Category Archives: Obesity

Nov 19 2014
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New Research Shows How Sugary Drinks Are Marketed to Children in the Age of Social Media

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Beverage companies spent $866 million to advertise unhealthy drinks in 2013, and children and teens remained key target audiences for that advertising, according to a new report released today at APHA by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity. The report “Sugary Drink FACTS 2014” highlights some progress regarding beverage marketing to young people, but also shows that companies still have a long way to go to improve their marketing practices and the nutritional quality of their products to support young people’s health.

“Despite promises by major beverage companies to be part of the solution in addressing childhood obesity, our report shows that companies continue to market their unhealthy products directly to children and teens,” said Jennifer Harris, PhD, Rudd Center’s director of marketing initiatives and lead author of the report. “They have also rapidly expanded marketing in social and mobile media that are popular with young people, but much more difficult for parents to monitor.”

Harris and her team examined changes in the nutritional content of sugar-sweetened drinks including sodas, energy drinks, fruit drinks, and others. They also analyzed marketing tactics for 23 companies that advertised these products, including changes in advertising to children and teens on TV, the internet, and newer media like mobile apps and social media. Researchers also examined changes in the nutrition and marketing of diet beverages, 100% juice, and water. The report was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Learn more about the key findings of the report in the following exclusive interview with Harris. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

NPH:  You issued the first version of this new report in 2011. What are the changes since then?

Jennifer Harris: The biggest change that we saw was a very significant decline in advertising on television. Preschoolers are seeing 33% fewer TV ads for sugary drinks in 2013 than they saw in 2010. Children are seeing 39% fewer, and teens are seeing 30% fewer. So, that was really some great news to see, but some categories had bigger declines than others. Fruit drinks went down by about 50%, but advertising for energy drinks that kids see actually increased. So, there was some good news and some bad news. 

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Nov 12 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 12

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Study Questions Long Term Success of Some Popular Diets
A new study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an American Heart Association journal, suggests that popular commercial diets can help people lose some weight in the short term, but keeping the weight off after the first year and the diet’s impact on heart health are unclear. “Despite their popularity and important contributions to the multi-million dollar weight loss industry, we still do not know if these diets are effective to help people lose weight and decrease their risk factors for heart disease,” said Mark J. Eisenberg, MD, MPH, the study’s senior author and Professor of Medicine at Jewish General Hospital/McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. “With such a small number of trials looking at each diet and their somewhat conflicting results, there is only modest evidence that using these diets is beneficial in the long-term.”

The longest diet studies researchers analyzed lasted for two years, and results were only available for the Atkins or Weight Watchers diets. Those studies found dieters regained some of their weight over time. To better understand the potential benefits from any one or all of these diets, researchers need to conduct large clinical trials directly comparing all four popular diets for long-term weight loss and changes in other heart disease risk factors, said Eisenberg. Read more on obesity.

Bilingual Brains Better Equipped to Process Information
Speaking more than one language is good for the brain, according to new research in the journal Brain and Language that indicates bilingual speakers process information more efficiently and more easily than do those who know a single language. The benefits occur because the bilingual brain is constantly activating both languages and choosing which language to use and which to ignore, said Northwestern University's Viorica Marian, the lead author of the research and a professor in the department of communication sciences and disorders in the School of Communication. When the brain is constantly exercised in this way, it doesn't have to work as hard to perform cognitive tasks, the researchers found. "It's like a stop light," Marian said. "Bilinguals are always giving the green light to one language and red to another. When you have to do that all the time, you get really good at inhibiting the words you don't need." Read more on education.

Alzheimer's-Related Costs Expected to Soar in Coming Decades
Health policy researchers at the University of Southern California have used modeling that incorporates trends in health, health care costs, education and demographics to determine that models show that the number of people expected to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease will soar in the next three decades.

Key findings:

  • From 2010 to 2050, the number of individuals aged 70+ with Alzheimer's will increase by 153 percent, from 3.6 to 9.1 million.

