Monday, December 5, 2016

How long will you live? Exercise plays bigger role than diet, smoking and a lot of other factors.

Finally some clarity.

You aren’t what you eat.

You are what you DO.

A new study suggests you can get away with a fair number of dietary and other lapses, as long as you stay active.

There are Hawai`i data that make sense of this.

We’ve got our health issues in the Islands. Diet alone is an issue. Think fast food burgers, kalua pork and bento lunches with five kinds of meat. 

(People outside Hawai`i will question this, but I recently had a box lunch with rice, pickled vegetables and Korean barbecue ribs, barbecue chicken, teriyaki beef, Goteborg sausage and Vienna sausage.)

Despite such excesses, Hawai`i has the highest life expectancy in the nation. More than 81 years on average. This isn’t news. Here’s just one citation, from the Centers for Disease Control. 

Hawai`i also has one of the highest rates of exercising in the nation. One Gallup survey from 2013 said 62 percent of Island residents said they exercise at least 3 times a week. 

And it’s not just the nice weather. We’re second highest in the nation for exercise after Vermont. And Montana and Alaska are right up there, too. All are also in the top third in longevity

So, is there a connection? 

Sure there is, according to these researchers from the American Heart Association and Queen’s University. They say exercise trumps diet and lots of other risk factors toward living a long life. (Here's the Eureakalert review of the paper we're citing.)

And you don’t have to be a triathlete. 

“Moderate levels of physical activity consistent with current recommendations may be all that is needed to derive a clinically significant benefit for habitually sedentary individuals,” said Dr. Robert Ross, of Queen’s U.


Those are the basics. Let’s get into the details.

The report is called Importance of Assessing Cardiorespiratory Fitness in Clinical Practice: A Case for Fitness as a Clinical Vital Sign. It was published in the American Heart Association journal, Circulation.

The report says that your level of physical fitness, referred to here as cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), is a key to mortality. 

It's dead simple. Low fitness, high mortality. Even moderate fitness, lower mortality.

“Mounting evidence has firmly established that low levels of cardiorespiratory fitness are associated with a high risk of cardiovascular disease, all-cause mortality, and mortality rates attributable to various cancers,” the paper says.

It goes on: “A growing body of epidemiological and clinical evidence demonstrates not only that CRF is a potentially stronger predictor of mortality than established risk factors such as smoking, hypertension, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes mellitus, but that the addition of CRF to traditional risk factors significantly improves the reclassification of risk for adverse outcomes.”

Any one study gives you a pinpoint view of a very broad subject. This is different. This particular report is not new research, but is a review of the known literature on health and mortality over the past 30 years, and an attempt to get a better handle on risk factors. And it looks at studies with thousands of participants.

One study after another has confirmed the role of exercise in living longer. Here are some of the study results.

A study of nearly 10,000 men: “Survival increased in subjects who improved exercise capacity.”
A study with more than 3800 participants: “Fitness was a strong predictor of outcomes irrespective of weight status.”
A study with more than 15,600 participants: “Moderately fit had 50% lower mortality than those with low CRF.”

The upshot: “A consistent finding in these studies was that after adjustment for age and other risk factors, CRF was a strong and independent marker of risk for cardiovascular and all-cause mortality.”

And as we said earlier, you don't have to go to extremes in exercise.

The report looks at studies of high intensity training compared to continuous moderate intensity training, and does not find a compelling case for one over the other. Both improve cardiorespiratory fitness, it says, but there are concerns about injury and “cardiac complications in selected patients” with higher intensity workouts, it says.

So, what kind of exercise should you consider? Here is the language from the report:

“Exercise that involves major muscle groups (legs, arms, trunk) that is continuous and rhythmic in nature (eg, brisk walking, jogging, running cycling, swimming, rowing, cross-country skiing, climbing stairs, active dancing), in contrast to high-resistance muscle-strengthening activities that produce limited CRF benefits.”

If you’re getting started, depending on your condition, it recommends building up to a regimen of three to five days a week, for 30 to 60 minutes at a time. You should start slow and easy if you’re just beginning an exercise regime, and breaking the initial sessions up into batches of at least 10 minutes is okay.

