TIME medicine

The Vaccine for Type-1 Diabetes Is Moving Forward

A promising vaccine to reverse type 1 diabetes heads to a next level trial

A promising vaccine that has the potential to reverse the symptoms of type I diabetes—an autoimmune disease often diagnosed in childhood—is heading on to a phase II trial, which will test the vaccine on humans with the chronic disease.

The vaccine, called bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) has succeed in reversing type 1 diabetes in a trial among mice and in a phase I trial in 103 humans. The new trial, which the researchers announced on Sunday at the Scientific Sessions of the American Diabetes Association, will last for five years and will test the effect of the vaccine on people with type 1 diabetes among adults between ages 18 to 60. The vaccine may be able to improve the disease in people who have small but detectable levels of insulin coming from their pancreas. Lead researcher Dr. Denise Faustman, director of immunobiology at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), estimates that about one million people with type 1 diabetes still produce some insulin.

BCG is already FDA-approved as a vaccine for tuberculosis and as a bladder cancer treatment. Researchers have shown that the vaccine can eliminates problematic white blood cells that lead to type 1 diabetes by destroying the beta cells that make and release insulin into the blood.

Previously, the study authors showed they were able to temporarily eliminate the abnormal white blood cells and provide a small return of insulin. The new trial will provide more frequent doses of the vaccine over a five year periods in 150 adults with the disease. The researchers hope that the vaccine will produce better blood sugar control and could be used to treat advanced disease.

“Type 1 diabetics are a pretty skeptical audience,” says Faustman. “There’s been a lot of disappointment [from other research].”

Faustman says the trial is ambitious because it is focusing on people who have had type 1 diabetes for many years. Other research has looked at treating people with diabetes close to diagnosis. Faustman says that the trial will also help determine what type of dosing may be needed for the vaccine to be successful.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

61% of Your Calories Are From Highly Processed Food: Study

Most of the foods we buy are highly processed and loaded with sugar, fat and salt

As much as Americans like to pretend to worship at the altar of kale, many of us are cheating with chips, a new study suggests.

We like junk food so much that 61% of the food Americans buy is highly processed, according to research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. And almost 1,000 calories a day of person’s diet come solely from highly processed foods.

Not all processed food is the same, however. The USDA classifies processed food as any edible that’s not a raw agricultural commodity, so even pasteurized milk and frozen fruits and vegetables count. “It’s important for us to recognize that a processed food is not just Coca-Cola and Twinkies—it’s a wide array of products,” says study author Jennifer Poti, a research assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

So in the first study of its kind, researchers scrutinized our diets by analyzing a massive set of data of the foods we buy while grocery shopping. The stats came from 157,000 shoppers, who tracked their edible purchases with a barcode scanner from 2000-2012, for anywhere from 10 months to 14 years.

Using software that picked out words in the nutrition and ingredient labels, the 1.2 million products were placed into one of four categories : minimally processed—products with very little alteration, like bagged salad, frozen meat and eggs—basic processed—single-ingredient foods but changed in some way, like oil, flour and sugar—moderately processed—still recognizable as its original plant or animal source, but with additives—and highly processed—multi-ingredient industrial mixtures that are no longer recognizable as their original plant or animal source.

No surprise, our favorite categories are those last two. More than three-quarters of our calories came from highly processed (61%) and moderately processed (16%) foods and drinks in 2012. Best-selling products were refined breads, grain-based desserts like cookies, sugary sodas, juice, sports drinks and energy drinks.

Preferences for highly processed foods were remarkably stable over time, Poti says, which likely has implications for our health, since the study also found that highly processed foods were higher in saturated fat, sugar and salt than other purchases. But interestingly, no U.S. study has yet looked at the link between highly processed foods and health outcomes like obesity and diabetes, Poti says.

