Monday, June 22, 2009

Chubby people live longest: Japan study

Another confirmation that middling weight is best

Health experts have long warned of the risk of obesity, but a new Japanese study warns that being very skinny is even more dangerous, and that slightly chubby people live longer. People who are a little overweight at age 40 live six to seven years longer than very thin people, whose average life expectancy was shorter by some five years than that of obese people, the study found. "We found skinny people run the highest risk," said Shinichi Kuriyama, an associate professor at Tohoku University's Graduate School of Medicine who worked on the long-term study of middle-aged and elderly people. "We had expected thin people would show the shortest life expectancy but didn't expect the difference to be this large," he told AFP by telephone.

The study was conducted by a health ministry team led by Tohoku University professor Ichiro Tsuji and covered 50,000 people between the ages of 40 and 79 over 12 years in the northern Japanese prefecture of Miyagi. "There had been an argument that thin people's lives are short because many of them are sick or smoke. But the difference was almost unchanged even when we eliminated these factors," Kuriyama said.

Main reasons for the shorter lifespans of skinny people were believed to include their heightened vulnerability to diseases such as pneumonia and the fragility of their blood vessels, he said.

But Kuriyama warned he was not recommending people eat as much as they want. "It's better that thin people try to gain normal weight, but we doubt it's good for people of normal physique to put on more fat," he said.

The study divided people into four weight classes at age 40 according to their body mass index, or BMI, calculated by dividing a person's weight in kilograms by their squared height in metres. The normal range is 18.5 to 25, with thinness defined as under 18.5. A BMI of 25 to 30 was classed as slightly overweight and an index above 30 as obese.


Revolutionary Australian Artificial heart design

Developed with no government support -- just as with the British inventors of IVF. Propping up failures is what governments do

QUEENSLANDERS have created the world's first artificial heart which fits inside a human body and can mimic the pumping fluctuations of a healthy heart. The titanium device – which is about the size of a fist – will provide an alternative to heart transplants, doctors say. It has the potential to save thousands of lives a year worldwide, and will provide significant savings for government-run and private health systems, its inventors believe.

The device – to be marketed under the name Bivacor – also will deliver an alternative for people with heart disease over the age of 65, who are currently considered by most doctors to be too old for heart transplants. The key element of the Bivacor's revolutionary design is a pump that can duplicate the function of both the left and right sides of the heart in a single, small device. Driven by tiny electromagnets, the pump's twin rotors can alter speed and position to suit blood-flow demands that fluctuate depending on a patient's activity.

Most existing artificial hearts or supportive pump devices are external, and usually pump through just one side of the heart. That places extreme limits on patient mobility and can reveal problems on the other side of a diseased heart.

The Bivacor allows patients to move around and reduces the risk of infection, by being secured inside the body and without external tubes.

A team of biomedical engineers, intensive-care specialists, cardiac surgeons and cardiologists has been working on the project for seven years at Brisbane's Prince Charles Hospital, one of Australia's leading heart hospitals. One of the group, engineer Dan Timms, 30, devised key elements of the design after watching his father die of heart failure at the hospital two years ago.

He perfected the artificial heart's impeller – a twin fan inside the pump that can spin at different speeds and also tilt to adjust blood flow and pressure. Dr Timms unveiled his invention at a recent heart conference in Paris.

Professor John Fraser, 40, director of the Critical Care Research Group (CCRG) at Prince Charles and the leader of the Bivacor development team, said the invention was lauded by heart experts. "After Daniel gave his presentation, the conference concluded that the device would revolutionise artificial heart technology," Prof Fraser said. "One of the world leaders in cardiology exclaimed, 'Within 10 years, all artificial hearts will be based on this revolutionary Queensland design'."

Once in production, the Bivacor, which has been patented, is expected to cost about $60,000 a unit. That compares with external heart machines – which cost up to $600,000 each – that are currently used on patients who can wait in hospital for up to six months for a heart transplant.

Remarkably, most of the funding for the Bivacor project – about $250,000 so far – came from the Prince Charles Hospital Foundation raising funds through selling ice creams at the Ekka. [Annual agricultural show] "Despite repeated attempts, there has been no money forthcoming from Queensland Health or Government," Prof Fraser said. "Jon Roberts (chief executive of Prince Charles Hospital) has been outstanding, but can only do so much to support us."

The Bivacor is expected to be in clinical trials in the next three years if the team can secure funding of $3 million. A German company has approached the team to fund development, which has both pleased and disappointed the research team. "It would be a shame to see such a Queensland home-grown project go overseas," Prof Fraser said. Representatives of the CCRG team are in Europe this week to discuss the development of Bivacor with international companies.


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