by Kristina Lewis, MD

In 2008, Los Angeles passed a unique ordinance aimed at improving the health of residents in one of its poorer areas – South L.A. The city council enacted a zoning law that banned new fast-food restaurants (or the expansion of existing ones) in this lower-income community, home to mostly racial and ethnic minorities. The idea was relatively simple – sort of a reverse play on Costner’s “If you build it, they will come”. I assume the thinking went something like this: Fast food is bad for you; poor people eat fast food because it is affordable and plentiful in their neighborhoods; poor people are more likely to have negative health consequences as a result of worse diets; ergo, remove fast food from poor neighborhoods and people will be healthier. What’s not to love, right?


by Jason Block, MD, MPH

What was a desert became a flood. From 1999 to 2012, the FDA did not approve any new weight loss medications. With the removal of sibutramine (Meridia) from the market in 2010, orlistat (Alli, Xenical) and phentermine were the only routinely-used medications FDA approved for the treatment of obesity. Then came lorcaserin (Belviq) and phentermine/topiramate (Qsymia) in 2012 and naltrexone/bupropion (Contrave) and liraglutide (Saxenda) in 2014. On average, these medications result in 3% to 3.7%, 8.9%, 4.1%, and 4.5% more baseline body weight lost than placebo after 1 year of treatment, respectively. But, the FDA wasn’t finished.


by Mia Serabian

Eating is largely a social activity. Food is at the center of most celebrations, religious gatherings, and cultural activities. Weekends revolve around brunch, birthdays around cake, and holidays like Passover and Easter around Seder plates and colored eggs. Because we often eat with others, what we eat is susceptible to social influence. What does this mean? Generally, it means that we often look to those around us - our eating companions - to determine how much food, or what type of food, is normal and acceptable to eat. This is called social modeling, and its effect on eating behaviors has been proven repeatedly over the past four decades.


by Karen Switkowski, MPH, MS

 “I really want to get the salmon, but I can’t remember how many times I already had fish this week. Did we have that shrimp pasta on Sunday, or was that Saturday? I guess I’ll be OK if I have this now and we don’t make the tuna until next weekend…” Throughout my pregnancy, my husband had to listen to some version of this monologue every time we went out to dinner. Like many women, I had internalized the warning that I risked poisoning my baby with mercury if I ate seafood too often. Although I was also well aware of the importance of the nutrients found in fish and other seafood for fetal development, I was more concerned about consuming too much mercury that I was about not getting enough beneficial fatty acids in my diet.


by Holly Gooding, MD, MSc

“Will this (any birth control method here) make me gain weight?”

It’s the number one question I get when counseling women about their birth control options, and the number one concern women report in research studies. It’s also a common reason women cite for discontinuing their birth control. But is weight gain related to birth control real?


by Renata Smith, MPH

In this growing era of ‘wearable tech’, from Google Glass to the forthcoming Apple watch, our lives are increasingly intertwined with technology. What comes along with this every day technology is vast amounts of digital data. The scale is such that terms like exabyte (1 billion gigabytes) exist, and “Big Data” is now a common phrase. Big Data refers not only to the almost incomprehensible amounts of data being generated and stored but also to the ability to extract new insights from this data.

by Fahad Razak, MD, Aditi Krishna, S.V. Subramanian, PhD

It is well known that in high-income countries such as the United States, average body weight, typically measured as body mass index (BMI), has steadily increased over the past few decades. It is implicitly assumed that these average BMI increases are constant and unchanging across all weight classes (i.e. normal weight, overweight, obesity). Very few studies have systematically looked at whether this is true.  Does BMI increase equally across weight classes?  Has the range in BMIs actually increased as average BMI rises?  We used data from the largest dataset available to examine yearly changes in weight gain in the United States – the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, a survey of more than 3 million people.


by Wei Perng, PhD

As the obesity pandemic rages on, researchers fervently uncover risks that contribute to our growing waistlines - from conventional diet and lifestyle characteristics to more surprising culprits like the air we breathe and the people with whom we hang out. That’s right: our friends can make us gain weight.


by Jenn Woo, MD

I have a very fond memory of the lunches I brought to school — turkey or PB&J on whole wheat, an apple, and carrot sticks — even if I was often envious of the kids who ate the fried foods typically served at school. You probably have your own unique memory, and a strong gut reaction, to the phrase “school lunch.”

School nutrition is an emotion-laden topic. Childhood obesity is at an all-time high. A 2008 Institute of Medicine panel found that schoolchildren consumed an excess of more than 500 calories per day from sugar and fat. On school days, children consume almost one-half of their total daily calories at school. Unhealthy school food environments have been linked to a higher risk for obesity. Knowing these facts, how can we give children the opportunity to eat more healthfully at school?