Mapping Australia’s collective weight gain

OBESE NATION: It’s time to admit it – Australia is becoming an obese nation. Today we launch a series looking at how this has happened and, more importantly, what we can do to stop the obesity epidemic.

In Australia today, around two-thirds of adults and a quarter of children are overweight or obese. This is a dramatic change from the landscape just 30 years ago when we first collected national data on weight and height.

In 1980, around 60% of Australian adults had a healthy weight; today this has almost halved to around 35%. In 1980, just 10% of adults were obese. In 2012, this figure tips 25%. The infographic below shows just how quickly obesity is increasing in Australia. And why it’s not an exaggeration to call it an epidemic.

 

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The same trend is seen around the world, with around a third of adults and almost one in five children in the United States obese. In some island nations, the prevalence is higher still, with more than half of Samoan and Tongan women classified as obese.

In Australia, we see a higher prevalence of obesity in a number of marginalised populations, such as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults, Australians living outside the major cities, and those living in more socioeconomically deprived areas.

With excess weight and obesity increasing your likelihood of developing many major chronic diseases, disability and early death, governments and communities around the world are working to halt, or at least slow, this trend.

Some encouraging reports have emerged recently from Australia, the United States and several European countries that show rates of obesity are stabilising in children. But the good news is limited to specific age groups and time periods (and the studies are yet to be replicated to confirm the results). Overall, rates of childhood overweight and obesity remain high.

There are two key objectives in dealing with Australia’s collective weight gain: we must both prevent the ongoing shift towards a heavier population, and increase the proportion of children and adults at a healthy weight. But before we can even contemplate either, we need to understand the drivers of these trends.

Why do we gain weight?

A person’s weight gain is generally caused by an imbalance between energy intake and energy expenditure. This appears simple, but the factors driving this imbalance at a population level are incredibly complex, making simple solutions elusive.

It’s commonly understood that the overweight and obesity we experience today is a normal response to an abnormal environment – often referred to as the obesogenic environment. The premise of this idea is that as humans we’re programmed to conserve energy, storing it up for a time when food is scarce. But most of us now live in an environment where food is plentiful.

On top of this, our need to expend energy in daily life has disappeared. Within our lifetimes we’ve seen the dominant move towards sedentary jobs and leisure-time pursuits, such as watching television, playing computer games and shopping online. We all also recognise the ease and affordability of foods high in energy.

The data supports our anecdotal understanding of these trends. While difficult to measure accurately, a comparison of Australian energy intake from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s shows an increase in daily energy intake of around 13% for children and 3% to 4% for adults. This latter increase, of around 350kJ a day (approximately half a can of soft drink, or a slice of bread), is equates to an eventual weight gain of around 3.5kg.

 

Our daily energy intake increased by 3% to 4% in the ten years to 1995. AAP

 

Similar trends have occurred in the United States, with a 2004 Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report indicating daily energy intake between 1970 and 1990 increased by around 7% in men and 22% in women.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to measure exercise and activity levels over time. A recent report of US workers suggested that while almost half of jobs in the 1960s entailed at least moderate levels of activity, less that 20% do so now.

Trends in overall physical activity levels are more difficult to compare, as different studies generally evaluate different aspects of total physical activity (leisure time, occupational activity, incidental movement, among other measurements). But most Australian and US data suggest recreational activity levels have decreased slightly over past decades.

A recent review by Boyd Swinburn and his colleagues proposes a framework for understanding the combined forces of changes in our energy intake and activity levels. Prior to the 1960s, the dominant change was decreased levels of physical activity, but this had no observable effect on population weight status as food remained a limiting factor. Subsequent to the 1960s, the rapid changes in food availability, composition and marketing drove rapid increases in population weight, now against a backdrop of minimal activity.

The authors also highlight the strong correlation between national economic status and obesity: the move to affordable and accessible high-energy foods requires a certain level of economic wealth and activity. In this sense, the obesity epidemic can be seen as a detrimental outcome of our society’s over-consumption.

 

With sedentary jobs and leisure-time pursuits, we're not expending the energy we used to. Flickr/justingaynor

 

Clearly, our food and activity environments require the dominant focus in our efforts to tackle population weight gain. But there are a number of other contributors to weight gain that are also being evaluated for their potential role in achieving healthy population weight.

At an individual level, we know that the in utero environment influences the future child’s weight and chronic disease pathways, with both under- and over-nutrition linked to excess weight gain later in life. We also know that factors such as lack of sleep, low-quality sleep, and use of particular medications, life stages such as pregnancy, and specific genetic variations are also predictive of weight gain. Work to determine the importance of these factors at a population level is ongoing.

There are also newly identified candidates predictive of weight gain, including exposure to environmental toxicants such endocrine disruptors, Bisphenol A (BPA), phthlates and persistent organic pollutants. New studies have also suggested a link between some viral infections, such as human adenovirus, and obesity.

Reversing the trend

Successful population health campaigns to improve the levels of healthy weight, activity and nutrition in our population will need to focus on addressing the overarching drivers of the food and activity environments, while also taking into account these other factors that predict individual variation in weight gain.

The launch last year of the Australian National Preventive Health Agency’s Strategic Plan recognises the importance of this approach. It’s critical that we continue to work towards implementing a range of interventions appropriate for each stage of prevention and treatment, from childhood to adulthood.

 

We need a range of interventions to halt Australia's obesity epidemic. Ben Matthews

 

Currently, only a third of Australian adults have a healthy weight. If these trends continue, this could decrease to around one quarter over the next decade. There is a real risk that if we are not able to reverse these trends, very soon we will become conditioned to this new demographic, just as smoking was considered “normal” in the 1960s.

To prevent the burden of diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and cancer that will arise from these trends, we need strong and wide-reaching action to drive decreases in energy consumption, particularly within the Australia’s vulnerable population groups.

This is the first part of our series Obese Nation. To read the other instalments, follow the links below:

Part two: Explainer: overweight, obese, BMI – what does it all mean?

Part three: Explainer: how does excess weight cause disease?

Anna Peeters has received funding from National Health & Medical Research Council, Australian Research Council, Australian National Preventive Health Agency, VicHealth, Allergan Australia, The Global Corporate Challenge(c) . She is affiliated with Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, Monash University and the Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society.

Dianna Magliano has been the recipient of two ARC linkage grants.

The Conversation

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Subway’s chicken fillet is not a fillet at all: chain found in breach of advertising code

Fast-food chain Subway has been forced to rename its Chicken Fillet, after the Advertising Standards Bureau (ASB) found it to be misleading, because it is not in fact a chicken fillet, but rather processed meat.

The chicken fillet option, which has been available in Australian restaurants for 10 years, will now be referred to as the Classic Chicken, because it is made up of processed meat, shaped together to look like a fillet, and not in fact a genuine chicken fillet, as the name suggests.

Subway is in now in the process of changing signage at its 1300 stores across Australia.

The ASB received a complaint from a consumer who realised the meat was processed.

“I purchased a chicken fillet subway roll and when I got it home I was disgusted to find after biting it that it is in fact a processed chicken piece,” the complaint said.

