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General interest items edited by Janice Flahiff

[press release] Current nutrition labeling is hard to digest

Current nutrition labeling is hard to digest

From the 20 January 2015 McGill University press release

Study compares four types of nutrition labels, the least effective being the one currently required in Canada and the US.
PUBLISHED: 20 JAN 2015

Current government-mandated nutrition labeling is ineffective in improving nutrition, but there is a better system available, according to a study by McGill University researchers published in the December issue of the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences.

The researchers compared four different labeling systems and found that the Nutrition Facts label currently required on most food products in the US and Canada was least useable. That label, which lists the percent daily value of several nutrients, took more time to understand and led to nutrition choices hardly different from chance. Another label type, NuVal, enabled quick and nutritious choices. NuVal is a shelf sticker used in some American food markets, which indicates the overall nutritional value of each food item with a number from 1-100.

Resolving “nutrition conflicts”

“Food shoppers typically have a limited amount of time to make each food choice, and they find the Nutrition Facts labels to be confusing and difficult to use,” says Peter Helfer, lead author and PhD student in Psychology and Neuroscience at McGill. “One product may be low in fat, but high in sugar, while another product may be just the opposite. Nutrition Facts labels can highlight nutrition conflicts but fail to resolve them. Even educated and motivated shoppers have difficulty picking out the most nutritious product with these labels.”

NuVal scores are calculated by nutrition experts at several universities, including Yale, Harvard, and Northwestern, and emphasize both the positive and negative aspects of each food. By reducing nutritional content to a single number, NuVal labels resolve nutrition conflicts.

Two other labeling methods produced mixed results. The Traffic Light system used in the UK allowed for a bit more nutritious choices than chance. But it took more time to use, because the colors of several traffic lights have to be counted and compared. Labels that certify some foods as nutritious, but not others, are used in Denmark, Sweden, and Canada. These allowed quick decisions, but did not increase nutritious choices. “Such certification labels are not sufficiently discriminating to produce consistently better nutrition. They also create controversies about exactly where to draw the line between nutritious and harmful foods,” says co-author Thomas Shultz, Professor of Psychology and Computer Science at McGill.

The widespread availability of low-nutrition, high-calorie food is believed to be an important cause of an epidemic of obesity and associated diseases throughout the world. Shultz argues that “Empowering consumers to make healthier food choices with valid and useful nutrition labeling could help to stem this epidemic. If consumers have the information to make nutritious choices, this could nudge food sellers and producers to improve their products.”

Picture: compared labelling systems (%Daily Value, Traffic Light, NuVal, and Heart)

The effects of nutrition labeling on consumer food choice: a psychological experiment and computational model
Peter Helfer, Thomas R. Shultz
Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, Dec. 2014
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24913496

January 23, 2015 Posted by | Nutrition, Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

[Press release] Health spending is more efficient for men than for women

From the 12 December McGill University press release

Health expenditures show stronger association with gains in life expectancy for males than for females throughout the industrialized countries of the world

PUBLISHED: 12 DEC 2013

Health care spending is a large – and ever increasing – portion of government budgets. Improving its efficiency has therefore become critically important. In the first-ever study to estimate health spending efficiency by gender across 27 industrialized nations, researchers discovered significant disparities within countries, with stronger gains in life expectancy for men than for women in nearly every nation.

“We were surprised to find a large gender gap in spending efficiency throughout the industrialized countries of the world. The average life expectancy of women rose from 75.5 to 79.8 between 1991 and 2007, while that of men rose from 72.5 to 77.1. The improvement for men had a much stronger association with health expenditures.  In Canada, for example, a $100 increase in health expenditures was associated with a 1.26-month increase in life expectancy for women, compared to a 2.56-month increase for men,” said Douglas Barthold, lead author and doctoral candidate in the Department of Economics at McGill University.

In the United States, a $100 increase in spending was associated with a 0.04 month increase in life expectancy for women, compared to a 0.70 month increase for men. Men fared better in the most efficient countries, like Germany, Switzerland, and Italy, as well as in the least efficient countries, like the USA, Sweden, and Poland. Canada’s overall efficiency ranked 8th out of 27 countries. The United States ranked 22nd.

“Out of the 27 industrialized nations we studied, the United States ranks 25th when it comes to reducing women’s deaths. The country’s efficiency of investments in reducing men’s deaths is only slightly better – ranking 18 out of 27,” said Dr. Jody Heymann, senior author and Dean of the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.

