Fried chicken is seen at a restaurant in Beirut, Lebanon July 27, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir - RC1E2DF6B700
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On the menu of “easy wins” to tackle unnecessary and premature death, eliminating transfats are a prominent and low-cost item. The World Health Organization’s call this week for governments to introduce a ban on the industrially-produced fats could save 500,000 lives a year globally from cardio-vascular disease.

“Transfats have a long shelf life and are solid at room temperature, but they are also solid in your coronary arteries and reduce the life expectancy of humans,” says Thomas Frieden, who oversaw a ban in New York when he was the city’s health commissioner.

Resolve to Save Lives, the initiative he leads at the non-profit Vital Strategies, will help provide advice and funding to guide the growing number of governments seeking to introduce bans. While manufacturers and caterers need a period to cut stocks and find new supplies, his experience is that the costs are low and consumers do not notice the difference.

There has been some moaning from industry and debate about how to precisely define a “ban”. A public consultation is now open. Yet he argues from his time in New York when the ban was imposed in 2006: “This is an issue on which industry didn’t want to fight us. It didn’t want to go to the court of public opinion and argue for the right to keep a poison you didn’t even know was in your food.”

Three questions

We talked to Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, the mental health charity, to mark mental health awareness week.

Is society making progress in tackling mental health?

We know there are certain groups who are increasingly affected, including in the UK younger women, older men and almost certainly children and young adults. There is a growing recognition that it’s a major issue and there’s a greater willingness to talk about individuals’ experiences. But we are still in the foothills of real change. 

What is driving mental health conditions?

We don’t know enough about the causes, but some of the plausible theories include the impact of social media; the growing pressures of a changing society; and difficulties in creating better connections between groups within our communities.

What are the solutions?

It’s about offering prevention with a place people can ask for advice; a place to treat where they can get access and feel confident to go; and a place to recover so they can then come back into work and society. There are at least three things that help with prevention: doing physical activity; having a place to think such as through mindfulness, art or music; and someone to talk to.


Returns on investment For every $1 invested in tackling non-communicable diseases in poorer countries there is a return of at least $7 in increased employment, productivity and longer lives, according to a WHO analysis. Spending an extra $1.27 per person per year would save $350bn — and 8m lives — by 2030, it says. (WHO)

News round-up

Air pollution crisis Brussels on Thursday referred six EU member states to Europe’s highest court over failure to clean up “significant and persistent” air pollution. This is the most high-profile enforcement action undertaken by the European Commission, the EU executive body, and is likely to lead to a bigger crackdown on diesel vehicles. It follows years of negotiation that failed to bring the countries into compliance with EU law.

Discuss the crisis with FT journalists and our special guests on Monday May 21. Ticket details here.

Ebola fears deepen The arrival of Ebola in an urban area of the Democratic Republic of Congo marked a "new phase" in the outbreak. A rapid global response and a new experimental vaccine had earlier raised hopes that the disease could be contained. (FT, Stat)

Diagnostic tests The WHO launched its first list of essential diagnostic tests, covering 58 common conditions and 55 global priority diseases such as HIV, TB and malaria. It mirrors the essential medicines list, serving as a reference for countries to develop their own provisions. Diagnostics influence about 70 per cent of healthcare decisions but account for only a tiny amount of health spending. (WHO, The Conversation)

World health snapshot The WHO's compendium of global statistics shows less than half the world's population gets the health services they need; 15,000 children under five die every day; and 13m people die before the age of 70 from cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, diabetes and cancer — mostly in poorer countries. Here are the key things to watch at next week's World Health Assembly. (WHO, Global Health Now).

