TIME Infectious Disease

How Ebola Might Cause a Food Shortage in West Africa

The United Nations warns of food shortages as Ebola tightens borders

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DAKAR, Senegal — Food in countries hit by Ebola is getting more expensive and will become scarcer because many farmers won’t be able to go to their fields, a U.N. food agency warned Tuesday.

The current Ebola outbreak in West Africa has killed more than 1,500 people and authorities have cordoned off entire towns in an effort to halt the virus’ spread. Surrounding countries have closed land borders, many airlines have suspended flights to and from the affected countries and seaports are seeing less traffic, restricting food imports to the hardest-hit countries. Those countries — Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone — all rely on grain from abroad to feed their people, according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization.

The price of cassava root, a staple in many West African diets, has gone up 150 percent in one market in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia.

“Even prior to the Ebola outbreak, households in some of the affected areas were spending up to 80 percent of their incomes on food,” said Vincent Martin, who is coordinating the agency’s response to the crisis. “Now these latest price spikes are effectively putting food completely out of their reach.”

An estimated 1.3 million people in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone will need help feeding themselves in coming months, said the U.N.

The situation looks likely to worsen because restrictions on movement are preventing laborers from getting to farms and the harvest of rice and corn is set to begin in a few weeks, the FAO said.

The World Health Organization is asking countries to lift border closures because they are preventing supplies from reaching people in desperate need. Ivory Coast decided Monday night to keep its borders with Guinea and Liberia closed but said it would open a humanitarian corridor to allow supplies in.

The world’s worst-ever Ebola outbreak has killed more than 1,500 people in Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

A separate Ebola outbreak has hit a remote part of Congo, in Central Africa, the traditional home of the disease. So far, 53 cases consistent with Ebola have been identified there of whom 31 have died, WHO said Tuesday.

TIME Infectious Disease

Another American Doctor Infected With Ebola, Charity Says

Another American missionary doctor has tested positive for Ebola, an aid group said Tuesday.

SIM USA said the doctor, who was not named, was treating obstetric patients at ELWA hospital in Monrovia and had not treated Ebola patients in the hospital’s isolation unit, which is separate from the main hospital. The charity said it was not yet known how the doctor was infected, but he immediately isolated himself when he showed symptoms.

The new case comes two weeks after Dr. Kent Brantly and his colleague Nancy Writebol, who worked for SIM, walked out of an Atlanta hospital virus-free after being infected and evacuated from Liberia…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Infectious Disease

Window to Stop Ebola Outbreak Is ‘Closing Quickly,’ Official Warns

A burial team in protective clothing retrieves the body of an Ebola victim from an isolation ward in the West Point neighborhood of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia on Aug. 28, 2014.
A burial team in protective clothing retrieves the body of an Ebola victim from an isolation ward in the West Point neighborhood of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia on Aug. 28, 2014. Daniel Berehulak—The New York TImes/Redux

The CDC says more needs to be done to fight Ebola before it's too late

The window of opportunity to stop the Ebola outbreak in West Africa is “closing quickly,” a top health official said Tuesday.

“The number of cases is so large, the epidemic is so overwhelming and it requires an overwhelming response,” Tom Frieden, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told reporters Tuesday after returning to the U.S. Monday from a trip to the affected counties.

Despite the efforts of health workers from the affected countries and elsewhere, cases of Ebola will continue to increase, Frieden said. Moments after his remarks, an aid group announced that another American doctor fighting the outbreak in Liberia has been infected.

Groups like Doctors Without Borders that are treating patients are overwhelmed by the high number of cases, and have had to turn away infected people due to lack of space. Frieden said he saw patients lying on the ground in some West Africa clinics. He stressed that Ebola is a global problem, and that closing off affected countries like Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone—many airlines have stopped flying there—will only worsen the outbreak by cutting off access to needed supplies.

“Getting supplies and people in is a big challenge,” Frieden said. “The more the world isolates and stops contact with these countries, the harder it will be to stop the outbreak.”

TIME Cancer

British Parents Who Pulled Son from Cancer Ward Won’t Be Charged

Ashya King's Parents Extradition Hearing In Madrid
A policeman stands guard as a police van allegedly holding Brett and Naghemeh King, parents of five years old Ashya King arrives at the National Court on Sept. 1, 2014 in Madrid. Pablo Blazquez Dominguez—Getty Images

Police arrested Brett and Naghmeh King in Spain, where they had sought an alternative treatment for their 5-year-old son's brain tumor

British prosecutors will not press charges against a couple for taking their 5-year-old son from the cancer ward of a hospital without warning and flying to Spain to seek alternative treatment for his brain tumor.

The couple was arrested in Malaga, Spain over the weekend, where they were arranging to sell a home to fund an alternative treatment that they said could only be found outside the U.K., CNN reports. The withdrawal of their son from hospital sparked an international manhunt.

Brett and Naghmeh King said they felt they had no choice but to remove their son from treatment at University Hospital in the southern city of Southampton, after doctors there refused to agree to proton beam treatment that the parents argued was less invasive than chemotherapy. Their son, Ashya, suffers from a malignant brain tumor called medulloblastoma.

“We pleaded with them for proton beam treatment,” said Brett King in a video plea posted to YouTube:

The Kings have refused to return to Britain and have made a public plea to police to call off their search. British Prime Minister David Cameron announced his support for the couple on his Twitter account Tuesday:

TIME Liberia

Liberian Government’s Blunders Pile Up in the Grip of Ebola

People celebrate in a street outside of West Point slum in Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 30, 2014. Crowds cheer and celebrate in the streets after Liberian authorities reopened a slum where tens of thousands of people were barricaded amid the countryís Ebola outbreak.
People celebrate in a street outside of West Point slum in Monrovia, Liberia, Aug. 30, 2014. Crowds cheer and celebrate in the streets after Liberian authorities reopened a slum where tens of thousands of people were barricaded amid the countryís Ebola outbreak. Abbas Dulleh—AP

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's government was forced to lift a quarantine of one of Monrovia's worst slums last week as errors mount

In a cramped bar down a dark alleyway of Monrovia’s sprawling seaside slum West Point, residents are dancing wildly. They shuffle and stomp across a concrete floor sprinkled with cigarette butts and splashed with beer and homemade liquor.

“We celebrating! We are out of jail!” says Mary Goll, a resident and local bar owner, who leans back to the bar crisscrossed with metal for security for another bottle of beer. Goll’s own bar is in ruins on the shoreline, half eaten by the Atlantic Ocean. Just as the ocean has eroded away the land and driven the community inwards, so too did a government-ordered quarantine imposed last week.

On Aug. 20, the Liberian government enforced a 21-day quarantine aimed at preventing the spread of the virus that has claimed close to 700 lives throughout the country, with cases and casualties mounting in the city. Médecins Sans Frontières has described the outbreak in Monrovia as “catastrophic” and the 120 beds in its treatment center in the capital are already full. The World Health Organization has said the epidemic could last for six to nine months and infect up to 20,000 people in the region before the outbreak is over. Liberia is now the only Ebola-affected nation in the region with rising cases in the capital.

On Friday Aug. 30, just 10 days into the quarantine, the government announced on radio it would be lifting the quarantine the next morning. At 6am the next morning, police and soldiers took away their barbed wire and makeshift wooden checkpoints. West Pointers have been celebrating ever since — but the government seems just as unsure how to combat the virus as it has been since the outbreak began.

The plan to cordon off this community of some 80,000 people was made after a holding center for victims was ransacked on Aug. 15, one week after Liberia declared a state of emergency. Suspected Ebola patients escaped, and looters stole infected materials and mattresses from the center. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf told Katie Couric the attack had motivated the quarantine because the attack “put the entire community at risk, therefore we had to protect them from themselves.”

