TV and soda: small habits cause weight creep: U.S. study

Wed Jun 22, 2011 5:24pm EDT
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Just a few bad habits -- watching TV, eating potato chips, having a sugary soda at lunch or staying up too late at night -- can add up to a steady creep of pounds (kg) over the years, U.S. researchers said on Wednesday.

While most studies on diet focus on changes needed to help obese people lose weight, the study by the Harvard team showed tiny changes in diet and lifestyle can make a big impact.

The study focuses on specific lifestyle choices -- foods, activity, sleep habits -- that slowly pack on the pounds (kg). The researchers stressed that the quality of food choices, and not just calories, are key to maintaining a healthy weight.

"These small choices add up," said Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian of the Harvard School of Public Health and Brigham and Women's Hospital, whose study appears in the New England Journal of Medicine.

"Because the weight gain is so gradual and occurs over many years, it has been difficult for scientists and for individuals themselves to understand the specific factors that may be responsible," Mozaffarian, who led the effort, said in a statement.

To get at this, the team analyzed data on 120,877 U.S. women and men from three large studies of health professionals that tracked changes in lifestyle factors and weight every four years over a 20-year period.

All study participants were normal weight and healthy when they started. Over time, they gained an average of 3.35 pounds (1.59 kg) during each 4-year period for a total average weight gain of 16.8 pounds (7.6 kg) at the end of the 20-year study.

Foods that added most to weight gain over a four-year period included daily consumption of potato chips (1.69 lbs or 0.76 kg), potatoes (1.28 lbs or 0.58 kg), sugar-sweetened beverages (1 lb or 0.45 kg), unprocessed red meats (0.95 lbs or 0.43 kg) and processed meats (0.93 lbs or 0.42 kg).   Continued...