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Online menus should put healthy food first

Women who see healthy food at the top of an online menu are 30 to 40 percent more likely to order it, a Flinders University study has found, with the authors saying menu placement could play a role in encouraging healthier eating.

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Women who see healthy food at the top of an online menu are 30 to 40 percent more likely to order it, a Flinders University study has found, with the authors saying menu placement could play a role in encouraging healthier eating.

Published in the journal Appetite and led by Flinders University PhD Candidate Indah Gynell, the team investigated where on a menu healthy items should be placed to best encourage people to choose them.

“Previous research has explored menu placement before, but the studies were inconsistent, with some finding placing food items at the top and bottom of a menu increased their popularity, while others suggested that the middle is best,” said Ms Gynell from Flinders’ College of Education, Psychology and Social Work.

“In our study we compared three locations on both printed and online menus, with online being an important addition in the age of food ordering platforms, such as UberEats and Menulog, especially during the pandemic.”

The researchers created menus containing eight unhealthy items and four healthy items, arranged in three rows of four on the physical printed menu and in one column of 12 on the digital menu. In one study, the physical menu was tested on 172 female participants, while in the second study, the digital menu was tested on 182 female participants.

Female participants were chosen as previous research has found that dieting behaviours – likely to impact menu choice – are consistently more prevalent in women.

Participants then chose an item from one of the experimental menus before completing a psychological test that identified their ‘dietary restraint status’; that is whether or not they were actively choosing to restrict their eating habits for the purpose of health or weight loss.

“We found that neither the order of food items, nor participants’ dietary restraint status, impacted whether or not healthy food was chosen in the physical menus,” says Ms Gynell.

“However, for the online menus, we found that participants who saw healthy items at the top of an online menu were 30-40% more likely to choose a healthy item than those who viewed them further down the menu.”

The authors say the finding is important because if added up over time, consistent healthy choices could result in general health benefits at a population level, highlighting why such an intervention could be worth implementing.

“Diet-related illnesses and disease are more common now than ever before, and with a rise in online food ordering it’s important we uncover cost-effective and simple public health initiatives,” says Ms Gynell.

“Changing the order of a menu, which doesn’t require the addition or removal of items, is unlikely to impact profits as consumers are guided towards healthier options without being discouraged from purchasing altogether.

“This means it’s more likely to be accepted by food purveyors and, despite being a somewhat simple solution, has the potential to shape real-world healthy eating interventions.”

The effect of item placement on snack food choices from physical and online menus by Indah Gynell, Eva Kemps, Ivanka Prichard and Marika Tiggemann is published in the journal Appetite.

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Combination of drugs for obesity and Type 2 diabetes may be more effective than a single therapy

The researchers conclude that combining the drugs has several advantages, including higher effectiveness in at least some patients and fewer side-effects.

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Canadian and German researchers are teaming up to identify new drug combinations to treat people with obesity and Type 2 diabetes. 

The goal is to develop personalized prescriptions that are more effective than single drugs and that can potentially replace more invasive treatments such as bariatric surgery, especially for children. 

“As a pediatric endocrinologist, I can tell you we’re seeing more and more Type 2 diabetes in kids and adolescents, and it seems to be a more aggressive form than adult onset diabetes, so we do need better therapies to achieve even greater efficacy and degree of weight loss,” said Andrea Haqq, a professor in the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.

The researchers recently published a paper that examines the potential of several drugs that control incretins. These metabolic hormones stimulate the body to produce insulin and use it effectively. They also suppress appetite in order to control blood sugars and reduce weight. 

The researchers conclude that combining the drugs has several advantages, including higher effectiveness in at least some patients and fewer side-effects. 

Even a five per cent weight loss is considered clinically meaningful, and patients in some of the combination drug trials are achieving 10 or 15 per cent, said Haqq, who is a member of the Alberta Diabetes Institute and the Women and Children’s Health Research Institute. 

Haqq’s laboratory is collaborating with that of Timo Müller, director of the Institute for Diabetes and Obesity at the Helmholtz Diabetes Center and a researcher with the German Center for Diabetes Research in Münich, Germany.

As part of the collaboration with the Müller team, first author Qiming Tan, a PhD candidate in the U of A Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, will study for a term in Germany and a German student will join Haqq’s lab here.

Haqq and Tan recommend further research to identify why some individuals respond differently to the drugs. Some racial and ethnic groups bear a disproportionate burden of obesity and Type 2 diabetes, they said, so more participants from these groups are needed in trials. Further studies should also focus on how differences in biological sex affect drug efficacy and safety. 

In addition to drug combinations, the researchers are looking for non-pharmacological solutions, such as how adding fibre to a person’s diet can slow weight gain and improve the effectiveness of existing diabetes medications.

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How sleep helps to process emotions

According to the researchers, the coexistence of both mechanisms is beneficial to the stability and survival of the organisms: “This bi-directional mechanism is essential to optimize the discrimination between dangerous and safe signals,” says Mattia Aime from the DBMR, first author of the study.

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Researchers at the Department of Neurology of the University of Bern and University Hospital Bern identified how the brain triages emotions during dream sleep to consolidate the storage of positive emotions while dampening the consolidation of negative ones. The work expands the importance of sleep in mental health and opens new ways of therapeutic strategies.

Rapid eye movement (REM or paradoxical) sleep is a unique and mysterious sleep state during which most of the dreams occur together with intense emotional contents. How and why these emotions are reactivated is unclear. The prefrontal cortex integrates many of these emotions during wakefulness but appears paradoxically quiescent during REM sleep.

