SMC Heads-Up: Obesity, recreational water quality and the future of paper
Issue 203 19-25 October
New from the SMC
ANZOS meeting targets
Experts gathering in Auckland this week have one health concern firmly in their sights: Australasia's obesity epidemic.
With around 65 percent of New Zealanders overweight or obese, our growing waistlines are becoming hard to ignore - and if they continue unchecked, their impact on the health system will be immense.
This problem - and the potential solutions to it - are at the core of the Australia and New Zealand Obesity Society Annual Scientific Meeting taking place in Auckland this week. The meeting brings together clinicians, scientists, policy makers and patients to work toward an integrated approach to improve the management and prevention of obesity in Australasia.
This week the Science Media Centre held a briefing with some of the key speakers, which you can view here.
At the briefing Prof Wayne Cutfield, Director of the Liggins Institute, stressed the importance of early human development in obesity and diabetes risk. Prof Barbara Rolls, visiting from Penn State in the US, had a few evidence-based tips on how boost children's intake of veges, and Waikato's Professor of Agribusiness highlighted how modern agriculture has changed what and how we eat.
In addition to these topics (which were also covered in a public lecture on Thursday night) there were many other issues addressed at the meeting. Examples include ethnic differences in food consumption, examining self-feeding in babies, how people shop for food and much more.
The meeting, which started on Thursday, will continue today and tomorrow.
You can read a round up of media
coverage of the ANZOS meeting so far on the SMC
Swimming spots scrutinised
Just in time for summer, the Ministry for the Environment has released an environmental indicator report on the water quality of recreational swimming spots.
The 2012 Environmental 'Report Card', released this month, gives out grades on the the quality of water at recreational swimming spots around the country. The grades describe the likely condition of a beach that may be used for recreation during summer and are based on an assessment of potential sources of faecal contamination.
Of the 458 monitored beaches that
were graded in 2012:
• 24 per cent of freshwater and 13 per cent of coastal beaches were graded as 'poor' (generally unsuitable for swimming).
• 21 per cent of recreational freshwater beaches and 3 per cent of coastal beaches used for recreation were graded as 'very poor' (high risk- should be avoided for swimming).
Local and national media have reported widely on the grades, check out a round up of news on the SMC site.
On the science radar...
Rogue geoengineers, poison-proof rats, Transatlantic hygiene, Madagascar's dying plants and creativity linked to mental illness.
One great jump for humankind
Sponsorship dollars from an energy drinks company allowed Felix Baumgartner's 37 kilometre skydive to come off this week, but there was plenty of science underpinning the record-setting jump.
The supersonic dive built on decades of research into the effects of high altitude jumps, all the way back to Joe Kittinger's 31 kilometre jump made in 1960.
Engineers at Virgin Galactic and NASA hope Baumgatner's free fall, during which he tumbled out of control for 40 seconds, subjected to more than twice the force of gravity - 2.5Gs, could help in the design of astronaut suits and emergency escape systems.
"Now we know a
little more on how to reposition arms and legs on the suit.
Of course, we're always doing research and development. ...
New knee joints, new elbow joints, lighter hardware. It's
nonstop. We are currently working on the next-generation of
suit right now for NASA and the Air Force," said Dan
McCarter, of David Clark, the company that made
About to take the 37km plunge
The BBC compared Baumgartner to Antarctic explorer Captain Scott and Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin who added significantly to scientific knowledge through their adventurous exploits. Both explorers died pushing the limits of technology and human endurance.
There's also a feeling, reflected in some press coverage, that the mission adds to the works of Space X, Virgin Galactic and other private sector companies pioneering new aerospace technologies that once would have been the sole domain of NASA and military aircraft contractors.
Reported Tech Crunch: "We cannot discount all of
the government-funded work that goes unseen and that clearly
went into this launch, but it seems like the adventurer has
fallen to the bureaucrat who, in turn, will fall to the
Richard Friend's flexible revolution
He's been at the cutting edge of polymer and organic semiconductor research for over 20 years.
And Sir Richard Friend, the Cambridge University physics professor who occupies the same position Sir Ernest Rutherford did in the 1920s, has just finished up a tour of New Zealand, delivering lectures as the Royal Society of New Zealand's 2012 Distinguished Speaker.
Sciblogs editor Peter Griffin attended the Wellington lecture and provides some commentary here. Amidst the anecdotes from the lab and explanations of the science underpinning the efficient solar cells and flexible computer displays Sir Richard's team has worked on at the Cavendish Laboratory, was a message for New Zealand.
Using the example of Cambridge, the university town with a population of 100,000, but where 40,000 are employed in the hi-tech sector, Sir Richard said the critical mass the research centre had reached fueled around 1,000 hi-tech start-ups working on emerging technologies.
"Most of those small
companies are taking big risks. Being risky has become quite
safe. They can jump ship to other small
The clustering of tech companies in Cambridge, Sir Richard argues, sprung from a decision by Trinity College to set up a tech park on the city fringes in 1972, which has played host to successful companies such as chip-maker ARM, software company Autonomy and Cambridge Silicon Radio.
Quoted: Dominion Post
"It is time for the Government to put children first and take the obvious step that parents are crying out for, which is to regulate unhealthy food marketing directed at children...
