Monday, October 3, 2022

Is metabolism determined from birth? Researchers are conducting studies to trace the newborns.

Baton Rouge, La. Children as young as two weeks old are carried in strollers and car-seat carriers at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center’s laboratory. Some cry, some can’t stop faltering, and others just fall asleep during their entire journey.

Their job is simple: Hang out while scientists take careful measurements of their body fat and metabolism.

“We think that by studying infants, we can really get to the biology of obesity,” said Leanne Redman, who directs the Maternal and Child Research Laboratory in Pennington at Louisiana State University. It is the only laboratory in the world equipped to study the metabolism of newborns. That is, how their small bodies burn energy, or calories.

Redman theorizes that by studying metabolism in the first weeks of life – long before a person’s weight is influenced by external factors such as the foods they are fed or choose to eat – laboratory obesity. revealing the biological basis of Newborns do not exercise, and their diet consists only of breast milk or formula.

Dr. Leanne Redman, director of the Maternal and Child Research Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, holds Julie Hardy's son, Jameson, right, on May 12, 2022 at Louisiana State University's Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.
Leanne Redmayne, director of the Maternal and Child Research Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center, holds Julie Hardy’s son Jameson. Kathleen Flynn for NBC News

The theory is that a person’s “metabolic fingerprint” is set for life at birth, she said. Decoding that fingerprint could ultimately lead to personalized interventions for children at risk of obesity.

The implications are of vital importance to the future health of Americans. Obesity is a factor in myriad health problems, including heart disease, stroke, cancer and type 2 diabetes.

Despite millions of dollars being spent each year on obesity research, prevention, and treatment, America’s obesity epidemic continues to grow. Nationwide, it affects about 20 percent of children and teens, and more than 40 percent of adults, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention—a figure expected to rise to 50 percent by 2030.

“We’ve been living a silent epidemic over the past few decades,” said Dr. Andres Acosta, a bariatrician and gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “It’s killing our generation.”

biology vs behavior

The science of obesity and how it is treated is not straightforward. The driving factors extend beyond diet and exercise, to the thorny metabolic mix of a person’s genetics and environment.

“Weight is the product of its energy balance. It’s a basic physics equation: calories in and calories out,” Redman said. “What is driving both of those factors — calories in and calories out — is very complex. What is driven by biology and what is driven by behavior?”

Director of the Maternal and Child Research Laboratory at Pennington Biomedical Research Center Dr. Leanne Redman on May 12, 2022.
Leanne Redman’s research focuses on understanding the biological origins of obesity.Kathleen Flynn for NBC News

Pennington Lab’s location in Louisiana is uniquely located to study obesity. The state is consistently ranked among the worst in the country in terms of obesity. Data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that 22.2 percent of 10- to 17-year-olds are obese.

“Louisiana is a living laboratory for the rest of the world, whether that’s a good thing or not,” Redmayne said. “We have diversity in income. We have diversity in race. We have diversity in ethnicity, and we have diversity in health conditions.”

Dr., a pediatrician at University Hospitals Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland. Ryan Farrell said a better understanding of what causes obesity early in life or what factors put a child at risk for obesity later in life is important for prevention.

“Gaining an understanding of children who have low resting energy expenditure can predict long-term health outcomes as children get older, which could potentially mean an earlier age.” and lifestyle modifications may do well before the development of rapid weight gain,” he said.

And the earlier physicians can intervene, the better.

“We see all these kids too late,” said Dr., director of the Child and Adolescent Weight-Loss Surgery Program at Children’s National Hospital in Washington DC. Evan Nadler said, “We treat them the best we can and we get a lot out of them to lose a lot of weight, but they get to us after a long time.” After age 5, Nadler said, it’s too hard.

That’s one reason Pennington Lab focuses on newborns.

in peas

Babies enrolled in the study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, are first brought to the lab at two weeks of age for their first two measurements: body fat percentage and metabolism.

To calculate body fat, babies are placed inside an enclosed, oval-shaped chamber called a pea pod. This machine measures how much air the baby takes in inside the pod compared to the baby’s body mass. The whole process takes 90 seconds.

Redman said the researchers plan to look at each child’s body fat over a few weeks and compare it to how it looks at age two. What is it about a newborn that can even determine his body fat at 4 or 5 or even 25 years old?

Redman, Wright, and Ph.D.  Emily Flanagan, put baby Jameson Hardy in a pea pod.
Redman, right, and researcher Emily Flanagan hold baby Jameson Hardy in a pea pod.Kathleen Flynn for NBC News
Researchers calculated the body fat percentage of two-week-old Jameson Hardy in a machine called a pea pod.  Jameson's mother, Julie Hardy, works in the lab, and volunteers to show Jameson how the measurements are taken.
Researchers calculated Jameson’s body fat percentage in pea pods. Jameson’s mother, Julie Hardy, works in the lab, and volunteers to show Jameson how the measurements are taken.Kathleen Flynn for NBC News

So far, the body fat of hundreds of children has been measured with Pennington’s pea. The team has data on about 7,000 babies, along with others in use globally.

But scientists around the world are looking to Pennington for his research on the second measurement: neonatal metabolism. The laboratory is the only one in the world to use an infant metabolic chamber.

The baby room is meant to mimic the gold standard of measuring metabolism in adults. Those metabolic rooms are the size of a small hotel room. Adult participants stay in the room for 24 hours, and scientists are able to accurately calculate how many calories they burn over that time period.

“We’re perfecting our protocol to be able to hold that full cycle while the baby is in the metabolic chamber,” Redman said. In baby time, that’s about two hours.

The baby room is a plexiglass cube fitted with a small mattress and decorated with smiling elephants and lions. Parents and members of the Pennington Lab can reach out to pacify babies if needed. Usually they just sleep.

how is metabolism measured

A baby’s metabolism is calculated by taking precise measurements of the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the chamber. Researchers know the concentrations of these gases in the air as the child enters the chamber, and each exhalation contains more carbon dioxide than oxygen. By comparing the carbon dioxide that babies inhale and exhale, researchers can estimate how many calories they are burning. If the body is working harder to burn calories, it produces more carbon dioxide.

Nation World News Desk
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