Prediction: Almost 50% of British men (and around 40% of British women) will be obese by 2030.
Who: A study published in the international medical journal The Lancet entitled “Health and Economic Burden of the Projected Obesity Trends in the USA and the UK” co-authored by Oxford University professor and National Heart Forum (UK) chair Klim McPherson.
Why Noteworthy: The study forecasts that an additional 11 million British adults are at risk for clinical obesity, which almost doubles the current number. The report’s summary states that the researchers used “a simulation model to project the probable health and economic consequences in the next two decades from a continued rise in obesity.” The results indicate that weight-related issues could contribute to around 668,000 more incidences of diabetes, 461,000 more incidences of cardiovascular disease, and 130,000 more incidences of cancer. This could cause health care costs to rise by £1.9 — 2 billion per year over the next two decades.
BUT… According to the study’s authors, taxing cheap processed “junk” food and regulating the ways that manufacturers market such products — to children especially — could help slow, stop, or even reverse this trend.
Bottom Line: Even a small reduction in obesity would make a huge difference in terms of overall quality of life, the authors note, and “effective policies to promote healthier weight also have economic benefits.” Also, the British can take some small measure of comfort in the fact that the United States continues to lead the way — according to the researchers’ projections, an additional 65 million American adults could suffer from clinical obesity by 2030, with associated medical costs increasing by tens of billion each year.
Prediction: As many as 63% of children aged four or five in the United Kingdom will be obese in the year 2050.
Who: the United Kingdom’s National Health Service
Why Great: It might be just terrifying enough to effect a change in attitudes toward childhood obesity. The prediction accompanied the first ever exercise guidelines for children under five. (Also, since childhood obesity rates in the U.K. are comparable to those in the United States, the advice is applicable across continents.
BUT… It’s an extrapolation of current numbers, which will likely change if people adopt the recommendations.
Bottom Line: It’s never too early to be on guard against obesity.
Source: THE INDEPENDENT http://ht.ly/5BaAG
Prediction: Marijuana will not only be legalized; it will be recognized by the medical community as a “wonder drug.”
Who: Lester Greenspoon, MD, speaking to the 2011 NORML Conference.
Background: The longstanding U.S. prohibition against marijuana is slowly chipping away. Medical applications of the drug are increasingly common, while more state legislatures seriously consider proposals to permit its medicinal use — and in a few cases, decriminalize its recreational use.
Why Great: Marijuana remains a forbidden fruit across most of the globe. Consequently it is the source of not large international black market activity, but also a large proportion of incarcerated populations throughout the world’s jails. If Greenspoon’s prediction comes to pass in the United States, and eventually other countries, also, then jail populations everywhere will dramatically shrink while the world’s law enforcement agencies will have far more officers freed up to patrolling other, more important beats. Meanwhile, hospital patients everywhere will have another low-cost and relatively safe herbal treatment at their disposal, and impoverished agricultural sectors will have a potent new cash crop to grow.
BUT… Drug laws take a long time to change. And while many countries have either decriminalized marijuana use or authorized its medicinal use — Canada, Finland, and Mexico among them — most others join with the United States in drawing a hard line against pot. This will take a long time to change.
Bottom Line: It is conceivable that marijuana could become more accepted over time, but it will probably take place slowly and over many decades.
Source: Greenspoon, Lester. “Why the Marijuana Renaissance is Here to Stay.” Alternet. May 31, 2011. (http://www.alternet.org/story/151151/why_the_marijuana_renaissance_is_here_to_stay/)
Prediction: The cost to achieve indefinite life extension technology (the so-called “Methuselarity”) will only be in the trillions of dollars.
Who: Aubrey de Grey, in an interview with Ben Goertzel for H+ Magazine.
The Good News: De Grey believes that developing indefinite life extension technology could cost less than expected, due to projected advances in artificial general intelligence (AGI), which “will cut the cost of those later stages as well as of the early stages.” Goertzel argues that the trillions-of-dollars price tag is actually not prohibitively expensive, but in fact “quite affordable by society, given the massive amount we [the United States] spend on healthcare.”
BUT… The cost to develop artificial general intelligence isn’t exactly cheap, either. Also, De Grey isn’t entirely convinced that it’s possible to achieve AGI or to make it “safe” anytime soon.
Bottom Line: Indefinite life extension remains a highly speculative area. Goertzel forecasts along two possible lines: that developed without AGI (the longer path) and that developed and enhanced by AGI (the shorter path). De Grey and Goertzel project that the “Methuselarity” could take anywhere from 20 to 50 years.
Prediction: By 2018, a computer-brain interface will make it possible for a person in a medically vegetative state to fully communicate with the outside world.
Who: Adrian Owen, Medical Research Council of Cambridge, England
Background: Traumatic brain injury reduces some patients to persistent vegetative states. Activity goes on in isolated pockets of their brains, but normal functioning cannot emerge from it since the neural pathways that would connect them are severed. Presently, patients with moderate damage — i.e., impaired but not totally catatonic — can get some motion back with electronic implants that pick up lone neural signals and translate them into physical actions: controlling a computer cursor, moving a wheelchair, etc. These electronic aids will not work on patients who are severely damaged, however. Owen’s hope is that within five years, improved implants will restore function in even these latter “lost” cases.
