Beware friends and fam­ily, obe­sity is catch­ing

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Health - Com­piled by Dr Chris­tine White

OBE­SITY is of­ten de­scribed as an ‘‘ epi­demic’’ — as the num­ber of af­fected peo­ple con­tin­ues to rise, it has been likened to a con­ta­gious dis­ease. Now re­searchers have found that obe­sity may in­deed be con­ta­gious, through so­cial net­works. Pub­lished this week in theNew Eng­landJour­nalofMedicine , the study shows that when a per­son be­comes obese, there is a dra­matic in­crease in the chances that those around them will also be­come obese. Their close friends have a 57 per cent in­creased risk of obe­sity, their sib­lings have a 40 per cent in­creased risk and their spouse has a 37 per cent in­creased risk. The find­ings were based on 12,067 adults who took part in the Fram­ing­ham Heart Study be­tween 1971 and 2003. Par­tic­i­pants un­der­went fre­quent med­i­cal as­sess­ments, and pro­vided in­for­ma­tion about their fam­ily and friends. Re­searchers con­structed a map of the ge­netic and so­cial re­la­tion­ships in the group, and com­pared it to body mass in­dex. The great­est ef­fect was among friends rather than rel­a­tives, sug­gest­ing that a per­son be­com­ing obese can in­flu­ence what their friends con­sider to be an ap­pro­pri­ate body size. NEnglJMed 2007;357:370-379 (Chris­takis NA, et al) BA­BIES younger than four weeks old are vul­ner­a­ble to sud­den death while in a seated po­si­tion, warns a new study in the Archivesof Disea­seinChild­hood . Re­searchers an­a­lysed ev­ery case of sud­den un­ex­pected death that oc­curred in ba­bies up to 12 months of age in the Cana­dian Prov­ince of Que­bec be­tween 1991 and 2000. Dur­ing this pe­riod 534 ba­bies died and the cause of death was fully in­ves­ti­gated in 508. Sev­en­teen (3.3 per cent) of the 508 deaths had oc­curred in ba­bies who were seated up­right, usu­ally in a car seat. Pre­ma­ture ba­bies were not at greater risk com­pared to full-term in­fants. But those aged less than one month were al­most four times as likely to die sud­denly while seated as were older ba­bies. There is no ques­tion that car safety seats must be used when trav­el­ling with in­fants, say the au­thors, but par­ents should avoid seat­ing very young ba­bies up­right. ArchDisChild 2007;doi:10.1136/adc.2007.119180 (Cote A, et al) CHOLES­TEROL lev­els should be kept low to pre­vent heart dis­ease, but a new study in the Jour­naloftheAmer­i­canCol­le­geof Car­di­ol­ogy has found a sur­pris­ing link be­tween low choles­terol and can­cer. Many peo­ple take drugs called statins to lower their lev­els of low-den­sity lipopro­tein (LDL) choles­terol. The study ex­am­ined all of the large clin­i­cal tri­als of statin ther­apy con­ducted prior to Novem­ber 2005, in­volv­ing 41,173 pa­tients. They found one ad­di­tional in­ci­dent of can­cer per 1000 pa­tients with low LDL lev­els when com­pared to pa­tients with higher LDL lev­els. The can­cers were not of any sin­gle type or lo­ca­tion, and the find­ings do not prove that statins cause can­cer. But cer­tain as­pects of low­er­ing LDL with statins re­main con­tro­ver­sial, say the au­thors, and merit fur­ther re­search. JAmCol­lCar­diol 2007;50:409-418 (Al­sheikh-Ali AA, et al) SUN ex­po­sure dur­ing child­hood may lower the risk of de­vel­op­ing mul­ti­ple scle­ro­sis (MS), ac­cord­ing to re­search in the cur­rent is­sue of Neu­rol­ogy . The au­thors sur­veyed 79 pairs of iden­ti­cal twins with the same