  • Annual per-person costs of the disease were $71,000 in 2010, which is expected to double by 2050.

  • Medicare and Medicaid currently bear 75 percent of the costs of the disease.

"Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disease with symptoms that gradually worsen over time. People don't get better," said Julie Zissimopoulos, lead author of the study and an assistant professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy. "It is so expensive because individuals with Alzheimer's disease need extensive help with daily activities provided by paid caregivers or by family members who may be taking time off of work to care for them, which has a double impact on the economy.” Read more on aging.

Nov 11 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 11

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American College of Preventive Medicine Releases Recommendations to Curb Texting While Driving
The American College of Preventive Medicine (ACPM) has released guidelines aimed at reducing death and injuries linked to texting while driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 12 percent of all fatal crashes involving at least one distracted driver are estimated to be related to cell phone use while driving. “Given the combination of visual, manual and cognitive distractions posed by texting, this is an issue of major public health concern for communities,” the ACPM said it its statement. The guidelines include:

  • Encourage state legislatures to develop and pass legislation banning texting while driving, while simultaneously implementing comprehensive and dedicated law enforcement strategies, including penalties for these violations.
  • Legislatures should establish a public awareness campaign regarding the dangers of texting while driving as an integral part of this legislation.
  • Promote further research into the design and evaluation of educational tools regarding texting while driving that can be incorporated into the issuance of driver’s licenses.
  • Provide primary care providers with the appropriate tools to educate patients of all ages.
  • Conduct additional studies investigating the risks associated with cell phone usage while driving—particularly texting—with motor vehicle crashes.

Read more on injury prevention.

Skin Cancer Costs Rise
The costs associated with skin cancer increased five times as fast as treatments for other cancers between 2002 and 2011, according to a study by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The average annual cost for skin cancer treatment increased from $3.6 billion during 2002-2006 to $8.1 billion during 2007-2011, or 126 percent. The average annual cost for treatment of all other cancers increased by 25 percent during the same time period. “The findings raise the alarm that not only is skin cancer a growing problem in the United States, but the costs for treating it are skyrocketing relative to other cancers,” said the lead author of the report, Gery Guy, PhD, of the CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. “This also underscores the importance of skin cancer prevention efforts.” Read more on cancer.

 

Childhood Obesity Often Continues into Teen Years
A new study published in the journal Pediatrics reviewed data on close to 4,000 public school students who were measured for height and weight in 5th and 10th grades. In 5th grade, one percent of students were underweight, 53 percent were normal weight, 19 percent were overweight and 26 percent were obese. Sixty-five percent of obese 5th-graders remained obese in 10th grade, 23 percent transitioned down to overweight and only 12 percent became normal weight. The study found that obese 5th graders were more likely to remain obese in 10th grade if they perceived themselves to be much heavier than ideal or came from a less-educated household. However, overweight 5th-graders were more likely to become obese by 10th grade if they had an obese parent or watched more television. The study authors say obese children face many challenges in reducing obesity in adolescence and that health care professionals should be encouraged to educate parents and caregivers to address obesity at a very young age, including advice on healthy eating and physical activity. Read more on childhood obesity.

Nov 7 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 7

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Public Perceptions on Obesity Are Changing
New research that looked at the opinions of both the public and health care professionals during the past year finds a shift away from seeing obesity as a personal problem resulting from bad choices. Health care professionals were already less likely than the public to view obesity as a personal problem of bad choices, according to the study was presented earlier this week at the Obesity Society Annual Meeting in Boston. The study used an online survey of more than 50,000 members of the public and more than 5,000 health care professionals, finding that the percentage of Americans seeing obesity as a community problem increased by 13 percent in 2014 over the previous year and the percent of health care professionals increased by 18 percent, although that was a smaller increase than the previous year. Wealthier and younger respondents were more likely to view obesity as a medical problem. Male and rural respondents more likely view obesity as a personal problem of bad choices. Read more on obesity.

