The U.K. Moves Closer to Sugar Tax

sugar-shaker

The United Kingdom is Europe’s third most obese nation, and its National Health Service groans under the expense of obesity-related illness. Finally, in early March, the long-awaited sugar tax was introduced by Chancellor Philip Hammond as part of the spring budget. Hammond noted that manufacturers have already been reducing the amount of sugar in their products.

This is one of the reasons why writer Colin Lloyd says that a sugar tax will not solve the obesity problem. All the manufacturers have to do, to satisfy customer taste and escape the tax, is substitute an artificial sweetener. If there were no sugar substitutes, the tax might work. But there are — and this is why he feels the tax will fail to do whatever it is intended to do.

To describe that intention, he offers a formula:

Impose Tax => Prices Rise => Sales Decline => Fewer Calories => Less Obesity => Better Health

But better health is not the only goal. The other goal is to raise money, which in theory the government will use to offset the costs of obesity-related disease. Lloyd has two things to say about this aspect, then it will be left for economists to debate:

The imposition of such a tax is “negatively-redistributive” since it will fall more heavily on those with lower incomes. If the purpose of imposing this tax is solely to raise revenue there are less discriminatory and more effective solutions.

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is not taxed like sucrose, and a fair-sized body of evidence says it is horrible for people and possibly even more fattening than sugar. The World Health Organization encourages any country contemplating a sugar tax to include HFCS. In addition, there is a whole evil pharmacopeia of chemicals that are harmful to the body and devastating to its trillions of tiny helpful tenants, the microbiota.

Lloyd says that in the United Kingdom, per capita sugar consumption began to drop in the 1970s, and what is more, consumption has steadily declined in the United States too. He embarks on a lengthy digression proving that the U.S. government is now and always has been most interested in guaranteeing large profits to sugar growers and processors.

After describing the series of grotesque maneuvers undertaken by the government over the years to prop up sugar prices, he refers to a chart which:

[…] shows the relationship between US and Non-US sugar prices since 1980. On average the US pays twice as much to satiate its sweet tooth.

It’s not clear what the writer is getting at. Maybe the point is, although Americans pay twice the going rate for sugar, they’re still fat as all-get-out. So imposing a tax, even if it doubles the price the consumer pays, will not make any difference because people will continue to gorge on sugar anyway.

When they run out of tactics, sugar pushers always go for this one: Nobody knows enough yet about the long-terms effects of any proposal, to say whether it is truly effective. That objection is easily countered. Unless some countries get serious about giving the sugar tax a try there will never be enough data to show a clear picture.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Sugar, Honey, Honey — the Weighty Problem of Obesity and Substitution,” CobdenCentre.org, 03/17/17
Photo credit: Yagan Kiely via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

Scotland Sets the Pace

scotland-scenic-view

Scotland is part of the United Kingdom it definitely has its own way of doing things. In November, the Scottish branch of the National Health Service came out with a recommendation for government-run fat camps. Parliament was asked to consider the idea of establishing summer camps that would offer tax-subsidized stays of two to six weeks, during which children would be limited to 1,500 calories per day, enjoy lots of physical activity, and learn new habits to take forth with them into life.

Critics of the idea point out that camp is a short-term fix at best, because the original obesity-inducing patterns are destined to resume as soon as a child is back among familiar people, places and things. Those culpable people consist mainly of parents, who are responsible for the combination of purchasing, preparation, and eating habits that make up the family culture.

Frequency counts

But something else has been going on in Scotland — the introduction of an affordable plan that is the opposite of a short-term fix, because children take part in it during every school day. The Daily Mile program originated with head teacher Elaine Wyllie (the rank is equivalent to principal in the U.S.) at St. Ninian’s Primary School in the town of Stirling. She instituted the custom of daily jogging around the school field. Every day, the kids walk or run a mile.

Acceptance of the idea has been helped along by the January publication of an Essex University study that concentrated on kids at a school in East London. On only 15 minutes of brisk exercise per day, they did much better than expected on their SAT tests, and even their writing skills improved. The St. Ninian’s students, who have been running for two and a half years now, have brought the school to almost half the national obesity rate.

A good idea spreads

Other studies, by the universities of Stirling and Edinburgh, are underway, and Wyllie predicts that the results will be similar to the Essex findings. Researchers have plenty of schools to pick from, because the seemingly simple Daily Mile idea has been been adopted by more than 1,000 primary schools.

