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1.  Interactive Web-based Portals to Improve Patient Navigation and Connect Patients with Primary Care and Specialty Services in Underserved Communities 
This article presents a case study in the redesign, development, and implementation of a web-based healthcare clinic search tool for virtual patient navigation in underserved populations in Texas. It describes the workflow, assessment of system requirements, and design and implementation of two online portals: Project Safety Net and the Breast Health Portal. The primary focus of the study was to demonstrate the use of health information technology for the purpose of bridging the gap between underserved populations and access to healthcare. A combination of interviews and focus groups was used to guide the development process. Interviewees were asked a series of questions about usage, usability, and desired features of the new system. The redeveloped system offers a multitier architecture consisting of data, business, and presentation layers. The technology used in the new portals include Microsoft .NET Framework 3.5, Microsoft SQL Server 2008, Google Maps JavaScript API v3, jQuery, Telerik RadControls (ASP.NET AJAX), and HTML. The redesigned portals have 548 registered clinics, and they have averaged 355 visits per month since their launch in late 2011, with the average user visiting five pages per visit. Usage has remained relatively constant over time, with an average of 142 new users (40 percent) each month. This study demonstrates the successful application of health information technology to improve access to healthcare and the successful adoption of the technology by targeted end users. The portals described in this study could be replicated by health information specialists in other areas of the United States to address disparities in healthcare access.
PMCID: PMC3995492  PMID: 24808806
web-based portal; patient navigation; health information technology; health disparities
2.  How People with Multiple Sclerosis Rate Their Quality of Life: An EQ-5D Survey via the UK MS Register 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(6):e65640.
Introduction
The EQ-5D is a widely-used, standardised, quality of life measure producing health profiles, indices and states. The aims of this study were to assess the role of various factors in how people with Multiple Sclerosis rate their quality of life, based on responses to the EQ-5D received via the web portal of the UK MS Register.
Methods
The 4516 responses to the EQ-5D (between May 2011 and April 2012) were collated with basic demographic and descriptive MS data and the resulting dataset was analysed in SPSS (v.20).
Results
The mean health state for people with MS was 59.73 (SD 22.4, median 61), compared to the UK population mean of 82.48 (which is approximately 1SD above the cohort mean). The characteristics of respondents with high health states (at or above +1SD) were: better health profiles (most predictive dimension: Usual Activities), higher health indices, younger age, shorter durations of MS, female gender, relapsing-remitting MS, higher educational attainment and being in paid employment (all p-values<0.001). Conversely, the characteristics of respondents with low health states (at or below -1SD) were: poorer health profiles (most predictive dimension: Mobility), lower health indices, older age, longer durations of MS, male gender, progressive MS, lower educational attainment and having an employment status of sick/disabled (p = 0.0014 for age, all other p-values<0.001). Particular living arrangements were not associated with either the high or low health status groups.
Conclusions
This large-scale study has enabled in-depth analyses on how people with MS rate their quality of life, and it provides new knowledge on the various factors that contribute to their self-assessed health status. These findings demonstrate the impact of MS on quality of life, and they can be used to inform care provision and further research, to work towards enhancing the quality of life of people with MS.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0065640
PMCID: PMC3679154  PMID: 23776516
3.  Risk of Cardiovascular Disease and Total Mortality in Adults with Type 1 Diabetes: Scottish Registry Linkage Study 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(10):e1001321.
Helen Colhoun and colleagues report findings from a Scottish registry linkage study regarding contemporary risks for cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality among individuals diagnosed with type 1 diabetes.
Background
Randomized controlled trials have shown the importance of tight glucose control in type 1 diabetes (T1DM), but few recent studies have evaluated the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) and all-cause mortality among adults with T1DM. We evaluated these risks in adults with T1DM compared with the non-diabetic population in a nationwide study from Scotland and examined control of CVD risk factors in those with T1DM.
Methods and Findings
The Scottish Care Information-Diabetes Collaboration database was used to identify all people registered with T1DM and aged ≥20 years in 2005–2007 and to provide risk factor data. Major CVD events and deaths were obtained from the national hospital admissions database and death register. The age-adjusted incidence rate ratio (IRR) for CVD and mortality in T1DM (n = 21,789) versus the non-diabetic population (3.96 million) was estimated using Poisson regression. The age-adjusted IRR for first CVD event associated with T1DM versus the non-diabetic population was higher in women (3.0: 95% CI 2.4–3.8, p<0.001) than men (2.3: 2.0–2.7, p<0.001) while the IRR for all-cause mortality associated with T1DM was comparable at 2.6 (2.2–3.0, p<0.001) in men and 2.7 (2.2–3.4, p<0.001) in women. Between 2005–2007, among individuals with T1DM, 34 of 123 deaths among 10,173 who were <40 years and 37 of 907 deaths among 12,739 who were ≥40 years had an underlying cause of death of coma or diabetic ketoacidosis. Among individuals 60–69 years, approximately three extra deaths per 100 per year occurred among men with T1DM (28.51/1,000 person years at risk), and two per 100 per year for women (17.99/1,000 person years at risk). 28% of those with T1DM were current smokers, 13% achieved target HbA1c of <7% and 37% had very poor (≥9%) glycaemic control. Among those aged ≥40, 37% had blood pressures above even conservative targets (≥140/90 mmHg) and 39% of those ≥40 years were not on a statin. Although many of these risk factors were comparable to those previously reported in other developed countries, CVD and mortality rates may not be generalizable to other countries. Limitations included lack of information on the specific insulin therapy used.
