HEALTH

Researchers explore pathway between nicotine use and inflammation

BY Michael Johnsen

UMEA, Sweden – As if there aren't enough reasons to kick the nicotine habit already, researchers from Umeå University in collaboration with U.S. researchers found a new link between nicotine and inflammation.

"This particular finding explains the missing piece of the puzzle of tobacco usage and inflammation," stated Ava Hosseinzadeh, who worked on this project during her doctoral dissertation. "This novel finding opens new avenues to understand the consequences of tobacco usage for human health and should be seen as one more convincing argument to quit nicotine usage in any form."

In a recently published article in the Journal of Leukocyte Biology, researchers at the Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden at Umeå University found that nicotine activates neutrophils in an undesirable fashion.

Neutrophils are the most abundant type of white blood cells that circulate in the blood stream ready to attack invading microbes with an arsenal of antimicrobial compounds. Neutrophils are essential to prevent infection by engulfing invading microbes, or by releasing reactive oxygen species as well as DNA fibres from their own nuclei, termed neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs). NET release is a mixed blessing. Loaded with antimicrobial enzymes and pro-inflammatory molecules NETs are harmful to invading microbes, however, they can also potently harm the host's own tissue, if not controlled in the right manner.

In recent years, NETs have been attributed to be mediators of tissue damage in several inflammatory diseases, such as small vessel vasculitis, arthritis and cancer.

For the first time, Hosseinzadeh and colleagues at MIMS show that nicotine triggers NET release. The signal to trigger NETs is mediated by a specific acetylcholine receptor found on neutrophils and further signalled into the cell via a protein kinase known as Akt.

"The next evident step is to demonstrate the NET-inducing capacity of nicotine in animal models and human samples," commented Constantin Urban, associate professor and project leader at Umeå University. "Such 'in vivo' studies will enable us to attract new funders and potentially interest of the pharma industry. Our finding could hopefully lead to novel anti-inflammatory therapies of tobacco usage related diseases."

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2016 State of Obesity report finds Americans making moderate progress

BY Michael Johnsen

WASHINGTON – U.S. adult obesity rates decreased in four states (Minnesota, Montana, New York and Ohio), increased in two (Kansas and Kentucky) and remained stable in the rest, between 2014 and 2015, according to The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, a report from the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

This marks the first time in the past decade that any states have experienced decreases – aside from a decline in Washington, D.C. in 2010.

"Obesity remains one of the most significant epidemics our country has faced, contributing to millions of preventable illnesses and billions of dollars in avoidable healthcare costs," stated Richard Hamburg, interim president and CEO, TFAH. "These new data suggest that we are making some progress but there's more yet to do. Across the country, we need to fully adopt the high-impact strategies recommended by numerous experts. Improving nutrition and increasing activity in early childhood, making healthy choices easier in people's daily lives and targeting the startling inequities are all key approaches we need to ramp up."

Despite these modest gains, obesity continued to put millions of Americans at increased risk for a range of chronic diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease, and costs the country between $147 billion and $210 billion each year.

In 2015, Louisiana has the highest adult obesity rate at 36.2% and Colorado has the lowest at 20.2%. While rates remained steady for most states, they are still high across the board.

The 13th annual report found that rates of obesity now exceed 35% in four states, are at or above 30% in 25 states and are above 20% in all states. In 1991, no state had a rate above 20%.

 The analyses are based on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.

The State of Obesity also found that:

 

  • 9 of the 11 states with the highest obesity rates are in the South and 22 of the 25 states with the highest rates of obesity are in the South and Midwest;
  • 10 of the 12 states with the highest rates of diabetes are in the South;
  • American Indian/Alaska Natives have an adult obesity rate of 42.3%;
  • Adult obesity rates are at or above 40% for Black people in 14 states; and
  • Adult obesity rates are at or above 30% in 40 states and Washington, D.C. for black people; 29 states for Hispanic people; and 16 states for White people.