The rather amazing improvements in health and learning have been noticed to the point where it is being tried in 20 other countries, too, including 550 schools in the Netherlands. The head teacher estimates that, at this point, half a million kids are running or walking a mile every day, and journalist Nan Spowart quotes Wyllie’s words:

Teachers and head teachers know health and wellbeing comes before their [pupils’] learning. Yet we’re presiding over children who, on our watch, get slower and fatter as they go through school. It’s very much a case of if not us, then who, if not now, then, when? The only way you can grab this problem is in school and nursery because that’s where the children are every day…

The other good outcome is improvement in what the Scots politely call “challenging behavior.” The running boosts confidence and self-esteem, and in old-fashioned terms, simply provides a way to “let off steam.” Kids find less reason to act out or act up in the classroom. It seems to be one of those rare and fortunate situations where everybody wins.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “‘Fat camp’: Could American weight loss regime help young Scots?,” STV.TV, 11/29/16
Source: “Scottish head teacher’s fitness plan goes global after researchers find it boosts academic results and wellbeing,” TheNational.scot, 03/13/17
Photo credit: Gordon/Monkey Mash Button via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

Everything Else You Know About Fat Is Wrong

adenovirus-infection

To the readers of OutsideOnline.com, Bill Gifford offered some moments in the history of fat. It had already been identified as an organ when, in 2003, muscle was also deemed an endocrine organ, basically in competition with the fat organ. During exercise, muscle secretes myokines, which somehow counteract fat.

Gifford went on to speak of brown fat:

In 2012, a Harvard-based team identified a hormone called irisin, secreted during exercise, that tricks plain, blobby, “white” fat — and even deep visceral fat — into acting like “brown” fat, a far less common form that is dense with mitochondria and burns energy just like muscle does.

Fifteen years ago, polymath Cory Doctorow had the personal experience of losing around 100 pounds by eliminating carbohydrates “while maintaining a low-activity/high-calorie diet.” Doctorow notes:

I’ve kept most of it off since then (though over the years, I’ve had to increase my activity and reduce my calories as I got older). It’s obvious to me that weight is not a simple matter of calories burned and calories eaten.

Doctorow once heard a podcast about the obesity epidemic which suggested that perhaps it could be blamed on “a bird flu that affected our gut flora and changed our metabolisms to make us hungrier and more susceptible to convert the food we ate to fat.” Then not long ago he discovered The Secret Life of Fat: The Science Behind the Body’s Least Understood Organ and What It Means for You.

The subtitle of Sylvia Tara’s very recent book is startling. When we think of organs, we customarily visualize hearts, livers or eyeballs. But dispersed throughout the body though it may be, fat is indeed considered an organ.

At any rate, it was there that Doctorow learned of the work of two University of Wisconsin doctors, Nikhil Dhurandhar and Richard Atkinson, whose research showed that a poultry virus was very much linked with obesity.

They worked with groups of chickens infected with Ad-36, another virus, and no virus at all. Only the Ad-36 chickens got fat. Then they tried some mammals and found that “Marmosets gained about three times as much weight as the uninfected animals, their body fat increasing by almost 60 percent!”

Obviously, scientists are not permitted to experiment on humans in quite the same way. But they can test for antibodies which indicate that a person’s immune system has encountered Ad-36 at some point in their lives. Doctorow writes:

Dhurandhar and Atkinson tested over 500 human subjects… 30 percent of subjects who were obese tested positive for Ad-36, but only 11 percent of nonobese individuals did—a 3 to 1 ratio.

Even if they were not technically obese, the subjects positive for Ad-36 were “significantly heavier” than those who bore no trace of the virus. To spotlight the effect more clearly, the team recruited pairs of twins with unequal weights and found that the twins who were “significantly fatter” turned out to test positive for Ad-36.

Childhood Obesity News will explore a few more of the strange things going on with fat.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Your Fat Has a Brain. Seriously. And It’s Trying to Kill You,” Outsideonline.com, 03/05/13
Source: “A virus first found in chickens is implicated in human obesity,” BoingBoing.net, 01/02/17
Photo credit: Pulmonary Pathology via Visualhunt/CC BY-SA

Everything You Know About Fat Is Wrong

hearty-breakfast-illustration

“You are what you eat! Eat animal fat and you’re a fat animal!” This maxim was so universally accepted it would not be surprising to find it embroidered on a pillow. Like many other received truths, this one turns out to be not exactly true.

