Thursday, December 14, 2006


New guidelines on obesity in the US may end up harming children, says an article in this week's BMJ. And an accompanying article goes on to question the financial links between the organization promoting these proposals and the pharmaceutical industry. If implemented, the proposals would see many more children classified as overweight or obese - and thus eligible for treatment with obesity drugs.

The article outlines how an influential expert committee of the American Medical Association has "tentatively decided" to reclassify obesity definitions. This will result in healthy children being categorized as medically overweight or obese, says the author, and mean that approximately a quarter of toddlers and two fifths of children aged 6-11 in America will be classed as having the disease.

Author of the articles is Ray Moynihan, who has previously written about drug companies promoting an increasing reliance on medications to the public. His report reveals that the US proposals have been greeted with alarm by some senior public health academics who have written to the committee. Dr Jenny O'Dea from the University of Sydney, for instance, warned that labeling children as overweight or obese can lead to stigmatization, eating problems, and avoidance of exercise.

Mr Moynihan points out that one of the prime movers behind the proposed changes being considered by the expert committee is Dr William Dietz, a senior member of the International Obesity Task Force. In the second article Mr Moynihan reveals how the high profile and highly influential Task Force, which has close ties to the World Health Organization, was set up in the mid-1990s with the help of grants from three drug companies and continues to benefit from drug company sponsorship.

Now merged with another international obesity forum, the Task Force gets two thirds of its funding from pharmaceutical giants Roche and Abbott. Roche makes the anti-obesity drug Xenical (orlistat), and Abbott makes the appetite suppressant Reductil (sibutramine hydrochloride). Over recent years, the article states, drug company sponsorship is likely to have amounted to "millions".

The Task Force has responded to Mr Moynihan's questions about its funding, saying that it has made no secret of the grants it has received from drug companies and emphasising that an internal ethical scrutiny system ensures independence from sponsors.



A surprisingly recent instance of human evolution has been detected among the peoples of East Africa. It is the ability to digest milk in adulthood, conferred by genetic changes that occurred as recently as 3,000 years ago, a team of geneticists has found. The finding is a striking example of a cultural practice - the raising of dairy cattle - feeding back into the human genome. It also seems to be one of the first instances of convergent human evolution to be documented at the genetic level. Convergent evolution refers to two or more populations acquiring the same trait independently.

Throughout most of human history, the ability to digest lactose, the principal sugar of milk, has been switched off after weaning because there is no further need for the lactase enzyme that breaks the sugar apart. But when cattle were first domesticated 9,000 years ago and people later started to consume their milk as well as their meat, natural selection would have favored anyone with a mutation that kept the lactase gene switched on. Such a mutation is known to have arisen among an early cattle-raising people, the Funnel Beaker culture, which flourished some 5,000 to 6,000 years ago in north-central Europe. People with a persistently active lactase gene have no problem digesting milk and are said to be lactose tolerant. Almost all Dutch people and 99 percent of Swedes are lactose-tolerant, but the mutation becomes progressively less common in Europeans who live at increasing distance from the ancient Funnel Beaker region.

Geneticists wondered if the lactose tolerance mutation in Europeans, first identified in 2002, had arisen among pastoral peoples elsewhere. But it seemed to be largely absent from Africa, even though pastoral peoples there generally have some degree of tolerance. A research team led by Sarah Tishkoff of the University of Maryland has now resolved much of the puzzle. After testing for lactose tolerance and genetic makeup among 43 ethnic groups of East Africa, she and her colleagues have found three new mutations, all independent of each other and of the European mutation, which keep the lactase gene permanently switched on. The principal mutation, found among Nilo-Saharan-speaking ethnic groups of Kenya and Tanzania, arose 2,700 to 6,800 years ago, according to genetic estimates, Dr. Tishkoff's group is to report in the journal Nature Genetics on Monday. This fits well with archaeological evidence suggesting that pastoral peoples from the north reached northern Kenya about 4,500 years ago and southern Kenya and Tanzania 3,300 years ago. Two other mutations were found, among the Beja people of northeastern Sudan and tribes of the same language family, Afro-Asiatic, in northern Kenya.

Genetic evidence shows that the mutations conferred an enormous selective advantage on their owners, enabling them to leave almost 10 times as many descendants as people without them. The mutations have created "one of the strongest genetic signatures of natural selection yet reported in humans," the researchers write. The survival advantage was so powerful perhaps because those with the mutations not only gained extra energy from lactose but also, in drought conditions, would have benefited from the water in milk. People who were lactose-intolerant could have risked losing water from diarrhea, Dr. Tishkoff said....

