Physical activity in parks can been boosted by modest marketing

Oct. 17, 2013 — Modest increases in marketing and outreach to local communities can increase the amount of physical activity that occurs in parks, providing a cost-effective way to potentially improve a community’s health, according to a new RAND Corporation study.The project, which examined 50 parks across Los Angeles, found that simple interventions such as increased signage boosted physical activity by 7 to 12 percent over the study period in relation to parks that did not make changes. The findings are published online by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.”The study shows that environmental cues influence and change individual behavior, including physical behavior,” said Dr. Deborah A. Cohen, the study’s lead author and a senior natural scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “When physical activity opportunities and reminders become more obvious, whether they are overt signs or notices for classes or new walking paths, they may lead people to becoming more active, especially if they are already in a park.”Although most Americans live in a community with a network of parks and recreation facilities suited to exercise, most do not meet the national guidelines for physical activity. Those recommendations suggest adults engage in physical activity for 150 minutes per week, while children should do so for 60 minutes per day.An increase in physical activity among people in Finland over the past few decades has been attributed, in part, to an increased focus on local parks and sports facilities. In contrast, many U.S. municipalities — including Los Angeles — have trimmed support for public physical activity programs and parks.RAND researchers wanted to examine whether, given limited resources, parks could adjust their programming and outreach efforts to increase activity if they had better information about local use and activity preferences. The second question was whether the involvement of park advisory boards composed of community members would help improve the decisions made by park directors.To conduct the project, 50 parks in the City of Los Angeles that included a recreation center and full-time staff were randomized into three groups. …

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Improving ‘crop per drop’ could boost global food security and water sustainability

May 29, 2013 — Improvements in crop water productivity — the amount of food produced per unit of water consumed — have the potential to improve both food security and water sustainability in many parts of the world, according to a study published online in Environmental Research Letters May 29 by scientists with the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) and the Institute of Crop Science and Resource Conservation (INRES) at the University of Bonn, Germany.

Led by IonE postdoctoral research scholar Kate A. Brauman, the research team analyzed crop production, water use and crop water productivity by climatic zone for 16 staple food crops: wheat, maize, rice, barley, rye, millet, sorghum, soybean, sunflower, potato, cassava, sugarcane, sugar beet, oil palm, rapeseed (canola) and groundnut (peanut). Together these crops constitute 56 percent of global crop production by tonnage, 65 percent of crop water consumption, and 68 percent of all cropland by area. The study is the first of its kind to look at water productivity for this many crops at a global scale.

The wide range of variation in crop water productivity in places that have similar climates means that there are lots of opportunities for improving the trade-off between food and water. And the implications of doing so are substantial: The researchers calculated that in drier regions, bringing up the very lowest performers to just the 20th percentile could increase annual production on rain-fed cropland enough to provide food for an estimated 110 million people without increasing water use or using additional cropland. On irrigated cropland, water consumption could be reduced enough to meet the annual domestic water demands of nearly 1.4 billion people while maintaining current production.

“Since crop production consumes more freshwater than any other human activity on the planet, the study has significant implications for addressing the twin challenges of water stress and food insecurity,” says Brauman.

For example, if low crop water productivity in precipitation-limited regions were raised to the 20th percentile of water productivity, specific to particular crops and climates, total rain-fed food production in Africa could be increased by more than 10 percent without exploiting additional cropland. Similar improvements in crop water productivity on irrigated cropland could reduce total water consumption some 8-15 percent in precipitation-limited regions of Africa, Asia, Europe and South America.

Because the study is global in scope, it is able to identify potential locations for interventions, crops to pay attention to, and opportunities for the biggest improvements in crop water management. Specific solutions for improving crop per drop will vary by location and climatic zone over time, however.

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Coffee, green tea, may help lower stroke risk, research shows

Mar. 14, 2013 — Green tea and coffee may help lower your risk of having a stroke, especially when both are a regular part of your diet, according to research published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

“This is the first large-scale study to examine the combined effects of both green tea and coffee on stroke risks,” said Yoshihiro Kokubo, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.H.A., F.A.C.C., F.E.S.C., lead author of the study at Japan’s National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center. “You may make a small but positive lifestyle change to help lower the risk of stroke by adding daily green tea to your diet.”

Researchers asked 83,269 Japanese adults about their green tea and coffee drinking habits, following them for an average 13 years. They found that the more green tea or coffee people drink, the lower their stroke risks.

People who drank at least one cup of coffee daily had about a 20 percent lower risk of stroke compared to those who rarely drank it.
People who drank two to three cups of green tea daily had a 14 percent lower risk of stroke and those who had at least four cups had a 20 percent lower risk, compared to those who rarely drank it.
People who drank at least one cup of coffee or two cups of green tea daily had a 32 percent lower risk of intracerebral hemorrhage, compared to those who rarely drank either beverage. (Intracerebral hemorrhage happens when a blood vessel bursts and bleeds inside the brain. About 13 percent of strokes are hemorrhagic.)

Participants in the study were 45 to 74 years old, almost evenly divided in gender, and were free from cancer and cardiovascular disease.