Why Great: Around 250,000 to 300,000 persons in the United States alone are stuck in persistent vegetative states. It goes without saying how horrible an existence it is for them, as well as the loved ones who spend months, years, or longer waiting — usually in vain — for them to wake up. Bridging the gulfs that these patients’ damaged brains have erected and making possible some means for their friends and families to continue to communicate with them would be a true triumph of humanity over inhumanity. And an important corrollary: Research now shows that when vegetative patients engage in some interaction, it can jumpstart neural healing and make it more likely htat they will recover. So this technology could result in more vegetative patients waking up for real.
BUT… Brains are some of the most complex systems nature ever designed. We have a lot more learning about brain activity to do before this concept becomes practical medicine.
Bottom Line: Such an interface, if developed, would profoundly restore hope and dignity to hundreds of thousands of debilitated persons the world over.
Prediction: Physicians will more actively use social media, or they will lose patients, influence, and credibility. (The article says this will bear out “in the long run” without specifying a date range, but the trend would imaginably manifest itself in full between 2015 and 2020.)
Who: Kevin Pho, internal medicine physician
Why Great: Some medical centers discourage their medical staff from using Twitter, Facebook, and other social media, out of fear that they will post inappropriate messages and embarrass the institutions. Pho says that their concern is overblown and short-sighted: Many physicians today actually reach more patients, more effectively, and boost the public reputation of their institutions in the process, by launching professional Web sites and online profiles in which they dispense medical advice. Pho has a valid point about social media’s influence: Businesses, nonprofit advocacy groups, political movements, and musicians and artists all count on social-networking sites to help them gain more publicity in minimal time. It is a great development for public health when doctors follow suit.
BUT… Of course, no profile or Web site can substitute for in-person appointments. And just as patients who see doctors don’t always follow doctors’ orders, a large mass of people reading a doctor’s Web site aren’t necessarily putting the site’s suggestions into practice and living healthier lives.
Bottom Line: Social media is a great set of tools that doctors can put to use. But like any other tools, they are only as good as the humans who wield them.
Prediction: New HIV infections among children could be eliminated or reduced by 90% by 2015.
Who: UNAIDS, launching a plan called “Countdown to Zero” at the 2011 United Nations High Level Meeting on AIDS to do just that. The plan was developed in conjunction with the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.
Why it is Achievable: According to the UN, this goal is realistic: “Providing pregnant women living with HIV with antiretroviral prevention and treatment reduces the risk of a child being born with the virus to less than 5% — and keeps their mothers alive to raise them. Neither technical nor scientific barriers stand in the way of responding to this global call to action.”
BUT… The plan will require significant investment and the price tag is steep, although initial funding from public and private sectors is strong so far. According to the report, “The annual requirements in these 22 countries are estimated to increase from about $ 900 million in 2011to about $ 1.3 billion in 2015.” Citizens and legislators in recipient countries need to support and encourage this as well. The success of the plan also hinges on improvements with regards to women’s rights in lower- and middle-income countries (mostly in sub-Saharan Africa).
Bottom Line: It’s an ambitious plan in keeping with the UN Millennial Goals and a step in the right direction no matter what, but as with the UN Millennial Goals, at this point, a successful outcome is in no way guaranteed.(So much of what is achievable is rarely achieved.)
Prediction: LSD and Ecstasy could be available as legitimate prescriptions in another 10 years.
Who: Rick Doblin, executive director of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies
Background: A growing number of scientists attest that these hallucinogenic drugs, when administered in proper doses, are very effective and — believe it or not — safe treatments for post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, and chronic pain. Their study findings suggest that drug laws should make exceptions for their medicinal use.
Why Great: Most people think of drug fests, raves, and hippies when they think of LSD and Ecstasy. It is profoundly counterintuitive to think of them as valid treatments for serious health conditions. But that is exactly what these scientists are saying that these drugs are.
BUT… Look at how difficult it is to get marijuana recognized as a legitimate medicine, hard scientific evidence in its favor notwithstanding. And its advocates have been making the case for it for decades. Could LSD and Ecstasy, both much more potentially dangerous than pot, allay all the skeptics and make the transition from forbidden street candy to federally recognized medicine in merely one decade?
Bottom Line: It could happen, but not in a mere 10 years.
Source: Reported on Alternet, http://www.alternet.org/drugs/151394/why_prescription_ecstasy_or_lsd_could_happen_much_sooner_than_you_think/
Prediction: Antibiotics will lose their potency due to overuse, leading to people succumbing en masse to new waves of evolved, antibiotic-resistant pathogens. By 2100, the worldwide rates of disease mortality rates will be close to those of the early, pre-Penicillin twentieth century.
Who: Margaret Mellon, Union of Concerned Scientists
Why: Agricultural sectors pump their livestock with antibiotics not to cure diseases, but just to make the animals grow faster, while humans use antibiotics for many infections that do not really warrant them. All the overuse spurs an aftereffect that doctors have been registering for the last four decades: more and more strains of resistant bacteria. Meanwhile, the rollout of new FDA-approved antibiotics has been slowing steadily year after year.
BUT… A lot can happen in the next few decades — and it must. Doctors need to curtail their prescriptions of antibiotics, and farmers need to stop giving antibiotics to healthy animals. And pharmaceutical companies need to ramp up their R&D into new drugs. For each of these changes to occur, it will require massive cultural shifts and re-education; and when that fails, new regulations, with working enforcement mechanisms.
Bottom Line: This is one health problem that will take many steps to solve. None of those steps will be easy, but our survival depends on us taking them.
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