But sources monitoring the security sector say the decision was less about the community’s safety and more a political attempt to show the government was in control of the situation. It had already blundered early in the outbreak by failing to prevent Patrick Sawyer, a consultant to the Ministry of Finance, from traveling to Lagos, despite the fact he was under observation having been in contact with a sister who died of Ebola. Sawyer, a naturalized U.S. citizen, died in Nigeria July 25 but not before infecting several people in Africa’s most populous country.

The government compounded that error with its lack of transparency. A day before the quarantine was imposed the Minister of Information Lewis Brown said the 17 patients who escaped were found and taken to an Ebola clinic at John F. Kennedy Medical Center, a claim that was denied by a doctor at the clinic. The Ministry of Health has since failed to provide concrete data on the number of suspected or confirmed cases in West Point despite requests.

Then, the first day of the quarantine came. As armed police wearing helmets and riot shields attempted to prevent West Point residents entering the rest of the city, the town commissioner Miatta Flowers attempted to escape with her family, to the fury of onlookers. Some began throwing rocks at police and others tried to escape across a makeshift checkpoint made of concertina looped between wooden benches.

Security forces opened fire and killed a 15-year-old boy named Shakie Kamara; another two young men were also wounded by gunfire. The teenager’s body was taken by Ministry of Defense officials, according to a news report, and buried without an autopsy. Only later that day did the police commissioner explain to residents food would be distributed and they would be inspected by teams from the Ministry of Health.

It was yet another major mis-step on behalf of the government. The quarantine had not been sanctioned by the international donor community, and Dr. Nestor Ndayimirije, the World Health Organization representative to Liberia, had warned quarantining would only work with the community’s consent, which was neither gained nor sought.

“The force was disproportionate, they were already using batons, sticks, they had access to teargas and equipment to things to control an unarmed crowd,” said Counsellor Tiawan Gongloe, Liberia’s most prominent human rights lawyer. “I find it difficult to believe that there was any justification for shooting a 15-year-old boy who was unarmed. This is not a militarized conflict, it is a disease situation and a biological problem.”

It’s not hard to see why the government felt it needed to act. The cramped quarters, lack of access to running water and poor sanitary conditions of slum communities like West Point put them at a high risk of becoming hot spots for new Ebola infections. But Gongloe says the government has not been clear about what powers it has under a state of emergency, and has not been consistent in how it has used them. “[The government] must have an even handed approach to strengthen public trust in the government in order to fight Ebola,” Gongloe told TIME.

That public trust has been further eroded by the large number of public officials who fled the country after Sawyer’s death. Johnson Sirleaf said on Aug. 11 that government officials who refused to return home from overseas would be declared AWOL, and the Executive Mansion announced last week it had fired all but a handful of those who had still not returned. But she neglected to name those who had been fired, and many are skeptical she will follow through.

The government exodus contributes to a sense among citizens that Liberia’s wealthy and powerful have left the country’s poor to fend for themselves. Many expatriates who work for non-governmental organizations and international companies have been evacuated and their lavish apartments with 24-hour electricity and running water are now empty.

Most Liberians didn’t have that choice. Francis, a 15-year-old homeless youth who sometimes sleeps in one of the roughest communities in West Point, had to grease a palm to escape before the quarantine was lifted. He says he made his way out of West Point by paying an army man 150 Liberian Dollars (about $1.77 in U.S. dollars). The back of Francis’ head aches with an infected wound he says was made by a policeman who hit him with a baton as he tried to break free on the first day of the quarantine. It will be a while before Francis returns to West Point.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Training Your Brain Could Make You Prefer Healthy Food

Neural network
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Which is more appealing: cheese pizza or salad? For many, the lure of lettuce hardly matches that of greasy comfort food, but new brain research from Tufts University published in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes suggests that reconditioning can train adults to prefer healthy food and shun the junk.

“We don’t start out in life loving French fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta,” said study co-author and Tufts University professor Susan B. Roberts in a press release. “This conditioning happens over time in response to eating – repeatedly! – what is out there in the toxic food environment.”