Many People, Who Think They Have a Penicillin Allergy, Don’t
Many people have been incorrectly told that they're allergic to penicillin, and have not had testing to confirm an allergy, according to a two new studies presented this week at the annual conference of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. The studies are very important, according to the researchers, because giving alternative antibiotics to people who don’t need them results in inferior treatment, higher costs and higher toxicity for patients. Of 384 people in one study who thought they were allergic to penicillin, 94 tested negative. In the second study, 38 people who believed they were allergic to penicillin had skin testing and all tested negative. "A large number of people in our study who had a history of penicillin allergy were actually not allergic," said Thanai Pongdee, MD, a member of the ACAAI and the author of one study. "They may have had an unfavorable response to penicillin at some point in the past, such as hives or swelling, but they did not demonstrate any evidence of penicillin allergy at the current time.” Read more on infectious disease.

School Lunches Often Healthier than Packed Lunches
Researchers from Virginia Tech recently conducted a study that compared school lunches with home-packed lunches and found that school lunches were typically more nutritious. The researchers reviewed more than 1,000 lunches—about half packed and half prepared by three public schools—and found that rates of calories, carbohydrates, fat, saturated fat, sugar, vitamin C, and iron were significantly higher for packed lunches compared to school lunches. Protein, sodium, fiber, vitamin A and calcium were significantly lower for packed lunches compared to school lunches. "Habits develop in early childhood and continue into adolescence and adulthood. Therefore, this is a critical time to promote healthy eating. Determining the many factors which influence the decision to participate in the [school lunch program] or bring a packed lunch from home is vital to addressing the poor quality of packed lunches," says Elena L. Serrano, PhD, Family Nutrition Program Project Director, and Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise at Virginia Tech and the lead author of the study. Read more on nutrition.

 

Oct 17 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 17

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EBOLA UPDATE: HHS Accelerates Development of an Ebola Vaccine
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) is working to accelerate the development of a vaccine to prevent Ebola through a one-year, $5.8 million contract with Profectus BioSciences Inc. ASPR’s Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) will also provide subject matter expertise and technical assistance. Plans call for the vaccine to first be tested in animal safety studies. “We are pushing hard to advance the development of multiple products as quickly as possible for clinical evaluation and future use in preventing or treating this deadly disease,” said BARDA Director Robin Robinson, PhD. “Our goal is to close the global gap in vaccines and therapeutics needed to protect the public health from Ebola as highlighted by the epidemic in West Africa.” Read more on Ebola.

High-Fat Meals Could Be More Harmful to Men than to Women
High-fat meals could be more harmful to men than they are to women, according to a new study in the journal Cell Reports. Researchers at the Cedars-Sinai Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute and funded by the National Institutes of Health determined that male mice who received high-fat diets experienced greater health complications than did female mice who received the same. "For the first time, we have identified remarkable differences in the sexes when it comes to how the body responds to high-fat diets," said Deborah Clegg, PhD. "In the study, the mice were given the equivalent of a steady diet of hamburgers and soda. The brains of the male mice became inflamed and their hearts were damaged. But the female mice showed no brain inflammation and had normal hearts during the diet." Richard Bergman, PhD, director of the Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute, said the findings suggest that physicians must “reconsider whether the diets and drugs we recommend for managing obesity may need to be sex-specific to be more effective.” Read more on obesity.

Study Links Metal-Contaminated Well Water to Birth Defects, Other Detrimental Health Outcomes
Increased levels of metals in private well water may be linked to birth defects and other detrimental health outcomes, according to a new study in the journal BiodMed Central Public Health. Researchers at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health utilized well water data from between 11,000 and 47,000 wells provided by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. They determined that metals such as cadmium, arsenic, lead and manganese in drinking water can lead to spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, low birth weight and impaired neural development in infants. Read more on water and air quality.

