Sunday, November 30, 2008


The article below is a bit hard to follow and its political correctness does not help. IQ was of course not examined but I think that "Males with a disadvantaged background who experienced early transitions into the labor force" can be decoded in one word as "dropouts" -- and they were found to be fatter. And blacks were found to be fatter too, perhaps reflecting that many of them are dropouts. Why an early dropout from education is asssociated with being overweight one can only speculate but it would appear consistent with the usual finding that high IQ people have better biological functioning generally. So low IQ people may have worse functioning even in trivial ways

Obesity, Race/ethnicity and Life Course Socioeconomic Status across the Transition from Adolescence to Adulthood

By Melissa Scharoun-Lee et al.

Background: Differences in the association of socioeconomic status (SES) with obesity may underlie racial/ethnic disparities in obesity that increase dramatically across the transition to adulthood in the US.

Objective: To examine racial/ethnic differences in the influence of life course SES on longitudinal obesity patterns from adolescence to adulthood.

Methods: Latent class analysis was used on a nationally representative, diverse sample of 12,940 adolescents followed into young adulthood (mean age=21.7 years) to identify life course SES group profiles based on SES data in adolescence and young adulthood. Gender-stratified multinomial logistic regression models estimated the association of SES groups with obesity incidence and persistence versus staying non-obese.

Results: No significant interactions with race/ethnicity were observed, though racial/ethnic minorities had the highest obesity risk across SES groups. Racial/ethnic-pooled associations between disadvantaged SES exposure and higher obesity risk were strong but differed by gender. Males with a disadvantaged background who experienced early transitions into the labor force, marriage and residential independence had the highest risk of obesity incidence (RRR=1.64; 95%CI: 1.12, 2.40), while females exposed to persistent adversity were at highest risk (RRR=3.01, 95%CI: 1.95, 4.66). In general, SES group membership had a stronger relationship with obesity persistence than incidence.

Conclusions: The relationship between SES and obesity patterns is similar across race/ethnicity and differs by gender during the transition to adulthood. However, stronger associations with obesity persistence and enduring racial/ethnic disparities in obesity risk across SES groups suggest that these social factors play a larger role in disparities earlier in the life course.

J Epidemiol Community Health. Published Online First: 31 October 2008

The Catch-22 of Aging

It seems there's just no way to beat Father Time. As we age, our chromosomes fracture, and specialized proteins rush in to reverse the damage. But new research shows that in doing so, these proteins inadvertently switch on genes that can contribute to aging, allowing senescence to march ever onward.

The idea that a protein might patch up a rickety, aging chromosome is not new. About a decade ago, researchers identified a protein called Sir2 that zooms to the spot of broken DNA in yeast cells and repairs the breaks. But to do that, Sir2 has to abandon its job of inactivating a sterility gene elsewhere in the yeast genome. The result is yeast cells that have intact DNA but are sterile, a symptom of aging in the fungi. Since then, researchers have drawn more connections between Sir2 and its protein family, the sirtuins, to aging in yeast, insects, and mice (Science, 18 June 2004, p. 1731). But they didn't know if the mammalian equivalent of Sir2, a protein called SIRT1, caused the same genetic catch-22.

To find out, molecular biologist David Sinclair of Harvard Medical School in Boston and colleagues studied SIRT1 in mice. In mouse embryonic stem cells, the researchers saw that SIRT1 hangs out near strands of DNA that don't seem to produce proteins, suggesting that it plays a gene-silencing role like Sir2 plays in yeast.

Next, the researchers mimicked aging in mouse cells by exposing them to hydrogen peroxide. The chemical simulates oxidative stress, a buildup of reactive oxygen that often occurs in older cells; many researchers believe that oxidative stress damages cell structures, such as chromosomes, and causes the problems we associate with aging. After 1 hour in the peroxide solution, more than 90% of the SIRT1 proteins left their original locations on the chromosome and moved to the breaks, the researchers report today in the journal Cell.

What was the effect of SIRT1 leaving its post? Further work in the brains of aging rodents suggested that many of the genes associated with SIRT1 turn on in older mice, possibly because SIRT1 has left the scene to repair a broken chromosome. The result could be a liver gene turning on in the brain, disrupting the brain's function, says Sinclair. Such faulty gene activity contributes to a multitude of age-related problems, such as diabetes and dementia.

Overall, the findings indicate that a mammalian cell's effort to stave off old age can actually promote the symptoms of aging. "This may be a very fundamental Achilles' heel of life," says Sinclair. Still, understanding how SIRT1 contributes to the process can help researchers develop better treatments for aging-related problems, Sinclair says. For example, in further experiments, his team showed that mice fed SIRT1 lived more than 25 days longer than did control mice after exposure to genome-altering radiation.

Leonard Guarente, a molecular biologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge who conducted some of the original sirtuin studies in yeast, says the work provides greater insight into aging in mammals, including humans. It also, he notes, shows that simple organisms like yeast still have something to teach us.


Saturday, November 29, 2008

Holiday Meals Rife With (Safe) Carcinogens!

'Americans are still constantly bombarded with dire warnings.'

The widespread belief that organic and so-called "natural foods" are safer than conventional ones is simply not true. Scientists with the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH) point out that the foods that make up a traditional holiday dinner are loaded with "carcinogens": chemicals that in large doses cause cancer in laboratory animals.

None of these chemicals are man-made or added to the foods. These "carcinogens" occur naturally in foods. But ACSH scientists have good news: these natural carcinogens, like their synthetic counterparts, pose no hazard to human health -- because we are exposed to such low levels, and because we are not the same as lab animals.

Dr. Elizabeth Whelan, president of ACSH, notes, "Americans are still constantly bombarded with dire warnings that synthetic chemicals have untoward, if not downright deadly effects on our health." She continues, "We're also told that so-called natural or organic foods are better for us than those containing any synthetic ingredients or produced by conventional means."

ACSH's Holiday Dinner Menu highlights the chemicals -- and the carcinogens -- that Mother Nature herself has put in our food. These natural carcinogens, like synthetic chemicals, have been shown to cause cancer only in very high doses, given over a lifetime to lab animals. They are present in such small amounts in our foods that they do not endanger consumers.

This fact hasn't dampened the ardor of self-styled consumer activists, who "warn" consumers about the supposed dangers of acrylamide, for example, which is produced when foods high in carbohydrates are cooked at high temperatures. "Acrylamide, like the majority of the other rodent carcinogens listed in the menu, has never been shown to be a human carcinogen," observes ACSH nutrition director Dr. Ruth Kava. No component of the traditional holiday meal is devoid of animal carcinogens (defined here as substances that at high doses cause cancer in laboratory animals), including:

hydrazines (mushroom soup)

aniline, caffeic acid, benzaldehyde, hydrogen peroxide, quercetin glycosides, and psoralens (vegetable salad)

heterocyclic amines, acrylamide, benzo(a)pyrene, ethyl carbamate, dihydrazines, d-limonene, safrole, and quercetin glycosides (roast turkey with stuffing)

benzene and heterocyclic amines (prime rib of beef with parsley sauce)

furfural, ethyl alcohol, allyl isothiocyanate (broccoli, potatoes, sweet potatoes)

coumarin, methyl eugenol, acetaldehyde, estragole, and safrole (apple and pumpkin pies)

ethyl alcohol with ethyl carbamate (red and white wines)

Then sit back and relax with some benzofuran, caffeic acid, catechol, 1,2,5,6,-dibenz(a)anthracene with 4-methylcatechol (coffee). And those -- all produced courtesy of Mother Nature -- are only the carcinogens. Your 100% natural holiday meal is also replete with toxins. These include the solanine, arsenic, and chaconine in potatoes, the hydrogen cyanide in lima beans, and the hallucinogenic compound myristicin found in nutmeg, black pepper, and carrots.

Rest easy, though, because virtually none of the compounds on ACSH's list are established human carcinogens, and, as the Holiday Dinner Menu demonstrates, we would have to eat enormous amounts of these foods over long periods of time before we could ever expect them to cause cancer. The same is true of the majority of the food additives that are now considered to be "carcinogenic" based exclusively on animal experiments, notes ACSH.

Dr. Whelan has also explained the Menu -- and its lesson about common but harmless carcinogens -- in a short video message, with a normal-quality version for general viewers and a downloadable high-quality version for interested media to use.



I keep mentioning findings like this because social class is so regularly ignored in epidemiological interpretations. And as epidemiological associations go, the overall effect below was quite strong

What is the association between wealth and mental health?

By Kristie N Carter et al.

Objective: To investigate the association between asset wealth and mental health in New Zealand (NZ) and whether it is independent of other socioeconomic measures and baseline health status.

Methods: Data for this study was from the first three waves of the Survey of Families, Income and Employment (SoFIE) conducted in New Zealand (2002-2004/05) (N=15,340). The Kessler-10 was used as a measure of psychological distress. The association of quintiles of wealth with psychological distress was investigated using logistic regression, controlling for confounders, socioeconomic variables and prior health status.

Results: The odds of reporting high psychological distress were greater in the lowest wealth quintile compared to the highest (OR 3.06, 95% CI 2.68-3.50). Adjusting for age and sex did not alter the relationship, however adjusting for income and area deprivation attenuated the odds ratio to 1.73 (1.48 to 2.04). Further controlling for baseline health status reduced the odds ratio to 1.45 (1.23 to 1.71), although the confidence interval still excluded the null.