In one of the biggest (and longest, at 50 years) con games ever perpetrated, an unsuspecting public was sold a bill of goods. Last year the world learned about the duplicity of the sugar industry, which paid obesity researchers to blame fat rather than sugar. But even before that, some people had questioned the orthodoxy.

The Guardian‘s Joanna Blythman pointed out two things wrong with the blanket warnings against animal fats, and especially red meat. First, few of the frantic doomsayers took the time to differentiate between extensively processed factory-farm product laced with preservatives and other chemical additives, and fresh meat from decently raised animals.

Blythman wrote:

Meanwhile, no government authority has bothered to tell us that lamb, beef and game from free-range, grass-fed animals is a top source of conjugated linoleic acid, the micronutrient that reduces our risk of cancer, obesity and diabetes.

Evidence continued to stack up, refuting the claims that saturated fat is all, and always, bad. A meta-study carried out by the British Heart Foundation examined 72 studies that encompassed the health histories of more than 600,000 subjects. Astonishingly, it found that the consumption of saturated fat did not really line up with risk for coronary disease.

Heretical dissent

This revelation was the equivalent of declaring that the earth revolves around the sun, when for centuries everyone was convinced that the opposite was true. The establishment did not want to accept the obvious, and even the British Heart Foundation itself balked at giving an on-the-record endorsement. A representative told the press that there was not enough evidence to confidently issue new healthy eating guidelines, so the meta-study’s findings “did not change the advice that eating too much fat is harmful for the heart.”

Collateral damage

Egg-lovers suffered for years because of the unimpeachable “fact” that we should eat no more than two eggs a week, because they contained heart-stopping cholesterol. Chicken farmers went out of business, and people learned to eat tortuously processed, sugar-saturated grain atrocities for breakfast. Then it turned out that eggs are not hazardous after all.

People were advised to shun butter, lard and other saturated fats, and taught to prefer margarine. Around 2010, the industry finally admitted that “the chemical process for hardening polyunsaturated oils in margarines and spreads created artery-clogging trans-fats.” Meanwhile, other research indicated that protein and natural fat are “the two most useful macronutrients.”

Low-fat processed foods are not remarkably delicious on their own. Add massive injections of sugar and salt, wrap it in a gaudy package, and they’ve got a winner. By promoting ignorance and spreading propaganda, the industry had its way.

The writer notes that…

The crucial phrase “avoid processed food” appears nowhere in government nutritional guidelines…

Yet that warning would save more lives than any other.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “How the Sugar Industry Shifted Blame to Fat,” NYTimes.com, 09/12/16
Source: “Why almost everything you’ve been told about unhealthy foods is wrong,” TheGuardian.com, 03/22/14
Photo via Visualhunt

Epigenetics and Grandkids

finger art of couple with meter

“What’s Up with Epigenetics?” outlined the basic idea of how things come into the body and cause chemical reactions that switch genes on and off. The activity or dormancy of the relevant genes affects every system. Along with the knowledge of these mechanisms came first the suspicion, and then what looks very much like proof, that some epigenetic changes can be passed along to children and even grandchildren.

To quote Natalie Crowley:

It would be nice to think that we all start out as a blank slate, ready to be shaped by our own life experiences. But that’s not entirely true… The truth is there’s a probability that whatever our parents experienced , like smoking or perhaps a bad pollen season, could affect us. How this happens is not fully understood, but new research is uncovering more about how these epigenetic modifications are maintained.

As a specific example, an important study showed that the mothers who smoke during pregnancy tend to have children troubled by allergies, and these children also show changes in DNA methylation — changes that carry over to their own allergic children. Ancient scriptures spoke of a deity who would punish the guilty “even unto the third and fourth generation.” All those years ago, some things could be observed without microscopes.

With over 20,000 genes, each of which might be either silent or expressed, the number of possible combinations is astronomical. The “basic explanation” page at WhatIsEpigenetics.com elaborates:

The possible permutations are enormous! But if we could map every single cause and effect of the different combinations, and if we could reverse the gene’s state to keep the good while eliminating the bad […] then we could theoretically cure cancer, slow aging, stop obesity, and so much more.