ge­netic risk for MS, where only one twin had MS. They were asked whether they or their twin spent more time out­doors dur­ing hot days, cold days, and sum­mer, and which twin spent more time sun tan­ning, go­ing to the beach and play­ing team sports as a child. Over­all, the twin with MS spent less time in the sun as a child than the twin who did not have MS. De­pend­ing on the ac­tiv­ity, the twin who spent more time out­doors had a 25 to 57 per cent re­duced risk of de­vel­op­ing MS. For ex­am­ple, the twin who spent more time sun-tan­ning had a 49 per cent lower risk of de­vel­op­ing MS than their ge­net­i­cally iden­ti­cal sib­ling. Neu­rol­ogy 2007;69:381-388 (Is­lam T, et al) OLDER adults who can­not read and un­der­stand ba­sic health in­for­ma­tion have a 52 per cent greater risk of death over a fiveyear pe­riod than those with ad­e­quate ‘‘ health lit­er­acy’’, ac­cord­ing to a re­port in the ArchivesofIn­ter­nalMedicine this week. At the start of the study in 1997, 3260 Amer­i­can pa­tients aged 65 and older com­pleted a test of health lit­er­acy in­volv­ing two read­ing pas­sages and four math­e­mat­i­cal prob­lems. Scores ranged from zero to 100, in­di­cat­ing in­ad­e­quate (zero to 55), mar­ginal (56 to 66) or ad­e­quate (67 to 100) health lit­er­acy. The Na­tional Death In­dex was then used to iden­tify par­tic­i­pants who died over the next five years. Over­all, 64.2 per cent of par­tic­i­pants had ad­e­quate health lit­er­acy, 11.2 per cent had mar­ginal health lit­er­acy and 24.5 per cent had in­ad­e­quate health lit­er­acy. A to­tal of 815 peo­ple (25 per cent) died dur­ing the fol­low-up pe­riod, in­clud­ing 39.4 per cent of those with in­ad­e­quate health lit­er­acy, 28.7 per cent of those with mar­ginal health lit­er­acy and only 18.9 per cent of those whose health lit­er­acy was ad­e­quate. ArchIn­ternMed 2007;167:1503-1509 (Baker DW, et al) GOATS could soon be used to pro­tect peo­ple against nerve gas poi­son­ing, with sci­en­tists find­ing a way to pro­duce large amounts of the an­ti­dote in their milk. Nerve gas and some in­sec­ti­cides con­tain toxic organophos­phates, which poi­son the ner­vous sys­tem. Hu­mans can pro­duce small amounts of an en­zyme called bu­tyryl­cholinesterase that can bind to organophos­phates and pre­vent their ef­fects, but not enough to sur­vive a nerve gas at­tack. Cur­rently, the en­zyme is pro­duced by ex­tract­ing it from hu­man blood, but this process is slow and yields only small amounts. In the Pro­ceed­ing­soft­heNa­tion­alA­cademy ofS­ciences this week, sci­en­tists de­scribe a new method of pro­duc­tion in which they in­serted the gene for the hu­man en­zyme into goat em­bryos. The re­sult­ing fe­male an­i­mals were all healthy, and pro­duced large quan­ti­ties of the an­ti­dote in their milk. When the an­ti­dote was pu­ri­fied from the milk and in­jected into guinea pigs, it re­mained ac­tive, show­ing that it is pos­si­ble to pro­duce enough an­ti­dote from goats for the treat­ment of ex­po­sure in peo­ple. ProcNatlA­cadS­ciUSA 2007;doi:10.1073/ pnas.0702756104 (Huang YJ, et al) Want to know more? Items are ref­er­enced where pos­si­ble. A ref­er­ence such as ‘‘ 2007;35:18-25’’ means the source ar­ti­cle was pub­lished on pages 18-25 in vol­ume num­ber 35 of the pub­li­ca­tion, in 2007. A doi num­ber or web­site ad­dress is used for re­search pub­lished on a jour­nal’s web­site.

Gas at­tack: Goat’s milk may be the an­ti­dote

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