Conclusions: Inequalities in wealth are strongly associated with psychological distress, over and above other confounding demographic variables and baseline health status. Much, but not all, of that association is confounded by adult socioeconomic position. This suggests that policy measures to improve asset wealth, through savings and home ownership, may have positive health implications and help to reduce health inequalities.

J Epidemiol Community Health. Published Online First: 21 November 2008

Friday, November 28, 2008

Are maddies sicker?

Found: Sick leave for mental illness linked to early death. This is consistent with the view that there is a general syndrome of better biological functioning. "To him that hath, more will be given him; to him that hath not what little he hath not will be taken away". We also see it in the better health of high IQ people, for instance. A more straightforward explanation, however, is that mad people are more likely to harm themselves, whether accidentally or deliberately

People who need to take time off from work for a mental health problem may live shorter lives than those in better psychiatric health, a new study suggests. Researchers found that among nearly 20,000 French workers they followed, those who'd taken at least 1 week's sick leave for a mental health disorder had a higher death rate over 14 years.

At the outset, 41 percent of the workers -- all public utility employees -- had taken at least 1 week's sick leave over the past 3 years. Those who'd taken time off specifically for depression or other mental health disorders were one quarter to one third more likely to die over the study period than workers with no mental-health absences. "Basically the message is that workers with medically certified absences for mental diagnoses should be considered a population at a higher risk of fatal disease," lead researcher Dr. Jane E. Ferrie, of the University College London in the UK, told Reuters Health.

She stressed, however, that the findings point to a relatively higher death rate in this group as a whole -- and that does not mean that any one person with a mental health disorder has an unusually high risk of early death. When studies observe large populations over time to look for patterns, the results cannot be used to "infer risk at the level of the individual," Ferrie explained.

The findings, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, are based on 19,235 public utility employees (5271 female) who were part of long-range health study. The researchers used employment records to verify any medically certified work absences the employees had between 1990 and 1992. (French law requires workers to get a medical certificate from their doctors for each day of sick leave.)

Between 1993 and 2007, there were 902 deaths among the study participants. Those who'd taken 7 days or more off from work for a mental health disorder had a higher risk of death, even when their age and type of job were taken into account.

With the exception of extreme cases, mental health problems do not, in themselves, kill people, Ferrie pointed out. Instead, she explained, poor mental health is often connected to poor physical health. On one hand, physical conditions may lead to depression or other mental health problems, Ferrie noted. On the other, psychiatric conditions may directly impair physical health, possibly by affecting the nervous and hormonal systems.



This too is consistent with a pattern of general biological fitness

Co-occurrence of risk factors for cardiovascular disease by social class: 1958 British birth cohort

By C Power et al.

Aim: To establish whether social differences in multiple risk factors for cardiovascular disease are due to a greater strength of association (higher correlation) between risk factors in less advantaged groups.

Methods: Co-occurrence of five risk factors (smoking, hypertension, low high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, obesity, diabetes) in 3614 British 45-year-old men and 3560 women in the manual and non-manual social groups.

Results: 4.0% of women in manual groups had 3 or more risk factors compared with 1.7% in non-manual groups: 6.2% and 3.4% respectively for men. There was a higher than expected percentage of the population, overall, with 3 or more risk factors assuming independence between risk factors; correspondingly, there was a slightly lower than expected proportion with one factor. However, patterns of observed to expected ratios were consistent in manual and non-manual groups and did not differ by the number of risk factors.

Conclusions: Higher prevalence of multiple risk factors in manual groups was due to the higher prevalence of individual factors rather than a greater tendency of those with an individual risk factor to have additional risks. Strategies to reduce multiple risk factors in less advantaged groups would help to lessen their health burden.

Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 2008;62:1030-1035

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Beer sends you blind (?)

Another stupid "correlation is causation" claim

Knocking back four beers a day doesn't just risk a serious beer gut - it could also be damaging your eyesight, a study of Australian men has found. Melbourne research shows men in their 60s who drink alcohol heavily are about six times more likely to develop the most debilitating form of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). About 15 per cent of Australians are affected by the disease - where sight fades in the centre of the visual field - and 1 per cent will have the advanced or end-stage form that eventually steals sight.

Smoking and genetics have been linked to the condition but Dr Elaine Chong from the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital decided to study the diet and eye health of almost 7000 people over a period of time to determine the contribution of alcohol. "We found that higher levels of alcohol, more than four standard drinks a day, was associated with a three-fold increase in end-stage AMD in men," Dr Chong said. Beer drinking, in particular, carried a six-fold increased risk. Quantities of wine and spirits drunk were too low to evaluate their risk. The same link was not see in women, possibly because they were less likely to drink heavily, she said.

Explaining the trigger, Dr Chong said it was possible alcohol could increase oxidative stress to the retina. "Alcohol is a neurotoxin so it is thought that high levels can actually cause retinal damage that might lead to the disease," she said. An earlier study found rats fed alcohol in the lab were more likely to develop signs of end-stage AMD.

While the new findings, presented at an ophthalmology conference in Melbourne today, suggest drinking habits could be contributing, it may not be that clear cut. "It might be that heavy drinkers were also more likely to smoke, which is a well-identified disease risk," Dr Chong said. "But regardless, heavy alcohol intake is harmful so cutting back will always do you good."


Do British women fear fat more than drunkenness?

Could be these days

Bottles of wine and beer could soon carry labels warning of their calorie content. Experts believe binge drinkers, not deterred by information about how much alcohol a drink contains, might think again if they knew how fattening it was. The message would be most likely to hit home with image-conscious young drinkers and women.

One option would see the calorie content equated to a fattening food - such as comparing the calories in a pint of lager to a sausage roll. The proposals, from the Government's Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, was last night condemned by the drinks industry. It claimed it could simply push drinkers into deciding they may have to 'skip a meal' in order to drink.

The advisory council, an influential body usually listened to by Ministers, said all alcohol bottles should carry labels warning of the 'harm caused', similar to those on cigarette packets. In a paper sent to Ministers, it added: 'Labelling could include calorie content and possibly specific warnings e.g increased risk of accidents.' One example given in the document is: 'A pint of lager = 2.3 units = 170 calories = a sausage roll'. It adds: 'Other types of comparison could be worth exploring.'

The council's views were sent to the Department for Health as part of the 'Safe Sensible Social' drinking laws review. The results of the review, including a crackdown on happy hours and other promotions, will be published once they have been approved by Gordon Brown.

Other advisory council suggestions include increasing taxes on strong drinks. The stronger a drink, the more it would cost. At present, some of the most potent brands of lager and cider are also the cheapest. The ACMD said: 'One major reason for the increase in binge intoxication in the UK is the gradual increase in the alcohol content of alcohol in wines, beers and especially lagers. 'Reducing alcohol content would be a simple approach to reducing intoxication. `Differential taxing - according to alcohol content per unit - could be one such method employed to reduce the amount of alcohol consumed.'

Other controversial proposals include so-called town centre 'wet' or 'damp houses' where drunks could go to sleep off a night's heavy drinking in safety. The ACMD launched a blistering attack on supermarkets, which often sell alcohol as a loss leader to entice more customers. It said: 'Such cheap availability encourages bulk purchase and consumption. Of specific concern is that the pricing puts alcohol more within the budgets of young people.'

A spokesman for the Wine and Spirit Trade Association warned against the calorie labelling plan. 'It's good in principle for consumers to have the information to make an informed choice but you wouldn't want people choosing alcohol by calories or thinking they could have a drink and skip a meal. 'Alcohol with food is better and adults should decide based on alcohol content, not calories.'

Drivers under the age of 21 should have a zero-alcohol limit, the advisory council said. Just one small glass of wine raises the odds of a young driver crashing six-fold, it warned. Drivers under 21 are already banned from drinking in Europe, as well as in parts of the U.S., Canada and Australia.


Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Video games can help develop the user's mind

WITH a serious stack of cash to spend, young teenager Dylan Ford blew the lot on a huge house and proceeded to fill it with television sets. But as the cash ran out, he became depressed. The house looked like a bomb site and Dylan couldn't get a job because he felt so low. It was time to sell the TVs. "I didn't spread my assets and just bought the best of everything. "Then I realised I couldn't pay for all the rest of the stuff. I hadn't even bought a refrigerator," says the 13-year-old from Kenmore, in Brisbane's southwest.

One would hope that when Dylan gets old enough to move into his own place, he won't make the same mistakes he did with his character on The Sims video game. "Games are a fantastic way to see action and consequence," says Dylan's father, Matthew Ford, who has spent 15 years developing video games. "You make choices and you suffer the consequences - and remember, games are heartless."

Far from being a scourge on society - to blame for everything from obesity to aggression and violence - Ford believes that, used in the right way, games can be a positive influence. "Real issues do get brought up in games and you have to think about what constitutes a good act or an evil act. "I use these as a springboard to talk about issues with Dylan. "Some games can help you develop your mind in a way that's not unlike chess, where you have to think several steps ahead.

"In some strategy games there is some very deep thinking required. Parents shouldn't feel bad that their children are playing games. "I think games are largely misunderstood by parents. "The analogy is very much like rock 'n' roll, when people used to say it's just full of noise and suggestion. "Games are in a similar position. Even jazz went through that - and remember Shakespeare was once considered a bad moral influence."

Ford believes much of the research linking video games and violent behaviour has proved a correlative - rather than a causative - link."There's a correlative link between fights at school and how much a child plays violent games but that doesn't mean the games cause that behaviour. "If your child is obsessed with playing violent games then you should take a look not at the game but what's inside your child that attracts them to that game - that can be the canary in the coalmine."

