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Church-Based Obesity Interventions May Help Improve Health

Faith-based institutions, including churches, can be great places to support people in their journey toward a healthier lifestyle. In a review of 43 articles on church-based obesity interventions, 81% of the studies reported significant improvements, although the effect sizes were small. Most of the studies were comprised of African American women, so more research is needed on the impact of church-based obesity interventions among other groups, such as men of color and Latinos. The authors conclude that “church-based interventions to address obesity will have greater impact if they consider the diversity among populations burdened by this condition and develop programs that are tailored to these different populations.”
Nutrition Reviews. 2019 Sep 20. pii: nuz046. doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuz046. (Flórez KR et al.)

Racial & Ethnic Minorities Carry Disproportionate Burden of Diabetes at Lower BMI

Being heavier for our stature (as measured by BMI) puts us at a higher risk of diabetes. In this study, researchers analyzed the prevalence of diabetes in nearly 5 million people. Hispanics, Asians, and Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders who were overweight had the same diabetes risk as whites, blacks, and Native Americans who were in the most obese tier (class 4 obesity). Further, they found that the link between BMI and diabetes is strongest in whites and lowest in blacks, indicating that other factors outside of overweight/obesity may increase diabetes risk in racial and ethnic minorities.
Diabetes Care.  2019 Sep 19. pii: dc190532. doi: 10.2337/dc19-0532. [Epub ahead of print] (Zhu Y et al.)

Faith-Based Nutrition Program Linked with Improved Diet Among African American Church Members

African Americans are disproportionately affected by heart disease and other health conditions. In this 9-month long pilot study, researchers teamed up with pastors and church leaders of several predominantly Black churches in the Chicago area to design an intervention to improve the diets of the congregations. The interventions included Bible study, small group sessions led by church leaders, and church-wide activities, all of which focused on increasing the vegetable intake of the participants. These interventions were designed to motivate healthier eating by linking healthy eating patterns to the congregant’s spiritual beliefs. At the end of the 9-month intervention, participants had increased their vegetable intake by an average of one serving per day and their overall diet quality increased. Researchers also found significant decreases in participants’ weight and blood pressure. This study highlights the importance of community and social support in promoting healthy eating patterns. The promising results of this pilot study indicate that faith-based nutrition interventions may be an effective method to improve the diets and health of underserved populations.
Progress in Community Health Partnerships.  2019;13(1):19-30. doi: 10.1353/cpr.2019.0005 (Lynch, E. et al)

Waist Circumference Guidelines May Differ for African Americans

Waist circumference is an easy-to-measure predictor of diabetes and heart disease risk, but one measurement may not indicate the same level of risk across all races or body types. In this study, researchers analyzed the waist circumference, body fat, and insulin resistance of 375 African-born black adults living in America. They found that a waist circumference of 38 inches or greater in black women, and 36 inches or greater in black men is predictive of insulin resistance, which indicates increased diabetes risk. This differs from the existing waist circumference thresholds for white adults. The researchers suggest that public health organizations review the research on waist circumference and adopt African-centered thresholds for African Americans, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.
BMJ Global Health. 2018 Oct 15;3(5):e001057. doi: 10.1136/bmjgh-2018-001057. (Kabakambira JD et al.)

Unhealthy "Southern Diet" Partially Explains High Blood Pressure Risk in African Americans

African Americans are disproportionally affected by high blood pressure (a risk factor for heart disease), so health experts wonder what might contribute to this risk. In a study of 6,897 adults, researchers found that eating a “southern diet” (lots of fried food, processed meats, added fats, and sugar sweetened beverages) accounted for 51.6% of the increased risk of high blood pressure in black men, and 29.2% of the increased risk among black women. Celebrating traditional, nutrient-dense African heritage cuisine could be a helpful approach to encourage people of diverse backgrounds to make healthier food choices, thereby reducing risk for high blood pressure.
JAMA. 2018 Oct 2;320(13):1338-1348. doi: 10.1001/jama.2018.13467. (Howard G et al.)

Cultural Identity Shapes Food Enjoyment

Emphasizing cultural models of healthy eating can be a useful approach to encourage good nutrition in diverse populations. In this study, researchers devised 3 similar experiments to see how cultural identity relates to food enjoyment. In the first two experiments, nearly 200 Southern people were shown images of Southern foods (like black-eyed peas, and fried catfish) and non-Southern foods (like pizza and tuna sandwiches) and asked how tasty, how healthy, and how filling they thought the foods would be. The researchers found that for people who identified as Southern and were primed with exercises related to Southern heritage (such as listing things done often or well by Southerners), the Southern foods were perceived to be more tasty, regardless of how healthy they were perceived to be. In the final experiment of 71 Canadians, those who were primed with exercises related to Canadian culture and identity found maple syrup to taste more pleasant compared with honey. The researchers conclude that “social identity may trigger positive evaluations of foods, which may lead people to consume more social identity-relevant foods regardless of the perceived health content,” and that “forging a connection between a meaningful and chronically salient social identity and a healthy food may enhance positive evaluations of that food.”
Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. 2018 January;74:270-280. (Hackel LM et al.)