“Our goal was to understand the underlying mechanism and the functions of such a surprising phenomenon,” says Prof. Antoine Adamantidis from the Department of Biomedical Research (DBMR) at the University of Bern and the Department of Neurology at the Inselspital, University Hospital of Bern.

Processing emotions, particularly distinguishing between danger and safety, is critical for the survival of animals. In humans, excessively negative emotions, such as fear reactions and states of anxiety, lead to pathological states like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD). In Europe, roughly 15% of the population is affected by persistent anxiety and severe mental illness. The research group headed by Antoine Adamantidis is now providing insights into how the brain helps to reinforce positive emotions and weaken strongly negative or traumatic emotions during REM sleep. This study was published in the journal Science.

A dual mechanism

The researchers first conditioned mice to recognize auditory stimuli associated with safety and others associated with danger (aversive stimuli). The activity of neurons in the brain of mice was then recorded during sleep-wake cycles. In this way, the researchers were able to map different areas of a cell and determine how emotional memories are transformed during REM sleep.  

Neurons are composed of a cell body (soma) that integrates information coming from the dendrites (inputs) and send signals to other neurons via their axons (outputs). The results obtained showed that cell somas are kept silent while their dendrites are activated. “This means a decoupling of the two cellular compartments, in other words soma wide asleep and dendrites wide awake,” explains Adamantidis.

This decoupling is important because the strong activity of the dendrites allows the encoding of both danger and safety emotions, while the inhibitions of the soma completely block the output of the circuit during REM sleep. In other words, the brain favors the discrimination of safety versus danger in the dendrites, but block the over-reaction to emotion, in particular danger.

A survival advantage

According to the researchers, the coexistence of both mechanisms is beneficial to the stability and survival of the organisms: “This bi-directional mechanism is essential to optimize the discrimination between dangerous and safe signals,” says Mattia Aime from the DBMR, first author of the study.

If this discrimination is missing in humans and excessive fear reactions are generated, this can lead to anxiety disorders. The findings are particularly relevant to pathological conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorders, in which trauma is over-consolidated in the prefrontal cortex, day after day during sleep.

Breakthrough for sleep medicine

These findings pave the way to a better understanding of the processing of emotions during sleep in humans and open new perspectives for therapeutic targets to treat maladaptive processing of traumatic memories, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) and their early sleep-dependent consolidation.

Additional acute or chronic mental health issues that may implicate this somatodendritic decoupling during sleep include acute and chronic stress, anxiety, depression, panic, or even anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure. Sleep research and sleep medicine have long been a research focus of the University of Bern and the Inselspital, Bern University Hospital. “We hope that our findings will not only be of interest to the patients, but also to the broad public”, says Adamantidis.

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MetroMart to sell only cage-free eggs nationwide by 2025

MetroMart’s e-commerce platform connects consumers with local supermarkets and retailers including The Marketplace, Marks & Spencer, Landmark and All Day Supermarket. The company delivers throughout the Manila and Cebu regions, with plans to expand nationally.

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MetroMart, the country’s largest e-commerce grocery delivery platform, won praise today from U.S.-based global NGO Lever Foundation for its new commitment to source and sell only cage-free eggs nationwide by 2025.

“MetroMart is committed to social responsibility and benefiting the community, including through selling high quality, safe and humane food products,” said Evreem Fortich, Chief Operating Officer at MetroMart and ambassador of the company on the issue. “We’re pleased to share our new policy of selling only cage-free eggs to consumers on our platform by 2025, and we look forward to working closely with our partners to achieve that goal.”

MetroMart’s e-commerce platform connects consumers with local supermarkets and retailers including The Marketplace, Marks & Spencer, Landmark and All Day Supermarket. The company delivers throughout the Manila and Cebu regions, with plans to expand nationally. MetroMart has been actively promoting sustainability initiatives by using banners on its platform to raise public awareness of environmental issues, and offering promotional discounts for ethical and sustainable products.  

Numerous studies have found cage-free eggs are safer and have more vitamins and minerals and a better nutritional profile than caged eggs. Research by the European Food Safety Authority and others has found that cage-free egg farms are up to 25 times less likely to be contaminated with key strains of salmonella compared to hens raised in cages. Hens raised in cage-free systems enjoy better bone health, are free to move and express their natural behavior such as foraging, dust-bathing, flying and nesting.

“We applaud MetroMart for its commitment on this important issue, which will benefit the company’s customers by increasing food safety and quality while also improving the welfare of animals in its supply chain,” said Robyn del Rosario, Sustainability Program Manager at Lever Foundation, which worked with MetroMart on its pledge. “With e-commerce leaders like MetroMart rising in popularity and importance during the pandemic, the company’s commitment to socially responsible policies that benefit the community sets a stellar example for other retailers and food brands.”

Leading animal protection and food safety organizations around the world encourage a switch to cage-free eggs, which are less cruel to animals and safer for consumers. On caged egg farms, each egg-laying hen is confined for nearly her entire life in a cage so small she can barely turn around. Battery cage egg production has been banned throughout the European Union as well as in Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Canada, India, and parts of the United States.

In recent years a growing list of restaurant, hospitality, retail and packaged foods brands have pledged to use only cage-free eggs in the Philippines, including KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, Marriott, Nestle, Unilever, and many others. MetroMart is the first retailer in the Philippines and the first online grocery delivery platform in Asia to make the same pledge.

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