Jeff Brand, a director of the Centre for New Media Research at Bond University, has spent 10 years exploring the cognitive and behavioural effects of electronic media on young audiences. His work is part of a growing body of evidence that has looked for the positive benefits, rather than the unsavoury disadvantages, of games. He says his own research shows how older generations who have never held a controller or jiggled a joystick "tend to be fearful of games". "It's the Pied Piper syndrome where people see the game as leading children away from those who should be leading them," he says. Brand, also a parent with an 11-year-old boy, agrees with Ford that games only become a problem if parents fail to engage with the issues that games throw up.

Both Brand and Ford employ a "screen time" rule restricting their child's access to any screen-based media to a certain number of minutes a day. Brand has just released research commissioned by the Interactive Entertainment Association of Australia that looks at who plays games and the attitude of the population towards them. The research revealed the average age of the Australian video game player is now 30. Many games are now geared towards that market.

"Take a game like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas," Brand said. It's a violent game and it's intended for adults. But the game is satire - but it does teach us about follow-through and moral choices, and morality is a tough thing to teach." "Most of us understand that after we have stepped out of the movie theatre or played a game, that we have come back to the real world. "But the vast majority of games offer something other than violence in their storytelling."

Brand says the genre of games now topping the charts target families and party groups. "It is the one genre that has suddenly rocketed," he said. "These are the games with a social and learning value."


Pain relief from marijuana derivative in sight

It makes you cold and immobile but what the heck!

SCIENTISTS have discovered a method to release the pain-relieving potential of one of the same proteins in the body which is activated by marijuana. According to a study released today, in experiments on mice, researchers found a chemical that prevents a naturally occurring enzyme from blocking the cannabinoid receptor, called 2-arachidonoylgylcerol, or 2-AG. Once the enzyme, known as MAGL, is deactivated, the protein is more effective in dampening pain, said the team, led by Benjamin Cravatt of the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.

The complex human cannabinoid system is thought to hold great potential for the control of chronic pain, and could also prove useful in the treatment of anxiety, depression and even obesity.

In earlier research, Mr Cravatt and colleagues decoded the chain of chemical reactions that acted on another cannabinoid receptor, AEA, paving the way for the development of pain-relieving medications. But finding the key for unlocking 2-AG proved more difficult. The tools - selective and efficacious MAGL inhibitors - just weren't there, said Jonathan Long, a graduate student at Scripps and lead author of the study. The breakthrough came thanks to a new technique for rapidly testing large numbers of chemical compounds - all potential inhibitors - called Activity-Based Protein Profiling.

One of the 200 compounds researchers created was particularly effective in blocking MAGL, and did not appear to interfere with any of several dozen other brain enzymes. Tests on mice showed the new molecule - JLZ184 - increased the concentration of 2-AG in the brain, significantly reducing pain in the lab animals.

The molecule did, however, have at least two drawbacks, highlighted by the complex web of reactions in neurochemical pathways: JLZ184 caused hypothermia, a lowering of the body temperature and reduced movement. These side-effects would have to be managed in any treatments developed for humans, the researchers said.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Downturn's Upside

Your retirement savings are swirling through the drain of the market meltdown, your home isn't worth what a Chihuahua's doghouse was a year ago, and the United States may be facing the most severe recession since the Great Depression. But cheer up, for this is a happy column! The economic misery is numbingly real, but it's also true that a downturn isn't uniformly bad and might even be good for you in several ways:

A recession could save your life. Christopher Ruhm, an economist at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro, argues that death rates go down during economic slowdowns. Professor Ruhm's research indicates that suicides rise but total mortality rates drop, as do deaths from heart attacks, car accidents, pneumonia and most other causes. For example, each one-percentage-point drop in unemployment in the United States is associated with an extra 3,900 deaths from heart attacks.

Some experts are skeptical. But in downturns we drive less and so car accidents decline, while less business activity means fewer job accidents and less pollution. Moreover, in recessions people have more leisure time and seem to smoke less, exercise more and eat more healthily.

A bear market might benefit you, if you are in your working years and won't have to sell your stocks soon. That's because you're probably accumulating stocks now in your retirement account, and you'll accumulate more when share prices are low. Americans are twice as likely to own a retirement account, like a 401(k) or an I.R.A., as to own a stock portfolio outright. For anyone a decade or more from retirement, a bear market is a chance to pick up bargains. For such people, today's bear market probably won't affect share prices when you have to sell. I hit age 70 in 2029, and I doubt that the market level then will be affected by today's turmoil.

(This is the view of the "revert to the mean" school of financial economists, who see share prices eventually returning to long-term trends. Conversely, some economists in the "random walk" school think prices won't necessarily ever catch up. In the absence of firm evidence about who is right, you may as well side with the former; you'll feel better as you survey the wreckage of your 401(k).)

Falling housing prices harm landlords and speculators but benefit renters and first-time buyers (if they can still get mortgages). These beneficiaries tend to be low-income families, thus in this respect the poor may benefit. Likewise, a recession lowers prices of gas, oil and food, which disproportionately affect the poor. More broadly, there's some evidence that falling home and stock prices will raise savings rates in the United States. That is necessary for the long-term health of the economy.

Income doesn't have much to do with happiness. Americans haven't become any happier as they have prospered in the last half-century. And winning the lottery doesn't make people happier in the long term. This is called the Easterlin Paradox: Once they have met their basic needs, people don't become happier as they become richer. In recent years, new research has undermined the Easterlin Paradox, yet it's still true that happiness has less to do with money than with friendships and finding meaning in a cause larger than oneself. "There's pretty good evidence that money doesn't matter much for how you feel moment to moment," said Alan Krueger, a Princeton University economist who is conducting extensive research on happiness. "What seems to matter much more is having good friends and family, and time to spend on social activities."

The big exception to all this is people who lose their jobs or homes, and the new president should act immediately to help them. Professor Krueger argues that for these people, the losses are greater than we have generally realized, for their losses are not only monetary but also the erosion of self-esteem and friendships as they are wrenched out of social networks that enrich their lives (and help them find new jobs). And for those who lose health insurance, a medical or dental problem is enormously stressful, even life-threatening. One lesson is that the government should try particularly hard to keep people in their homes. We should, for example, allow courts to ease the terms of mortgages to prevent foreclosures, while also boosting assistance to help the unemployed find jobs.

Obviously, a meltdown isn't good. Divorce rates spike in recessions. Credit evaporates, lives are upended, and for retirees counting on selling stocks to survive, a bear market is a catastrophe. Yet that's not the whole picture, and we shouldn't overdo the gloom the way we overdid the giddiness during the boom. For most Americans, those who keep their homes and jobs and are years from retirement, even the most bearish cloud might have a silver lining.


Skinny models a turn-off in TV commercials

A QUEENSLAND study has found that skinny models in TV commercials and other advertising are a turn-off to consumers. University of Queensland psychologist Phillippa Diedrichs found images of super-thin models carried no advantage in encouraging young women to buy products. For most adult women, advertisements showing skinny girls discouraged sales, whereas plus-size models encouraged women to buy, the study found.

Ms Diedrichs created a series of mock ads for underwear, shampoo and party dresses using a skinny size 8 model and another featuring a size 14 woman. When the ads were shown to 300 young men and women aged between 18 and 25, they felt better - and more likely to buy - after viewing images of larger models.

"For anything to change, research has to be convincing, not just to government and health researchers but also to people in advertising who actually make the decisions," Ms Diedrichs said.

Recent fashion shows in Madrid and Milan banned "size 0" models deemed unhealthy by a body mass index measure.


Monday, November 24, 2008

Teenagers 'learn social skills online'

This will be a nasty surprise for the do-gooders who are sure that computers are bad for kids

A study of 800 people, conducted over three years -- including 5000 hours of observation - has concluded that teens can learn social skills online. While this may seem fairly obvious to some, it is a valuable tool in the battle between generations. "It might surprise parents to learn that it is not a waste of time for their teens to hang out online," said Mizuko Ito, lead author of the study by the private, grant-making MacArthur Foundation.

"There are myths about kids spending time online - that it is dangerous or making them lazy," said Ms Ito, a researcher at the University of California. "But we found that spending time online is essential for young people to pick up the social and technical skills they need to be competent citizens in the digital age," she said.

For the study, described as the most extensive ever conducted in the US on teens and their use of digital media, researchers from the University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley, interviewed more than 800 young people and their parents over three years. They also spent more than 5000 hours observing teens on sites such as MySpace, Facebook and YouTube.

"There is a generation gap in how youth and adults view the value of online activity. "Adults tend to be in the dark about what youth are doing online, and often view online activity as risky or an unproductive distraction," it said, while "youth understand the social value of online activity," the study found.

The results could also help combat the stereotype of antisocial geeks. "Kids learn on the internet in a self-directed way, by looking around for information they are interested in, or connecting with others who can help them," it said. "This is a big departure from how they are asked to learn in most schools, where the teacher is the expert and there is a fixed set of content to master."

The study also found that while many young people are gaining new literacy and technical skills, "they are also facing new challenges in how to manage their visibility and social relationships online". "Online media, messages, and profiles that young people post can travel beyond expected audiences and are often difficult to eradicate after the fact," the study said.


Motorbike riders risk impotence, say Japanese doctors

Japs must be pretty fragile. I was a biker for years without any problems. Falling off was not so good though

Men who ride motorcycles are at risk of impotence and urinary problems because the vibration of the engine damages nerves in their penises, a study has found. A survey of more than 230 motorcyclists who rode their bikes for about three hours every weekend found almost 70 per cent had problems gaining an erection or emptying their bladders.

