Although health is core business for hospitals, junk food and soft drinks have long dominated kiosks and vending machines that line hospital foyers and corridors.
But now Queensland is leading the way with a long overdue move to ban these items, which are driving contributors to obesity, poor health and chronic disease.
The ban is motivated by a call to reduce junk food advertising and availability to children. But other hospital goers will also benefit from moves to promote healthy food.
Making these changes is not easy. The food and drink industry, which has long enjoyed binding contracts with hospitals, has complained that it was not consulted in the decision.
Australian Beverages Council spokesperson, Geoff Parker, called the move “an insult to people’s intelligence,” arguing that “People don’t want governments snooping around in vending machines or hospital cafeterias.”
But the world’s leading obesity researchers say making unhealthy foods less available is needed to address the global health crisis. The ubiquity of food that is energy dense and nutritionally poor is a clear contributor to its overconsumption.
The executive summary of The Lancet’s 2015 obesity series argues that “Today’s food environments exploit people’s biological, psychological, social, and economic vulnerabilities, making it easier for them to eat unhealthy foods.
“This reinforces preferences and demands for foods of poor nutritional quality, furthering the unhealthy food environments.
“Regulatory actions from governments and increased efforts from industry and civil society will be necessary to break these vicious cycles.”
Targeting individual behaviours does not work, the researchers contend. They say a broad environmental focus on ‘denormalising’ unhealthy food consumption is needed – much like campaigns to reduce smoking.
That means changing social norms by creating an environment in which consuming unhealthy food and drinks becomes less attractive, less conventional and less accessible.
When trialled, healthier vending machine food and drink options have produced successful outcomes in schools, workplaces, hospitals and health services.
Evaluations of these initiatives not only reported that people bought healthier food items, but also that sales increased.
Behavioural economics tells us that people don’t necessarily make decisions based on careful weighing of risks and benefits. Behaviours are influenced by emotions, identity and environment – including the options available to us.
Based on this, contemporary research is considering how to ‘nudge’ people towards healthier behaviours and improve population health. When it comes to food, a grouped analysis of 42 trials in developed countries found that, on average, nudging strategies produced a 15.3% increase in healthier choices.
Healthier options in hospital vending machines and kiosks may not benefit the processed food and sugary drink industry, but people’s health and wellbeing could surely profit.
People have long thought that dementia is unavoidable if you carry risky genes. Now research is slowly but surely debunking this fateful thinking as mounting evidence suggests lifestyle changes could help people retain control over their mental faculties.
In fact, a recent study collated the latest research and found that controllable factors could account for around 35% of the dementia burden – larger than that attributed to the genes typically linked with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia.
Signposts have long pointed the way – physical conditions like hypertension, inflammation and heart disease confer greater risk of dementia. So it’s really a no-brainer that the benefits of looking after our physical wellbeing extend to better mental health.
In 2013, Spanish researchers allocated 522 people aged 55-80 at high risk for heart disease to a Mediterranean diet or low-fat diet. More than six years later, those in the Mediterranean diet group had less heart disease and scored higher on cognitive tests used for dementia.
Indeed, research has found that people who follow a Mediterranean diet have less brain atrophy and amyloid-ß that is typical of Alzheimer’s. “If you follow a Western diet, your brain ages faster. A Mediterranean diet is protective,” says neuroscientist Lisa Mosconi.
The traditional Mediterranean diet is high in plant foods: vegetables, fruit, legumes, nuts, seeds and wholegrains, and extra virgin olive oil for cooking and salads. It also features moderate consumption of fish, fermented dairy (cheese, yoghurt) and red wine with meals, and very little processed food or meat.
Physical activity has numerous health benefits, from reducing risk of heart disease and diabetes to some cancers. A grouped analysis of 15 studies in 2010 found that across the board, exercise can also protect against cognitive decline.
Other studies have shown that physical activity can enhance blood flow to the brain and increase levels of brain-derived neurotropic factor – a protective protein.
Even if you don’t fancy donning gym gear and sweating it out with aerobics classes and barbells, just taking opportunities each day to walk, move and be active will reap physical and mental rewards.
Keeping the brain active also confers striking protection against Alzheimer’s disease. Staying educated encourages new neural connections that might compensate for cognitive decline with aging. “It future-proofs your brain,” according to researcher Leon Flicker.
Even people who don’t pursue ongoing education can boost their cognitive reserves in other ways, like reading, doing puzzles or attending quiz nights. Quiz nights may have additional benefits – having a strong social network can also keep the brain healthy. Even being married reduces dementia risk dramatically.
In 2017, researchers pooled data from 27 studies on sleep. They found that sleep problems increase risk of cognitive impairment by 65% and could account for up to 15% of Alzheimer’s diagnoses.
Other protective factors include not smoking and maintaining a healthy weight and blood pressure.
Even if you have a genetic predisposition for Alzheimer’s disease, “there are still things you can do,” says Finnish geriatric epidemiologist Tiia Ngandu.
Richard Isaacson has set up a clinic for preventing Alzheimer’s in the US. The clinic offers individualised prevention strategies for people at risk for dementia.