Researchers are talking about ending disorders associated with mental retardation, neuropsychiatric problems and various pediatric disorders, and even finally putting a dent in some types of cancer. Under particular scrutiny is the vast panoply of autoimmune diseases.

At the same time, the scientists in this field also study a contagion that unquestionably comes from the outside. Influenza is still a major killer. The crafty flu virus tricks the immune system by manufacturing a protein that is mistaken by genes for something else.

This whole epigenetics thing is taken very seriously by endocrinology researchers. In fact, the prevalence of type 2 diabetes was the tipoff — the clue that something weird was going on. Science writer Bill Sullivan describes how suspicions were provoked by the rapid increase of diabetes throughout the world, too rapid to be accounted for by genetic mutation.

Investigation showed that rather than altering the DNA the epigenetic mechanism did the harm through gene activation. Even more frightening, it was discovered that “the RNA transcripts present in the oocytes and sperm may contribute to programming the zygote’s DNA.”

Sullivan puts it like this:

In addition to inheriting a genetic risk factor in the classic sense, children can also inherit non-genetic information. If you consider DNA to be a “book of life”, the book handed down to the child is not necessarily a pristine copy — some passages may be highlighted, a page or two may be missing, or notes may be scribbled in the margins.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Could Epigenetics Explain the Origins of Allergic Disease?,” WhatIsEpigenetics.com, 03/24/15
Source: “A Super Brief and Basic Explanation of Epigenetics for Total Beginners,” WhatIsEpigenetics.com, 07/30/13
Source: “Epigenetics: Feeding the Obesity and Diabetes Epidemic?,” WhatIsEpigenetics.com, 03/21/16
Image by mukhina1/123RF Stock Photo

What’s Up With Epigenetics?

silhouettes-against-sky

As if the multi-factorial plague of obesity were not complicated enough already, it seems that epigenetics must be counted in the equation. WhatIsEpigenetics.com has two sections, one for actual researchers in the field and the other, described as “educationally entertaining,” for the general interested population. In this section, sober facts are mixed with more expressive descriptions.

We are made of cells, which need to be told what to do, and they are told it by DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) which supports more than 20,000 genes. An introductory article says:

Genes are specific sequences of bases that provide instructions on how to make important proteins — complex molecules that trigger various biological actions to carry out life functions.

A gene can be either dormant/silent or active/expressed. What makes the decision? Epigenetics. Apparently, anything that enacts chemical changes in the body has the power to turn certain genes on or off. This matters a lot, because turning on a gene that makes dementia or cancer is not such a great idea.

Any number of things have the power to change the inner chemistry. Food, obviously, is a major influence, along with other substances like medications, and toxins that are inadvertently brought into the body. Exercise, stress, sleep, age, and many other variables play their parts in gene expression and, as the old saying goes, “That’s what makes you you, and me me.”

Here is where the entertainment part comes in. The writer of the “basic explanation” page encourages us to think of the human life span as a movie, in which the cells are the actors. When the film hits the theater, attention is naturally focused on the photogenic thespians who are moving around and talking, and so on. They are necessary, but not sufficient.

That movie would not exist without the script, which tells the actors how to move and what to say:

The DNA sequence would be the words on the script, and certain blocks of these words that instruct key actions or events to take place would be the genes. The concept of genetics would be like screenwriting…

The concept of epigenetics, then, would be like directing. The script can be the same, but the director can choose to eliminate certain scenes or dialogue, altering the movie for better or worse.

Now, here it is in more technical (but still intended for the non-professional audience) language:

Epigenetics is the study of potentially heritable changes in gene expression (active versus inactive genes) that does not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence — a change in phenotype without a change in genotype — which in turn affects how cells read the genes.

At least three systems including DNA methylation, histone modification and non-coding RNA (ncRNA)-associated gene silencing are currently considered to initiate and sustain epigenetic change.

The prefix epi- comes from ancient Greek, and can mean in addition to, near, above, over, besides, outer, among, toward, on, or attached to. In modern parlance, we might say genetics-adjacent. Biological mechanisms put chemical tags on DNA that in turn have the ability to switch genes on or off.

In another post, Natalie Crowley phrases the same idea in slightly different words:

Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression, heritable during cell division that does not involve changes to the underlying DNA sequence. These changes are also influenced by age, the environment, lifestyle, and health.