“My understanding of a chicken fillet is a fillet of chicken not processed chicken meat.”

The restaurant chain tried to defend the name, claiming that because there had not been any other complaints, it should be allowed to stay.

 “The “Chicken Fillet Sub” has been offered for sale in Subway restaurants throughout Australia for at least ten years,” it said in response to the complaint.

“The brand has not substantially changed the formula for the product during this time period.

“The ingredients for the Chicken Fillet in the Chicken Fillet Sub as listed on the brand’s website are as follows: Chicken (82%), Flour (wheat), Water, Mineral Salt (450, 451, 452), Salt, Vegetable Oil, Wheat Starch, Sugar, Herbs and Spices, Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein, Egg Albumen, Dehydrated Vegetable (Garlic), Yeast Extract, Soy Sauce (Wheat), Flavours (Wheat, Milk), Maltodextrin, Acidity Regulators (331, 336), Whey Protein (Milk).

Subway blamed the lack of standards as to what constitutes a ‘fillet’ as part of the problem.

“After review, the Food Standards Australia New Zealand does not appear to have a standard of identity or definition for ‘chicken fillet’ and the Australian Chicken Meat Federation does not include it in its terms of ‘Cuts of Chicken Meat’, it said.

“The chicken fillet is a formed product and the brand has been using the descriptor “fillet” on the basis of the shape of the product and that the meat is boneless.

“No reference or claim has been made that the product is from whole muscle and the company has made information about the product readily available to consumers on its website.”

Nonetheless, Subway has decided to change the name of the chicken offering, and not use the word ‘fillet’ when referring to it.

The ABS ruled that while there was no definitive standard on what constitutes a ‘fillet,’ the name insinuates that is a single, quality cut of chicken.

“The Board noted that the prevailing community standard on what a fillet of chicken is, does not include chicken presented in pieces or formed or processed chicken meat.

“In the Board’s view, most members of the community would associate chicken fillets with the breast or thigh portion of the chicken in one whole piece or as a cut of chicken rather than reconstituted into a particular shape.

“Based on the above the Board considered that the advertisement was misleading or deceptive and did breach Section 2.1 of the Food Code.”

Longer Life Through Coffee Drinking?

There is a persistent belief that drinking coffee is bad for you. Some alternative medicine systems eschew all coffee drinking (but are enthusiastic about coffee enemas). Certainly if you overindulge the sleeplessness and tremors will remind you of the perils of too much of a good thing. But there is a longstanding belief that long term consumption of coffee is in some nebulous way “bad”. This is despite coffee being packed with the sorts of antioxidants you would pay good money for at the health food store.

Now a new study suggests that people who drink coffee are less likely to die.

Wow! Great! I’ll just fire up the espresso machine then.

Hold on, firstly, the effect is modest, you are around 10% less likely to die if you are drinking 6 or more cups of coffee a day. Secondly, it’s an association. We don’t know if it’s the coffee drinking leading to less death, or something else which coffee drinkers are more likely to do.

Oh, so I should pack the espresso machine away.

No, there is now a fair bit of evidence that modest coffee consumption can give you some degree of protection against things like Parkinson’s Disease and Alzheimer’s disease (again though, we don’t know if it’s coffee per se that gives protection, or something else that coffee drinkers do). And coffee tastes good too.

But the apparent health benefits of any food or beverage should not be an excuse to overindulge, like the people who use the reported benefits of drinking modest amounts of red wine as an excuse to drink bottles of the stuff in one go.

So while I get the espresso going, what is the latest evidence?

A research team followed a group of nearly 400,000 people for 14 years, or until they died ( whichever came first). They gave the people extensive questionnaires about coffee drinking, food consumption, lifestyle and measured a range of health parameters at the start of of the study. Then after the 14 years they looked at the death rates in coffee drinkers and non-coffee drinkers.

They found that more coffee drinkers died.

Wait! What!

That’s the problem with looking at these sorts of studies simplistically. There are a whole other bunch of factors that influence death rates. In epidemiology speak these are called “confounders” (because They confound interpretation). It turns out that most coffee drinkers also smoke, so the increased death rate was due too smoking differences between coffee and non-coffee drinkers.

If the researchers had not measured smoking rates in the people, they would have been fooled into thinking that coffee was bad for you. This is also why we say that the coffee drinking – less death is just an association, the increased life-span could be due to something that wasn’t measured, even though lots of things were measured.

So how did they work out coffee drinking was good for you?

In epidemiology speak they “ controlled for the confounders”. If you compare just smokers who don’t drink coffee with those that do, coffee drinking smokers livers longer than non-coffee drinking smokers. Of course, it’s not quite as simple as that. When you have a lot of measurements you have to do some clever mathematics to sort it all out.

So is it a good study?

Yes, they had a big group of people they followed for a sufficiently long time, they only looked at people who were reasonably healthy when they started following them (so disease progress patterns couldn’t mess things up) and they measured a heck of a lot of lifestyle factors.

One problem is, as the researchers point out themselves, that they only asked people about their coffee consumption at the beginning of the study. So they had no way of knowing if people decreased or increased their consumption, or switched to or from decaf.

Another thing they didn’t measure was the type of coffee, apart from crudely separating caffeinated from non-caffeinated. So we have no way of knowing if most people were drinking Floor-Sweepings brand instant coffee or Heart Burtser double espressos.

The latter information is important if we want to generalise to other populations. US coffee as generally consumed is somewhat different in strength to how the Europeans take it. I vividly remember visiting a friend of mine in Seattle. At the time I was working as a postdoctoral student in Berlin. There was an industrial strength filter coffee machine outside my lab door, pumping out vicious black heart starters almost 24/7. My mate proudly took me to the street in Seattle where he claimed the best coffee in the US was served.

It tasted like pinkelwasser. That is not a compliment.

Sounds uninspiring, so how is coffee making people live longer?

 

Chlorogenic acid, a key antioxidant in coffee Ian Musgrave

 

We know how it’s not doing it. It’s not caffeine, as decaffeinated and caffeinated coffee had pretty much the same effect (except for injuries and accident, where caffeinated coffee was a clear winner).

Coffee is chock full of antioxidant chemicals such as polyphenols and Chlorogenic acid. We know that people who consume foods rich in antioxidants have better health outcomes and live longer than people who don’t. We also know that feeding people pure antioxidant vitamins is a waste of time. The antioxidant status of food may be unrelated to health, but may be a marker for something else in these foods.

So whether it’s the antioxidants in coffee is unclear. This hasn’t stopped companies from adding extra antioxidants to instant coffee though (although they were doing this well before this study came out). Maybe it’s something completely unrelated, like coffee drinkers are more likely to walk to their local coffee shop, getting a bit more exercise.

So if I want to live longer?

Choose you parents carefully, eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, get more exercise, develop or participate in social networks. Why not walk down to your local coffee shop and share a cappuccino with your friends?

Coffee’s ready

Milk and two sugars please.

