Category Archives: Health

Chart of the day: What makes us feel stressed


From Stress in America™: Coping with Change [open access]:

blog-stress

Another new report offers some meaningful insight into the reasons the White House is now occupied by the Orange Abomination.

Each of us suffers from stress to one degree or another, be it from our health, our family life, our friends, or any one the myriad factors at play in our lives.

But some stresses are more general, emotional themes at work in communities states, and nations.

And those external stresses and the anxieties we feel because of them, the ones held in common by so many,  offer a fertile medium for ideological contagion by folks skilled at manipulating fears and capitalizing on the mass anxieties they mobilize.

A new study from the American Psychological Association looks at the fears held in common, and the stressors they reveal are precoisely the fears Donald Trump aroused, mobilized, and exploited in his drive to win the Oval Office:

Two-thirds of Americans say they are stressed about the future of our nation, including a majority of both Democrats and Republicans, according to the American Psychological Association’s (APA) report Stress in America™: Coping with Change. [open access].

More than half of Americans (57 percent) say the current political climate is a very or somewhat significant source of stress, and nearly half (49 percent) say the same about the outcome of the election, according to an APA poll conducted in January.

While Democrats were more likely than Republicans (72 percent vs. 26 percent) to report the outcome of the 2016 presidential election as a significant source of stress, a majority of Republicans (59 percent) said the future of the nation was a significant source of stress for them, compared with 76 percent of Democrats.

“The stress we’re seeing around political issues is deeply concerning, because it’s hard for Americans to get away from it,” said Katherine C. Nordal, PhD, APA’s executive director for professional practice . “We’re surrounded by conversations, news and social media that constantly remind us of the issues that are stressing us the most.”

Nordal also noted that while APA is seeing continued stress around politics, the survey also showed an increased number of people reporting that acts of terrorism, police violence toward minorities and personal safety are adding to their stress levels.

These results come on the heels of APA survey results released last fall that found 52 percent of Americans reported that the presidential election was a significant source of stress. That survey was conducted online in August 2016 among 3,511 adults 18+ living in the U.S. by Harris Poll on behalf of the APA. To better understand these political stressors and assess potential long-term effects, APA commissioned an additional survey, conducted online by Harris Poll in early January 2017, among 1,019 adults ages 18+ who reside in the U.S. , asking adults once again to rate the sources of their stress, including the political climate, the future of our nation and the outcome of the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Between August 2016 and January 2017, the overall average reported stress level of Americans rose from 4.8 to 5.1, on a scale where 1 means little or no stress and 10 means a great deal of stress, according to the APA survey. This represents the first significant increase in the 10 years since the Stress in America survey began. At the same time, more Americans said that they experienced physical and emotional symptoms of stress in the prior month, health symptoms that the APA warns could have long-term consequences.

Continue reading

Poor teens go hungry as younger sibs are fed


From Johns Hopkins University, an alarming finger about hunger and poverty in the United States:

In very poor families, teenagers are going hungry twice as often as their younger siblings, a new Johns Hopkins University study finds.

Parents first forgo food themselves, skipping meals to feed their children. But if there still isn’t enough for everyone, the study found parents will feed younger children before teenagers, regularly leaving the older kids—teen boys in particular—without enough to eat.

“If you’re really poor, you try to sacrifice yourself first, but when you’re forced to make some choices, these parents are deciding to let the teens not have enough—if they have to give up on something, they’re giving up on teenagers,” said JHU economist Robert Moffitt, the lead author. “It’s hard to imagine parents having to do that.”

The study, which is the first to demonstrate how children’s food deprivation can differ by age and gender, even within the same household, is published as a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research [$5 to read].

Moffitt and co-author David C. Ribar of the Melbourne Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research analyzed a survey of about 1,500 extremely disadvantaged families in Boston, Chicago, and San Antonio. The survey asked parents, along with one of their children, about missing meals, checking in with them several times over six years, from 1999 to 2005.

The families had incomes well below the federal poverty line, making an average of about $1,558 a month, or $18,696 a year. Most were headed by single parents, unemployed, on welfare, and not college-educated. Most were minorities and raising children in rental homes.

Questions for the parents included:

  • At any time in the past 12 months, did you or other adults in your household cut the size of your meals or skip meals because there wasn’t enough money for food?
  • At any time in the past 12 months, did you or any other adults in your household not eat for a whole day because there wasn’t enough money for food?
  • In the past 12 months, were you ever hungry but didn’t eat because you couldn’t afford food?
  • Sometimes people lose weight because they don’t have enough to eat. In the past 12 months, did you lose weight because there wasn’t enough food?

In these disadvantaged families, researchers found 12 percent of the adults suffered from extreme food hardship, answering “yes” to several of these questions. At the same time, about 4 percent of the children went hungry.

