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A new study has revealed an explosion in weight loss surgery procedures in Western Australia over the past two decades.

The study by the University of Western Australia’s School of Population Health is published in the latest edition of the Medical Journal of Australia.

It found there were 20 times more bariatric procedures, such as gastric banding, performed in 2004 than in 1988.

Sixty-four-year-old Pamela Vigers was an acute diabetic who weighed 116 kilograms. She lost 40kg after surgery and says it has changed her life.

“I don’t take insulin or any type of diabetic medication, the diabetes is totally under control because I can exercise now,” she said.

Researchers say while the study focussed on WA, the increase is indicative of a national trend.

The study’s co-author Fiona Smith says much of the rise can be attributed to the worsening obesity problem.

“Certainly we found that some of the rise in the surgery can be attributed to the increasing population prevalence of obesity,” she said.

“There are other likely factors though – things like increasing publicity and awareness of the surgery.”

Ms Smith says the research also found the surgery is safe.

“There was relatively few complications recorded and very little difference in survival outcomes between the bariatric surgery patients and the general population,” she said.

Australian Medical Association national president Rosanna Capolingua says the surgery has improved over the past two decades.

“Certainly there have been improvements in this sort of surgery over that period of time,” she said.

“Laparoscopic surgery is now available. It is safer, it is a more realistic option.”

But Ms Capolingua says surgery should only be used as a last resort.

“It is an appropriate treatment after other methods of weight loss have failed and in certain groups, [for example] patients with a BMI over 35.”

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http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/07/26/2315367.htm

No need for Aust trans fat ban: food regulator

The regulatory body that sets food standards in Australia says there is no need at this stage to ban food outlets from selling food that has trans fats added to it.

In America, California has become the first state there to ban restaurants and food retailers from using trans fats – artificial fats that are linked to coronary and heart disease.

But Food Standards Australia New Zealand says local surveys have found that, unlike many other countries, Australians consume a low level of trans fats.

It says only 0.6 per cent of their daily kilojoules comes from trans fats – well below World Health Organisation recommendations.

FSANZ spokeswoman Lydia Buchtmann says efforts are underway to keep the level of consumption low.

“Our concern is that people might overreact as they have overseas where there are bans in place and move back to unhealthy saturated fats, to start cooking in lard for example, which would be much worse because we are actually consuming far too high levels of saturated fats,” she said.

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http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/06/04/2264613.htm

Youth suicide dropping, but self harm on the rise

A young woman rests her head in her hands in a depressed pose

Experts say depression and anxiety can manifest themselves in self harm. (ABC News: Giulio Saggin)

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Australia has managed to reduce the number of teenage suicides but the latest figures from the Institute of Health and Welfare show there is a new problem that needs to be tackled, self harm.

In the past decade there has been an alarming rise in the number of young people who intentionally hurt themselves, with more than 7,000 taken to hospital in one year.

Youth suicide has long been recognised as a real and significant issue in Australian society.

But Professor George Patton from the Centre for Adolescent Health says more commonly, deep emotional pain can manifest itself as self harm.

“The act is not necessarily about killing yourself and for most young people self harm is not about killing yourself, it’s a way of dealing with emotions that you’re finding difficult,” he said.

“They may be emotions of feeling anxious, feeling angry, feeling unhappy, a mixture of all of the above.”

The latest figures from the Institute of Health and Welfare, released this morning, reveal the rate of self harm is rising dramatically.

In the decade from 1996 to 2006, the rate of hospitalisations from self-harm went up by 43 per cent among young people.

For young women, the increase was even higher at 51 per cent.

The institute’s Deanna Eldridge says that equates to 7,300 young people in the most recent statistical year.

“Overall it only accounts for about 2 per cent of all hospitalisations of young people, but in terms of injury it’s about the sixth leading cause of hospitalisation.

The Institute’s figures show about 80 per cent of the hospitalisations for self-harm were for deliberate poisoning.

Professor Patton says that is a reflection of the most serious cases but it is really only the tip of the iceberg and most cases of self-harm do not need immediate medical attention.

“The commonest type of self harm the young people report is deliberately cutting themselves,” he said.

“Self poisoning is the next most common and then things like deliberate risk taking, beating up on yourself or self battery – they’re less common again.”

Self harm is most common during puberty and reaches a peak at an average age of 15.

It is a problem all around the world and the rise of cases in Australia fits with similar trends in other Western countries.

Professor Patten says there is a growing feeling that the rise in self harm is actually a reflection of the growth of individualism and loss of connections.

