Study finds link between protein, obesity rates in Latin women

Research uses protein leverage hypothesis to understand differences in obesity in Latin American women.
By Amy Wallace   |   Feb. 8, 2017 at 2:22 PM
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Feb. 8 (UPI) -- A study from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus has found a possible explanation for greater obesity rates in low-income Latin American women.

Researchers investigated the causes of increasing obesity rates among Latin American women of low socioeconomic status and found that limited access to dietary protein makes women consume a lower proportion of protein, leading to higher calorie intake and obesity.

The study used the protein leverage hypothesis, which predicts that protein intake is more regulated by the body than intake of other macronutrients, in a test sample of 135 Costa Rican women from three socioeconomic categories.

The protein leverage hypothesis shows that if a person does not eat enough protein to meet the body's intake needs, an appetite for protein makes a person keep eating and can result in excess calorie intake and obesity.

"Studies conducted in a laboratory setting show that when people eat a diet with a lower proportion of protein, they tend to consume more calories," Traci Bekelman, a post-doctoral fellow in pediatrics at the CU School of Medicine and lead author of the study, said in a press release. "We tested out this relationship between protein and calories in a real world setting in order to provide insight into rising obesity among the poor in Latin America."

Previous studies on dietary causes of obesity focused on carbohydrates and fats but not protein.

The study showed that obesity rates were higher and the proportion of protein in the diet was lower among women of low socioeconomic status compared to women of higher socioeconomic status. The research also showed a link between the proportion of protein in the diet and total calorie intake.

Surprisingly, the relationship between the proportion of protein in the diet and calorie intake was strongest in middle- and high-socioeconomic groups and the study found no relationship among women of low socioeconomic status.

"One possible explanation for this unexpected finding is that women of low socioeconomic status cannot afford to continue eating until they reach the body's protein intake target," Bekelman said.

The study was published in the American Journal of Human Biology.

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