Friday, July 22, 2016

The share of world population that is food insecure is projected to decline

The latest International Food Security Assessment suggests food security will improve over the next 10 years for the 76 low- and middle-income countries examined by ERS.  The improvement is driven by expectations of falling food prices and rising incomes across most of these countries. The share of the total population within these 76 countries that is food insecure is projected to fall from 17 percent in 2016 to 6 percent in 2026. The report estimates per capita food consumption and evaluates that against a nutritional target of 2,100 calories per person per day to determine whether population groups should be considered food secure. At the regional level, the greatest improvement in food security between 2016 and 2026 is projected for Asia, where the share of population that is food insecure falls from 13.2 to 2.4 percent. The share of population that is food insecure in the Latin America and the Caribbean region is projected to fall from 14.6 percent in 2016 to 6.4 percent in 2026. Sub-Saharan Africa is the most food-insecure region in the world, and like the other regions, its food-security situation is projected to improve over the decade—but at a slower rate. The share of the region’s population that is food insecure is projected to fall from 29 to 15 percent. This chart is from the ERS report, International Food Security Assessment: 2016-2026, released June 30.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

For Coffee Drinkers, the Buzz May Be in Your Genes


Like most of my work, this article would not have been possible without coffee.
I’m never fully awake until I have had my morning cup of espresso. It makes me productive, energized and what I can only describe as mildly euphoric. But as one of the millions of caffeine-loving Americans who can measure out my life with coffee spoons (to paraphrase T.S. Eliot), I have often wondered: How does my coffee habit impact my health?
The health community can’t quite agree on whether coffee is more potion or poison. The American Heart Association says the research on whether coffee causes heart disease is conflicting. The World Health Organization, which for years classified coffee as “possibly” carcinogenic, recently reversed itself, saying the evidence for a coffee-cancer link is “inadequate.” National dietary guidelines say that moderate coffee consumption may actually be good for you – even reducing chronic disease.
Why is there so much conflicting evidence about coffee? The answer may be in our genes.
About a decade ago, Ahmed El-Sohemy, a professor in the department of nutritional sciences at the University of Toronto, noticed the conflicting research on coffee and the widespread variation in how people respond to it. Some people avoid it because just one cup makes them jittery and anxious. Others can drink four cups of coffee and barely keep their eyes open. Some people thrive on it.
Dr. El-Sohemy suspected that the relationship between coffee and heart disease might also vary from one individual to the next. And he zeroed in on one gene in particular, CYP1A2, which controls an enzyme – also called CYP1A2 – that determines how quickly our bodies break down caffeine.
One variant of the gene causes the liver to metabolize caffeine very quickly. People who inherit two copies of the “fast” variant – one from each parent – are generally referred to as fast metabolizers. Their bodies metabolize caffeine about four times more quickly than people who inherit one or more copies of the slow variant of the gene. These people are called slow metabolizers.
With funding from the National Institutes of Health, Dr. El-Sohemy and his colleagues recruited 4,000 adults, including about 2,000 who had previously had a heart attack. Then they analyzed their genes and their coffee consumption. When they looked at the entire study population, they found that consuming four or more cups of coffee per day was associated with a 36 percent increased risk of a heart attack.
But when they split the subjects into two groups – fast and slow caffeine metabolizers – they found something striking: Heavy coffee consumption only seemed to be linked to a higher likelihood of heart attacks in the slow metabolizers.
“The increased risk that we saw among the entire population was driven entirely by the people that were slow metabolizers,” said Dr. El-Sohemy, who is also on the science advisory board atNutrigenomix, a personalized nutrition company. “When you look at the fast metabolizers, there was absolutely no increased risk.”