There is some evidence that the rate of increase has been slowing over the past decade.  For instance, in 2005, 49 states experienced an increase; in 2008, 37 states did; in 2010, 28 states did; in 2011, 16 states did; in 2012, only one state did; and in 2014, only two states did.

In addition, recent national data show that childhood obesity rates have stabilized at 17% over the past decade. Rates are declining among 2- to 5-year-olds, stable among 6- to 11-year-olds and increasing among 12- to 19-year-olds. There are significant racial and ethnic inequities, with rates higher among Hispanic children (21.9%) and Black children (19.5%) than among White (14.7%) children.

Some other findings from the report include:

 

  • The number of high school students who drink one or more soda a day has dropped by nearly 40% since 2007, to around one in five (20.4%) (note: does not include sport/energy drinks, diet sodas or water with added sugars);
  • The number of high school students who report playing video or computer games three or more hours a day has increased more than 88% since 2003 (from 22.1% to 41.7%);
  • More than 29 million children live in "food deserts," and more than 15 million children live in "food-insecure" households with not enough to eat and limited access to healthy food;
  • Farm-to-School programs now serve more than 42% of schools and 23.6 million children; and
  • 18 states and Washington, D.C. require a minimum amount of time that elementary students must participate in physical education; 14 states and Washington, D.C. require a minimum amount for middle schoolers; and six states require a minimum amount for high schoolers.

"This year's State of Obesity report is an urgent call to action for government, industry, healthcare, schools, child care and families around the country to join in the effort to provide a brighter, healthier future for our children. It focuses on important lessons and signs of progress, but those efforts must be significantly scaled to see a bigger turn around," said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, president and CEO of RWJF. "Together, we can build an inclusive Culture of Health and ensure that all children and families live healthy lives."
 

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USC teams with VSP Global’s innovation lab on eyewear wearable pilot

BY Michael Johnsen

LOS ANGELES – The University of Southern California Center for Body Computing has teamed with VSP Global's innovation lab, The Shop, and the USC Roski Eye Institute to take wearable health for the first time to the eyes. The pilot study, which kicked off at an event on Aug. 27 at USC, will assess the users' engagement with and feedback of the smartphone app synched to the embedded sensor in the first-of-its-kind prototype optical frame, Level, created by The Shop.

The study comprised of USC employee daily eyeglass wearers has participants tracking a wearer's steps, calories burned, distance traveled and activity time. The biometrics are tracked by technology seamlessly embedded in the temple of the frame – including an accelerometer, a magnetometer and a gyroscope – and synched wirelessly via Bluetooth to an accompanying smartphone app.  USC Roski Eye Institute is the optometric care partner in the study having its ophthalmologists and optometrists at its USC clinics on the school's main campus and health sciences campus perform the eye exams and ensure accurate prescriptions for the study participants.

And there's an element that combines gaming and philanthropy. The app will synch with VSP Global's Eyes of Hope initiative where study participants will accrue points based on reaching daily step goals. Once a certain number of points are achieved, the user will trigger the donation of a comprehensive eye exam and pair of glasses to someone in need. Participants are able to choose a charity of their choice for the donation among seniors, school-age children, veterans or the homeless population.

"In this next phase of our continued collaboration with VSP we're thrilled to be partnering with them to maximize the wearable sensor in eyeglasses by engaging wearers in improved health fueled by philanthropic endeavors," stated Leslie Saxon, founder and executive director of the USC Center for Body Computing.  "We're using the eyes as a window into the soul and the heart – it's a testament to the power of digital tools to improve health and improve the world at the same time."

"Not only is Level a unique health-tracking technology that fuses function, fashion and digital health in a platform as common as eyewear, our collaboration with USC will also allow VSP to study Level in the context of increasing health and wellness outcomes while creating empathy and opportunity for someone in need," said Jay Sales, co-director of VSP Global's The Shop. "As a community-based not-for-profit, that interplay is core to who we are as a company."

"Offering our patients digital health tools and wearable technology in our eye clinics is the wave of the future," said Rohit Varma, interim dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC and director of the USC Roski Eye Institute.

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