Ian Musgrave does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

The Conversation

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Drinking chocolate recalled; milk content not declared

Valvorp Fine Foods has recalled its 1963 Drinking Chocolate nationally, after failing to declare the product contained milk.

The drinking chocolate has been recalled from Myer, Harvey Norman and The Good Guys around the country, where 20g sachets are used in product demonstrations.

The 200g cardboard boxes of concern each contain 10 of the sachets with date markings 21/02/2013, 22/02/2013 and 23/02/2013 and Australia listed as the country of origin.

Due to an error on the labelling, milk has not been included in the ingredients list, and allergen information has also not been printed.

Consumers with a milk allergy or intolerance should not consume the product.

It can be returned to the place of purchase for a full refund.

Edible packaging could reduce waste

A scientist has found a way to reduce packaging waste that creates millions of tonnes of landfill every year: eat the packaging.

David Edwards, whose work encompasses the arts and science and is at the core of a network of art and science labs in Europe, USA and Africa, has now created edible packaging, WikiCells.

The idea for WikiCells was based on the way nature has always delivered nutrients in a digestible skin "held together by healthy ions like calcium."

Apples, potatoes and tomatoes, for example, all have an edible exterior protecting the food within.

"This soft skin may be comprised primarily of small particles of chocolate, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, or many other natural substances with delicious taste and often useful nutrients," the WikiCells team writes on its website.

"Inside the skin may be liquid fruit juice, or thick pudding."

Edwards and his collaborators, including industrial designer François Azambourg, have so far tested gazpacho-stuffed tomato membrane, a wine-filled grape-like shell, and an orange juice-laden orb with a shell that tastes like an orange.

The team is also looking into other possibilities including edible milk bottles and yogurt containers.

WikiCells will market ice cream in an edible shell in the French summer.

95 per cent of children eating too much saturated fat: study

A new study has found 95 per cent of Australian children over two exceeded their recommended intake of saturated fat.

Children generally had adequate consumption of iron, calcium, zinc and vitamin C, but the number of those consuming more than the 10 per cent dietary intake of saturated fat, as recommended, was alarming.

As was the finding that one third of those surveyed were overweight or obese.

The University of Adelaide study, which was published this week in the Medical Journal of Australia, also found that children were lacking in many essential nutrients.

Almost 70 per cent of children did not have enough Omega-3 polyunsaturated fat, which is essential for brain and eye development, and over 80 per cent did not consume enough dietary fibre.

The poor nutritional intake was not subject to socioeconomic backgrounds, with nearly all children from rich and poor homes consuming too much saturated fat.

Recent studies have found that children’s neighbourhoods to contribute to obesity rates, with children from underprivileged backgrounds more likely to be overweight than their socioeconomically advantaged counterparts.

The latest study found that most of the saturated fat the preschoolers were consuming came from dairy products, and the authors of the study have urged parents to consider feeding low-fat dairy products to children over two.

The research stretched over two years, and involved door-knocking more than 13 000 homes in Adelaide.

Children were then measured, blood samples were taken, and the food they consumed over the three-day period weighed and recorded.

Image: Care2

Australians oppose TV junk food ads, warm to GM foods

More than 75% of Australians support a ban on junk food advertising in children’s television, and almost 20% support a total ban, according to a poll by the Australian National University on attitudes to food security.

The survey of 1200 people also found that nearly 50% of Australians feel genetically modified (GM) foods are safe to eat, and 13% say they struggle to put regular, nutritionally-balanced food on their tables.

The poll, Public Opinion on Food Security and Related Food Issues, gauged views on household food security, eating out habits, health and food safety and GM crops. The results describe a nation that is increasingly opting to eat out rather than cook at home, and one that is concerned about the safety of imported food products but divided about GM foods.

Stewart Lockie, Head of the School of Sociology in the College of Arts and Social Sciences at ANU and lead author of the study, said one of the surprising findings was that the increase in the number of people eating out was driven by time poverty and not socio-economic status. Eight percent of people said they eat takeaway food more than three times a week.

“Consumers of takeaway food were mostly young adults, male, with university educations, whereas we expected it to be lower socio-economic groups, if for no other reason than the takeaway industry really targets those communities with their store locations,” Professor Lockie said.

“The other surprising finding was that nearly half of the population feels that GM foods are safe to eat. If you asked this question 10 years ago, you’d have found widespread opposition. These days there’s a degree of familiarity, and there’s a sense that this stuff has been around for a while and there haven’t been disasters. There’s also a degree of ambivalence – this stuff is in the food system and we can’t do anything about it.”

David Tribe, a Senior Lecturer in Food Biotechnology and Microbiology, Agriculture and Food Systems at the University of Melbourne, agreed. “People have been given time to kick the tyres, check the paintwork, and they slowly accommodate something that was once perceived as very different. That’s one thing.

“The other thing is that Kevin Rudd was overseas in 2009 talking to prime ministers in countries that were under threat from a food crisis. He realised that food security was one of the greatest moral issues that we faced. So the message started to get through to people that it was important to think about food availability. The conversation changed dramatically.”

Genetically modified canola is now harvested in NSW and Victoria. AAP/Greenpeace

The ANU poll also uncovered concern among consumers about foods imported from Asia. “It’s a developing part of the world,” Professor Lockie said, “and the finding reflects a concern that some countries don’t have or don’t enforce adequate food safety regulations, and producers may be using excessive amounts of chemicals and not guarding against biological hazards.”

Timothy Gill, Principal Research Fellow and Scientific Programs Manager at the Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition and Exercise at the University of Sydney, said the push to restrict junk food advertising was not designed to deflect responsibility from parents for the way they raised their children, but to give them more support.

“You only have to experience the trauma of trying to shop with young children in the supermarket, and being pulled every which way by a child demanding a particular food product that has been marketed to appeal to them,” Associate Professor Gill said.

“Pester power is a mechanism that marketers have always deemed legitimate and appropriate. For young children, it’s about creating a sense of desire, fun and familiarity around certain products. For older children, it might be about appealing to the idea that they’ll be more popular or cool if they have some products.”

Professor Gill said it was “absolutely true” that parents should be accountable for the food their children consumed – “and the thing is, parents do want to take responsibility, and the reason why they wish to see less exposure of their children to this sort of advertising is that it goes directly against the influence they try to have and the things they teach their children. [Placing restrictions on ads] is not about taking away the responsibility of parents. Quite the opposite – it’s actually allowing them to take responsibility.”

A range of studies have shown that removing junk food advertising from children’s television has an effect on purchase requests and eating patterns.

Some of the key findings from the poll are:

  • 44% of people surveyed felt that GM foods are safe to eat. Among those who have read a lot about GM foods, 49% felt they were safe to eat.
  • However, 54% of respondents said that it was unlikely they would buy foods that are labelled as genetically modified.
  • 77% support a ban on junk food advertising during children’s television programmes and 18% oppose all junk food advertising.
  • 81% reported that food products in general are safe to eat, but nearly 66% did not feel confident with the safety of food products imported from Asia.
  • 8% eat takeaway more than three times each week, and men are 50% more likely than women to eat takeaway food.
  • Concerns about the economy are not reflected in people’s spending habits, with 37% eating out more than once a week.
  • 16% said they often or sometimes worried that their food would run out before they had enough money to buy more.
  • 13% said they could not afford to eat nutritionally-balanced meals.
  • 4% received emergency food assistance from a charity or other source.