The trend among fast metabolizers was quite the opposite. Those who drank one to three cups of coffee daily had a significantly reduced risk of heart attacks – suggesting that for them coffee was protective.
Dr. El-Sohemy suspects that because caffeine hangs around longer in a slow metabolizer, it has more time to act as a trigger of heart attacks. But fast metabolizers clear caffeine from their systems rapidly, allowing the antioxidants, polyphenols and coffee’s other healthful compounds to kick in without the side effects of caffeine, he said.
Other more recent research seems to point in the same direction. In Italy, a team of scientists looked at hypertension in 553 fast and slow caffeine metabolizers. Once again, the subjects’ genetic profiles predicted whether coffee was potentially harmful or healthful. Heavy and even moderate coffee drinkers were significantly more likely to have hypertension if they were slow metabolizers. But fast metabolizers saw their risk of hypertension fall as their coffee intake rose.
That is not to say that every coffee drinker should run out and have their CYP1A2 genes analyzed by one of the many direct-to-consumer genetic testing companies. Dr. Marilyn Cornelis, an assistant professor at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said her research had identified many genes involved in caffeine metabolism, and that relying on only one or two genetic factors could provide people with a false sense of reassurance.
“There are clearly other genetic and environmental factors contributing to differences in caffeine metabolism,” she said. “And these are not captured by existing tests.”
Nonetheless, this greater understanding of the link between coffee and genetics has opened up a wide new area of research. Scientists are now studying whether the CYP1A2 gene and others might mediate coffee’s influence on breast and ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes and even Parkinson’s disease.
It has also prompted a closer look at the effects of caffeine on exercise. Though it has long been accepted that caffeine enhances sports performance, research by Christopher J. Womack, a professor of kinesiology at James Madison University, suggests that endurance athletes who are fast caffeine metabolizers may benefit more than others.
In one study in 2012, Dr. Womack and his colleagues studied the effect of caffeine pills and placebos on the performance of male cyclists. Dr. Womack found that the slow metabolizers completed a 40-kilometer race on a stationary bike one minute faster on caffeine. But the fast metabolizers improved their time by four minutes.
Dr. Womack suspects that the fast metabolizers saw greater benefits because the rapid metabolism of caffeine further heightened their sympathetic nervous systems — which control the so-called fight or flight response.
“In the broad sense, the average person is going to perform better with caffeine,” he said. “Some people have a huge effect. Not surprisingly, it has something to do with our genetics.”
As an avid coffee consumer, I was curious about my own genes. Through a company called FitnessGenes, which analyzes 41 different genes related to diet and exercise – including CYP1A2 – I learned that I was a so-called fast caffeine metabolizer. The company says that 40 percent of people are fast metabolizers. About 45 percent have both a slow and a fast copy, and 15 percent carry two copies of the slow allele.
Dan Reardon, a medical doctor who founded FitnessGenes, said that, anecdotally, slow metabolizers who drink coffee tend to report a very gradual wakefulness, sometimes lasting hours. But fast metabolizers often experience something very different with coffee: an immediate spike in alertness followed at times by a relatively quick dip in energy.
While my DNA results suggested that my twice-daily espresso habit might be for the best, researchers have only just begun to understand how our genes and coffee habits interact. In a 2015 study, Dr. Cornelis and a team of international scientists identifiedeight genetic variants that appear to make people more likely to seek out coffee, including at least two variants that are involved in the psychologically rewarding effects of caffeine.
The research could help to explain why some people see little or no appeal in a freshly brewed cup of coffee – while others, like me, can hardly fathom a morning without it.
Eat Well is a new weekly column on the science and culture of eating.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