Doctors in Japan, who published two studies on the dangers in the International Journal Of Impotence Research, said seats on most motorcycles put undue pressure on the perineum, the area between the anus and the scrotum, and restricted blood flow to the penis. Vibrations from the engine also caused a decrease in two growth hormones in the bladder and prostate related to bladder relaxation.

Impotence affects most males during their lives and can be caused by emotional issues, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking or alcohol. But all men should avoid sitting on hard bicycle or motorcycle seats, particularly seats with thin, pointed ends, for long periods to prevent compression of pelvic floor muscles, Impotence Australia chief executive officer Brett McCann said yesterday. All men in the study had been sexually active in the past six months and none had any illnesses.

About 76 per cent of riders aged 40 to 49, and 93 per cent of those aged 50 to 59, reported severe erectile dysfunction, compared with 37 per cent and 42 per cent respectively among those who did not ride motorcycles.

John Sbrocchi, of Wamberal, has been riding a scooter to work for 2½ years. His sex life had not suffered. Scooters normally have wider, softer seats than motorcycles, but vibrations can still affect the genitals. "I do have urinary flow issues, but I'm not putting it down to the scooter," Mr Sbrocchi said. "I'm a man of 62 and when you get to that age you get prostate problems. I think scooters are one of life's greatest innovations so it would take more than that to put me off."


Sunday, November 23, 2008

Dangerous nonsense: Vitamin 'better than sunscreen'

Don't give up your sunscreen yet. Vitamin B3 has been around for ages and people do normally get it in their food. But lots of people still get skin cancer

A vitamin found in meats, nuts, grains and cereals might be more effective than sunscreen in preventing skin cancer, new research has found. Nicotinamide, or vitamin B3, prevents damage from both UVA and UVB radiation by protecting the immune system, and could be taken in tablet form or added to sunscreen, Associate Professor Diona Damian of the University of Sydney says.

Sunscreens provide good protection against UVB rays, which cause sunburn and skin cancer, but the products are less effective in protecting against UVA, which can also cause skin cancer. "UV radiation in sunlight suppresses the skin's immune system and makes it more susceptible to skin cancer," she said. "Our research found that nicotinamide [vitamin B3] can prevent the immunosuppressive effects of UV by energising cells so they maintain their immunity."

Tests using the water-soluble vitamin offered equally strong protection against both UVA and UVB in both lotion and tablet form, according to tests on volunteers, Professor Damian said. "Nicotinamide is well tolerated, so could also be taken orally as a supplement, particularly by people who have a higher susceptibility to skin cancer," she said. It is also relatively cheap to produce so it could potentially be incorporated into sunscreen to boost its effectiveness against UVA, she added.

The research was also looking to determine whether the vitamin could be used to treat sunspots, common lesions that sometimes progress to skin cancer.


Britain: Alternative medicine professions 'need statutory regulation'

If regular medicine does, the freaky stuff sure does. Some herbal products, for instance, are among the most toxic substances known -- e.g. ricin

Acupuncturists, Chinese medicine practitioners and medical herbalists should be formally regulated to ensure they are "fit to practise", the Health Professions Council (HPC) told the Government today. The professions are not currently subject to statutory regulation but the HPC formally recommended a system was introduced to make it easier to ensure people were "meeting standards".

HPC chief executive Marc Seale said: "The HPC has made a recommendation to the Secretary of State for Health advocating the regulation of acupuncturists, medical herbalists and traditional Chinese medicine practitioners. "The HPC was set up in order to protect the public and we strongly believe that statutory regulation can more effectively assure that practitioners are meeting standards and are fit to practise."

A Department of Health steering group report in June said regulation was "in the public interest". It said it was important people had confidence that practitioners from these fields were "properly trained, understand the limits of their competence and know when and to whom to refer". The report added: "There has also been widespread concern about the safety, in particular, of traditional Chinese medicines when inappropriately administered."

The HPC already regulates 13 health professions, including chiropodists and podiatrists, dieticians, paramedics, physiotherapists, radiographers and speech therapists. Each profession has a professional title which can only be used by those who meet the requirements to join the HPC's register. Using the title without being on the register is a criminal offence.

The steering group said the HPC had already demonstrated effective, safe and cost-effective statutory regulation and it was "convinced" this could be extended to cover practitioners of acupuncture, herbal medicine, traditional Chinese medicine and other traditional-medicine systems practised within the UK.

However it recognised the workload associated with regulating acupuncture, herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine might be greater than that previously experienced in regulating well-established health professional sectors.

The HPC said earlier this year it would welcome the opportunity to regulate the professions although the final decision about regulation and how it was achieved rested with the Government.


Saturday, November 22, 2008

Eggs: Here we go again

Eggs were bad for cholesterol in the '90s. Now people with type 2 diabetes are warned off eggs. Just the usual epidemiological crap, of course. The old scare became unstuck as early as 1979, when it was found that serum cholesterol showed only a very shaky correlation with egg consumption but I see below that we still have some believers in the old religion.

The journal abstract is here. All effects were very weak. As eggs are a very common dietary component in Western populations, one must suspect cultural differences in many of those who ate few eggs. And it could be anything associated with those cultural differences that gave rise to the small observed differences in diabetic morbidity. As the authors themselves note, previous studies have shown inconclusive effects of egg consumption on blood sugar. So the relationship suggested below is also unlikely from that perspective

EATING more than a couple of eggs a week increases the risk of developing diabetes, a major study has found. It can also make the condition worse in those who already have diabetes. Australian specialists are urging type 2 diabetics and people at risk of developing the blood glucose condition to limit their egg intake after a US study found them to be detrimental to their health.

Specialists at Harvard Medical School in Boston found eating an egg every day may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes by about 60 per cent. Women were most susceptible, with females consuming seven eggs or more a week increasing their risk by 77 per cent. Eating just one egg a week carried no increased risk, Dr Michael Dr Gaziano wrote in the journal Diabetes Care. The study, the first of its kind, made the conclusions after tracking the egg-eating habits of almost 57,000 men and women over two decades.

Dr Alan Barclay, manager of human nutrition at Diabetes Australia-NSW, said the results were consistent with the advice it has provided for some years that people with diabetes should have moderate egg consumption.

Eggs are a good source of vitamins, proteins and other nutrients, but they are also rich in cholesterol, which in high amounts can clog arteries and raise the risk of heart attack, stroke


Is your Omega-3 fish oil supplement any good - or a load of old codswallop?

Good to see SOME skepticism below: A sort of falling out among thieves

We have been told to take more of it, and there's strong evidence that Omega 3 really is crucial for our brains, hearts and immune systems. We don't need any more convincing, it seems - keen to improve our brainpower, we now spend 60million pounds a year on Omega 3 pills. But according to an expert, many people may be wasting their money, because they end up with supplements providing little or no benefit.

Dr Alex Richardson, of the charity Food & Behaviour Research, and one of the world's leading researchers into Omega 3, says the poor quality of many supplements is a concern. 'There are different kinds of Omega 3 - not all of which have the same health benefits,' she says. One of the main problems, she explains, is that supplements often contain little, if any, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) - the most important forms of Omega 3. 'What's more, at the moment there is no official recommended daily allowance of Omega 3.'

So taking a pill to boost your brainpower and health is far from straightforward. Dr Richardson believes this confusion is 'disastrous - because consuming more of the vital Omega 3 fats found in fish and seafood is probably the single most important dietary change that most people could make to improve their health'. 'It's well-known that Omega 3s are important for staving off heart attacks and strokes, and are good for eyesight and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. But it's less well-known that EPA and DHA are crucial for brain function and mental well-being. 'However, surveys show that nine out of ten Britons don't get the minimum they need to maintain a healthy heart (around 500mg/day), let alone to support optimal brain and immune system functioning (1000mg/day).'

The best way to get nutrients is from food; for Omega 3s, this means everyone should eat two to four portions of fish a week, one of them oily. But if this isn't possible, taking a supplement is the next best option, says Dr Richardson.

So if you do resort to an Omega-3 pill, how can you make sure you find ones that make a difference? 'In the absence of an official recommended daily amount, start by choosing products that contain EPA and DHA,' says Dr Richardson. 'This usually means fish oils. Vegetarian Omega 3 supplements usually contain none at all: instead, they are made with linseed or flax oil, which provide a different form of Omega 3.' They're not a complete waste of money, she adds, but vegetarians would be better off taking ones containing DHA from algae. Next, ignore any doses suggested on the packet, and focus on the small print to find out how much EPA and DHA combined the product provides. 'A good target for mental well-being and performance is 1000mg per day,' she says. And to get this amount, you may well need to take more than the manufacturer's suggested dose.

And don't bother splashing out on the more expensive combination supplements containing Omega 3, 6 and 9. Our bodies produce our own Omega 9 - and it is also found in nuts, seeds, avocados and olive oil. And as for Omega 6, found in vegetable oils, meat, eggs and dairy, we should be trying to reduce rather than boost it - a diet low in Omega 3 and high in Omega 6 is linked to a range of conditions, including heart disease, depression, allergies and cancer.