The Conversation

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Vitamin D to be added to foods?

The rate of low vitamin D levels in Australia could see it added to foods.

About 30 per cent of Australians are low in vitamin D, which is largely absorbed from direct sun exposure.

But with skin cancer the most common type of the disease in Australia, sun safety has seen many people shying away from exposure.

Deakin University researcher Caryl Nowson believes we should begin adding the vitamin to commonly-consumed foods, similar to the way folate is added to bread to curb neural tube defects.

Canada has already begun adding vitamin D to foods.

She said increasing vitamin D levels has been shown to prevent falls and fractures in the elderly and reduce mortality rates.

 

 

Kellogg Australia reduces sodium levels ahead of schedule

Kellogg Australia has met its 2010 commitment to reduce sodium levels in its Corn Flakes and Rice Bubbles by 20 per cent.

The cereal giant made the announcement this week.

Kellogg’s was one of the leading Australian manufacturers to commit to lowering sodium levels, as part of the Reformulation Working Group of the Federal Government’s Food and Health Dialogue in March 2010.

New targets were outlined in the campaign, as the negative health impacts of a high-sodium diet became well-known.

Last month the National Heart Foundation of Australia found that if everyone reduced their salt intake by 3 grams per day, 6 000 lives could be saved every year.

As part of the Health Dialogue, for all ready-to-eat breakfast cereals that exceeded 400 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams, Kellogg’s, Sanitarium, Cereal Partners Worldwide, Woolworths, Coles and ALDI would reduce the sodium content of products by 15 per cent over four years.

Kellogg Australia’s 20 per cent reduction comes eight months ahead of schedule, with plans for the reformulated cereal expected to be rolled out by August this year.

Kellogg’s also confirmed it was on schedule to deliver more salt reduction, as promised in its Food and Health Dialogue commitment.

It will reduce sodium by 15 per cent in all Kellogg’s cereals that exceed 400 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams by the end of 2013.

In September, a report in the Australian Medical Journal (AMJ) showed more improvements could be made to salt levels in breads, because voluntary reduction across Australia and New Zealand was not enough. 

“While there has been some improvement in sodium levels in New Zealand, and while the companies actively engaged in salt reduction efforts are to be congratulated, our data also highlight the need for continued action,” the report said.

Better results are likely to be achieved if the governments of Australia and New Zealand take committed leadership of these programs.”

However, a Deakin University study released in March found that a “reduced salt” label on a food product will make a consumer experience a reduced level of taste, even if it is not in fact lower in salt.

Participants were asked  to taste soups with the same salt content, but it labelled some as “reduced salt.”

Those labelled as low sodium actually had the same salt content as the other soups, but participants reported that they found them less tasty.

 The study found that while it is clear that salt levels need to be reduced, better initiatives are needed to encourage lower intakes.

The problem with gluten is…

One in every hundred Australians are affected by Coeliac disease, but 75 per cent are undiagnosed, meaning that about 160,000 Australians have coeliac disease but don’t yet know it.

Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye, barley and outs, which causes small bowel damage in people with coeliac disease when consumed.

They experience what is referred to as villous atrophy, where the tiny, finger-like projections which line the bowel become inflamed and flattened and the surface area of the bowel available for nutrient absorption is markedly reduced, causing various gastrointestinal and malabsorptive symptoms, according to Coelic Australia.

There are a number of serious health consequences can result if the condition is not diagnosed and treated properly.

How is coeliac disease different to gluten intolerance?

People are born with the genetic predisposition to develop coeliac disease but environmental factors play an important role in triggering coeliac disease in infancy, childhood or later in life.

“We know one per cent of the population has coeliac disease, but the issue is that only 25 per cent of them are diagnosed at the moment,” Penny Dellsperger, Accredited practicing Dietician told Food Magazine.

“I think there are better ways to diagnose, and it’s being picked up on because of the increased awareness, so it’s difficult to know if the rates are actually rising, or if we’re just better at picking up on it now.

“In terms of how quickly it is rising, we believe one in 100 Australians has coeliac disease at the moment, but it could be more than that,

“In terms of gluten intolerance, there is not enough evidence out there to know how many people have that.

“I did hear a figure quoted recently that about 10 per cent of the population is on some sort of gluten restriction, but I don’t know if that is right or necessary.

“It might just be a bit of a fad, and it is a bit of a double-edged sword, because for those who do suffer from coeliac disease it’s good because there is more gluten free food available and having that awareness is good, but on the other end of the sword they may be down-playing the real implications of having coeliac disease.”

Part of the reason for the number of undiagnosed cases of celiac disease is the varied symptoms that come with the condition.

Some people suffer severe symptoms, while others are symptom free and there is also a lot of confusion about coeliac disease and gluten intolerances, as Dellsperger told Food Magazine.

“Obviously ceoliac disease is quite different to being gluten intolerant, there are specific medical tests to diagnose and manage celiac disease and we know exactly how to manage it, whereas gluten intolerance is not well decide and it hasn’t even been officially decided if there is a separate gluten intolerance to ceoliac disease,” she explained.

“If it does turn out that there is a separate condition, that will have implications on how it is dealt with, because at the moment there is no valid test and there is not any damage long term as there is for is no long term damage like there is with coeliac disease.

“Because of that, the actual management could be quite different, with coeliac disease we know people must follow a strict gluten-free diet for their entire lives, whereas with gluten intolerance, as long as the person is feeling fine, then they are fine.

“There certainly is research going into gluten intolerance or sensitivities and hopefully there will be developments on that.

The warning signs

Coeliac Australia says if a person is suffering more than one of the high risk factors, they should not be ignored.

The high risk conditions include Iron Deficiency, Anaemia and other Vitamin and Mineral Deficiencies, Autoimmune Disease, Weight Loss, Infertility and Gastrointestinal Symptoms.

 

Those with a family history of the disease should also get tested, as it is a genetic condition.

Other less common symptoms, which are often thought to be unrelated, but could point towards a gluten intolerance include altered mental alertness and irritability, bone and joint pains, fatigue, weakness and lethargy, easy bruising of the skin, recurrent mouth ulcers and/or swelling of mouth or tongue and skin rashes such as dermatitis herpetiformis.

In children, failure to thrive or grow normally can be indications of celiac disease.

There is no cure for the condition, and those who suffer from ceoliac disease are sensitive to gluten throughout their lives.

But as the rates of coeliacs rises, so too is the number of gluten-free options available.

As long as the gluten free diet is strictly adhered to, problems arising from coeliac disease should not return.

Advancements in food testing

If a person with celiac disease consumes gluten, they may not suffer any symptoms, but they will do damage to the small bowel.

This is why the testing capabilities for gluten are continually undergoing improvements, as the impacts of coeliacs consuming gluten become more apparent.

