Most American soldiers are overweight and underslept

Military Times reports:

A 2018 RAND report on health promotion and disease prevention has painted a grim picture of the military’s physical fitness and sleep standards.

The study, featuring roughly 18,000 randomly selected participants across each of the service branches, showed that almost 66 percent of service members are considered to be either overweight or obese, based on the military’s use of body mass index as a measuring standard.

While the number of overweight service members is a cause for concern, it correlates with the obesity epidemic plaguing the United States, where, as of 2015, one in three young adults are considered too fat to enlist, creating a difficult environment for recruiters to find suitable candidates for military service.

Broken down by service, the 2018 report lists the Army as the branch accounting for the highest percentage of overweight troops, with 69.4 percent of soldiers falling under this category. [Continue reading…]

Trump administration tries to boost corporate profits by exposing Americans to radiation and toxins

The Associated Press reports:

The Trump administration is quietly moving to weaken U.S. radiation regulations, turning to scientific outliers who argue that a bit of radiation damage is actually good for you — like a little bit of sunlight.

The government’s current, decades-old guidance says that any exposure to harmful radiation is a cancer risk. And critics say the proposed change could lead to higher levels of exposure for workers at nuclear installations and oil and gas drilling sites, medical workers doing X-rays and CT scans, people living next to Superfund sites and any members of the public who one day might find themselves exposed to a radiation release.

The Trump administration already has targeted a range of other regulations on toxins and pollutants, including coal power plant emissions and car exhaust, that it sees as costly and burdensome for businesses. Supporters of the EPA’s new proposal argue the government’s current no-tolerance rule for radiation damage forces unnecessary spending for handling exposure in accidents, at nuclear plants, in medical centers and at other sites.

“This would have a positive effect on human health as well as save billions and billions and billions of dollars,” said Edward Calabrese, a toxicologist at the University of Massachusetts who is to be the lead witness at a congressional hearing Wednesday on EPA’s proposal. [Continue reading…]

Time-restricted eating can overcome the bad effects of faulty genes and unhealthy diet

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By Satchin Panda, University of California San Diego

Timing our meals can fend off diseases caused by bad genes or bad diet. Everything in our body is programmed to run on a 24-hour or circadian time table that repeats every day. Nearly a dozen different genes work together to produce this 24-hour circadian cycle. These clocks are present in all of our organs, tissues and even in every cell. These internal clocks tell us when to sleep, eat, be physically active and fight diseases. As long as this internal timing system work well and we obey them, we stay healthy.

But what happens when our clocks are broken or begin to malfunction?

Mice that lack critical clock genes are clueless about when to do their daily tasks; they eat randomly during day and night and succumb to obesity, metabolic disease, chronic inflammation and many more diseases.

Even in humans, genetic studies point to several gene mutations that compromise our circadian clocks and make us prone to an array of diseases from obesity to cancer. When these faulty clock genes are combined with an unhealthy diet, the risks and severity of these diseases skyrocket.

My lab studies how circadian clocks work and how they readjust when we fly from one time zone to another or when we switch between day and night shift. We knew that the first meal of the day synchronizes our circadian clock to our daily routine. So, we wanted to learn more about timing of meals and the implications for health.

[Read more…]

As wildfires rage, smoke chokes out farmworkers and delays some crops

NPR reports:

On Mike Pink’s potato farm at dawn, the sun is an angry red ball low in the sky.

This summer, wildfire smoke has blanketed much of the West for days and weeks. And that smoke has come between the sun and ripening crops.

Pink watches as his year’s work tumbles onto a fast-moving belt and into a waiting semi truck. He’s got most of his 1,600-acre potato fields yet to harvest on his 3,000-acre farm, spread over about 40 miles between Burbank and Basin City, Wash. And this thick smoke makes him nervous.

“When we’re not getting the sunlight like that, the plants aren’t growing. They are just kind of sitting there and doing nothing,” Pink says. “And every day that goes by, we lose a day of potential growth.” [Continue reading…]

Climate change will make hundreds of millions more people suffer from nutritional deficiencies

The Guardian reports:

Rising levels of carbon dioxide could make crops less nutritious and damage the health of hundreds of millions of people, research has revealed, with those living in some of the world’s poorest regions likely to be hardest hit.

Previous research has shown that many food crops become less nutritious when grown under the CO2 levels expected by 2050, with reductions of protein, iron and zinc estimated at 3–17%.

Now experts say such changes could mean that by the middle of the century about 175 million more people develop a zinc deficiency, while 122 million people who are not currently protein deficient could become so.

In addition, about 1.4 billion women of childbearing age and infants under five years old will be living in regions where there will be the highest risk of iron deficiency. [Continue reading…]

Air pollution causes ‘huge’ reduction in intelligence, study reveals

The Guardian reports:

Air pollution causes a “huge” reduction in intelligence, according to new research, indicating that the damage to society of toxic air is far deeper than the well-known impacts on physical health.

The research was conducted in China but is relevant across the world, with 95% of the global population breathing unsafe air. It found that high pollution levels led to significant drops in test scores in language and arithmetic, with the average impact equivalent to having lost a year of the person’s education.

“Polluted air can cause everyone to reduce their level of education by one year, which is huge,” said Xi Chen at Yale School of Public Health in the US, a member of the research team. “But we know the effect is worse for the elderly, especially those over 64, and for men, and for those with low education. If we calculate [the loss] for those, it may be a few years of education.”

Previous research has found that air pollution harms cognitive performance in students, but this is the first to examine people of all ages and the difference between men and women. [Continue reading…]

Wildfires causing air quality to worsen across much of the western United States

Vox reports:

Ash and smoke are choking Seattle’s air for the second week in a row, as wildfires smolder in the Cascades and in British Columbia. The air quality in Seattle this week has been worse than in Beijing, one of the world’s most notoriously polluted cities.