The researchers examined the relationship between internationally comparable measures of health expenditures, and gender specific life expectancy, while accounting for differences in social expenditures, economic development, and health behaviors. The analysis used country-level data from 27 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries during the period 1991 to 2007.

“While there are large differences in the efficiency of health spending across countries, men have experienced greater life expectancy gains than women per health dollar spent within nearly every country,” said Barthold. The exact causes of the gender gap are unknown, thus highlighting the need for additional research on the topic. The study is coauthored by Prof. Arijit Nandi and José Mauricio Mendoza Rodríguez of McGill. The findings are published online in the First Look section of the American Journal of Public Health.

The study was part of the Healthier Societies Initiative at McGill University’s Institute for Health and Social Policy. The Healthier Societies Initiative is a research program funded by Arnold and Blema Steinberg, which informs the public on health care issues related to increasing costs, health quality and access in Canada and other leading economies. A new website, www.healthiersocieties.org, aims to improve health system understanding for the public and policy makers by offering user-friendly interactive visual tools, and allowing comparisons of policies and trends across provinces and nations.

 

December 13, 2013 Posted by | health care | , , , , | Leave a comment

How cranberries impact infection-causing bacteria

From the 15 July 2013 article at EurkeAlert

How cranberries impact infection-causing bacteria

Research points to potential role for cranberry derivatives in implantable medical devices

 IMAGE: Professor Nathalie Tufenkji is in her McGill University lab.

Click here for more information. 

Consuming cranberry products has been anecdotally associated with prevention of urinary tract infections (UTIs) for over 100 years. But is this popular belief a myth, or scientific fact?

In recent years, some studies have suggested that cranberries prevent UTIs by hindering bacteria from sticking to the walls of the urinary tract, thanks to phytochemicals known as proanthocyanidins (PACs). Yet the mechanisms by which cranberry materials may alter bacterial behaviour have not been fully understood.

Now, researchers in McGill University’s Department of Chemical Engineering are shedding light on the biological mechanisms by which cranberries may impart protective properties against urinary tract and other infections. Two new studies, spearheaded by Prof. Nathalie Tufenkji, add to evidence of cranberries’ effects on UTI-causing bacteria. The findings also point to the potential for cranberry derivatives to be used to prevent bacterial colonization in medical devices such as catheters.

In research results published online last month in the Canadian Journal of Microbiology, Prof. Tufenkji and members of her laboratory report that cranberry powder can inhibit the ability of Proteus mirabilis, a bacterium frequently implicated in complicated UTIs, to swarm on agar plates and swim within the agar. The experiments also show that increasing concentrations of cranberry powder reduce the bacteria’s production of urease, an enzyme that contributes to the virulence of infections.

These results build on previous work by the McGill lab, showing that cranberry materials hinder movement of other bacteria involved in UTIs. A genome-wide analysis of an uropathogenic E. colirevealed that expression of the gene that encodes for the bacteria’s flagellar filament was decreased in the presence of cranberry PACs.

The team’s findings are significant because bacterial movement is a key mechanism for the spread of infection, as infectious bacteria literally swim to disseminate in the urinary tract and to escape the host immune response.

“While the effects of cranberry in living organisms remain subject to further study, our findings highlight the role that cranberry consumption might play in the prevention of chronic infections,” Tufenkji says. “More than 150 million cases of UTI are reported globally each year, and antibiotic treatment remains the standard approach for managing these infections. The current rise of bacterial resistance to antibiotics underscores the importance of developing another approach.”

Another recent study led by Tufenkji in collaboration with McGill professor Showan Nazhat, a biomaterials expert at the Department of Mining and Materials Engineering, finds that cranberry-enriched silicone substrates impaired the spread of Proteus mirabilis. Those results, published online in the journal Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces, point to potential use for cranberry derivatives to hinder the spread of germs in implantable medical devices such as catheters, which are frequently implicated in UTIs.

“Based on the demonstrated bioactivity of cranberry, its use in catheters and other medical devices could someday yield considerable benefits to patient health,” Tufenkji says.

 

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Funding for the new studies was provided by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canada Research Chairs program, the Wisconsin Cranberry Board, the Cranberry Institute, the Fonds québécois de la recherche sur la nature et les technologies, and the Fonds de la recherche en santé du Québec.

Link to the Canadian Journal of Microbiology article: http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/doi/abs/10.1139/cjm-2012-0744#.UctRHjvqlLc

Link to the Colloids and Surfaces B: Biointerfaces article: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0927776513002348

 

 

July 19, 2013 Posted by | Medical and Health Research News | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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