InSight regular wins Skeptic of the Year award

Dr Ken Harvey, Adjunct Associate Professor at the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine at Monash University, and a regular contributor to MJA InSight, and his research partner Mal Vickers have been awarded the Australian Skeptics’ Skeptic of the Year award at the Skeptics’ Annual Convention in Melbourne on 26 November 2016. Dr Harvey is an executive member of Friends of Science in Medicine. Eran Segev, president of Australian Skeptics, said: “This year the award was issued jointly to Dr Ken Harvey and Mal Vickers for their continued and highly effective work in exposing claims and practices of chiropractors that mislead and misrepresent the benefits of their activities, and can be dangerous to members of the public”. Dr Harvey has been variously described in the media as “an antiquackery crusader” and “a serial complainer”. “Harvey and Vickers also exposed the inadequacies of the professional bodies that supposedly oversee these practitioners, ignoring misleading claims and damaging activities, and thus indirectly ignoring the protection of the public,” Eran Segev said. The Thornett Award for the Promotion of Reason was given to Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy. The Bent Spoon Award, given to “the perpetrator of the most preposterous piece of pseudoscientific or paranormal piffle of the year”, was given to antivaccinationist Judy Wilyman, her academic advisor Brian Martin and the Social Sciences Department of the University of Wollongong for awarding her a doctorate on the basis of “a PhD thesis riddled with errors, misstatements, poor and unsupported ‘evidence’ and conspiratorial thinking”. A dishonourable mention went to the ABC’s now-defunct Catalyst program and former reporter Dr Maryanne Demasi for an “inaccurate and alarmist one-sided unscientific report on supposed brain damage from WiFi technology, and for being a repeat offender in that respect”.

Increased UVB may drop risk of nearsightedness

Higher ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation exposure – directly related to time spent outdoors and sunlight exposure – has been associated with reduced odds of myopia, particularly in teens and young adults, according to a study published online by JAMA Ophthalmology. Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine examined the association of myopia with UVB radiation, serum vitamin D concentrations and vitamin D pathway genetic variants, adjusting for years in education. The study included a random sample of participants aged 65 years and older from six study centres from the European Eye Study. Of 4187 participants, 4166 attended an eye examination including refraction, gave a blood sample, and were interviewed by trained fieldworkers using a structured questionnaire. After exclusion for various factors, the final study group included 371 participants with myopia and 2797 without. The researchers found that an increase in UVB exposure at age 14–19 years and 20–39 years was associated with reduced odds of myopia, whereas those in the highest third of years of education  had twice the odds of myopia. No independent associations between myopia and serum vitamin D3 concentrations or variants in genes associated with vitamin D metabolism were found. An unexpected finding was that the group with the highest plasma lutein concentrations also had reduced odds of myopia. “The association between UVB, education and myopia remained even after respective adjustment. This suggests that the high rate of myopia associated with educational attainment is not solely mediated by lack of time outdoors,” the authors wrote.

New coalition gunning for rheumatic heart disease

Six leading health organisations have joined a new coalition to end rheumatic heart disease (RHD) in Australia, namely the END RHD Coalition. The coalition brings together as founding members the Australian Medical Association (AMA), the Heart Foundation, the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO), RHD Australia, the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance Northern Territory (AMSANT) and the End RHD Centre for Research Excellence (the END RHD CRE) based at the Telethon Kids Institute. Announced at the launch of the AMA’s Report Card on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health on RHD in Darwin, the new coalition was described as “a major step forward in tackling a condition that disproportionately affects Indigenous Australians”. Telethon Kids Director and head of the END RHD CRE, Professor Johnathan Carapetis said: “Rheumatic heart disease is an entirely preventable, yet devastating condition. It is caused by a simple bacterial throat infection, which if left untreated, may result in permanent damage to the heart, heart failure and stroke. Internationally, RHD is a disease of developing nations, yet in Australia we have some of the highest rates in the world, occurring almost exclusively in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. One in 43 Indigenous people living in remote and rural areas have rheumatic heart disease. This country has the largest disparity in cardiovascular disease outcomes in the world and it is simply unacceptable. RHD is a disease of poverty, overcrowding and inequality and addressing these problems is essential. We need new solutions to prevent and treat the infections that lead to RHD, and to reduce suffering and death from RHD itself, but we will only be treading water if we don’t also deal with the key social determinants of the disease”. The coalition, he said, would be the link between the research of the END RHD CRE and the health workers, families and organisations that would do the hard work to end RHD. Together, the coalition partners would recommend immediate actions, as well as develop a complete “endgame strategy” to be presented to the government in 2020.

Save your life with cycling, swimming, aerobics and tennis

An international research collaboration, led by the University of Sydney, has found that cycling, swimming, aerobics and racquet sports offer life-saving benefits compared to running and football, according to a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The study examined 80 000 adults aged over 30 years to investigate the link between participation in six different exercise disciplines and death, including cycling, swimming, racquet sports, aerobics, football and running. The researchers drew on responses from 11 nationally representative annual health surveys for England and Scotland, carried out between 1994 and 2008. The survival of each participant was tracked for an average of 9 years, during which time 8790 of them died from all causes and 1909 from heart disease or stroke. After taking account of potentially influential factors, the analysis of the pooled data indicated varying odds of death according to the sport or exercise type. Risk of death from any cause was 47% lower among those who played racquet sports (eg, tennis, squash and badminton), 28% lower among swimmers, 27% lower among those who participated in aerobics, and 15% lower among cyclists. Risk of death from cardiovascular disease and stroke was 56% lower among those who played racquet sports; 41% lower among swimmers; and, 36% lower among those who participated in aerobics compared with study participants who did not participate in the corresponding sport. A 43% reduced risk of death from all causes and a 45% reduced risk from cardiovascular disease among runners and joggers was found when compared with those who didn’t run or jog, but this apparent advantage disappeared when all the confounding factors were accounted for. The authors note some study limitations, namely its observational nature, the relatively short recall period, the “seasonality” of certain sports, and the inability to track changes in levels of sports participation throughout the monitoring period. They state that these limitations may all have had some bearing on the results, and that no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.


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