If you're in poor shape, the study recommends increasing activity in coordination with your medical provider. And it wouldn't hurt to read the whole report. It's free and available as a PDF from the heart association website

© Jan TenBruggencate 2016

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hawaiian climate: it's not changing the way you expect--it's getting scarier

Much of what you’ve heard about the Hawai`i impacts of climate change may be false. It could be worse than what you’ve heard. 

Example: It’s probably not going to be drier everywhere, as many have suggested in recent years. In fact, according to a new paper, it’s more likely to get more extreme everywhere—kind of like American politics. 

Although “Hawaii is renowned for its generally pleasant weather, anticipated climate change over the present century will likely present significant challenges for its inhabitants,” says the paper, published by the American Meteorological Society.

Kevin Hamilton, of the University of Hawai`i’s International Pacific Research Center, said the best research indicates it’s likely to get wetter in wet areas, but drier in dry areas—deepening the divisions between the different zones of the Islands. IPRC is part of the university's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

“We expect generally more rainfall on the windward sides and less on the leeward sides.  Combined with increased evaporation from the warmer surface this could lead to particularly dry conditions in places that are already feeling water stress, such as west central Maui,” said Hamilton, the retired director of the IPRC, in an email. 

Hamilton and co-authors Chunxi Zhang, Yuqing Wang and Axel Lauer just published their latest data in the Journal of Climate. It is entitled, Dynamical Downscaling of the Climate for the Hawaiian Islands. Part II: Projection for the Late Twenty-First Century

Their work also anticipates warmer weather in the Hawaiian uplands. 

“The surface air will warm significantly and the warming will be substantially more pronounced at high topographic elevations,” Hamilton said in an email. 

That has significant impacts, for example, for Hawaiian upland forest habitats. Previous research suggests that warming high mountains will increase upland mosquito populations, with direct impacts on native birds. Mosquitoes carry avian disease like avian malaria and pox.

“While published research on climate-related stress has concentrated on a limited number of species, it is likely that climate change in Hawaii will threaten many species and perturb terrestrial and coastal ecosystems, with unfortunate effects on the state’s remarkable contribution to global biodiversity,” the authors wrote.

Another issue: If drier areas get drier, they’ll be in greater need of irrigation to support agriculture, landscaping and other uses. That water will need to be diverted from the wetter areas. Water issues are intensely political matters in the Islands, and this suggests they’ll continue to be problematic for policy-makers.  

“Available surface and groundwater resources are scarce enough that water use restrictions are common in some areas during droughts, while agricultural demands for groundwater have sparked a history of public controversy and litigation,” the authors wrote.

Extreme weather events are likely to increase, Hamilton and his team wrote, like the big Manoa, O`ahu, flood of 2004, and this year’s Iao Valley flood, both of which caused massive damage costing into the tens of millions of dollars.

The IPRC group is continuing to fine-tune its data, but Hamilton said its climate models, when compared with past weather conditions, are accurately representing what’s been happening. And one of the warnings from the models are that apparent trends may not reflect what will happen in the future.

For example, while the models predict the drying trend in Hilo that has been seen in recent years, that may not continue. The models predict Hilo will get significantly wetter later in this century.

If you’re interested in detailed analyses, here are links to the group’s previous paper and the current paper.

© Jan TenBruggencate

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Monsanto and Mother Jones agree(!): NYTimes lying with GMO statistics

Are we finally sick and tired of people twisting facts to suit their agendas—even when they’re agendas we agree with?

New York Times writer Danny Hakim walked into a storm of criticism, even though he was just doing what so many have done for so long. 

He wrote a big takedown of the GMO industry, which it is perfectly possible to do without lying. 

But The Times, which published his story Sunday, did a classic smear job. It was so obvious, and so wrong, that it makes you wonder whether anyone at the New York Times is editing its science writers.

Now it turns out that folks all over the map have attacked the sloppy reporting—really all over the map. From Mother Jones to Monsanto.

Hakim set up a straw man—GMOs were supposed to increase crop yields more than non-GMOs.

Then he cherrypicked data to slap it down.

