The foundation of our future (No, this is not OK)

For me, there are four fields in science and technology which will be the foundation of our future.

Energy and climate; biology and medicine; information technology; space.

There’s more to life, sure, but those four fields are what I think are worth my time.

Space is the long-term, existential problem, perhaps a lower priority, within our grasp but not yet our reach. With biology and medicine, and information technology, we can change the world more immediately.

It is energy and climate that is both immediate and existential.

That is why the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on climate change is so extreme an event, so great a threat. It exceeds even the historic excess of Donald Trump’s short presidency, and requires a firm and clear response from the world: No, this is not OK.

Variations in vascular mortality trends: Translational perspective

B.J. Cairns, A. Balkwill, D. Canoy, J. Green, G.K. Reeves, and V. Beral, for the Million Women Study Collaborators (2015). Variations in vascular mortality trends, 2001-2010, among 1.3 million women with different lifestyle risk factors for the disease. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology (online first).

Translational perspective

One of the most striking health achievements of recent decades is the large fall in mortality from vascular diseases, particularly coronary heart disease, but there are signs that this trend may be slowing in some populations.

Despite the knowledge that within populations there is great variation in vascular disease risk factors, there has been limited research into whether, within populations, all groups have benefitted equally from the fall in vascular mortality.

We found evidence that the decline in vascular mortality from 2001-2010 was not uniform across all groups of UK women, including that coronary heart disease mortality declined by nearly three quarters in normal weight women, but only one quarter in obese women.

Continuing reductions in vascular mortality might be achieved by public health or clinical interventions that are better-targeted to the groups which previously have benefitted the least.

EJPC is a European Society for Cardiology journal, and this paper found a home there after being transferred from ESC’s flagship European Heart Journal.  

EHJ includes a “Translational Perspective” with many of its articles, and I wrote one for this study, but EJPC doesn’t do them.  Not to let that effort go to waste, I’ve published it here.

Comment: Cancer and high body-mass index

My commentary discussing the article, “Global burden of cancer attributable to high body-mass index in 2012: a population-based study” by Arnold and colleagues has just been published on The Lancet Oncology website:

Cairns BJ. Cancer and high body-mass index: global burden, global effort? Lancet Oncol 2014; Online First, 26 November 2014.

From the press release:

Writing in a linked Comment, Dr Benjamin Cairns from the University of Oxford in the UK says, “If 3·6% of all cancers are associated with high BMI, that is nearly half a million cancers, but this number is large mainly because the world population is large. Global health resources specifically for cancer prevention are not so large, and the resources targeted at obesity must be balanced against those for other important causes of cancer, particularly infections and tobacco use, which are each associated with much larger proportions of cases.”

I hope I’ll be able to post a paywall-free version of the full comment later. [UPDATE: This link might work.]  Until then, access is via the Lancet Oncology website:

Framing the burden of cancer due to rising obesity

Here are two published statements about the additional burden of cancer which might be due to recent increases in the prevalence of obesity:

“Overall, a 1 kg m−2 increase in body mass index (BMI) is associated with an approximately 1% increase in incidence for all cancers combined (based on data from women) and about a 2% increase in total cancer mortality (based largely on data from men).”


“We estimated that a 1 kg/m2 population increase in mean BMI would lead to 3790 additional patients in the UK each year developing one of the ten cancers that were overall positively associated with BMI.”

These two statements are entirely consistent.  The “3790 additional patients” is just over 1% of the roughly 330,000 people diagnosed with cancer each year in the UK.

The real difference between them is in how they are framed.  The first focuses on a small, dimensionless, relative increase, and the second on a seemingly large absolute number of unspecified but real, live patients.  Ultimately, the statements refer to the same finding, but they are supposed to mean different things to the reader.

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