Charity Study Examines Impact of Hunger and Malnutrition on Diabetes and Health

A record conducted by Christian charity Bread for the World suggests that hunger and malnutrition is having a massively negative economic impact in the United States.

These two debilitating conditions reportedly cost the United States in the region of $160 billion per annum.

This figure can be attributed to the treatment of chronic health conditions.

The report outlines the dire consequences of food insecurity among the poorest American families, and paints a picture of a society in serious decline.

This latest report is suggested to be the first to ever apportion a significant share of the long-term cost of illnesses such as diabetes to a deficit of affordable, nutritious food.

It should be emphasised that access to such foodstuffs in the United States is clearly an economic issue, as the United States actually produces a surplus of food annually.

In 2010, exports of agricultural products in the United States were worth some $116 billion.

The diabetes epidemic in the US has already claimed millions of sufferers, and shows few signs of abating.

In 2012, 29.1 million Americans, or 9.3 per cent of the United States population, had diabetes.

Diabetes remained the seventh leading cause of death in the United States in 2010, mirroring a general trend in the Western world for this blood sugar condition to be expanding rapidly in the population.

Government statistics suggest that between 2008 and 2014 at least 48.1 million people a year in the United States were classed as “food insecure”. This means that they could not always afford to eat balanced meals, including 19.2 per cent of all households with children.

In addition, many American households are reliant on food stamps, with around 50 million people in the US, approximately 20 per cent of the population, currently in receipt of this federal government programme.

Anecdotal and survey-based evidence suggests that people in receipt of this form of government support tend to have a less nutritious diet than average.

There is thus a massive link between economic demographics and poor nutrition.

The study found that food insecurity increases by nearly 50 per cent the chances of becoming a “high cost user of healthcare services” within five years.

Meanwhile, the cost of healthcare in the United States is increasing rapidly, already accounting for almost one-quarter of all federal government spending.

It is suggested that increasing the amount of money spent on food assistance would turn out to be cost-effective, considering that this currently represents just three per cent of overall expenditure.

However, it must be said that there are huge vested interests that simply do not wish for this situation to change.

Commenting on the issue, Rev David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World, outlined the dire situation that many families and individuals face in the United States.

“Nowhere are the hidden costs of hunger and food insecurity greater than in health care. Access to nutritious food is essential to healthy growth and development, and can prevent the need for costly medical care. Many chronic diseases – the main causes of poor health as well as the main drivers of healthcare costs – are related to diet.”

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Report States that Obesity Epidemic in Young People Remains Massive Issue

Data acquired by the Health and Social Care Information Centre suggests that the obesity epidemic in young people shows no signs of abating.

The report conducted by the organisation suggests that around 10 per cent of children were obese when they began primary school.

Yet this figure had doubled by the time that children leave these schools at the age of around 11.

Figures for obesity in Year 6 continue to rise, despite efforts to educate parents and people in general across the country about the dangers of obesity.

The study also suggested that there are clear demographic issues facing the country as well.

Children living in the most deprived areas were twice as likely to be obese as children in affluent areas.

Figures were acquired as a part of the British government’s National Child Measurement Programme for England which covers all state primary schools.

In Year 6, 19.1 per cent of children were obese; an increase on figures from eight years ago.

In some of the least successful regions, over one-quarter of children in Year 6 were found to be obese.

For example, 28 per cent of Year 6 pupils in Southwark were classed as obese and 44 per cent were either obese or overweight.

Commenting on these disturbing figures, Councillor Barrie Hargrove, Southwark’s cabinet member for public health, indicated that numerous people and groups must take responsibility for directly tackling the issue.

“Childhood obesity is an on-going and long term health issue in the borough with no single solution, and we are already implementing a range of initiatives to combat it, such as our free healthy school meals programme, and free fruit programme, to encourage healthy eating habits. We recognise that we need to do more to support children and their families.”

Wolverhampton had the largest number of obese 10 and 11-year-olds outside London, and Ros Jervis, the City of Wolverhampton Council’s director of public health, is similarly concerned about the problem.

