You (and your kids) are what you eat

Mens Journal – Friday 4th December

Fascinating new research on the effects of a father’s diet on his offspring’s health widens the frame of parental impact on children. While there has been extensive research on the effects of what mothers eat prior to conception, during pregnancy and post-natally, fathers’ diets have been rather overlooked. Two recent studies, however, have shed new light on the complicated role that epigenetics plays in what a father passes on to his children.

In particular, information on men’s weight and diet is ‘programmed’ into their sperm epigenetically. This growing field of research and medicine looks at the varied factors that can determine whether genes carried in DNA are activated or not. A range of environmental impacts and chemicals are known to affect the expression of genes, determining their impact on health. Both studies turned up evidence that the weight and diet of fathers at the time of conception, can affect the weight and appetite of their children and may even affect levels of anxiety and mental health.

The research brings into clear focus the importance of diet in long-term health. The inter-generational impacts these studies evidence – which are similar to studies done on maternal diets – point out that what we eat has an impact far beyond our own lives. The effects of being both overweight and underweight appear to be written into our DNA during our lifetimes, and our own poor eating habits influence the DNA and physical legacy of our children. There’s some food for thought over what to eat.

Helping farmers deal with flooding in the north west of England

Farming UK – Tuesday 8th December

The start of another winter and Britain is flooding again. Over the past weekend, Cumbria had the heaviest rain ever recorded when Storm Desmond arrived. Three different rivers across the county saw their highest ever recorded levels and overtopped flood defences, inviting criticism of government cuts to flood defences in recent years – cuts the government may find itself reconsidering as the weather gets more extreme year on year. Flooding caused by extreme weather has been on the increase in the past decade and flood defences are being tested and largely failing. The Thames Barrier which protects London from flooding has closed 100 times in the last 15 years; during the 1980s it closed just four times.

Rural communities in Cumbria are especially hard hit, with farmers losing livestock and crops; flooding is a very real hardship that destroys both home and livelihood for those in farming. They deserve deep sympathy and understanding, and much more government action and financial support than they are currently getting. There is some funding available to farmers and others suffering from the floods, and though welcome, it will, likely, not go far.

The cause of the widespread flooding has been much discussed and debated. Environment Secretary Liz Truss has admitted that global climate change is an obvious culprit. But environmentalist George Monbiot has laid the blame for the floods at the feet of hill farmers, whom he has long accused of having ‘sheep-wrecked’ the uplands of Britain. As news of the flooding broke, he tweeted “Cumbria’s bare hills make #flooding inevitable after heavy rain. Bring back the tree cover to slow the flow.”

While Monbiot’s accusation is akin to a kick when a good man is down, it does invite some consideration of how farming might seek a more holistic approach to the rising waters. Sustainable land management is key to developing the resilience needed to recover from such weather events. Grazing practices like holistic management support soil health, and healthy soil with good organic matter absorbs water better and can reduce flooding. Planting trees on well-managed grassland will further reduce water run-off as well, and it has the added benefit of helping to sequester carbon from the atmosphere, increasing soil carbon levels. We need to think about what we can do when its dry to prepare for the rain, and ensure our farming practices create the best environment for survival.

Food security at threat from climate change, warns FDA

Farming Online – Friday 4th December

A major new report from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) launched at the COP21 talks this week, outlines the global threat of climate change to agriculture. Climate Change, Global Food Security and the US Food System paints a comprehensive picture of the impacts that, without fundamental mitigation by lowering greenhouse gas emissions, will erase the gains in food security that have recently been achieved. In the last six years, food insecurity has been cut by 200 million people, although 795 million people are still undernourished globally.

US Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack suggested that this improvement cannot be maintained as climate change progresses and that it will affect every aspect of the food system. While the US is well equipped to contend with the problems as one of the wealthiest developed nations with a well developed agriculture sector, it is still likely to be hit with rising food costs, impacts to imports and exports, distribution disruption and a range of other problems caused by climate change. The report is also uncompromising in its assertion that as GHG emissions increase, food insecurity will increase in both rate and magnitude, disproportionately affecting the poor and those living in the tropics.

The report also offers ‘pathways’ to navigate climate change scenarios in relation to food production and consumption, identifying “…needs and vulnerabilities, and effectively targeting adaptive practices and technologies across the full scope of the food system.” It functions as an action plan as well, and stands alongside US commitments to lowering GHG.

Antibiotic use in food fuels resistance to vital drugs

The Guardian – Tuesday 8th December

Finally, serious attention is being paid to the antimicrobial resistance generated by the widespread use of antibiotics in farm animals. This issue, which is easily as significant as the overuse of antibiotics in humans, has been increasingly recognised as the other major factor in the growing ineffectiveness of our antibiotics. The recent news that resistance to colistin, a ‘last resort’ antibiotic, has emerged in the pig industry in China, sent a shudder of fear through researchers, the medical community and finally, policy-makers.

The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, commissioned by David Cameron, has just published a new paper, specifically targeting the misuse of antibiotics in farm animals and its effect on resistant disease strains. Jim O’Neill, chair of the Review, commented that, “It’s time for policymakers to act on this. We need to radically reduce global use of antibiotics, and to do this we need world leaders to agree to an ambitious target to lower levels, along with restricting the use of antibiotics important to humans.” O’Neill also notes the shocking fact that in most countries, animals receive most of the antibiotics, not humans – a practice that must be curtailed as it significantly contributes to growing resistance.

The UK government’s unequivocal support for the Review has been a long time coming and is an important step forward. The issue of the use of antibiotics on animals has been on the table for decades now – long acknowledged by those concerned with antibiotics and antimicrobial resistance as a problem that must be addressed through regulation and legislation. Meaningful progress on animal antibiotic use is only just starting to happen.

New diabetes cases at long last, begin to fall in the United States

New York Times – Tuesday 1st December

While obesity rates are still increasing for adults, evidence now shows that new cases of diabetes have declined for the first time since the disease took off in the 1990s. It’s a sizable shadow of hope rising on the generally poor health of Americans and a testament that eating habits may finally be changing in the country.

The fall in diabetes comes on the heels of research arguing that a new generation of eaters in the US are eating better. Consumption of fizzy drinks has fallen by a quarter, exercise and physical activity is up and both children and adults are taking in fewer calories. While there is no definitive research on whether this is feeding the decline of diabetes, its unstoppable rise over the last two decades has finally abated, and awareness does seem to be spreading of the terrible effects of the disease, which can include blindness and loss of limbs.

This article profiles a number of people who have changed their eating and exercise behaviours after witnessing the progression of the disease in family members – one woman ended a 50-can-a week fizzy drinks habit; another lost 33 pounds making simple changes in her eating habits like packing her own lunch for work and cutting out sugary snacks, along with getting some exercise.

The real dangers of poor eating are becoming evermore apparent to people, and just as with smoking, the more visible these dangers become and the more vocal public health bodies are about them, the more this will drive people to change their eating habits.

Photograph: UNAMID

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