Continue reading

Germans impose fracking rules, ban chemical use


Chemical fracking, the use of chemically infused high pressure water to blast apart layers of underground shale to free trapped oil and gas, is the rule in the U.S., despite mounting evidence that some of those chemicals are toxic and are invading local water supplies.

But not in Germany, thanks to new legislation that bans chemical fracking and sets new limits of fracking using water alone.

Still, that won’t solve that earthquake problem.

From Deutsche Welle:

A new legislative package on the use of fracking in Germany went into effect on Saturday, following much heated debate.

The legislation largely bans a particularly controversial form of fracking and imposes stricter rules on fracking overall. The German parliament and the 16 German states had approved the laws in June and July of 2016 after years of push-and-pull over environmental concerns and economic interests.

For environmentalists, the new laws don’t go far enough: They want a complete ban on all types of fracking. “If we want to meet the climate goals set in Paris, we need a clear ban on every type of oil and gas fracking,” said Kai Niebert, the chairman of Deutscher Naturschutzring, an umbrella organization for German environmentalist groups.

Fracking – short for hydraulic fracturing – is a method used  for extracting fossil fuels. A mix of water, sand and chemicals is pushed into the ground at high pressure to press out gas or oil. It allows the extraction of previously out-of-reach resources, but also poses environmental risks.

The new German laws distinguish between “conventional fracking” and “unconventional fracking.”

Unconventional fracking is used when gas or oil is found not just embedded in rock strata, but bound to the stone. In these cases, the fossil fuel often no longer has gaseous or liquid form. Extremely high pressure and high amounts of fracking liquid – often containing highly toxic chemicals – are needed to extract the fuel.

That practice is now banned in Germany until at least 2021, with the exception of up to four test drillings for scientific purposes. The German parliament is set to reassess the ban in four years’ time.

Trump’s travel ban’s impact at the doctor’s office


While folks rightly invoke human rights and basic human decency to oppose the Trumpster’s travel ban, there are also purely pragmatic reasons for opposition.

On of those reasons is simple: An extreme travel ban could result in longer lines at the doctor’s office.

John Burkhardt and Mahshid Abir, two physician/academics from the University of Michigan medical school, explain in this essay from  The Conversation, an open source academic journal written for lay readers:

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Feb. 9 upheld the restraining order on President Trump’s immigration ban. A key argument used by the States of Washington and Minnesota was the negative impact of the ban on higher education, but an important corollary is the impact on medical care in the U.S. While the world waits for a final decision on the matter, potentially from the Supreme Court, it’s critical to look at the potential ramifications of the ban.

Regardless of the ultimate ruling, the travel ban has already had significant consequences for people from the seven targeted majority Muslim countries and American citizens. Doctors are among those people directly affected – and that has big implications for health care delivery in U.S. hospitals, particularly those in rural America and inner-city safety net hospitals.

Physicians who are citizens of these nations who were traveling outside the country at the time of the ban have been detained or refused access to the U.S.

Larger-scale, lasting effects of a ban on the graduate medical education system are likely to be even more severe and may further strain an already overstretched health care system and affect the care of communities across the U.S. Indeed, the president of the American Medical Association already has written a letter to the Department of Homeland Security, explaining how the ban could affect those who are already underserved by limiting doctors from other countries.

As physicians involved with educating and training the next generation of doctors, we see dire consequences for health care delivery in our country if the travel ban is reinstated.

Even though the ban has been temporarily lifted, the timing could not be worse for international applicants hoping to train in the U.S. While new resident physicians typically begin on July 1, the match process that allots positions occurs much sooner. On Feb. 22, residency program directors must submit their rank list of which applicants they would like to have in their program.

Therefore, without clear signs that travel for foreign applicants will be possible by July, program directors who want to protect their training program from staffing shortages may decide against ranking these applicants. The loss of a single incoming class of international medical graduates will significantly decrease the number of residents in training and physician capacity in hospitals and health care systems across the U.S.

Graduates from outside the United States constitute 26 percent of the U.S. graduate medical training. These foreign medical graduates usually fill resident training positions that are left vacant after medical schools match U.S.-based students to residency programs.

Therefore, foreign graduates typically do not take spots away from graduates of American medical schools, but instead provide medical care in hospitals that will otherwise be understaffed. These include rural hospitals around the country, where it is especially hard to recruit physicians, and safety net hospitals serving the poor.

Even if all current residency positions could be filled with U.S. medical school graduates and eliminate the need for any additional resident physicians from outside the U.S., the projected demand for physicians in the near future will still not be met.

Continue reading

A plastic that makes you fat, starting in the womb


And it does it by interfering with the body’s signalling system that tells you when you’ve eaten enough.