“Obesity is associated with a number of serious medical conditions – so doing nothing is simply not an option.”

Going forward, numerous regions have indicated that action plans will be put in place in order to address the issue.

Information will be provided outlining what both organisations and individuals can do in order to tackle the obesity epidemic.

Additionally, programmes are being put in place with the aim of encouraging families to value nutrition more highly and encourage exercise.

Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the British Heart Foundation, said: “Falling rates of obesity in Reception age children is promising, but the fact remains that we now have more children leaving primary school overweight or obese and this is simply unacceptable.”

Although there have been numerous prominent programmes and initiatives undertaken in recent years in an attempt to tackle the obesity crisis, it seems that this is ultimately having little tangible effect.

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Jamie Oliver Weighs in On Sugar Tax and Health Debate

As the debate over sugar and the proposed tax related to it continues, one famous figure has lent his support to the campaign.

The television chef Jamie Oliver has urged government ministers to introduce such a sugar tax on fizzy drinks.

Speaking to members of parliament at the House of Commons’ Health Committee, Oliver suggested that a tax would be the “single most important” change that could be made.

It is suggested that added sugar in food and drinks is one of the major contributors to the obesity epidemic worldwide.

This has seen the number of overweight people in the Western world in particular skyrocket in the last few decades.

According to official figures, over 60 per cent of adults in the United Kingdom are currently overweight, with approximately one-third being clinically obese.

Naturally this contributes to a wide variety of health problems, and is probably the single greatest factor in premature deaths in the United Kingdom.

It has been estimated by government sources that a 20 per cent sugar tax could raise as much as £1 billion per year.

Oliver suggested while speaking to MPs that the money raised could be shared between the NHS and primary school funding.

Commenting on the suggestion of the television chef, the Department of Health took a predictably neutral tone.

“The causes of obesity are complex, caused by a number of dietary, lifestyle, environmental and genetic factors, and tackling it will require a comprehensive and broad approach. As such, the government is considering a range of options for tackling childhood obesity,” a Department of Health spokesman stated.

While many experts support the idea of a sugar tax, there are certainly arguments against such a scheme.

Rather in common with the recent decision to charge 5p per plastic bag in large retail outlets, the scheme could simply be viewed as a money-spinning idea, with little or no practical benefits to the amount of sugar being consumed.

Ultimately, with a can of soda costing around 70p, even a 20 per cent tax would only necessitate a price rise of around 15p.

It is extremely doubtful that this would have a significant impact on the amount of sugary drinks that are actually consumed, just as charging 5p a carrier bag may have little or no impact on the amount of plastic bags utilised.

Regardless of the legitimacy or otherwise of taxing sugary drinks, there will certainly be a strong lobby against the idea.

The food industry is naturally an incredibly powerful entity, and lobbyists representing some of the more powerful corporations on the planet will doubtlessly argue strongly against the idea of taxing sugar.

Whether or not this will ultimately prove to be successful remains to be seen, but it certainly appears possible that we will see an increase in price of unhealthy beverages in the foreseeable future.

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New Collaborative Study to Seek Obesity Solutions

A study commissioned by Public Health England will examine the obesity epidemic in Britain with the intention of finding lasting solutions.

In particular, researchers at Leeds Beckett University will investigate the best way for local authorities to tackle this growing problem.

Public Health England has worked in collaboration with the Local Government Association, the Association of Directors of Public Health Germany, and with colleagues in local government organisations in commissioning this program.

All of the groups involved will attempt to identify methods that local authorities can use in order to create a holistic approach to tackle obesity.

The program has been funded by Public Health England, and will run over a three-year period.

It is hoped that a cohesive and co-ordinated approach will be developed by experts at the Leeds-based university.

Previous research has indicated that a whole systems approach is essential in addressing the obesity epidemic.

Central to this will be linking a whole range of sectors and influences including planning, housing, transport, children’s and adult’s services, business and health.

By attempting to implement this scheme at the local level, it is hoped that local authorities across the country will be able to make significant inroads into the obesity battle.