Oct 9 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 9

EBOLA UPDATE: Five U.S. Airports to Screen Travelers from Ebola-Affected Nations
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
On the same day that the Dallas, Tex., patient being treated for Ebola succumbed to the disease, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Department of Homeland Security's Customs & Border Protection (CBP) announced that travelers from Ebola-affected nations would undergo increased entry screening when arriving in five U.S. airports. New York's JFK, Washington-Dulles, Newark, Chicago-O'Hare and Atlanta international airports receive more than 94 percent of travelers from the West African nations. According to the CDC:

  • Travelers from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone will be escorted by CBP to an area of the airport set aside for screening.
  • Trained CBP staff will observe them for signs of illness, ask them a series of health and exposure questions and provide health information for Ebola and reminders to monitor themselves for symptoms. Trained medical staff will take their temperature with a non-contact thermometer.
  • If the travelers have fever, symptoms or the health questionnaire reveals possible Ebola exposure, they will be evaluated by a CDC quarantine station public health officer. The public health officer will again take a temperature reading and make a public health assessment. Travelers, who after this assessment, are determined to require further evaluation or monitoring will be referred to the appropriate public health authority.
  • Travelers from these countries who have neither symptoms/fever nor a known history of exposure will receive health information for self-monitoring.

Read more on Ebola.

Study: College Athletes in Contact Sports at Increased MRSA Risk
College athletes in contact sports are at increased risk of carrying and being infected with the superbug methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), according to a new study presented this morning at IDWeek. In a two-year study, researchers determined that contact sport athletes were more than twice as likely as non-contact athletes to be colonized with MRSA. Colonization with MRSA ranged from 8 to 31 percent in contact sports athletes, compared to 0 to 23 percent of non-contact athletes; 5 to 10 percent of the general population is colonized with MRSA. "This study shows that even outside of a full scale outbreak, when athletes are healthy and there are no infections, there are still a substantial number of them who are colonized with these potentially harmful bacteria," said Natalia Jimenez-Truque, PhD, MSCI, research instructor, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Nashville, Tenn., in a release "Sports teams can decrease the spread of MRSA by encouraging good hygiene in their athletes, including frequent hand washing and avoiding sharing towels and personal items such as soap and razors." Read more on prevention.

ACS: Overweight and Obese African-Americans, Whites at Similar Risk for Premature Death
Overweight and obese African-Americans and whites are at similar risk for premature death, according to a new study in the journal PLOS ONE. The findings contradict previous, smaller studies which indicated the link was less strong for African-Americans. For the study, researchers from the American Cancer Society analyzed data from the Cancer Prevention Study II (CPS-II), which included approximately one million men and women. “While recent large studies have examined the relationship between BMI and all-cause mortality in white and Asian populations in the United States, this relationship has not been well-characterized in African Americans,” said Alpa V. Patel, PhD, in a release. “The American Cancer Society’s Cancer Prevention Study-II is very well-suited to address this issue because of its large size, including nearly a million participants, and long-term follow-up of 28 years, making it the largest study to date in African Americans.” Read more on obesity.

Oct 8 2014
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Students Adjusting to Healthier School Lunches: Q&A with Lindsey Turner

A recently published research brief finds that six months after updated U.S. Department of Agriculture standards for healthier meals were implemented in public schools, elementary and high school students are buying—and eating—the healthier meals.

The brief published by Bridging the Gap, a national research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), shows that 70 percent of elementary school principals and school food directors said that students generally liked the healthier school lunches that began being served in the fall of 2012. Similarly, 70 percent of middle school students and 63 percent of high school students also like the meals. These are the first national studies to examine students’ reactions to the healthier meals.

“The updated meals standards are resulting in healthier meals for tens of millions of kids,” said Lindsey Turner, lead author of the elementary school study, and a co-investigator for Bridging the Gap. “Our studies show that kids are OK with these changes, and that there have not been widespread challenges with kids not buying or eating the meals.”

