Preventable medical harms to patients identified

Approximately 1 in 20 patients suffer preventable medical harm according to a new analysis published in the BMJ by a team from Manchester university. Worryingly the study also reveals 1 in 8 cases led to severe harm or death. Analysing data from 70 observational studies, including over 337,000 patients living in developed countries, researchers found nearly a quarter of the cases were directly related to problems with medication or other medical treatments. A related editorial commented on the serious concerns raised regarding the extent of medical harm in health systems, drawing attention to the level of harm that is “totally preventable”. These findings underline the urgent need to change the health systems we rely on to move away from managing disease and all its associated issues to address disease - many of which are wholly preventable.

Sugar content of baby food condemned

Two new studies from the World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Europe condemn inappropriate marketing of commercial pureed baby foods as suitable for infants under 6 months of age. These products often contain high levels of sugar which directly contradicts WHO guidelines. These studies follow hot on the heels of a recent Public Health England report which draws attention to the, frankly, shocking tactics used by Big Food to influence parental food choices for their babies.

Sustainable food production

Three new reports highlight serious problems with the way we produce and consume our food, as well as our future ability to feed increasing populations. A new World Resources Institute reportCreating a Sustainable Food Future”, identifies three gaps, the food gap, land gap and GHG mitigation gap needing to be closed. A 22-item “menu for a sustainable future” detailed in the report, explores increasing productivity without using additional resource, reducing demand, protecting the environment as well as reducing meat consumption. At the same time the FAO have released a High Level Panel of Experts (HLPE) report on Food Security and Nutrition recommending the adoption of agroecological farming methods to tackle the problems of loss of biodiversity, environmental damage, climate change and create a sustainable food system for the future. The third, “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World” focuses on the disparities between those who don’t have enough to eat, and the obesity epidemic being faced in all regions. Its aim is to end hunger and malnutrition by 2030. Highlighting diverse but related issues the reports reinforce the need for drastic and immediate steps to be taken to create sustainable food and healthcare systems for the future. After all, one cannot exist in isolation to the other.

Unintended consequences of ASEAN sugar taxes

As sugar taxes in South-East Asia start to bite, consumers are turning to alternative sources of sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) to get their sweet fix. A new article from Mount Alvernia hospital in Singapore warns of the risk to health from highly sweetened bubble tea. By far the highest sugar content with 18 teaspoons of sugar per serving is brown sugar milk tea with pearls. Such teas often contain non-dairy creamer containing trans-fats, which have been strongly linked to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. As governments around the world struggle to find strategies to deal with the obesity epidemic, the UK government has announced sales of energy drinks to children under the age of 16 will be banned following a recent consultation. Despite claims of “enormous evidence of success” sugar taxes are clearly not the expected panacea for the obesity epidemic.

EFSA’s safety argument for Aspartame busted

A new study criticises the European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA) Panel of Food Additives and Nutrient Sources Added to Food’s 2013 assessment of the sweetener aspartame casting doubt on its purported safety. The detailed analysis shows the EFSA panel discounted all 73 studies indicating harm from aspartame, while treating 84% of the studies giving no prima facie evidence of harm as reliable. Lead researcher Prof Millstone questioned EFSA’s impartiality hinting at undue influence from industry interests. Given the push to reduce sugar in foods to combat the obesity epidemic by reformulating with artificial sweeteners, this paper provides a timely reminder of the health issues associated with non-nutritive and artificial sweeteners.