Half of children resistant to the most common antibiotics

The Telegraph – Tuesday 15th March

Deeply concerning new research has just come out on the declining effectiveness of the most common antibiotics on children – over half of children in the world have resistance to three of the mostly widely prescribed antibiotics.

The study focused on urinary tract infections in children which affect 10% of girls and around 3% of boys. E-coli is the most frequent culprit in these and it is a bacteria that has been developing microbial resistance at an alarming rate. In November 2015, news broke that E-coli bacteria in pigs had developed resistance to colistin, a key ‘last resort’ antibiotic, and subsequently this resistant E-coli had been found in humans. Anti-microbial resistance can spread quickly through the gene pool of the bacteria and this is significantly aided by the overuse of antibiotics in farm animals as well as humans.

Doctors in the UK and other countries are under increasing pressure not to prescribe antibiotics, but antibiotic use in veterinary medicine remains loosely regulated (though this is changing quickly). The EU is introducing legislation that would ban the sub-therapeutic use of antibiotics in farm animals. In the US, the FDA is encouraging voluntary measures with light regulation, but more is needed. In China, the top food regulator has called animal antibiotic use a “prominent problem”. However, in many parts of the world antibiotics can be obtained over-the-counter, without a prescription, for both animals and humans.

With a growing number of ‘superbugs’ resistant to our store of antibiotics, a new generation of children may be growing into a hellish world where commonplace infections can kill. While changes to the way we use antibiotics are starting to happen, whether these can out-run the remarkable pace of antimicrobial resistance remains to be seen.

Budget 2016: George Osborne announces sugar tax on soft drinks industry

The Independent – Wednesday 16th March

George Osborne’s announcement that the government will introduce a sugar tax on soft drinks came as a welcome surprise as the details of the 2016 budget were revealed. The government has been cagey for some time about making any solid commitment to the tax despite a call for it in Public Health England’s recommendations for the government’s child obesity strategy as well as a wide array of NGOs and the celebrity chef Jamie Oliver campaigning for its adoption. There was also broad public support for the tax which was making it harder for the government to look the other way.

When the Prime Minister’s strategy was delayed at the end of February, there was a wave of concern that a sugar tax would be scuppered by a government much fonder of voluntary measures than regulation. But sometime in the intervening weeks leading up to the budget announcement, the political imperative of a sugary drinks tax must have won the day. Perhaps, as some have suggested, it was a distraction to hide the £55 billion black hole in public finances?

Whatever the reason that government came around, it can only be a good thing. As part of a broad set of public health interventions – and if used to subsidise children’s health in particular – sugary drinks taxes can play a useful role in changing the food and drink industry’s products and the public’s shopping behaviour.

Tesco to give all unsold food to charity after finalising deal

The Independent – Friday 11th March

It’s really good to see the big four supermarkets in Britain making serious commitments to cutting their waste. Following Morrisons, the first UK supermarket to donate its surplus food to charity, Tesco is now making a similar commitment to donate unsold food to charities across the UK. It will be working with FareShare, a charity which helps to feed poor and vulnerable populations in the UK by tackling food waste. FareShare will redistribute food from supermarkets to charities around the country and Tesco is urging other supermarkets to work with FareShare in the creation of an industry-wide platform for distribution of unsold food.

Ensuring that perfectly edible food doesn’t get wasted has become an important priority for governments and individuals in the fight against food waste. The long-standing practice of throwing away huge amounts of unsold food carried by supermarkets is finally on the wane. While implementation of these measures in the UK has been voluntary, some countries are legislating to ensure this food doesn’t end up in the bin. Italy is the second European country (following France) to introduce a law which makes supermarkets donate surplus food to charity. However, rather than fining supermarkets for wasting edible food as France does, it is incentivising supermarkets – along with bars and restaurants – to donate food by reducing taxes on garbage for those that do.

While these are big steps towards the reduction of edible food waste, supermarkets still have a major problem with waste in their supply chains that is largely generated by the rejection of imperfect veg and cancelled orders. Tesco’s food waste strategy is aiming to tackle waste from “farm to fork” and claims to be delving into their supply chains. This is a very necessary next step and hopefully other supermarkets will follow suit – that would be real progress!

Is fermented food a recipe for good gut health?

BBC News – Sunday 13th March

With growing recognition of the critical role of the human microbiome in our health, eating fermented foods is increasingly on the menu. Fermenting food has long been a means of preserving it and all kinds of food and drink are generated through the process – beer and wine, sourdough bread, cheese and all kinds of pickles and chutneys, especially the famed kimchi, a kind of eastern sauerkraut that is part of Korean cooking. Fermentation uses probiotics – good digestive bacteria – to preserve food and it’s thought that when you eat fermented food that good bacteria transfers to your gut microbiome. However, whether this good bacteria survives through the process of digestion is of some debate, so don’t think your beer habit is keeping you healthy.

In cultures where fermented foods are a significant part of the national diet, as in many Asian cultures, there is a lower rate of bowel diseases and disorders. Research shows that western diets high in sugar and processed foods lead to a degraded microbiome and there is evidence that missing gut bacteria is linked with a number of autoimmune disorders that are on the rise.

Current research as part of the British Gut Project which is assessing the gut bacteria of 2,000 people trying to determine the microbial species living there, will give us a fuller picture of whether there is a ‘normal’ gut and what’s important in good gut health. The role of both probiotics and prebiotics – food which feeds beneficial microorganisms in our gut – will be better understood through this research. In the meantime, it can’t hurt to have another helping of that really ripe cheese!

You won’t believe how much processed food Americans eat

Time – Wednesday 9th March

The stats provided by recent research on processed food are pretty spectacular: 60% of calories for Americans come from ‘ultraprocessed’ food, which contain an array of ingredients that you would never find in your kitchen cupboard. Along with these come significant amounts of added sugar, processed food’s go-to ingredient for improving taste. But the most depressing statistic of all is that Americans get less than 1% of their daily calories from vegetables. With this, it becomes shockingly clear why Americans are in a desperate state of health.

The study is the first to directly correlate caloric intake from processed food with sugar consumption showing that the vast amount of calories consumed in processed food are from added sugar. The study also lays bare the problems with ‘diet’ versions of processed food which often rely on artificial sugars. “They are still unhealthy because they don’t provide the nutrients of real foods” says the lead scientist Carlos Monteiro. Further the artificial sugars may trick the body by not delivering on calories, making people eat more to make up for the lost nutritional value.

Ultimately, the key message of the study, is that cutting the amount of processed food – especially ‘ultraprocessed’ food – that you eat, is an excellent way to reduce your intake of added sugar and reach those ‘recommended daily allowances’ of the nutrition we all need.

Photograph: Jin Li

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