To be clear, the researchers aren’t pooh-poohing processing, per se. “Food processing is important for food security and nutrition security of Americans,” Poti says. The study wasn’t able to capture the full spectrum of our diets—loose spinach doesn’t come with a barcode, after all—and the authors acknowledge that food purchasing doesn’t always directly translate to dietary intake. But the results suggest that we might want to swap some bags of chips for, say, cans of beans. “Foods that required cooking or preparation”—like boxed pasta and raw eggs—”were generally less than 20% of calories purchased throughout the entire time period,” Poti says.

TIME public health

These Are the Healthiest (and Unhealthiest) Cities in America

A jogger runs past the United States Capitol building at sunrise in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013.
Pete Marovich—Bloomberg/Getty Images A jogger runs past the United States Capitol building at sunrise in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013.

West Coast cities make up six of the top 10

For the second year running Washington, D.C., tops the American Fitness Index (AFI) ranking as the healthiest metropolitan area in the U.S.

The nation’s capital can credit an above average access to public infrastructure for the top spot, according to the eighth annual report.

Minneapolis–St.Paul, Minn., came in second and three California metro areas — San Diego, the Bay Area and Sacramento — rounded out the top five.

“Our goal is to provide communities and residents with resources that help them assess, respond and achieve a better, healthier life,” said Walter Thompson, chair of the AFI advisory board, in a press release.

Indianapolis came in last place as it failed to reach the target goal in nearly all of the 32 health indicators measured. Memphis and Oklahoma City also ranked near the bottom.

The AFI used publicly available data points that are measured routinely and can be changed through community effort (so climate cannot be considered a health indicator).

Below you can find a list of the top-10 healthiest metro areas, according to the AFI:

  1. Washington, D.C.
  2. Minneapolis
  3. San Diego
  4. San Francisco
  5. Sacramento, Calif.
  6. Denver
  7. Portland
  8. Seattle
  9. Boston
  10. San Jose, Calif.
TIME Obesity

‘Thrifty’ Metabolisms May Make It Harder to Lose Weight

File photo dated Thursday October 16, 2014. of a young girl using a set of weighing scales as slimmers should forget what they have been told about avoiding rapid weight loss in favour of slow but sure dieting, according to new research.
Chris Radburn—PA Wire/Press Association Images File photo dated Thursday October 16, 2014. of a young girl using a set of weighing scales as slimmers should forget what they have been told about avoiding rapid weight loss in favour of slow but sure dieting, according to new research.

The study marks the first time lab results have confirmed the widely held belief

Losing those love handles may be easier for some people than for others, says a new study that confirmed the theory that physiology plays a role in a person’s ability to lose weight.

According to a press release, researchers at the Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch studied the metabolisms of 12 obese men and women undergoing a six-week 50% calorie-reduction experiment. After measuring participants’ energy expenditure after a day of fasting and then re-examining them during the caloric-reduction period, researchers found that the slower the metabolism works during a diet, the less weight the person loses.

Coining the terms “thrifty” vs. “spendthrift” metabolisms, the experiment marks first time lab results have confirmed a widely held belief that a speedy metabolism plays a role in weight loss.

“While behavioral factors such as adherence to diet affect weight loss to an extent, our study suggests we should consider a larger picture that includes individual physiology — and that weight loss is one situation where being thrifty doesn’t pay,” said lead author Dr. Susanne Votruba, Ph.D.

Researchers have yet to figure out if the differences in metabolic speeds are innate traits or develop over time. Also, the study was only focused on weight loss, and the team does not know if the body’s response to caloric reduction can be used to prevent weight gain.

Over one-third of Americans are obese, and it leads to some of the most common forms of preventable deaths in the country.

TIME Excercise/Fitness

Two Minutes of Walking Each Hour Drastically Improves Health, Study Says

Tiny Owl employees work on laptop computers as pair of sandals sit on the floor inside the company's head office in Mumbai, India, on Monday, March. 9, 2015.
Dhiraj Singh—Bloomberg/Getty Images Tiny Owl employees work on laptop computers as pair of sandals sit on the floor inside the company's head office in Mumbai, India, on Monday, March. 9, 2015.

Water cooler gossip talk may actually help you live longer

Workers who take a deliberate two minutes out of every hour to walk around the office may live longer than their colleagues who remain seated, a new study suggests.

In recent years, the theory that long periods of sitting contribute to adverse health effects has gained significant backing, reports Science Daily. However, researchers from the University of Utah School of Medicine found that simply standing for a few minutes every hour did nothing to counteract the negative effects, but that engaging in “low intensity activities” — like walking — was 33% more likely to extend the lifespan of people who live a generally sedentary lifestyle.

“It was fascinating to see the results because the current national focus is on moderate or vigorous activity,” said lead author Dr. Srinivasan Beddhu. “To see that light activity had an association with lower mortality is intriguing.”

The study analyzed data from 2003-2004, when the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey attached an accelerometer to 3,243 participants and measured their physical activity. They were followed for three years to collect the data, during which 137 people died.

“Exercise is great, but the reality is that the practical amount of vigorous exercise that can be achieved is limited. Our study suggests that even small changes can have a big impact,” said senior author Dr. Tom Greene.

TIME medicine

How Traumatic Life Events During Childhood Affect Diabetes

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JFCreative—Getty Images

Researchers say that traumatic life events can play a role in raising risk of type 1 diabetes

Type 2 diabetes tends to get more attention than type 1, mainly because the risk factors for type 2—obesity, for instance—are thought to be more in our control. Type 1 is believed to be primarily a genetic disease, triggered by an unfortunate DNA configuration that signals the body’s immune system to destroy insulin-producing beta cells.

Now, in a report published in the journal Diabetologia, Dr. Johnny Ludvigsson, a pediatrician from Linkoping University in Sweden, and his colleagues say that life events, including traumatic experiences such as the death of a family member or a serious accident, can triple the risk that young children have of developing the disease.

The researchers studied 10,495 families with children born between 1997 and 1999 and asked them to participate in at least one of four follow-up sessions when the children were between two and 14 years old. The parents filled out questionnaires about whether the children had experienced anything that might be considered a serious life event, including things like the death of a family member, a new sibling, divorce or a move. Parents were also asked about their own stress and whether they felt they had social support.

Once the scientists adjusted for factors that also contribute to type 1 diabetes, such as BMI, mother’s age and a history of diabetes in the family, children who experienced deaths and accidents in their early years showed a three-fold higher risk of developing diabetes than those who didn’t live through these events.

“People may be worried and have feelings of guilt that not only did their child get diabetes, but that in a way they contribute to it,” says Ludvigsson of the results. But parents should take some solace in the fact that after he adjusted for other factors that can contribute to type 1 diabetes, including BMI, mother’s age at child’s birth, and family history of diabetes, events such as divorce, new siblings and other changes in the family structure weren’t as strongly associated with an increased risk for the disease.

What may be happening is that some children may have a genetic predisposition to developing type 1 diabetes, but these genetic triggers aren’t “activated” unless they experience some extreme stress or trauma, such as the death of a loved one. Biologically, scientists believe that high stress situations may lead to a boost in the hormone cortisol, and that pushes the beta cells that produce insulin to work harder and release other potentially toxic factors as well. The added influx of insulin may be viewed by the immune system as abnormal and undesirable, which may prompt them to start attacking the beta cells and destroying them.

“This study does not say that you should never divorce,” says Ludvigsson. “But stress from life events can be one factor that influences the immune balance, just like many other factors do, like sleep, physical activity and so on.” Which highlights the need to address traumatic experiences and children’s reactions to them. Supporting families that go through difficult times, whether caused by marital conflicts or financial worries, could also be an important way to keep young children even healthier and to avoid certain chronic diseases. “If society could be a bit supportive, we could perhaps save some families and relationships, and that would be good for the children,” says Ludvigsson.

TIME Parenting

Unhappy Families Can Make Daughters Fat

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Michael Hevesy—Getty Images

A new study suggests that stress at home can have a major impact on our kids' waistlines

Childhood obesity has become such a big problem in the United States that the rate of obese adolescents—21%—exceeds the rate of overweight adolescents (14%). It’s been that way for the last decade.

Dr. Daphne Hernandez, assistant professor at the University of Houston, wants to figure out why despite our efforts, that rate hasn’t budged. “Many times when we’re designing interventions and prevention programs, they’re done in schools because that’s where we have ease of access to all these kiddos,” she says. “But the issue is that in those interventions, we don’t think about the family environment and what could be happening at home.”

In her new study published in the journal Preventive Medicine, she decided to look at three family stressors: family disruption and conflict, the kind a kid would experience after a parent got divorced, remarried, incarcerated or if the child experienced a violent crime or death of a loved one; financial stress, a measure of poverty determined in part by whether a mom was unemployed or had less than a high school education; and maternal poor health, whether the mom was a binge drinker, drug user or had elevated depression.

MORE: Mindfulness Exercises Improve Kids’ Math Scores

Hernandez analyzed data from 4,762 adolescents between 1975-1990 using the National Longitudinal Study of Youth. She measured each adolescent’s exposure to these family factors from birth until age 15, then looked at their weight at age 18. The results showed clear gender differences. In adolescent girls, experiencing family disruption and financial stress repeatedly was linked to overweight or obesity by age 18. That wasn’t true for adolescent boys. Just one stress point—poor maternal health—was linked to being overweight or obese by 18.

When all the findings were lumped together, Hernandez says, the gender differences disappeared. “Not all stress influences females and males the same,” she says. The reason why lies beyond the scope of this study, but Hernandez suspects it has something to do with physiolgocial and behavioral stress responses. Your body secretes cortisol when it’s stressed, she says—which, if chronic, suppresses your body’s ability to feel satiated. “Behaviorally, you then gravitate more towards the more palatable foods, the high calorie, high fat foods, so you’re not reaching for that apple or celery stick,” she says. This pattern seems to be more prevalent in females than in males, she adds.

“We really need to think about how we are teaching our adolescents how to deal with stress, and trying not to use food as a way to deal with stress,” Hernandez says. “Perhaps encouraging physical activity is the way we should be going.”

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TIME medicine

This Is What Binge Watching TV Does to Your Health

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Cultura/Liam Norris—Getty Images

Every hour spent sitting in front of the TV can increase your risk of diabetes

It’s easy—and tempting—to settle in for a marathon session with your favorite TV show, but that indulgence may come back to haunt you.

In a study of people at higher risk of developing diabetes, researchers say that every hour spent sitting can increase the risk of developing the metabolic disorder by 3.4%. For a day-long binge, that could be as much as a 30% higher risk. “With streaming TV, you can watch a program continuously; instead of watching just half an hour once day a week, you can watch a whole season in a day, so we expect to see increases in sitting to continue,” says Andrea Kriska, an epidemiologist at the University of Pittsburgh and senior author of the paper on the effects of TV on diabetes risk in the journal Diabetologia.

Kriska is part of the Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group, which found that people who spent more time sitting, whether in front of the TV or at work, were more likely to develop diabetes than those who sat less, regardless of how much they exercised.

MORE: Sitting Is Killing You

The group started with the population of people at higher risk of developing diabetes who were enrolled in the Diabetes Prevention Program. Some were assigned to exercise at least 150 minutes at a moderate level each week and change their diet with the goal of losing 7% of their body weight. Others were given the diabetes drug metformin, and another group was given a placebo. In 2002, after more than three years, those who adopted the lifestyle changes lowered their risk of developing diabetes by 58%, compared to 31% for those taking the drug.

More and more data suggest that to reduce disease, it’s not just enough to exercise more; you have to sit, less too. The scientists wanted to see what role, if any, sitting played in this reduction. Did being more physically active lead to helping people be less sedentary? And did time spent sitting have any connection with the rate of diabetes?

