Smaller drink sizes mean better health: lessons from New York City

By Margaret Allman-Farinelli, University of Sydney

New York City’s mayor has taken issue with “super-sized” serves of sugar-sweetened drinks and is proposing a limit on their serving size to a maximum 16 fluid oz (500 millilitres) at fast food outlets, restaurants, cinemas and street-side vendors.

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Michael Bloomberg sees this as essential to improving the chance for healthy lifestyles in the obesogenic environment of the United States. Soft drinks and fruit juices will feel the impact of the measure most, as diet soft drinks and dairy-based beverages are exempt.

But is this yet another example of a “nanny state” trying to remove individual freedom to choose and will it do anything to address the obesity epidemic?

The main purpose of beverages is to hydrate us, that is, keep individuals in fluid balance. The average woman needs an intake of around two litres of fluid daily with an additional 700 mL normally ingested from foods (so adequate intake is 2.8 litres). Men require a little more, with an adequate daily intake of 2.6 litres from fluids and 800 mL from food.

What Bloomberg proposes as a maximum serving equates to a quarter of a woman’s and a fifth of a man’s daily fluid allowance. Given that the average person drinks six or more times in a day, this appears to be a very reasonable, if not high, proportion of daily intake. Some might argue that people who exercise vigorously or are experiencing extreme heat may need more hydration but this is not the case for people sitting in an air-conditioned cinema.

Documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock drew attention to the problems of America’s “supersizing” culture almost ten years ago. So the reduction in the individual serving size of a soft drink is a sane move for a society bent on over-consumption.

Australians consume less soft drink than Americans but “supersizing” is inappropriate in any country. We can hope that this is the start of a trend towards more snack foods being sold in portions that support getting an appropriate amount of energy.

It’d be good to accompany the ban with the provision of additional water drinking fountains in the city. Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources/Flickr

There’s a body of research showing that as portion sizes increase, the norm for what constitutes a serve also increases and people start to consume more at a single sitting and for those who were taught to always clear the dinner plate, larger serving sizes present an additional layer of challenge.

Research indicates calories from sugar-sweetened drinks don’t register in the way calories from food do, so people who choose sugary drinks over water or “diet” drinks consume more energy overall. That means there’s no compensatory decrease in food intake to account for energy from the sweetened beverage.

Each 500 mL serve of a sweetened drink provides 44 grams of sugar, which means 180 kilocalories (9% of the average adult male’s energy requirement) without protein, vitamins, calcium, iron or essential fatty acids.

There’s also a growing body of literature suggesting that drinking soft drinks and sugar-sweetened beverages are associated with obesity, metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes – but we can’t yet say that consumption of soft drinks clearly causes these health problems. Obviously, for individuals battling weight gain, consumption of one-litre serves of soft drink several times a day is problematic.

New York is not placing a ban on sales of sugary drinks and if they want, New Yorkers can purchase multiple serves of their favourite sweet beverage throughout the day. This makes it difficult for the nanny-state argument to stick.

Manufacturers and retail outlets might find their profits hurt if they are unable to charge the same price for smaller sizes. But consumers will likely prefer them to lose out rather than have customers foot the bill if the beverages are taxed.

There aren’t any negative consequences for the health of New Yorkers from the proposed restriction of the serving size of sugary drinks. Perhaps it would be good to accompany this move with the provision of additional water drinking fountains in the city to quench the opposition.

Margaret Allman-Farinelli receives funding from HCF – A mobile phone intervention for the prevention of weight gain in young adults. She is an Advanced Accredited Practising Dietitian and sits on the Research Advisory Board for the Australian Primary Health Care Research Institute.


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Australian ship is not broken, team director says

The competition in Barcelona starting on Sunday is a chance for one of swimming’s traditional powerhouses to redeem themselves after a damning external review said previous management had failed to prevent a “toxic culture” taking hold.

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Abuse of alcohol and prescription drugs, as well as flouting of curfews and bullying, had gone unchecked and contributed to Australia’s worst Olympic results in 20 years, the review by business consultants Bluestone said earlier this year.

“The ship isn’t broken in Australia,” Scott, who took charge at the start of May, told a news conference at Barcelona’s hilltop swimming complex, part of the venue for the 1992 Olympics.

“We need some refinement and we’ve started working on that,” he said, adding the team was at the beginning of a journey that will end at the next summer Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

“The positive steps that I have seen since I started on May 1 have been significant.

“The swimmers, the coaches, the staff want a positive environment, want to see Australia take a step forward.

“So I’m confident with the pathway that we’re taking and I am very blessed with the talent of the athletes we have.”

TEAM UNITY

Flanked by experienced team members Christian Sprenger, Brenton Rickard and Cate Campbell, Scott said he was trying to get athletes to take more responsibility for running the team.

