University-based research and neglected diseases

Back in 1999, the organization Médecins sans Frontières (MSF or “Doctors Without Borders”) received the Nobel Peace Prize and did something a bit surprising with it: they spent it on drugs.

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Soda and global obesity: are sugar-sweetened beverages relevant outside the United States?

Global_Obesity_BothSexes_2008While sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) have garnered much attention in the US given their associations with obesity and diabetes in the Nurses Health Study and a number of other assessments, a key question is whether this effect also translates to low- and middle-income countries where both domestic and imported beverages are becoming increasingly popular. In an article just published in the American Journal of Public Health, we looked at this question using the soft drink industry’s own statistics, merged with comparative survey data on weight status and diabetes across the globe.

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Alcohol use during the Great Recession

HEALTH Alcohol 074058There have been many theories and contradictory findings about how alcohol use changes during economic downturns. Will people drink less because they can’t afford it—a common refrain in economics journals? Or will the depression associated with unemployment lead to more binging? A recent article looking at alcohol use during the Great Recession provides an interesting, if unexpected, result.

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Interpreting our findings from today’s study on sugars and type 2 diabetes

Lustig sugar diagramIn today’s edition of the journal PLoS One, we published an “open access” study on the relationship between sugars and type 2 diabetes. The study was an international analysis applying statistical techniques from the field of econometrics to public health data in order to understand the relationship between sugar availability and diabetes prevalence. It was peer-reviewed by five independent statisticians and diabetes experts. The study can be easily misinterpreted—for example, one doctor made the silly comment: “Well this is just like correlating the number of cups someone owns to their risk of diabetes, which is confounded by obesity”—which reflects that the doctor did not read the study or didn’t understand the statistical methods involved; obviously, as professors who teach statistics all day, we controlled for obesity and dealt with these kinds of issues up front. The study is not a typical simple “correlation study” that is far too common in the medical literature. There are, however, very important caveats to the findings, and some context that’s pretty critical to understand. So we wanted to re-iterate the very careful wording in the study and make sure that the actual study findings made it somewhere into the melodramatic discourse on this subject…

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400,000 “stolen years”: analyses of gun violence in the US

Our data-visualization colleagues at Periscopic have released a new report on US gun statistics.

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Private and public linkages of soda companies

imagesGiven the extensive interest these days about how public health decision-makers are being influenced by the soda industry, we decided to take a more systematic look at what institutions and people have close ties to the industry, and what sorts of relationships they have. It is no longer a secret that the Pan American Health Organization, a regional office of World Health Organization, accepts money from the Coca- Cola Company, PepsiCo, Kraft, Nestle, and Unilever. Similarly, some members of the WHO’s Nutrition Guidance Expert Advisory Group have food industry ties, particularly in the form of receiving funding. But who else in the public sphere of governance is linked to “Big Soda”, and how?

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New IOM report on US versus…everyone else

2013-01-09 02.01.45 pmThe Institute of Medicine has released a major new report today on the reasons why the United States seems to have poorer health, despite its greater wealth, as compared to other industrialized countries.

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Highlights from the Global Burden of Disease 2010 studies

GlobalBurden_170This morning, The Lancet published the most comprehensive look at the Global Burden of Disease in over a decade. The “GBD 2010” revealed major shifts in our understanding of global public health and what is causing disease worldwide. For those of you not planning to cure your insomnia tonight by reading all 196 pages of the text, here’s a quick run-down of the major results:

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Gutting the research and development treaty

imagesFor several years, health advocates have tried to assemble a treaty to fund research and development on neglected diseases that predominate in poor countries. This week, US and EU negotiators gutted that goal.
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Chocolate consumption, Nobel laureates, and crappy statistics

A few weeks ago, the New England Journal published what we’d call the worst example of medical statistical misadventure we’ve seen in years: a paper claiming that “chocolate consumption enhances cognitive function” based on a correlation between chocolate consumption and the number of Nobel prize winners in a country (no, we’re not joking…it’s a real paper). Before we indulge in chocolate and a bit of other consumption during Thanksgiving, we thought it would be a good time to revisit a little lesson known as the ecological fallacy…

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