The researchers studied the brain scans of 13 people, then assigned eight of them to a new behavioral intervention geared toward weight loss. The program taught lessons on portion control and distributed menu plans geared around specific dietary targets, encouraging people to get 25% of their energy from protein and fat and 50% from low-glycemic carbohydrates, with more than 40 g of fiber per day. After six months either on or off the program, a second round of scans showed the part of the brain associated with addiction and learning had changed in people who participated in the program and stayed the same in the control group. That brain region appeared more active and sensitive to healthier foods and less sensitive to caloric foods among people in the weight-loss group.

Though the study acknowledges the need for further research, the findings suggest that it may be possible to recondition our cravings from cheese puffs to carrots. “Our study shows those who participated in it had an increased desire for healthier foods along with a decreased preference for unhealthy foods,” co-author Sai Krupa Das, an assistant professor at Tufts, said in the release, “the combined effects of which are probably critical for sustainable weight control.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

A Study Shows That You Eat Way More When Watching Action Movies

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, from left: Dave Bautista, Chris Pratt, 2014.
Dave Bautista and Chris Pratt in Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Disney

Almost twice as much as when you're watching a talk show, in fact

It’s not watching what you eat, it’s what you watch when you eat if a study released Monday is to be believed.

CBS News reports that the study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association: Internal Medicine, found that the amount of food people consumed while viewing television was determined by the type of content they were exposed to — people watching an action flick ate almost twice as much as people watching a talk show.

The researchers randomly divided 94 undergraduate students into three groups, each of which was put in front of a TV for 20 minutes. One group was made to watch a part of the Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson thriller The Island, while the second watched the same portion of the same film on mute. The final group watched a 20-minute clip of the interview program Charlie Rose.

All three sets of participants were given M&Ms and cookies, as well as healthier snacks like carrots and grapes, to enjoy while watching TV. Researchers weighed the snacks before viewing, and how much was left afterward.

While the people watching the interview show ate 104.3 g of food, CBS says, those who watched the clip of The Island consumed a total of 206.5 g — nearly twice the amount. Watching The Island on mute did diminish appetites, but at 142.1 g the amount consumed was still 36% more than that of the Charlie Rose group. The total calorie intake of both groups watching the action clip was also higher, at 354 calories with sound and 314 without, compared with just 215 calories for the third group.

Study author Aner Tal, a postdoctoral research associate at Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab, said that stimulating, fast-paced programs with a lot of camera cuts drew viewers in and distracted them from what they were eating. “They can make you eat more because you’re paying less attention to how much you are putting in your mouth,” Tal said.

The researchers suggested measures like bringing predetermined, finite quantities of food to the TV to avoid overeating, while the study’s co-author Brian Wansink, professor and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, offered a silver lining.

“Action-movie watchers also eat more healthy foods, if that’s what’s in front of them,” he said, suggesting that this could be turned to a viewer’s advantage.

[CBS News]

TIME Obesity

Obesity Is A Big Contributor To Diabetes Boom

Diabetes is one of the most common diseases in the U.S., and there’s a single biggest culprit to blame, found a new study released today in Annals of Internal Medicine: our ever-increasing body mass index, or BMI.

The team analyzed data from five National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys of a nationally representative U.S. sample of 23,932 people. They found that the prevalence of diabetes almost doubled from 1976 to 1980 as well as from 1999 to 2004.

BMI explained most of the increase in the prevalence of diabetes, even more than other big factors like race, ethnicity and age, lead study author Andy Menke, an epidemiologist with Social & Scientific Systems, wrote in an email to TIME. “There has been a substantial increase in obesity in the US population during this study,” he wrote.

Intriguingly, diabetes prevalence increased more in men than in women. And after taking changes in age, race, ethnicity and BMI into account, Menke’s team found that diabetes prevalence still increased in men, but not in women. The reason for that gender gap is not entirely clear, but might be due to factors that fell outside the scope of the study like differences in survival between men and women after being diagnosed with diabetes, physical activity, sleep patterns, vitamin D levels, psychological stress and depression, and exposure to pollutants and toxins, Menke wrote.