The survey responders were asked about students’ initial reaction to the meals in fall 2012, and how things were progressing a few months afterwards. Findings included:

  • About half of the responders from elementary schools (56 percent) reported that students complained at first, but by spring 2013 64 percent of responders said few students were complaining.
  • In middle schools, the percentage of students complaining dropped from 44 percent in fall 2012 to 11 percent in spring 2013. High schools saw similar declines, from 53 percent to 18 percent.
  • Eighty-four percent of elementary school responders said approximately the same number of students (or more) were purchasing lunch this school year as did the previous year.
  • Seventy percent of responders said middle-school students generally liked the new lunches, as did 63 percent of responders from high schools.

“The updated meal standards are a landmark achievement—they make schools healthier places for our nation’s children and are a critical step toward reversing the childhood obesity epidemic and building a Culture of Health nationwide,” said Tina Kauh, program officer at RWJF. “Policymakers at all levels should be encouraged by these findings and should continue to support schools’ efforts to provide students with healthy meals and snacks.”

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Lindsey Turner about the study findings.

NewPublicHealth: News reports from about a year back seemed to indicate some kids were not happy with the healthier lunches. But your studies show that for the most part school lunches are being well-received.

Lindsey Turner: Many of those news stories were early on soon after the lunches had been changed. They’re also based on fairly small numbers of schools or case reports, and so one challenge with that is that it may not necessarily be representative of schools in general across the country. One of the strengths of our study is that we were able to get data from a fairly large number of schools from all across the country, which presents a little bit more of a balanced picture of what’s actually going on.

Read more

Oct 6 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 6

EBOLA UPDATE: 5th U.S. Patient Arrives as Dallas Man Remains in ‘Critical’ Condition
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
As a U.S. man being treated for Ebola in Dallas, Texas, remains in critical condition, a fifth American to have contracted the disease while in West Africa has arrived at the Nebraska Medical Center. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said it will work “very closely” with the Nebraska hospital on the treatment of Ashoka Mukpo, a freelance cameraman for NBC News. It is the same hospital that successfully treated and released Rick Sacra, MD, last month. Meanwhile, Thomas Eric Duncan continues to be treated at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital. "Our hopes and prayers are with him. We recognize this is a critical time for him and for his family," said CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH. Read more on Ebola.

Study: Days of Highest Physical Activity Are Also Days When We Drink the Most
The days when people get the most exercise are also the days when they drink the most alcohol, according to a new study in the journal Health Psychology. Researchers utilized smartphone technology to enable 150 participants ages 18-89 to record their physical activity and alcohol use every day for 21 consecutive days, three times a year. “Perhaps people reward themselves for working out by having more to drink or maybe being physically active leads them to encountering more social situations where alcohol is consumed—we don’t know,” said David E. Conroy, PhD, professor in Preventive Medicine-Behavioral Medicine at the Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine. “Once we understand the connection between the two variables we can design novel interventions that promote physical activity while curbing alcohol use.” Read more on alcohol.

Study: Children in Walkable Communities Have Lower BMIs
Children who live in walkable neighborhoods also have lower average Body Mass Indexes (BMI), a popular measure used to assess physical health, according to a new study in journal Environmental Health Perspectives. Researcher analyzed geocoded residential address data from the electronic health records of nearly 50,000 children and adolescents, ages 4 to 18 years, finding that  several links between walkability and healthier weights, including the fact that quartile of children who lived closest to recreational open spaces had lower BMIs that the quartile of children who lived farthest from such spaces. The researchers concluded that modifying existing neighborhoods to make them more walkable could help reduce childhood obesity. Read more on obesity.

