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Cancer Reserach Update

Texting, Selenium and Taxes

June 13, 2012 | Issue 98

Also in this issue:

  1. In Brief: Seeing Red: Stopping Eating
  2. Selenium Reduces Prostate Cancer Risk, Up to a Point
  3. Fruits, Veggies, and Activity May Lengthen Life for Older Women
  4. Figuring Taxes Easier than Eating Healthy

mHealth: Texting and Tweeting for Health

Cell Phone with Stethoscope wrapped around itOver 90 percent of Americans now use cell phones, a fact that may soon change the way health professionals help their patients make healthier choices.

As mobile technologies have become relatively inexpensive, easy to use and ubiquitous, they have emerged as potentially powerful tools for health professionals. Mobile phones can provide a way to remind and reinforce behaviors that can lower cancer risk and other chronic diseases. The field of “mobile health” is young, but recent mobile-phone based interventions focusing on nutrition and fitness-related goals show promising findings.

The Road to mHealth

Mobile health, or mHealth, involves the use of mobile and wireless technologies applied to improve health-related behavior. In June 2011, the World Health Organization released their first report devoted to mHealth, stating that over 85 percent of the world’s population now has access to a commercial wireless telephone signal.

In the US, the mHealth market is only at its beginning, according to a recent report from research2guidance, a market research firm. An estimated 247 million mobile users will have downloaded a smartphone mHealth application at least once in 2012, the report found, a near doubling of users from 2011. mHealth now has its own annual conferences and an increasing number of studies are investigating its benefits and applications.

“Mobile phones are everywhere, and now information is being shared across the developed and developing world,” said Heather Cole-Lewis, MPH, at the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at Yale University. The technology works for two reasons, she says: familiarity and low cost.

Mobile phone interventions are addressing a gamut of health issues from tracking the success of weight loss to diabetes self-management. mHealth interventions in diabetes management, for example, may involve a patient logging her blood glucose readings into a phone that are then reported to a health professional who can provide guidance in real-time. “It’s a very dynamic process that can provide loads and loads of data health professionals may not have had access to before,” said Cole-Lewis.


“Our review supports the idea that mobile phones are a useful tool for interventions seeking improvement in health outcomes, and that text messaging is a useful tool for behavior change.” — Heather Cole-Lewis

Texting to Better Health

Last year, Cole-Lewis led a review to assess one of the most commonly used – and studied – mHealth applications for behavior change in disease prevention and management: text messaging. After evaluating all relevant studies published between 2005 and 2009, Cole-Lewis found that the majority provided evidence of a short-term effect for improved behavior changes. The interventions included in her review related to weight loss, smoking cessation and diabetes management, which share many behaviors related to reducing cancer risk.

“Our review supports the idea that mobile phones are a useful tool for interventions seeking improvement in health outcomes, and that text messaging is a useful tool for behavior change.”

At the University of California, San Francisco, pilot studies by Yoshimi Fukuoka, PhD, RN, have shown promising findings in how mobile interventions can increase physical activity. In one three-week pilot study, Fukuoka, Associate Professor, Institute for Health and Aging at the University of California, San Francisco, found that study participants increased their average daily total steps by 15 percent when the participants responded to daily text prompts and used a physical activity diary on the phone. As a follow-up to this study, Fukuoka is currently conducting a randomized controlled trial to assess the efficacy of a three-month mobile text-based program to increase physical activity in 200 inactive women.

“The growth in mobile technology in the past decade has changed how we communicate with each other and how physicians communicate with their patients,” said Fukuoka. “Now, the focus of the field is moving into efficacy trials to explore the feasibility, usability and acceptability of mHealth interventions.”

Mobile Technologies for Research

For researchers studying the diet-cancer link, relying on participants to accurately report their usual food intake has its challenges. Faulty memories, underreporting, and confusing questionnaires can all lead to inaccurate estimates of dietary intake.

With recent advances in technology, cell phones are now one of latest tools that have the potential to improve dietary estimates and ultimately, the research, says Amy Subar, PhD, MPH, RD, a nutritionist at the National Cancer Institute and an expert on dietary assessment and nutritional epidemiology.

Instead of asking study participants to remember then write down what they ate, the new cell phone technologies are trying to get people to record the day as they go using image technology,” says Subar, who spoke at AICR’s 2011 Annual Research Conference.

Images technology involves participants photographing their meal before and after they eat. The image is sent to a server programmed to identify the food and portion size by recognizing its color, shape, texture, volume, and other unique characteristics.

With your generous support, AICR funds reserch in diet, physical activity and weight management. Help us asvance our vital research mission with a donation, today.The technology currently has several challenges, notes Subar. For example, it can’t distinguish between diet cola and regular cola, and it’s hard to identify each food in a mixed dish. There are also situations where people cannot take pictures, such as while driving.

Other technologies striving to capture dietary intake aim to minimize human input even more. A wearable miniature camera which comes in the form of a pin, snaps a continuous stream of photos, capture all foods/beverages consumed. But all these new technologies cannot overcome inherent biases that come with reporting food intake, says Subar. “The food record method is by nature reactive. When people keep them, no matter how well they do them they might eat differently…. If someone eats a hot fudge sundae almost daily, their reaction to having to record it could be not to eat it that day. That’s just a reality.”