Conclusions
Although the relative risks for CVD and total mortality associated with T1DM in this population have declined relative to earlier studies, T1DM continues to be associated with higher CVD and death rates than the non-diabetic population. Risk factor management should be improved to further reduce risk but better treatment approaches for achieving good glycaemic control are badly needed.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background. People with diabetes are more likely to have cardiovascular disease such as heart attacks and strokes. They also have a higher risk of dying prematurely from any cause. Controlling blood sugar (glucose), blood pressure, and cholesterol can help reduce these risks. Some people with type 1 diabetes can achieve tight blood glucose control through a strict regimen that includes a carefully calculated diet, frequent physical activity, regular blood glucose testing several times a day, and multiple daily doses of insulin. Other drugs can reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Keeping one's weight in the normal range and not smoking are important ways in which all people, including those with type 1 diabetes can reduce their risks of heart disease and premature death.
Why Was This Study Done? Researchers and doctors have known for almost two decades what patients with type 1 diabetes can do to minimize the complications from the disease and thereby reduce their risks for cardiovascular disease and early death. So for some time now, patients should have been treated and counseled accordingly. This study was done to evaluate the current risks for have cardiovascular disease and premature death amongst people living with type 1 diabetes in a high-income country (Scotland).
What Did the Researchers Do and Find? From a national register of all people with type 1 diabetes in Scotland, the researchers selected those who were older than 20 years and alive at any time from January 2005 to May 2008. This included about 19,000 people who had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes before 2005. Another 2,600 were diagnosed between 2005 and 2008. They also obtained data on heart attacks and strokes in these patients from hospital records and on deaths from the natural death register. To obtain a good picture of the current relative risks, they compared the patients with type 1 diabetes with the non-diabetic general Scottish population with regard to the risk of heart attacks/strokes and death from all causes. They also collected information on how well the people with diabetes controlled their blood glucose, on their weight, and whether they smoked.
They found that the current risks compared with the general Scottish population are quite a bit lower than those of people with type 1 diabetes in earlier decades. However, people with type 1 diabetes in Scotland still have much higher (more than twice) the risk of heart attacks, strokes, or premature death than the general population. Moreover, the researchers found a high number of deaths in younger people with diabetes from coma—caused by either too much blood sugar (hyperglycemia) or too little (hypoglycemia). Severe hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia happen when blood glucose control is poor. When the scientists looked at test results for HbA1c levels (a test that is done once or twice a year to see how well patients controlled their blood sugar over the previous 3 months) for all patients, they found that the majority of them did not come close to controlling their blood glucose within the recommended range.
When the researchers compared body mass index (a measure of weight that takes height into account) and smoking between the people with type 1 diabetes and the general population, they found similar proportions of smokers and overweight or obese people.
What Do these Findings Mean? The results represent a snapshot of the recent situation regarding complications from type 1 diabetes in the Scottish population. The results suggest that within this population, strategies over the past two decades to reduce complications from type 1 diabetes that cause cardiovascular disease and death are working, in principle. However, there is much need for further improvement. This includes the urgent need to understand why so few people with type 1 diabetes achieve good control of their blood sugar, and what can be done to improve this situation. It is also important to put more effort into keeping people with diabetes from taking up smoking or getting them to quit, as well as preventing them from getting overweight or promoting weight reduction, because this could further reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease and premature death.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001321
National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse, a service of the US National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, has information on heart disease and diabetes, on general complications of diabetes, and on the HbA1c test (on this site and some others called A1C test) that measures control of blood sugar over the past 3 months
Diabetes.co.uk provides general information on type 1 diabetes, its complications, and what people with the disease can do to reduce their risks
The Canadian Diabetes Association offers a cardiovascular risk self-assessment tool and other relevant information
The American Diabetes Association has information on the benefits and challenges of tight blood sugar control and how it is tested
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation funds research to prevent, cure, and treat type 1 diabetes
Diabetes UK provides extensive information on diabetes for patients, carers, and clinicians
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001321
PMCID: PMC3462745  PMID: 23055834
4.  Estimates of Outcomes Up to Ten Years after Stroke: Analysis from the Prospective South London Stroke Register 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(5):e1001033.
Charles Wolfe and colleagues collected data from the South London Stroke Register on 3,373 first strokes registered between 1995 and 2006 and showed that between 20% and 30% of survivors have poor outcomes up to 10 years after stroke.
Background
Although stroke is acknowledged as a long-term condition, population estimates of outcomes longer term are lacking. Such estimates would be useful for planning health services and developing research that might ultimately improve outcomes. This burden of disease study provides population-based estimates of outcomes with a focus on disability, cognition, and psychological outcomes up to 10 y after initial stroke event in a multi-ethnic European population.
Methods and Findings
Data were collected from the population-based South London Stroke Register, a prospective population-based register documenting all first in a lifetime strokes since 1 January 1995 in a multi-ethnic inner city population. The outcomes assessed are reported as estimates of need and included disability (Barthel Index <15), inactivity (Frenchay Activities Index <15), cognitive impairment (Abbreviated Mental Test < 8 or Mini-Mental State Exam <24), anxiety and depression (Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale >10), and mental and physical domain scores of the Medical Outcomes Study 12-item short form (SF-12) health survey. Estimates were stratified by age, gender, and ethnicity, and age-adjusted using the standard European population. Plots of outcome estimates over time were constructed to examine temporal trends and sociodemographic differences. Between 1995 and 2006, 3,373 first-ever strokes were registered: 20%–30% of survivors had a poor outcome over 10 y of follow-up. The highest rate of disability was observed 7 d after stroke and remained at around 110 per 1,000 stroke survivors from 3 mo to 10 y. Rates of inactivity and cognitive impairment both declined up to 1 y (280/1,000 and 180/1,000 survivors, respectively); thereafter rates of inactivity remained stable till year eight, then increased, whereas rates of cognitive impairment fluctuated till year eight, then increased. Anxiety and depression showed some fluctuation over time, with a rate of 350 and 310 per 1,000 stroke survivors, respectively. SF-12 scores showed little variation from 3 mo to 10 y after stroke. Inactivity was higher in males at all time points, and in white compared to black stroke survivors, although black survivors reported better outcomes in the SF-12 physical domain. No other major differences were observed by gender or ethnicity. Increased age was associated with higher rates of disability, inactivity, and cognitive impairment.