Sep 12 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 12

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EBOLA OUTBREAK: WHO Says Ebola is Spreading at a Faster Rate than Health Workers Can Handle
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Earlier this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the Ebola outbreak in West Africa—the largest in history—shows no signs of slowing down. Today the global health organization followed that by declaring that health officials are currently unable to handle the growing number of cases. "In the three hardest hit countries, Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, the number of new cases is moving far faster than the capacity to manage them in the Ebola-specific treatment centers," said Margaret Chan, the WHO director-general, according to CNN. "Today, there is not one single bed available for the treatment of an Ebola patient in the entire country of Liberia." More than 2,400 people have died from Ebola since the start of the outbreak. Read more on Ebola.

Study: Majority of Nursing Home Residents with Advanced Dementia Receive Questionable Medications
The majority of nursing home residents dealing with advanced dementia receive medications that are both questionable—if not outright ineffective—and cost them needless amounts of money, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. In a review of 5,406 nursing home residents with advanced dementia, researchers determined that slightly more than half (53.9 percent) received at least one medication with questionable benefit; the medications constituted approximately 35.2 percent of the total cost of care for those patients. According to the researchers, the patients’ goals of care should dictate the treatment they receive when dealing with a terminal illness, and medications that don’t promote that primary goal should be minimized. Read more on aging.

Study: ‘Fat Shaming’ is Counterproductive
“Fat shaming” does not promote weight loss and in fact can be counterproductive, according to a new study in the journal Obesity. In an analysis of nearly 3,000 adults tracked over four years, researchers determined that weight discrimination was associated with a weight gain of approximately 2 pounds, while the participants who reported no fat shaming lost an average of 1.5 pounds. "Our study clearly shows that weight discrimination is part of the obesity problem and not the solution," said the study's senior author, Jane Wardle, director of the Cancer Research UK Health Behaviour Centre at University College London (UCL), in a release. "Weight bias has been documented not only among the general public but also among health professionals, and many obese patients report being treated disrespectfully by doctors because of their weight. Everyone, including doctors, should stop blaming and shaming people for their weight and offer support, and where appropriate, treatment.” Read more on obesity.

Sep 4 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: September 4

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EBOLA UPDATE: WHO Says More than $600M Needed to Combat the Ebola Outbreak
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Approximately $600 million in supplies is needed to combat the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), while Canadian health officials continue to work on a way to transport an experimental treatment to the affected area. "We are now working with the WHO to address complex regulatory, logistical and ethical issues so that the vaccine can be safely and ethically deployed as rapidly as possible," said Health Canada spokesman Sean Upton, in a statement. "For example, the logistics surrounding the safe delivery of the vaccine are complicated." More than 1,900 people have died in the outbreak. Read more on Ebola.

RWJF, TFAH Report Finds State Obesity Rates Continue to Remain High
Adult obesity rates continue to be high across the country, with rates increasing in six states and decreasing in none over the past year, according to a new report from the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The report, The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, found that rates climbed in Alaska, Delaware, Idaho, New Jersey, Tennessee and Wyoming. Mississippi and West Virginia have the highest rates, at 35.1 percent, and no state has a rate below 21 percent. “Obesity in America is at a critical juncture. Obesity rates are unacceptably high, and the disparities in rates are profoundly troubling,” said Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH, in a release. “We need to intensify prevention efforts starting in early childhood, and do a better job of implementing effective policies and programs in all communities—so every American has the greatest opportunity to have a healthy weight and live a healthy life.” Read more on obesity.

Study: Women Are Underrepresented in Surgical Research
A review of more than 600 studies in five major surgical journals found that males are vastly overrepresented, calling into question how the findings will translate for female patients.  The journals— Annals of SurgeryAmerican Journal of Surgery, JAMA SurgeryJournal of Surgical Research and Surgery—responded by announcing they will now require study authors to report the sex of animals and cells in their research, or to explain why only one sex was analyzed. "Women make up half the population, but in surgical literature, 80 percent of the studies only use males," study senior author Melina Kibbe, MD, professor of surgical research at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in a release. "We need to do better and provide basic research on both sexes to ultimately improve treatments for male and female patients.” The study appeared in the journal Surgery. Read more on health disparities.