Excerpted from ScienceNow.

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Stack of potato chips with red gradient backgroundIn Brief: Seeing Red: Stopping Eating

Seeing a clear edible cue, even unconsciously, may help you stop a bout of snacking, finds a new study published in Health Psychology. The study suggests that visual indicators at set portions may cause a snacker to pause, breaking up automated eating habits.

The study consisted of two trials. In both, researchers gave students tubes of potato chips to go along with a movie they were watching as part of a course. In each trial, the dyed red chips were placed at set intervals and students were told either the chips were leftover from a previous study or that they were testing how they liked multiple flavors (the red chips was given a tomato-basil flavor here).

In the first trial, students were either given tubes with one red chip at every 7 or 14 chip. In the second trial the red chip was placed at every 5 or 10 chip interval. Each trial had some students eating chips with no red dividers, the comparison groups.

On average, participants served the tubes with red chips ate about 50 percent fewer than the comparison groups. The red chip groups also more accurately estimated how many chips they ate when compared to the comparison groups. Those in the comparison groups underestimated the amount of chips they ate by about 13 chips; the test group participants estimated their portions within one chip.


Source:Andrew Geier, Brian Wansink, Paul Rozin. “Red potato chips: Segmentation cues can substantially decrease food intake.” Health Psychology, 2012; 31 (3): 398 DOI

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Research Roundup

Selenium Reduces Prostate Cancer Risk, Up to a Point

Selenium Periodic Table EntryConsuming selenium-rich foods, such as nuts, fish, and grains, may play a role in reducing the risk of prostate cancer, especially the aggressive form of this cancer, suggests a new review of the research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The research was funded by the World Cancer Research Fund as part of AICR/WCRF's Continuous Update Project (CUP), an ongoing review of cancer prevention research. It builds on the AICR/WCRF review of the literature, which concluded that consuming selenium – from both foods and supplements – links to lower risk of prostate cancer.

In the review, researchers analyzed the 12 population studies that looked at selenium intake, selenium levels and prostate cancer incidence. Nine of the studies measured participants’ blood (plasma and serum) concentrations of selenium and three measured it in their toenails. Nails are considered a reliable long-term marker of how much selenium a person has in his tissue.

Overall, risk of prostate cancer decreased for increasing levels of selenium, up to a point. Among measured selenium blood levels, for example, risk decreased up to 170 ng/ml. There was a greater reduction in risk for advanced prostate cancers.

The mineral selenium is found in soil, and most people throughout the world get selenium through eating plant foods. In general, national health surveys indicate that Americans consume recommended amounts of selenium, according to the NIH.


Source: Hurst R et al. “Selenium and prostate cancer: systematic review and meta-analysis.” Am J Clin Nutr. 2012 May 30.

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Fruits, Veggies, and Activity May Lengthen Life for Older Women

Older Woman Eating Salad

Being active and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables may lengthen the life among women in their seventies, suggests a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

In the study, scientists looked at carotenoid levels and activity habits of 713 participants of the Women's Health and Aging Studies. At the start of the study, the women were 70 to 79 years old. Carotenoid levels are a key marker of fruit and vegetable consumption. Researchers calculated physical activity levels based on questionnaire data.

Among the participants, slightly over half were sedentary; 20 percent were moderately active and slightly over a quarter were in the most active group.

After tracking the women for five years, the scientists found that the women who were the most physically active were more likely to survive during the study compared to the least active. And having high levels of carotenoids also improved survival, when compared to the lowest levels. The women who were most physically active and had the highest fruit and vegetable consumption were eight times more likely to survive the five-year follow-up period than the women with the lowest levels.


Source: Emily J. Nicklett, Richard D. Semba, Qian-Li Xue, Jing Tian, Kai Sun, Anne R. Cappola, Eleanor M. Simonsick, Luigi Ferrucci, Linda P. Fried. Fruit and Vegetable Intake, Physical Activity, and Mortality in Older Community-Dwelling Women. Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, 2012; 60 (5): 862.

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Figuring Taxes Easier than Eating Healthy

Pie Chart Taxes v. Eating

Source: International Food Information
Council Foundation

With over half of Americans trying to lose weight, most say that figuring out their taxes is easier than knowing what they should eat to be healthier, according to a new survey by the International Food Information Council (IFIC).

The 2012 Food & Health Survey also found that taste remains the top reason for choosing food and drink, a finding that mirrored the 2011 survey. The next highest determinants were price and then healthfulness.

Highlights of the survey include:

  • Overall, 55 percent of Americans are trying to lose weight. However, 23 percent of obese consumers and 44 percent of overweight consumers say they are not trying to lose weight.
  • 76 percent of respondents agree that changing nutritional guidance makes it hard to know what to believe.
  • Consumers rely most often on their own research to make decisions about food.
  • 30 percent of Americans believe that all sources of calories play an equal role in weight gain. Twenty percent believe calories from sugars are most likely to cause weight gain, an 11 percent increase from 2011.
  • Almost 60 percent of Americans have given a lot of thought to what they eat and drink. Only 20 percent say their diet is very healthful and 23 percent describe their diet as extremely or very unhealthful.

Source: International Food Information Council Foundation. The 2012 Food & Health Survey: Consumer Attitudes toward Food Safety, Nutrition, and Health. May 2012.

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