More here

Lower speed limit to tackle obesity crisis, say "experts"

A good way for a government to lose power, particularly since there is no crisis

SPEED limits in suburban streets should be slashed to 30km/h to encourage pedestrians and cyclists and tackle the obesity epidemic, experts say. Griffith University transport planning researcher Matthew Burke said cutting speeds from 50km/h on local streets would not only reduce road trauma, it would also curb obesity rates by encouraging more people to walk and cycle. "A car can stop in 3m travelling at 30km/h," Dr Burke said. "It would make walking safe for everyone, it would make cycling safe enough for grandmas. It would be a very easy thing to do ... for next to no money."

Queensland chief health officer Jeannette Young has identified obesity as the biggest health issue facing the state. Her recently released report, The Health of Queenslanders: Prevention of Chronic Disease, says almost 57 per cent of the state's population is overweight or obese, including 21 per cent of children.

Dr Burke said cutting neighbourhood speed limits to 30km/h would make walking or cycling to school safer for children. "By reducing road speeds, you limit traffic danger," he said. "I think it's a joke that we think we're doing kids a favour with a 40km/h safety zone around schools when best practice globally is for all local streets to be down at 30km/h."

Lowering the speed limit indirectly addresses parents' fear of stranger danger, Dr Burke said. Encouraging more people to take up walking or cycling, increases the number of "eyes" that can look out for children as they make their way to school, he said. Mental health may also benefit. "A convivial street environment where walking and cycling are possible are streets where neighbours meet each other, where there are greater social networks," Dr Burke said. "We've seen much research about the importance of those networks for the importance of people's mental health."

Dr Burke was backed by international expert Rodney Tolley, an honorary research fellow at Staffordshire University in Britain and director of Walk 21 - an organisation attempting to make communities more "walkable". Dr Tolley, who addressed Queensland Health staff this week, said the city of Graz in Austria had set 30km/h limits 20 years ago. "Motorists will often say we can't possibly travel that slow, it will disrupt our day," he said. "But the time losses involved in travelling at those speeds are very, very small."


Friday, November 21, 2008

Vitamins E and C don't prevent cancer, landmark study finds

This is just the latest study to show that "antioxidants" do no good but do do some harm but the believers in the antioxidant religion will sail on regardless, as they have done before

Nearly 10 years of testing on thousands of doctors show two hugely popular vitamins don't prevent cancer. In the latest antioxidant letdown, researchers who followed nearly 15,000 male physicians found no evidence vitamin E or vitamin C supplements protect against cancer. "We're kind of rocking the foundation of what we were always brought to believe," Ottawa Hospital urologist Dr. John Mahoney said after learning the results. "We all think that we should be taking vitamins because it makes us more healthy, and yet we can't prove that."

The new research involves preliminary findings from the U.S. Physicians' Health Study II. Researchers tracked 14,641 doctors, aged 50 and older. Each was given either 400 IU (international units) of vitamin E every other day, 500 milligrams of vitamin C daily, or their placebos. After an average eight years of treatment and followup, about 2,000 men had been diagnosed with cancer, including about half with prostate cancer. Neither vitamin E nor vitamin C supplements reduced the risk of prostate cancer, "total cancer" or other cancers such as colorectal or lung.

There were 490 cases of prostate cancer in men who took vitamin E, versus 523 in the placebo group. For total cancer, there were 978 cases in men randomized to vitamin E, compared to 951 who got placebo. It was a similar story for vitamin C: 964 cancers in the vitamin C group, versus 965 in placebo.

Millions of Canadians - an estimated 10 to 15 per cent of adults - take the supplements, even though evidence of any clear benefit for cancer prevention has been "shaky at best," says Howard Sesso, an assistant professor of medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Until you do these much larger-scale, randomized clinical trials, you don't really know what the actual answer is." Based on their trial, as well as others, "we feel that there are no compelling reasons for people to take either vitamin E or C for the prevention of cancer at this time," Sesso says.

The findings will be presented Monday at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research in Washington, D.C. Sesso says the results held after they took age, smoking status, personal history of cancer and other factors into account. Last week, the same team found vitamin E and C supplements had no effect on the risk of heart attacks, stroke, cardiovascular death, congestive heart failure, angina or heart bypass surgery in the same group of middle-aged and older doctors. They did find an increase in hemorrhagic stroke with vitamin E use. [In other words, antioxidants could kill you]

Last month, 35,000 men from the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada enrolled in a study testing whether 400 IU daily of vitamin E daily, or 200 micrograms of selenium, can prevent prostate cancer. They were told to stop taking their supplements after a data and safety committee found vitamin E may slightly increase the chance of getting prostate cancer, and that selenium may increase the chance of getting diabetes. The findings aren't proven.

With annual vitamin supplement sales in the billions of U.S. dollars, the latest run of disappointing news could have broad public health implications, researchers say. The doctor's study involved men exclusively, but researchers believe the results could be extrapolated to women as well. A study published three years ago involving nearly 40,000 mostly middle-aged women found those who swallowed 600 IU of vitamin E every other day were no less likely to develop breast, lung, colon or other cancers than women taking a placebo.

Vitamins E, C and other antioxidants are thought to prevent damage to the body's cells by mopping up free radicals - toxic molecules the body produces when it burns sugar and fat. Some studies had found that people who reported eating diets rich in vitamins E and C had less cancer. They suggested taking the vitamins as supplements might offer protection, particularly vitamin E for prostate cancer.

Sesso says critics could argue that the doses they tested were too low. People who prescribe to the vitamin C theory that Linus Pauling and others pushed for decades "would argue 500 mg may not be enough" to show an effect. "But the doses we utilized are very common doses that are still far exceeding what you can get from diet alone," Sesso says. The supplements didn't cause any harm.

Other vitamins, especially vitamin D, are showing promise, and the final piece of the doctors' health study involves testing daily multivitamin supplements. "Until you do the trials, you really can't close the door on all antioxidants," Sesso says.

But Mahoney says he could never understand, biologically, how vitamin supplements might prevent cancer later in life. "Often the cancer 'hits' have happened when you or I are 20 and 30. You just take a guy who's 50 and you give him some vitamins and he's supposed to reduce his cancer? That doesn't seem to go along with the biology of cancer formation. It doesn't seem to make that much sense."

Doctors recommend a healthy diet, exercise, weight management and not smoking to reduce cancer risk. [And most of that is guesswork too]


Vaccine hope in MS link to virus

THE debilitating disease multiple sclerosis, which affects more than 18,000 Australians, could be prevented with a vaccine being trialled in Europe. Researchers from the University of Queensland yesterday confirmed a link between the Epstein-Barr virus, which causes glandular fever and is carried by more than 90 per cent of the world's population, and multiple sclerosis, saying the vaccine, developed to combat glandular fever, could save thousands of lives.

But some doctors are cautious, warning that the vaccine has not been fully tested as a preventive for multiple sclerosis and does not take into account the influence of genetic and environmental factors which can also trigger the disease. Previous studies have shown that people with a parent, child or sibling with multiple sclerosis are at a greater risk of contracting the disease themselves, and the further someone lives from the equator, the higher their risk, indicating that exposure to sunlight and vitamin D play a significant role. [Really? I don't suppose there could be racial and cultural differences among people living near the equator]

In people with multiple sclerosis, the body's immune system attacks the nervous system, causing bladder and bowel dysfunction, memory loss, tremors, vision problems, hearing loss, anxiety, depression, dizziness and difficulty in walking. There is no cure and medications can only ease symptoms.

More than 99 per cent of people with multiple sclerosis have been infected with Epstein-Barr virus during their lifetime but those who contract the virus in the first few years of life, such as children in developing countries where the virus is endemic, show no symptoms. Those who contract the virus in their teens or early 20s, as in most Western countries, usually develop glandular fever, or infectious mononucleosis, and suffer from extreme fatigue, muscle aches, headaches, throat inflammation and weight loss. Research has shown those people are more likely to go on to develop multiple sclerosis later in life.

The study's lead researcher and a neurologist at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, Michael Pender, said yesterday the glandular fever vaccine, once fully tested, could be included in Australia's childhood vaccine program for people who had a diagnosed relative. "It may only help some people, but it is a step in the right direction," he said.

But Robert Booy, a professor in pediatrics with the National Centre for Immunisation Research at the Children's Hospital at Westmead, said yesterday it was still too early to label the Epstein-Barr virus as the main driver behind the disease, and until scientists could establish the exact cause, it was impossible to ensure a vaccine did not contain proteins which could trigger multiple sclerosis.

The scientific chairman of MS Research Australia, Bill Carroll, agreed, saying he was excited that the link between Epstein-Barr and multiple sclerosis had been further confirmed, but remained cautious about the efficacy of a vaccine. "EBV is an important prerequisite in multiple sclerosis but it is not the only factor which causes the disease. There is also often a 20-year time lag between contracting EBV and MS, so it is impossible to say that other factors, influenced by genetics and the environment, do not come into play during that time and can still result in a person developing the disease," Dr Carroll said.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Goji berry may stop skin cancer (?)

A tiny red berry celebrated for its antioxidant qualities may also help protect against skin damage that leads to cancer, researchers believe. Scientists at the University of Sydney fed diluted juice from the goji berry to mice in the laboratory and found it protected them against the same sun damage as other mice when exposed to harsh UV rays. Another experiment showed skin cancer advanced slower in mice that had drunk goji juice.

Cancer specialists have cautioned that while the berry, strong in antioxidant properties, appears to act like a sunscreen in mice, it is untested on humans. Goji juice has been the subject of bad press in recent years after tests by the Australian Consumer Association showed it was no more beneficial to health than standard fruit juices.