“Decreasing the occurrence of being overweight and obesity remains an important intervention to reduce the burden of diabetes,” the study authors wrote. In the fight against diabetes, obesity is a clear place to start.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Low-Carb Diet Beats Low-Fat for Weight Loss

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How cutting carbs improves your waist and heart

If you’re trying to lose weight, fat might be your friend.

A new study published today in Annals of Internal Medicine found that when people followed either a low-fat or low-carb diet for a year, those who cut carbs lost significantly more weight and fat, while reducing their heart disease risk factors more than dieters who reduced the amount of fat they ate.

Researchers watched the waistlines of a diverse population of 148 obese but healthy men and women. Those on the low-fat diet consumed 30% of their daily calories in fat, and those in the low-carb group got 30% of their calories from carbs. A dietitian gave both groups the same nutritional counseling throughout the year and followed up with detailed interviews about what the participants ate.

Though both groups exercised at about the same rates and consumed similar amounts of calories, the low-carb group lost almost 8 pounds more over the course of the year—and more fat as a proportion of their weight. Both groups dropped their levels of LDL cholesterol, but the low-carb dieters had higher increases of the so-called “good” HDL cholesterol. They also had a lower risk of heart disease, measured by markers like glucose and lipid levels.

MORE: Ending The War On Fat

All of these admirable health measurements occurred despite the fact that the low-carb group ate more than 40% of their daily calories in fat, says study co-author Lydia Bazzano, professor of nutrition at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. People in the low-carb group ate more monounsaturated fat and even more saturated fat than they did before their diet, but still saw a drop in LDL cholesterol. And their good cholesterol levels improved a substantial amount more than the other group.

Why did the low-carb dieters benefit? “As a proportion of the carbs they were having, the low-carb group had a much higher proportion of fiber,” Bazzano says, which helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol. Eating more fat and protein also makes you feel fuller for longer, which may have curbed how many total calories the group ate. Plus, the diets also contained a good amount of healthy monounsaturated fats.

The data highlight how interactive diets really are, which supports the old-fashioned idea of eating everything in moderation to keep the balance of fat, fiber, protein and carbs in check. “The thought that [carbohydrates] are neutral and should be at the base of the food pyramid is not supported by a lot of evidence,” Bazzano says. She suggests restructuring with a foundation of vegetables and fruit — and not forgetting to add in a dose of healthy fats.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Americans’ Diets Are Improving (Sort Of)

New research shows Americans as a whole are eating healthier, but there's still a lot of room for improvement

Americans have started eating better in the past few years, largely because we’re eating less trans fat, new research shows. But major disparities continue to persist in who’s making the healthier choices.

Harvard Medical School researchers looked at the changing American diet from 1999 to 2010 using national health surveys of 29,124 adults. The surveys used the Alternative Healthy Eating Index, a tool that rates dietary quality on a scale from 1 to 11o. The higher the score, the healthier the diet.

Researchers found that between the study period, diet quality went up from 39.9 to 46.8, and they were able to determine that a lot of that increase came from a significant reduction in consumption of trans fats. In 2006, the FDA required manufacturers to include trans fats on nutrition labels, and more recently the FDA has inched toward banning them altogether–a new study released last week finds that trans fats still lurk in many of our foods. The researchers found the bump encouraging, especially when they also noticed that Americans are eating more fruit, nuts, whole grains, and healthy fats while drinking less sugary beverages.

But the researchers also found significant differences in Americans’ diets based on socioeconomic status. In the study time frame, dietary quality was also lowest among people with 12 years or less of school. Their diets also improved more slowly. The researchers believe the income-related differences are possibly due to the cost of some healthy foods and the fact that healthy food is not always accessible.

“Considering the elevated disease risk associated with poor dietary quality, dietary assessment and counseling in clinical settings deserves greater attention,” the authors write in their study, published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

While the findings show we’re making strides when it comes eating better, it’s worth noting that a score of 46.8 is still pretty bad when optimal is 110. Clearly, Americans still show a lot of room for improvement, regardless of where we fall on the scale.

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