• The New York Times advises us to approach the Thanksgiving meal “the way a CEO might.” Uhh, not even sure where to start on that one.
• Some good news this holiday: Cancer diagnoses are on the decline.
• The newest in medical technology: A barcode chip that tests your blood for disease.
• The latest in climate change research: A shrimp on a treadmill. Seriously.
• You know it’s bad out there when gaming companies are seeing their stock take a hit.
• And to top it off, the financial crisis hits Google. It’s official: No one is immune.
• Sketchy study finds that more people believe in aliens and ghosts than God. Or perhaps they just think God is an alien?
• And here’s a fun idea in the obesity era: health waivers for Thanksgiving dinner guests. More casserole, anyone?
What are the three most important things the next U.S. president needs to do for science? To cut through the jargon and find an answer, we bring you the DISCOVER Science Policy Project, in which we give a group of the country’s most celebrated scientists and thinkers the chance to state their views. All past responses can be found here.
Epidemiologist and nutrition expert
Support more research on alternative, sustainable energy sources, transportation, and food production. In the long run, this is crucial for the quality of life of Americans.
Commit more research funding to translation of existing knowledge into practice. We know what should be done to prevent most of the major diseases that burden our population, but we often don’t know how to do this most effectively or efficiently.
We know that DNA isn’t necessarily the master of your future. We also know that obesity is gobbling its way through the U.S. population, and is linked to genetics. So it follows that while it ups your chances considerably, having a genetic predisposition for obesity doesn’t automatically mean you’re sentenced to a life of excessive weight, diabetes, heart disease, social discrimination, the list goes on.
And now, to prove it, researchers have compiled a handy data set to show us just how the “fat gene” can be overcome. Evadnie Rampersaud, the study’s lead author, examined DNA samples of 704 healthy Amish adults, most of them middle-aged, around half of them overweight, and about a quarter obese. She divided the group based on physical activity levels, with the most active group burning about 900 more calories a day—the equivalent of about three to four hours of moderately intensive physical activity, like brisk walking— than the most sluggish group.
To the surprise of just about no one, she found that people with certain variations of the FTO gene were more likely to be overweight. However, she also discovered something that should bring hope to any dieter:
We decided to take a break from the creative environmental fables springing forth in Minneapolis to hit yet another field where fact and fabrication have been scarily intertwined: autism and vaccines. The anti-vax celebrity movement is going strong—now they can add Lance Armstrong to their ranks—and more parents are jumping on the “screw public health, we don’t want autistic kids” bandwagon.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is already seeing a measles spike, while Canada is reporting a mumps epidemic and the U.K. is bracing itself for a possible measles outbreak. All while the actual research continues to show that there is absolutely no link between vaccines and autism, Crohn’s disease, colitis, asthma, teenage pregnancy, incurable foot odor, etc.
A stock anti-vax response to these facts? “So what? Who says the measles are so bad?”
Theories on fighting the obesity epidemic can be divided into two camps: punishing or restricting bad behavior (like oh, say, banning new fast food restaurants in poorer neighborhoods) and rewarding good behavior. So far, the bulk of what’s actually been done falls in the first category. Arguably, the most effective options would lie somewhere in the second.
Enter a new law enacted in Alabama, in which state employees who are obese or who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or high glucose will have to pay $25 a month more in health insurance if they don’t lose weight and get healthy by 2010. True to form, the law punishes the chronically obese with financial penalties—exactly as it has punished smokers, who’ve been paying a $24 surcharge for their habit. The state isn’t leaving it all to the employees; state officials say they’ll offer programs such as Weight Watchers and gym discounts to help people drop pounds and avoid the penalty.
But since we’re not here to obscure reality as an excuse to make everyone feel better, here’s the truth: According to a new report by the Stockholm International Water Institute, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, and the International Water Management Institute, about half of all the food produced worldwide goes to waste. The report states that the amount of food we produce is more than enough to feed the world’s population, but between our inefficient (or nonexistent) distribution systems and our ridiculous practice of tossing out perfectly good food, a big chunk of humanity goes hungry while another eats itself into an epidemic.
More depressing highlights:
• Are Olympic cheaters slipping through the cracks?
• Turns out it’s not just the uninsured who are getting screwed by medical bills: Those with insurance are under water as well.
• Dear presidential candidates: No matter which of you wins, you’ll be receiving a $9 billion bill for global warming. Please pay accordingly.
• Do degenerating brain cells make us hungrier (and thus fatter) as we age?
The definition of addiction has been expanding all over the place, with rehab programs springing up for Internet addicts and class action lawsuits hinging on whether gambling falls under the addiction umbrella. Given the latest obesity studies proclaiming the eventual corpulence of everyone in America, it’s worth asking: Is overeating an addiction, and should it be treated like one?
So far, research on obesity has followed pretty much the same line as research on gambling, Web surfing, and other compulsive behaviors: When the brains of an overeater, compulsive gambler, etc. are examined, their increases and reductions in dopamine receptors follow similar patterns to those in drug addicts.
Now, a new drug developed to treat drug addition has also been shown to cause rapid weight loss. Called vigabatrin, the drug is currently in the clinical test phase for cocaine and methamphetamine dependence.
Well, so much for that whole “curb obesity by 2010” plan: The latest report from the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation says that obesity rates rose in 37 states in the past year, while not a single state saw a decrease. For 19 of the 37, this was their third straight year on the obesity rising list.
So which states were the fattest? The South has typically gotten slapped with the “most obese” label, and 2008 is no exception. Mississippi nabbed the top slot, with 31.7 percent of its adults qualifying as obese. West Virginia and Alabama were next, with obesity rates of 30.6 percent and 30.1 percent respectively. No surprise, Mississippi also had the highest rates of physical inactivity and hypertension, and tied for second highest in diabetes. Colorado was the only state in the union with an obesity rate of less than 20 percent—but is still higher than 15 percent, the government’s target for every state by 2010.
And what has the federal government been doing to help turn the tide of this ever-rising trend? The report mentions the following efforts (and shortcomings):
• Americans aren’t the only casualty of a shrinking federal budget: Facing lack of funds, the National Center for Atmospheric Research shut down a program focused on helping poor countries forecast and deal with droughts, floods, and other climate-related disasters.
• The latest in obesity research technology: virtual reality studies.