Dr Vivienne Reeve, from the university's Faculty of Veterinary Science, told a medical research conference in Brisbane on Monday that she fed mice either water or diluted juice and then exposed them to UV radiation to give them sunburn. "The goji berry-drinking mice had significantly less inflammation of the skin," said Dr Reeve, who is a scientific adviser to a company that distributes the juice. "And the juice seemed to protect the immune system because they didn't get immuno-suppression which is a major risk factor for skin cancer development in chronically over-exposed skin."

It also appeared to have protective properties against skin cancer growth, she said, with another experiment showing skin cancer-induced mice had significantly slower growing tumours.

"We haven't tested it on humans but this gives us every indication that we should if we want to help protect people from sun damage and disease," she said.

Cancer Council Australia chief executive Professor Ian Olver said the research was interesting but should be viewed with caution. "Just because it works like sunscreen in mice does not mean it will do the same in humans as the two types of skin are very different," Prof Olver said.


Bake Sales Fall Victim to Push for "Healthier" Foods

The do-gooders are determined to do you good whether you want that or not. Too bad if you disagree with them about what is good. They have the certainty of the ignorant on their side

Tommy Cornelius and the other members of the Piedmont High School boys water polo team never expected to find themselves running through school in their Speedos to promote a bake sale across the street. But times have been tough since the school banned homemade brownies and cupcakes.

The old-fashioned school bake sale, once as American as apple pie, is fast becoming obsolete in California, a result of strict new state nutrition standards for public schools that regulate the types of food that can be sold to students. The guidelines were passed by lawmakers in 2005 and took effect in July 2007. They require that snacks sold during the school day contain no more than 35 percent sugar by weight and derive no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat and no more than 10 percent of their calories from saturated fat.

The Piedmont High water polo team falls woefully short of these standards, selling cupcakes, caramel apples and lemon bars off campus in a flagrant act of nutritional disobedience.

“I know obesity is a big problem, and it’s good the school cares,” said Sam Cardoza, a senior who briefly became a successful entrepreneur last year when chocolate chip cookies were banned from the cafeteria. “At the same time, you shouldn’t stop a kid from buying a cookie.”

California is a hatchery of food trends, but its regulations are not the country’s strongest. A study of 500 to 600 school districts nationwide found that many now have policies that limit the amount of fat, trans fats, sodium and sugars in food sold or served at school, with the strictest rules directed at elementary schools, said Jamie Chriqui, a senior research scientist with the Institute for Health Research and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago. The idea is that policy interventions to reduce consumption “will do for junk food what smoking bans and taxes did for tobacco,” Ms. Chriqui said.

In California, sports drinks, which can contain almost as much sugar as soda, are still allowed in middle and high schools, but sodas, including diet sodas, will be banned from all schools next year. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Kentucky has the strictest regulations on school nutrition, with sugar and sodium limits on beverages that eliminate most standard sports drinks. “Before, it was the chips, the Hostess cupcakes, the Little Debbie doughnut sticks,” said Ginger Gray, the director of school nutrition for the Kenton County School District in northern Kentucky. Now, only pure fruit juice and low-fat or skim milk are allowed. The district’s most popular dish is whole-wheat stromboli made from scratch, Ms. Gray said, adding that she leans toward foods that families can cook at home. “You’re teaching them habits for life,” she said.

The regulatory focus on school nutrition has been gaining ground nationwide in recent years, amid concerns over childhood obesity and a lack of access to healthful food. Sixteen states have set standards for so-called competitive foods that compete with meals, like à la carte cookies, cinnamon buns and soft drinks. And, yes, this even affects bake sales.

In Chula Vista, Calif., near San Diego, sales plummeted at Hilltop High School’s multicultural food fair, an annual fund-raising event for the foreign language and global studies departments that has traditionally featured bratwurst, breadsticks with marinara sauce, apple pie and root beer floats. “This year was really hard,” said Jade Wagner, a senior, referring to the half-bratwursts and nondairy diet root beers.

If bake sales are out, “healthy” fund-raisers, like carwashes and balloon-o-grams, are in. In Oakland, Calif., new traditions are replacing old ones: a “Healthy Halloween” vegetable platter for kindergartners at Montclair Elementary; power bars and apple slices at the after-school homework club at Crocker Highlands Elementary; a Caesar salad-making class, a weekly organic produce stand and “nutrition breaks” replacing snack breaks at Peralta Elementary.

In Berkeley, birthplace of California cuisine, food served at school is free of bovine growth hormones, irradiation, hydrogenated oils and known genetic modification.

Birthday celebrations are not immune from nutrition watchdogs: around the country, there is growing pressure to forgo cupcakes in favor of nonfood treats. “I don’t think all celebrations need to be around food,” said Ann Cooper, the director of nutrition services for the Berkeley school district. “We need to get past the mentality of food used for punishment or praise.”

In Guilford, Conn., the school district’s health advisory committee has decided that birthday parties belong at home. At A. W. Cox Elementary, birthdays are celebrated with an extra 15 minutes of recess, special pencils or a “birthday book club” with commemorative inserts. “The children have totally refocused,” said the principal, Merry Leventhal. “They’re happy to celebrate in these other ways.”

A recent study by the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale found that, contrary to parental fears, children were not compensating for the absence of sugar or fat at school by raiding the refrigerator at home. “Some people think that kids have this internal potato chip monitor, but there’s no evidence of that,” said Marlene B. Schwartz, the center’s deputy director. “People really do eat what’s in front of them.”

In California, bake sales are waning because ingredients cannot be regulated. Sales are banned during school hours but may be held a half-hour before or after school. The ban on bake sales has not been met with universal enthusiasm. The Piedmont Highlander, the school newspaper, editorialized about “birthday cakes turned into contraband” and homemade goodies snatched from students “by the long arm and hungry mouth of the law.”

Even some nutritionists question whether banishing bake sales is the best approach. “It concerns me we’re not teaching moderation,” said Stephanie Bruce, the president of the California School Nutrition Association, who works in the Ontario-Montclair School District in Ontario, Calif.

Melissa Luna, considered the ueber-mom of Crocker Highlands Elementary in Oakland, said that sometimes calories mattered less than the importance of a cause — like the bake sale organized to raise money for Christopher Rodriguez, a student who was shot and paralyzed last March by a stray bullet from a gas station robbery while he was taking piano lessons across the street. The sale, attended by members of the Oakland Raiders and Oakland Athletics, raised $30,000.

In Berkeley, Anna X. L. Wong, a kindergarten teacher at Jefferson Elementary, incorporates “good foods” versus “bad foods” into the curriculum and offers her students healthy snacks, including edamame — her version of preventive medicine. “We talk about the word ‘courage,’ ” Ms. Wong said of her young students. “That means being brave enough to try new things.”


Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Diabetes link to germ-free environment

This theory became well-known in connection with asthma -- where it has not worked very well subsequently -- so much caution is advised. There could, for instance, be no group that disconfirms the "dirty environment" hypothesis more strikingly than Australian Aborigines. They commonly live in appallingly dirty environments that shock outsiders.

So what is their incidence of asthma and other autoimmune diseases? Is it low? Far from it. We read, for instance: "Contrary to popular belief, Indigenous Australians are more likely to have asthma than non-Indigenous Australians. This difference exists across all age groups but it is most pronounced in older adults, especially women aged over 35 in whom the prevalence for Indigenous Australians is double that for non-Indigenous Australians". Beat that! Another great theory stubs its toe on pesky facts. Aborigines also have very high rates of diabetes but I could not find a breakdown into Type 1 and Type 2

Amy-Lee Nakhl was the picture of health - but, in fact, she was at death's door. She ate healthily and drank lots and lots of water, just as the health experts advise. However, it was her never-ending water guzzling that prompted a relative to suggest that perhaps something was wrong. Amy-Lee's mother, Belinda, took her to the doctor where alarms bells rang. A quick blood-sugar test showed the then five-year-old's levels were at 38.5 - far above the safe 4 to 6 range. Suddenly, Amy-Lee was in hospital battling type 1 diabetes, a life-threatening condition that affects about 140,000 Australians.

Unlike type 2, type 1 diabetes is not preventable because it is not linked with lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise.

Work funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation in the US backs the theory that the Western world's germ-free environment is leading to increased rates of some diseases. Mike Wilson, chief executive of the foundation in Australia, said scientists had found that mice kept completely free of bacteria had alarmingly high rates of type 1 diabetes. "Type 1 diabetes is caused by a combination of genes and environmental triggers," Mr Wilson said. "This research helps build our understanding of the increasing numbers of new cases of type 1 diabetes. It suggests there is a certain level of exposure to bacteria that is, in fact, healthy."

Mrs Nakhl said Amy-Lee, now 11, had been hospitalised many times since her diagnosis and even though she receives her insulin though a pump, rather than injections, the disease was a constant worry. "Every day is full of fear and it's a horrible life to live," she said.


Chicken-Haters Grilled By California Attorney General

Leave it to the PETA-worshiping Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) to take all the fun out of eating. In October 2006, the deceptive animal rights group sued seven restaurant chains under California’s “Proposition 65” law, claiming that the eateries needed to warn consumers that grilled chicken contained a cancer-causing ingredient. Cancer? Don’t worry. Like most statements emanating from PCRM’s office, this tall tale was all fuss and feathers. You don’t have to take our word for it. The office of California’s Attorney General just put it in writing.

On Monday PCRM will go to court to argue for a settlement of its lawsuit, which would require some California restaurants to post cancer warnings about a chemical (called “PhIP”) that can form when chicken is grilled. But California Supervising Deputy Attorney General Edward Weil is urging a judge to reject that settlement, writing in his formal Objections that such a warning “would not be in the public interest.”

