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3 Key Medical News Stories: 20th June 2019

Welcome to this week’s medical news round up! In our latest edition, we bring you the healthcare topics that have been under the microscope over the past week, just in time for your med school applications.

Joining us this week: childhood obesity, personalised medicine and mental health priorities.

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Childhood obesity

Research reveals children of divorced parents are more likely to gain weight.

A recent study from the London School of Economics and Political Science analysed data on over 7,500 children born between 2000 and 2002.

Of these children, one in five saw their parents’ divorce by the time they were 11 years old.

The study found marked weight gain in children whose parents divorced before they were six years old. These children gained more weight over the two years after the separation compared to children whose parents remained together, and were more likely to become overweight or obese within 36 months.

The reason for this is likely to be multifactorial, with reasons ranging from financial, emotional and physical issues.

What can we learn from this?

Suggested reasons for this pattern of weight gain include less money for extra-curricular activities and fresh food, less time to prepare healthy food and emotional problems leading to overeating.

This study highlights a possible contributor to the childhood obesity crisis, demonstrating the vast range of factors that can influence eating habits and overall health.

The next step is to take action. However, there is a contentious debate about who is responsible for the eating habits of our children, and therefore who to aim campaigns and interventions at.

Parents, society, marketing, schools and, the government – the truth is they can all heavily influence this issue, which makes tackling the crisis so complex and difficult.

Question to think about: Who do you think is responsible for the obesity crisis and what do you think can be done about it?

Read Challenges Facing the NHS

Personalised medicine

Advancing technology is changing what ‘personalised medicine’ means for patients.

Latest medical news highlights the advances in genomics and its role in creating a new era of ‘personalised medicine’.

Genomes consist of our DNA and are unique to all individuals. Small differences in our genomes are now helping to understand a variety of diseases.

Milestones in personalised medicine so far include: the offering of genome sequencing for ill children, mapping entire genetic codes of women with breast cancer and the use of a drug that re-programmes the immune system to fight cancer.

An example of this work in practice is the identification of women at high risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRAC2 genes can increase this risk by eightfold, with the BRCA1 mutation giving a 40-50% lifetime risk of ovarian cancer. Being able to identify those most at risk helps to inform choices about treatment and prevention.

This is just a scratch on the surface, with genomics set to be a part of a GP‘s toolkit in the future.

Of course, for many diseases such as heart disease and diabetes, genetics are only a fraction of the issue, as lifestyle also plays a huge part.

What can we learn from this?

Genomics is a rapidly advancing and exciting area of medicine that is sure to have an important role in the future of healthcare.

However, with this relatively new area of medicine comes an array of ethical dilemmas.

Taking the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations as an example, these genes carry a large risk of cancer. On the surface, to be able to identify this and act on it seems like a no-brainer.

However, on a personal level, many do feel uneasy and uncomfortable about knowing their disease risks. The impact of news of this nature is vast and reactions can be variable.

Question to think about: How do you think being aware of a high disease risk would affect someone?

Read Empathy Questions

Mental Health Priorities

Every new teacher will undergo training to spot early warning signs of mental illness.

Theresa May revealed a plan to make mental health a priority, stating: “We should never accept a rise in mental health problems as inevitable.”

The plan aims for teacher training to include lessons on mental health problems, as well as encouraging NHS staff to take suicide prevention training.

In addition, there will be a prize of £1m for a university level competition, looking for pioneering ideas to tackle mental health problems among students.

Many are praising this move; however, some accuse the prime minister of ignoring the reality of over-stretched budgets and delays in treatment.

What can we learn from this?

With one in six people experiencing a mental health problem, it is one of the main causes of overall disease worldwide.

The NHS mental health services are continually under scrutiny, particularly regarding funding and waiting times.

The new plan appears to be tempting to tackle mental health before entry into the NHS is required, perhaps as a way to decrease the breaking-point pressures. However, some argue that more funding and stricture for the mental health services is the only way to move forward.

Question to think about: How do you feel about mental health interventions occurring outside of healthcare, e.g. in schools?

Read NHS Hot Topics – Mental Health

Words: Katie Burrell

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