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Health News

New research reveals how babies and toddlers are targeted with unhealthy foods

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Research has prompted health experts to call for regulation of on-pack labelling and promotional techniques used on baby and toddler food.

New research reveals how babies and toddlers are targeted with unhealthy foods 

 

Public Health Association of Australia / Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health 

Babies and toddlers can’t read or buy food yet, but new research reveals that they are being targeted with aggressive marketing in the baby and toddler aisle at the supermarket.

The research, published today in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Healthhas prompted health experts to call for regulation of on-pack labelling and promotional techniques used on baby and toddler food.

Authors analysed 230 product packs found in two major supermarkets to uncover the marketing techniques used by manufacturers of products for children aged from just six months to three years. They found that 9 in 10 food packages displayed techniques specifically designed to target young children.

55 percent of all the products reviewed included child appealing visuals such as bright colours and graphics. More than a third of all packages included images of a baby or child on the front of the package, and one in six included recognisable branded characters.

Lead author and VicHealth Postdoctoral Researcher, Dr Alexandra Chung from Monash University, says the food industry deliberately uses child-targeted marketing techniques alongside deceptive messaging aimed at parents.

“Food marketers are deliberately using child-appealing images to attract the attention of very young children and make their product seem fun and desirable. Unfortunately, many of these products are highly processed and are not recommended by health and nutrition experts.

Research has prompted health experts to call for regulation of on-pack labelling and promotional techniques used on baby and toddler food.

Research has prompted health experts to call for regulation of on-pack labelling and promotional techniques used on baby and toddler food.

“Our research also found that parents are being bombarded with on-pack messaging. 96 percent of products used an image of a healthy food on the front of the pack – even though this might only make-up a small proportion of the product. 58 percent of products made claims about nutritional content, while 52 percent of product packs said the product was organic and 51 percent used claims relating to the product being natural.

“Toddlers and babies are being marketed to by the baby food industry, and when the children reach for these products parents feel reassured from bogus health claims that it’s a good choice to go in their shopping trolley. The reality is that most of these commercially produced products contain too much sugar and are not nutritionally adequate.”

Dr Chung says the study also raises concerns about the sheer amount of snack and sugary foods targeted at toddlers in supermarkets.

“50 percent of the toddler foods found in these major supermarkets were snack foods and 20 percent would be classified as confectionary based on the sugar content. These included things like fruit bars and yoghurt buttons.

“85 percent of all baby and toddler products highlighted their convenient packaging – like squeezable pouches, single servings or individually wrapped. There is a lot of marketing messaging around convenient products that can be offered on-the-go, and this distracts from the importance of designated mealtimes consumed at the dinner table with the family,” Dr Chung says.

Professor Kathryn Backholer, a Vice President for the Public Health Association of Australia and a co-author on the study, says that the research points to the need for tighter regulation to protect our youngest children’s diets from industry influence.

“This research shows we can’t rely on big food companies spruiking products to babies and toddlers to do the right thing. Whilst there are some labelling regulations for baby and toddler foods in Australia, currently these do not go far enough to protect children’s diets. Regulation is needed to ensure that these foods are nutritionally adequate and do not mislead consumers with deceptive labelling or marketing.”

“It’s not fair to leave it up to parents to navigate sneaky marketing and check ingredient lists and nutrition panels for accurate information or to have to battle pester power. To shield our youngest children’s diets from commercial interests and promote good eating habits, Government needs to step in and stop relying on industry self-regulation.”

 

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Health News

Accessing medical care when it’s urgent

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Healthdirect

Accessing medical care when it’s urgent

 

People in northern NSW are being reminded of the care options that are available to them, as winter illnesses continue to impact the local community and the region’s busy emergency departments (EDs).

Northern NSW Local Health District Chief Executive, Tracey Maisey said those with nonlife-threatening conditions are encouraged to call Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 for fast and free health advice from a registered nurse. You can also check your symptoms and find a service online at Healthdirect.gov.au or on the Healthdirect app.

“When you call Healthdirect, a registered nurse will assess your condition and guide you to the care you need, which could be a local health service, such as urgent care service, or connect you with a virtual care service,” Ms Maisey said.

“Hospitals in northern NSW are extremely busy this winter, with high numbers of ED presentations month on month. Across the District, we are seeing an average of 622 people present to our EDs each day, which is higher than the same time last year.

