A small two-week-old baby is taken to the laboratory of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center for strollers and child seat carriers. Some people cry, some can’t stop wiggles, and others sleep all the time during their visit.
Their job is easy. Hang out while scientists carefully measure body fat and metabolism.
“I think studying babies can really reach the biology of obesity,” said Lian Redman, who heads the Maternal and Child Research Institute here in Pennington, Louisiana State University. It is the only laboratory in the world equipped with equipment for studying newborn metabolism. That is how their little body burns energy and calories.
Redman studied by studying metabolism in the first few weeks of life, long before a person’s weight was influenced by external factors such as the food given or the food he chose to eat. We believe that the chamber reveals the biological basis of obesity. Newborns do not exercise and their diet consists only of breast milk or infant formula.
The theory is that a person’s “metabolic fingerprints” are set for life at birth, she said. Decoding that fingerprint can ultimately lead to individual interventions for children at risk of obesity.
Its impact is very important to the future health of Americans. Obesity is the cause of countless health problems such as heart disease, stroke, cancer and type 2 diabetes.
Despite spending millions of dollars each year on obesity research, prevention and treatment, the epidemic of obesity in the United States continues to grow.Nationally, it almost affects 20 percent of children According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, teens, and 40 percent of adults –Figure Expected to rise To 50 percent by 2030.
“We have experienced a quiet pandemic over the last few decades,” said Dr. Andres Acosta, a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “It’s killing our generation.”
Biology vs. behavior
The science of obesity and how to treat it has never been easier. The driving force extends not only to diet and exercise, but also to the troublesome metabolic mixture of human genetics and the environment.
“Weight is the product of that energy balance. It’s the basic physics equation: calorie in and calorie out,” Redman said. “It’s very complicated to drive both calorie-in and calorie-out factors. What is driven by biology and what is driven by behavior?”
The Pennington Lab in Louisiana is uniquely positioned to study obesity. The state is consistently ranked among the worst in the country in terms of obesity.Data from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Shows that 22.2 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 are obese.
“Louisiana is a laboratory that lives in other parts of the world, whether it’s good or not,” Redman said. “We have a variety of incomes, a variety of races, a variety of ethnicities, and a variety of health conditions.”
Dr. Ryan Farrell, a pediatric endocrinologist at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, better understands what causes obesity early in life and what factors put children at risk of obesity later. He said that is the key to prevention.
“It’s potentially faster to get a feel for children who consume less energy at rest early on and to understand whether they can infer long-term health effects as they get older. Rapid progress in weight gain may mean intervening at age and making lifestyle changes. “
And it would be better if early doctors could intervene.
Dr. Evan Nadler, director of the Children’s and Adolescent Weight Loss Surgery Program at the National Hospital for Children in Washington, DC, said: Many of them arrive at us to lose weight, but long after they should have. After the age of five, Nadler said it was much more difficult.
This is one of the reasons Pennington Labs is focusing on newborns.
In the pea pod
Babies enrolled in a study funded by the National Institutes of Health are first brought to the laboratory in the first two weeks of life for the first two measurements of body fat percentage and metabolism.
To calculate body fat, the baby is placed in an enclosed oval room called a pea pod. The machine measures the amount of air your baby occupies in the pod compared to your baby’s weight. The entire process takes 90 seconds.
Researchers plan to examine each baby’s body fat in just a few weeks and compare it to body fat at age 2, Redman said. What about newborns who may determine body fat at ages 4, 5, and even 25?
So far, hundreds of babies have measured body fat in Pennington’s pea pods. Together with others used around the world, the team has data on about 7,000 babies.
But scientists around the world are asking Pennington to study a second measurement, neonatal metabolism. The laboratory is the only one in the world that uses an infant’s metabolic chamber.
The infant room aims to mimic the gold standard that measures adult metabolism. Their metabolic chambers are about the same size as a small hotel room. Adult participants stay in the room 24 hours a day, and scientists can accurately calculate the number of calories burned during that period.
“We have perfected the protocol to capture the entire cycle while the baby is in the metabolic chamber,” says Redman. In baby time, it’s about 2 hours.
The baby room is a plexiglass cube decorated with smiling elephants and lions, with a small mattress. Parents and members of the Pennington Lab can reach out to calm the baby as needed. Usually they just sleep.
How to measure metabolism
Your baby’s metabolism is calculated by accurately measuring the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the chamber. Researchers know the concentration of these gases in the air when the baby enters the chamber, and each exhaled breath contains more carbon dioxide than oxygen. By measuring the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide that babies breathe, researchers can estimate the number of calories they are burning. If the body works hard to burn calories, it produces more carbon dioxide.