Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Is There A Need To Ban Free Toys With Kid Meals?

Fighting obesity epidemic, especially children obesity, has been one of a top priority tasks for many countries. This is because obese or overweight children can develop many medical disorders including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and stroke later on when they grow up. The potential medical expenses to be spent on these people for treatments would be huge.

For years, “Happy Meals” from McDonald as well as meals bundled with free toys and goodies from other fast food restaurants have been the favorite meal options for children. There is no question that such marketing approach does help the fast food companies build demand for their products.

Health experts have repeatedly pointed their fingers to the unhealthy fast foods as the culprits that are partly responsible for causing the childhood obesity epidemic. Some even blame the toys and freebies that come with the meals as a powerful lure for children, encouraging them to consume unhealthy food.

The social pressure has forced most fast food restaurants to introduce healthier meal options for children. However, most people are still not happy and feel that more actions should be taken to fight childhood obesity.

In United States, California was the first to ban on soda in public schools. On April 27, 2010, a bill was approved by Santa Clara County's Board of Supervisors to set basic nutritional standards for children’s meals. Only restaurants providing meals that comply with the national nutritional criteria for children can give away free toys with meals.

Restaurants that offer foods with excessive calories, more than 120 calories for a beverage, 200 calories for a single food item or 485 calories for a meal, would not be allowed to use toys as rewards for the children who purchase the foods. Meanwhile, there will also be limits on sodium, excess fat and excess sugar.

In Santa Clara County, one in four youths are either overweight or obese. A doctor revealed that parents coming into his clinic admitted that they often buy Happy Meals and other fast food for their children because of the free toys included. He further added that the obese children entering his clinic include a 5-year-old with Type-2 diabetes. It is hoped that the new bill would help parents decide what meal option they want for their children.

There is no surprise that people in favor of the new bill were public health administrators, parents and doctors, and those who opposed were fast-food franchisees, other parents, and fans of fast-food toys.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Air Pollution Could Be a Risk Factor for Heart Disease!

A person, who is exposed to air pollution, could develop cardiovascular (heart disease and stroke). Though the risk is comparatively smaller than those known risk factors like smoking, obesity, or high blood pressure, air pollution is still a public health issues that should not be ignored. This is because there are a large number of people exposing to air pollution over their entire lifetime.

Several epidemiological studies conducted worldwide have found a link between increased risk for cardiovascular disease and short- and long-term exposure to pollution, especially particulate matter. This prompts the American Heart Association (AHA) to issue a statement for healthcare professionals on air pollution and cardiovascular disease in May 2004.

AHA advise people with heart disease, or those with certain cardiovascular risk factors, pulmonary disease and diabetes as well as the elderly to restrict their outdoor activity if the air pollution level is high. The air pollution level is indicated by the daily Air Quality Index monitored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

In Hong Kong, the air pollution raised to 500 on Mar 22, 2010, the highest possible reading on the 23-year-old index, because of the sandstorms in the northern China. The government immediately advises people with heart disease or respiratory problems to avoid staying in heavy traffic over a long period of time.

In fact, the existing guideline issued by the Hong Kong government advise people who have asthma and cardiovascular disease NOT to engage with outdoor activity and physical exercise should the index exceed 100.

It is understood the issuance of such alert would certainly bring inconvenience to the residence in Hong Kong. For instance, parents have to deal with schools cancelling sports days and others might have to change their routine behavior.

According to the Hong Kong’s authority, occasional rain might help lower the pollution index level. However, their long-term plan is to accelerate replacement of old buses, change transit routes and set up low-emission zones to cut pollution. It is expected that old buses will be eliminated from city roads by 2019.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Gene Mutation Can Harm The Heart Too!

Researchers from the Baylor College of Medicine reported on April 13, 2010 in the Journal of Neuroscience that a gene mutation in the brain of people with epilepsy can create trouble for their hearts and even make them victims of sudden death.

Their findings explained why epileptics (people with epilepsy) who are otherwise healthy can have irregular heartbeat and their likelihood to die suddenly and unexpectedly are more than 10 times than that of the general population. The findings might also help identify people who are likely to have sudden cardiac and provide improved treatment.

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines epilepsy as “any of various disorders marked by abnormal electrical discharges in the brain and typically manifested by sudden brief episodes of altered or diminished consciousness, involuntary movements, or convulsion.”

You will be surprised to learn that there are a substantial number of epileptics, about 50 million, around the world. Almost 90 percent of them are in developing countries. Though such disorder is more likely to be found among young children or people older than 65 years old, it can occur at any time.

While epilepsy can usually be controlled, it cannot be cured with medication. In some difficult cases, surgery might be an option. There are over 30 percent of epileptics do not have seizure control even with the help of the best available medications.

Researchers focused on abnormal ‘ion channels' in the brain that cause epilepsy as well as put individuals at risk for sudden unexplained death. An ion channel is a protein that allows charged particles leave or enter a cell to generate electrical signals, which is a basic process of nerve cell communication. These ion channels are also responsible for proper heart function, as pointed out in the study.

In the laboratory, electrical signals from the brains and hearts of mice bred to lack of the gene for the ion channel known as Kv1.1 were recorded. The results showed that the hearts of the mice had irregular heartbeat, signs of severe epilepsy and involuntary movement.

The heartbeats became even more erratic when the mice had epileptic seizures. This suggests that the signals from their brains to their hearts were disordered. After several episodes of cardiac arrest, the mice died.

Friday, July 02, 2010

What Is Endothelial Progenitor Cells?

Ever since they were discovered in 1997, Endothelial Progenitor Cells (EPC) have become the targets of scientists who hope to explore the potential of these cells in the process of cardiovascular damage and repair.

So what is EPC? According to (an online medical dictionary), EPC is “a primitive cell made in the bone marrow that can enter the bloodstream and go to areas of blood vessel injury to help repair the damage”.

The number of EPC in the blood can be used to assess the risk factors in cardiovascular disease. A shortage or ageing of endothelial progenitor cells might cause blood vessel disease.

A study released on September 8, 2005 concluded that patients with higher level of circulating endothelial progenitor cells detected in their bloodstream experienced fewer repeat heart attacks. Meanwhile, a number of small phase clinical trials have indicated EPC as a potential treatment for various types of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

Detection of EPC level of suspected heart disease patients within the shortest duration is crucial because it would help doctors provide timely treatment to their patients. Unfortunately, the conventional method, known as flow cytometry, would need between 4 and 5 hours to get the results. This is obviously not fast enough to treat acute cases.

Recently, A*STAR Institute of Microelectronics (IME) announced that they have invented a new device that could rapidly detect the level of EPC in a heart disease patient. With the help of so-called microfluidic system, the device requires just a finger prick of blood from that patient.

For more information on microfluidic system and A*STAR Institute of Microelectronics (IME), please visit their website via the following link: