Health in Brief

A new study of global eating habits found that most people want junk food to eat despite an increase in health options.

LONDON There may be more fruit, vegetables and healthy options available than ever before, but the world is mostly hungry for junk food, according to a study of eating habits in nearly 190 countries.

International researchers combed through more than 320 self-reported diet surveys from 1990 to 2010 and looked at how often people said they ate 17 common foods, drinks and nutrients including healthy choices like fruits, vegetables and fish and unhealthier alternatives like salt, processed meat and sugary drinks.

Experts found that even though people are eating more healthy foods including whole grains and fish, there has been an even bigger jump in the amount of junk food eaten. The study was published online last week in the journal, Lancet Global Health.

Some of the key findings:

Older adults ate better than younger adults and women ate healthier than men.

Some of the best nutritional improvements were seen in Mongolia, Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the U.S., there were increases in the amount of healthy and unhealthy foods eaten.

Expensive drugs work better than cheap ones, or at least some people believe they do.

Researchers told 12 patients with Parkinson’s disease that they were testing two drugs, one costing $100 and one $1,500 per dose. The drugs contained the same dose of the same medicine, they explained, but the manufacturing processes were different, and they wanted to see if they worked equally well. The study appears in the Feb. 24 issue of Neurology.

What the subjects did not know is that they all received an identical injection of a plain saline solution.

The “expensive” placebo worked significantly better, producing a two-fold improvement compared with the “cheap” one. The effect was apparent not only in tests of physical ability, but also as measured by brain imaging.

In fact, the effect of the expensive placebo was not significantly different from that of levodopa, the most effective medication for Parkinson’s disease.

Levodopa acts by raising levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine in the brain.

“One of the reasons why the effect is so large is that it’s mediated by dopamine,” said the lead author, Dr. Alberto J. Espay, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Cincinnati. “We make more dopamine when we have heightened expectations of efficacy.”

Here is another mark against sugary drinks: A new study has found that drinking them is associated with lowered age of menarche.

Age of first menses has decreased substantially since the early 20th century, and studies have shown that younger age of menarche is associated with increased risk of breast and endometrial cancer in later life.

The study, published online in Human Reproduction, used data on 5,583 girls ages 9 to 14 who had not yet attained menarche at the start. They filled out diet questionnaires yearly from 1996 to 1998. By 2001, 159 still had not yet had their first period.

After controlling for birth weight, maternal age at menarche, physical activity, and many dietary and behavioral factors, they found that girls who drank one-and-a-half 12-ounce cans a day of nondiet soda or sugared iced tea had their first period an average of 2.7 months earlier than those who drank less than two cans a week.

Wire reports