Sunday, December 19, 2004

Trying to Lose Weight? Sleep More, Get Dog

Trying to Lose Weight? Sleep More, Get Dog

Wed Nov 17, 7:33 AM ET


LAS VEGAS - Experts have this unconventional advice for dieters: Don't scrimp on sleep and think about getting a dog.

A very large study has found a surprisingly strong link between the amount of shut-eye people get and their risk of becoming obese. Researchers also found that dog owners who dieted alongside their pets did slightly better than their dog-less counterparts.

Both studies were reported this week at a meeting of the North American Association for the Study of Obesity.

The sleep study found that people who got less than four hours of sleep a night were 73 percent more likely to be obese than those who got the recommended seven to nine hours of rest. Those who averaged five hours of sleep had 50 percent greater risk, and those who got six hours had 23 percent more.

"Maybe there's a window of opportunity for helping people sleep more, and maybe that would help their weight," said Dr. Steven Heymsfield of Columbia University and St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in New York, who did the study with Columbia epidemiologist James Gangwisch.

They used information on about 18,000 adults participating in the federal government's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, or NHANES, throughout the 1980s.

It may seem odd that sleeping more would prevent obesity because people burn fewer calories when they're resting, but they also eat when they're awake. The effect of chronic sleep deprivation on the body's food-seeking circuitry is what specialists think may be making the difference in obesity risks.

"There's growing scientific evidence that there's a link between sleep and the various neural pathways that regulate food intake," Heymsfield said.

Sleep deprivation lowers leptin, a blood protein that suppresses appetite, and raises ghrelin, which does the opposite.

It also hurts "executive function" — the ability to make clear decisions, said Dr. Philip Eichling, a sleep and weight-loss specialist at the University of Arizona who also is medical director of the Canyon Ranch, a spa in Tucson that caters to business executives.

"One of my treatments is to tell them they should move from six hours to seven hours of sleep. When they're less sleepy, they're less hungry," he said.

Meanwhile, Chicago doctors are hoping people consider a "buddy system" for losing weight that includes man's best friend. Two-thirds of Americans and one-fourth of pets overweight or obese, so there's huge potential.

According to the first study to put people and their pets on a simultaneous diet and exercise program, experts found both lost weight and kept it off. Dogs did better than owners, but owners said they had fun, something people rarely say about their diets.

"If you're looking for motivation and social support to lose weight, you probably don't have to look any further than the pet in your own home," said Dr. Robert Kushner of Northwestern Medical School, who did the study with Chicago veterinarian Kimberly Rudloff and Dennis Jewell, a nutrition expert for Hill's Pet Nutrition, which makes Science Diet and a prescription diet dog food used in the study.

They tested three groups: 56 people, 53 dogs, and 36 dogs and their owners. The dogs ranged from pudgy poodles to husky Huskies, and target weights were set by a "doggie BMI" based on age and breed.

People attended weekly counseling sessions at Northwestern on diet and exercise, and were encouraged to walk at least 20 minutes and limit calories to 1,400 a day. Dogs were fed the prescription diet and walked with their owners.

All were followed for one year.

The dog owners did slightly better than the dieters who walked and dieted alone. Overall, people lost an average of 11 pounds, or 5 percent of their body weight, in the first four months and kept it off for the next eight.

Dogs lost an average of 12 pounds — 15 percent of their initial weight. Of course, that's easier to do when someone controls your food dish. But the dogs didn't seem to mind as judged by something any dog owner can understand:

"Begging behavior did not go up," Jewell said.

Owners said their dogs had more pep and were anxious to go outside for walks and play.

Kathleen O'Dekirk, a 51-year-old Chicago lawyer, said that certainly was true for her paunchy Cavalier King Charles spaniel, Winston, who lost seven pounds during the study.

"He bounds up the stairs three and four at a time whereas before he used to just crawl up," she said.

She lost 13 pounds, and it encouraged her so much that she joined a fitness class and now does more strenuous exercise than she'd ever done before.

"I had never been on a diet," she said. "I dropped two pant sizes."


On the Net:

Science Diet's "pet BMI" calculator: http//

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