Although there are obvious health benefits to winning this particular struggle, it is also suggested that tackling obesity effectively can improve quality of life, save money for local authorities, and even contribute to sustained prosperity for regions across the country.

The Leeds Beckett’s team will work closely alongside a number of pilot local authorities to understand their perspectives and the realities for local government.

Capturing best practice, the importance of collaborative working, and the co-ordination  of new and innovative approaches to obesity will all be floated as part of the overarching scheme.

Researchers at the university will be carrying out a systematic review of research evidence on the subject of obesity, while also gathering experience of dealing with the problem from across the world, thus gathering a raft of good practice case studies.

The Leeds Beckett team and the pilot local authorities will then create a process and develop a roadmap and practical strategies for local authorities to apply in practice, in order to address the current high levels of obesity.

Speaking about the programme, Pinki Sahota, Professor of Nutrition & Childhood Obesity at Leeds Beckett, outlined its importance.

“Obesity is a major global health crisis and tackling obesity is a complex and multifaceted problem. Local Authorities are investing great efforts into tackling these issues but clearly they are enthusiastic to do more and gain the benefits that come from a healthier population. 

“All the evidence shows that if we can link together many of the influencing factors on obesity by coordinating action and integration across multiple sectors, including health, social care, planning, housing, transport and business, then we can bring about major change to combatting obesity, making better use of resources and improving wellbeing and prosperity,” Sahota asserted.

The Health Survey for England indicated recently that 62.1 percent of UK adults are overweight or obese (67.1 percent of men and 57.2 percent of women).

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NHS England Publishes New Nutritional and Hydration Guidance

NHS England has published a set of new guidelines intended to ensure that patients receive outstanding nutrition and hydration care while in hospital.

The guidance is particularly intended to address issues raised within ‘Hard Truths’ and the Francis Report.

‘Hard Truths: The Journey to Putting Patients First’ is the first volume of the government’s response to the Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry.

This followed on from the so-called Francis Report, which followed an extensive inquiry into failings at Mid-Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust.

Robert Francis QC published his final report on 6th February 2013.

With this in mind, NHS England has moved to address the concerns of patients, carers and the public with regard to malnutrition and dehydration.

Although many people may not associate malnutrition with an advanced Western society such as the UK, the occurrence of this debilitating nutritional condition is actually surprisingly common.

Malnutrition in fact effects in the region of three million people in the UK at any given time.

Furthermore, around one-in-three patients admitted to hospital, or who are currently resident in care homes, are either malnourished or at risk of developing the condition.

Nutrition and hydration also has a significant influence over the recovery potential of patients.

It also tends to increase the number of people who are admitted to both hospitals and care homes.

Thus, the new guidance draws together the most up-to-date evidence-based resources and research available on the subject.

The guidance has the intention of supporting health commissioners, and communicating strategies to be developed that will help to ensure outstanding nutrition and hydration care in acute services across the health service.

There is also information contained within the guidance outlining the importance of this issue, and why commissioners should look to make it a particular priority.

How to tackle the problem and how to assess the impact of commissioned services are both addressed, while highlighting the good work which is already underway is also a focus of the guidance.

Commenting on this issue, Jane Cummings, Chief Nursing Officer for England, was keen to outline its importance.

“The link between nutrition and hydration and a person’s health is a fundamental part of any stage of life, but all the more so for the sick or vulnerable. Person-focused, quality compassionate care involves looking at what matters to a person as a whole, not only concentrating on their specific medical condition.”

Cummings also spoke on the goals of the new documentation.

“The aim of this new guidance is to raise awareness around the need for good nutrition and hydration and recognise we all have a role to play in improving the health and well-being of those in our care,” Cummings stated.

Dianne Jeffrey, Chair of the Malnutrition Task Force and Chairman of Age UK, was in agreement on the importance of the issues addressed by the guidance.

“There are countless reasons why we need to take nutrition and hydration issues seriously. People, particularly older people’ who are malnourished and dehydrated are more likely to become ill, will take longer to recover from surgery and illness and have longer stays in hospital. Yet despite these compelling reasons to take action, recent reports still show nutrition and hydration are not a top priority in many care settings,” Jeffrey commented.