Why? It’s pretty obvious, really—unless you’re PCRM’s legal director, a self-described vegetarian who wouldn’t know much about cooking birds in the first place.

PhIP forms in tiny, trace amounts when you grill chicken. But if you don’t cook it, of course, there’s a risk of bacterial contamination. (Memo to vegans everywhere: This is why the rest of us don’t eat our poultry “medium rare.”) So, as the Attorney General concludes, a health warning would make no sense “where the chemical in question is created by a process [cooking] that actually has the net effect of making the food safer to eat, i.e., killing bacteria.”

It must really drive PCRM nuts that the cancer-causing properties of PhIP have only been established in laboratory tests performed on animals. While pondering that irony, we recommend this lime-marinated grilled chicken recipe from the “Cooking for Engineers” website. We’ve tried it. It’s juicy, flavorful, and guaranteed to annoy a vegan activist near you.


Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Child obesity checks should start from birth, say Australian "experts"

Which means that it is mostly inborn behaviour that they will be trying to change! When will people start to rebel against this ever-growing intrusion into their personal lives?

Children should be weighed and monitored for obesity from birth to stop them becoming unhealthy, fat adults, according to researchers. The experts argue the Federal Government's Healthy Kids Check plan to weigh all children from the age of four from next year is leaving it too late, given one in five children are already overweight by the age of three.

Their advice comes as a senior Adelaide heart specialist predicted the nation would fail to cut obesity levels over the next 20 years unless it developed new strategies to tackle the "complex" epidemic. Dr Anthea Magarey, a dietician with the Childhood Obesity Research Group at Flinders University, and colleague Rebecca Perry want the Federal Government to consider an ongoing monitoring system - starting from birth - of children's weight, diet and activity.

While sometimes early weight gain may be "puppy fat" which disappears with a growth spurt, they say it can often instead be the start of an ongoing weight problem linked to poor eating habits. "If you're monitoring a child you can identify where their weight is increasing disproportionate to their height," Dr Magarey said. "They may not be overweight or obese yet, but it can ring a few bells and then we can say ok, maybe we should be looking at what this child is eating and what their activity levels are." Parents whose children were putting on excessive weight for their age and height could then receive advice about how to properly feed them.

The plan comes as advertising companies have rejected a proposal to ban junk food advertising to children, arguing the term "junk food" is "derogatory" and that all food is healthy. The Australian Association of National Advertisers has also tried to downplay the obesity epidemic, citing a Commonwealth study this year that showed "no appreciable change in childhood obesity levels since 1995". "The claimed 'epidemic' has been exposed as a deliberate attempt at misinformation of the Australian public and its politicians," it says in comments made to the Australian Communications and Media Authority.

The association argued that it would be "unreasonable and unjust" to place impositions on television advertising. "There is overwhelming evidence that food and beverages advertising to children is neither the primary nor a significant contributor to childhood obesity."


Black dog danger for coronary patients

Not exactly surprising that a heart attack would make you depressed but the much poorer outcome among depressed patients is interesting. Gordon Parker is a very old hand at depression research and I think he may be onto something here

HEART attack patients should be screened for depression in the months after they leave hospital, a ground-breaking Australian study suggests. Low mood that develops following a cardiac event significantly increases the risk of death or readmission, research by the Black Dog Institute found. But the increased risk only applies to coronary patients who are experiencing a depressive episode for the first time, and not to those who had a history of depression before, or at the time of, their heart attack.

The discovery challenges the long-held view that a lifetime of depression or being depressed at the time of the heart attack increases the risk of subsequent cardiac death or readmission to hospital. "The study suggests that the time to screen people is once they've left hospital and in the months afterwards," said Professor Gordon Parker, executive director for the institute. "There is no need to screen people when they are admitted and prescribe antidepressants as a public policy, yet that has been the [standard] wisdom."

The study evaluated 500 patients from the cardiac ward at Sydney's Prince of Wales Hospital for lifetime and current depression. Their progress was tracked for 12 months and even after taking into account cardiac risk factors such as age, gender and smoking status, depression that developed in the month after the heart attack increased the patient's odds of cardiac readmission - or death - up to seven times.

Professor Parker said the discovery suggests depression which occurs soon after a heart attack may be a different, more physical type than that experienced by lifetime sufferers - which may explain the increased effect on the heart.

He said: "We know there are a number of biological changes that occur in depressed patients that may be related to their poorer cardiac outcome, such as increased blood clotting, sympathetic nervous system activity and inflammation."


Monday, November 17, 2008

Australia: Schools to ban candy

Talk about the ultimate killjoys! What would childhood be without candy? Zero evidence that the ban will do any good, of course. It could well make candy more attractive

The Victorian Goverment will ban lollies from school canteens and vending machines from next year to boost student health and stamina. The sweets will be replaced with fruit, salads and fresh wraps.

"With alarming statistics showing almost one-quarter of children aged two to 16 years are overweight or obese, it is vital that we work together to reinforce the healthy living message," Education Minister Bronwyn Pike said on Sunday in a statement. About 100 schools will be audited in 2009 to ensure they comply with the confectionery ban.


Skin cancer vaccine?

Looks like it is only a minor cause of skin cancer that is affected

The pioneering Australian scientist who discovered the cure for cervical cancer is on the verge of creating the world's first vaccine for skin cancer. Professor Ian Frazer, former Australian of the Year, has revealed the vaccine could be ready within the next five to 10 years.

As with the jab now given to millions of young girls each year to prevent cervical cancer, children aged between 10 and 12 would be given the vaccine to prevent skin cancer later in life, Professor Frazer envisages. Testing on animals has shown the vaccine to be successful and human trials will start next year. Australia has the world's highest rate of skin cancer with more than 380,000 people diagnosed with the disease and 1600 dying from it each year.

Professor Frazer will reveal this ground-breaking skin work at the Australian Health and Medical Research Congress to be held in Brisbane tomorrow. He said it would be rewarding to develop a vaccine for a cancer that was so prevalent in Australia with its hot climate. "It's an important challenge with a very major health benefit if it works," Professor Frazer told The Sunday Telegraph. "If we get encouraging results we will try and push it on as fast as we can. It's really a given that we try to focus on health problems which are significant ones. "When you're looking at treatments, your focus needs to be on diseases that are most common."

The new skin-cancer vaccine works by targeting papillomavirus, a common skin infection that affects most people and can linger in the body, turning abnormal cells into cancer. Prof Frazer and his team from the Diamantina Institute at the University of Queensland are focusing on preventing squamous-cell skin cancer, which is strongly linked to papillomavirus. Squamous cell is the second most common skin cancer, affecting 137,600 people in Australia this year and killing 400.

It's not yet known if melanomas which are the most deadly form of skin cancer, are also caused by papillomavirus. "My entire career has been focused on understanding the interaction between papillomavirus and the cancers they affect," Prof Frazer said. "We know it causes at least five per cent of all cancers globally so one in 20 of the cancers that people get is caused by papillomavirus. It's a huge issue."

The new vaccine is part of a two-pronged approach to tackle skin cancer. The other approach involves "switching off" one of the skin's controls to allow killer cells to destroy potentially cancerous cells. "Getting the vaccine is the easy part," Prof Frazer said. "We need to introduce this other component to change the setting in the local environment. "The skin has a number of defences against the body's own immune system. "What we're learning is the nature of those controls and how to turn them off. "We can turn them off in animals and if we turn them off, the vaccine does its job."


Sunday, November 16, 2008

Pregnant Women Shouldn't Swallow Mercury Scares

Food fads in conflict here: Omega 3 versus mercury. On all the evidence neither is any cause for concern but mercury is probably the biggest beat-up. So I endorse the conclusion without endorsing the reasoning

Washington Post writer Moira McLaughlin is six months pregnant and responsibly trying to navigate the tricky world of prenatal nutrition. That is no easy task, since even the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) dietary advice for pregnant women can be dangerously misleading. But a look at the science of seafood and pregnancy can do wonders for McLaughlin's menu planning -- and prevent the columnist from making a costly mistake. In her latest column, she talked about how extensive the "no no" list is for moms-to-be:
No deli meats, no sushi, no blue cheese, no soft cheese (unless pasteurized). No homemade ice cream, no cookie dough, no sprouts, no pepperoni. No massages in the first trimester, no saunas, no hot tubs and no heart rate over 140.

And fish? That proved way too challenging for my pregnant mind to muddle through. Because they contain fatty acids crucial for fetal brain development, the Food and Drug Administration says pregnant women should eat two meals a week of shrimp, salmon, pollock or catfish. But because of their toxic mercury content, the FDA says pregnant women should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish. A little canned tuna is okay, but not albacore. Locally caught fish might be okay; just check the Environmental Protection Agency's fish advisory Web site. Ocean fish is better than lake fish. Crab is low in mercury but not totally free of it and, according to some Web sites, pregnant women should avoid it.

So . . . eating the right fish will get my kid into Harvard? Eat the wrong fish and we should give up on the idea of college altogether.

McLaughlin isn't exaggerating the seriousness of her dietary dilemma: As we documented in our recent "Tuna Meltdown" report, more than a quarter-million children in low-income households were deprived of intelligence-boosting omega-3 fatty acids as a result of overblown mercury warnings. ButMcLaughlin must not know that the FDA builds a tenfold cushion into its recommendations when it comes to mercury in tuna. That means she could eat five times as much tuna as the FDA says she can and still be protected by a 200 percent buffer between her baby and any risk of negative health impacts.