“They are really important for young people as they’re growing up and so kids are growing up feeling that they actually need to deal with their problems themselves,” he said.

Youth depression groups, like Reach Out! have helped make progress in bringing down the suicide rate but spokesman Jonathan Nicholas thinks the figures show there is still a lot of work to do.

“We’ve made some good inroads into suicide but the journey is far from over and it says that we’ve actually got to do more in intervening early with young people and getting them to the supports they need and making sure that they are not reaching the point where they want to die,” he said.

Adapted from an AM report by youth affairs reporter Michael Turtle.

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http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2008/03/26/2199424.htm

Pot bellies ‘triple dementia risk’

Having a large belly in middle age nearly triples the risk of developing dementia, a study has found.

“Considering that 50 per cent of adults in this country (United States) have abdominal obesity, this is a disturbing finding,” said study author Rachel Whitmer of the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, California.

Being overweight in midlife and beyond has long been linked to increased risk for disease such as stroke, diabetes and heart disease.

This is the first study to link excess fat to dementia and, interestingly, excess abdominal fat increased the risk even among those who were of normal weight overall.

Researchers measured the abdominal fat of 6,583 people age 40 to 45 in northern California and some 36 years later 16 per cent had developed dementia, the study published in the journal Neurology found.

Those who were overweight or obese but did not have a pot belly had an 80 per cent increase in the risk of dementia compared to people with a normal body weight and abdominal fat level.

Increased risk

The risk increase jumped by 230 per cent among overweight people with a large belly and 360 per cent among the obese with large abdomens.

“Where one carries the weight – especially in midlife – appears to be an important predictor for dementia risk,” Ms Whitmer said.

While more research is needed to understand why this link exists, it is possible that the abdominal obesity is part of a complex set of health-related behaviors that increase the risk of dementia.

“Autopsies have shown that changes in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease may start in young to middle adulthood, and another study showed that high abdominal fat in elderly adults was tied to greater brain atrophy,” she said.

“These findings imply that the dangerous effects of abdominal obesity on the brain may start long before the signs of dementia appear.”

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Baby bonus leading to fatter kids: economist

A Canberra economist says an increase in the baby bonus could lead to unhealthier children.

Research by the Australian National University’s (ANU) Andrew Leigh and a colleague suggests the introduction of the baby bonus in 2004 led to more children being born overweight, because their deliveries were deliberately delayed to obtain the bonus.

Dr Leigh says a planned increase in the baby bonus from July 1 this year could produce a similar outcome.

“I think people are very familiar with the fact that premature and very light babies tend to have worse health outcomes,” he said.

“But it’s actually also the case that very heavy babies also have worse health outcomes.

“Undercooking is bad and overcooking is bad too.”

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Nutritionists ticked off over approval for pizza chain

By Jane Cowan

Nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton cannot believe the tick has turned up on a pizza. (File photo)

Nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton cannot believe the tick has turned up on a pizza. (File photo) (Getty Images: Frazer Harrison)

The Heart Foundation has outraged nutritionists by awarding its tick of approval, for the first time, to a pizza chain.

The foundation argues that people eat fast food anyway, and need to know which options are healthier.

But one well known nutritionist says putting the Heart Foundation tick on a pizza renders the symbol almost meaningless.

The pizzas that have attracted the tick have a quarter of the fat of those sold by one of the two major pizza chains – and less than half the salt.

But the foundation’s food strategy director Susan Anderson says that does not mean to say they are healthy.

“The Heart Foundation will always say that eating takeaway foods is something you shouldn’t do often, perhaps once a week,” she said.

“Given the staggering numbers of people who are eating out – 2.7 million meals are eaten out every day in Australia – it is critical we have these healthier choices and people deserve to know which options out there are better.”

No doubt the pizza chain involved is delighted to be singled out above its competitors.

The Heart Foundation media release announcing the decision even provides a number to call to interview someone from the store.

‘Best of a bad lot’

But nutritionist Dr Rosemary Stanton cannot believe the tick has turned up on a pizza.

“I think one of the problems with the Heart Foundation tick is that it is now giving ticks to the best of a bad lot,” she said.

“I am not sure that that is the ideal educational message that we want to get across to the public.

“I mean the real message should be that either make your own pizza, or if you are going to eat pizza, only eat one slice.

“Frankly, if you are going to eat a whole pizza from the pizza with the tick, you are still going to be getting a large amount of fat and salt and kilojoules.”

She says the Heart Foundation should be be more strict with its criteria.

“I think the really strange thing is that they have different criteria for different types of food,” she said.

