Obesity & Income

The highest rates of obesity in the United States are found amongst lower-income groups

The highest rates of obesity in the United States are found amongst lower-income groups

For one moment put aside genetics, medical conditions  and a lack of physical exercise to just imagine that your income could predispose you to become obese. It’s a frightening thought that in a well educated and resourceful country, residents might be physiologically doomed just by their occupying a certain socioeconomic position.

In the United States, the highest rates of obesity and diabetes are found within lower-income groups. Why? The plausible explanation is because of a lack of money. Unhealthy foods are not only cheap but are extremely energy-dense; this means that less of them are needed to produce the same energy compared to healthy foods. However, studies have proved these energy-dense foods to be less satiating than fresh nutritious foods, resulting in passive overeating and a higher risk of obesity.

Fast food, sweets, desserts and sweetened soft drinks have continuously been linked to obesity, so why are they still consumed, and on a massive scale? Unhealthy and processed foods are widespread for three reasons: they’re inexpensive, tasty and convenient. Healthy and nutritious foods such as fresh meats & fish, fruits and vegetables can be expensive to purchase and often difficult to source.

The consumption of unhealthy foods has also been linked to individual factors such as emotional state, personality and stress levels, however the underlying problem is a far more universal one.  Economics is at the heart of the obesity-poverty relationship for two main reasons. Firstly, because low-income groups predominantly buy cheap and concentrated forms of energy i.e. fat and sugar which contribute to obesity. Secondly, as low-income groups are also more likely to reside within areas with less access to fresh and healthy produce.

The current solution is to inform and encourage the eating of healthier foods, like fruits and vegetables. There has been no attempt to address the serious and underlying issue that greatly contributes to higher rates of obesity: cost. What use is the knowledge that people should eat healthier, if they cannot afford to do so?

Perhaps focus should be moved towards changing the economy of obesity given that the evidence has suggests obesity rates do in fact conform to a socioeconomic gradient.  A more effective solution to tackle the growing problem of obesity would be the widespread implementation of policies that make healthy foods affordable and accessible to all consumers.

How? Agricultural development, government subsidiaries, consumer education and price regulation are just a few ideas.


Drewnowski, A &Darmon, N. (2005) The economics of obesity: dietary energy density and energy cost. American Journal Clinical Nutrition 82: 1 265S-273S


The road to a new treatment for Long QT Syndrome

Credit: Pixbay

Researchers at Nottingham University might have found the answer to developing an alternative treatment for the potentially fatal Long QT syndrome. By using patients skin samples, Professor Chris Denning has successfully produced stem cells, which were then transformed into heart cells. These heart cells contain the genetic predisposition that causes long QT, meaning that the effects of new drugs can be studied in the laboratory. Researchers hope that this technique can be used to help develop new treatments for the syndrome.

Long QT syndrome affects electrical activity within the heart, resulting in the sudden onset of potentially fatal arrhythmias in response to anxiety or exercise. The syndrome is currently treated with beta-blockers, however if medication does not work then a small device known as an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) is fitted. Neither treatment path is perfect and both have side-effects, which is why the new research is so important. 

The research, which is backed by the British Heart Foundation and Heart Research UK is still in its infancy but seems promising.  Indications have already shown the heart cells to have the same electrical activity as found in a whole heart.

30-minute stem cell breakthrough

Credit: Pixabay

Stem cell breakthrough could pave the way on the yellow brick road to personalised medicine

A new and novel method of creating stem cells could revolutionise the future of ‘personalised medicine’. A team of Japanese scientists created stem cells by submerging blood cells in a weak acidic solution. This new method is a cheaper, faster and more effective way of creating the highly sought after cells.

Stem cells are integral to bodily repair as they alone have the capability to differentiate into specialised cells; a phenomenon known as pluripotency. For this reason they’ve formed the bases of regenerative medicine, but the methods of creating these cells have proved problematic.

Until now, there were only two ways of obtaining stem cells. The first was to harvest them from embryos, but this was fraught with ethical implications. The second method was to genetically manipulate adult cells however, serious issues were raised regarding the safety of these genetically modified cells.

The new phenomenon known as, stimulus-triggered acquisition of pluripotency (STAP) faces none of these problems and is inherently simple. Once submerged in the acidic solution it took just 30 minutes before the blood cells returned to their original embryonic state. The discovery was make by Haruko Obokata, a young stem-cell biologist who had been working on the technique at the Riken Centre for Developmental Biology in Kobe for five years.

In addition to blood cells, the researchers have already successfully created stem cells from brain, muscle, fat, lung, liver and bone-marrow tissue in mice. The technique requires no highly specialised equipment and therefore has the potential to be carried out in a wider number of labs.

The discovery of a method that could safely and ethically create stem cells has long been awaited. It paves the way for ‘personalised medicine’, where doctors would be able to create stem cells using a patients blood or tissue sample. These ‘personalised cells’ would then be reintroduced back into the patient to allow tissue repair, without the fear of rejection.