We posted reams about studies of bisphenols, the chemicals widely present in food packaging, including cans and bottles, and linked to a wide rabnge of disorders including breast cancer, endometriosis, ADHD, asthma, behaviorial problems in girls, birth defects, prostate cancer and lowered sperm counts, and more.

And now a new study reveals that the chemical might play a crucial role in America’s growing [literally] obesity epidemic.

From the Endocrine Society:

An expectant mother’s exposure to the endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA) can raise her offspring’s risk of obesity by reducing sensitivity to a hormone responsible for controlling appetite, according to a mouse study published in the Endocrine Society’s journal Endocrinology.

BPA is a chemical found in a variety of food containers, including polycarbonate plastic water bottles and can linings. BPA can interfere with the endocrine system by mimicking estrogen, one of the main sex hormones found in women. Research indicates BPA exposure is nearly universal. More than 90 percent of people tested in population studies had detectable levels of BPA and compounds produced when it is metabolized by the body in their urine.

As of 2014, nearly 100 epidemiological studies had been published tying BPA to various health problems, according to the Society and IPEN’s Introduction to Endocrine-Disrupting Chemicals.

The new study found mice born to mothers exposed to BPA were less responsive to the hormone leptin, which is sometimes called the satiety hormone. Leptin helps inhibit the appetite by reducing hunger pangs when the body does not need energy. The hormone sends signals to the hypothalamus region of the brain to suppress the appetite.

“Our findings show that bisphenol A can promote obesity in mice by altering the hypothalamic circuits in the brain that regulate feeding behavior and energy balance,” said the study’s senior author, Alfonso Abizaid, Ph.D., of the Department of Neuroscience at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada. “Low level prenatal exposure to BPA delays a surge of leptin after birth that allows mice to develop the proper response to the hormone. BPA exposure permanently alters the neurobiology in the affected mice, making them prone to obesity as adults.”

Continue reading

Petition drive seeks an end to Roundup in Europe


We’ve written lots about the widespread use of glyphosate, the herbicide used in Monsanto’s GMO crops, engineered to tolerate the chemical and ensure big profits, since both the seeds and the poison are manufactured by the same company.

First marketed as a drain cleaner in 1964, the chemical’s use as a pesticide was discovered and patented a decade later by Monsanto.

While Monsanto insists the chemical is safe, an exhaustive 2016 scientific review of the glyphosate-based herbicides {GBHs] published in Environmental Health [open access] concluded:

  1. GBHs are the most heavily applied herbicide in the world and usage continues to rise;
  2. Worldwide, GBHs often contaminate drinking water sources, precipitation, and air, especially in agricultural regions;
  3. The half-life of glyphosate in water and soil is longer than previously recognized;
  4. Glyphosate and its metabolites are widely present in the global soybean supply;
  5. Human exposures to GBHs are rising;
  6. Glyphosate is now authoritatively classified as a probable human carcinogen;
  7. Regulatory estimates of tolerable daily intakes for glyphosate in the United States and European Union are based on outdated science.

Glyphosate” Unsafe on Any Plate, a 17 November 2016 from Food Democracy Now! looked at glyphosate levels in breakfast foods and snacks,m comparing to the number from recent scientific studies on the chemicals harm to animals.

The report notes “With the widespread increase in glyphosate use over the past 20 years and the fact that independent science has confirmed low level exposure to Roundup causes liver and kidney damage at only 0.05 ppb glyphosate equivalent, as reflected by changes in function of over 4000 genes, the American public should be concerned about glyphosate residues on their food. Additional research points to harmful impacts at levels between 10 ppb and 700 ppb.”

And here are the numbers:

Glyphosate/Roundup Damage by the Numbers (ppb)

0.1 ppb: Roundup (0.05 ppb glyphosate) altered the gene function of over 4,000 genes in the livers and kidneys of rats.

0.1 ppb: Roundup (0.05 ppb glyphosate) severe organ damage in rats.

0.1 ppb: Permitted level for glyphosate and all other herbicides in EU tap water.

10 ppb: Toxic effects  on the livers of fish.

700 ppb: Alterations of kidneys and livers in rats.

700 ppb: Permitted level for glyphosate in U.S. tap water.

1,125.3 ppb (1.1253 mg/kg): Level found in General Mills’ Cheerios.

The report also features two illuminating maps showing the spread of the chemical’s use on America’s farmlands:

blog-glyphosate-1

blog-glyphosate-2

And now a coalition of European environmental groups is calling for an end of glyphosate used on the continent.

From the Health and Environment Alliance [HEAL]:

Campaigners and activists met in Brussels and other European cities (Madrid, Rome, Berlin and Paris) today to launch a European Citizens’ Initiative (ECI) to ban glyphosate, reform the EU pesticide approval process, and set mandatory targets to reduce pesticide use in the EU. The goal is to collect at least one million signatures from Europeans and submit the petition before the Commission’s next move to renew, withdraw or extend the EU licence of glyphosate.

