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A city in the north of England provided some welcome news this week for the fight against obesity.
Leeds has become one of the first places to see childhood obesity going into reverse, thanks, it is thought, to a strategy of targeting pre-school children and training community health workers to promote healthy eating. The early-years strategy will be a priority for Britain's new public health minister.
The report was a rare bright spot among research presented at the European Congress on Obesity in Glasgow. Subjects included the alarming levels of childhood obesity across Europe; the link between high body mass index and early death; a jump in obese pregnant woman; and the pernicious role of social media “influencers”.
Preventive measures such as using predictor tools, screening, improving parental support, and encouraging breastfeeding are the most efficient way of dealing with obesity. But, given the scale of the problem, the WHO said governments also had to improve their management of the condition and address problems of funding, fragmented care and a shortage of specialist personnel.
Without concerted action, it warned, the current generation of children could have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.
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Professor Dame Carol Black, outgoing principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, and chair of the advisory group of the Britain’s Healthiest Workplace survey and awards run in conjunction with the FT. Registrations are open until June 14.
Why is a focus on health at work so important?
The workplace is a very good place to do public health. We really want employees to be as healthy at work as possible. You have a sitting population and you have the opportunity to influence them. That’s good for their own health and for employers it means a more productive workforce. There is a dual benefit
What interventions make most difference?
If you start with bike schemes, fresh fruit and yoga, it’s plastering over the cracks. The bedrock is having a workplace with good practice and good leadership. It’s about allowing employees to feel they are in a place that supports them, where they are listened to and have a sense of ownership and autonomy. People get stressed, have depression, suffering from poor sleep, bullying and financial worries. Tackling these issues needs the board engaged, perhaps a non-executive director taking on responsibility, and supporting and developing middle and line managers to support their employees.
What steps have you taken at your college to help?
When I started seven years ago, we just complied with Health & Safety Executive regulations extremely well. Since then, with our domestic bursar we have put in place a health and wellbeing charter with standards on management and mental health against which we are judged. I have led the programme, held round table discussions and discuss health and wellbeing every week with heads of department. There’s so much more to do but I think we’ve started the journey.
Polio endgame There was a “limited window of opportunity” to abolish polio, said the Global Polio Eradication Initiative as it launched its new five-year strategy. Plans include the use of novel oral vaccines, smartphone technologies, and a new hub in Jordan to better serve polio-endemic Afghanistan and Pakistan. (Telegraph, Devex, The Hindu)
HIV breakthrough The risk of HIV-positive men on antiretroviral therapy transmitting the virus through condomless sex is “effectively zero,” according to a landmark study. Here's a look at thirty-years of medical developments in HIV and Aids. (The Lancet, Guardian)
Ebola triple blow “The world has never seen anything like this” commented the WHO chief as the Ebola crisis in DRC worsened, financial support failed to materialise, and health workers came under attack. (Nature, WHO)
Superbug struggle Drug-resistant infections could cause 10m deaths a year by 2050 and as much economic damage as the global financial crisis, a UN report said. It urged countries to scale up plans; beef up regulatory systems; invest in R&D; and phase out antimicrobials used to promote growth in agriculture. (WHO)
Bloody scandal The public inquiry into Britain's worse treatment disaster, the NHS blood transfusions scandal, opened this week. Some 4,500 people were infected with hepatitis C and HIV after being given contaminated blood from the US at the height of the Aids epidemic. More than 2,000 are thought to have died. (FT)
Dengue drug US regulators approved Sanofi's Dengvaxia, the world's only vaccine for dengue, albeit with major restrictions. The drug, originally approved in Mexico, has generated controversy over its safety. (Stat)
Opioid crisis The founder of Inys Therapeutics became the first pharma chief to be convicted in a case linked to the US opioid crisis. In the UK, all opioid medicines will have to carry addiction warnings on labels. There has been a 60 per cent rise in opioid painkiller prescriptions in the last decade. (Forbes, BBC)