More here

New hay-fever pill

More than a million hay fever sufferers could benefit from a new drug that will be available on prescription [in Britain] next month. Grazax, taken as a pill, provides immunity to the allergens contained in grass pollens and has had an 83 per cent success rate in tests. Allergy researchers believe it will provide relief for hay fever sufferers who find antihistamines and nasal sprays ineffective.

Professor Stephen Durham, of Imperial College London, who is investigating the long-term benefits of the drug, said: "It's been shown to be associated with a 30 per cent reduction of hay fever symptoms and a 40 per cent reduction in the need for other medications, like nasal sprays. "We know it's effective, we know it imparts improvements in the quality of life of patients and we know it reduces the need for treatment."

There are about 12 million hay fever sufferers in Britain, 95 per cent of whom react to grass pollen, with 13 to 14-year-olds particularly susceptible. Traditional anti-histamine treatments reduce hayfever symptoms by 10-20 per cent and steroid nasal sprays by 20-30 per cent. These have to be repeated frequently and do not work for all patients. The effects of a spray wear off in about a week whereas a course of the pills - one a day for eight weeks - should keep hay fever at bay for a season.

The drug is similar to the monthly desensitisation injections that provide immunity to hayfever. It works by exposing patients to a 15mg dose of timothy grass extract - one of the worst pollens for sufferers - which kick-starts the body's immunity response against pollen from temperate grasses. Tests suggest that unlike injections, which cause serious reactions in 1 in 500 cases, the tablet's side-effects are limited to localised itching.

Professor Durham, head of allergy and clinical immunology at Imperial College, said: "One in four people suffers from hay fever. It can have a severe effect on quality of life; it interferes with sleep, and interferes with work, and children with hay fever can drop a grade at school. I believe about 10 per cent of the hay fever population, potentially a million patients in the UK, could benefit from this treatment."

The cost of the tablets, which are made by the Swedish company ALK-Abello, has not been decided for Britain, but in Germany they cost about 2.45 pounds each. On this basis, an eight-week course could cost patients about 135 pounds , with the potential cost to the NHS 140 million. The NHS spends about 40 million a year on prescription medicines to treat nasal allergies, including hay fever, and the over-the-counter market is worth another 80 million. Grazax would potentially replace some of these. Grazax will be available from specialist hay fever clinics, with patients requiring the treatment on the NHS needing to be referred by their doctors.

Further studies are now being undertaken to find out if the pills will provide long-term immunity or if they will have to be taken every year. Hay fever occurs in varying degrees of severity and can be dangerous for patients with conditions such as asthma. The sneezing, runny noses and watery eyes can last for weeks at a time and affect every facet of a sufferer's life, awake or asleep. Of the 150 species of native grass in Britain, 12 are responsible for the vast majority of grass pollen.

Grazax has already been approved for use in 27 European countries. The pills will cost 67.50 pounds for 30 days, making the eight-week course 135 pounds. The drug will be initially aimed at the relatively small proportion of hayfever sufferers who either do not respond to conventional treatments or get little relief from antihistamines and nasal sprays.



Just some problems with the "Obesity" war:

1). It tries to impose behavior change on everybody -- when most of those targeted are not obese and hence have no reason to change their behaviour. It is a form of punishing the innocent and the guilty alike. (It is also typical of Leftist thinking: Scorning the individual and capable of dealing with large groups only).

2). The longevity research all leads to the conclusion that it is people of MIDDLING weight who live longest -- not slim people. So the "epidemic" of obesity is in fact largely an "epidemic" of living longer.

3). It is total calorie intake that makes you fat -- not where you get your calories. Policies that attack only the source of the calories (e.g. "junk food") without addressing total calorie intake are hence pissing into the wind. People involuntarily deprived of their preferred calorie intake from one source are highly likely to seek and find their calories elsewhere.

4). So-called junk food is perfectly nutritious. A big Mac meal comprises meat, bread, salad and potatoes -- which is a mainstream Western diet. If that is bad then we are all in big trouble.

5). Food warriors demonize salt and fat. But we need a daily salt intake to counter salt-loss through perspiration and the research shows that people on salt-restricted diets die SOONER. And Eskimos eat huge amounts of fat with no apparent ill-effects. And the average home-cooked roast dinner has LOTS of fat. Will we ban roast dinners?

6). The foods restricted are often no more calorific than those permitted -- such as milk and fruit-juice drinks.

7). Tendency to weight is mostly genetic and is therefore not readily susceptible to voluntary behaviour change.

8). And when are we going to ban cheese? Cheese is a concentrated calorie bomb and has lots of that wicked animal fat in it too. Wouldn't we all be better off without it? And what about butter? It is just about pure fat. Surely it should be treated as contraband in kids' lunchboxes! [/sarcasm].

9). For a summary of the weak science behind the "trans-fat" hysteria, see here. Trans fats have only a temporary effect on blood chemistry and no lasting harm from them has ever been shown.


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