Glyphosate – the most widely used weedkiller in Europe – is also known as Roundup, a Monsanto brandname. In 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) linked glyphosate to cancer. The European Chemicals Agency (ECHA) is currently working on a safety assessment.

Génon K. Jensen, Executive Director at the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL) said: “Thousands of tonnes of glyphosate are sprayed each year on our fields, in our countryside and our neighbourhoods. It is defined as a ‘probable carcinogen’ by IARC, the international agency recognised as the gold standard in carcinogen identification. We should not be using any weedkiller linked to cancer. If we are serious about protecting people’s health, and giving our wildlife a chance to recover, then our governments must step in to ban the most toxic pesticides, and reduce the overall amount that is used.”

Franziska Achterberg, Greenpeace EU food policy director said: “We are told that pesticides are strictly regulated to prevent harm. Yet they continue to be approved in secret meetings, based on unpublished industry studies. This kind of secrecy panders to industry and prevents proper scrutiny of EU food safety decisions. Regulators – not industry – should be responsible for ensuring public safety based on published scientific evidence.”

Oliver Moldenhauer, Executive Director at WeMove.EU said: “This year we have a real opportunity to finally get glyphosate out of our fields and off our plates. Our politicians need to hear this message loud and clear: they must protect citizens and the environment by banning this dangerous weedkiller and put us on the path towards a pesticide-free future.”

The ECI is backed by a broad, pan-European coalition of 38 organisations from 15 countries, including Corporate Europe Observatory (CEO), Greenpeace, the Health and Environment Alliance (HEAL), Pesticide Action Network Europe (PAN-E), and WeMove.EU.

More information is available on www.stopglyphosate.org

American invader threatens Africa’s food supplies


It’s a stealthy invader, an illegal immigrant, and it threatens to cause still more instability in a continent struggling with conflict and First World profiteers, but its impacts portend famine and yet more instability and violence.

Making matters worse, the invasion comes at a critical moment when the continent faces imminent threats from drought and climate change.

From MercoPress:

New research announced by scientists at CABI (Center for Agriculture and Bioscience Information) confirms that a recently introduced crop-destroying armyworm caterpillar is now spreading rapidly across Mainland Africa and could spread to tropical Asia and the Mediterranean in the next few years, becoming a major threat to agricultural trade worldwide.

Fall armyworm is native to North and South America and can devastate maize production, the staple food crop that is essential for food security in large areas of Africa. It destroys young plants, attacking their growing points and burrowing into the cobs.

An indigenous pest in the Americas, it has not previously been established outside the region. In the past year, it was found in parts of West Africa for the first time and now a UK based CABI-led investigation has confirmed it to be present in Ghana. It can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within a few years.

Plant doctors working in CABI’s Plantwise plant clinics, which work to help farmers lose less of what they grow, have found evidence of two species of fall armyworm in Ghana for the first time. This has been confirmed by DNA analysis undertaken at CABI’s molecular laboratory in Egham, Surrey (UK). In Africa, researchers are working to understand how it got there, how it spreads, and how farmers can control it in an environmentally friendly way.

CABI Chief Scientist, Dr. Matthew Cock said, “We are now able to confirm that the fall armyworm is spreading very rapidly outside the Americas, and it can be expected to spread to the limits of suitable African habitat within just a few years. It likely travelled to Africa as adults or egg masses on direct commercial flights and has since been spread within Africa by its own strong flight ability and carried as a contaminant on crop produce.”

More threats loom: Drought and climate change

The introduction to a very alarming report from IRIN tells the basics:

The once-fertile fields of South Africa’s Western Cape region are filled with scorched patches of earth, dying plants, and wasted crops.

The scene is now common throughout eastern and southern Africa, as droughts for three consecutive years have decimated crops and caused widespread hunger. New research indicates that it is partly due to climate change driven by human action, which has worsened the El Niño weather phenomenon.

“This is about as bad as it has ever been,” said Chris Harvey, as he walked to his farm´s irrigation dam, where the water level has fallen six metres in 10 months.

“We might not be able to grow any vegetables next year,” his wife Sue added.

Dams in the area are drying out, symptomatic of the continent´s battle with years of poor rainfall. The droughts in eastern and southern Africa beginning in 2015 have affected tens of millions of people. The latest numbers from the UN suggest that 24 million people are facing food insecurity in eastern Africa alone, not counting millions of people in the southern region.

According to a new study published by the American Meteorological Society, such conditions will become increasingly normal as climate change takes its toll.

“We are advising governments to expect yearly disasters, droughts, floods, and also now diseases,” David Phiri, the UN´s food and agriculture coordinator in Southern Africa, told IRIN.