Based on data they have collected, he estimates that 60% of lifestyle recommendations will apply to most people. Beyond that, strategies may vary from person to person, including, for instance, specific treatments for heart conditions or sleep problems.
Researchers are now optimistic that people can prevent their risk of dementia, and current large studies are underway to strengthen the evidence base.
Posted by ProPortion Foods Blog on Aug 16, 2018 in International
While physical decline is an inevitable product of growing old, some people stay stronger and live longer than most. And they tend to cluster in certain regions of the world that have attracted the curiosity of researchers.
In 2004, Dan Buettner joined forces with the National Geographic and longevity researchers to identify and study the world’s longest living people and environments where they were most concentrated.
They found five places: the Barbagia region of Sardinia in Italy, the island of Ikaria in Greece, Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, Loma Linda in California and the Okinawa islands of Japan.
Research has revealed nine habits that are shared by long-living inhabitants of these regions:
Here we zoom into three of these zones for further insights.
Escaping high rates of chronic diseases commonly associated with aging, such as dementia, heart disease and cancer, older Okinawans have one of the world’s longest life and health expectancies.
The ongoing Okinawa Centenarian Study began in 1975. Researcher Dr Craig Willcox has written a book about the findings, one being eating “as low down the food chain as possible” – i.e. a plant-based diet.
They enjoy three serves of fish a week, plenty of wholegrains, vegetables, soy products, seaweed, squid and octopus. Local flavonoid-rich vegetables include purple sweet potatoes and bitter cucumbers. They also drink Jasmine tea.
A cultural highlight is a female band called KBG84 that rehearses and performs regularly – its members are all over 80. Like many Japanese people, its members are full of energy, which they ascribe to “ikigai” or “a sense of life.”
Sardinians live in their island’s mountainous villages. Like other Blue Zone dwellers, fruit, vegetables and beans dominate their diets. Typical Sardinians spend their active days toiling in their gardens, milking cows and walking miles to tend sheep.
They gather together with the whole family, young and old, to enjoy home-cooked meals with wine and homemade flat bread high in fibre, complex carbohydrates and protein and low in gluten.
While women live longer in Okinawa, Sardinia has more male centenarians. Some attribute this to the fact that women take care of household matters like bills – so the men might enjoy less stress.
From the mountains of Sardinia to the sandy peninsula of Nicoya, long-living Costa Ricans have long telomeres – genetic biomarkers of aging that shorten with stress.
They also enjoy a high plant-based diet, and drink local, limestone infused water high in calcium and magnesium.
Everywhere they go, they walk. They belong to different faith-based organisations. And they laugh a lot – this is a core element of what Costa Ricans call “pura vida,” meaning pure life.
The take home message? Embrace life, family/friends and healthy habits in a way that brings the most joy.
Some decline in cognitive faculties is inevitable in the twilight years. But several lifestyle factors can help mitigate waning acuity and increasing forgetfulness. One of those could be a pine bark extract that has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
Fading mental functions and thought processes that occur with aging impact attention, speed of processing information, memory and other aspects of intelligence. The reasons for this are not fully understood. But the accelerated oxidative stress that occurs in aging could be a factor.
A recent study, published by researchers at the Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, found that F2-Isoprostanes – a marker of oxidative stress – were associated with impaired ability to verbally retrieve episodic memories in healthy older adults.
Chronic inflammation could also contribute – it has been linked to several chronic conditions including heart disease, depression and dementia, and might help explain the high overlap between these diseases.
A 2017 study investigated blood markers of inflammation in 1,633 adults aged 53 on average. At a follow-up 24 years later, higher levels of inflammation were associated with poorer episodic memory and reduced volume of the hippocampus – a brain region associated with memory – and other areas of the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease.
A body of research has investigated health benefits of Pycnogenol, the registered trademark name for a product derived from the bark of a pine tree (Pinus pinaster). The active ingredient is also contained in peanut skin, grape seed, and witch hazel bark.
Pycnogenol contains several polyphenolic compounds with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Some evidence suggests it could reduce symptoms of allergy and asthma and improve circulation and symptoms of ADHD in children.
It may alleviate problems associated with clogged arteries, deep vein thrombosis, high blood sugar, circulation problems in diabetes, blood pressure, menopause and other physical ailments, but more evidence is needed.
Some research has shown that taking Pycnogenol could improve mental function and memory in adults both young and old.
A study published last month builds on this evidence in 55 to 70-year-old healthy adults with signs of mild cognitive impairment – a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.
All participants continued their standard care, including healthy sleep patterns, regular exercise, and low sodium and sugar meals. Additionally, half of them were given 150mg Pycnogenol per day for two months.
The treatment group’s Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) scores increased significantly by 4 points on average compared to about half a point in controls. The median increase was 18% in the Pycnogenol group and 2.48% in the control group.
Several other tests of cognitive function and memory improved by 19.4% to 39.4% in the treatment group compared to 0% to 12.5% in controls. The treatment group also showed a 16 percent reduction in oxidative stress.