Canned tuna is consistently the cheapest source of omega-3 fatty acids - the nutrient she cites as "crucial for fetal brain development." However, because of overblown warnings by the federal government and fishy scare tactics by environmental and animal-rights groups that don't want anyone chowing down on seafood, most pregnant women don't get enough in their diet.

And speaking of Harvard, earlier this year the prestigious university published a study that showed moms who ate canned tuna twice a week had children who scored higher on intelligence tests than kids whose moms avoided it altogether.

So when McLaughlin's cravings kick in for a late night tunafish sandwich, she shouldn't question whether she should give in. In 21 years, her baby can thank her for it in his valedictory address. Even if he graduates from Yale instead.

Source (See the original for links etc.)

Empty out your bathroom cabinet... this $8 cream does EVERYTHING

I am inclined to regard cosmetics and such things as all a lot of nonsense but if the British goo below sidetracks people from wasting their money on more expensive stuff I am all for it

They say that for the credit crunch, it's the cream of the crop. The packaging isn't swish - but neither is the price tag. And for $8, it'll do almost everything you need. Boots's Aqueous Cream has become a top seller as shoppers tighten the purse strings during the economic downturn, according to the store. It has been billed as a one-stop bathroom essential for the budget conscious.

The cream can be used as a moisturiser, cleanser, shaving cream, shower gel, and an aid for chapped lips. 'This product is really versatile, effective and doesn't cost the earth,' said Angela Chalmers, a pharmacist at the high-street chemist. 'It's a phenomenal seller. Some stores are ordering 10-20 tubes a day just to keep it on the shelves.'

The main ingredient for the fragrance-free product is paraffin wax - used in some of the most expensive face creams. Miss Chalmers said consumers have been attracted by the 'simple formula and versatility' of the 500g tubs. 'The whole family can use it. When you think about the winter, it really is a wonderful product. 'When you rub it on to dry skin, it acts as a moisturiser. But mix it with water in the shower and it acts as a great emollient that just washes off. 'A lot of people use it instead of shower gel. It is also a good shaving cream and leaves your skin feeling soft and moisturised and not irritated. 'It's also great for chapped lips, it's good for massaging into fingers and cuticles and it's also fantastic for those suffering from chilblains. You can even use it as a cleanser.

'That's what's quite unique about this product. It really is the cream for the credit crunch. 'There are other branded moisturisers that come in 500g quantities but they tend to be very expensive, you're talking about $20 to $24. You can also get it in 100g tubes so it's easy to carry around with you.' The recent bad weather is also thought to have provoked a rise in demand for the cream, Miss Chalmers added.

Last year, a Boots anti-ageing cream became a sell-out after tests established that it really worked. Scientists discovered that No 7 Protect & Perfect Beauty Serum can rejuvenate skin, beating wrinkles. The product quickly flew off shelves after it was shown to work on BBC2's Horizon and then featured in the Daily Mail. Its appeal was boosted by the cost of $35 for a 30ml jar, a fraction of the price of other products.


Saturday, November 15, 2008


The use of human growth hormone as an "elixir of youth" still has a substantial body of followers despite its sometimes severe side-effects and dubious benefits. So is there a way getting a better deal out of it? The study below has a brief look at that. It looks at stimulating the body to produce more of its own growth hormone. The results after two years seem good -- a more youthful body and only minor side-effects. As the authors note, however, longer-term side-effects are the big question. Also note that it did not reduce fat overall

Effects of an Oral Ghrelin Mimetic on Body Composition and Clinical Outcomes in Healthy Older Adults. A Randomized Trial

Background: Growth hormone secretion and muscle mass decline from midpuberty throughout life, culminating in sarcopenia, frailty, decreased function, and loss of independence. The decline of growth hormone in the development of sarcopenia is one of many factors, and its etiologic role needs to be demonstrated.

Objective: To determine whether MK-677, an oral ghrelin mimetic, increases growth hormone secretion into the young-adult range without serious adverse effects, prevents the decline of fat-free mass, and decreases abdominal visceral fat in healthy older adults.

Design: 2-year, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled, modified-crossover clinical trial.

Setting: General clinical research center study performed at a university hospital.

Participants: 65 healthy adults (men, women receiving hormone replacement therapy, and women not receiving hormone replacement therapy) ranging from 60 to 81 years of age.

Intervention: Oral administration of MK-677, 25 mg, or placebo once daily.

Measurements: Growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor I levels. Fat-free mass and abdominal visceral fat were the primary end points after 1 year of treatment. Other end points were body weight, fat mass, insulin sensitivity, lipid and cortisol levels, bone mineral density, limb lean and fat mass, isokinetic strength, function, and quality of life. All end points were assessed at baseline and every 6 months.

Results: Daily administration of MK-677 significantly increased growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor I levels to those of healthy young adults without serious adverse effects. Mean fat-free mass decreased in the placebo group but increased in the MK-677 group (change, -0.5 kg [95% CI, -1.1 to 0.2 kg] vs. 1.1 kg [CI, 0.7 to 1.5 kg], respectively; P < 0.001), as did body cell mass, as reflected by intracellular water (change, -1.0 kg [CI, -2.1 to 0.2 kg] vs. 0.8 kg [CI, -0.1 to 1.6 kg], respectively; P = 0.021). No significant differences were observed in abdominal visceral fat or total fat mass; however, the average increase in limb fat was greater in the MK-677 group than the placebo group (1.1 kg vs. 0.24 kg; P = 0.001). Body weight increased 0.8 kg (CI, -0.3 to 1.8 kg) in the placebo group and 2.7 kg (CI, 2.0 to 3.5 kg) in the MK-677 group (P = 0.003). Fasting blood glucose level increased an average of 0.3 mmol/L (5 mg/dL) in the MK-677 group (P = 0.015), and insulin sensitivity decreased.

The most frequent side effects were an increase in appetite that subsided in a few months and transient, mild lower-extremity edema and muscle pain. Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels decreased in the MK-677 group relative to baseline values (change, -0.14 mmol/L [CI, -0.27 to -0.01 mmol/L]; -5.4 mg/dL [CI, -10.4 to -0.4 mg/dL]; P = 0.026); no differences between groups were observed in total or high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels. Cortisol levels increased 47 nmol/L (CI, 28 to 71 nmol/L (1.7 æg/dL [CI, 1.0 to 2.6 æg/dL]) in MK-677 recipients (P = 0.020). Changes in bone mineral density consistent with increased bone remodeling occurred in MK-677 recipients. Increased fat-free mass did not result in changes in strength or function. Two-year exploratory analyses confirmed the 1-year results.

Limitation: Study power (duration and participant number) was insufficient to evaluate functional end points in healthy elderly persons.

Conclusion: Over 12 months, the ghrelin mimetic MK-677 enhanced pulsatile growth hormone secretion, significantly increased fat-free mass, and was generally well tolerated. Long-term functional and, ultimately, pharmacoeconomic, studies in elderly persons are indicated.

Annals of Internal Medicine, 4 November 2008 | Volume 149 Issue 9 | Pages 601-611

Forgotten but not gone: leprosy lives on in America

Long seen as a disease of biblical times, leprosy still appears and may be spreading in the United States, researchers say. But it's often misdiagnosed, they warn, with disastrous results.

Also known as Hansen's disease, leprosy is a slow, chronic illness that often leads to disability and disfigurement by attacking the peripheral nervous system and by degrading motor skills. Scientists don't clearly understand how it's transmitted. "We believe there are more cases of leprosy not identified due to the lack of awareness about the disease among physicians in the U.S.," said James Krahenbuhl, director of the Health Resources Service Administration's National Hansen's Disease Program in Baton Rouge, La. This leads to "misdiagnosis and wrong treatments," he added. About 150 leprosy cases are diagnosed yearly; 3,000 people in the United States are being treated, he said.

Leprosy, whose patients have historically been quarantined in isolated "leper colonies" throughout many countries and time periods, is caused by a rodshaped bacterium, Mycobacterium leprae. Infection and symptoms can take three to 10 years to set in, making it hard for researchers to pinpoint where or how people catch the illness, according to the Hansen's Disease program.

Patients gradually lose feeling in their fingers and toes, leaving them open to repeated burns and cuts which get infected. The repeated damage leads to bone absorption and motor nerve deterioration causing fingers to shorten and curve, resulting in a clawlike appearance. Leprosy is fully treatable with medicine in early stages. But nerve damage that occurs in later stages can't be reversed.

Because many U.S. leprosy patients are poor immigrants who turn to free clinics or emergency rooms, many of the doctors involved aren't familiar with the disease, according to the program. They often mistake the skin lesions for a fungus or ringworm and prescribe a topical cream. Because leprosy progresses slowly, it can take months or longer before it becomes clear the treatment is failing -- giving the disease a sizeable head start.

Leprosy prevails most in the tropics and poor countries. Due to changes in immigrant relocation, leprosy is now being diagnosed throughout the United States, Krahenbuhl said. The program sees about 30 cases each year among residents in southern Louisiana and the Gulf Coast of Texas who were born in the U.S. and who have never visited an endemic country.

"As we see leprosy move toward internal regions of the States, it becomes more urgent to reach those physicians to let them know about the symptoms of this disease," said Krahenbuhl. To raise awareness among physicians, he plans to lead a symposium on the topic at the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene meeting Dec. 7 to 11 in New Orleans.