“By utilising services like Healthdirect, we can ensure our busy EDs are reserved for the most urgent and high-level care that can’t be accessed anywhere else.”

Ms Maisey also reminded the community there are a few simple steps people can take to help protect themselves and their loved ones from respiratory illnesses.

“The most important thing to do is booking in for your flu vaccine if you haven’t already – it is not too late. Please stay home if you are sick. If you are unwell and need to leave home, please wear a mask and avoid high-risk settings including aged care and hospitals,” Ms Maisey said.

Chief Executive of Healthy North Coast Monika Wheeler said in recent years there has also been significant investment to enhance primary care access in northern NSW.

“If you can’t get a quick appointment with your regular general practice or care provider, there are several free, local options available for urgent care needs,” Ms Wheeler said.

“Healthy North Coast is also supporting the Australian Government’s establishment of a GP-led Medicare Urgent Care Clinic in Lismore. The clinic is open seven days a week from 7.30am to 7.30pm, and accepts walk-ins, with no appointment needed.

“If you have a life-threatening emergency, call Triple Zero (000) or go to an ED. Examples of life-threatening emergencies include chest pressure or pain lasting more than 10 minutes, difficulty breathing, uncontrollable bleeding, or sudden collapse.”

Lismore Medicare Urgent Care Clinic

No appointment needed, walk-ins welcome. Open 7 days a week. The clinic provides free, immediate treatment to Medicare Card holders for non-life-threatening injuries or illnesses. Services include treatment for respiratory illnesses, gastroenteritis, minor infections, burns or cuts, sprains and sports injuries, STIs, bites and rashes, eye and ear infections.

Members of the community may also be directed to Lismore Medicare Urgent Care Clinic by calling Healthdirect on 1800 022 222 or via the North Coast Health Connect website.

 

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Health News

Whooping Cough and Pneumonia Cases Surge in NSW, Posing Significant Risk to Children

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Whooping Cough and Pneumonia

Whooping Cough and Pneumonia Cases Surge in NSW, Posing Significant Risk to Children

 

Whooping cough rates have surged to their highest levels in nearly a decade in New South Wales (NSW), and the number of young children hospitalised with pneumonia has more than doubled compared to the same period last year, according to state health data.

Pertussis Cases Reach Alarming Levels

The latest NSW Health respiratory surveillance report reveals that there have been 103.1 notifications of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, per 100,000 people in the state so far this year. The last time figures were this high was in 2016, with a rate of 139.6 per 100,000.

Professor Robert Booy, an infectious diseases paediatrician at the University of Sydney, attributes the rise to several viruses and bacteria, including pertussis and mycoplasma, actively spreading, particularly among primary school-aged children.

“Both [pertussis and mycoplasma] are causing pneumonia, leading to hospital admissions, emergency department presentations, and the need for antibiotic treatment,” said Professor Booy.

Public Health Advisory

NSW Health advises individuals to stay home if unwell and to wear a mask if going out is necessary, in an effort to reduce the spread of these respiratory illnesses.

Young People Particularly at Risk

Health data indicates that pneumonia rates among children aged zero to 16 are “unseasonably high” and exceed levels recorded in the past five years. In early June this year, nearly 140 children under the age of four presented to emergency departments with pneumonia, compared to fewer than 60 at the same time last year. For children aged five to 16, the number was 400, up from fewer than 50 last year.

The increase is attributed to a specific strain of pneumonia, commonly referred to as “walking pneumonia.” The report states that Mycoplasma pneumoniae is a frequent cause of pneumonia in school-aged children, with epidemics occurring every three to five years. The last epidemic in NSW occurred before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Expert Insights

Dr. Rebekah Hoffman, chair of the NSW and ACT branch of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, noted that while most individuals contracting Mycoplasma pneumoniae would remain “quite well,” they might suffer from a persistent cough for several weeks or months. “For some kids, especially if they are immunocompromised or have other respiratory problems, they might get really sick and need hospitalization,” Dr. Hoffman said.

Both Dr. Hoffman and Professor Booy highlighted that social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in 2020 and 2021, resulted in children not being exposed to other respiratory illnesses, such as whooping cough and pneumonia. Professor Booy explained that the absence of exposure created a group of susceptible young children who are now developing and spreading whooping cough in school and other settings.

