Should we dust off the SlimFast?

With Britain being the obese man of Europe and rising incidences of obesity related diseases, such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease, the NHS is struggling to get people to lose weight.

SlimfastLosing weight and keeping it off is hard and the NHS’s current approach to the issue usually consists of GP advice and support for patients seeking out slimming clubs or gym memberships. In extreme cases surgery might be an option when everything else has failed. None of these approaches seem particularly promising, as only very few people manage to lose weight and keep it off in the long run. A new study by the University of Oxford might offer a different solution. The observational study followed 278 people from 10 GP practices throughout Oxfordshire, with half of the participants following a very low-calorie diet mainly consisting of shakes and soups, paired with continuous counselling and the other half receiving support from their GP practice. The people on the highly restrictive diet followed the Cambridge Weight Plan programme for eight weeks, followed by 4 weeks of gradually introducing normal food back into their diet. The Cambridge Weight Plan consists of specially formulated drinks, soups and snacks, as well as milk, water and fibre supplements to guarantee adequate nutrition at only 810kcal per day. The patients on the restrictive diet consistently lost more weight than the control group at every time point measured, leading to an average weight loss of 10.7kg (1st 9lb) versus 3.1kg (1/2st) after one year. This is impressive, especially considering that the programme lasted for only 12 weeks, but the first push of successful weight loss, paired with slow reintroduction of foods and counselling seems to have led to a longer-term weight loss success not seen in the GP advice and support only group. Blood pressure and cholesterol measurements also improved in the restrictive diet group and those with type 2 diabetes were able to radically reduce their medication. While the results of this study sound promising, researchers warn that this kind of diet should not be embarked on without professional support and might only be applicable for people with a BMI over 30. NHS England is considering to introduce this kind of diet support as part of a long term plan for the NHS, but experts point out that the best way to a healthy life is still a balance of nutritious food and exercise, as well as a good amount of sleep, coupled with only a moderate intake of drink and no smoking. So maybe we should leave the SlimFast where it is and while we wait for the NHS to support this kind of treatment approach go for a walk around the block.

Less Screen Time for Kids might be a Good Idea

Your parents might have been right after all. A study published in The Lancet Child and Adolescent Health Journal found that reduced screen time is linked to better cognition in children. The observational study involved 4,500 US children and used questionnaires to estimate physical activity, sleep and recreational screen time. The children aged 8 to 11 also had to complete a cognitive test, measuring language, memory and attention skills. The study concluded that a daily screen time below 2 hours, 9 to 11 hours of sleep and 1 hour of physical activity seemed to be the ideal cocktail for optimal cognitive ability in the children. While the study controlled for several factors, including household income, parental and child education, ethnicity, pubertal development, BMI and traumatic brain injury, it remains an observational result, only showing association and not proving causality.

phone-imageThe researchers also pointed out that the type of screen time might be important, with different studies showing cognitive benefits of educational TV programmes and certain video games and more negative effects with the use of social media and mobile devices. Another of the studies limitations is that the children had to self-report and the questionnaires were only used at the beginning of the study, without any follow up ones to track a possible change in cognition or behaviour over time. Having said this, there is a mounting body of evidence suggesting it might be a good idea to limit the time your little one spends in front of the screen until the final verdict comes in.

Can you hear the “Twit-twoo”?

Many of you might have heard the characteristical “twit-twoo” when out and about or maybe during a camping trip into the woods. The distinct sound is coming from the tawny owl, or brown owl, a solid medium sized bird inhabiting the mixed woodlands, large urban parks and suburban gardens of Britain and Europe.

owlWhile the tawny owl lived happily across Europe for a very long time, light pollution and urbanisation are starting to take a toll on the British population and their conservation status was recently changed from green to amber. The British Trust for Ornithology is therefore calling to all bird lovers to spend 20 minutes a week listening out for the calling sound of the owl and to report back on the sounds they hear or might not hear. This will give researchers a better idea of the numbers of tawny owls remaining in Britain and where their numbers might decline. While listening out for their calls it might be interesting to know that the “twit-twoo” is not actually a call from a single owl, but a female owl calling out “twit”, with the male owl answering in a longer “twoo”. The owls find a partner after their first year of life and usually stay in a monogamous relationship for the rest of their life, while staying within the same territory. If you’d like to help out you can participate in the Tawny Owl Survey from 30th September – 31st of March on the BTO website. Even if you don’t listen out every week, researchers point out that every bit of collected data is useful and getting involved is a good way to channel your inner researcher.



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