Bidding Farewell to the Fizz

sodasIt seems that Mayor Bloomberg’s ban on sodas might not have been necessary after all. Despite the fact that ultimately it was overturned, recent studies have shown that water is replacing the fizzy drink buzz in terms of popularity amongst Americans.

This has been a long time coming given that soda has been in the fast lane for the last two decades.  Per year, these days Americans down an average of 58 gallons of the pure stuff as compared with 44 gallons of soda. Some experts put this down to an increasing awareness in the role soda is playing in the nation’s obesity issue.  As well, there has been a greater marketing effort generated by the bottled water companies.

However, when one talks of an increased consumption of water over soda, within this statistic is the flavored waters which can carry as much sugar as soda.  For example, as Associate Professor of Health Policy at Johns Hopkins University, Sara Bleich points out, the Vitaminwater brand carries 125 calories and 32.5 grams of sugar per 20 ounce bottle.  Soda has around 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar.   This has been put down to the fact that consumers are letting themselves believe that the sugared water drinks are actually healthy.

Ultimately, the healthiest drink as most people know is plain water.  But it is very tempting to believe that the sugary version is likewise as healthy. In general, with the problem of late onset obesity in the States increasing, it is important for everyone to be aware of the overall sugar intake in their diet, and, removing it from their drinks is a good first step.

Funding for Biotechnology Incubator

A substantial fiscal donation is being put towards the completion of a biotechnology incubator in Albany.  Nanotechnology is fast becoming a key industry in New York and thus more and more finances are being earmarked to such causes.  The money – $1m – is being donated by the New York Medical College (NYMC), an institution that was chaired by John Castle for more than a decade. Founded in 1860, NYMC comprises three schools—the School of Medicine, the Graduate School of Basic Medical Sciences and the School of Health Sciences and Practice. Today it boasts over 1,400 students, 1,338 residents and clinic fellows, 3,000+ faculty members and 12,706 living alumni.  It is one of America’s largest private health sciences universities.

In addition, John Castle – who is today the Chairman and CEO of private merchant bank Castle Harlan –sat on the Board of Trustees at NYMC for more than two decades.  With his work at Castle Harlan and background in medical publications, John Castle is able to make a significant contribution toward the increasingly important medical technology industry.

According to the College’s current VP of Government Affairs, Robert Ambler, “a lot of academic biomedical researchers are working to chase an idea, a dream, a notion that they’ve had to take what they’ve learned over the years and develop that idea into a product … that could make life better for a very large number of people.”  He adds that this has been very motivating for them.

In addition, VP of Corporate Communications at Regeneron Pharmaceuticals, Peter Dworkin, believes that the state is somewhat behind and thus needs to “catch up.”  He also feels that NY-based universities have in general “not embraced this sort of academic-industry collaboration model.”  Universities are trying to join up with corporations or establish businesses so that they can more easily market their products and services.

And as Rochester University’s President, Joel Seligman noted, “the link between higher education, the business community and particularly the state government is getting smarter and more sophisticated.”


NY City Medical School Stands Out From The Pack

MSSMLogoEvery year it occurs that students who studied humanities want to go to medical school. When that happens, they often have to drown themselves in pre-requisites and play catch-up to the pre-med students.

This, however, is not always the case. There are a few nontraditional ways to get into medical school, including our own Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City. It admits a quarter of its incoming students through a program that offers early admittance to humanities students. As Dr. Dennis Charney, the dean of the school, said, “It was designed to attract humanities majors to medicine who would bring a different perspective to education and medical practice.”

The program has been such a hit that they are now expanding it. By 2015, almost half of their incoming class will come through the new FlexMed program, which will take students from any educational background. These students won’t be required to take the MCAT, but they will take a year of biology or chemistry before applying and a few more science and math classes before graduating. And they have to keep up a 3.5 GPA.

The school plans to track these students through medical school and into their careers to see if there is a difference in the fields that they choose, the research they conduct or the leadership roles they take on.

A 2009 report from the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute showed that medical schools could actually become more flexible by focusing less on specific courses and more on a broad range of scientific competency. Time will tell if Icahn will be leading the way in this regard.

Food Labels: Lacking in Potassium

The New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently carried out a study on the labeling of packaged foods. According to the findings of these NYC health workers, the amount of potassium is generally amiss from most packaged food-labels.  This is problematic for those needing to ensure adequate potassium levels are maintained or for those with impaired kidneys who need to restrict their intake.

The recommendation by the Institute of Medicine vis-à-vis this powerful mineral is an intake of 4.7 grams daily for those not on a potassium-restrictive diet, reducing their risk for cardiovascular disease and death.  Indeed, as one researcher, Dr. Susan Kansagra pointed out, “diets high in potassium help decrease the negative impact of sodium, and so having a high ratio of potassium versus sodium in your diet is really important [and in general] Americans are not consuming enough potassium and are not meeting their dietary requirements.”

The study comprised an analysis of the labeling on 6,560 packaged foods covering 60+ different food categories, using nutritional information from a salt-reduced program.  Out of those products, only 500 contained potassium on their labels.  However, there was potassium data in over 50% of the products in five of the 61 categories: vegetable juice, seasoned processed potatoes, instant hot cereal, French toast/pancakes/waffles and sauces.

This issue is likely more connected to FDA requirements which currently lists potassium labeling as optional, rather than the companies themselves being amiss in their responsibilities.