“I don’t think there is anything wrong with eating any food occasionally, but by giving it a tick, I think you are giving it a seal of approval that perhaps some foods don’t deserve.”

‘Healthier choice’

Susan Anderson from the Heart Foundation says that is unrealistic.

“We’ve got Australians buying a massive 190 million takeaway pizzas each year,” she said.

“They obviously love their pizzas, but they also want healthier options available and today we are trying to give them that genuinely healthier choice.”

She says the average consumer understands the tick means it’s a healthier option compared to similar products, rather than just plain healthy.

“The Heart Foundation does regular tracking of people’s attitudes and their consumption of foods with the tick,” she said.

“We also have a number of behaviour changes that we are seeing in the area.

“We know for example that one-in-five people who are buying meals in McDonalds are choosing a tick-approved meal.”

“A million people buy meals at McDonalds, and so it is critical that they have a healthier choice available to them – because just suggesting that they eat a tuna sandwich is not going to be enough.”

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‘Happiness curve’ bottoms out at 44: study

By Barbara Miller

Researchers say we shouldn't get too down about hitting age 44, as many 70-year-olds are as happy and healthy as young adults. (File photo)

Researchers say we shouldn’t get too down about hitting age 44, as many 70-year-olds are as happy and healthy as young adults. (File photo) (ABC News: Giulio Saggin)

Those approaching middle age like to think that life begins at 40, but research suggests that just a few years later we are at our most depressed.

Scientists from the United States and the United Kingdom who studied happiness and depression levels in 80 countries, have pinpointed 44 as the most unhappy year of life.

But they say we shouldn’t get too down about it, as many 70-year-olds are as happy and healthy as young adults.

Happiness is a U-shaped curve according to this research. As middle-age approaches the average person will slide down the U to hit rock bottom at the age of 44.

They’ll be stuck in that trough for quite a few years but by the time they are in their 50s, assuming their physical health is still intact, their happiness levels will go up and risk of depression go down.

Andrew Oswald is professor of economics at the University of Warwick in England. Along with a colleague in the US he analysed data on happiness and depression levels in more than 80 countries, including Australia.

He says there was a remarkable uniformity in the findings which applied to men, women, single and married people, with or without children, and to the rich and the poor.

“We didn’t expect to see this over and over again, in many, many dozens of countries and we didn’t expect to see it so clearly in mental health measures, depression measures, say, as well as in broader happiness and simple life satisfaction,” he said.

Knowing our limits

Professor Oswald says the most plausible explanation for the U-curve is to do with the recognition in middle-age of our limitations.

“[The cause of the downward trend is] probably start your life expecting too much of yourself being the general manager, being the Australian cricket team, winning a Nobel prize, whatever it is,” he said.

“And you discover as you go through your 30s and don’t achieve that and that’s a painful realisation. If you can let that go in middle-age, maybe that’s the secret of why our people in this study become happier and mentally healthier.”

He says that it is possible that people who are incredibly high achievers will not experience that trough at the age of 44 or thereabouts.

“I suppose the problem with high achievers is I suspect their aspirations run even further ahead,” he said.

“You know, two or three people have actually won the Nobel prize twice. I suppose some Test captains go on for 20 years and so on.

“In any case those are too rare, those individuals, so I would just go back to our data. The average person in Australia or Britain or America, most countries, will follow a U-shape in mental health through their own life course.”

Better with age

Professor Ian Hickie, from the Brain and Mind Research Institute at the University of Sydney, agrees that life gets better in the late 40s. He says ageing is quite a good thing in mental health terms.

“Certainly the evidence we’ve got is if there is a time in your life you’re going to be miserable and complain about it, it’s mid-life,” he said.

“When you’re young you’re hopeful, you’re optimistic, despite your difficulties and as you age what you have to look forward to is actually better mental health.

“Contrary to most people’s ideas, getting older doesn’t get with going more miserable and having more troubles, it actually correlates with better coping with life and feeling better about your life. It seems the middle years are the killers. You just got to survive the middle years.

At age 48, Professor Hickie says he thinks he’s past the worst point in his life.

“I feel I am just going out the other end and from here on in life’s a breeze,” he said.

Victor Hugo said 40 was the old age of youth and 50 the youth of old age. And Professor Oswald also stresses that there is a positive message to take from the lesson of the U-curve of happiness.

“Just generally this research is, I hope, useful to somebody going through their 40s, maybe finding it hard,” he said.

“You are completely normal and if you stick in there then on average life will get better through your remaining decades.”

So just think of that U-shape as a smile.

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