Andrew Odd from Australasian Medical and Scientific Ltd told Food Magazine the improved testing capabilities for gluten “has been a long while coming but finally getting there.”

He said the two new gluten testing kits launched by Romer Labs make it simpler and more accurate for manufacturers to ensure there are no traces of gluten in its products.

The AgraStrip Gluten G12 is a lateral flow device for onsite factory testing and the AgraQuant Gluten G12 is an ELISA for quantitative testing in the laboratory.

The brand-new test kits use Romer Labs proprietary gluten detection technology, which employs a next generation antibody, called G12.

“Essentially, it is a colour-change device which can be used on surfaces for environmental monitoring purposes or areas or materials with cross-contamination issues with batches of products, it and can also be used in testing raw materials and finished products,” Odd explained.

“There are some very basic tests involved, but at the end you’ve got a strip which has come colour lines appear which give a visual indication of whether a sample was positive of negative for a particular allergen, in this case gluten.”

He said the new technology affords food manufacturers peace of mind and quality assurance.

“For starters it gives them good confidence in the products they’re manufacturing and they don’t have to run the risk of undeclared allergens being present in products and having to possibly recall a batch,” he told Food Magazine.

“It gives greater control over quality-control programs and allows action to be taken immediately, in real time, because they don’t have to wait for it to be sent to laboratories.”

“The sensitivity levels are very high.

“It detects down as low as five parts per million and currently, there is a lot of international consensus that 20 parts per million and above is considered a problem, so it can beat that level.

“But the levels can also be customised so it isn’t too sensitive.

“Previously the tests to do this sort of analysis were really only available to laboratories, but these strips are making it a lot easier for manufacturers to do the testing on-site, and they don’t need any equipment to run them.”

Children with undiagnosed coeliac disease can suffer lack of proper development, short stature and behavioural problems.

Coeliac Australia works to raise money and find better treatment for children with the condition, by studying the immune responses to gluten in children and working towards new treatments, including a coeliac vaccine.

They also aim to establish effective treatments to prevent or control the acute “food poisoning” that can be experienced in coeliac disease following accidental gluten consumption and develop a diagnostic test for coeliac disease that is effective in people already gluten free without requiring a prolonged gluten challenge and potentially avoid the need for an intestinal biopsy altogether.

A new dress all starts with a bottle of wine

Scientists from the University of Western Australia have found a new use for red wine: clothing.

We love to drink it, and put it in food to eat it, but this is the first time the alcoholic beverage has been used to create clothes.

The team added a bacteria to the wine to create a material similar to cotton, and have collaborated with artist Donna Franklin to design a range of dresses, t-shirts and swimwear.

Lead researcher Gary Cass said they are now working on improving the fabric tear strength.

“'This project redefines the production of woven materials,” he said.

“By combining art and science knowledge and with a little inventiveness, the ultimate goal will be to produce a bacterial fermented seamless garment that forms without a single stitch.”

The fabric is created by adding the acetobacter bacteria to vats of red wine to convert it into vinegar.

A layer of cellulose fabric is gradually created on the surface, which is then harvested and places on an inflatable mannequin to achieve the shape desired.

The dummy is then deflated, leaving behind the garment.

The fabric is clingy and seamless, but also becomes like tissue paper when it dries, so much be kept damp when worn.

'We hope that it will inspire others to come up with more creative pieces that will direct and/or redirect our future society,' Cass told Wired.co.uk.

In 2007, Franklin presented a living fungus dress, which she fed special nutrients to promote its colour-changing properties. 

 

 

Ask and you shall receive – smart consultation leads to better scienc

Worldwide, and especially in Australia, much valuable science is being wasted or stalled through what is known as technology rejection – the public’s hostile reception of new technologies or scientific advice.

This isn’t always the fault of the public. It’s often the fault of the scientific process for not bothering to find out in the first place what the public wants or knows and what it doesn’t. The grand assumption – “we’re scientists. We know what’s best for you” – still rules.

As a result, research institutions and technology companies are constantly ambushed and surprised when society doesn’t embrace their latest offering with wild enthusiasm, but instead carps, objects and wants it regulated, retarded or banned. The issue is that in a democracy people consider they have a right to say what they think, to use the products and eat the foods they prefer, and to take a good hard look at anything new before they decide to accept it.

What the public knows, but science sometimes chooses to overlook, is that many of the ills in society today are the result of the use, misuse or overuse of various technologies. Indeed, much science is devoted to repairing them. Take, for example, the paradox that tens of thousands of scientists are working worldwide to prevent and cure cancer – while tens of thousands more are adding daily to the toxic miasma of 83,000 man-made chemicals, many of which are known to cause it.

 

The more educated a society becomes, the harder the questions it asks about science. US Department of Agriculture

 

Educated people in modern society are aware of the downsides of science, as well as its upsides. They grew up on stories like thalidomide, and have a fair grasp of the origins of many contemporary diseases and the risks inherent in modern technologies, especially untested ones. They are cautious about GM food, stem cell science or nanotechnologies because they know that scientists do not have all the answers where these powerful, disruptive technologies are concerned. The more educated and democratic a society becomes, the harder the questions it asks about new science and technology. As former UK chief scientist Bob May liked to point out, an educated public becomes more like scientists: sceptical.

Yet many high tech firms and research centres are still confounded by this problem: labouring for years and spending millions to develop something the public takes an instant dislike to. They generally comfort and excuse themselves by shooting the messenger – blaming a green group, the media or a consumer lobby – rather than asking themselves: what did we do wrong?

The short answer is that they failed to do research. Not scientific research, but research into public attitudes, values and wishes. They then sprang an unwanted product on an unsuspecting “market” – and were shocked and offended when it failed.

The good news is that this no longer needs to happen. Thanks to a novel approach, developed within the Invasive Animals Cooperative Research Centre, any scientific centre can find out how the public is likely to receive its latest innovation, and what drives its attitudes for or against any new technology or scientific advice. This applies equally whether it is climate change policy, or the introduction of a new mobile widget.

The technique is known as Reading the Public Mind (RtPM), and it uses an advanced statistical internet survey method to obtain a moving picture (as distinct from a snapshot) of public opinion in real time. It enables the user to drill down into what motivates the public for or against a particular issue or technology now – and how the balance of the pros and cons shifts over time.

This is an important advance over the traditional opinion poll or market research, which only take expensive one-off snapshots and, unless accompanied by costly qualitative research, do not reveal what drives public attitudes.

 

Finding out the limits of public enthusiasm can help advance new animal control methods. AAP

 

The Invasive Animals CRC used this method experimentally to assess public attitudes to invasive animals (such as rabbits, foxes, cats, cane toads and camels) and to the ways they are controlled. The CRC has been working on a range of sophisticated new control methods for these feral menaces, it did not want to be taken by surprise by public refusal to sanction their adoption and deployment. It also wanted to understand what the public knew and did not know about invasive species, and where education might be needed.