During the 13-years of follow-up, researchers reviewed participants’ hospital medical records and death certificates, collecting data about heart disease, strokes and causes of death. They adjusted their findings to account for age, sex and lifestyle factors like smoking, alcohol, weight, diet and exercise.

Green tea drinkers in the study were more likely to exercise compared to non-drinkers.

Previous limited research has shown green tea’s link to lower death risks from heart disease, but has only touched on its association with lower stroke risks. Other studies have shown inconsistent connections between coffee and stroke risks.

Initial study results showed that drinking more than two cups of coffee daily was linked to increasing coronary heart disease rates in age- and sex-adjusted analysis. But researchers didn’t find the association after factoring in the effects of cigarette smoking — underscoring smoking’s negative health impact on heart and stroke health.

A typical cup of coffee or tea in Japan was approximately six ounces. “However, our self-reported data may be reasonably accurate, because nationwide annual health screenings produced similar results, and our validation study showed relatively high validity.” Kokubo said. “The regular action of drinking tea, coffee, largely benefits cardiovascular health because it partly keeps blood clots from forming.”

Tea and coffee are the most popular drinks in the world after water, suggesting that these results may apply in America and other countries.

It’s unclear how green tea affects stroke risks. A compound group known as catechins may provide some protection. Catechins have an antioxidant anti-inflammatory effect, increasing plasma antioxidant capacity and anti-thrombogenic effects.

Some chemicals in coffee include chlorogenic acid, thus cutting stroke risks by lowering the chances of developing type 2 diabetes.

Further research could clarify how the interaction between coffee and green tea might help further lower stroke risks, Kokubo said.

Co-authors are: Isao Saito, M.D., Ph.D.; Kazumasa Yamagishi, M.D., Ph.D.; Hiroshi Yatsuya, M.D., Ph.D.; Junko Ishihara, Ph.D.; Manami Inoue, M.D., Ph.D.; and Shoichiro Tsugane, M.D., Ph.D.

The study was supported by Grants-in-Aid for Cancer Research and the Third-Term Comprehensive Ten-Year Strategy for Cancer Control from the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare of Japan.

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Millions of people in Asia potentially exposed to health risks of popular herbal medicines

Mar. 18, 2013 — Scientists from King’s College London are warning that millions of people may be exposed to risk of developing kidney failure and bladder cancer by taking herbal medicines that are widely available in Asia. The medicines, used for a wide range of conditions including slimming, asthma and arthritis, are derived from a botanical compound containing aristolochic acids. These products are now banned in the USA and many European countries but the herbs containing this toxic acid can still be bought in China and other countries in Asia and are also available worldwide over the internet.

The scientists reviewed worldwide cases of aristolochic acid nephropathy (AAN) — a type of kidney failure caused by the intake of these acids. They explain the clinical basis for the disease and propose strategies to help doctors identify it and treat patients more effectively. They suggest that there may be many thousands of cases across Asia that are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. With the outcome of their study, the researchers hope to raise awareness of the risks of aristolochic acids and reduce the global disease burden from this severe condition.

Lead author Professor Graham Lord, Director of the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Biomedical Research Centre (BRC) at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London, said: ‘We have found evidence that many millions of people continue to be exposed to significant health risk due to these herbal medicines, widely used in China and India.’ He added: ‘There is also a striking lack of good quality evidence that might help guide the diagnosis and management of AAN.’

The paper, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, indicates that regulatory measures that have so far been adopted by national and international agencies may be inadequate in preventing harmful exposure to aristolochic acid. The compound is linked to many cases of kidney diseases and urothelial cancer, a form of cancer of which bladder cancer is the most known variant.

The authors reviewed the latest data on the epidemiology of AAN. They used several search engines to include all publications that are about or refer to aristolochic acid and Chinese herbal nephropathy and identified 42 different case studies and one trial relating to the management of the disease.

While explaining the origin and development of the disease, they propose a protocol which should make it easier to diagnose AAN. In addition, they suggest a new disease classification to help international clinicians better identify AAN patients, and draft guidelines for the treatment of these patients.

The research team consisted of an international collaboration of scientists from Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany and the UK. Dr Refik Gökmen, co-author from King’s, said: ‘This research is a great demonstration of how international scientific collaboration is vital in helping to describe how a toxin used in widely available products can lead to cancer.’

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Cholesterol sets off chaotic blood vessel growth

May 29, 2013 — A study at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine identified a protein that is responsible for regulating blood vessel growth by mediating the efficient removal of cholesterol from the cells. Unregulated development of blood vessels can feed the growth of tumors.

The work, led by Yury Miller, MD, PhD, associate professor of medicine at UC San Diego, will be published in the advance online edition of the journal Nature on May 29.

Cholesterol is a structural component of the cell and is indispensable for normal cellular function, although its excess often leads to abnormal proliferation, migration, inflammatory responses or cell death. The researchers studied how the removal of cholesterol from endothelial cells (cells that line the blood vessels) impacts the development of new blood vessels, the process called angiogenesis.

According to Miller, removal of excess cholesterol from endothelial cells is essential for restraining excessive growth of blood vessels.

