Hunger is bad for your health

March 25, 2013

Hello and welcome to another “As It Is” program.   I’m Jim Tedder in Washington.

Today we examine your health.  Doctors say you have got to get up out of that chair and move!  Sitting for long periods is not good for you.  We all know that hunger in the world is a major problem.  But how bad is it really?  But first, listen carefully if you have ever used Chinese herbs to help you lose weight.  Scientists in Britain have been studying an ingredient added to some herbal medicines that can cause severe kidney disease and cancer.

In the early 1990s, several young women in Belgium were sickened with kidney disease. All the women had been treated with Chinese herbal medicines at a weight-loss center. The medicinal herbs came from a family called Aristolochia. They are used to treat skin conditions, joint pain and other disorders. Graham Lord is with King’s College London. He says the cases were blamed on aristolochic acid, an ingredient in some of the plants.

“It binds to DNA and causes kidney disease. It causes cancer in areas where it’s most concentrated, which probably explains who the cancers are mostly focused around the urinary tract and the kidney.”

Professor Lord is the lead writer of a new paper describing the kidney disease. For the paper, he and his team collected about 20 years of published medical literature. The disorder is now called aristolochic acid neuropathy, or AAN. The paper suggests setting standards – rules – for identifying and treating the problem.

Herbs containing aristolochic acid are banned from Europe and the United States. The resulting form of kidney disease is now mostly found in other areas. Professor Lord suggests blocking imports of the herbs.

“Import bans, working with the herbal practitioners that in the past have used this drug, can be extraordinarily effective.”

In places where they are common, cases of AAN are still being reported. Professor Lord says that in Taiwan, studies suggest tens if not hundreds of thousands of people have come in contact with this herb. But he admits it is hard to know how many people are getting kidney disease from such plants. He says identifying the disorder requires testing to differentiate it from other kinds of kidney disease.

The report by Graham Lord and his team was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Doctors say you had better use it before you lose it.  The more you sit each day, the more chance you have of getting sick.  Milagros Ardin has the latest details.

Richard Rosenkranz of Kansas State University was among the researchers. He says people who sat for long periods were at greater risk of the diseases when compared with those who sat less. He said that was especially true for diabetes.

“We saw increased risk at higher levels (of sitting) for high blood pressure as well as for any chronic disease.”

Richard Rosenkranz studied the relationship between sitting and chronic diseases in middle-aged Australian men. He worked with researchers from the University of Western Sydney. They examined the health records of more than 63 thousand men from New South Wales. The men were between the ages of 45 and 65. The men reported about what diseases they had, or did not have. And they kept record of the amount of time each day that they sat.

The study also showed that exercising every morning for 30 minutes does not reduce the health risk if you spend the next eight hours sitting at a desk. Mr. Rosenkranz says it is important to make sure you exercise. But he says it is also important to find ways not to sit so much during the day.

The World Health Organization blames sedentary lifestyles for about two million deaths each year. It also considers inactivity to be one of the 10 leading causes of death and disability worldwide.

Many jobs today require sitting and working at a desk all day, he noted. But other occupations also require a lot of sitting – occupations such as driving a truck or a taxi.

James Levine works at the Mayo Clinic in the United States. He suggests working while standing at a high table some of the time instead of sitting at a desk. Dr. Levine also suggests standing while using the telephone or eating. Or he advises walking with the people you work with for an on-foot conference. And he notes that if you spend more time on your feet, you may have muscle activity that helps burn fats and sugars in your body.  I’m Milagros Ardin.

If you are going to treat hunger in the world, you need to know how bad the situation really is.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has a new project that may give us important information.  It is called “Voices of the Hungry” and Christopher Cruise reports.

The UN agency wants to hear from the people themselves -- and not deal just with studies and reports. FAO official Carlo Cafiero says the current system of measuring food supplies and hunger is important. But he notes that it often causes long delays.

“From the moment in which this information is collected to the moment in which it is cleared, processed and sent to us, there may be two or three years’ delay.”

He says even developed countries do not have regular surveys – studies – of how much food people get to eat. Food consumption surveys are generally performed every five years. The FAO official says the current situation is not well understood, and that this became very apparent during the food price crisis.

In 2007, many experts predicted a worldwide economic recession. Food prices began going up. Carlo Cafiero says that led to an unpleasant prediction about food consumption. He notes that a few years later, it was learned that the economies of China, India and other developing countries did not slow down sharply. The predicted events did not take place in each and every country. And, he says, that is where the model-based prediction to make an estimate of the current situation was proved wrong.

The new Voices of the Hungry project is described as fast and more exact. It will use surveys of individuals to collect information on the extent and severity of hunger. The surveys will be done every year in cooperation with the survey group, Gallup. The project will be tested in the coming months in Angola, Ethiopia, Malawi and Niger. I’m Christopher Cruise.

And that is all for today, Tuesday, the 26th day of March.  Today, by the way, is birthday number 65 for Steven Tyler, lead singer for the rock group “Aerosmith.”