This is another almost brand-new field of research where there are, of course, many more questions than answers. Crowley also notes that epigenetic mechanisms are dynamic and — here is the best part — “potentially reversible with therapeutic intervention.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “A Super Brief and Basic Explanation of Epigenetics for Total Beginners,” WhatIsEpigenetics.com, 07/30/13
Source: “Epigenetics: Fundamentals,” WhatIsEpigenetics.com, undated
Source: “The Epigenetics Behind the Flu,” WhatIsEpigenetics.com, 11/17/15
Source: “Could Epigenetics Explain the Origins of Allergic Disease?,” WhatIsEpigenetics.com, 03/24/15
Photo via Visualhunt

Bitter Success in the U.K.

fish-and-chips

In many parts of Great Britain (which includes Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales), and even in England itself, the local inhabitants are very conscious of their relative standings in the national obesity statistics. There is sincere feeling about making a good appearance.

The largely rural county of Dorset, which contains almost 420,000 people, had to face this last winter:

There were 10,390 admissions in Dorset’s hospitals last year where obesity was the main reason for a person being admitted or a secondary factor — nearly seven times higher than the 1500 recorded in 2011/12.

A National Health Service official suggested that perhaps hospitals have merely become more conscientious about keeping thoroughly descriptive records. The Obesity Health Alliance (OHA) begs to differ. At the time, the OHA comprised over 30 groups, and has since grown to 39. We are talking heavy hitters — the British Medical Association; the Jamie Oliver Food Foundation; the Royal College of This, That, and the Other Thing — who all agree that something needs to be done. It is a coalition of institutions with august names and resolute intentions.

Just last month, the OHA announced that the average British child ingests the equivalent of five doughnuts’ worth of “hidden sugar” each and every day. Research performed by the National Diet and Nutrition Survey showed that kids between 11 and 18 tend to consume more than twice the maximum recommended dose of sugar.

Journalist Laura Donnelly noted:

The alliance said children were regularly consuming high amounts of hidden sugars from soup, ready meals, and breakfast cereals, without their parents realizing how unhealthy such foods were.

The price of victory

Despite the unacceptable level of obesity-related hospital admissions, Dorset wasn’t even the most obese. Plenty of places in England scored worse, and they all correlate with areas of destitution, or as the British say, “income deprivation.”

But when residents want to limit the number of takeaway outlets they are willing to tolerate and enable, doing well in the national stats does not guarantee a win. Far from it. Their virtue can be used against them in a cruelly twisted way.

In its inimitable style, the Daily Mail explains just such a controversy with these crisp points:

— Plans were submitted to build a fish and chip shop opposite a school in Dorset
— But Budmouth College in Weymouth is unable to prevent it from being built
— They aren’t able to challenge it on health grounds as obesity levels are low

The word “college,” incidentally, carries a different meaning in Britain. The students are Year 6 and Year 7, so these are 10- and 11-year-olds. Journalist Abe Hawken writes:

The application […] can’t be rejected as children in the local area are healthier than average. School leaders, local councillors and parents have slammed the decision as they believe its arrival will increase obesity statistics.

Local authorities okayed the fast food shop, and one politician explained how “the committee felt the points put forward for development outweighed those against it.” Of course the committee felt this way. It is what committees all too often seem to do. Parents, educators, health professionals, and kids are fighting a real uphill battle.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Number of obesity admissions to hospital in Dorset SEVEN times what it was four years ago,” BourneMouthEcho.co.uk, 11/07/16
Source: “Children are eating equivalent of five donuts a day in ‘hidden sugars’,” Telegraph.co.uk, 02/24/17
Source: “School can’t stop CHIP SHOP being built next door on health grounds because local children’s obesity levels are below national average,” DailyMail.co.uk, 01/02/17
Photo credit: sstrieu via Visualhunt/CC BY-ND

Great Britain’s Long Journey

kid-eating-cereal-from-above

Childhood Obesity News continues to chronicle various aspects of the struggle to institute a sugar tax in Great Britain. The media had been full of disturbing warnings of the shape of things to come. Early in 2016, the always-sensational Daily Mail presented to its public this headline: “Fat children will ‘collapse the NHS’: Number of 11-year-olds weighing more than 15st DOUBLES in a year.”

In America, that would be 210 pounds, which generally is agreed to be too much for a child to weigh almost anywhere. In England, there were 383 kids in that weight class, up from 176 only two years before.