Over three years of surveying community attitudes, using a constantly changing sample of the population, it discovered many interesting things about what the public thought about this issue. One of the most striking was that Australians generally dislike feral cats – whereas scientists, fearing public criticism from cat-lovers, had long avoided doing research into their control. The technique was also able for the first time to measure the actual impact of public education campaigns (for example, about rabbits and camels).

Assessing public attitudes this way:

  • helps technology developers anticipate public or market reaction
  • helps scientific leaders plan research better, favouring those technologies most likely to be adopted or commercialised
  • anticipates both hostile and positive reactions and responds with public education or by altering research tack
  • assesses whether a communication initiative has fallen on deaf ears, or actually influenced public perceptions.

All of this adds up to more science adopted, less rejected and a better return on the taxpayer’s $9 billion-a-year science investment.

If Australian science is to genuinely benefit society as it should, then it needs far better tools to understand public attitudes and how they affect likely rates of adoption. It needs to become more sensitised to how Australians at large will respond to new technologies and insights. This will not only increase the impact of science. It will help make us a smarter society.

This article was co-authored by Julian Cribb. He is the principal of Julian Cribb & Associates, consultants in science communication, and is a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Science and Engineering. Both Nick and Julian have been working with the Invasive Animals CRC at Canberra University.

Nick Fisher received funding from the Invasive Animals CRC to carry out this research.

The Conversation

This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.

New invention gets sauces out of bottles as quick as water

A clever scientist in the US has come up with a way to make the process of getting sauces out of their bottles easier and most importantly, quicker.

Everyone has experienced the frustration of watching their favourite hot food go cold while they wait for the sauce to make its way out of the bottle.

Heinz, for example, says the ketchup in their iconic glass bottle moves its way out at the painfully slow speed of 0.028 miles (0.045 kilometres) per hour.

But when you’re standing on the sidelines of the junior rugby with a sausage sanga or cheering from the stands during the Origin series, that is just not good enough.

Luckily, MIT PhD candidate Dave Smith has identified a solution for the speed issue, which is cause by friction inside the bottle.

Along with a team of mechanical engineers and nano-technologists, he has developed LiquiGlide, a revolutionary product, which when applied inside the bottle during manufacture, allows sauces or other food products to slide out easily.

The product is made from materials approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and makes everything from tomato sauce to mayonnaise slide out of the bottle with ease, leaving little residue.

Smith describes the product, which recently came in second at the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition, as a “kind of a structured liquid – it’s rigid like a solid, but it’s lubricated like a liquid.”

It could be awhile before the product, which Smith says would be worth $17 billion, is readily available, and he has warded against potential copycats and “patented the hell out of it.”

Watch LiquidGlide work its magic in the videos below.

 

 

People in regional Australia more likely to consume alcohol, be obese

A new Australia-wide study has found that people living in rural areas are more likely to consume alcohol and be overweight and obese.

The Roy Morgan State of the Nation Report 11 looked at 10 987 city-dwellers across Australia and compared them to 8 049 living in country regions.

During the study, which ran for 12 months up until March this year,  found 72.2 per cent of people living in the country consumed alcohol in an average four-week period, while 68 per cent of city slickers drank alcohol in the same period.

The availability of new, fancy drinks in the country could be one reason they consume standard beers, spirits and ready-to-drink products (RTD’s).

People living in the cities, on the other hand, have more availability to a range of different beverages and are more likely to drink wines and ciders.

The health and weight impacts alcohol is known to have impact the country drinkers, with 35 per cent of people considered to be overweight, almost five per cent higher than the number of people of an acceptable weight.

By comparison, almost 40 per cent of city dwellers are considered to be an acceptable weight, and there are less people considered to be overweight than in the country.

The availability of public transport in urban areas also contribute to people’s weight and health, according to numerous studies, which show that those who use public transport take, on average, over 200 extra steps than their driving counterparts, meaning they are more likely to reach their recommended daily exercise targets.

Research  by Environment and sustainability expert  and adjunct professor fat Curtin University ,Darren Bilsborough, said public transport has significant economic and health benefits.

'When you get rid of cars, you need fewer roads and you can use that space for other things,” he said.

“The real issue is getting more people more active more quickly and to do that you need to get more cars off the road and get more public transport working.”

Beyond issues of transport and alcohol, the awareness of health and exercise is much higher in city areas, according to Norman Morris from Roy Morgan.

 “The State of the Nation report also identified reduced participation in sport and exercise for country residents compared to those in the city, as well as less agreement with healthy eating attitudes, such as thinking about calorie consumption and concern for holesterol levels,” he said.

“The increased prevalence of drinking, and a larger body mass among country residents is concerning given the reduced medical services available in rural areas.

“Although, as part of the focus on rural Australia, a Roy Morgan Poll telephone survey on country residents found that only 5 per cent considered health to be the most important issue facing Australia today.”

Earlier this week, a nation-wide survey by the Foundation for Alcohol Research and Education (FARE) found almost 80 per cent of Australians think that, as a nation, we have a problem with alcohol.

 

Folic acid reduces childhood cancer rates

Folic acid has been proven to reduce the chances of neural tube defects (NTDs) in unborn babies, and now new research has found it could also reduce the most common types of cancers in children.

Research from Washington University and the University of Minnesota, published in the current issue of Paediatrics, looked at the rates of childhood cancer before and after to mandatory folic acid fortification.

“Our study is the largest to date to show that folic acid fortification may lower the incidence of certain types of childhood cancer in the United States,” Professor Kimberly Johnson, one of the researchers, said.

Since 1988 the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has required foods with folic acid to be fortified, and Australia implemented a similar initiative over a decade later, in 2009, when  it became  mandatory for Australian millers to add folic acid, which is a form of the B vitamin folate, to wheat flour for making bread.

Johnson said a concern many countries have in deciding whether or not to fortify foods to reduce neural tube defects in newborns is the possibility that fortification may cause other issues, including cancers or pre-cancerous lesions.

A spokesperson from Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), the body that regulates the mandatory fortification, told Food Magazine the initial opposition also came from within the industry.

“There was initial opposition from the flour milling industry as they believed it would add considerable costs to their operations for new facilities, and increased ongoing operating and verification costs,” she told said.

During the two-year consultation period, FSANZ comprehensively assessed the potential health benefits and risks from increasing intakes of folic acid across the population and based on all available scientific evidence, adding folic acid to wheat flour for making bread in Australia is safe for the whole population.

It says it is “continuing to monitor emerging scientific research on folic acid and public health and safety,” and that “no new evidence has emerged to change our original conclusion that mandatory fortification with folic acid is safe.”

The folic acid fortification has had a positive impact on the rates of NTD’s, including Spina Bifida, in both countries, but now the benefit is thought to extend even further.

Johnson, who authored the study with Dr Amy Linabery said their research showed a reduction in the rates of  Wilms’ tumor, a type of kidney cancer, and primitive neuroectodermal tumors (PNET), a type of brain cancer, in children since the folic acid fortification.

Wilms’ tumor rates were increasing prior to the mandatory folic acid fortification, but trended downwards around the time of the introduction.