Vax video The FT's Crunched team looks at the patterns behind the current measles outbreaks. This week's news includes a quarantined Scientologist cruise ship and an attempt to pin blame on illegal immigrants. Some anti-vaxxers are escalating their arguments. (FT video, NBC, Snopes, CBC)
Pharma bullish Results season saw some of the world's biggest drugmakers optimistic for the year ahead, buoyed by growth in China, the industry's biggest emerging market, forecast to hit $175bn by 2022. Here's a study that examines pharmaceutical protections in US trade deals. (FT, NEJM)
Health data Regulators must modernise and strengthen rules around healthcare data, now fuelling a $76bn market that has grown by 379 per cent over the past two years. The value of a medical record has been estimated at ten times the value of a credit card and should be treated with the same rigour as physical medical specimens. (FT, Lancet)
Smoke signals Philip Morris International's heated tobacco devices got the green light from US regulators, enabling it to compete with vaping company Juul — currently on a major lobbying offensive — in the market for tobacco alternatives. CVS, the US drugstore chain, became the first big brand to cut ties with ad agencies that promote tobacco or vaping. A new study casts doubt on the idea that e-cigarettes help curb smoking. (FT, Ad Age, NYT, AJPM)
Pot(ted) history Cannabis was used for medicinal purposes in ancient Egypt and sold over the counter in the UK in the 19th century: how did it end up being classed as a harmful drug? Here’s a series on the “hidden titans of pot”. (BMJ, Boston Globe)
Male pill Customised jockstraps are among the hacks used as male contraceptives. Why has it taken so long to develop a pill for men? (The Guardian)
Music and dementia A BBC programme explores the role of music in fighting dementia. A campaign aims to make music available for everyone living with the disease. (BBC iPlayer, Music for Dementia 2020)
A universal problem Depression is a “fundamental” human experience and not a uniquely western phenomenon. Early theories even suggested the “African mind” lacked the “psychological development and sense of personal responsibility necessary to experience depression.” (Guardian)
Evaluating emotions Paraguay, followed by other Latin American countries, is the world's most positive nation, according to Gallup's Global State of Emotions. Crisis-stricken Chad, marred by violence and the collapse of basic services and where more than 60 per cent of the population had experienced physical pain, was the most negative. (Gallup)
Best from the journals
Child and teen deaths More of the world's children are reaching adulthood, thanks to a fall in deaths due to diarrhoea, lower respiratory infection, and other infectious diseases, but they are still plagued by non-fatal illnesses and disability. (Jama)
Mending myopia Some 538m people suffer impaired vision from uncorrected myopia, at a cost to the world economy of $244bn. An investment of $20bn could eliminate the problem. (Ophthalmology)
Role of nurses Nurses — if adequately resourced — are uniquely placed to help tackle the social determinants of health. They are trained to understand contributing causes of illness such as poverty, access to education or housing, and struggles with addiction. (Health Affairs)
Gene-edited babies An analysis of the Chinese “designer-babies” episode shows a lack not only of basic medical ethics but also proper understanding of genetics and gene editing. Creating “designer babies” in any case is easier said than done. (PLoS Biology, NPR)
Mental health and the young UK doctors are increasingly worried about the increase in mental-health consultations with young people, a problem exacerbated by cuts in funding for specialist services. (BMJ)
Work stress A new study adds to evidence that work stress and poor sleep among those with high blood pressure can have serious health consequences. (European Journal of Preventive Cardiology)
Gambling control The time is ripe for a public health response to gambling, moving away from the practice of pinning blame on problem gamblers (“We support all customers to stay in control”) and on to the industry itself. Much of the UK research on gambling is industry-funded. (The Lancet)
Podcast of the week
Immunisation Struggles with anti-vaxxers have revived debates about the role of immunisation. Listen to this discussion with UN and US experts on the WHO's Global Vaccine Action Plan for 2021-200. (CSIS Take as Directed, 31 mins)
FT Digital Health Summit Berlin Join us on June 18 to explore how innovation can help address healthcare’s escalating costs and rising demand and how the issues of security, engagement and fragmentation can be tackled. Book now with a 15 per cent discount for FT Health subscribers using code FT15D.
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Location, location, lung disease A new campaign will enable buyers and renters to check levels of toxic air in properties before they decide to move. (The Guardian)
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