Science Policy For All

Because science policy affects everyone.

Science Policy Around the Web – April 29, 2016

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By: Rebecca Meseroll, Ph.D.

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Smoking cessation policy

British medical group recommends switch to e-cigarettes

The Royal College of Physicians (RCP) released a report this week encouraging cigarette smokers to switch to electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) as a step toward quitting smoking entirely.  E-cigarettes provide a source of nicotine, the addictive chemical in cigarettes, without tar and other cancer-causing additives.  The report found that the benefits in switching to e-cigarettes far outweigh the risks, noting that smoking is the largest avoidable public health threat in the UK and the health hazards of inhaling vapor from e-cigarettes amounts 5% or less of the risk of smoking cigarettes. These recommendations are somewhat at odds with the stance of public health officials in the US, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who have been more cautious about e-cigarette use and have focused on potential risks.  Major concerns include the use of e-cigarettes as a gateway to other tobacco products for nonusers, especially youth, and the unknown effects of inhaling additives in the nicotine liquid.  The Food and Drug Administration is has proposed to extend its tobacco authority to e-cigarettes and is currently devising their recommendations for regulation, so the US public policy on e-cigarette use will likely be addressed formally in the near future.  Public health officials on both sides of the Atlantic will no doubt be observing the impact of the RCP’s recommendation on smoking cessation and amending their policies accordingly. (Sabrina Tavernise, The New York Times)

Priorities in health policy

Proliferation of multiple cancer moonshot programs raises some concerns

Several cancer “moonshots”, initiatives aimed at finding a cure for cancer, have been announced in recent months.  Most famous perhaps is the proposed $1 billion effort spearheaded by Vice President Joe Biden, in addition to three other privately-funded initiatives by the Parker Institute, Johns Hopkins University, and the Cancer MoonShot 2020 program.  Some cancer researchers have expressed concern over the proliferation of these different efforts without a strong central leadership, which could lead to unintended overlap of topics and a waste of precious research funds. One issue in coalescing these efforts is that the private enterprises may have different goals from the moonshot proposed by the government, including the need to satisfy investors.  Yet it does not appear that these efforts will be operating completely at cross-purposes, as all three private enterprises will have representation on the government’s advisory panel for Biden’s moonshot, so there will be at least some awareness among the different projects about what the other initiatives are doing.  One advantage of the involvement of privately-funded cancer moonshots is that they can begin work immediately; the government project still remains to be approved and funded by Congress which may balk at the high price tag or be otherwise reluctant to fund a large White House initiative this late in Obama’s presidency. (Erika Check Hayden, Nature)

Global childhood health

Childhood obesity on the rise in rural China

Childhood obesity has been generally on the rise across the globe in the 21st century, and a decades-long study of children in rural Shandong, China found that childhood obesity has absolutely skyrocketed since 1985.  Previous studies have demonstrated the rise in obesity in China, now second in the world behind the US, but the results from the current study on the rural population are staggering.  The rate of overweight and obese boys rose from 0.5% to 30.7% between 1985 and 2014, and for girls from 0.8% to 20.6%.  The authors of the study implicate a shift toward high energy, high fat, low fiber diets coupled with a decrease in physical activity in this astonishing trend.  The rise in obesity also coincides with increasing wealth in rural Chinese households, with previously poor families able to afford more food, so overfeeding during a time of plenty is likely another contribution to the problem.  Public health outcomes of this trend could be very serious; childhood obesity can lead to major deleterious effects, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoarthritis.  The authors of the study conclude that rural China should be included in public efforts and education to curb childhood obesity and prevent a generation from suffering the impaired health complications that come with it.

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Written by sciencepolicyforall

April 29, 2016 at 9:00 am

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