Taxes on unhealthy foods need to be set at 20% or more to improve major health outcomes such as obesity, researchers said. Also this week: a recent spike in fatal falls may be illusory.
Small Soda Taxes Unlikely to Work
Using taxes to discourage consumption of unhealthy foods won’t have a meaningful effect on health outcomes unless the taxes are at least 20%, a British study concluded.
Writing in BMJ, researchers at the British Heart Foundation reviewed past analyses of the relationship between food taxes and consumption, including “natural experiments” conducted in the U.S. when relatively small soda taxes were introduced, as well as modelling studies and controlled small-scale trials.
The upshot, according to the researchers, is that taxes of less than 20% would not make much headway against obesity or cardiovascular disease.
They also noted that, although “the strongest evidence base” is for taxes on sweetened drinks, taxing a broad range of unhealthy foods would bring the greatest overall health benefits.
Better Coding Explains Spike in Fatal Falls
CDC statistics indicate that death rates from falls in the elderly jumped more than 50% from 1999 to 2007 — a mystery because other statistics on falls did not show similar increases.
Now, two researchers say in Public Health Reports that the spike is probably related to improved reporting rather than a real increase in fatal falls.
Susan Baker, MPH, of Johns Hopkins University, and a Chinese colleague found that most of the increase occurred from 1999 to 2000. That happened to be the year when ICD-10 first went into effect in the U.S.
ICD-10 introduced a code for “other falls on the same level” that was not present in ICD-9, and this category saw by far the biggest spike in cause-of-death recording related to falls.
Workplace Inspections Cut Injuries, Cost No Jobs
Random inspections by California workplace safety officials reduced on-the-job injury claims by 9.4% in hazardous industries and saved an average of $355,000 per employer in claims and pay for lost work.
That was the conclusion of a case-control study published in Science by business-school researchers in California and Massachusetts. They compared injury claims and expenses for 409 companies subjected to random workplace inspections with the same number of otherwise similar uninspected firms.
The researchers said they found “no evidence that these improvements came at the expense of employment, sales, credit ratings, or firm survival.” In fact, the inspected firms performed slightly (but not significantly) better by these measures.
“These results do not support the hypothesis that OSHA regulations and inspections on average have little value in improving health and safety,” the researchers wrote.
Novel Antidepressant Shines in Pivotal Trials
An investigational antidepressant drug with a novel mechanism of action performed well enough in three big studies to support a U.S. marketing application, its manufacturer said.
The drug, Lu AA21004, was significantly more effective than placebo against major depression in two U.S. trials and one conducted mainly in Europe, according to the Danish firm Lundbeck A/S, which hopes to market the drug in partnership with Takeda.
Lu AA21004 targets serotonin receptors in different ways. It’s an antagonist at 5-HT3 and 5-HT7 receptors, a full agonist at 5-HT1A receptors, a partial agonist at 5-HT1B receptors, and an inhibitor of the serotonin transporter.
One of the U.S. trials tested the drug against duloxetine (Cymbalta) as well as placebo, but Lundbeck did not reveal results of that comparison. It said data would be presented at future medical meetings.
CDC Touts Swimming Lessons for Preschoolers
Most drowning deaths occur in children younger than 5, even as research has suggested that swimming lessons in this age group help prevent such fatalities, CDC researchers wrote in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
From 2005 to 2009, federal statistics showed a total of about 6,000 drowning deaths in the U.S., of which 53% involved children 1 to 4 years old. Only 30% were in people older than 14.
Teaching basic skills such as righting oneself and treading water can help prevent drowning in very young children as well as swimming lessons, the researchers suggested.