Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Morning Rounds by Megan Thielking

Good morning, everyone. Here's what you need to know about health and medicine today. For more STAT newsletters on the worlds of pharma, biotech, and hospitals, see our sign-up page

Beverage industry pours millions into battling soda tax

Soda companies are battling ballot measures in San Francisco and Oakland that aim to tack an extra tax on to sugary drinks. The two sides combined have collected $46 million to make their cases, KQED reports. Most of that money has come from familiar faces in the soda battle: the American Beverage Association has shelled out $28.7 million. And former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Texas billionaires John and Laura Arnold have tossed more than $17 million toward supporting the taxes. Proponents say the taxes will pull in millions in extra revenue for the cities and could help cut down on obesity and type 2 diabetes.

And a new study out in PLOS Medicine today gives that idea some heft. Public health researchers modeled the impact of a 10 percent excise tax on sugary drinks that Mexico instituted in 2014. Their estimation: The tax would prevent about 190,000 cases of diabetes, 20,000 heart attacks and strokes, and 19,000 deaths among Mexican adults over age 35 in the next decade. The WHO also issued a report earlier this month saying that sugary drink taxes can cut down on cases of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and tooth problems.

Advanced nursing careers offer big pay raises

Nurses who choose to advance their careers by becoming advanced practice registered nurses can see big salary benefits, according to a survey of more than 10,000 nurses out this morning from Medscape and WebMD. The survey found that full-time nurses made $78,000 a year on average in 2015. By comparison, nurse anesthetists earned an average of $176,000, nurse midwives an average of $104,000, and nurse practitioners an average of $103,000. The survey also reinforced a previously reported gender pay gap among nurses. Male RNs — who make up just 8 percent of the nursing workforce — reported making an average of $83,000 each year. That might be because male nurses worked more overtime, night shifts, weekends, and extra holidays than their female peers, the survey suggests.

Spread the word: Nutella serving size up for comment

The FDA is asking the public to reflect on an important health question — how much Nutella do you actually eat? They’re collecting information on what a reasonable serving size of the hazelnut spread is at the behest of Ferrero, the maker of Nutella. Ferrero has been petitioning the FDA for the past two years to put Nutella in the same regulatory class as jam or to establish get an entirely new category for “nut cocoa-based spreads.”

Currently, Nutella falls into the category of dessert toppings, which have a serving size of two tablespoons. But, Ferrero says, nowadays most Nutella consumers are slathering it on toast. The company wants the serving size changed to 1 tablespoon, like what’s listed for jams and jellies — and which would have the added benefit of making Nutella look lower in calories, sugar, and fat when customers take a quick glance at the nutrition label. The FDA says it recognizes the need for a sweet new category and is taking the first step with this public comment.

Inside STAT: Drug makers funnel money to GOP 

(Mike reddy for stat)

A fight over drug prices is looming, and drug companies fearful of what it could mean for business are bracing for battle. Through political action committees, it seems drug makers are trying to soften the blow by investing in a divided government. Industry PACs have funneled at least $4.4 million to Republicans and another $2.6 million to Democrats in House races, according to numbers compiled for STAT by Political Moneyline. The numbers are even more lopsided in the most competitive races that will determine control of the chamber. “I think that most companies believe the system works best for us when there’s a forced engagement of bipartisanship,” one industry official told STAT, “as opposed to a runaway trifecta of the administration, the House, the Senate being in anybody’s hands.” More from STAT's Dylan Scott here

Canola oil cuts fat, study funded by Canola Council says

A new study out this morning hypes canola oil as a way to cut down on belly fat — but the details behind the research should give you pause. Researchers at an annual obesity conference reported the findings of a small study, dividing up 101 volunteers tasked with trying one of five different types of vegetable oil blends. Those patients were asked to chug down two smoothies — a tasty blend of orange sherbet, frozen strawberries, non-fat milk, and a predetermined amount of oil — each day for a month. Participants whose smoothies included canola oil lost a quarter-pound of belly fat in that period. But it’s not clear whether the canola oil was responsible for weight loss among those participants; the change in diet could’ve made a dent, too. And among other industry sponsors, that research was funded by the Canola Council of Canada.

A new library details the critters in your house dust

(Anne A. Madden)

Researchers have created an atlas of the critters that make up house dust in the hope of understanding how it might affect our health. More than 700 households across 48 states donated dust swabbed from the top of doorways inside their homes. Those samples were sent off for DNA analysis to pinpoint what types of arthropods, or microscopic invertebrate critters, were living in dust among bacteria and fungi. They turned up more than 600 types, with greater diversity seen in houses with pets, basements, or located in rural areas. Now, scientists can turn to the atlas to parse out those arthropods' role in shaping our health through our environment. 

Developing countries see stunted growth among kids

Poor development in the womb is the most significant risk factor for stunted growth among children in developing countries, according to a new paper published in PLOS Medicine. The new study finds that 36 percent of two-year-olds in developing countries are considered stunted. About one-quarter of those cases — roughly 10.8 million toddlers across 137 countries — were attributed to babies being born abnormally small. The public health experts behind the study say that warrants an increased focus on boosting maternal health before and during pregnancy as a way to combat stunting. What they’d like to see: efforts to address malnutrition and an improvement in sanitation and water quality.

What to read around the web today

  • Here's the fine print on Mark Zuckerberg's plan to cure disease. Buzzfeed
  • Insurance open enrollment gets mixed reviews from consumers. NPR
  • Why a hospital has a harmonica band. Wall Street Journal

More reads from STAT

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