Those Extra Pounds Could Harm Your Back

9Previous research has linked having a higher body-mass index (BMI), which is a measurement that takes into account a person’s height and weight, to reports of low back pain. This type of pain can affect physical and mental well-being, limit mobility, reduce quality of life and is associated with substantial financial costs for both the patient and the health care system.

The new study included more than 1,000 men and nearly 1,600 women aged 21 and older from southern China. Overall, 73 percent of the participants had lumbar disc degeneration, but the condition was more common in men than women (76 percent vs. 71 percent) and more prevalent among older people, according to the study in the new issue of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

Seven percent of the study participants were underweight, 48 percent were in the normal weight range, 36 percent were overweight and 9 percent were obese, the investigators noted.

“Our research confirms that with elevated BMI there is a significant increase in the extent and global severity of disc degeneration. In fact, end-stage disc degeneration with narrowing of the disc space was more pronounced in obese individuals,” Dr. Dino Samartzis, of the University of Hong Kong, said in a journal news release.

As people gain weight, disc degeneration may begin to occur due to physical loading on the disc, the study authors suggested. In addition, fat cells may play a role by causing chronic low-grade inflammation, they noted.

“Since overweight and obesity are worldwide concerns whose prevalence continues to rise, our study’s findings have considerable public health implications. If these issues continue to plague society, they can further affect spine health leading to low back pain and its consequences,” Samartzis said.

Disc degeneration is a complex process and future studies that investigate risk factors for the condition should take into account the effects of being overweight or obese, the researchers recommended.

A Shame-Free McDonald’s Menu

3Enjoy McDonald’s without your friends knowing you enjoy McDonald’s! That’s the slogan behind the Shame Mask, comedy team Jest’s solution for anyone who feels ashamed about their penchant for fast food (watch the video below the fold). As the video parody shows, with this creepy white mask covering your face, you can now scarf down your calorie-laden fast food — without fear of judgment from your coworkers, friends, and random passersby. Jest’s version of a McDonald’s commercial even has an updated slogan, “Stop judging me!”

If the idea of a Shame Mask rings a little too true for you, we have some more practical and healthful alternatives. Below, our top tips for keeping your fast food habits in check.

1. Order smartly. If you have to eat at McDonald’s or another fast food joint, know how to navigate the menu. According to the company’s nutritional data, a Southwest salad with grilled chicken clocks in at only 290 calories. Stick to the recommended serving size of dressing (two tablespoons) and you have a healthful lunch. For breakfast, you can’t beat a classic Egg McMuffin, which has only 300 calories. A regular hamburger has only 250 calories — less than the seemingly healthy fillet of fish or classic chicken sandwich — so you can still have your burger and eat it, too, if you know how to order.

2. Indulge cravings occasionally. On those days when a greasy McDonald’s French fry is all you want in this world, it’s okay to give in every once and a while, as long as it’s not a habit. Order a small fry for just 230 calories — and that’s it. Better yet, share your fries with a friend.

3. Drink more water. If you constantly crave salty foods, you could just be dehydrated. Keep a water bottle handy throughout the day, and keep it filled. It will help keep you full and hydrated, and drinking water may help keep your mind off of your food cravings.

4. Find healthful alternatives. Sugar, salt, chocolate: No matter what your craving of choice is, it’s bound to hit at one time or another when you’re trying to watch your weight. When it does, be prepared. Instead of salty fast food, try a homemade burger, fresh salad, and air-popped popcorn. By preparing food at home, you’re skipping damaging the additives and added fat and calories from fast food.

5. Plan your meals in advance. We know a lot of people eat fast food because it’s, well, fast! But eating healthy on the run is as simple as planning ahead. Stash portable snacks such as whole, fresh fruit, fiber-filled snack bars, and string cheese in your bag so you’ll be prepared when hunger hits. If you’re at the office or another place where you can store food, get in the habit of bringing your lunch. A study of 24,000 European office workers found that those who ate out for lunch were more likely to have higher body mass indexes and be at a higher risk for obesity.