"How much longer do we
allow the purveyors of junk food to run free with their
unethical marketing practices and their licence to dictate
public policy to our politicians?"
Boyd Swinburn (Deakin University) & Jane Martin (Obesity Policy Coalition)
New from the SMC
Environmental report cards: New numbers just in on the water quality in New Zealand's swimming spots have been covered widely by media
ANZOS Briefing: Three key speakers from the Australia and New Zealand Obesity Society meeting share some of their research on obesity, our children and the future.
Some of the highlights from this week's posts:\
NIWA v cranks: costs are in, losers start
whinging - Gareth Renowden notes that the individuals
who took NIWA to court may end up footing the bill, despite
a legal loophole.
Obesity prevention starts in the womb -
Obesity starts at the very beginning according to new
research coming out of the Liggins Institute, writes Amanda
Note to self - eat more chocolate -
Tongue in cheek, John Pickering notes that the hard numbers
indicate eating chocolate could be the key to sweet success
at the Nobel Prizes.
Future Postcards From The Past - 19th
Century France might have had some odd ideas about the new
millennium, says Robert Hickson, but they could teach us a
thing or two about our own
Please note: hyperlinks point, where possible, to the relevant abstract or paper.
linked to promiscuity: The human papillomavirus
(HPV) vaccine known as Gardasil is not associated with an
increase in markers of increased sexual activity, according
to a study which followed 1,398 eleven year-old US girls.
Researchers followed the sample for three years and found
that girls who received the HPV vaccine did not have a
statistically higher rate of testing, diagnosis, or
counseling compared to controls. The findings counter claims
from the media that use Gardasil may lead to sexual
claims crushed: A Cochrane-led systematic review of
clinical studies has determined that "Cranberry juice does
not appear to have a significant benefit in preventing
urinary tract infections and may be unacceptable to consume
in the long term." The study analysed 24 studies (4473
participants) comparing cranberry products with control or
alternative treatments. The study updates a previous review
which indicated cranberry derived products may confer a
small degree of protection from tract infections.
The Cochrane Library
Multivitamins vs cancer:
In a randomized trial that included nearly 15,000 male
physicians, long-term daily multivitamin use resulted in a
modest but statistically significant reduction in cancer
after more than a decade of treatment and follow-up. The
study is the the only large-scale, randomized, double-blind,
placebo-controlled trial testing the long-term effects of a
common multivitamin in the prevention of chronic
risk: In a study that included more than 300 US
nursing homes, rates of hospitalization and death were
substantially increased during outbreaks of norovirus
gastroenteritis vs. non-outbreak periods. Studying 2 years
worth of data covering 407 norovirus outbreaks, researchers
concluded the outbreaks in rest homes "consistently
increased risk of hospitalization and death from all
causes". Currently, several New Zealand nursing homes and
hospitals are battling norovirus outbreaks.
How to make a
moon: A giant impact on Earth could have produced a
Moon chemically similar to Earth, two new studies report.
The findings challenge a long-standing theory that the Moon
was produced primarily from a bite out of of a Mars-sized
planet after a giant collision with Earth about 4.5 billion
years ago. The new studies model potential impacts and
momentum of space bodies to to show that the moon could have
formed from Earth-derived material after a collision.
dolphins: Dolphins sleep with only one half of
their brains at a time, and according to new research this
trait allows them to stay constantly alert for at least 15
days in a row. Scientists found that dolphins can use
echolocation with near-perfect accuracy continuously for up
to 15 days, identifying targets and monitoring their
environment. The researchers studied 2 dolphins, one male
and one female, and found that they were capable of this
task with no signs of fatigue for 5 days. The female dolphin
performed additional tasks for a 15-day period.
Some of the policy
highlights from this week:
China backs NZ Customs: New Zealand and China Customs have agreed to work more closely together to combat the smuggling of pharmaceutical products used to manufacture methamphetamine.
report: A Government review of the October 2011
Maui gas pipeline outage and subsequent work, released this
week, shows the steps needed to strengthen the gas system
are being taken.
Conservation minister in India:Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson this week attended the 11th Convention on Biological Diversity in Hyderabad, India. Issues discussed included biodiversity and livelihoods; integration of the value of biodiversity in national planning and coastal and marine biodiversity.
Upcoming sci-tech events
• Wellington Rocks! Earthquake briefings for
Wellington residents - a joint project from GNS Science
and the Wellington City Council - At various locations
throughout Wellington, September - October.
• 'For Our Children's Children': Australian and New Zealand Obesity Society (ANZOS) Annual Scientific Meeting -18-20 October, Auckland.
• Food contamination from US nuclear weapons testing in the Pacific - Public lecture from Dr Nancy Pollock - 23 October, Wellington.
• What If Tongariro Erupted Big Time? Part of the 'What if Wednesday' Lecture series - 24 October, Christchurch.
• What If we could minimize financial loss from earthquakes? Part of the 'What if Wednesday' Lecture series - 24 October, Christchurch.
• Medical Devices From Mutton- Materials For Regenerative Medicine - Cafe Scientifique with Dr Barnaby May - 25 October, Wellington.
For these and more upcoming events, and more details about them, visit the SMC's Events Calendar.