 “PNET rates increased from 1986 to 1993 and decreased thereafter,” Johnson said.

“This change in the trend does not coincide exactly with folic acid fortification, but does coincide nicely with the 1992 recommendation for women of childbearing age to consume 400 micrograms of folic acid daily.”

The study looked at data from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results Program (SEER) from the 1986 to 2008.

The SEER program has been collecting information on cancer rates throughout the US since the early 70’s.

Over 8,829 children, from birth to age four, who have been diagnosed with cancer, are included in the study.

Image: The Mirror

 

 

 

 

 

 

UNSW, Korea join forces to reduce allergens during food and drink processing

Australian researchers have identified processing techniques which will minimise the adverse effects of allergens in milk and other food products.

The University of New South Wales (UNSW) food scientists are working on altering the properties of the allergenic proteins, and have signed a memorandum of understanding with the UNSW School of Chemical Engineering, as well as Korea’s National Institute of Animal Science (NIAS).

The collaboration is part of the Rural Development Administration Department, which will export potential benefits of various food safety technologies.

The food allergy research group at UNSW, led by Dr Alice Lee, is working towards developing nano-sensors that can better detect allergens in food and indentify how these allergens change after harvest during food processing, and eventually result in an adverse reaction when consumed by humans.

There are various proteins contained in animal milk which can cause humans to have adverse immune responses, and reactions range from slight intolerances to potentially life threatening anaphylaxis.

“Food allergy has been an emerging food safety concern especially in developed countries,” Lee, a senior lecturer in Food Science and Technology, said.

“The current collaborative research project we have with the National Institute of Animal Science is focused on reducing the health risks of milk allergens by a means of high pressure processing.”

Lee said the food safety research at UNSW is largely focused on developing novel detection technology and new methods to improve the safety of foods, at both the farm and at the processing levels.

Under the new agreement, a NIAS researcher is working closely with the UNSW’s Food Science and Technology group, which is also looking at microbiological risks including E.coli and salmonella, as well as chemical risks posed by traces of things like antibiotics, hormones, and pesticides.

Lee said antibiotics are often administered to livestock in very low doses to fend off bacteria growth, but leftover residues can sometimes be present in meat, leading to damaging health impacts when humans are exposed.

He explained that Korea’s Rural Development Administration Department is comparable to Australia’s Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, and has a broad research focus, with a range of possibilities for future research collaborations in the areas of food safety.

“Korea and Australia share a common interest in food security, global food availability, and food safety – especially around livestock hygiene,” Professor Rob Burford, head of the School of Chemical Engineering, said.

“This is an exciting partnership for UNSW.”

Junk food ads aimed at children fall 60 per cent

Children are seeing 60 per cent less junk food advertising during their television programs, following suggestions from the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) that the practise should be stopped, and calls from health groups to ban ads aimed at those under 12.

In 2009 the AFGC suggested that high sugar, fat and salt (HFSS) foods should not be advertised during television programs aimed at children.

Following the suggestion, however, HFSS advertisements aimed at children did not decrease, but rather in some instances actually increased.

The AFGC maintains this rise was the result of scheduling error, but health groups including the Cancer Council, Parents Jury, Australian Medical Association and the Australian Greens called on the government to step in and ban the practise.

The AFGC said the suggestion to ban cartoons in advertising HFSS foods to children was “unnecessary” last year.

The AFGC has today released figures to support its suggestions, which found the advertising of HFSS foods during children’s programs has fallen to 0.7 per cent between March and May 2011, down 60 per cent from the previous year.

The independent research by the Australian advertising information service Media Monitors was revealed in the RCMI Activity Report 2011, monitored free-to-air television – including digital channels – across Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney 24/7 for 92 days.

The figures prove that the Responsible Children’s Marketing Initiative (RCMI), which was started in 2009, is working, according to AFGC Acting Chief Executive Dr Geoffrey Annison.

Under the RCMI, 17 leading food manufacturers have committed to no advertise to children under 12, unless the ads are promoting healthy dietary choices and a healthy lifestyle.

 “The latest advertising figures confirm that adverts are not running during TV programs aimed at children,” Annison said.

Annison said the AFGC is pleased the food industry has made decisions to protect children with industry codes.

“Industry looks forward to continuing discussions with Government and public health advocates to ensure the RCMI is aligned with community expectations, remains practical for industry to implement and is successful in supporting better diets and health outcomes for all Australians.”

Reducing daily salt consumption by 3 grams could save 6000 Aussie lives every year

The National Heart Foundation of Australia has found that if everyone reduced their salt intake by 3 grams per day, 6 000 lives could be saved every year.

High intake of salt has been linked to heart disease high blood pressure, often referred to as “the silent killer,” which can lead to stroke.

The average Australian eats about d nine grams of salt a day per day, despite the Heart Foundation’s recommended maximum of six grams for healthy people and four grams for people with existing high blood pressure or heart disease.

Dr Robert Grenfell, Clinical Issues Director at the Heart Foundation said that merely cutting down salt by 3 grams per day could prevent 6 000 deaths per year.

 “Research suggests that if we cut the nation’s salt intake by an average of three grams a day, we could prevent 6,000 deaths in Australia every year.

“Eating too much salt can cause high blood pressure (also known as hypertension), which is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.”

The misunderstanding about where salt is found has been a contributing factor to the increase in diseases, as many people are unaware how much salt is in supposedly ‘healthy’ foods, including bread, soups and sauces.

Extremely high levels of salt are also found in processed foods like chips, crisps, dips and fast foods, and while people know these foods are not good for them, many do not understand the impact of high salt consumption, or how much is a healthy intake.

The Federal Government’s Food and Health Dialogue, which the Heart Foundation is part of, is working towards making processed foods healthier by reducing salt levels in breads, soups, sauces, and other foods.

About 1000 tonnes of salt is already being removed from the Australian food supply every year due to the Dialogue, but Grenfell said more needs to be done.

“While the Dialogue has made a good start, increased funding is desperately needed to really super-charge the food reformulation agenda by introducing targets for more food categories more quickly and supporting that work with public education campaigns.”

In September, a report in the Australian Medical Journal (AMJ) showed more improvements could be made to salt levels in breads, because voluntary reduction across Australia and New Zealand was not enough.  

“While there has been some improvement in sodium levels in New Zealand, and while the companies actively engaged in salt reduction efforts are to be congratulated, our data also highlight the need for continued action,” the report said.

“Better results are likely to be achieved if the governments of Australia and New Zealand take committed leadership of these programs.”

 

However, a Deakin University study released in March found that a “reduced salt” label on a food product will make a consumer experience a reduced level of taste, even if it is not in fact lower in salt.

Participants were asked  to taste soups with the same salt content, but it labelled some as “reduced salt.”

Those labelled as low sodium actually had the same salt content as the other soups, but participants reported that they found them less tasty.

While it is clear that salt levels need to be reduced, the study found, better initiatives are needed to encourage lower intakes.

 

AFGC rejects tax on fast food outlets, study finds 20pc needed to make impact

The Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has rejected a proposal from a suburban Melbourne council that called for major food outlets to be taxed up to 400 per cent more on commercial rates than other businesses.