Conclusions
Between 20% and 30% of stroke survivors have a poor range of outcomes up to 10 y after stroke. Such epidemiological data demonstrate the sociodemographic groups that are most affected longer term and should be used to develop longer term management strategies that reduce the significant poor outcomes of this group, for whom effective interventions are currently elusive.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, 15 million people have a stroke. About 5 million of these people die within a few days, and another 5 million are left disabled. Stroke occurs when the brain's blood supply is suddenly interrupted by a blood clot blocking a blood vessel in the brain (ischemic stroke, the commonest type of stroke) or by a blood vessel in the brain bursting (hemorrhagic stroke). Deprived of the oxygen normally carried to them by the blood, the brain cells near the blockage die. The symptoms of stroke depend on which part of the brain is damaged but include sudden weakness or paralysis along one side of the body, vision loss in one or both eyes, and confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention because prompt treatment can limit the damage to the brain. Risk factors for stroke include age (three-quarters of strokes occur in people over 65 years old), high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Why Was This Study Done?
Post-stroke rehabilitation can help individuals overcome the physical disabilities caused by stroke, and drugs and behavioral counseling can reduce the risk of a second stroke. However, people can also have problems with cognition (thinking, awareness, attention, learning, judgment, and memory) after a stroke, and they can become depressed or anxious. These “outcomes” can persist for many years, but although stroke is acknowledged as a long-term condition, most existing data on stroke outcomes are limited to a year after the stroke and often focus on disability alone. Longer term, more extensive information is needed to help plan services and to help develop research to improve outcomes. In this burden of disease analysis, the researchers use follow-up data collected by the prospective South London Stroke Register (SLSR) to provide long-term population-based estimates of disability, cognition, and psychological outcomes after a first stroke. The SLSR has recorded and followed all patients of all ages in an inner area of South London after their first-ever stroke since 1995.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Between 1995 and 2006, the SLSR recorded 3,373 first-ever strokes. Patients were examined within 48 hours of referral to SLSR, their stroke diagnosis was verified, and their sociodemographic characteristics (including age, gender, and ethnic origin) were recorded. Study nurses and fieldworkers then assessed the patients at three months and annually after the stroke for disability (using the Barthel Index, which measures the ability to, for example, eat unaided), inactivity (using the Frenchay Activities Index, which measures participation in social activities), and cognitive impairment (using the Abbreviated Mental Test or the Mini-Mental State Exam). Anxiety and depression and the patients' perceptions of their mental and physical capabilities were also assessed. Using preset cut-offs for each outcome, 20%–30% of stroke survivors had a poor outcome over ten years of follow-up. So, for example, 110 individuals per 1,000 population were judged disabled from three months to ten years, rates of inactivity remained constant from year one to year eight, at 280 affected individuals per 1,000 survivors, and rates of anxiety and depression fluctuated over time but affected about a third of the population. Notably, levels of inactivity were higher among men than women at all time points and were higher in white than in black stroke survivors. Finally, increased age was associated with higher rates of disability, inactivity, and cognitive impairment.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Although the accuracy of these findings may be affected by the loss of some patients to follow-up, these population-based estimates of outcome measures for survivors of a first-ever stroke for up to ten years after the event provide concrete evidence that stroke is a lifelong condition with ongoing poor outcomes. They also identify the sociodemographic groups of patients that are most affected in the longer term. Importantly, most of the measured outcomes remain relatively constant (and worse than outcomes in an age-matched non-stroke-affected population) after 3–12 months, a result that needs to be considered when planning services for stroke survivors. In other words, these findings highlight the need for health and social services to provide long-term, ongoing assessment and rehabilitation for patients for many years after a stroke.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001033.
The US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides information about all aspects of stroke (in English and Spanish); the US National Institute of Health SeniorHealth Web site has additional information about stroke
The Internet Stroke Center provides detailed information about stroke for patients, families, and health professionals (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices Web site also provides information about stroke for patients and their families
MedlinePlus has links to additional resources about stroke (in English and Spanish)
More information about the South London Stroke Register is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001033
PMCID: PMC3096613  PMID: 21610863
5.  Effectiveness and Cost Effectiveness of Expanding Harm Reduction and Antiretroviral Therapy in a Mixed HIV Epidemic: A Modeling Analysis for Ukraine 
PLoS Medicine  2011;8(3):e1000423.
A cost-effectiveness study by Sabina Alistar and colleagues evaluates the effectiveness and cost effectiveness of different levels of investment in methadone, ART, or both, in the mixed HIV epidemic in Ukraine.
Background
Injection drug use (IDU) and heterosexual virus transmission both contribute to the growing mixed HIV epidemics in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In Ukraine—chosen in this study as a representative country—IDU-related risk behaviors cause half of new infections, but few injection drug users (IDUs) receive methadone substitution therapy. Only 10% of eligible individuals receive antiretroviral therapy (ART). The appropriate resource allocation between these programs has not been studied. We estimated the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of strategies for expanding methadone substitution therapy programs and ART in mixed HIV epidemics, using Ukraine as a case study.
Methods and Findings
We developed a dynamic compartmental model of the HIV epidemic in a population of non-IDUs, IDUs using opiates, and IDUs on methadone substitution therapy, stratified by HIV status, and populated it with data from the Ukraine. We considered interventions expanding methadone substitution therapy, increasing access to ART, or both. We measured health care costs, quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), HIV prevalence, infections averted, and incremental cost-effectiveness. Without incremental interventions, HIV prevalence reached 67.2% (IDUs) and 0.88% (non-IDUs) after 20 years. Offering methadone substitution therapy to 25% of IDUs reduced prevalence most effectively (to 53.1% IDUs, 0.80% non-IDUs), and was most cost-effective, averting 4,700 infections and adding 76,000 QALYs compared with no intervention at US$530/QALY gained. Expanding both ART (80% coverage of those eligible for ART according to WHO criteria) and methadone substitution therapy (25% coverage) was the next most cost-effective strategy, adding 105,000 QALYs at US$1,120/QALY gained versus the methadone substitution therapy-only strategy and averting 8,300 infections versus no intervention. Expanding only ART (80% coverage) added 38,000 QALYs at US$2,240/QALY gained versus the methadone substitution therapy-only strategy, and averted 4,080 infections versus no intervention. Offering ART to 80% of non-IDUs eligible for treatment by WHO criteria, but only 10% of IDUs, averted only 1,800 infections versus no intervention and was not cost effective.
Conclusions
Methadone substitution therapy is a highly cost-effective option for the growing mixed HIV epidemic in Ukraine. A strategy that expands both methadone substitution therapy and ART to high levels is the most effective intervention, and is very cost effective by WHO criteria. When expanding ART, access to methadone substitution therapy provides additional benefit in infections averted. Our findings are potentially relevant to other settings with mixed HIV epidemics.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
HIV epidemics in Eastern Europe and Central Asia are mainly driven by increasing use of injection drugs combined with heterosexual transmission. In the Ukraine, in 2007, there were 82,000 officially registered people living with HIV—three times the number registered in 1999—and an estimated 395,000 HIV infected adults. The epidemic in Ukraine, like other countries in the region, is concentrated in at-risk populations, particularly people who inject drugs: in 2007, an estimated 390,000 Ukrainians were injecting drugs, an increase in drug use over the previous decade, not only in Ukraine, but in other former USSR states, owing to the easy availability of precursors for injection drugs in a climate of economic collapse.
The common practices of people who inject drugs in Ukraine and in other countries in the region, such as social injecting, syringe sharing, and using common containers, increase the risk of transmitting HIV. Public health interventions such as needle exchange can limit these risk factors and have been gradually implemented in these countries. In 2007, Ukraine approved the use of methadone substitution therapy and the current target is for 11,000 people who inject drugs to be enrolled in substitution therapy by 2011. Furthermore, since treatment for HIV-infected individuals is also necessary, national HIV control plans included a target of 90% antiretroviral therapy (ART) coverage by 2010 but in 2007 less than 10% of the 91,000 eligible people received treatment. Although the number of people who inject drugs and who receive ART is unknown, physicians are often reluctant to treat people who inject drugs using ART owing to alleged poor compliance.
Why Was This Study Done?
As resources for HIV interventions in the region are limited, it is important to investigate the appropriate balance between investments in methadone substitution therapy and ART in order to maximize benefits to public health. Several studies have analyzed the cost effectiveness of methadone substitution therapy in similar settings but have not considered tradeoffs between ART and methadone substitution therapy. Therefore, to provide insights into the appropriate public health investment in methadone substitution therapy and ART in Ukraine, the researchers evaluated the public health effectiveness and cost effectiveness of different strategies for scaling up methadone substitution therapy and/or expanding ART.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers developed a model to accommodate different population groups: people who inject drugs on substitution therapy with methadone; people who inject opiates and do not take any substitution therapy; and people who do not inject any drugs, hence do not need substitution therapy. The researchers inputted Ukraine country-level data into this model and used current HIV trends in Ukraine to make rational assumptions on possible future trends and scenarios. They considered scenarios expanding methadone substitution therapy availability, increasing acces to ART, or both. Then, the researchers measured health care costs, quality-adjusted life years (QALYs), HIV prevalence, infections averted, and incremental cost effectiveness for the different scenarios. They found that after 20 years, HIV prevalence reached 67.2% in people who inject drugs and 0.88% in people who do not inject drugs without further interventions. Offering methadone substitution therapy to 25% of people who inject drugs was the most effective strategy in reducing prevalence of HIV and was also the most cost effective, averting 4,700 infections and adding 75,700 QALYs versus the status quo at $530/QALY gained. Expanding both methadone substitution therapy and ART was also a highly cost effective option, adding 105,000 QALYs at US$1,120/QALY gained versus the methadone substitution therapy-only strategy. Offering ART to 80% of eligible people who did not inject drugs, and 10% of people who injected drugs averted only 1,800 infections, and added 76,400 QALYs at $1,330/QALY gained.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The results show that methadone substitution-focused therapeutic scenarios are the most cost effective, and that benefits increase with the scale of the project, even among people who do not inject drugs. This makes a methadone substitution strategy a highly cost-effective option for addressing the growing HIV epidemic in Ukraine. Therefore, if it is not feasible to invest in large-scale methadone substitution programs for any reason, political circumstances for example, providing as much methadone substitution as is acceptable is still desirable. While substitution therapy appears to avert the most HIV infections, expanded ART provides the largest total increase in QALYs. Thus, methadone substitution therapy and ART offer complementary benefits. Because the HIV epidemic in Ukraine is representative of the HIV epidemic in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, the cost-effective strategies that the researchers have identified may help inform all decision makers faced with a mixed HIV epidemic.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000423.
Alliance provides information on its work supporting community action on AIDS in Ukraine
USAID provides an HIV/AIDS Health Profile for Ukraine
UNICEF provides information about its activities to help Ukraine fight rising HIV/AIDS infection rates
International Harm Reduction Association provides information about the status of harm reduction interventions such as methadone substitution therapy around the world
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000423
PMCID: PMC3046988  PMID: 21390264
6.  Whole Grain, Bran, and Germ Intake and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Prospective Cohort Study and Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(8):e261.
Background
Control of body weight by balancing energy intake and energy expenditure is of major importance for the prevention of type 2 diabetes, but the role of specific dietary factors in the etiology of type 2 diabetes is less well established. We evaluated intakes of whole grain, bran, and germ in relation to risk of type 2 diabetes in prospective cohort studies.