“Too much cholesterol increases the abundance of lipid rafts, areas in the plasma membrane where surface receptors initiate signaling events leading to angiogenesis,” Miller said. VEGFR2 is such a receptor, playing a central role in the development of blood vessels. Research into the process of angiogenesis suggests that VEGF-induced signaling within endothelial cells is important to tumor growth.

In this study, the scientists show that apoA-I binding protein (AIBP) is secreted by surrounding tissues and facilitates cholesterol removal from endothelial cells. This process interferes with the VEGFR2 receptor function, in turn inhibiting angiogenesis.

“Studying the process in zebrafish, we found that the timing and the pattern of AIBP expression is such that it helps guide segmental arteries to grow strictly in the dorsal direction, instead of an aberrant sideways direction,” said first author Longhou Fang, who added that future studies will explore if AIBP or its derivatives can be used to inhibit pathologic angiogenesis in tumors. Alternatively, blocking AIBP activity in the heart may, in principle, stimulate re-growth of blood vessels after a heart attack.

Additional contributors to the study include Soo-Ho Choi, Ji Sun Baek, Chao Liu, Felicidad Almazan, Philipp Wiesner, Adam Taleb, Elena Deer, Jennifer Pattison and Andrew C. Li, UCSD Department of Medicine; and Florian Ulrich and Jesús Torres-Vázquez, Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine at New York University Langone Medical Center.

The study was funded in part by National Institutes of Health grants HL093767, HL055798 and HL114734; a fellowship from the UC Tobacco-Related Disease Program; and a UCSD Neuroscience Microscopy Facility Grant.

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Cardio and weight training reduces access to health care in seniors

May 14, 2013 — Forget apples — lifting weights and doing cardio can also keep the doctors away, according a new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute.

The study, published today in the online journal PLOS ONE, followed 86 women, aged 70- to 80-years-old, who were randomly assigned to participate in weight training classes, outdoor walking classes, or balance and toning classes (such as yoga and pilates) for six months. All participants have mild cognitive impairment, a well-recognized risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia.

The researchers tabulated the total costs incurred by each participant in accessing a variety of health care resources.

“We found that those who participated in the cardio or weight training program incurred fewer health care resources — such as doctor visits and lab tests — compared to those in the balance and toning program,” says Jennifer Davis, a postdoctoral fellow and lead author of the study.

The study is the latest in a series of studies that assess the efficacy of different types of training programs on cognitive performance in elderly patients. An earlier study, published in February in the Journal of Aging Research, showed aerobic and weight training also improved cognitive performance in study participants. Those on balance and toning programs did not.

“While balance and toning exercises are good elements of an overall health improvement program, you can’t ‘down-dog’ your way to better brain health,” says Teresa Liu-Ambrose, an Associate Professor in the UBC Faculty of Medicine and a member of the Brain Research Centre at UBC and VCH Research Institute. “The new study also shows that cardio and weight training are more cost-effective for the health care system.”

Background: Exercise benefits for the brain

The new studies build on previous research by Prof. Liu-Ambrose, Canada Research Chair in Physical Activity, Mobility, Cognitive Neuroscience and a member of the Centre for Hip Health & Mobility, where she found that once- or twice-weekly weight training may help minimize cognitive decline and impaired mobility in seniors.

Research method

The weight training classes included weighted exercises targeting different muscle groups for a whole-body workout. The aerobic training classes were an outdoor walking program targeted to participants’ age-specific target heart rate. The balance and toning training classes were representative of exercise programs commonly available in the community such as Osteofit, yoga, or Tai Chi.

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RA diastolic dysfunction

Nancy Walsh writing in MedPage Today reported, “Patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) have an increased incidence of diastolic dysfunction, meaning the heart doesn’t fill with blood properly. This may further raise their already high risk for congestive heart failure, a meta-analysis suggested.” Researchers found that “mean left atrial size was larger in RA patients than in controls. The investigators also found that pulmonary artery pressure was higher. The findings were published in Arthritis Care & Research.Comment: RA patients already are at risk for heart problems. This raises a whole other issue.http://youtu.be/cPP-c_vL8Vc20%

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A Conversation with Pierre Joliot-Curie

Pierre Joliot-Curie, Professor of Biology at the Collège de France and former Director of the CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research), talks about his life and career with Jean-David Rochaix, Professor of Molecular Biology at the University of Geneva. Dr. Joliot-Curie, whose grandparents Pierre and Marie Curie and parents Frédéric Joliot and Irène Curie were all Nobel Prize laureates, discusses his love of research, which he equates to an “artistic” endeavor and an adventure. He recounts his beginnings, growing up as a “poor student” in a scientific family, and how his father encouraged him to study biology rather than …

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Building a Diverse Future for the Biological Sciences

(Visit: http://www.uctv.tv/) Panel analyzes the double bind in the biological sciences, assessing the pipeline and the potential for building a more diverse faculty. Moderated by Ram Seshadri, Associate Director of the Materials Research Lab & Professor of Materials, Chemistry & Biochemistry, UC Santa Barbara. Panelists: Albert Bennett, Dean

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