Reforms at NIH / Tobacco Smoke a Danger to Children / A New Way to Add Iron to the Diet

This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Bob Doughty. On our program this week, we tell about a treatment for lack of iron in the diet; the dangers of cigarette smoke for children; and reforms at the National Institutes of Health.

The World Health Organization says iron deficiency is the most common nutritional disorder in the world. The W.H.O. estimates that as many as eighty percent of people may not be getting the iron they need.

The body needs iron to manufacture hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to body tissues. The body also needs iron to produce several enzymes necessary for muscle, the brain and the body's natural defenses to work correctly.

Iron is stored in bone marrow and two organs -- the spleen and liver. Iron deficiency is the main cause of anemia. A person becomes anemic when iron levels are severely reduced.

Children in developing countries are especially at risk of iron deficiency and iron deficiency anemia. Officials estimate that as many as seven hundred fifty million children have one or more of the conditions.

Common signs of iron deficiency include a loss, or lightening, of skin color. Adults who do not get enough iron get tired more quickly. And, there are special risks for pregnant women. But risks for children can be much more serious, especially in the first two years of life. That is because iron deficiency can cause problems with physical and mental development. It also can result in reduced performance in school.

In fact, some economists believe that iron deficiency can have a major effect on a nation's economy. Iron deficiency and anemia often result in lower productivity. This, in turn, can affect economic development.

Health experts say iron deficiency is the most common preventable nutritional problems. Meat, fish, chicken and other birds have plenty of iron. But some developing countries lack enough of the foods that provide iron.

There have been efforts to deal with the problem. Some wealthy countries have led successful health campaigns. But traditional ways of getting more iron into children in developing countries have been largely unsuccessful. Foods supplied with iron are often too costly. And many children object to taking any iron supplements by mouth because of the taste.

An expert in treating children, Stanley Zlotkin, says he has a solution. Doctor Zlotkin teaches at the University of Toronto in Canada. His solution is called sprinkles. Iron and other minerals necessary for good health are processed into very small particles. These particles are covered with a neutral food product to hide the taste. He says the mixture can be easily added to food and mixed in.

The mixture comes in a small container called a sachet (sash-AY). Doctor Zlotkin says it provides the exact amount needed to meet a child's daily need for iron at a cost of three cents or less a day. The sachets also include vitamin C, which helps the body process iron, and vitamin A, zinc, and folic acid.

Recently, Doctor Zlotkin and other research scientists reported on successful tests of sprinkles in West Africa. The findings were reported in the publication of the Public Library of Science.

Up until now, only the United Nation's Children's Fund and private groups have offered sprinkles to those in need. A few government programs in Pakistan and Bangladesh also have begun using this new intervention. Doctor Zlotkin says his goal is to expand the use of sprinkles in the nutrition policy of all developing countries.

A new study serves as another warning of the dangers from cigarette smoke around children. This was one of the largest studies ever done on the risks to people who breathe tobacco smoke in the air. Experts call this "passive smoking." Many studies have shown increased risks for lung cancer and other diseases. But few studies have involved people who seemed healthy when the research began.

Paolo Vineis of Imperial College, London, led the new study. The British Medical Journal published the report.

More than one hundred twenty thousand people provided information about their history of exposure to tobacco smoke. They might have worked with smokers, or had parents who smoked. The people were from ten countries in Europe. All said they had never smoked or had stopped for at least ten years.

The study followed their health for an average of seven years. During that time, ninety-seven people developed lung cancer. Twenty developed upper-respiratory cancers. And fourteen died from the lung disease emphysema.

The report compares lung cancer rates among people who had been around tobacco smoke when they were children. Those who had breathed it many hours a day were three-and-one-half times more likely to get lung cancer than those who reported no exposure. Yet the risk was still one-and-one-half times higher in adults who had breathed tobacco smoke as children even a few times a week.

The study also found that former smokers had a greater risk of lung cancer than people who never smoked. This link was limited to exposure at work. The report says former smokers may be more at risk from low levels of tobacco smoke in the environment. One possible explanation is that they already have damaged cells.

Smoking is the main cause of lung cancer. And lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in the world.

One of the world's leading medical research centers has announced new ethics rules for its workers. The National Institutes of Health says the rules are meant to guide the moral, or ethical, actions of the workers. The N.I.H. is an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The agency employs more than eighteen thousand people.

Under the new rules, N.I.H. employees may no longer offer expert advice to, or accept money from, companies in the medical industry. This includes drug or biotechnology companies, makers of medical devices, healthcare providers and trade groups. It also includes universities, hospitals and research centers that receive money from the National Institutes of Health.

The new rules require most N.I.H. scientists and all top officials to sell their investments in drug and biotech companies. The rules also affect other employees with the agency. They are limited to no more than fifteen thousand dollars in stock in any one drug or biotech company.

Elias Zerhouni is the director of the National Institutes of Health. Doctor Zerhouni says his goal is to protect the public trust in N.I.H. and its research programs. He says there should be no conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest.

The reforms are meant to deal with concerns raised last year by a Congressional investigation and media reports. They showed that some N.I.H. scientists received money and stock offers from drug and biotech companies. Many of the companies had dealings with the agency.

N.I.H. workers have reacted strongly to the new rules. Critics say the restrictions are not justified. They say that all N.I.H. employees will be punished for the actions of a few dishonest people. Doctor Zerhouni admits that most of the employees have served honorably. He says the reforms are meant to protect their image and the public's trust.

The National Institutes of Health also announced a policy on publication of research paid for by the federal government. The policy establishes what is called open access publishing. It will come into effect on May second.

Under the new policy, scientists using federal money are to give their research papers to the National Library of Medicine after they are accepted for publication. The National Library of Medicine will then release the information on the Internet.

This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS program was written by Cynthia Kirk and Jill Moss. It was produced by Cynthia Kirk. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Bob Doughty. If you have a general question about science that we can answer on this program, you can e-mail it to [email protected] Join us again next week for more news about science in VOA Special English.

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Source: Reforms at NIH / Tobacco Smoke a Danger to Children / A New Way to Add Iron to the Diet
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