Methods and Findings
We followed 161,737 US women of the Nurses' Health Studies (NHSs) I and II, without history of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, or cancer at baseline. The age at baseline was 37–65 y for NHSI and 26–46 y for NHSII. Dietary intakes and potential confounders were assessed with regularly administered questionnaires. We documented 6,486 cases of type 2 diabetes during 12–18 y of follow-up. Other prospective cohort studies on whole grain intake and risk of type 2 diabetes were identified in searches of MEDLINE and EMBASE up to January 2007, and data were independently extracted by two reviewers. The median whole grain intake in the lowest and highest quintile of intake was, respectively, 3.7 and 31.2 g/d for NHSI and 6.2 and 39.9 g/d for NHSII. After adjustment for potential confounders, the relative risks (RRs) for the highest as compared with the lowest quintile of whole grain intake was 0.63 (95% confidence interval [CI] 0.57–0.69) for NHSI and 0.68 (95% CI 0.57–0.81) for NHSII (both: p-value, test for trend <0.001). After further adjustment for body mass index (BMI), these RRs were 0.75 (95% CI 0.68–0.83; p-value, test for trend <0.001) and 0.86 (95% CI 0.72–1.02; p-value, test for trend 0.03) respectively. Associations for bran intake were similar to those for total whole grain intake, whereas no significant association was observed for germ intake after adjustment for bran. Based on pooled data for six cohort studies including 286,125 participants and 10,944 cases of type 2 diabetes, a two-serving-per-day increment in whole grain consumption was associated with a 21% (95% CI 13%–28%) decrease in risk of type 2 diabetes after adjustment for potential confounders and BMI.
Conclusions
Whole grain intake is inversely associated with risk of type 2 diabetes, and this association is stronger for bran than for germ. Findings from prospective cohort studies consistently support increasing whole grain consumption for the prevention of type 2 diabetes.
Jeroen de Munter and colleagues found that, in women in the US Nurses' Health Studies, whole grain intake was inversely associated with risk of type 2 diabetes. The association was stronger for bran than for germ.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Type 2 diabetes mellitus (also sometimes called adult-onset or noninsulin-dependent diabetes) is increasing worldwide and is the most common form of diabetes. It puts people at risk of poor health and death by increasing their risk of heart disease and stroke, and a range of other conditions including blindness, kidney disease, and ulcers. It has long been recognized that there is a link between diet and developing type 2 diabetes, because people who are overweight (because the amount of energy in their diet is greater than the energy they use up) run a greater risk of getting type 2 diabetes. However, it has not been clear which particular nutrients or foods might increase the risk or might give protection.
Cereals—such as rice, wheat, corn (maize), etc.—make up a major part of most people's diets. During the refining of cereal grains, much of the outer part of the grain (kernel) are usually removed. Foods are described as “whole grain” if all components of the kernel (the bran, germ, and endosperm) are still present in their natural proportions. There is good evidence that consumption of whole grains may reduce the risk of several diseases, including various types of cancer, heart attacks, and strokes. Some evidence also suggests that eating a diet rich in whole grains might help protect against diabetes, but this has not been firmly established.
Why Was This Study Done?
The authors of this study wanted to find out how much whole grain was eaten by a large number of people over several years and to record how many of these people developed type 2 diabetes. If these two things were closely associated it would provide more evidence to support the idea that whole grain consumption helps protect against type 2 diabetes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers drew on information recorded in a very large and continuing study in the US, the Nurses' Health Study, which began in 1976, when over 100,000 female registered US nurses completed and returned a mailed questionnaire to assess their health and lifestyle. More nurses were added in 1989. It is an example of what is known as a “cohort study.” Every two years, questionnaires have been mailed to the nurses. Questions asked include the nurses' age, weight, their diet, whether they smoke, their use of oral contraception; and their personal history of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and cancer. The researchers calculated each nurse's whole grain intake in grams per day. They found that by 2004 about 6,500 of them had developed type 2 diabetes. From an analysis of the data it was clear that the greater the consumption of whole grains the lower the risk of getting type 2 diabetes.
An additional part of the study was that the researchers searched the medical literature for other cohort studies that examined whole grain intake in relation to risk of type 2 diabetes. (This type of research is called a “systematic review,” and it requires that researchers define clearly in advance the kind of studies they are looking for and how they will analyze the data.) They found five such studies. They added together the results of all the studies, including their own. This gave a total of nearly 11,000 cases of type 2 diabetes, out of around 286,000 people. From their analysis they calculated that a two-serving-per-day increment in whole grain consumption was associated with a 21% decrease in risk of type 2 diabetes.
What Do These Findings Mean?
Scientists say that association can never prove causation. (That would require a different sort of study called a trial, where two similar groups of people would be given either a diet high in whole grains or one that was low.) Nevertheless, the research does strongly suggest that a healthy diet that reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes should include the consumption of several servings of whole grains daily. The authors do point out that people who choose to eat a lot of whole grains also tend to have a healthy lifestyle in other respects, and that it was hard to calculate intake accurately. However, they do not consider that these limitations to their study would have affected the overall result too seriously.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040261.
Good introductory information about diabetes (type 1 and type 2) may be found on the Web sites of the National Diabetes Clearing House (US) and Diabetes UK
More detailed information is available on Medline Plus, a Web site that brings together authoritative information from several US government agencies and health-related organizations
Wikipedia has an entry on whole grain (Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
The Nurses' Health Study has a Web site
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040261
PMCID: PMC1952203  PMID: 17760498
7.  A Large-Scale Study of Anxiety and Depression in People with Multiple Sclerosis: A Survey via the Web Portal of the UK MS Register 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(7):e41910.