The new guidance was developed in collaboration with NHS clinical commissioning groups, local authorities, patient groups, expert nutrition groups; representatives from the catering industry, the Care Quality Commission, NHS Trust Development Authority, the Department of Health, as well as people who use healthcare services and their carers.

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Hospitals Failing to Strike Right Note on Nutrition

A survey carried out by The Observer newspaper suggests that hospitals in the NHS are sending out a mixed message by stocking vending machines with unhealthy food and drinks.

According to the survey of hospital trusts in England, all of the 76 trusts who responded sold confectionary and salty snacks, while as many as half failed to offer plain dried or fresh fruit.

And of the 60 trusts that provided information related to soft drinks, only two – the Sandwell and West Birmingham Hospitals NHS Trust and the Bolton NHS Foundation Trust – have restricted the availability of fizzy drinks to diet versions.

It should be said in mitigation that diet fizzy drinks have come under as much criticism as their full sugar equivalents, with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame being linked with a wide variety of health problems.

Whether diet fizzy drinks would actually be healthier than full sugar variants is debatable. What could be said is that water or some form of pure fruit juice would be a considerably superior option to any form of soda.

Hospitals have come under pressure to improve the quality of food on offer to patients and staff, as it has become increasingly clear that the nutritional value of food served in hospitals is sometimes negligible.

Only last month, Simon Stevens, chief executive of NHS England, called on hospitals to improve the quality of food being offered, and to serve healthy options in restaurants, cafes and vending machines.

The health regulator Nice has already advised that only 20 per cent of vending machine drinks should be sweetened by significant amounts of sugar.

Additionally, sweetened drinks should be sold in site is no greater than 330ml.

But Freedom of information requests issued by The Guardian indicate that most of us in the UK are in fact ignoring these regulations.

For example, vending machines at the Nottingham University Hospitals NHS Trust offer nineteen different varieties of sugary soft drinks or juice drinks and two flavoured milk-shake drinks.

Speaking on behalf of the National Obesity Forum, Tam Fry stated that hospitals needed to more reflect an ethos of healthy eating.

“They’re stoking up business for themselves; particularly with obesity and diabetes, you don’t want to see more of them [patients]; you want to see fewer. One of the ways to see more is to ply them with sugary drinks,” Fry opined.

Susan Jebb, professor of diet and population health at Oxford, suggested that pricing is also an issue.

“The problem is that the choice is biased in favour of the less healthy option by price, availability and portion size. Even the manufacturers say that if you take those bottles of sugary drinks it’s not one serving, it’s two – so why have we got 500ml bottles in vending machines, which are supposed to be about single-unit purchases?”

In May, 2014, it was reported that the UK is one of the most obese countries in Europe.

The UK has higher levels of obesity and overweight people than anywhere in western Europe except for Iceland and Malta according to the Global Burden of Disease study.

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Scottish Health Survey Results Vindicate BMA View on Nutrition

In response to a recent British Medical Association (BMA) survey, a new piece of research suggests that there is significant room for improvement with regard to childhood nutrition in the UK.

The publication of the Scottish Health Survey for 2014 has underlined just how few children in the nation are consuming the recommended quantities of fruit and vegetables; a handy reminder after the BMA research of just a few weeks ago.

This extensive research of health trends in Scotland found that less than one-in-seven children in Scotland currently consume the recommended five daily portions of fruit and / or vegetables.

The survey regarding free fruit and vegetables was conducted on behalf of the BMA by Ipsos MORI, between 12th and 31st August 2015, with 2,000 parents interviewed online.

And despite the highly publicised five-a-day fruit and vegetable campaign, the study indicates that eating habits have not improved at all.

Since 2003, there has been no increase in the amount of fruit and vegetables being consumed by children in Scotland, with an average of 2.8 portions being maintained during this period. This is obviously little more than half of the recommended quantity.

The news comes in the context of the BMA publishing an online opinion poll of 2,000 parents across the United Kingdom.

