Clever, cheap technology a path to better health
South Australian researchers have confirmed that taking an additional 3500 steps and spending an extra 45 minutes on the move each day can reduce weight and lead to better wellbeing and long-term health. Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology after being presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 65th Annual Scientific Session in Chicago last week, the researchers used results from Stepathlon, a workplace fitness program used by thousands of people around Australia. The researchers analysed the records of more than 68 000 people in 64 countries who competed under the program to increase daily physical activity levels during a 100-day “virtual race”. On average, participants lost just over 1.45kg and improved their health by increasing their amount of walking by more than 3500 steps per day, reducing the time spent sitting by about 45 minutes per day, and exercising nearly one additional day per week. Matthew Flinders Research Fellow Associate Professor Ganesan, who presented the results, said: “In our connected world, we can use powerful technology tools to get people moving on a large scale, in a way that is not only attractive to consumers but affordable and accessible in even the most remote places on the planet. Our study suggests that by using technology in a clever way, perhaps we, as a community, can devise solutions to tackle our leading health problems.”

Drug and medical device companies target nurses
University of Sydney researchers have found that hospital-based nurses have high levels of contact with pharmaceutical and medical device industry sales personnel, but have little corporate or professional guidance about managing purchasing decisions in the context of these interactions. Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, the study of 56 nurses from four US-based acute care hospitals reported the following findings from a study done from 2012-2014: all nurses reported interactions with industry representatives and had an average of 13 interactions in that period; one-on-one meetings with sales representatives were the most common form of interaction; nurses reported attending sponsored lunches, dinners or events (70%), receiving offers of gifts (71%) or product samples (61%); 27% of nurses reported receipt of paid travel or payments for participating in market research, speakers’ bureaus or consulting activities; nurses reported interacting largely with the medical device industry (84%), but also with the pharmaceutical (55%), health technology (21%) and infant formula industries (4%). Lead author, Dr Quinn Grundy of the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Pharmacy, said: “Most study participants – 64% – cited examples where nurses had influenced treatment and purchasing decisions. The scope of practice of nurses in Australia is similar to nurses in the United States. They have similar decision-making and influential roles within healthcare so they are desirable marketing targets.”

Public health campaigns work best when people can be lazy
Public health campaigns designed to improve health and reduce obesity work best when people don’t actually have to change their own behaviour, according to an essay by UK researchers published in PLOS Medicine. If population approaches are successful they will, by their very definition, improve the health of a greater number of people, wrote the authors. However, not all population approaches are likely to have the same effect. The population approach of encouraging people to cook at home, for example, can only succeed if people have the money to buy ingredients and utensils, have the time, facilities and skills to cook at home, and can afford to respond to setbacks and mistakes. In contrast, population interventions that require little or no agency by individuals in order to benefit, such as reducing salt in processed food, may be more effective and equitable across the whole population. The authors concluded: “More attention should be given to the development and implementation of low-agency population interventions … We all need to have more courage to argue the case that these interventions can be publically acceptable, support people to live healthier lives, and reduce inequalities in health. Low-agency population interventions should be central to public health action on diet and obesity.”

Pot in pregnancy may stunt baby growth
A US systematic review of 24 studies published up to 2014 has found an association between the use of cannabis during pregnancy and low birthweight and the need for intensive care. Published in the online journal BMJ Open, analysis of the pooled data showed that expectant mothers who used cannabis were 36% more likely to have anaemia than women who didn’t use the drug. Infants exposed to cannabis in the womb were 77% more likely to be underweight at birth and twice as likely to require intensive care as those whose mothers had not used cannabis during their pregnancy. Although the review included observational studies and the authors were not able to extract data on whether any of the study participants used other illicit drugs, smoking tobacco or how much alcohol they drank, the authors concluded that: “There does appear to be negative consequences associated with in utero exposure to cannabis, including a decrease in birthweight and a need for placement in [intensive care] … As use of cannabis continues to become more acceptable in many countries, understanding the effects on maternal and fetal health should become a global priority.”

Call for “active calories” to be included on food labels
People would be motivated to adopt healthier behaviours if food items were labelled with how much exercise they’d need to do to burn off the same amount of calories, says the author of an editorial published in The BMJ. Shirley Cramer, Chief Executive at the Royal Society of Public Health, wrote that giving consumers an immediate link between foods’ energy content and physical activity might help to reduce obesity. “We desperately need innovative schemes to change behaviour at the population level,” she wrote. Yet little evidence indicates that the current information on food and drink packaging, including traffic light labelling, actually changes behaviour. The Royal Society for Public Health has therefore called for the introduction of “activity equivalent” calorie labelling. Symbols could show the minutes of several different physical activities that would be equivalent in calories expended to the calories in the product, explains Cramer. “The aim is to prompt people to be more mindful of the energy they consume and how these calories relate to activities in their everyday lives, to encourage them to be more physically active.”

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