Introduction
Studies have found that people with Multiple Sclerosis experience relatively high rates of anxiety and depression. Although methodologically robust, many of these studies had access to only modest sample sizes (N<200). The aims of this study were to use responses gained via the web portal of the UK MS Register (N>4000) to: describe the depression and anxiety profiles of people with MS; to determine if anxiety and depression are related to age or disease duration; and to assess whether the levels of anxiety and depression differ between genders and types of MS.
Methods
From its launch in May 2011 to the end of December 2011, 7786 adults with MS enrolled to take part in the UK MS Register via the web portal. The responses to the Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale (HADS) were collated with basic demographic and descriptive MS data provided at registration and the resulting dataset was analysed in SPSS (v.16).
Results
The mean HADS score among the 4178 respondents was 15.7 (SE 0.117, SD 7.55) with a median of 15.0 (IQR 11). Anxiety and depression rates were notably high, with over half (54.1%) scoring ≥8 for anxiety and 46.9% scoring ≥8 for depression. Women with relapsing-remitting MS were more anxious than men with this type (p<0.001), and than women with other types of MS (p = 0.017). Within each gender, men and women with secondary progressive MS were more depressed than men or women with other types of MS (p<0.001, p<0.001).
Conclusions
This largest known study of its kind has shown that anxiety and depression are highly prevalent in people with MS, indicating that their mental health needs could be better addressed. These findings support service planning and further research to provide the best care for people with MS to help alleviate these debilitating conditions.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0041910
PMCID: PMC3408498  PMID: 22860028
8.  Immediate Risk for Cardiovascular Events and Suicide Following a Prostate Cancer Diagnosis: Prospective Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(12):e1000197.
Katja Fall and Fang Fang and colleagues find that men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer are at increased risk of cardiovascular events and suicide.
Background
Stressful life events have been shown to be associated with altered risk of various health consequences. The aim of the present study was to investigate whether the emotional stress evoked by a prostate cancer diagnosis increases the immediate risks of cardiovascular events and suicide.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a prospective cohort study by following all men in Sweden who were 30 y or older (n = 4,305,358) for a diagnosis of prostate cancer (n = 168,584) and their subsequent occurrence of cardiovascular events and suicide between January 1, 1961 and December 31, 2004. We used Poisson regression models to calculate relative risks (RRs) and 95% confidence intervals (CIs) of cardiovascular events and suicide among men who had prostate cancer diagnosed within 1 y to men without any cancer diagnosis. The risks of cardiovascular events and suicide were elevated during the first year after prostate cancer diagnosis, particularly during the first week. Before 1987, the RR of fatal cardiovascular events was 11.2 (95% CI 10.4–12.1) during the first week and 1.9 (95% CI 1.9–2.0) during the first year after diagnosis. From 1987, the RR for cardiovascular events, nonfatal and fatal combined, was 2.8 (95% CI 2.5–3.2) during the first week and 1.3 (95% CI 1.3–1.3) during the first year after diagnosis. While the RR of cardiovascular events declined, the RR of suicide was stable over the entire study period: 8.4 (95% CI 1.9–22.7) during the first week and 2.6 (95% CI 2.1–3.0) during the first year after diagnosis. Men 54 y or younger at cancer diagnosis demonstrated the highest RRs of both cardiovascular events and suicide. A limitation of the present study is the lack of tumor stage data, which precluded possibilities of investigating the potential impact of the disease severity on the relationship between a recent diagnosis of prostate cancer and the risks of cardiovascular events and suicide. In addition, we cannot exclude residual confounding as a possible explanation.
Conclusions
Men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer are at increased risks for cardiovascular events and suicide. Future studies with detailed disease characteristic data are warranted.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Prostate cancer—a type of tumor that develops in a walnut-sized structure in the male reproductive system—is the commonest cancer (excluding skin cancer) among men in developed countries. In the USA and the UK, for example, one in six men will develop prostate cancer during their lifetime. Most prostate cancers develop in elderly men and, because these tumors usually grow relatively slowly, many men die with prostate cancer rather than as a result of it. Nevertheless, some prostate cancers are fast-growing and aggressive and prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related death among men. The symptoms of prostate cancer include problems urinating and excessive urination during the night. Nowadays, however, most prostate cancers are detected before they produce any symptoms by measuring the amount of a protein called the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood.
Why Was This Study Done?
Widespread PSA screening was introduced 20 years ago in the hope that early detection of prostate cancer would save lives. But, although many more prostate cancers are detected nowadays, the number of prostate cancer deaths has not changed significantly. Experts are divided, therefore, about whether the potential benefits of PSA screening outweigh its risks. Treatments for prostate cancer (for example, surgical removal of the prostate) may be more effective if they are started early but they can cause impotence and urinary incontinence, so should men be treated whose cancer might otherwise never affect their health? In addition, receiving a diagnosis of prostate cancer is stressful and there is growing evidence that stressful life events can increase an individual's risk of becoming ill or dying from a heart attack, stroke, or other “cardiovascular” events and of becoming mentally ill. In this study, therefore, the researchers investigate whether men diagnosed with prostate cancer in Sweden have increased risks of cardiovascular events and suicide during the first week and first year after their diagnosis.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified nearly 170, 000 men diagnosed with prostate cancer between 1961 and 2004 among Swedish men aged 30 years or older by searching the Swedish Cancer Register. They obtained information on subsequent fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular events and suicides from the Causes of Death Register and the Inpatient Register (in Sweden, everyone has a unique national registration number that facilitates searches of different health-related Registers). Before 1987, men with prostate cancer were about 11 times as likely to have a fatal cardiovascular event during the first week after their diagnosis as men without prostate cancer; during the first year after their diagnosis, men with prostate cancer were nearly twice as likely to have a cardiovascular event as men without prostate cancer (a relative risk of 1.9). From 1987, the relative risk of combined fatal and nonfatal cardiovascular events associated with a diagnosis of prostate cancer was 2.8 during the first week and 1.3 during the first year after diagnosis. The relative risk of suicide associated with a diagnosis of prostate cancer was 8.4 during the first week and 2.6 during the first year after diagnosis throughout the study period. Finally, men younger than 54 years at diagnosis had higher relative risks of both cardiovascular events and suicide.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that men newly diagnosed with prostate cancer have an increased risk of cardiovascular events and suicide. Because there is no information on tumor size or aggressiveness in the Cancer Register, the researchers could not look at the relationship between disease severity and the likelihood of a cardiovascular event or suicide. Furthermore, because of the study design, men who received a diagnosis of prostate cancer may have had additional characteristics in common that contributed to their increased risk of cardiovascular events and suicide. Nevertheless, these findings strongly suggest that the stress of the diagnosis itself rather than any subsequent treatment has deleterious effects on the health of men receiving a diagnosis of prostate cancer. Thus, strategies should be developed to reduce the risks of cardiovascular events and suicide—increased clinical and psychological monitoring—after a diagnosis of prostate cancer, particularly among young men, and this new information should be considered in the ongoing debate about the risks and benefits of PSA screening.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000197.
