This Week in Research: Ending the Calorie Count; Insomnia is Unhealthy

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In the fight against obesity, many cities and states have begun asking restaurants to prominently post the calorie count of each menu item. The idea is that once you know how many calories are in that order super-size fries, you’ll think twice about scarfing them down. But, according to two Johns Hopkins public health researchers, calorie-posting doesn’t actually do that much — and so they’ve come up with a better way.

To clarify:  calorie postings are least likely to influence Americans with lower incomes and less education, the very people who are most likely to be obese. So instead of just moving forward with the current system, Johns Hopkins researchers Sara Bleich and Lainie Rutkow want state and local governments to opt instead for “innovative calorie labeling on menus” which “has the potential to be more effective than the status quo.”

What kind of innovative labeling? Well, instead of listing the calories, a menu could let would-be customers know approximately how long of a stint at the gym it would take to work off the calories in a particular item. Or they could highlight a menus “nutritionally dense” options, prompting patrons to go for milk over soda, for example.

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Insomnia is no fun. And if you’re having trouble falling asleep now, consider it a warning sign; according to recent research out of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, people with insomnia were more at risk for future hospitalizations, and had higher rates of home healthcare use.

“Over 40 percent of our sample [of US middle-aged and older adults] reported at least one insomnia symptom, consistent with previous studies that showed insomnia to be very common in this population,” pointed out Adam Spira, senior author of the study. “If the association between insomnia symptoms and health service utilization is causal, our findings would suggest that the prevention of insomnia could decrease health service use by 6-14 percent in this population.”

The link between insomnia symptoms and use of health services stayed statistically significant, even when researchers controlled for common medical conditions and elevated depressive symptoms.  “These results suggest that treating and carefully monitoring insomnia symptoms in middle-aged and older adults might somewhat reduce the use of health services and presumably the poor health outcomes that necessitate these services,” said lead author Christopher Kaufman.



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