Eight had been appointed to leadership positions to help demonstrate the changes being introduced were driven also by the swimmers and not just management, he added.

“Team unity, knowing that you have the backing of the team and a supportive environment, helps support the performance culture that you need,” he said.

“A fractured team in any sport is going to impact on individual performance.”

He added that he was in the lucky position of having a team with enormous talent supported by strong coaches.

“We are working on the refinement of our performance culture and greater team unity to make sure that when the going is tough then we stick together as a team and we get through that,” he said.

“In a swimming meet every team has its good and bad days but our goal is to be at our peak in 2016.”

Scott’s efforts appear to be bearing fruit and earned praise from U.S. men’s head coach Bob Bowman earlier on Friday.

“I do think the Australians will rebound from what they did last year,” Bowman told a separate news conference.

“They’ve had a very good season from what I can see leading up to this and they’ve made some very positive leadership changes, Michael Scott who I respect very much taking over, so I think they’re going to do quite well.”

As far as Australia’s immediate targets, Scott said the goal was to significantly improve on performances at the world championship trials.

“We’ve come into this meet with some very good rankings on paper,” he said.

“We have a very talented team and if we achieve that significant improvement then the medals will flow.

“Our focus is individually and collectively achieving that improvement and doing that by being professional in and out of the pool in everything we do but at the same time doing that with team unity and enjoyment.”

(Editing by Sonia Oxley)


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Rudd sets election date for Sep 7

After returning from Brisbane, Mr Rudd called in to meet the Governor General at around 3pm on Sunday afternoon.

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‘The time has come for the Australian people to decide on our nation’s future. This election will be about who the Australian people trust’, Mr Rudd said to reporters shortly afterwards.

Full coverage: Election 2013

Mr Rudd attacked the Coalition’s ‘three word slogans’ but said his government was not without fault: ‘the key is to learn from experience’, he said.

He said the Australian economy was in fine condition but said manufacturing must be invigorated, while the National Broadband was also an important development.

He said Labor would also ‘responsibly’ return the country’s budget to surplus.

He also called on those who want to keep Tony Abbott and the Coalition from office to send the ALP ‘ten bucks’ to help with its campaign.

Mr Rudd said the Australian people knew him ‘warts and all’ and he would be ‘deeply honoured’ to lead after the election.

Watch: Voters know me warts and all, says Rudd

Meanwhile, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said at last Australians are going to get a real choice about who they want to lead the nation.

The federal election will be a choice between the coalition’s positive plans for the future and more of the same under Labor, he said.

“At last the choice is yours, it’s not the choice of the caucus, it’s not the choice of the faceless men, it’s your choice,” Mr Abbott told reporters in Canberra on Sunday.

“And the choice couldn’t be clearer.”

Mr Abbott said he and his coalition team were determined to build a “better Australia”.

“We will build a stronger economy, so that everyone can get ahead,” he said.

ONLINE BOOST

Mr Rudd’s office sent an email to supporters confirming the date shortly afterwards.

‘I have a positive vision about the country we can be. In this election I’ll be talking with Australians across the county about better schools for our kids, investing so we can create good jobs, and about how the NBN can help keep our economy strong.’

Mr Rudd also took to social media, posting this image to Instagram of him preparing his speech.

‘Just left Government House. It’s time for Australians to decide. A positive plan for Australia’s future or old negative politics. KRud’, Mr Rudd tweeted.


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Qiu makes it nine out of 10 for dominant Chinese

Lying equal fifth after a fluffed first attempt at the spectacular hilltop Montjuic pool, Qiu produced a pair of stunning efforts on the third and fourth of his six dives to amass a whopping 581.

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00 points, comfortably beating Olympic champion David Boudia of United States into second on 517.40.

Boudia, who pipped Qiu for gold in London last year, finished with silver for the second world championships in a row and Germany’s Sascha Klein took bronze with 508.55 in a repeat of the top three places at the previous championships in Shanghai in 2011.

China won all 10 golds in Shanghai but were denied another sweep in Barcelona after the German pair of Klein and Patrick Hausding won Sunday’s 10-metre synchronised platform.

China’s Cao Yuan and Zhang Yanquan, the Olympic champions, finished third behind the Russians.

“The best thing is that I won two medals at the world championships this year, I’m so happy I just can’t believe it,” Klein told reporters.

Britain’s Tom Daley, the 2009 world champion ahead of Qiu and bronze medallist in London, battled through the pain of a damaged tricep muscle to take sixth.

“I found out yesterday after a scan that I’ve torn my tricep again,” Daley, who missed last month’s European Championships because of an elbow injury, told reporters.

“I’ve been diving with a numb arm which is a bit of a weird sensation. I can’t straighten my arm properly which makes entry to the water really difficult,” he added.

