Author Archives: Bix

Obesity In The United States Is A Socioeconomic Issue

Low-income senior citizens stood in long lines at Reading Terminal Market for free produce vouchers, highlighting the sheer number of Philadelphians who suffer from food insecurity. – Free Produce Vouchers Help Fight Food Insecurity For Low-income Seniors, KYWNews, July 2018

Food Choices and Diet Costs: an Economic Analysis, The Journal of Nutrition, April 2005

Obesity in the United States is a socioeconomic issue. It is related to limited social and economic resources and may be linked to disparities in access to healthy foods.

Added sugars and added fats are far more affordable than are the recommended “healthful” diets based on lean meats, whole grains, and fresh vegetables and fruit.

There is an inverse relationship between energy density of foods (kJ/g) and energy cost ($/MJ), such that energy-dense grains, fats, and sweets represent the lowest-cost dietary options to the consumer.

Good taste, high convenience, and the low cost of energy-dense foods, in conjunction with large portions and low satiating power, may be the principal reasons for overeating and weight gain.

Financial disparities in access to healthier diets may help explain why the highest rates of obesity and diabetes are found among minorities and the working poor. If so, then encouraging low-income households to consume more costly foods is not an effective strategy for public health. What is needed is a comprehensive policy approach that takes behavioral nutrition and the economics of food choice into account.

In 1948, Air Pollution In The US Was Killing People. It Still Is.

This photo was taken around noon, in Donora, PA, in 1948. The air was so thick with smog that the streetlights came on during the day.

Wikipedia, 1948 Donora Smog:

The 1948 Donora smog was a historic air inversion that resulted in a wall of smog that killed 20 people and caused respiratory problems for 6,000 people of the 14,000 population of Donora, Pennsylvania, a mill town on the Monongahela River 24 miles southeast of Pittsburgh.

Sixty years later, the incident was described by The New York Times as “one of the worst air pollution disasters in the nation’s history”. Even 10 years after the incident, mortality rates in Donora were significantly higher than those in other communities nearby.

The Clean Air Act was born:

The Donora Smog was one of the incidents where Americans recognized that exposure to large amounts of pollution in a short period of time can result in injuries and fatalities. The event is often credited for helping to trigger the clean-air movement in the United States, whose crowning achievement was the Clean Air Act of 1970, which required the United States Environmental Protection Agency to develop and enforce regulations to protect the general public from exposure to hazardous airborne contaminants.

The Clean Air Act dies:

EPA Nominee Andrew Wheeler Is Even Worse Than Scott Pruitt, CNN, 15 January 2019

Wheeler made it clear he would press ahead in dismantling the two safeguards that lower major sources of US climate change pollution: the Clean Power Plan, which cuts carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, and the clean car standards, which have already been saving consumers money at the pump. As an additional gift to the oil industry, the EPA is proposing the rollback of safeguards that limit the release of methane pollution, leaving communities near oil and gas facilities at even greater risk of developing serious health issues.

Wheeler has a long track record that shows he does not follow science and is not advancing the EPA’s core mission to protect public health and the environment.

At Confirmation Hearing, Trump’s EPA Pick Vows To Advance A Deregulatory Agenda, Washington Post, 16 January 2019

Andrew Wheeler, a former fossil fuel industry lobbyist whom President Trump nominated earlier this month to lead the Environmental Protection Agency, told a key Senate panel Wednesday that he would continue the administration’s aggressive reversal of environmental rules.

Wheeler highlighted nearly three dozen significant rules that the EPA had rolled back during the past two years in his prepared testimony.

Environmental advocates have argued that he has too many conflicts of interest to serve in the agency’s top role and that the policies he aims to pursue threaten the public health and the safety of ordinary Americans.

“The fox in the hen house analogies are endless here, but so is Wheeler’s ability to roll back vital safeguards to our air, water, and climate and put our environment and health at risk should he remain in the top spot at the EPA,” Matthew Gravatt, associate legislative director for the Sierra Club, wrote ahead of Wednesday’s confirmation hearing. “Wheeler isn’t just friendly with corporate polluters; he’s been on their team for years.”

I and the people I love have been exposed to some of the dirtiest air in the country.
Philadelphia’s Air Among Smoggiest In Northeast US, Says Study, Penn Environment, April 2017

Trump’s rollback of environmental programs such as Obama’s Clean Power Plan will make our air dirtier. Who benefits from this?

Yesterday I said that good health was an equation, that diet was only one variable. The cleanliness of our air and water are other variables.

A High-Carb Diet May Explain Why Okinawans Live So Long

A High-Carb Diet May Explain Why Okinawans Live So Long, BBC Future, 18 January 2019

I like that they say:

Ultimately, the Okinawans’ health is probably due to a lucky confluence of many factors, Ryan says. “And specific interactions among these factors will also be important.”

Diet is really important. But good health is an equation. It has lots of variables.

Whether you agree or not, at least you could say that the diet they ate – which was (for older Okinawans) high in carbohydrates and low in fat and protein – did not impede their long life.

What is regrettable about this story is this banner photo which I’m assuming they’re using to depict carbs:

High-fat, highly-sweetened muffins are not the carbohydrates Okinawans ate. They aren’t the kind of carbs anyone should eat regularly. The photo further down was better:

Sweet potatoes made up the bulk of their calories. Here’s a post from 2010: Traditional Okinawan Diet: Sweet Potatoes.

