November 30, 2004

Lifelines — November

Lifelines this week looks at the right weight , smoking deaths , children in stress and drug rivals .

RIGHT WEIGHT: In a recent survey it was found that only a quarter of parents recognised when their offspring were overweight. Where children were obese, a third of mothers and 57 per cent of fathers thought their children were "about right". Parents were less likely to recognise overweight boys than girls. Of those parents who were overweight them- selves, 40 per cent of mothers and 45 per cent of fathers judged their own weight to be "about right".

SMOKING DEATHS: Smoking killed almost 5 million people around the world in 2000, with over half the deaths occurring in smokers aged 30-69. Researchers from Harvard University and the University of Queensland found the numbers of premature deaths were evenly split between the developed and developing world. But men were over three times as likely as women to die an early death as a direct result of smoking. The leading cause of smoking-related death was cardiovascular disease.

CHILDREN IN STRESS: Stress quadruples the risk of an asthma attack in children, and gives them a double bout of acute symptoms - one within 48 hours and another episode around six weeks later, a new study has found. Some 60 children with asthma and their parents were interviewed about stressful life events including house moves, births, deaths, separations and changes in family relationships. The researchers found that children were over four times as likely to sustain a sudden worsening of symptoms within one to two days of experiencing a stressful life event. After a period of stabilisation, symptoms suddenly worsened again around five to seven weeks later. Different hormonal and immune system responses to stress may be the cause of this phenomenon.

DRUG RIVALS: The race between two rival pharmaceutical companies to develop a vaccine against the human papilloma virus (HPV) gained momentum this month when the Lancet reported that GlaxoSmithKline's experimental vaccine (Cervarix) was the first vaccine to be 100 per cent effective in protecting women against two strains of HPV that are linked to over 70 per cent of cases of cervical cancer. Meanwhile, Merck's experimental vaccine against cervical cancer promises to ward off genital warts as well. Both companies hope to file for regulatory approval within the next two years.