Great Potential for Using Teff in Food Products

Teff, a gluten-free grain native to the Horn of Africa, is best known as the base of injera bread, the spongy Ethiopian flatbread. Despite its huge potential, especially in gluten-free cuisine, teff products only make up a small percentage of the overall grain market. In this study, researchers analyze how teff affects the taste and texture of various food products, including bread, pasta, cookies, injera, and beverages. They also found that teff improves the nutrition of food products, providing fiber, iron, protein, and other essential nutrients, and note that teff is well-suited for harsh and dry environmental climates, like those found in India and China. In short, the authors conclude that “there is great potential to adapt teff to the other parts of the world for healthy food and beverage production.”
Food Chemistry. 2018 Jan 15;239:402-415. (Zhu F et al.)

Rural Ghanaians Eat More Roots, Tubers, Plantains than Ghanaians Living in Europe

West African immigrants living in Europe are more affected by obesity and diet-related disease than the European population or their counterparts in West Africa, as they replace traditional foods with a more highly processed, Western Diet. To better understand this nutrition transition, researchers analyzed the diets of 4,543 Ghanaians living in urban Ghana, rural Ghana, and Europe (Amsterdam, Berlin, and London). Ghanaians living in Europe had higher BMIs than those living in Ghana and got more of their calories from fat and protein, whereas Ghanaians living in Ghana got more of their calories from carbohydrates and ate more fiber (especially in rural Ghana). Though there were many differences in eating habits among the participants, those living in rural Ghana tended to eat more roots, tubers, plantains, and fermented corn products; those living in urban Ghana tended to eat more rice, pasta, meat, and fish; and those living in Europe tended to eat more sweets, dairy, potatoes, chicken, whole grains, oils and margarine.
Food and Nutrition Research. 2017 Jul 6;61(1):1341809. (Galbete C et al.)

Pulses May Help Aid Weight Loss

Dietary changes are a key target in obesity prevention programs, so many foods are being studied for their affect on body weight. To see if eating more pulses (the food group that includes beans, peas, lentils, and chickpeas) might help reduce obesity, researchers analyzed 21 randomized control trials looking at pulses’ role in weight, body fat, and waist circumference in overweight and obese adults. Diets that included dietary pulses did not significantly reduce waist circumference. There was a trend in reduction of body fat (-0.34%), but it was not significant as well. Overall, the researchers found that those eating about 1 serving of pulses per day lost, on average, about 0.75 pounds over six weeks. Not surprisingly, results were stronger in weight loss diets (3.8 pounds over 6 weeks) than weight maintenance diets (0.6 pounds over 6 weeks). Although the weight loss was small, this study indicates that a modest serving of pulses may help produce weight loss, even without cutting calories.
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016 Mar 30. [Epub Ahead of Print] (Kim SJ et al.)

Peanut and Nut Intake May Lower Death from Heart Disease

Nuts have long been associated with longevity, and new research in diverse populations further supports this relationship. Researchers tracked peanut and nut intake of about 206,000 people in the US (low income blacks and whites) and China for over 5 years. High nut intake was associated with a 21% lower risk of death from all causes among the US participants, and a 17% lower risk in the Chinese participants. High nut and peanut intake was also associated with a lower risk of death from heart disease, especially in ischemic heart disease (the type of heart disease caused by narrowed arteries).
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015 May;175(5):755-66. (Luu HN, et al.)

Traditional African Diet May Reduce Colon Cancer Risk

Colon cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in the US, affects a greater proportion of African Americans than rural Africans, indicating that diet plays an important role in disease prevention. To see how traditional diets affect risk factors for colon cancer, researchers assigned 20 middle aged African Americans to a traditional, African heritage diet (averaging 55g fiber daily and 16% calories from fat, with foods like mangos, bean soup, and fish) and 20 middle aged rural South Africans to a typical American diet (averaging 12g fiber daily and 52% calories from fat, with foods like pancakes, burgers, fries, and meatloaf). In just 2 short weeks, the African Americans reduced the inflammation of their colons, improved their markers for cancer (including increased levels of butyrate, an anti-cancer chemical), and increased the diversity of their healthy gut bacteria. On the other hand, the rural Africans eating an American diet fared worse, producing more bile acid (a risk factor for colon cancer), while decreasing the diversity of healthy gut bacteria. These results indicate that an African heritage diet can help promote a healthy digestive tract (potentially reducing colon cancer risk), and that rapid improvements can come with a change to healthier foods.
Nature Communications. 2015 Apr 28;6:6342. (O’Keefe SJ et al.)

Peanuts Linked to Lower Mortality Across Different Ethnicities

Nuts and peanuts (technically legumes) are largely recognized as health promoting foods, but experts wondered if these benefits extend across all ethnic groups and income levels. In this study, researchers at Vanderbilt University analyzed nut intake in over 200,000 people, including a large group of Asian men and women in China, and a large group of low-income black and white men and women in the southeastern United States. For those with the highest nut consumption (mostly peanuts), mortality from all causes significantly decreased 17-21%, depending on ethnicity. Death from heart disease specifically (including ischemic heart disease) also significantly decreased across all ethnic groups for those eating the most nuts. The researchers identified this study as “strong evidence that the association of nut/peanut consumption with mortality does not vary by ethnicity “ or income level. Additionally, they conclude that “consumption of nuts, particularly peanuts given their general affordability, may be considered a cost-effective measure to improve cardiovascular health.”
JAMA Internal Medicine. 2015 Mar 2. [Epub ahead of print] (Luu HN et al.)

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