Resurgence Patterns

Whooping cough typically surges every three to six years, but due to the pandemic, this interval has now stretched to six to eight years. Dr. Hoffman noted that the spike in respiratory illnesses reflects young people “catching up” on infections they missed in previous years. She expressed surprise at the significant increase in whooping cough rates.

Professor Booy emphasized the seriousness of whooping cough for certain groups, particularly newborn babies. “The children at most risk are the very young… they need protection from their mother being vaccinated during pregnancy to develop antibodies which pass to the baby before it’s even born,” he said.

The health department data also indicated that COVID-19 cases remain “high” in the state.

Conclusion

The surge in whooping cough and pneumonia cases in NSW is a significant public health concern, particularly for young children. Continued vigilance, vaccination, and adherence to public health guidelines are essential to manage and mitigate the spread of these illnesses.

 

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Mental Well-Being Crucial for Healthy Aging, New Study Reveals

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Mental Well-Being HEALTHY AGING

Mental Well-Being Crucial for Healthy Aging, New Study Reveals

 

A recent study published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour has established the significant impact of mental well-being on healthy aging. The research evaluated the causal effects of mental well-being on genetically independent aging phenotypes (aging GIP), providing new insights into the relationship between mental health and aging.

Key Findings:

  • Human Longevity and Challenges: While human life expectancy has increased over time, the aging population poses challenges for both individuals and society. Mental well-being is known to correlate with lifestyle behaviours and morbidity and is linked to physical health and increased survival.
  • Socioeconomic Status (SES) Connection: Socioeconomic status (SES) is interlinked with both aging and mental well-being, but a direct causal relationship between mental well-being and healthy aging had yet to be established until now.

Study Overview:

Researchers utilised Mendelian randomisation (MR) to assess the effects of mental well-being on aging phenotypes. Summary-level genome-wide association study (GWAS) data from people of European descent were used. The exposures included various well-being traits such as life satisfaction, neuroticism, depressive symptoms, and positive affect. SES indicators—education, occupation, and income—were also considered.

A total of 106 candidate mediators were screened, including lifestyle factors, physical function traits, diseases, and behaviours. These mediators were selected based on their causal association with aging GIP and the well-being spectrum.

Methodology:

  • Linkage Disequilibrium Score Regression: This was used to examine genetic correlations between mental well-being traits, aging phenotypes, and SES indicators.
  • Univariable and Multivariable MR Analyses: These analyses were performed to assess the causal effects of mediators and mental well-being traits on aging phenotypes and to investigate the impact of SES indicators on mental well-being traits.
  • Two-Step MR Analysis: This tested the mediating effects between the well-being spectrum and aging GIP.

Results:

  • Genetic Correlations: Positive genetic correlations were observed between all mental well-being traits and aging GIP components (except for longevity). The well-being spectrum was linked to increased aging GIP, resilience, health span, parental lifespan, and self-rated health.
  • Positive and Negative Associations: Positive affect and life satisfaction were positively associated with aging phenotypes, while depressive symptoms and neuroticism were inversely associated.
  • SES and Well-Being: Higher income, education, and occupation were causally linked to improved mental well-being. The well-being spectrum independently correlated with higher aging GIP, even after adjusting for SES indicators.

Mediators:

Out of 106 candidate mediators, 33 met the criteria for inclusion. Key findings included:

  • Unhealthier Lifestyle Factors: These were associated with lower aging GIP.
  • Positive Influences: Factors such as later smoking initiation age, higher cheese consumption, appendicular lean mass (ALM), cognitive performance, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), and fresh fruit intake were associated with higher aging GIP.
  • Significant Diseases: Heart failure, hypertension, stroke, and coronary heart disease had the highest effect sizes on aging GIP.

Several factors, including antihypertensive medication, smoking initiation age, and television watching time, mediated at least 7% of the effect of the well-being spectrum on aging GIP. Other mediators, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, waist-to-hip ratio, and fresh fruit intake, also played significant roles.

Conclusion

The study illustrated the causal effects of mental well-being on aging phenotypes independent of SES. Better mental well-being was linked to improved aging GIP, with the causal effect partly explained by various mediators, including lifestyle factors, physical functions, diseases, and behaviours. These findings underscore the importance of prioritising mental well-being to promote healthy aging.

 

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