New Under the Sun:
Volume 4, Issue 10
What a month. It begins with Katrina and moves right into Rita. There is nothing like a major disaster to emphasize how flat our world has become. For more on this topic, read this month’s Book Review. And let’s hope that the autumn season proceeds disaster-free.
Sequestered Behind a Wall of Fat: As we should all be aware, obesity has major negative consequences to one’s health. Readers should further be aware that vitamin D deprivation also has a major negative impact on health. Obesity and vitamin D deprivation appear to be interactive. That is, research has shown that the more obese one is, the more likely one is to be vitamin D deficient. The probable reason for this is that because vitamin D is fat soluble, fat cells (adipose tissue) sequester serum vitamin D (25 OHD). Instead of circulating through the body doing its job of maintaining homeostatic balance, the 25 OHD is pulled from the blood by the fat cells, locked away where it cannot function. The result is that the obese will have even more difficulty than the average person does in maintaining optimal vitamin D levels and will probably require higher doses of cholecalciferol or longer UVB exposure periods.
Recent research has found that obese men are more likely to have prostate cancer recur than are those who are non-obese. Specifically, they found that if a man were obese (BMI of 30 or more) prior to the onset of cancer, obese prior to age 40, and/or gained weight rapidly during his young adult years, the probability of recurrent prostate cancer was significantly elevated. The researchers were unclear what would cause this correlation, but postulated that it may have been due to alterations in levels of hormones such as growth factors or androgens, or to poor lifestyle choices such as inadequate exercise. Sequestration of vitamin D and vitamin D deficiency seem not to have occurred to them despite the known effect that vitamin D has on preventing prostate cancer. Granted, that is the hormonal form of vitamin D (1,25 OHD), but 25 OHD provides the substrate for the hormonal form. Therefore, a possible explanation for the association of obesity and recurrence of prostate cancer is the severe vitamin D deficiency of those obese men caused by sequestration of vitamin D in their numerous fat cells, and a vitamin D deficiency that occurred over a long period of years. This is yet another reason, if one were needed, to lose weight. S Strom, P Troncoso, X Wang, C Pettaway, C Logothetis, Y Yamamura, K Do, and R Babaian. Rate of Gain, Obesity Factor into Increased Risk for Prostate Cancer Recurrence Clinical Cancer Research. 10/1/05. Snijder MB, van Dam RM, Visser M, Deeg DJ, Dekker JM, Bouter LM, Seidell JC, Lips P. Adiposity in relation to vitamin D status and parathyroid hormone levels: a population-based study in older men and women. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2005 Jul;90(7):4119-23.
And the Young Shall Protect the Old: When we think of vaccines, we normally think of them as for protection of the individual receiving the vaccine. While this is true, it is also true that the vaccinated can protect the unvaccinated. Forty years ago, thousands of children suffered from the measles each year. Since vaccination, very few suffer from it even though there are pockets, particularly in poor urban environments, with relatively low levels of immunization. Large numbers of vaccinated prevent the disease from gaining the foothold required to spread to the unvaccinated.
It now appears that vaccinating the very young, those in pre-school, can help save the lives of the elderly, and those in all other age groups, by minimizing the impact of flu epidemics. Each year, tens of thousands of people, mostly the elderly, infants/toddlers, or those with compromised health, die from complications resulting from the flu. New research has shown that the first peak in the flu season occurs among children aged 3 – 4, a group not normally falling within the recommended vaccination guidelines. If this group were vaccinated and immunized against the current flu strain, it appears from this research that the severity of the epidemic would be significantly decreased. In the case of the flu, it would be more effective to immunize those who are most likely to spread the disease than those most at risk for the disease. Interrupting disease transmission means that the at-risk population is safer than they would otherwise be. For this flu season, the best option might be to vaccinate the usual at-risk groups, but to also vaccinate all those in pre-school. A particularly mild flu season would indicate that a shift to immunizing those who are the major source of transmission may be our first line of defense in the event of a killer pandemic such as may occur if the avian flu becomes easily transmitted between humans. As Brownstein, the lead author of the study states, “The data suggest that when kids are sneezing, the elderly begin to die. Three- and 4-year-olds are sentinels that allow us to focus our surveillance systems.” Protect the young so that those who are older may live. JBrownstein, K Kleinman, and K Mandl. Identifying Pediatric Age Groups for Influenza Vaccination Using a Real-Time Regional Surveillance System. American Journal of Epidemiology 2005 162(7):686-693.
Book Review: The world is flat. Not flat in the medieval since of sailing off into the unknown and over the edge, but flat in the sense of hyper-connected. I remember when I had my first glimmerings of the world becoming flat. It was when I was in grad school. The university had a rather primitive email system students and faculty could use. One day I received a message from Australia. I found this amazing, that just by typing into the computer someone in Australia could communicate with me in Kansas; we could collaborate in real time without ever meeting. And, for a poor grad student, at no cost versus the then-very-costly long distance phone calls. Now, global email connections are so commonplace, few give them any thought.