The National Obesity Forum’s Tam Fry warned:

To treat a child who is obese by age 11 is like moving a mountain. Once you’ve got overweight, its hard to get down to normal size… They should be weighed from the age of 2. If they’re getting excessively fat, something can be done early.

In The Star, Alice Evans wrote:

The NCMP measures the height and weight of more than a million children in England every year.

This is puzzling in the light of Fry’s assertion that children are only weighed twice, at ages 4 and 11. At any rate, the important point was that “The number of children who are overweight or obese when they leave primary school has hit record levels.”

As Her Majesty’s subjects and citizens (which are two different things) argued over the sugar tax and related matters, the Coca-Cola Company was surprisingly out in front of societal developments. Merinews.com reported:

The company is currently reformulating 200 products to reduce the sugar content in them. Fanta and Sprite with 30 per cent less sugar are already on shelves in the United Kingdom…

At the same time, the Brits learned from the Education Endowment Foundation that school breakfast clubs help children do better in their studies, and by a startling margin:

A new study suggests that Year 2 children who attend primaries offering a before-school club could make an extra two months progress in these core subjects over a year, compared to youngsters in other schools….

The report looked at the results of the Magic Breakfast project, which provided 106 schools with the support and resources to offer a free breakfast club, including to all Year 2 children. It ran between September 2014 and July 2015.

Teachers reported improvements in classroom behavior and the children’s ability to concentrate. The EEF gave resistant parents something to think about by adding:

These improvements mean that breakfast club provision can have benefits even for children who do not attend, by improving their classroom learning environment.

Privately funded experiments like this encouraged the government to commit £10m for healthy breakfast clubs.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Fat children will ‘collapse the NHS’: Number of 11-year-olds weighing more than 15st DOUBLES in a year,” DailyMail.co.uk, 02/22/16
Source: “‘Worrying trend’ of rising childhood obesity,” TheStar.co.uk, 11/014/16
Source: “How Coca-Cola Co has turned the battle against sugar into a profitable business,”
Merinews.com, 10/27/16
Source: “School breakfast clubs boost pupils’ results, research shows,” AOL.co.uk, 11/04/16
Photo via Visualhunt

In Great Britain, the Beat Goes On

cheering-kids

Childhood Obesity News has accused soda, pizza and potato snacks of being incomparable obesity villains, which they are, but breakfast cereal is right up there in that class too. Let’s give blame where blame is due.

What makes cereal such an outstandingly offensive product is the boldness and scope of its advertising. Great Britain recognizes it as shameless and attempts to curb it. The nation’s Obesity Health Alliance is no friend of any cartoon animal, mythical creature, or live celebrity whose mission is to incite children to desire products — especially when the children are seduced by “advergames” and other channels that parents are not generally tuned in to.

Professor John Wass writes:

The internet has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for advertisers to persuade children to eat their products. Companies are exploiting gaps in the regulations to target children online with promotions for products that cannot be advertised on children’s television.

Toward the end of last year, the World Health Organization issued a report stating that “hidden digital advertising and marketing” is a menace because it promotes all the wrong kinds of food. WHO urged policymakers to do more to protect kids from things like “advergames.” The organization’s spokesperson pointed out that parents may be unlikely to see the same advertisements their children encounter, and if they did, they might be appalled.

Trouble on all sides

Sometimes the focus of the conversation shifts to the enormous number of takeaway outlets, which Americans know as fast food joints. The organization Public Health England had generated a map of takeaway outlet saturation in each part of the country. The local authority of Birmingham, for instance, was found to have 1,058 of them. An academic report alarmed the health-conscious by stating that people who live near fast food outlets have a greater likelihood of being overweight or obese.

According to Cambridge University:

Research has revealed areas inundated with fast food outlets may be particularly unhealthy for poor residents… Poorly educated people who live in areas saturated with fast food shops eat around four kilos — 8.8 lbs — more unhealthy takeaway food each year than their more highly educated peers.

Various groups attempted to raise public consciousness and political awareness regarding the proximity of takeaway outlets to schools, meeting with not much success. Public Health England also spread the word about sugar reduction in processed foods. The goal is to reduce children’s sugar consumption by 20%, by the year 2020.

Chief Nutritionist Dr. Alison Tedstone wrote:

Most won’t know, but in recent years we’ve halved the salt in baked beans and there’s 40 per cent less of it in bread. Hardly anyone noticed the difference and the last I checked beans on toast was still pretty popular.

