The UK Government has announced a partnership with Amazon to allow patients to consult Alexa for “reliable” medical advice. The system will access information from the NHS website in a bid to “reduce the pressure on the NHS and GPs by providing information for common illnesses.” Unsurprisingly this has reignited concerns over data protection following reports earlier in the year that Amazon employees listen to users interactions with the device along with Amazon’s known ambitions to become a player in the healthcare industry. Increasingly the UK is moving to the use of digital technologies to manage citizens health with systems such as Babylon Health, Push Doctor and Now GP, all allowing virtual consultations with GPs. UK Health Secretary, Matt Hancock says that, “We want to empower every patient to take better control of their healthcare”. We believe tech-informed self-care has a vital part to play in reducing the burden on healthcare systems. However, there is a need to empower individuals by allowing them to measure and monitor their health status using a wide variety of systems and therapies to enable the NHS and other healthcare systems to become truly sustainable.
Two new large European studies published in The BMJ have linked consumption of ultra-processed foods (UPFs) with an increased risk of developing a range of health issues. The first from the NutriNet-Sante cohort found higher levels of cardiovascular disease associated with increased consumption of UPFs. Whilst the second from Spanish researchers, found eating more than 4 servings of UPFs daily raised the risk of dying early by 62%. They also found that for each additional serving of UPF, mortality risk increased by 18%. Australian researchers, also publishing in The BMJ have voiced their support for both studies’ recommendations that policy-makers focus on the promotion of eating unprocessed and minimally processed foods rather than the reformulation of UPFs.
Upstream dementia prevention reduces risk
Researchers writing in JAMA have concluded that a healthy lifestyle offsets the risks of developing dementia, regardless of an individual’s genetic risk. Using data from the UK Biobank study the researchers identified nearly 200,000 individuals aged 60 years and over without cognitive impairment or dementia and for whom genetic data was available. Those participants with unhealthy lifestyles and increased genetic risk were found to be at much higher risk of developing dementia than those who adopted a healthy lifestyle. As with many chronic diseases, the real causes of dementia start upstream, decades earlier before the symptoms start. Currently there is no real attempt to encourage individuals to make changes early in life to prevent the development of disease before it manifests. Overall the study is good news and further reinforces that your diet and lifestyle choices can help you turn the page in your genetic ‘book of life’. Hence, whether a person has a higher genetic risk of developing dementia or not, they can benefit dramatically from making the right diet and lifestyle choices.
Radical change needed to protect UK food production
A powerful new report from the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) sets out the radical changes to UK food and farming systems needed to prevent ecosystem collapse, recover and regenerate the environment and restore people’s health and wellbeing over the next ten years. It warns that the time to make changes is running out and without such interventions both our health and the land we depend on for food is critically endangered. Amongst its recommendations are a shift from intensive farming to sustainable, agroecological practices, reconnecting people with nature along with the establishment of a National Nature Service to help tackle climate change and restore natural environments. The initiative has been welcomed by Environment Minister Michael Gove who has been developing a post Brexit plan for agriculture in the UK. The UK now has a real chance to become a world leader in reversing the problems created by decades of intensive farming and the associated environmental degradation by adopting sustainable and regenerative food production systems