An individual who has given the flattening of the world a great deal of thought is Thomas Friedman, author of several books of social/political commentary. His most recent book is The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century. The material Friedman discusses is at times thrilling, at times disturbing, but always thought-provoking. One might ask why I am reviewing a book on this topic in AnthroHealth News. As I’ve discussed in past issues, ease of travel leads to ease of disease spread. This is one aspect of a flattened world. But more importantly, our physical and psychological health depends to a large extent on the economic, political, and social health of our societies. A flattened world alters the ways in which not only societies, but more importantly, individuals interact with each other across political/social boundaries. How we as individuals respond to the flattened world and how we encourage our governments to respond will have important long-term consequences to our health and well being.
The World is Flat is a long (469 pages), but very well-written and readable book. However, due to the length and the number of issues and arguments Friedman raises and discusses, this review can only briefly skim the surface of the book. It is my hope that you will be intrigued enough to obtain and thoroughly read this important book yourself.
The first section of the book discusses the factors that resulted in a flattened world. Friedman highlights ten primary forces. These include: 1] 11/9/89: the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the release of untapped energy and creativity in Eastern Europe; 2] 8/9/95: the IPO of Netscape and the transition to an internet-based computing system; 3] the development of software that enabled individuals in different companies and different countries to work together seamlessly; 4] the development and spread of open-sourced software communities which led to dramatically improved software and to reductions in the cost of software, thus enabling those without much startup capital to start small businesses; this factor also led to a flattening of hierarchies in business; 5] Y2K which required vast numbers of engineers to fix software glitches prior to 2000 thus creating new business opportunities using highly-educated individuals in India, leading to the origins of sophisticated outsourcing; 6] offshoring business to China (and other countries) with the result that China is now the second-largest trading partner with the US and is running as fast as it can to take over as the world’s dominant economy; 7] the development of supply chains where the suppliers of goods or components are so tightly-integrated with the final sale of goods or services that multinational takes on an entirely new meaning and common standards of business practices become the new lingua franca; 8] insourcing the Brown way whereby UPS (and other firms) have taken over some of the business aspects of their clients in order to reduce turn around time and increase customer satisfaction; 9] increased individual knowledge and power through in-forming via powerful search engines such as Google; and 10] what Friedman refers to as “the steroids”: personal devices that allow one to connect to the web and each other, and carry on business across boundaries whenever and wherever you are.
The ten flatteners are the first convergence, “…creating this new global playing field for multiple forms of collaboration.” [p.177] The second convergence was a change in business practices to manage horizontally rather than vertically. The third convergence was the entrance of 3 billion more people into the world economy from the economic restructuring of the former Soviet Union, China, and India. As Friedman notes, “The scale of the global community that is soon going to be able to participate in all sorts of discovery and innovation is something the world has simply never seen before.” [p.182]
But in order to take advantage of these new opportunities and in order not to be left behind, the old order economies are going to have to do some major changing. The US cannot assume it will maintain its ascendancy, especially with over 1 billion Chinese nipping at our heels. Friedman points out that the US is suffering a quiet crisis: a loss of initiative and drive and, especially, inadequate education of our children and re-education of ourselves to make sure that our economy and our skill sets remain strong. Our political leadership is failing us exactly when it is most needed. Science funding is being reduced just when it needs to be dramatically increased. Although post-9/11 foreign students are having more difficulty obtaining visas, they continue to dominate graduate departments in the sciences. If they stayed in the US and became citizens, that would be one thing, but in a flattened world, they can return home and rev up their own economies. Unless our attitude towards science, and achieving a high-quality education in general, changes in the US, the US will be left behind.
As Friedman notes, the answer to a flattened world is not to re-install walls and other barriers, but to encourage openness, connectedness, and constant upgrading of skills. The goal is to expand opportunity, not to limit it. The automobile created disruption and job loss for farriers, but no amount of protectionism could halt the change. This is also true now. The best option is to seek new opportunities when old ones no longer are possible. When you put walls around yourself, you only hurt yourself. It is through making new connections that creative new ideas arise and can be implemented. And new connections are only possible through tolerance and diversity.
The last section of the book is devoted to ideas and processes that could derail the flattening of the world. The one Friedman views as most serious and dangerous is religious extremism and fundamentalism. Devotees of these views are not interested in raising themselves and their followers to higher levels, but in bringing everyone else down to their level. The glories of the past prevent an embrace of the present and a striving for a better future. Fundamentalism, whether Muslim or Christian or other, fears the future. Those who instill fear in their followers could send us reeling into violence. Friedman is especially harsh on post-9/11 Bush and his cohorts. “This is the real reason, in my view, that so many people in the world dislike President Bush so intensely. They feel that he has taken away something very dear to them—an America that exports hope, not fear. We need our president to restore September 11 to its rightful place on the calendar—as the day after September 10 and before September 12. We must never let it become a day that defines us. Because ultimately September 11 is about them—the bad guys—not about us. We’re about the Fourth of July. We’re about 11/9.” [p.452]
I strongly urge you to read The World is Flat. I think it is one of the most insightful books published in 2005. After all, readers of AnthroHealth News are about optimism and a better future for all.
AnthroHealth Tip of the Month: In accord with the book review on our flat, interconnected world, this month’s tip is to learn more about China. China will soon be our largest trading partner. They are already vying with us, successfully, for access to scarce resources. If we care about our future, and we do, it would be wise to understand more fully this most populous and dynamic country.
© 2001-2009 Kathleen E. Fuller, PhD. All rights reserved.