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “To Tackle Childhood Obesity We Need to Address Marketing to Children,” HuffingtonPost.co.uk, 06/02/16
Source: “WHO Europe Report Warns Over Dangerous Digital Advertising Pushing Children To Eat Unhealthy Foods,” TechNewsObserver.com, 11/06/16
Source: “England’s fast food MAPPED: Outlets could be fuelling dangerous obesity epidemic,” Express.co.uk, 10/21/16
Source: “Public Health England: you probably won’t notice as we reduce sugar in food,” Spectator.co.uk, 11/01/16
Photo via Visualhunt

If Mama Ain’t Happy, Ain’t Nobody Happy

puy-notre-dame

If “Mama” is the microbiome, the comparison is easy to make. When things are not going well in the digestive tract, where trillions of organisms make their home and partake of various relationships with their host, the rest of the body will not fare well.

A claim has been made that red wine contains polyphenols, which help beneficent gut bacteria to flourish. But as we have seen, the alcohol itself is hostile to bacteria. Probably it is wise to acquire friendly bacteria by other means.

On some topics, the state of knowledge is on firmer footing. For instance, there is agreement among most students of the microbiome that wheat and industrial seed oils are good for bad bacteria, or bad for good ones, or both.

Allergies are widely understood to be the result of dysbiosis, or disruption of the microbiome. This is an eminently logical position, as 80% of the body’s immune cells hang out in the gut. To grant entry to substances that tamper with the crucial balance is to invite permeability of the intestine, which nobody wants. Once the foreign molecules escape into the bloodstream, the entire confused system wages war on itself.

Paradoxes abound

Bacteria of the genus Clostridia help maintain the intestine’s integrity and contain the harmful molecules on their own side of the border. Can these critters be lab-cultivated and bottled as medicine? This is one of the million questions that scientists in this field face.

But — and in these early stages of getting to know the microbiome, it seems like there is always a “but” — as Chris Kresser writes:

Children with allergies tended to have increased abundance of Staphylococcus, Clostridium, and Escherichia species, while numbers of Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria are significantly reduced compared to healthy children.

Microbiome science is full of as-yet-indecipherable mysteries. For instance, in the gut, health is associated with greater diversity of organisms. In the lungs and air passages, health is associated with reduced diversity. Yet the two very different locales share a similarity: Both asthma and obesity are associated with antibiotics introduced at a very young age; and with C-sections; and with formula feeding.

It all has to do histamine intolerance, and guess where histamine comes from? Gut microbes. Lactobacillus is an important and generally helpful bug which nevertheless produces histamine whose excess can be problematic. To avoid an overgrowth of histamine-producing microbes, it appears that one must avoid aged cheeses, citrus fruits, fish, shellfish, avocados, spinach, cocoa, and leftover meat.

Researchers at Israel’s Weizmann Institute of Science made a major advance by observing that artificial sweeteners perform “profound changes” on the microbiome to raise blood-sugar levels. In mice, this opens the way to glucose intolerance, diabetes, and obesity.

Jason Best reports that a small group of human subjects who normally never used artificial sweeteners ingested them for a week:

Half began to develop glucose intolerance after just four days, and further analysis showed these participants possessed the kind of gut bacteria that appeared to cause glucose intolerance when exposed to artificial sweeteners.

Aspartame, sucralose and saccharin apparently mess up the gut bacteria worse than actual sugar. Over 6,000 processed food products contain artificial sweeteners, and we would do well to remember the words of Dr. Billi Gordon:

Most processed foods are drugs, not food.

Bonus audio track: Tracy Byrd’s “When Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.”

Your responses and feedback are welcome!

Source: “Doing Dry January? Your gut bacteria will be grateful,” OptibacProbiotics.co.uk, 01/05/16
Source: “Got Allergies? Your Microbes Could Be Responsible,” ChrisKresser.com, 04/28/16
Source: “Drinking Diet Soda and Not Losing Weight? Blame Your Gut Bacteria,” Takepart.com, 09/18/14
Source: “Much More Than a Gut Feeling,” PsychologyToday.com, 07/22/14
Image by: Spencer Means

Childhood Obesity News | OVERWEIGHT: What Kids Say | Dr. Robert A. Pretlow
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