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Sweet news on obesity and sugar consumption?

One welcome knock-on effect from the various obesity awareness campaigns has been the increasing pressure placed on manufacturing companies to modify the ingredients in their products.  

It’s hard to keep abreast of trends in public consumption of the various products that cause harm, so in case you haven’t read about it yet, news was reported recently that ingredients such as salt and sugar have been reduced by around 20 per cent in a range of products.

The survey included 102 companies, among which were obesity big-hitters such as Nestle, and it was noted that such mega-corporations are taking a hit from smaller companies that produce healthier and more sustainable products.

Nestle has said it intends to reduce the amount of sugar in chocolate and sweets by 10 per cent by 2018 in Ireland and the UK. It’s not much, but it’s a start and shows that the pressure on manufacturers from well-intentioned awareness campaigns pales in comparison to what happens when their bottom-line comes under pressure.

But is this tide too far gone to turn? It was with a heavy heart (no pun intended) that I read an interview with no less an authority than Prof Donal O’Shea last year in the Medical Independent, where he stated that obesity had now reached a “tipping point” and he intends to devote much of his professional career to prevention policies. To put it another way, the ‘toothpaste is out of the tube’.

But the medical profession as a whole is not keeping up its end of the bargain in terms of education on obesity, if a US study from Northwestern University is to be believed.

Even in the US, where obesity is even more rampant than it is in Europe — 40 per cent of adults and 20 per cent of American children are now clinically obese — there is a marked paucity of training and education for graduating doctors.

The study (published in Teaching and Learning in Medicine, if you’d like to check it out) showed that there is a woefully inadequate number of test items for graduating medical students in obesity treatment and prevention. Of the items that were included, these focused mainly on treating obstructive sleep disorder and diabetes, for example.

The topics of prevention and treatment were poorly represented, which all adds up to less incentive to include obesity education in curricula, resulting in less incentive for medical students to learn about this disastrous epidemic.

If Prof O’Shea is right, it’s not just manufacturers and the public who need a shift in thinking.

A new level for ‘selfies’ 

There have been many reports of the various types of microbes found on smartphones. It makes for good headlines and sells newspapers.

In one recent report, swab-happy researchers found three new species of organisms — two bacteria, Lysinbacillus telephonicus and Microbacterium telephonicum and a new species of fungi that they named Pyrenochaeta telephoni.

The World Health Organisation weighed-in too and it has now been suggested that we should avoid taking smartphones with us to the bathroom. While the organisms they found are considered to be harmless, some people are pointing out that the phones of medical professionals should be the subject of scrutiny, as doctors and nurses are the ones most likely to have the dreaded Staphylococcus aureus on their smartphones.

But refusing to take a smartphone to the bathroom may cause some practical problems with the use of a new app designed for home semen analysis.

The Yo Home Sperm Test does not require Internet access and can detect abnormalities in sperm with 97 per cent accuracy. The user does not require special training and it can assess sperm count, concentration and motility using a 3D-printed optical attachment.

The user slips a box-like attachment onto the back of their smartphone and it takes a one-second video of the sperm in action and provides fast analysis.

Developed by a team at Harvard Medical School in the US, the kit costs less than $5 to make and is expected to sell for something in the region of $50. That’s a swimmingly good profit.

In seriousness, the kit could help hospitals and clinics in developing countries that do not have the resources to provide conventional sperm testing and can also help to avoid the embarrassment some men feel at the prospect of whipping-up a sperm sample in a clinic.

Obviously, these types of concerns often prevent men from addressing any potential problem they might have in terms of their fertility.

So welcome to the era of the ‘sperm selfie’. No doubt many bizarre YouTube channels will follow — posting a video online of your child’s Christmas play is one thing, but the ‘sperm selfie’ takes family videos to a whole new level.

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