A large apple a day really can keep the doctor away, study of a million Chinese suggests

Consumption of fresh fruit associated with lower risk of heart attack and stroke, seven-year study in rural and urban China shows

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 April, 2016, 6:31am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 April, 2016, 11:54am

A large apple a day can help keep heart attack and stroke away, according to a seven-year study of half a million adults in China by researchers from the University of Oxford and Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences. The nationwide study, which covered 10 urban and rural localities across China, tracked the health of people who did not have a history of cardiovascular diseases or anti-hypertensive treatments at the start of the study.

It found that fruit consumption (mainly of apples or oranges) was strongly associated with many other factors, such as education, lower blood pressure, lower blood glucose, and not smoking. But, after allowing for what was known of these and other factors, a 100 gram portion of fruit per day (about one large apple) was associated with about one-third less cardiovascular mortality and the association was similar across different study areas and in both men and women.

“The association between fruit consumption and cardiovascular risk seems to be stronger in China, where many still eat little fruit, than in high-income countries where daily consumption of fruit is more common,” says study author Dr Du Huai-dong of Oxford.

Senior author Professor Chen Zheng-ming adds: “It’s difficult to know whether the lower risk in people who eat more fresh fruit is because of a real protective effect. If it is, then widespread consumption of fresh fruit in China could prevent about half a million cardiovascular deaths a year, including 200,000 before age 70, and even larger numbers of non-fatal strokes and heart attacks.”

The study was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Bilingual baby brains show increased activity even before they are old enough to talk

Two languages are better than one when it comes to training your child’s brain for problem-solving, shifting attention and other desirable cognitive traits, according to a new study that looked at 11-month-old babies from bilingual (English-Spanish) households.

Bilingual children may have lower Alzheimer's risk

“Our results suggest that before they even start talking, babies raised in bilingual households are getting practice at tasks related to executive function,” says Naja Ferjan Ramírez, lead author and a research scientist at the Institute for Learning & Brain Sciences (I-LABS) at the University of Washington. “This suggests that bilingualism shapes not only language development, but also cognitive development more generally.”

Many brain studies show that bilingual adults have more activity in brain areas associated with executive function - actions that help us organise, evaluate and act on information received from our environment - than monolingual adults, but these new findings reveal the difference is evident from a young age.

The study, published online in the journal Developmental Science, also found the brains of babies from bilingual families remain more open to learning new language sounds. “Monolingual babies show a narrowing in their perception of sounds at about 11 months of age – they no longer discriminate foreign-language sounds they successfully discriminated at six months of age,” says co-author Patricia Kuhl, co-director of I-LABS. The researchers say the boost bilingualism gives to executive function areas in the brain could arise from bilinguals needing to switch back and forth between languages, allowing them to routinely practice and improve executive function skills.

“Our results underscore the notion that not only are very young children capable of learning multiple

languages, but that early childhood is the optimum time for them to begin,” says Ferjan Ramírez.

WATCH how the research was conducted

Labels on food ‘should tell us how much exercise is needed to burn off calories it contains’

Food should be labelled with the equivalent exercise to expend its calories to help people change their behaviour, argues an expert in a recent issue of The BMJ (British Medical Journal). Shirley Cramer, chief executive at the Royal Society of Public Health in Britain, says giving consumers an immediate link between foods’ energy content and physical activity might help to reduce obesity.

She suggests symbols could show the minutes of several different physical activities that would be equivalent in calories expended to the calories in the product. For example, the calories in a can of fizzy drink takes a person of average age and weight about 26 minutes to walk off. “The objective is to prompt people to be more mindful of the energy they consume and how these calories relate to activities in their everyday lives, and to encourage them to be more physically active,” says Cramer.

How Hong Kong's food labels only tell part of the story

Public polling by the society has shown that almost half (44 per cent) of people find current front-of- pack information confusing, she writes. And more than half (53 per cent) said that they would positively change their behaviour as a result of viewing activity equivalent calorie information, including choosing healthier products, eating smaller portions or doing more physical exercise, all of which could help counter obesity.

Cramer acknowledges that messages of the importance of healthy and varied eating must also continue – and that some concerns have been raised about possible negative implications for people with eating disorders. Even so, she says: “We have a responsibility to promote measures to tackle the biggest public health challenges facing our society, such as obesity.”