Anti-obesity programs aren’t working in UK schools

Researchers from the University of Birmingham in the UK have found that a year-long anti-obesity program in schools had no noticeable effect on children’s health. The study, published in The BMJ, assessed the effectiveness of a lifestyle and healthy eating program (West Midlands Active Lifestyle and Healthy Eating in School Children or WAVES) compared with usual practice in preventing childhood obesity. WAVES is a 12-month school-delivered intervention focusing on healthy eating and physical activity among primary school children. The results are based on data from around 1400 6- and 7-year-olds at 54 randomly selected state-run primary schools in the West Midlands, monitored over a 2.5-year period; participating schools were randomised to either intervention or control (control: 28 schools, 778 pupils). At the start of the trial, height and weight were recorded for each child, along with other measurements relating to body fat, diet and physical activity levels. The program included daily additional physical activity opportunities in schools, a physical activity and healthy eating program in conjunction with local sporting heroes, regular information to parents about local physical activity opportunities, and workshops on healthy cooking for families at schools. The researchers found no significant difference in weight status and no meaningful effect on body fat measurements, diet or physical activity levels at 15 and 30 months in children taking part in the program, compared with those not participating. The researchers suggested that “nudge” interventions – for example, using financial incentives to prompt healthier behaviour – merited further investigation, but they concluded that school-based motivational, educational approaches “are unlikely to halt the childhood obesity epidemic”.

Virtual cancer cells aid the quest for a cure

Academics from the University of Newcastle and the Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) have developed the world’s first virtual platform to host 3D copies of human cancer tissues, revolutionising the way researchers access critical information needed to advance cancer treatment. The Virtual Biobank will digitise and help speed up the process of accessing vital tissue samples donated by patients, which up until now could only be requested through physical biobanks. Each digital cancer sample in the Virtual Biobank is made up of high resolution microscopy images in both 2D and 3D, plus important clinical and molecular information that provides the foundation for virtual research into cancer. “We’ve taken a tiny sample from tumour biopsies stored at the Hunter Cancer Biobank and converted them into a virtual copy, enabling anyone around the world with an internet connection to carry out research from their computers or easily request access to the physical sample they need,” the researchers said. “This process ensures the physical sample remains intact, but a 3D, digital copy with clinical and experimental information is kept online for future use. This is particularly critical for rare cancers, which are hard to study due to a limited number of samples.” The addition of 3D images was made possible by the innovative 3D Tissue Clearing and Lightsheet Microscope Facility (established by the same team in 2016) based at HMRI, which specialises in making tissue samples see-through for cutting-edge 3D microscopy.

Positive thinking about ageing may lower dementia risk

Older people with more positive beliefs about ageing may be less likely to develop dementia, even if they are genetically predisposed, according to US research published in PLoS ONE. The e4 variant of the gene APOE has previously been identified as a high risk factor for dementia; however, only 47% of APOE e4 carriers develop the condition. The reason the remaining 53% never develop dementia is unknown. Researchers from Yale School of Public Health investigated whether culture-based age beliefs influence the risk of developing dementia among older people, including those who carry the high risk gene variant. The researchers studied a group of 4765 people, with an average age of 72 years, who were free of dementia at the start of the study. Twenty-six per cent of the participants in the study were carriers of APOE e4. Over the 4-year study duration, the researchers found that APOE e4 carriers with positive beliefs about ageing (assessed with the five-item attitude toward ageing subscale of the Philadelphia Geriatric Center Morale Scale) had a 2.7% risk of developing dementia, compared with a 6.1% risk for those with negative beliefs about ageing. “We found that positive age beliefs can reduce the risk of one of the most established genetic risk factors of dementia,” the researchers said. “This makes a case for implementing a public health campaign against ageism and negative age beliefs.” The authors acknowledged that there was the possibility that dementia influenced age beliefs rather than the other way around.

Study identifies how to improve WHO strategy for yaws

Research led by the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research (WEHI), published in The Lancet, has found evidence that may improve the World Health Organization’s strategy to eradicate yaws – a chronic disfiguring and debilitating infectious disease affecting the skin, bones and joints. The research identifies relapsing, untreated infections and the emergence of antibiotic resistance as contributing to ongoing yaws infection in a high endemic community in Papua New Guinea, where elimination of yaws is yet to be achieved. Yaws is caused by Treponema pallidum, a subspecies of the bacterium that causes syphilis. It is spread by direct contact through minor injuries such as cuts and scratches on the skin and affects mostly children. It initially causes painful skin lesions but, if left untreated, can lead to chronic deformities and disability. Yaws is an ideal candidate for eradication because it is only found in humans and is easily treated with antibiotics. A previous attempt at eradication between 1954 and 1964 was unsuccessful. During this time, WHO and UNICEF treated 50 million active cases and contacts in 46 countries with penicillin. However, in untargeted latent cases, the infection was able to recur and the disease gradually re-emerged in the 1970s. WHO’s current strategy to eradicate yaws by 2020 involves a single round of mass treatment with the inexpensive antibiotic azithromycin, followed by targeted treatment programs every 3–6 months to identify and treat all symptomatic patients and their contacts. This new study builds on previous research that showed that large-scale administration of one oral dose of azithromycin to almost 84% (13 490) of 16 092 residents of Lihir Island in Papua New Guinea (whether thought to be infected or not) dramatically reduced yaws prevalence from 2.4% to 0.3% within 6 months; this low prevalence remained unchanged a year after mass treatment. WEHI geneticist Associate Professor Alyssa Barry said the research suggested adapting the WHO approach in three key areas. “[First,] the findings point to a need for multiple rounds of mass drug administration in order to capture those not present during the first round. [Second] … a much bigger geographical area should be targeted for the mass treatment, in order to protect against the migration of infection in people from surrounding communities. Finally, there is a clear need for ongoing monitoring to prevent the spread of drug-resistant strains, following world-first evidence of antibiotic resistance in yaws bacteria,” she said.

 

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Link coming Sunday


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