The US National Cancer Institute provides information on all aspects of prostate cancer, (in English and Spanish)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on prostate cancer, including Prostate Cancer Screening, A Decision Guide (some information in multiple languages)
The UK National Health Service Choices Web site provides detailed information on prostate cancer
The UK-based Samaritans charity provides confidential nonjudgmental emotional support, 24 hours a day, for people who are experiencing feelings of distress or despair, including those which could lead to suicide
Outside the UK, Befrienders provides information on help lines for those experiencing distress
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000197
PMCID: PMC2784954  PMID: 20016838
9.  Geographic Distribution of Staphylococcus aureus Causing Invasive Infections in Europe: A Molecular-Epidemiological Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(1):e1000215.
Hajo Grundmann and colleagues describe the development of a new interactive mapping tool for analyzing the spatial distribution of invasive Staphylococcus aureus clones.
Background
Staphylococcus aureus is one of the most important human pathogens and methicillin-resistant variants (MRSAs) are a major cause of hospital and community-acquired infection. We aimed to map the geographic distribution of the dominant clones that cause invasive infections in Europe.
Methods and Findings
In each country, staphylococcal reference laboratories secured the participation of a sufficient number of hospital laboratories to achieve national geo-demographic representation. Participating laboratories collected successive methicillin-susceptible (MSSA) and MRSA isolates from patients with invasive S. aureus infection using an agreed protocol. All isolates were sent to the respective national reference laboratories and characterised by quality-controlled sequence typing of the variable region of the staphylococcal spa gene (spa typing), and data were uploaded to a central database. Relevant genetic and phenotypic information was assembled for interactive interrogation by a purpose-built Web-based mapping application. Between September 2006 and February 2007, 357 laboratories serving 450 hospitals in 26 countries collected 2,890 MSSA and MRSA isolates from patients with invasive S. aureus infection. A wide geographical distribution of spa types was found with some prevalent in all European countries. MSSA were more diverse than MRSA. Genetic diversity of MRSA differed considerably between countries with dominant MRSA spa types forming distinctive geographical clusters. We provide evidence that a network approach consisting of decentralised typing and visualisation of aggregated data using an interactive mapping tool can provide important information on the dynamics of MRSA populations such as early signalling of emerging strains, cross border spread, and importation by travel.
Conclusions
In contrast to MSSA, MRSA spa types have a predominantly regional distribution in Europe. This finding is indicative of the selection and spread of a limited number of clones within health care networks, suggesting that control efforts aimed at interrupting the spread within and between health care institutions may not only be feasible but ultimately successful and should therefore be strongly encouraged.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
The bacterium Staphylococcus aureus lives on the skin and in the nose of about a third of healthy people. Although S. aureus usually coexists peacefully with its human carriers, it is also an important disease-causing organism or pathogen. If it enters the body through a cut or during a surgical procedure, S. aureus can cause minor infections such as pimples and boils or more serious, life-threatening infections such as blood poisoning and pneumonia. Minor S. aureus infections can be treated without antibiotics—by draining a boil, for example. Invasive infections are usually treated with antibiotics. Unfortunately, many of the S. aureus clones (groups of bacteria that are all genetically related and descended from a single, common ancestor) that are now circulating are resistant to methicillin and several other antibiotics. Invasive methicillin-resistant S. aureus (MRSA) infections are a particular problem in hospitals and other health care facilities (so-called hospital-acquired MRSA infections), but they can also occur in otherwise healthy people who have not been admitted to a hospital (community-acquired MRSA infections).
Why Was This Study Done?
