Study: Most would support taxing unhealthy lifestyles

Fishy findings about stroke; cancer differences; help CF victims.

cigarettes (photo credit: DR)
(photo credit: DR)
A large majority of Israelis support “sin taxes” – meaning that health taxes, supplementary or private health insurance premiums should vary according to lifestyle, says a new study published in World Medical & Health Policy. Prof. Mayer Brezis and Rachel Marans of the Hadassah University Medical Center In Jerusalem conducted a random phone survey of Israeli adults to assess the degree of agreement with a policy of differential taxation for health insurance, with a discount for individuals maintaining healthy lifestyle, such as by not smoking and exercising regularly.
They found that a majority (66 percent) of respondents would support a policy of differential taxing. This support was high across all sectors of society, including Arab Israelis (92%), former Russian immigrants (71%), religious Jews (78%), persons with low education (72%) or low income (69%), smokers (51%), and sedentary people (65%).
The survey on whether economic incentives should be given for modifying behavior is relevant, they wrote, given the rising costs of healthcare and the recognition that many chronic diseases are preventable.
Eight US states – Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee – are together known as the “stroke belt,” as residents there have a higher risk of dying from stroke than in other parts of the country. In Alabama, the stroke death rate is 125 per 100,000 people, against a national average of just 98.
Now researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and other southern universities say eating too much fried fish could be to blame. Baked, cooked, grilled or boiled fish is healthful, but eating a constant diet of fried foods is harmful, according to the researchers, who write in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.
Studies have shown that the omega-3 fatty acids in fish, especially fatty fish, may reduce the risk of stroke, but other research has shown that frying fish leads to the loss of natural fatty acids.
The study was part of the long-running REGARDS (Reasons for Geographic And Racial Differences in Stroke) trial, led by Dr.
George Howard and including 21,675 people over 45 between January 2003 and October 2007.
The American Heart Association recommends that people eat fish at least twice a week, with an emphasis on fatty fish. In the entire study, fewer than one in four participants consumed two or more servings of non-fried fish per week; people in the stroke belt were 17% less likely to meet these recommendations than those in the rest of the country. Moreover, the study showed that people in the stroke belt were 30% more likely to eat two or more servings of fried fish than people in the rest of the country.
“These differences in fish consumption may be one of the potential reasons for the racial and geographic differences in stroke incidence and mortality,” said Emory University biostatistics expert Dr.
Fadi Nahab of Emory University. “Our study showed that stroke-belt residents, especially African-Americans, eat more fried fish than Caucasians and people living in the rest of the country,” said Howard.
Arabs are less likely than Jews to contract renal (kidney) cancer and more likely to survive, according to a new Israeli study published in Cancer Epidemiology. Dr. Tarbiyeh Jalal of Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, Prof.
Manfred Green of the University of Haifa and others examined mortality rates from renal cancer between 1980 and 2004 among Jews and Arabs. The study found that the incidence of the tumor in Israel is similar to that in the US and Europe. But it is significantly higher among Israeli Jews than Arabs. During the period of the study, there was a steady increase in the rate of cases among Jewish and Arab men and Jewish women, but Jews were more likely to die of it than Arabs and men more than women. The authors suggested that genetic, nutritional and other factors were involved, and that some could protect Arabs more than Jews.
Meanwhile, Hebrew University-Hadassah dental researchers have reported a sharp increase in the incidence of parotid gland tumors here over the past 30 years.
Rakefet Czerninski, Avi Zini and Prof.
Harold Sgan-Cohen found that these tumors have quadrupled since 1970, “with the steepest increase” after 2001; their letter appears in the January 2011 issue of Epidemiology.
According to Louis Slesin of Microwave News, the reason this is so important is that three years ago, Tel Aviv University Prof.
Siegal Sadetzki – leader of the Israeli Interphone study group – reported that heavy cell phone users “showed significantly elevated risks” of parotid gland tumors; the trend was apparent after only five years of use. Now, the team in Jerusalem has seen exactly that, although no one is claiming to have shown a causal association. Even so, the new finding is guaranteed to rekindle concerns about the possible link between cell phones and cancer.
The parotid is a type of salivary gland – the one closest to the cheek, next to where most people hold their cellphones.
Interestingly, the new data show no similar increases in the two other major types of salivary glands, the submandibular and sublingual glands that are further away from the phone. Israelis are well known as heavy users of cell phones. There has been a sixfold increase in the number of minutes used from 1997 to 2006, according to Czerninski’s team.
January is Cystic Fibrosis Awareness Month in Israel. Some 300,000 Israelis carry the gene for the disease, and 600 are sick because both their parents were carriers. The disease results in the overproduction of mucous that clogs the respiratory system and various organs and tissues. It can be fatal without treatment; in many cases, only a lung transplant can save the patient. CF also causes great suffering, including difficulty breathing and inadequate weight. Most of the treatments, which can cost thousands of shekels a month, are not covered by the health funds.
Thus the Israel CF Association asks for donations to help patients get four hours daily of inhalation, physiotherapy and draining of the lungs, as well as medications that can total 50 pills a day.
While monthly costs are about NIS 8,000, the Health Ministry funds only about NIS 1,500, says the association. Donations of NIS 10, for example, can be made by sending an SMS message through a cellphone to number 2474, with 10 as the message.