As of Wednesday morning, the Air Quality Index in Seattle was at 190, a rating classified as “unhealthy.” In parts of the city, the index rose as high as 220, which is “very unhealthy.” Other parts of Puget Sound, like Port Angeles, Washington — 80 miles from Seattle — saw the AQI rise to 205 this week.

To put it in perspective, an AQI of 150 is roughly equal to smoking seven cigarettes in a day. People breathing air this unhealthy should avoid being outside and exerting themselves, particularly people with heart and lung problems, the elderly, and children. [Continue reading…]

Climate Central reports:

Ask anyone who lived in Washington’s Wenatchee Valley in 2012 about the smoke that year, and they’ll remember. The fires were close and the valley’s dry hillsides trapped the wildfire smoke. It was so bad clinics and drug stores ran out of masks. The air was so choked with smoke that summer camps were canceled and children were kept inside.

Anastazia Burnett won’t forget that summer. More than once, asthma attacks drove her to the walk-in clinic for emergency treatment. At the time, she was newly pregnant with her first child.

It was scary, she remembers, “because, when your blood oxygen is low, your baby’s blood oxygen is low, too.”

Climate change is advancing. Snowpack is decreasing, and summers are hotter and drier. A century’s worth of fire suppression is leaving forests overloaded with fuel. All of that is creating the conditions for wildfires to spread quickly and widely and burn huge trees along with the underbrush. Fire seasons are now 105 days longer in the western U.S. than they were in the 1970s. And longer wildfire seasons means more smoke pouring into cities and towns. [Continue reading…]

Why prolonged sitting may be bad for your brain

The New York Times reports:

Sitting for hours without moving can slow the flow of blood to our brains, according to a cautionary new study of office workers, a finding that could have implications for long-term brain health. But getting up and strolling for just two minutes every half-hour seems to stave off this decline in brain blood flow and may even increase it.

Delivering blood to our brains is one of those automatic internal processes that most of us seldom consider, although it is essential for life and cognition. Brain cells need the oxygen and nutrients that blood contains, and several large arteries constantly shuttle blood up to our skulls.

Because this flow is so necessary, the brain tightly regulates it, tracking a variety of physiological signals, including the levels of carbon dioxide in our blood, to keep the flow rate within a very narrow range.

But small fluctuations do occur, both sudden and lingering, and may have repercussions. Past studies in people and animals indicate that slight, short-term drops in brain blood flow can temporarily cloud thinking and memory, while longer-term declines are linked to higher risks for some neurodegenerative diseases, including dementia. [Continue reading…]

More than 2 billion people lack safe drinking water. That number will only grow

Science News reports:

Freshwater is crucial for drinking, washing, growing food, producing energy and just about every other aspect of modern life. Yet more than 2 billion of Earth’s 7.6 billion inhabitants lack clean drinking water at home, available on demand.

A major United Nations report, released in June, shows that the world is not on track to meet a U.N. goal: to bring safe water and sanitation to everyone by 2030. And by 2050, half the world’s population may no longer have safe water.

Will people have enough water to live?

Two main factors are pushing the planet toward a thirstier future: population growth and climate change. For the first, the question is how to balance more people against the finite amount of water available.

India has improved water access in rural areas, but remains at the top of the list for sheer number of people (163 million) lacking water services. Ethiopia, second on the list with 61 million people lacking clean water, has improved substantially since the last measurement in 2000, but still has a high percentage of total residents without access.

Short of any major but unlikely breakthroughs, such as new techniques to desalinate immense amounts of seawater (SN: 8/20/16, p. 22), humankind will have to make do with whatever freshwater already exists.

Most of the world’s freshwater goes to agriculture, mainly to irrigating crops but also to raising livestock and farming aquatic organisms, such as fish and plants. As the global population rises, agricultural production rises to meet demand for more varied diets. In recent decades, the increase in water withdrawal from the ground or lakes and rivers has slowed, whether for agriculture, industries or municipalities, but it still outpaced the rate of population growth since 1940.

That means every drop is increasingly precious — and tough choices must be made. Plant your fields with sugarcane to make ethanol for fuel, and you can’t raise crops to feed your family. Dam a river to produce electricity, and people downstream can no longer fish. Pump groundwater out for yourself, and your neighbor might just want to fight over it. Researchers call this the food-water-energy nexus and say it is one of the biggest challenges facing our increasingly industrialized, globalized and thirsty world. [Continue reading…]

Bayer stock plunges after jury awards man $289 million in Roundup cancer trial

The Washington Post reports:

Bayer’s stock slumped more than 10 percent in trading Monday, three days after a California jury awarded $289 million to a former groundskeeper who said the popular weedkiller Roundup gave him terminal cancer.

The stock drop sent a cautionary signal to the company that acquired Monsanto, the maker of the weedkiller, in June for $63 billion. The merger created the world’s largest seed and agrochemical company, marrying Monsanto’s dominance in genetically modified crops with Bayer’s pesticide business. Bayer’s portfolio also includes pharmaceuticals with such household brands as Aleve to Alka-Seltzer.

The verdict poses a new challenge for Bayer in its quest to combat contempt swirling around Monsanto by consumer, health and environmental advocates. For years, the company has drawn sharp criticism and allegations about the health hazards caused by Roundup, and Monsanto faces thousands of lawsuits that assert its product is linked to cancer diagnoses.

Monsanto’s reputational problems are now Bayer’s problems, said Anthony Johndrow, a corporate reputation adviser. Lawsuits against Monsanto are nothing new, Johndrow said, adding that Bayer risks souring sales of its other products because of the public perceptions of Monsanto. [Continue reading…]