Cash for access The top lawyer from Novartis is leaving the Swiss drugmaker after revelations it paid more than $1.2m to a company owned by Michael Cohen, President Trump's personal attorney. Although not illegal, the move comes amid controversy over whether multinationals sought improper access to the new president's inner circle. (FT) 

HIV 2.0 A drug-resistant strain of HIV is rapidly evolving and likely to start in the poorest countries. A podcast discusses why colonialism could be to blame for high female HIV rates in Africa. Pepfar, the US programme for Aids relief, now supports more than 14m people on HIV treatment. (SciDevNet, UN Dispatch, Pepfar)

Migraine breakthrough The US Food and Drug Administration passed the first of a new class of migraine drugs. About 39m people in the US alone live with the condition. Manufacturer Amgen said the list price would be $6,900 a year. (WebMD)

Obesity services A report from British politicians called for a national obesity strategy, weight management training, a clampdown on TV advertising, cost/benefit analysis on early intervention, and an investigation into whether the condition should be classed as a disease — and how that would impact the NHS. (APPG)

In search of sleep A British late-night newsreader afflicted with chronic insomnia highlighted a condition suffered by about one-third of people in the UK. New research sheds light on how melatonin promotes sleep and could lead to new sleep therapies. (BBC, Eureka)

AI and accountability The Nuffield Council on Bioethics examines ethical questions around the use of artificial intelligence in healthcare such as lines of responsibility, data security and privacy and potential loss of human contact for patients. (Nuffield Council)

Food as medicine A state-funded study in California is testing whether providing nutritious meals to chronically-ill poor people will affect their condition or the cost of their medical care. (NYT)

Smoke signals. Philip Morris International's Iquos smoking device can harvest personal data about smoking habits. The company says it extracts the information only to repair malfunctions. (Reuters)

Assisted dying Guernsey, the small self-governing island off the south-coast of England, is voting on bill that will make it the first place in the British Isles to allow medically-assisted suicide. Some are concerned over the potential for exploitation, although similar laws exist across the world and in some US states. (CNN)

Outbreak-themed speed-dating "Ask me about brain-eating amoebas". A look at how the US Centers for Disease Control target recruits for disease investigation. (WSJ)

Best from the Journals

Discrimination in death China and India have long been identified as countries with abnormally high female death rates, especially among the young. This study highlights the need to tackle sex discrimination in India, especially in northern districts, which leads to 239,000 excess deaths of girls under five. (The Lancet Global Health) 

Tackling superbugs Increased antibiotic resistance among refugees and asylum seekers in Europe and in areas such as refugee camps highlights the need for better living conditions and access to healthcare for antibiotic-resistant infections. A Lancet editorial argues for an international agreement to ensure antibiotics are available for future generations. (The Lancet) 

Fungal fears Worldwide resistance to antifungal drugs poses a serious threat to health and food security. Mortality rates from fungal diseases are now greater than for malaria or breast cancer and are comparable to those from tuberculosis and HIV. (Science) 

Body clock blues Disruption to our daily circadian rhythms is associated with a greater risk of mental health problems such as depression and bipolar disorder, according to a large new study. Listen to one of the authors discuss the study. (The Lancet Psychiatry and podcast, 13m)

Drug marketing TV ads for drugs in the US focus more on lifestyle improvements than symptoms of illness. Generalised phrases such as "now you can…." take precedence over more educational explanations. (Annals of Family Medicine)

Final push on polio The final stretch of the long battle against polio is proving difficult thanks to global insecurity. There are three remaining endemic countries (Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Pakistan) while Syria and Congo have been affected by a form mutated from the oral vaccine. (BMJ) 

Marijuana first Declining cigarette and alcohol use in US adolescents has been mirrored by relatively stable or periods of slightly increasing marijuana use. Increasing numbers use marijuana before they have tried cigarettes or drink. (Prevention Science) 

Podcast of the week

Generic drugs When there is little or no competition for generic drugs, manufacturers can substantially increase prices, leading to shortages. One solution is to establish a non-profit generic-drug manufacturer to produce affordable versions of essential drugs and ensure a stable supply. (New England Journal of Medicine, 12m)

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Final thought

Many people feel becoming irrelevant or invisible once they hit "old age," especially in youth-centric western societies, and end up with ill-health. Can “active-ageing” initiatives offer a solution? (Kaiser Health News)

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