Friday, November 28, 2014

Packing on the Pounds: Let the Holiday Eating Season Begin


Here in the U.S., yesterday was Thanksgiving. A time of family, thanks, and lots and lots of food. Be honest, how much did you eat yesterday? Me, I watched a lot of football while I ate appetizers followed by turkey with gravy, mashed potatoes, green bean casserole, cranberry sauce, and cake. Then I entered a food coma for a few hours. It was glorious.

I typically approach a holiday with a journal article, but this time I am going to use the holiday as a jumping off point: Thanksgiving as the start of the holiday eating season. Work parties, family parties, gifts, shopping, etc. All we do for 6 weeks is eat eat eat. And we aren’t eating vegetables, people. A slightly older study from 2006 in Nutrition Journal takes a look at the effect that Thanksgiving has on holiday weight gain.

As with many university studies, this one utilizes their pool of willing college students for their evaluation. However, this isn’t just a story of easy subject access; college students have alarmingly high obesity rates. This demographic gains approximately 0.4-1.8 pounds (0.2-0.8 kg) per year. But is this a result of continual daily increases or more discrete periods of weight gain? That is what this paper aims to answer with this relatively straight-forward study.

The researchers evaluated 94 participants from the undergraduate and graduate programs at their university. These participants visited the human body composition laboratory one week prior to the Thanksgiving holiday break and then revisited again 5-7 days after the break. During these visits, the students were measured for body weight, height, and waist and hip circumferences. From these data, the participants’ body mass index (BMI) was also calculated and categorized as normal (less than 25kg) or overweight/obese (greater than or equal to 25 kg/m2).

They found a significant increase in body weight for the entire group, about 1 pound (0.5 kg). When they broke the group down by characteristics, they found that both males and females gained, and graduate students gained while undergrads did not. When they looked at “fat patterning” (such a lovely, descriptive term), they found a significant decline in waist circumference and waist/hip ratio for the group, males, females, and undergrads. No significant increase in BMI was found in those classified as normal, but those students classified as overweight/obese increased. After calculating correlations, they found the only significant correlation to be in a change in baseline BMI in females. So in general, everyone gains a little weight, but grad students and those already overweight are the most likely groups to pack on the pounds.

The authors discuss a few holiday eating pitfalls: longer eating durations, easy access to food, eating in the presence of others and increased portion sizes. All true. But what they spend zero time discussing is the differences they found between groups, simply stating that the Thanksgiving holiday is “a critical period for weight gain and obesity development.” Um, duh? I would posit that grad students use the holidays as a time to see friends and family and to relax and let loose. That, perhaps, they abandon their normal eat-at-my-desk strategy in favor of home cooked food and lots of wine (and/or beer). For those already classified as overweight, I would say that this demographic already has a problem with food, one that is only exacerbated during this time. For this group, the food challenges are that much harder to resist and all of those pitfalls are magnified.

What are your thoughts? And how do you cope with holiday eating?


ResearchBlogging.orgHull HR, Hester CN, & Fields DA (2006). The effect of the holiday season on body weight and composition in college students. Nutrition & metabolism, 3 PMID: 17192197



(image via The Bella Vita)
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