Health Updates 22 June 2012

  • Science journal takes aim at ‘big food‘: “The food and beverage industry has a huge and growing influence on the obesity crisis, but “Big Food” is not met with the same skepticism as other industries that influence public health, according to the editors of PLoS Medicine.  ‘Food, unlike tobacco and drugs, is necessary to live and is central to health and disease,’ the editors wrote online in an editorial kicking off a new series on the interplay between the food and beverage industry and public health.  ‘And yet the big multinational food companies control what people everywhere eat, resulting in a stark and sick irony: one billion people on the planet are hungry while two billion are obese or overweight’.  The editors said that while other big business interests — such as the alcohol, tobacco and pharmaceutical industries — are often easy targets on which to blame public health ills, the food and beverage industry, for the most part, has gotten a pass.  Food and beverage companies are shaping global health conversations, in part by branding themselves as ‘nutrition companies’ and presenting at major conferences and at high-level UN meetings, the editors wrote.  Food companies often partner with global health groups for health and nutrition initiatives, which is a conflict of interest, according to PLoS, because of food companies’ primary goal: selling food.  ‘Why does the global health community find this acceptable?’ the editors wrote.  (Emily P. walker, MedPage Today)
  • Seizure leads to US Commerce Secretary‘s resignation: “A seizure suffered earlier this month has led US Commerce Secretary John Bryson to resign from the Obama administration.  Bryson, 68, was found unconscious after he was involved in a series of traffic crashes in the Los Angeles area earlier this month.  A breathalyzer test did not detect any alcohol, the Associated Press reported.  In his resignation letter, Bryson said his decision was a ‘consequence of a recent seizure and a medical leave of absence’.  He also wrote: “I have concluded that the seizure I suffered on June 9th could be a distraction from my performance as secretary, that our country would be better served by a change in leadership,’ the AP reported. (HealthDay)
  • Health groups criticize allergy drug promotion: “Public health advocates on Wednesday accused the drug company Merck of improperly marketing an over-the-counter allergy medicine directly to children using animated characters from the movie “Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted”.  In a complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission, the Public Health Advocacy Institute and 10 other groups, called the marketing strategy for Children’s Claritin dangerous and deceptive, pointing to the inclusion of Madagascar stickers in some boxes of the product, the creation of activity books that parents can download for their children and the enlistment of a team of mothers who blog to hold Claritin-themed Madagascar viewing parties for their children and friends.  The group also warned that children may confuse the grape-flavored Claritin tablets and syrup for candy because the same characters are used to promote other children’s products, like candy and gummy snacks.  ‘The number of children’s food products featuring Madagascar-licensed products creates a very real danger of product confusion,’ according to the complaint.  Kelley Dougherty, a Merck spokeswoman, said the company was reviewing the matter, but added, ‘We advertised in appropriate venues to reach those parents of children who may benefit from the use of Claritin, and not to the children themselves’.  The complaint argues that Merck violated longstanding precedent that discourages companies from marketing over-the-counter supplements and drugs directly to children.  It mentions a 1977 FTC order that prevented a company from advertising Spider-Man vitamins on television and in print advertisements in comic books, asserting that children are not qualified to decide whether or not they need vitamins….Cara Wilking, the senior staff attorney at the Public Health Advocacy Institute, said the Merck case is similarly egregious but has been updated for modern-day media.” (NY Times)
  • Gene studies support ‘Queen of Sheba‘ legend: “Cited in both the Bible and the Quran, the legendary African ruler the Queen of Sheba was said to have had a child with King Solomon of Israel.  Now scientists studying the genomes of people in Ethiopia say there is genetic evidence that may support this age-old tale.  The team found that the genomes of some groups of people in Ethiopia show mixing with non-African populations about 3,000 years ago, and bear striking similarities to those  populations in Israel and Syria.  ‘We found that some Ethiopians have 40 percent to 50 percent of their genome closer to the genomes of populations outside of Africa, while the remaining half of their genome is closer to populations within the African continent,’ study co-author Toomas Kivisild, from the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, said in a Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute news release.  ‘We calculated genetic distances and found that these non-African regions of the genome are closest to populations in Egypt, Israel and Syria, rather than to the neighboring Yemini and Arabs,’ Kivisild said.  The genetic findings  — along with the previous linguistic studies — are consistent with the legend of the Queen of Sheba, the team said.  The study appears in the American Journal of Human Genetics.  Ethiopia, which is located on the horn of Africa, is believed to be one of the gateways used by ancient humans to spread from Africa to the rest of the world.  Groups of people in Ethiopia are among the most diverse in the world, and studying their genetic heritage could help scientists learn more about the origin of the first humans. (Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute News Release, US Dept. of HHS)

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