Comfort-Food Fix Without Eating


Eating so-called comfort foods with large amounts of fat and sugar has been shown to vastly improve people’s moods. A report in the Journal of Behavioral and Brain Science suggests that drawing pictures of unhealthy food can also have positive effects on mood.

From September to November 2012, researchers recruited 61 students from St. Bonaventure University in upstate New York. The subjects included 22 men and 39 women in their early 20s. Most were slightly overweight based on measurements of body-mass index, or BMI. Daily sugar and fat consumption was calculated.

The subjects were randomly assigned to one of four groups. One group drew high-fat, high-sugar cupcakes. Another drew pictures of a high-fat, low-sugar food, pizza. A third drew low-fat, high-sugar strawberries, while a fourth drew low-fat, low-sugar peppers. Each participant was instructed to use red, green and black pencils. Using a research tool that assesses mood changes, subjects rated their hunger, mood and level of interest and excitement before and after the five-minute drawing exercise, which was done on an empty stomach.

Drawing pizzas improved the subjects’ mood by 28%, while sketching cupcakes and strawberries boosted spirits by 27% and 22%, respectively. Mood in the pepper group improved by only 1%. There were no significant differences in hunger or excitement levels between the groups.

As all subjects used the same colors in their drawings, the mood changes were likely due to the food depictions, researchers said. Mood changes were unrelated to BMI, or sugar and fat intake. This suggests creating images of high-fat and sweet-tasting foods could be an effective way to enhance mood in individuals with varying BMIs and dietary histories, they said.

Caveat: The long-term effects on mood of drawing food aren’t known.

• Building trust: Imitation is said to be the highest form of flattery. It also could help to win a child’s trust, suggests a study in Social Development.

Researchers recruited 16 girls and 16 boys ages 5 and 6 from day-care centers in Germany. In the first part of the study, half of the children viewed 18 animal photos, with three on a page, and picked their favorite one on each page. The other half answered simple animal-related questions. Two adults also picked their favorite animal photos and answered the animal-related questions. One, the designated mimic, always agreed with the children’s selections and answers, while the other always differed.

In the study’s second part, the children were asked to choose a cardboard box from two nearly identical boxes, one favored by the mimic and the other by the non-mimic. The mimic and non-mimic also gave silly names to two toys and the children were asked to pick the toy they believed had the silly name.

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The majority of the children in both groups were more likely to imitate the adult mimic: 11 in the animal-photos group and 12 in the animal-questions group chose the same box as the mimic. On the toy test, 12 children in the photos group picked the silly toy tagged by the mimic, and 11 in the questions group also selected the mimic’s toy.

The findings showed that being imitated influences social behavior in children, including their preferences and trust in others, researchers said.

Caveat: It isn’t known if children would respond to an imitator who was a friend or relative.

• Excess skin from weight loss: Patients who lose at least 110 pounds following bariatric surgery are often plagued by hanging skin that can cause significant discomfort, especially for women, according to a report in the Journal of Plastic, Reconstructive & Aesthetic Surgery. About a quarter of patients undergo surgery to eliminate the skin.

Researchers in Finland surveyed 360 bariatric surgery patients, 250 women and 110 men in their early 50s, about physical problems with surplus skin after surgery and the affected body areas. Before surgery, the subjects’ average BMI was 45.7, or morbidly obese. After surgery, BMIs dropped to 33.6, the low end of the obesity category. On average, patients shed 78 pounds over 3.6 years.

Subjects rated the inconvenience of surplus skin on a scale of 0 to 100, and the degree of daily impairment in six categories ranging from none to very high. Excess skin caused mostly minor problems for 89% of the subjects but significantly interfered with daily activities in 9.2%. Skin complaints were more common in subjects who lost 110 pounds or more compared with those who lost 44 pounds or less. Significantly more women than men reported problems with excess skin.

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Caveat: Patient information was self-reported on questionnaires.

• Post-stroke fractures: Bone fractures that occur in the first 24 hours after a stroke can increase the size of the brain damage caused by stroke, worsen neurological symptoms and significantly interfere with a patient’s recovery, according to a study in the journal Anesthesiology.

An estimated 70,000 Americans fall and break a bone in the first 12 months after a stroke, and about 11,000 of these fractures occur within the first 24 hours, data from previous studies shows. Understanding the interaction between stroke and fractures may lead to earlier and more effective treatments, researchers said.

University of California scientists surgically induced ischemic strokes in mice. Some of the stroke mice also had surgically induced leg fractures 24 hours after the stroke procedure. A third group of mice didn’t have stroke or fractures and acted as controls. Blood samples taken six hours after the induced fractures were analyzed for inflammatory compounds. After three days, brain samples from all the mice were analyzed.

The area of brain damage was 2.5 times larger in mice with both stroke and bone fracture than mice with stroke alone. Mice with both injuries had significantly higher levels of inflammatory proteins and alarmins, molecules that activate the immune system and contribute to inflammation, in their brain tissue than stroke-only and control mice. Behavioral abnormalities were more common in mice with both injuries.

Injecting mice with compounds that neutralized alarmins and inflammatory proteins significantly reduced the neurological symptoms and brain damage associated with post-stroke fractures, posing possible treatment opportunities for human patients with both injuries, researchers said.

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Caveat: Fractures that occurred at different times, either before or after stroke, might have different effects on stroke outcome, researchers said.

• Bowel disease and birth defects:Children born to mothers with chronic bowel disease had significantly more birth defects and developmental problems than those born to mothers without bowel disease, according to a study in the Journal of Crohn’s and Colitis.

Inflammatory bowel conditions such as Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis are often diagnosed during a woman’s childbearing years. Previous studies have associated inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) with an increased risk of miscarriage, prematurity and low birth weight.

This study compared health outcomes of 829 children born in Israel from 2004 to 2009, about half of whose mothers had IBD. Mothers completed questionnaires about their health history and use of IBD medications before and during pregnancy.

Information about children’s birth weight, congenital anomalies, illnesses and developmental milestones was reported separately.

Congenital abnormalities were more than twice as common in IBD children than controls, and even more prevalent in offspring of mothers diagnosed with IBD before the pregnancy. The rate of abnormalities in these children was 6% compared with 1.4% for those born to mothers diagnosed after pregnancy.

The most common were limb deformities, hydrocephalus, spina bifida, hearing impairment, cleft lip and palate, and ventricular heart defects. Congenital anomalies were reported in 5.5% of children born to mothers who used IBD medications during pregnancy and 1.6% of those with mothers who used no medications, though the difference wasn’t statistically significant, researchers said.

IBD mothers also had more offspring with IBD compared with controls. Although breast-feeding is associated with preventing IBD, only 61% of IBD children were breast-fed compared with 80% of controls.

Caveat:The study was based on self-reported information. The underlying mechanisms between IBD and adverse outcomes in children weren’t explored.

WSJ

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