“This year has just been one thing after another. But I really wanted to compete. I would’ve competed even if my arm was falling off.”

(The story has been filed again to correct the spelling of Chinese diver’s surname to Qiu.)

(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)


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Explainer: nature, nurture and neuroplasticity

By Anthony Hannan, The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health

The human brain is the most complex and extraordinary structure in the known universe.

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And while there are many awe-inspiring facets of the brain, I will focus here on “neuroplasticity”, a term that has been bandied about a lot in the last couple of years.

This is not simply a curious by-product of complex evolution but serves important functions such as learning, memory and response to brain damage.

Neuroplasticity is constantly occurring in both the developing and adult brain, but this article will focus on the adult brain and how some of the types of neuroplasticity affect the healthy and diseased brains.

Marvellous neuroplasticity

The human brain is thought to contain over 100 billion neurons interconnected by over a trillion synapses (the points of contact between neurons which transfer and store information). Over recent decades, it’s been shown that a key mechanism whereby we lay down new memories is via “synaptic plasticity”.

Changes occur in brain wiring, modifying the strength of connections between neurons. This form of neuroplasticity can involve adding or removing new synapses. If you remember anything you’ve read in this article, then you may have stored that new information in your brain via the formation of new connections between specific subsets of neurons.

Another form of neuroplasticity now known to occur in the brains of humans, and other mammals, is known as “adult neurogenesis”. It was thought for most of the 20th century that new neurons could not be born in the adult brain of mammals, such as humans. But part of the scientific revolution of brain research in recent decades has been the realisation that there are specific regions within the brain where neurons can be born throughout life.

Adult neurogenesis in a part of the brain called the hippocampus is thought to contribute to memory formation. In another part of the brain, the birth of new neurons is thought to contribute to our sense of smell.

This neuroplasticity gives the brain another of its many unique features, the fact that it never really ceases to develop. Indeed, the formation of new neurons and synapses in the adult brain constitutes a process of “microdevelopment”, which forms a continuum with the “macrodevelopment” of the embryonic and postnatal periods.

Neuroplasticity’s limitations

All of this neuroplasticity occurs in the healthy brain, so why can’t the brain repair itself following the onslaught of devastating brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s and dementia? The implication is that the toxicity of these disease processes, due to both genetic and environmental factors, may overcome the brain’s capacity for self-repair and functional compensation.

But other brain disorders, such as stroke and traumatic brain injury, have revealed that neuroplasticity can occur in response to brain insults. Researchers have shown that substantial remodelling occurs to allow some recovery of function following a stroke, and can happen within hours of the event if the patient is encouraged to begin rehabilitation as soon as possible.

Research I’m involved in has shown that environmental enrichment, with increased levels of cognitive stimulation and physical activity, can delay disease onset and slow progression in a genetic model of the fatal inherited disorder, Huntington’s disease.

Prior to this work, Huntington’s had been considered the “epitome of genetic determinism”. But this discovery suggests there’s no such thing as a purely genetic brain disorder and that “exercising the brain” can influence or even delay the progress of a disease.

Therapeutic neuroplasticity

Our recent work is influencing the design of new clinical trials, with the demonstration that dementia and depression in Huntington’s can also be delayed by increased cognitive activity and physical exercise. Environmental enrichment has been found to be beneficial in models of schizophrenia and autism spectrum disorders, which involve abnormalities of brain development.

The findings show that neuroplasticity may be harnessed to delay onset, slow progression and possibly even reverse symptoms of various brain disorders.

One idea which has emerged from these experimental findings is that of “enviromimetics”. We are exploring the possibility of enviromimetics as a class of new drugs that mimic or enhance the beneficial effects of enhanced cognitive stimulation and physical exercise. No, not a drug that means you don’t have to exercise!

The idea is that these putative drugs would complement the beneficial effects of exercise and environmental stimulation. Enviromimetics could possibly achieve therapeutic effects via enhancement of neuroplasticity, thus providing a “brain boost” to help this extraordinary organ protect and repair itself.

These new discoveries in the field of neuroplasticity have implications for how each of us may protect our brain from the relentless weathering of ageing and disease. It’s known that lifestyle factors that are good for the body, such as regular physical exercise and a healthy diet, are also beneficial for the brain. And those who keep their brains stimulated with regular complex mental activities (such as reading The Conversation and conversing) may also help delay onset of common brain diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

The harsh reality of life is that we are each dealt a genetic deck of cards at conception, which we can do nothing about. However, our growing knowledge of neuroplasticity demonstrates that we can all engage in healthy lifestyles to help protect our brains. Neuroscientists are now attempting to develop new therapies to enhance neuroplasticity, to combat the enormous and expanding burden of brain and mind disorders.

Anthony Hannan receives funding from ARC and NHMRC.


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