Predictably, Monsanto objected. Here is a Huffington Post piece by a Monsanto vice-president.
Here are Monsanto’s data for environmentally comparable areas of Ontario, Canada, and France: 

“Overall, (corn) yields increased from 113 bushels per acre in 1997 to 170 bushels per acre in 2015, an increase of 51 percent. In France during the same period, the increase in yields was only about 10.5 percent.”

Hakim missed that, but gratuitously threw in some “confirming” statistics. 

“Herbicide use is coming down in France while it’s coming up in the U.S.,” Hakim said in an NPR interview associated with his research.

He ignores two huge facts.

First, France's herbicide use may be down somewhat over time, but it's still equivalent, pound for pound, to North American use.

And second, France's fungicide and insecticide use--calculated at weight per acre--is many times the level used on North American crops.

Can we agree that those are massive facts in this discussion? The French use more pesticide than the U.S. How do you miss that unless you’re intentionally missing it?  

Particularly, how do you miss it if you've conducted, and announce it in your second paragraph, "an extensive examination by The New York Times."

I’ve actually talked to actual American Midwest farmers. They’re spraying far less than they used to.
And based on the French example, the French non-GMO farmer is spraying far more for insect pests than the GMO farmer.

Don’t take my word for this stuff. 

Folks on all sides of the political and environmental spectrum have gone after the Times for bad science reporting. 

Mother Jones, the left-wing journal, is far, very far, from friendly to the GMO industry. It’s a regular, persistent thorn in Monsanto’s side. 

But even Mother Jones attacked Hakim’s work, in an article entitled, “How to mislead with statistics.” 

Was there intent on the part of the New York Times to deceive? Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum thinks so: 

“If you click on the chart pack in the Times story, you will actually find charts showing raw volume of pesticide use in the US and France. However, they're shown in two different charts, using different units, and broken up into different categories. If you were deliberately trying to make a comparison nearly impossible, this is how you'd do it.”

And Grist, another pro-environment site, also attacked the Times piece.

Both Grist and Mother Jones argued against the assumption that American farmers are uneducated, stupid, and prone to make costly errors in judgment.

“It would be a shame if we on the liberal coasts decided the technology was useless just because we have a hard time seeing the benefits that are clear to Midwestern farmers,” write Grist’s Nathaniel Johnson.

And here's the Mother Jones comment along a similar line.

“The story was pretty shallow in its use of statistics. It assumed that you can compare different countries without controlling for anything (different soils, climates, crops, etc.). And it seemed to suggest that American farmers must be idiots, because they keep buying GMO seeds even though they're worthless.”

Let me just say, if you’re the New York Times, “Ouch.”

The good news, is that this example may suggest there's a crack in the armor of ends-justifies-means reporting. 

Let's have these conversations, but let's cut the self-serving prevarication and have the discussions on the basis of facts we can agree on.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2016

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Hawaiian shearwaters have a bellyful of plastic marine debris

Not just seabirds: An entangled Hawaiian monk seal.  Credit: NOAA.

Laysan albatross chicks have been found dead with their bellies stuffed with bits of plastic, and a new study shows that Kaua`i-based Newell’s and wedge-tailed shearwaters face similar threats.

Worse, the amount of plastic found in the seabirds is increasing over time.

“On Kaua‘i…50.0 % of Newell’s…and 76.9 % of wedge-tailed shearwater … fledglings necropsied during 2007–2014 contained plastic items in their digestive tract, while 42.1 % of adult wedge-tailed shearwaters had ingested plastic'

That is one conclusion of the paper, “Plastic ingestion by Newell’s (Puffinus newelli) and wedge-tailed shearwaters (Ardenna pacifica) in Hawaii.” It was published in the journal Environmental Science and Pollution  Research by Elizabeth C. Kain, Jennifer L. Lavers, Carl J. Berg, Alexander L. Bond and AndrĂ© F. Raine. 

The researchers also found that “For both species, the frequency of plastic ingestion has increased since the 1980s with some evidence that the mass and the number of items ingested per bird have also increased.”

In fact, hundreds of marine species are threatened by plastic, which can mimic natural food sources, or be mistaken for food by seabirds, turtles, squids, fish, oysters, seals and others. 