This survey indicated that more than three-quarters would support the introduction of a free portion of fruit or vegetables for every primary age schoolchild.

Commenting on the disappointing figures, Dr Andrew Thomson, who sits on the BMA board of  science, stated that the trends indicated by the Scottish health survey are rather worrying.

“This latest survey shows that Scotland is still falling some way short when it comes to making sure children are eating enough fruit and vegetables. Despite the growing cost of obesity related conditions to the NHS, there has been no real improvement to the average amount of fruit and vegetables consumed by children in Scotland for over a decade,” Thomson asserted.

Following up from the earlier research from the BMA, Thomson also suggested one possible way of addressing the chasm in fruit and vegetable consumption.

“Introducing an entitlement for all primary school pupils to receive a free portion of fruit or vegetables on every school day would be a real step forward and would help to ensure children in Scotland live healthier lives,” Thomson stated.

Although there are many factors leading to the obesity epidemic in the western world, certainly poor diet is generally considered to be the major contributor.

Despite various efforts to promote healthy eating among young people, there are numerous indicators which suggest that childhood obesity is a ticking timebomb in the UK.

Most recently, University College London researchers looked at data from more than 56,000 people born in Britain between 1946 and 2001, and found that the ages at which children are becoming obese continue to fall.

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Poll Indicates Support for BMA Fruit and Veg Campaign

A new poll instigated by the British Medical Association indicates that the majority of people would back the introduction of a free portion of fruit and / or vegetables for older primary school pupils.

The Ipsos MORI survey of 2,000 parents across the UK found that 79 per cent of people would strongly support or tend to support the measure, while just 5 per cent would tend to oppose or are strongly opposed to it.

Although the concept of providing free fruit and vegetables may seem to be a fanciful notion there  are in fact is already precedents within the United Kingdom.

Eleven local authorities in Scotland currently provide some form of free fruit and vegetables above what is routinely provided in terms of school dinners.

However, although this may appear to be a positive development, in reality it represents something of a retraction from previous positions.

As recently as 2013/14, sixteen local authorities in Scotland had schemes in place, thus there has been a significant reduction over the last two years alone.

But the fact that schemes are already operating successfully in Scotland does suggest that it would be possible for free fruit and vegetables to be offered on a wide scale basis within the United Kingdom.

The BMA-backed survey comes in the context of the recent Food for Thought report, published in July.

This report suggested that all primary age pupils should be provided with a free portion of fruit and / or vegetables on every school day.

There are also suggestions related to the regulations on the marketing of unhealthy foods to children, and a tax on sugary drinks was also advocated, suggesting that this could help subsidise a fund for free fruit and vegetables.

The notion of taxing sugary drink, though, has not been supported by all people, regardless of the negative health impact of soda and other guilty parties in general.

It is suggested that taxing these products is not actually addressing the consumption of sugary drinks, and will instead ensure that in many cases poorer members of society simply pay more for products.

However, making this clear link between the subsidisation of fruit and vegetables, effectively providing a free service to children, as a payoff for taxing sugary drinks, could make the policy seen more palatable to its detractors.

Commenting on the results from the survey, Dr Andrew Thomson, who sits on the BMA’s Board of Science strongly advocated the policy suggested by the British Medical Association.

“We need to redouble our efforts to ensure that children are eating healthily and this poll shows clear public backing for ensuring that all primary school children get access to a free portion of fruit or vegetables. Providing primary school pupils with free fruit or vegetables means that they are less likely to eat unhealthy snacks between meals and helps to build positive habits that can last throughout their lives,” Thomson asserted.

Thomson also believes that further pressure and activism is required in order to motivate the government to respond to public opinion.

“It is concerning that several local authorities have actually scrapped the provision of free fruit and vegetables in schools in recent years. Action is needed to address this variation and ensure that primary school pupils in all parts of the country benefit equally from free fruit and vegetables,” Thomson opined.

Obesity in children has been growing to such an extent in recent years that it is frequently described as an epidemic.

While one extra portion of fruit and vegetables a day would hardly reverse this situation, it is hoped by the BMA that it could make a contribution to children making healthier food choices.

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