The Darebin City Council’s proposal became public this week, inspiring comment and opinion from all sides.

Some argue it would be a step in the right direction of tackling rising obesity rates in Australia and, while others, including the AFGC say it would not achieve such an objective.

A report by local councillors said the introduction of the tax on fast food outlets including McDonald’s and KFC would “curb the increase” of people developing Type 2 diabetes.

But the AFGC’s acting chief executive, Geoffrey Annison said the move is “ill-conceived, impractical and would have no impact at all on obesity levels”.

 “Proposals like Darebin Council’s are simplistic and add nothing to either the debate or the outcome. The Henry Tax review said differential taxation was a poor regulatory option for influencing food choice.

“If you were to go down that line, you would have to include a range of food outlets including supermarkets, petrol stations, bakeries, coffee shops, fish and chip outlets, and Thai, Indian and Pizza restaurants as they all sell fast ready-to-eat takeaway foods and not to do so would be inequitable.”

The suggestion of a “fat tax” began last year, when Denmark developed a model to put a tax on foods high in saturated fats.

Many believe Australia needs a similar tax, to address rising obesity rates, and raise funds to prevent and cure obesity-related diseases including Type 2 diabetes.

Australian researchers examined three options for beating obesity and discovered they could prevent about 220 000 cases of type 2 diabetes nationwide by 2025, which was released this week.

https://www.foodmag.com.au/news/220-000-cases-of-diabetes-could-be-prevented-by-20

The team from the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute identified a high-risk prevention strategy to begin tackling the obesity epidemic and rise in the number of type 2 diabetes.

They modelled future diabetes cases that could be averted using one of three strategies, the ‘junk food tax,’ counselling and gastric banding.

It found a nation-wide tax on unhealthy foods could lead to body mass index decreasing by around 0.5kg/m2.

A tax on high-sugar drinks has also been suggested, which a study in January found could save 26 000 US lives per year.

But new research out of the UK today has found that any tax on unhealthy foods or drinks would have to be more than 20 per cent for it to have any effect.

Researchers from the University of Oxford found that while more countries are introducing, or considering introducing taxes on unhealthy food and drinks, existing evidence suggests that taxes on a vast range of unhealthy foods would be more effective than focusing on just one.

In the UK, for example, the current “fat tax” regulations stipulate that only hot foods high in saturated fat are subject to the tax, leading to the largest baker, Gregg’s Bakery, to contest its application in court.

It says that because it does not make any effort to keep its sausage rolls warm after they are cooked, they should not be classified as ‘hot food,’ and therefore should not be taxed.

The Oxford study found that the most effective food group to be taxed would be sugary drinks.

“For example, a US study found a 35 per cent tax on sugar sweetened drinks in a canteen led to a 26 per cent decline in sales,” Oliver Mytton, leader of the study, said.

“Meanwhile, modelling studies predict a 20 per cent tax on sugary drinks in the US would reduce obesity levels by 3.5 per cent, and suggest that extending VAT (at 17.5 per cent) to unhealthy foods in the UK could cut up to 2,700 heart disease deaths a year.

“Opinion polls from the US also put support for tax on sugary drinks at between 37 per cent and 72 per cent, particularly when the health benefits of the tax are emphasised.”

The researchers also found that education surrounding energy intake, exercise and nutritional content is important for policy makers to consider when implementing changes.

How sugar is damaging your brain

We know sugar is not very good for our waistline, but new research out of the US has found the negative impacts of sugar may extend even further: to your brainpower.

And don't think that because you don't add sugar to your coffee you're immune, because you're probably consuming more than you think.

An American study on lab rats, which appeared in the Journal of Physiology, found that a diet with consistent amount of high-fructose corn syrup effectively ruined their memories.

Researchers from the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA) fed two groups of rats a solution with the syrup as drinking water for six weeks.

Corn syrup is produced using enzymes and acids sometimes used to break down corn starch into fructose, glucose and simple sugars.

The chemical composition of corn syrup closely resembles table sugar, sucrose.

It is made up of half glucose and half fructose.

High fructose corn syrup commercially used comes in two rations, 45 percent glucose to 55 percent fructose used in soft drinks, 58 percent glucose to 42 percent fructose used in sweetening ice cream, desserts and baked goods.

They have the same number of kilojoules.

High-fructose corn syrup is a common ingredient in processed foods, particularly soft drinks, condiments, baby foods and other snacks, and has gained interest over recent years as doctors and dieticians warn against consuming too much of the additive.

Earlier this year, a US study found that a tax on high-sugar drinks could save 26 000 American lives per year.

It is estimated that the average American consumes 45 gallons of sweetened drinks each year, while the US Department of Agriculture estimates they that more than 18 kilograms of just high-fructose corn syrup each year.

While both groups of rats were fed the high-fructose corn syrup, only one also consumed flaxseed oil, an omega-3 fatty acid, which has been shown to improve brain balance and function, and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Prior to consuming the corn syrup, and for one group the flaxseed oil and DHA, the rats were given a five-day training session in a complicated maze.

After six weeks of consuming the additives, they were placed back in the maze to see if their abilities to manoeuvre it was the same, with some frightening results.

“The DHA-deprived animals were slower, and their brains showed a decline in synaptic activity," Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.said.

"Their brain cells had trouble signalling each other, disrupting the rats' ability to think clearly and recall the route they'd learned six weeks earlier."

Of even more concern, further examination found that those rats who were not fed the DHA supplements appeared to have developed a resistant to insulin.

Insulin is a hormone that controls blood sugar and regulates brain function, which Type 1 diabetics lack, while those with Type 2 diabetes produce insulin but is less efficient at moving sugar out of the bloodstream than healthy people.

Many years ago, Type 2 diabetes was often referred to as “sugar diabetes,” as it was known to be caused by lifestyle factors including obesity, high consumption of sugar and fat and low levels of exercise.

"Because insulin can penetrate the blood-brain barrier, the hormone may signal neurons to trigger reactions that disrupt learning and cause memory loss," Gomez-Pinilla said.

And it’s not just memory that feels the effect of the sugar, with  thoughts and emotions also impacted as the fructose interferes with insulin’s ability to regulate cells.

"Insulin is important in the body for controlling blood sugar, but it may play a different role in the brain, where insulin appears to disturb memory and learning," Gomez-Pinilla said.

"Our study shows that a high-fructose diet harms the brain as well as the body.

“This is something new."

While it is not clear what the equivalent amount of high-fructose corn syrup a human would have to consume to suffer the same consequences in the brain, the study does raise questions and concerns over the amount of the additive we are consuming without knowing it.

"Our findings illustrate that what you eat affects how you think," Gomez-Pinilla said.

"Eating a high-fructose diet over the long term alters your brain's ability to learn and remember information.

“But adding omega-3 fatty acids to your meals can help minimise the damage."

Do you think Australians need more education about high-fructose corn syrup? Do we need better labelling around this additive?

Image: High-fructose corn syrup