HEALTH BITES
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LIFE

Cutting sugar, but not calories, improves health of fat kids; workers think more clearly in 'green' offices; singing helps people bond quickly

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 November, 2015, 8:33am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 03 November, 2015, 8:33am

Obese children's health improves with less sugar

Calories are not created equal. Reducing consumption of added sugar, even without reducing calories or losing weight, has the power to reverse a cluster of chronic metabolic diseases in children in as little as 10 days, according to a study by researchers at UC San Francisco and Touro University California. "This study shows that sugar is metabolically harmful not because of its calories or its effects on weight; rather sugar is metabolically harmful because it's sugar," says lead author Dr Robert Lustig, a paediatric endocrinologist. In the study, 43 Latino and African-American children between the ages of nine and 18 who were obese and had at least one other chronic metabolic disorder - such as hypertension, high triglyceride levels or a marker of fatty liver - were given nine days of food that restricted sugar but substituted starch to maintain the same fat, protein, carbohydrate and calorie levels as their previous diets. Total dietary sugar was cut from 28 per cent to 10 per cent, and fructose from 12 per cent to 4 per cent of total calories, respectively. The foods included turkey hot dogs, potato chips, and pizza, all bought at local supermarkets. At the end of the diet, virtually every aspect of the participants' metabolic health improved, without change in weight. Diastolic blood pressure decreased by 5mm, triglycerides by 33 points, LDL-cholesterol ("bad" cholesterol) by 10 points, and liver function tests improved. Fasting blood glucose went down by five points and insulin levels were cut by one-third.

Green offices linked to higher cognitive function

People who work in well-ventilated offices with below-average levels of indoor pollutants and carbon dioxide have much higher cognitive functioning scores - in crucial areas such as responding to a crisis or developing strategy - than those who work in offices with typical levels, according to a new study led by scientists at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. The researchers looked at people's experiences in "green" versus "non-green" buildings, and both the participants and the analysts were blinded to test conditions to avoid biased results. The decision-making performance of 24 participants - including architects, designers, programmers, engineers, creative marketing professionals and managers - was analysed while they worked in a controlled office environment for six days. At the end of each day, they conducted cognitive testing on the participants. They found that cognitive performance scores for the participants who worked in the green environments were up to double those of participants who worked in conventional environments. The largest improvements occurred in the areas of crisis response, strategy and information usage. The findings suggest that the indoor environments in which many people work daily could be adversely affecting cognitive function - and that, conversely, improved air quality could greatly increase the cognitive function performance of workers.

Singing's secret power: the Ice-breaker effect

Singing is a great ice-breaker and can get groups of people to bond together more quickly than other activities can, according to University of Oxford research. The study looked at how people attending adult education classes grew closer over seven months - and the singing group were found to have bonded more quickly than creative writing or craft classes. Each course was made up of weekly two-hour sessions. Those attending the classes were given surveys before and after individual sessions in the first month, in the third month and at the end of the seven-month course. In it, they were asked to rate how close they felt to their classmates. "For every class, people felt closer to each other at the end of each two-hour session than they did at the start. At the end of the seven months, all the classes were reporting similar levels of closeness," says lead researcher Dr Eiluned Pearce, from Oxford's department of experimental psychology. "The difference between the singers and the non-singers appeared right at the start of the study. In the first month, people in the singing classes became much closer to each other over the course of a single class than those in the other classes did. Singing broke the ice better than the other activities, getting the group together faster by giving a boost to how close classmates felt towards each other right at the start of the course."