Almost 70% of the calories in the traditional Okinawan diet came from sweet potatoes. That according to an extensive investigation of six decades of archived population data published in 2007. And that wasn’t the only carbohydrate they ate. Rice and beans also played prominent roles at mealtimes.

Their macronutrient breakdown:
85% carb
6% fat
9% protein

That’s incredible.

1903 Manhattan

I saw this photo on History Lover’s Club’s Twitter stream, @historylvrsclub. It’s Hester Street in Lower Manhattan, NYC in 1903. I have to remember that most Americans were working class at this time, not middle class. In New York City, most working class lived in tenements without adequate ventilation, electricity, running water, bathrooms. This was a hard time for people. I contrast this with the story I just posted about Millennials, people born between 1981 and 1996, who claim they are the burned-out generation.

Neurons Fire In Reverse When We’re Asleep

This was the study I was thinking about. It’s maybe one reason why animals come out of a state of hibernation to sleep:

Backwards Signals Appear To Sensitize Brain Cells

How nerve cells fire when we’re awake (from dendrite to axon):

During waking hours, electrical signals travel from dendrites – antenna-like projections at one end of the cell – through the cell body. From the cell body, they then travel the length of the axon, a single long projection at the other end of the cell. This electrical signal stimulates the release of chemicals at the end of the axon, which bind to dendrites on adjacent cells, stimulating these recipient cells to fire electrical signals.

How nerve cells fire when we’re asleep (from axon to dendrite):

When the mind is at rest, the electrical signals by which brain cells communicate appear to travel in reverse, wiping out unimportant information in the process, but sensitizing the cells for future sensory learning.

The diagram at the top of this post shows a neuron firing in reverse, when we’re asleep.

Reverse firing clears the brain:

The brain doesn’t store all the information it encounters, so there must be a mechanism for discarding what isn’t important. These reverse brain signals appear to be the mechanism by which the brain clears itself of unimportant information.

But can also reinforce memories:

A connection that is reset but never stimulated again may simply fade from use over time. But when a cell is stimulated again, it fires a stronger signal and may be more easily synchronized to the reinforced signals of other brain cells, all of which act in concert over time.

Sleep is for forgetting.

Halting Diabetes And Obesity Epidemics May Necessitate Addressing Poverty

Poverty and Obesity in the U.S., Diabetes, November 2011

Halting U.S. diabetes/obesity epidemic and curtailing its health cost may necessitate addressing poverty.

  • Data from 3,139 counties in the U.S. Quintiles are cohorts of counties ranked by the percentage of people living with poverty.
  • Quintile 1, the wealthiest quintile, includes 630 U.S. counties with a mean county poverty rate of 8.2% (median household income, $56,259).
  • Quintile 5, the poorest quintile, includes 629 counties with a mean poverty rate of 25% (median household income, $32,679).
  • A: County age-adjusted obesity rates by poverty quintile.
  • B: County obesity rates vs. county leisure-time sedentary rates (sedentary adults are those who report no physical activity or exercise other than at their regular job).
  • C: County sedentary rates.
  • D: Age-adjusted diabetes rate by poverty quintile.

Humans Can’t Hibernate. Yet.

Bears hibernating. This article says we would have to learn how to prevent bone loss too. Bears already know how.

I came across this story about a man who, it was claimed, hibernated every winter for 25 years. From 1913 to 1942, Arthur Gehrke of Watertown, Wisconsin went to bed in November and did not get up until the following April. He did not like cold weather. (Watertown Historical Society)

I don’t think Mr. Gehrke was actually hibernating. He was fortunate to have had a wife to feed him every day and to take care of his business. But it got me wondering, can humans hibernate? I mean, is it possible? I found this:

Could humans hibernate?, The Conversation, March 2016

It would be useful for space travel. A trip to Mars might take years.

As a neuroscientist, I am currently part of a team of experts organised by the European Space Agency to work out whether and how we might be able to put humans into a state of stasis. It’s still an open question but, at least in theory, we can’t exclude that it might be possible.

Hibernation or torpor is a state of reduced metabolism.

The chemical reactions in an organism’s body that keep it alive slow down. Heart rate, breathing and energy consumption all dramatically decrease and body temperature can also fall.

It’s not just over the winter that animals enter torpor. And it’s spontaneous, something we don’t yet understand.

Some animals, such as mice and hummingbirds, enter a state of torpor on a daily basis if they need to save energy.

This next bit was most surprising to me. Hibernation is actually a state of sleep deprivation! And animals have to come out of it to sleep!

Animal hibernators regularly come out of torpor for a period of hours or days but often spend that time asleep, before returning to hibernation. Similarly, animals emerging from daily torpor also usually enter a deep sleep.

It is that aspect of torpor, how to protect the brain, how to cycle between low-oxygen (torpor) and high oxygen (sleep), how to preserve memories while “in a state of almost complete neuronal depression,” that seems to be the biggest challenge. Lowering body temperature, heart rate, breathing, etc. we can do, in fact we are doing, with drugs. But how might that be damaging the brain?