The researchers in this paper looked at the stomach contents of seabirds killed by predators or collisions in the 2013-2014 nesting season. The results were compared with a study done in the 1987 season on Kauai, when 11 percent of the birds were found to have eaten plastics. For Newell’s shearwaters, that represents nearly a five-fold increase over  a quarter century.

In both the Newell’s, a mountain-nesting bird, and the wedge-tailed shearwaters, which nest near the shore, the predominant color of ingested plastic was white.

Both adults and fledglings had plastic in their guts. Since fledglings receive all their food regurgitated by their parents, the parents are presumed to have been delivering plastic-laced meals to their young.

“Plastic ingested by seabirds has been shown to block and take up space in the digestive tract, contributing to dehydration and in some cases starvation,” the authors wrote.

There is also suggestion in the scientific literature that the plastic can release chemical pollutants into the bodies of the birds, they said.

“The amount of plastic in the oceans is increasing and poses an increased risk of entanglement, ingestion, and thus morbidity and mortality for marine life,” the authors wrote.

National Geographic last year had a story that suggested that every seabird on the planet has or shortly will have a plastic ingestion issue.

That story references this study, which makes the point that “this threat is geographically widespread, pervasive, and rapidly increasing.”

© Jan TenBruggencate 2016

Sunday, October 16, 2016

There's an electric car in your future--and sooner than you think

A hot red Tesla S. Credit: Tesla

Electric cars represent a fraction of the number of vehicles on the road, but that’s changing—and indications are it’s soon to be changing a lot faster.

EV sales are picking up every month, according to

And if they're not quite increasing at an exponential rate, they are increasing real, real fast.

In January 2014 plug-in car sales were about 15,000 globally. 

By January 2015 it was close to 25,000. 

And by January of this year 40,000.

By the middle of 2016, it was approaching 70,000 plug-in cars sold every month. 

In these examples the sales include pure electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids.

Those stats are from the consulting firm EV-Volumes, which says growth in the plug-in market is expected to be 57 percent higher in 2016 than 2015. It says that globally, about 60 percent of the plug-ins are pure electric and 40 percent hybrid.

By September 2016, Hawai`i had more than 4,700 electric vehicles, 27 percent or more than 1,000 more than the year before. The state had more than 22,000 hybrid cars, up 6.5 percent from a year before.

China is the biggest player in the electric vehicle field, followed by Europe, then the U.S. and Japan. 

This Forbes article cites a figure estimating 450,000 electric car sales in China in 2016.

Europe is an interesting area. The Netherlands sees electric vehicles reaching almost 10 percent of every car sold. Holland is pushing to reach 100 percent electric car sales by 2025.

Indeed, all of Europe is pushing hard to increase the numbers, with both subsidies for electric car buyers and aggressive goals. Germany is talking about requiring 100 percent of new cars to be electric by 2030. 

The car manufacturers have gotten the message. More and more of them are offering electric cars. Nissan says it expects 20 percent of its 2020 production to be emission-free. 

The push is not only to push electric vehicle sales directly, but to push back against polluting cars. Paris has banned the weekday use of cars built before 1997. The theory: they don’t have engines that are as efficient as those built during the past 20 years, and they don’t have the same pollution control equipment. 

"We know that the major source of pollution in Paris is traffic. Sixty-six percent of nitrogen dioxide and fine particles come from road traffic. And we know it's old cars that spew out the most toxic fumes. That's why we are progressively going to get rid of them,” said Christophe Najdovsky, the Parisian deputy mayor for transport and public space.

If you’re in the market, know that the list of plug-in cars is a long one these days. In mid-2016, according to EV-volumes, Nissan Leaf led the market, following closely by Tesla’s Model S. Then come BYD’s Tang and Qin models, Chevy Volt, SAIC Roewe E550, Mitsubishi’s Outlander, Renault’s Zoe, BYD’s e6, BMW’s i3 and Tesla’s Model X—and more than a dozen others.

You may not recognize some of those names. BYD is a Chinese car manufacturer. SAIC is a British-Chinese company. 

Another sign that the industry is maturing: None of the cars on the list is a golf-cart looking thing. They’re all sedans or SUVs.

For early adopters, the idea that their hot new EV looks just like your father's sedan could be a problem. But the industry isn't just going for early adopters any more. 

© Jan TenBruggencate 2016