Category Archives Scientific/Technical Items

In an essay for Science, a researcher argues that current evidence suggests microplastic contamination is widespread on land and in freshwater and calls for additional research into the effects of microplastics on human health and agricultural practices. Science's sister publication Science Advances also published a study examining organic fertilizer's role in spreading microplastics in the environment. According to the essay, researchers have found microplastic contamination in freshwater animals, clams, fish and birds, but research is limited on similar contamination in terrestrial environments. "Soils may act as an important long-term sink for microplastics," the researcher asserts. "This has been demonstrated via the presence of plastic microfibers and fragments in sewage sludge that is widely applied on vast expanses of agricultural land. Other large-scale sources of microplastics in soils are the weathering and disintegration of protective plastic sheeting (plasticulture) over agricultural fields and the fragmentation of plastic litter and plastic items in landfills."

A study has reportedly found that Americans who consumed more restaurant, fast-food and cafeteria meals had phthalate levels up to 35 percent higher than those who ate out less frequently. Julia R. Varshavsky, et al., “Dietary sources of cumulative phthalate exposure among the U.S. general population in NHANES 2005-2014,” Environment International, March 29, 2018. The data was collected from more than 10,000 participants in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. While the researchers reportedly found a significant association between eating out and higher phthalate levels across all age groups, teenagers apparently showed the highest association, with 55 percent. A previous study purportedly found that participants who ate the highest amount of fast food had phthalate levels as much as 40 percent higher than participants who rarely ate such foods.

Researchers have released a study concluding that rates of childhood obesity are rising rather than declining or stabilizing as previously reported. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), researchers reportedly found that although the prevalence of obesity has increased across all childhood age groups since 1999, “significant increases in obesity and severe obesity” have appeared in children aged two to five and adolescent females aged 16 to 19. Asheley C. Skinner, et al., “Prevalence of Obesity and Severe Obesity in US Children, 1999-2016,” Pediatrics, March 2018. The researchers reported that they observed “disconcerting” racial-ethnic differences in obesity rates, with African-Americans and Hispanics having a higher prevalence of obesity while Asian-American children had a lower prevalence in all age and sex categories. Specifically, the researchers noted “astounding” differences between Hispanic children and those of all other races, finding nearly half of all Hispanic youth overweight or obese. Researchers purportedly…

Using a "food impacts" database, researchers from Tulane University and the University of Michigan have reportedly found that high levels of beef and dairy consumption account for large portions of diet-related greenhouse gas emissions. Martin C. Heller, et al., “Greenhouse gas emissions and energy use associated with production of individual self-selected US diets,” Environmental Research Letters, March 2018. The study reported that the distribution of greenhouse gas emissions by food group was “quite typical of Western dietary patterns, with the dominant impacts coming from meats and dairy.” Beef consumption accounted for 72 percent of the emissions difference between the highest-impact and lowest-impact groups. The researchers also discovered that beverages, primarily fruit and vegetable juices, had the third-largest impact in the analysis. A New York Times op-ed argued a similar point less than a week before the study's publication. Citing a paper by researchers from the Toulouse School of Economics on the practicality…

Preventive Medicine has issued a retraction of a 2012 study conducted by Brian Wansink, director of the Cornell University Food and Brand Lab, that purported to find that children were more likely to eat vegetables if the foods were given "attractive" names. The journal made corrections to the article in early February 2018 but retracted it after one of the study’s funders identified an additional error in how its grant was cited. The study is reportedly the sixth of Wansink’s publications to be formally retracted. Cornell began a formal investigation into Wansink’s research practices in late 2017.

Researchers in France and Brazil have concluded that a 10 percent increase in the consumption of ultra-processed foods is associated with a "significant increase of greater than 10% in risks of overall and breast cancer." Thibault Fiolet, et al., "Consumption of ultra-processed food and cancer risks: results from NutriNet-Santé prospective cohort," BMJ, February 14, 2018. The study, which involved surveying records of more than 100,000 participants, asserts that ultra-processed fats and sauces along with sugary products and drinks were associated with an increased risk of overall cancer, while ultra-processed sugary products were also associated with a higher risk of breast cancer. The researchers hypothesized that the findings were caused by the "generally poorer nutritional quality of diets rich in ultra-processed foods," the wide range of additives used, and heat-related processing and preparation that produce neoformed contaminants such as acrylamide.

A study from the Department of Epidemiology at Boston University’s School of Public Health has concluded that consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) may reduce fertility in both males and females. Elizabeth E. Hatch, et al., “Intake of Sugar-sweetened Beverages and Fecundability in a North American Preconception Cohort,” Epidemiology. Researchers studied 3,828 women and 1,045 of their male partners for up to 12 menstrual cycles in the four-year study. Women who drank at least one SSB per day reportedly had a 25 percent lower monthly probability of conception, while men who drank at least one SSB per day reportedly showed a 33 percent lower probability of successful conception. The study did not purport to find an association between lowered fertility and the consumption of diet sodas or fruit juices.

In a JAMA Viewpoint article, researchers from Stanford University have argued that nutrition studies should be transparent about their authors' financial and non-financial conflicts of interest, including their dietary preferences and activism work. Noting that "the puritanical view that accepting funding from the food industry ipso facto automatically biases the results is outdated," the authors briefly call for a financial disclosure registry before shifting to focus on non-financial conflicts of interest. "Advocacy and activism have become larger aspects of the work done by many nutrition researchers, and also should be viewed as conflicts of interest that need to be disclosed," they assert. "Therefore, it is important for nutrition researchers to disclose their advocacy or activist work as well as their dietary preferences if any are relevant to what is presented and discussed in their articles," the researchers argue. "This is even more important for dietary preferences that are specific, circumscribed, and…

Iowa State University researchers have reportedly developed an inexpensive method to test whether milk was produced by grass-fed cows. Fluorescence spectroscopy, which measures light to identify the amount of chlorophyll metabolized by cows, may help regulators enforce organic milk standards requiring cows to eat a minimum of 30 percent foraged grass. The researchers reportedly found that cows fed grass only had about three times as many chlorophyll metabolites as grain- and silage-fed cows, while the organic milk samples they tested had about twice as many chlorophyll metabolites as the grain- and silage-fed cows.

After JAMA Cardiology published a meta-analysis purporting to find “no significant association” between consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and “fatal or nonfatal coronary heart disease or any major vascular events,” industry groups reportedly criticized the conclusion, arguing that other meta-analyses find statistically significant reductions in cardiac death risks. The JAMA meta-analysis examined 10 randomized trials that involved at least 500 participants and a treatment duration of at least one year. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration would seem to disagree with the conclusion of this study, as it has already approved at least one prescription medication for fish oil that provides benefits for people with cardiovascular issues,”​ the president of the Natural Products Association was quoted as saying.