MORE: Sitting Can Increase Your Risk of Cancer By Up to 66%

“What we found was yes, and yes,” says Bonny Rockette-Wagner, from the department of epidemiology at Pittsburgh. “There is an independent effect of sitting behavior on diabetes incidence that does not have to do with physical activity. It’s an independent, additional effect.”

The researchers asked the 3,232 people in group how much time they spent sitting at work and how much time they spent watching TV, as a proxy for their total sedentary time. They also asked them about their leisure time physical activity and measured their blood glucose levels. After three years, the lifestyle group spent fewer hours sitting than the metformin and placebo groups, despite the fact that sitting less was not a specific goal of the program. And the more time they spent off their chairs, the lower their risk of going on to develop diabetes.

MORE: An Hour of Exercise Can Make Up for a Day of Sitting Down

The results suggest that efforts to help high-risk people avoid diabetes should include a goal of sitting less. That’s what Kriska and Rockette-Wagner are starting to do in their community sessions in which they teach people about the Diabetes Prevention Program. Instead of focusing exclusively on the target of 150 minutes of exercise each week, they’re asking people to think about sitting less, starting by spending a few minutes fewer on the couch each day and building up to becoming more active.

MORE: Sitting All Day Isn’t As Bad If You Do This

The researchers admit that simply sitting less won’t replace being physically active, but after so much focus on getting sedentary people to move, getting them to think about sitting less may be just as productive.

TIME Obesity

This Place Just Became the First Part of the U.S. to Impose a Tax on Junk Food

TIME.com stock photos Food Snacks Candy
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

It also eliminated a 5% sales tax on healthy produce

The Navajo Nation, which suffers from a 10% obesity rate, is imposing a 2% junk-food tax on its reservation beginning April 1.

Navajo president Ben Shelly approved the Healthy Dine Nation Act last November, which from this week will also eliminate a 5% sales tax on healthy fare including fresh fruits and vegetables.

Revenues from the sin tax will reportedly be channeled toward community wellness projects like farmer’s markets, vegetable gardens and greenhouses in the 27,000 sq. mi. of Navajo reservation spanning from Arizona and New Mexico to Utah.

Approximately 24,600 Navajo tribe members face obesity, according to the Navajo Area Indian Health Service. Type 2 diabetes has emerged as a growing public health concern afflicting up to 60% of reservation residents in some areas.

With nearly half of the Navajo youth population facing unemployment and 38% of the Navajo reservation at the poverty level, supporters say the act may serve as a prototype for sin taxes to curb obesity in low-income communities across the U.S.

By comparison, around one-third of Americans nationwide are classified as obese, the highest rate in the world.

TIME Research

Google Granted Patent for Smart Contact Lens

This undated photo released by Google shows a contact lens Google is testing to explore tear glucose.
Google/AP Google's smart contact lenses.

May allow people with diabetes to easily measure glucose levels

Google has been granted a patent for a contact lens with an embedded chip,

The patent, which was discovered by WebProNews, features a sensor in the lens. Google has previously said that it is partnering with the pharmaceutical company Novartis to create a smart contact lens that could monitor blood sugar for people with diabetes.

As TIME has previously reported, Google has been testing various prototypes of smart contact lens and is currently in talks with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) about a lens that measures glucose levels in users’ tears. The company says the chip and sensor are embedded between two layers of contact lens material and a tiny pinhole lets tear fluid from the eye reach the glucose sensor, and the sensor can measure levels every second.

Diabetics must currently prick their fingers throughout the day to measure blood sugar levels, but Google believes the contact lenses would be less invasive and allow people with diabetes to check glucose more often and more easily.

When asked if the patent is indeed for the smart contact lens for diabetes patients, Google told TIME the company does not comment on patent filings. “We hold patents on a variety of ideas—some of those ideas later mature into real products or services, some don’t. Prospective product announcements should not necessarily be inferred from our patents,” a Google spokesperson said in an email.

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