drawn to.  For years, psychologists have been doing studies to determine how colors affect our brains, moods, and creativity.  There are essentially four psychological primary colors – red, blue, yellow and green. The variations and mixing of these four colors are what maintain the balance between our body, mind, and emotions.

Black: This is a powerful, mysterious color and is associated with seriousness. Also associated with sex, death and mystery. Black may make you feel depressed, or on the other hand, may make you feel secure.

Blue: A relaxing color.  Blue lowers blood pressure, calms, gives a sense of security, and suppresses appetite.  In studies, blue has shown to increase the creativity receptors in the brain, leading to cognitive brainstorming.  While blue is one of the most popular colors it is one of the least appetizing. Blue food is rare in nature. Food researchers say that when humans searched for food, they learned to avoid toxic or spoiled objects, which were often blue, black, or purple. When food dyed blue is served to study subjects, they lose appetite.

Brown: This is an organic, earthy color.  It can make you feel cozy.

Green: This is the easiest color for the eyes to focus on for long periods of time.  It soothes pain and is associated with optimism. May make one feel happy, clean, fresh.  It is one of the most abundant colors in nature so it often leads to sensations of peace and zen.

Orange:  This color is friendly, relaxing and ambitious.

Pink:  This is a youthful, feminine color.  Pink is also a soft, sensitive color. This is basically a “happy” color.

Purple:  This color is often associated with royalty.  It is also a contemporary color. Purple has a list of associated feelings, from feeling mournful to creative.

Red: This color raises the blood pressure, stimulates appetite and conversation and is often associated with excitement, action, impulse. In studies, Red boosts performance on detail-oriented tasks such as memory retrieval and proofreading by as much as 31% compared to blue.  Red is also often used in restaurant decorating schemes because it is an appetite stimulant.

White:  Is often associated with purity, cleanliness. Also associated with nothingness, and in some cultures death and/or mourning. Can make one feel clean/sterile.

Yellow: This color is an eye irritant and a highly emotional color.  After long periods of time, yellow invokes feelings of anger and hostility.  However, yellow, in small doses, is a friendly, happy color.


Obesity’s Affect on Healthcare, Corporate Spending, Education and Homeland Security

The obesity epidemic the U.S. is facing should be one of the primary concerns of the future president of the United States.

“This issue that is plaguing our nation should not be delegated to the second, third, or fourth in charge, but should actively involve the president themselves. Some presidential candidates are saying their spouses would be interested in promoting the health of this nation, insinuating that fighting the obesity epidemic would not be their concern” Samir Becic said. I’m strongly opposing this notion and this is my reasoning why:

“We are one of the most obese countries in the world, and statistics are showing that by 2020 over 75 percent of Americans will be overweight or obese. We must change this and to do this we need more than just policy and jargon – we need a leader, a president who knows the real issues concerning the health of America”.- Samir Becic

Obesity Rates Spike in America

An analysis conducted by the National Heart Forum found that by 2030, 1 in 2 people will be obese – not merely overweight, but obese. Considering 60 to 70 percent of all chronic illnesses can be linked to obesity, this is more than just a national problem. According to Trust for America’s Health, twenty years ago, no state had an obesity rate above 15 percent. Today, there are 41 states with an obesity rating above 25 percent. And since 1980, the rate of obesity in children and adolescents has nearly tripled.

Read: Statistics On Obesity’s Affect on America

Obesity a Big Factor in Healthcare Costs

Healthcare and healthcare reform are big issues in politics. The magic solution to these issues, however, is not rooted in subsidies, single-payer systems or the actual affordability of healthcare unique to every American – it’s in the individual health of Americans themselves. Ideally, the healthier you are or aim to be, the less you have to worry about chronic illnesses and injury, and by extension, the less you have to worry about healthcare costs.

Given the state of American health and the economy, obesity has taken more than a few dollars from Americans. Regarding health care costs, for every dollar spent on healthcare, $0.95 is spent on treatment; the other $0.05 is spent on preventative care. While that may not sound like much, in total, obesity-related medical treatment can cost up to $210 billion a year. Researchers estimate that if obesity trends continue, obesity-related medical costs could rise by up to $66 billion each year.  

Comparatively, obese people spend 42 percent more on healthcare costs than those of healthy-weight. In fine numbers, per capita medical spending is about $2,741 higher for the obese than healthy-weight individuals.

Read: Top 10 Health Tips for Americans

Corporations Spend More Due to Obesity-Related Medical Concerns

Along with monetary concerns, obesity has played an active role in decreasing American employee productivity, discipline, focus, energy and even creativity. Corporations who provide benefits to their employees  with healthcare take a big hit as well.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the current annual impact of poor health costs Americans about $1.8 trillion. This number is a sum of costs concerning obesity-related job absenteeism ($4.3 billion annually) and various forms of medical care among other things, which is almost no surprise given than 80 percent of Americans work in jobs that require little or no physical activity.

All is not lost when it comes to healthcare reform, however. Statistics show for every dollar spent on wellness initiatives, corporations can save as high as $10 in costs amounting to obesity-related medical concerns in the private sector. In fact, medical costs fall by about $3.27 for every dollar spent on wellness programs – great news for the employee.

Perks go to the employer as well, as companies with wellness programs in place have an average 28 percent reduced sick leave and spend 26 percent less on healthcare costs. Additionally, the money corporations save as a result of implementing wellness programs could be used for improving the quality of the workplace, adding more employee benefits, or even increasing employee wages.

Childhood Obesity a Contributing Factor in Inhibiting Education Success

For children, obesity can play a vital role in that child’s academic success. Studies found that obese students – and especially girls – tend to have lower test scores than their slimmer peers, are more likely to be held back a grade and are less likely to go on to college.

The latest such study, published in the journal Child Development, followed 6,250 children from kindergarten through fifth grade and found that, on average, those who were obese scored lower on math tests than non-obese children.

Additionally, studies found that physically fit children had a 2.4 times greater chance of passing math tests and a 2.2 times greater chance of passing reading tests compared with aerobically unfit children.

According to a study in 2010 by the University of Pittsburgh, overweight people had four percent less brain tissue than people of normal weight, and obese people had eight percent less brain tissue than people of normal weight. These results are serious for children who are obese as a lack of brain tissue can result in a lower IQ, decreased attention span, impairment of memory functions and poor coordination.

In terms of costs, of the approximate $210 billion Americans spend on medical care due to obesity-related illnesses, childhood obesity alone is responsible for $14.1 billion in direct costs.

Annually, the average total health expenses for a child treated for obesity under Medicaid is $6,730, while the average health cost for all children covered by Medicaid is only $2,446.

Homeland Security at Risk Due to Rise in Obesity

While the United States continues to lead the world in military spending, the U.S. can’t deny how the rise in obesity has become a significant concern for national security. In fact, a 2010 report by mission readiness found that obesity is the leading medical reason why applicants fail to qualify for military serve – and no wonder, with 27 percent of Americans ages 17-24 – that is, 9 million young adults – cannot serve due to their weight.  

The last time military leaders were active in the health young adults and its effect on the future of the U.S. military was during World War II, following the Great Depression.

Needless to say, this is a problem. Obesity does not affect us merely the obese with medical problems, but the entire country as well. We would do well to take care of this epidemic as we would any other – to inspire many to partake in regular physical activity and be conscious of their nutrition intake. Little steps we can take like drinking more water or going for a walk 20 around the neighborhood 20 minutes a day are significant lifestyle changes that can lead to a healthier, more enjoyable life.

Read: Why is America So Fat?