No Health Benefit to Replacing Fat With Carbs

Low-fat diets that are high in carbohydrates are unlikely to improve your health, a new study shows.
Researchers came to the conclusion after studying the eating habits and health behaviors of 126,233 men and women who completed health questionnaires every two to four years for up to 32 years. Then they calculated the effect of replacing just 5 percent of saturated fat calories with another type of fat or carbohydrates.
The study, in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that replacing 5 percent of daily calories from saturated fats (mainly animal fat) with foods high in polyunsaturated fats, such as the omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in fish and walnuts, was associated with a 27 percent reduction in total mortality and reduced death from cardiovascular disease, cancer and neurodegenerative disease.
A similar switch from saturated fat to monounsaturated fat, such as olive oil and avocados, was associated with a 13 percent reduction in total mortality and a 29 percent reduction in death from neurodegenerative diseases.
But replacing saturated fats with carbohydrates, such as sugars and refined grains, did not confer any health benefits.
“Not all fats are created equal,” said the senior author, Dr. Frank B. Hu, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “We should eat more good ones from fish and avocados, instead of animal fats. And second, the low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet is not beneficial for improving health and longevity.”;postID=4189859292417739537

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

U.S. Teen Diabetes Rate Exceeds Prior Estimates

HealthDay Reporter
TUESDAY, July 19, 2016 (HealthDay News) -- More American teens have diabetes or prediabetes than previously thought, and many don't know they have the blood-sugar disease, a new study finds.
Nearly 1 percent of more than 2,600 teens studied had diabetes -- with almost one in three cases undiagnosed, researchers found. Also, almost 20 percent of the group had prediabetes -- higher than normal blood sugar levels but not high enough to be classified as diabetes.
"These findings are important because diabetes in youth is associated with early onset of risk factors and complications," said lead researcher Andy Menke of Social & Scientific Systems in Silver Spring, Md.
One prior study estimated the prevalence of diabetes in teens at about 0.34 percent, but the current study shows it's double that -- 0.8 percent.
The researchers couldn't distinguish between teens who had type 1 or type 2 diabetes. However, previous research among children and teens with diabetes found that 87 percent had type 1 diabetes, previously called juvenile diabetes, the researchers said.
While type 1 diabetes, an autoimmune disease, isn't preventable, type 2 is usually related to lifestyle factors. Type 2 is generally seen in adults, but experts say it's risen among younger people as obesity rates have soared.
"It is alarming to see such a high incidence of [childhood] diabetes when it should be close to zero," said Dr. Joel Zonszein, director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City.
"The very high prevalence of prediabetes, diabetes and especially undiagnosed diabetes in adolescents is worrisome," he said.
The majority of those with prediabetes will develop diabetes if nothing is done to change their lifestyle, Zonszein said.
Blacks and Hispanics were more likely than whites to have prediabetes or not know they had diabetes, the study found.
"There are effective treatments, but those treatments are not useful to people who have not been diagnosed," Menke said.
Untreated, diabetes can lead to heart disease, circulatory problems, vision loss and amputation of feet and legs.
In general, people with undiagnosed diabetes tend to have type 2 diabetes. "Symptoms will depend on diabetes type and may be subtle," Menke said, adding they may mimic signs of other conditions.
Classic symptoms include increased urination, increased thirst, weight loss (due to dehydration), and perhaps increased hunger and blurry vision, he said.
"Previous studies have found that both type 1 and type 2 diabetes are increasing among adolescents," Menke said.
Because type 2 is considered lifestyle-related, Menke called for better education on reducing risk factors for type 2 and improved screening for adolescents at high risk.
According to the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, being overweight or obese is the main cause of type 2 diabetes. People at high risk can prevent or delay its onset by losing 5 percent to 7 percent of their weight, the agency says.
The agency recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five days a week, and reducing daily calorie consumption.
Parents can help by keeping kids and teens active and preparing healthy meals that are low in fat, sugar and salt. Limiting portion sizes is also key. Parents should also ask their doctor if their kids are at a healthy weight or if they are at risk for diabetes, the agency says.
For the study, Menke and his colleagues used data from the 2005-2014 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey on 2,606 adolescents ages 12 to 19, who were randomly selected for fasting blood sugar tests.
Of 62 teens with diabetes, 29 percent didn't know it. Prevalence of prediabetes was 18 percent, and more common in boys.
Among the diabetic teens, nearly 5 percent of whites had not been diagnosed versus 50 percent of blacks and 40 percent of Hispanics.
"It is disturbing that we continue to see study after study, showing a high incidence and prevalence of prediabetes and diabetes in younger and younger populations, and how poorly it is diagnosed and treated," Zonszein said. "I see this study and others as a call to arms.
"If we were able to screen, prevent and treat HIV/AIDS, we can or should certainly be able to do it in diabetes, a much more common and costly disease," he said.
The report was published July 19 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
More information
For more on type 2 diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association.
SOURCES: Andy Menke, Ph.D., Social & Scientific Systems, Silver Spring, Md.; Joel Zonszein, M.D., director, Clinical Diabetes Center, Montefiore Medical Center, New York City; July 19, 2016, Journal of the American Medical Association

Monday, July 11, 2016

Big Soda Has Lost a Big Fight Against Sugar Warnings

Big Soda has reportedly failed to stop a new San Francisco law requiring ads for sugary drinks to display warnings about the products’ possible negative health effects.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Too Few Americans Take Advantage of Local Parks

 Most neighborhood parks in the United States are geared toward younger people, which limits their use, a new study suggests.
"Relatively modest investments could make parks much more conducive to physical activity for everyone, regardless of age, gender or income level," said study author Dr. Deborah Cohen, a senior natural scientist at the Rand Corp.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

The dark side of trendy food trucks: A poor health safety record

It’s a daily culinary performance that plays out across Los Angeles: Top food truck chefs whipping up gourmet meals in spaces no bigger than a restaurant’s stockroom or walk-in freezer.

But even as the trucks have become a popular staple of the local food scene, with Twitter followers and long queues, they have been lagging behind restaurants and even sidewalk food carts in one important category -- health safety, a Times data analysis found.