Obokata, H et al (2014) Stimulus-triggered fate conversion of somatic cells into pluripotency. Nature 505, 641–647.

How do you make things invisible?

The technology could see the rise of fully invisible military aircrafts

The technology could see the rise of fully invisible military aircrafts

There is a plethora of ongoing research aimed at uncovering a method that would enable the full, and infallible invisibility of an object. It seems most hopes for future success are pinned on the use of metamaterials.

Metamaterials are artificial materials made-up of different elements, which have been arranged into specific patterns. What’s interesting is that metamaterials don’t exhibit the properties of the elements which make them up. Instead parameters like shape, size and arrangement determine their properties; meaning that they interact with light in a peculiar way.

Due to their unique properties, light ‘bends’ around metamaterials rather than being reflected off them, as is the case with normal objects. If no light waves bounce off an object then no light waves enter our eyes telling us there is something there. Hey presto, invisibility.

It’s not just the metamaterial itself which would remain unseen; any object placed inside the metamaterial would also become undetectable.


Hawkings redefines the black hole

Stephen Hawking redefines the black hole

Stephen Hawking redefines the black hole

Stephen Hawking’s has expressed his belief that there is no such thing as a conventional black hole, from which nothing can escape. In a paper released on 22 January, Hawking’s refuted the notion of an ‘event horizon’; an invisible boundary surrounding a black hole past which nothing can escape (a point of no return). He instead proposed an ‘apparent horizon’, which could only temporarily confine matter and energy before they were set free.

The paper titled ‘Information preservation and weather forecasting for black holes’ attempts to address the black-hole firewall paradox, which has baffled physicists for two years. The paradox was discovered by Joseph Polchinski and his colleagues when they were speculating about what would happen to an astronaut that fell into a black hole.

The team hypothesised that the event horizon would become a ‘highly energetic region’ a.k.a, a firewall and that the astronaut would collide with this firewall and burn to death. The problem is that this disobeyed Einstein’s theory of relativity, which states that free-falling in space is no different from floating in space. Since then a number of theories have surfaced to answer the problem  but perhaps Hawking’s new paper draws us closer to finding out the fate of the falling astronaut.

Where did the Mars “Jelly doughnut” rock come from?

Jelly doughnut rock on Mars   Photo: NASA

Jelly doughnut rock on Mars Photo: NASA

January 24, 2014:

The Mars rover, Opportunity has discovered an unidentified rock on the surface of the Red Planet. The small rock is white with a deep red centre, giving it the appearance of a jelly-doughnut.

Its appearance in an area where just 12-days earlier there was nothing, is baffling scientists. Investigators from the Mars Exploration Rover Program (MERP) estimate the date of its appearance to a four-day period.

The principle investigator of MERP, Steve Squyres speculated that the rock might have been dislodged by the movements of the rover, however as he reminds us that is only speculation.

What is interesting about the rock is that it appears to have been flipped over, thus revealing its underside. This provides experts with a rare view of a surface that has been isolated from Martian atmosphere for perhaps millions of years.



GME: Genetically Modified Europe? Not likely

© Kathryn Darvill Photography

They’re key in the battle against pesticides, integral to the future of edible pharmaceuticals and might provide an answer to the world’s growing problem of human overpopulation. The potential of genetically modified (GM) crops is vast, but it seems that the European Union (EU) needs more convincing before it jumps on the genetically modified bandwagon.

There are just two GM crops that have previously been approved for cultivation by EU commission and it seems there might be, just might be room for another. Later this month the EU will vote to decide if a licence should be granted for the growth of a GM variety of maize. If approved, the insect-resistant maize will be the first GM crop authorised by the EU for 15 years. A feat which Environment minister, Owen Paterson is not proud of.

Speaking at the Oxford Farming Conference held on January 6th, Mr Paterson expressed his frustration with EU’s insistence against GM crops: “the longer that Europe continues to close its doors to GM, the greater the risk that the rest of the world will bypass us altogether”. Mr Paterson, who advocates the use of GM crops to be both safe and necessary, warned that Europe is in danger of “becoming the Museum of World Farming as innovative companies make decisions to invest and develop new technologies in other markets”.

If Europe’s past experiences with the GM industry are anything to go by then it seems Mr Paterson might be fighting a losing battle. In 2012 the GM company BASF abandoned its attempts to break into the European market and announced plans to focus on building business relations in the Americas and Asia. BASF’s product, the GM Amflora Potato plant was intended for industrial application; the plant had been modified to produce amylopectin, a starch particularly useful in papermaking. Even with official approval from the EU the plant faced widespread disapproval.

The case for the Amflora plant was exacerbated on December 13th 2013, when Europe’s General Court invalidated a decision to sell the crop on the European market. The second-highest court gave the ruling following a failure to correctly submit a European Food Safety Authority report on the Amflora plant. Although the plant had not been sold in Europe since 2012 the decision moves Europe one-step further from Mr Paterson’s ideal.