Scientists say using DDT against malaria could be fueling global obesity | 

Could the fight against malaria be making us fat?

That’s what one scientist who studies an increasingly important, if counterintuitive, branch of genetics thinks.

Spraying DDT in Italy, during World War II
Spraying DDT in Italy, during World War II
Flickr, otisarchives4

The pesticide DDT, though banned for use throughout much of the rich world because of its environmental persistence and potential for harm, is still widely used throughout the developing world to fight malaria. On balance, the World Health Organization thinks the health benefit from reducing malaria outweighs – in these countries anyway – the potential health and environmental safety risks of DDT.

Michael Skinner, a geneticist and founder of the Center for Reproductive Biology at Washington State University, thinks the potential harm of DDT needs to be looked at not just in terms of its immediate impact but across generations.

“The potential transgenerational actions of DDT need to be considered in the risk-benefit analysis of its use,” says Skinner.

You probably know that genes make proteins which do the work in living creatures. And that bad genes make bad proteins, which can cause disease or perhaps make us prone to mix plaids or drink red wine with fish … or some other kind of deleterious outcome. Scientists know this as the central dogma of molecular biology and it implies a simple, linear formula in which our genes operate in one deterministic direction.

But science, if it teaches you anything, teaches that what we don’t know is usually much greater than what we do. Continue reading

Visualizing Mexico’s fight against obesity (and junk food) | 

Guest post by Katie Leach-Kemon, a policy translation specialist from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

Flickr, Ed Yourdon

Mexico recently beat out the United States, though just barely, for having the world’s biggest waistlines. Not coincidentally, the Central American nation is also one of the world leaders in soft drink consumption.

In response to these two unfortunate trends, Mexican lawmakers appear likely to pass a 5% tax on junk food and 8 percent on soda. Through this tax, the government aims to generate billions of dollars in tax revenue and curb a growing obesity epidemic.

There’s a global push to increase efforts against so-called noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) like obesity, diabetes and heart disease – all of which are fueled by poor dietary or lifestyle behaviors.

The food and beverage industry has, since the beginning of this push against NCDs, pushed back against many efforts manufacturers see as singling out ‘fast food’ as bad food. So it is worth taking a closer look at how Mexico fares in its fight against fat. Continue reading

The global population is growing … fatter | 

Sanjay Basu in Global Health Hub reports on a number of studies documenting the rise in obesity worldwide. Basu notes that obesity has now overtaken tobacco as the largest preventable cause of disease in several regions. Middle-aged women are especially susceptible, as this graph shows:

Global Health Hub

The question is Why?

There are many potential causes of obesity, he writes, and many theories as to what is driving us to get fatter overall — sedentary lifestyles, the “built environment’ or the sugar-carbo content of processed foods. Basu examines the arguments for and against these causes, noting that we won’t be able to halt this epidemic until we figure out what are the primary drivers.

It’s not just about telling people to eat less, apparently.

World’s fattest nations | 

Flickr, By Tobyotter

The World Health Organization issued its 2010 annual report today, focusing on how to assure all people have access to health services. GlobalPost didn’t pay attention to that, and instead focused on WHO’s fattest nation stats.

The U.S. scores poorly, as always.

Obesity is on the rise in poor as well as rich nations and is of increasing concern as a major cause of death and disability.

Here are the top ten, from the worst to less worse, and the percentage of the population judged to be obese:

  1. Nauru, 95%
  2. Micronesia, 92%
  3. Cook Islands, 92%
  4. Tonga, 92%
  5. Niue, 84%
  6. Samoa, 83%
  7. Palau, 81%
  8. United States, 79%
  9. Kirabati, 77%
  10. Dominica, 76%

Here’s the global distribution of male obesity from WHO. The more reddish a country, the fatter its population. You can go here to WHO’s obesity site to do a search for female obesity, which has a similar distribution (I couldn’t find a map including both genders, but maybe you can):