The severity and outcome of an S. aureus infection in an individual depends in part on the ability of the bacterial clone with which the individual is infected to cause disease—the clone's “virulence.” Public-health officials and infectious disease experts would like to know the geographic distribution of the virulent S. aureus clones that cause invasive infections, because this information should help them understand how these pathogens spread and thus how to control them. Different clones of S. aureus can be distinguished by “molecular typing,” the determination of clone-specific sequences of nucleotides in variable regions of the bacterial genome (the bacterium's blueprint; genomes consist of DNA, long chains of nucleotides). In this study, the researchers use molecular typing to map the geographic distribution of MRSA and methicillin-sensitive S. aureus (MSSA) clones causing invasive infections in Europe; a MRSA clone emerges when an MSSA clone acquires antibiotic resistance from another type of bacteria so it is useful to understand the geographic distribution of both MRSA and MSSA.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Between September 2006 and February 2007, 357 laboratories serving 450 hospitals in 26 European countries collected almost 3,000 MRSA and MSSA isolates from patients with invasive S. aureus infections. The isolates were sent to the relevant national staphylococcal reference laboratory (SRL) where they were characterized by quality-controlled sequence typing of the variable region of a staphylococcal gene called spa (spa typing). The spa typing data were entered into a central database and then analyzed by a public, purpose-built Web-based mapping tool (SRL-Maps), which provides interactive access and easy-to-understand illustrations of the geographical distribution of S. aureus clones. Using this mapping tool, the researchers found that there was a wide geographical distribution of spa types across Europe with some types being common in all European countries. MSSA isolates were more diverse than MRSA isolates and the genetic diversity (variability) of MRSA differed considerably between countries. Most importantly, major MRSA spa types occurred in distinct geographical clusters.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide the first representative snapshot of the genetic population structure of S. aureus across Europe. Because the researchers used spa typing, which analyzes only a small region of one gene, and characterized only 3,000 isolates, analysis of other parts of the S. aureus genome in more isolates is now needed to build a complete portrait of the geographical abundance of the S. aureus clones that cause invasive infections in Europe. However, the finding that MRSA spa types occur mainly in geographical clusters has important implications for the control of MRSA, because it indicates that a limited number of clones are spreading within health care networks, which means that MRSA is mainly spread by patients who are repeatedly admitted to different hospitals. Control efforts aimed at interrupting this spread within and between health care institutions may be feasible and ultimately successful, suggest the researchers, and should be strongly encouraged. In addition, this study shows how, by sharing typing results on a Web-based platform, an international surveillance network can provide clinicians and infection control teams with crucial information about the dynamics of pathogens such as S. aureus, including early warnings about emerging virulent clones.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000215.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Franklin D. Lowy
The UK Health Protection Agency provides information about Staphylococcus aureus
The UK National Health Service Choices Web site has pages on staphylococcal infections and on MRSA
The US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease has information about MRSA
The US Centers for Disease Control and Infection provides information about MRSA for the public and professionals
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources on staphylococcal infections and on MRSA (in English and Spanish)
SRL-Maps can be freely accessed
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000215
PMCID: PMC2796391  PMID: 20084094
10.  Design and implementation of the first nationwide, web-based Chinese Renal Data System (CNRDS) 
Background
In April 2010, with an endorsement from the Ministry of Health of the People's Republic of China, the Chinese Society of Nephrology launched the first nationwide, web-based prospective renal data registration platform, the Chinese Renal Data System (CNRDS), to collect structured demographic, clinical, and laboratory data for dialysis cases, as well as to establish a kidney disease database for researchers and policy makers.
Methods
The CNRDS program uses information technology to facilitate healthcare professionals to create a blood purification registry and to deliver an evidence-based care and education protocol tailored to chronic kidney disease, as well as online forum for communication between nephrologists. The online portal https://www.cnrds.net is implemented as a Java web application using an Apache Tomcat web server and a MySQL database. All data are stored in a central databank to establish a Chinese renal database for research and publication purposes.
Results
Currently, over 270,000 clinical cases, including general patient information, diagnostics, therapies, medications, and laboratory tests, have been registered in CNRDS by 3,669 healthcare institutions qualified for hemodialysis therapy. At the 2011 annual blood purification forum of the Chinese Society of Nephrology, the CNRDS 2010 annual report was reviewed and accepted by the society members and government representatives.
Conclusions
CNRDS is the first national, web-based application for collecting and managing electronic medical records of patients with dialysis in China. It provides both an easily accessible platform for nephrologists to store and organize their patient data and acts as a communication platform among participating doctors. Moreover, it is the largest database for treatment and patient care of end-stage renal disease (ESRD) patients in China, which will be beneficial for scientific research and epidemiological investigations aimed at improving the quality of life of such patients. Furthermore, it is a model nationwide disease registry, which could potentially be used for other diseases.
doi:10.1186/1472-6947-12-11
PMCID: PMC3309940  PMID: 22369692
11.  Inflammatory Markers and Poor Outcome after Stroke: A Prospective Cohort Study and Systematic Review of Interleukin-6 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(9):e1000145.
In a prospective cohort study of patient outcomes following stroke, William Whiteley and colleagues find that markers of inflammatory response are associated with poor outcomes. However, addition of these markers to existing prognostic models does not improve outcome prediction.
Background
The objective of this study was to determine whether: (a) markers of acute inflammation (white cell count, glucose, interleukin-6, C-reactive protein, and fibrinogen) are associated with poor outcome after stroke and (b) the addition of markers to previously validated prognostic models improves prediction of poor outcome.
Methods and Findings
We prospectively recruited patients between 2002 and 2005. Clinicians assessed patients and drew blood for inflammatory markers. Patients were followed up by postal questionnaire for poor outcome (a score of>2 on the modified Rankin Scale) and death through the General Register Office (Scotland) at 6 mo. We performed a systematic review of the literature and meta-analysis of the association between interleukin-6 and poor outcome after stroke to place our study in the context of previous research. We recruited 844 patients; mortality data were available in 844 (100%) and functional outcome in 750 (89%). After appropriate adjustment, the odds ratios for the association of markers and poor outcome (comparing the upper and the lower third) were interleukin-6, 3.1 (95% CI: 1.9–5.0); C-reactive protein, 1.9 (95% CI: 1.2–3.1); fibrinogen, 1.5 (95% CI: 1.0–2.36); white cell count, 2.1 (95% CI: 1.3–3.4); and glucose 1.3 (95% CI: 0.8–2.1). The results for interleukin-6 were similar to other studies. However, the addition of inflammatory marker levels to validated prognostic models did not materially improve model discrimination, calibration, or reclassification for prediction of poor outcome after stroke.
Conclusions
Raised levels of markers of the acute inflammatory response after stroke are associated with poor outcomes. However, the addition of these markers to a previously validated stroke prognostic model did not improve the prediction of poor outcome. Whether inflammatory markers are useful in prediction of recurrent stroke or other vascular events is a separate question, which requires further study.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Every year, 15 million people have a stroke. In the US alone, someone has a stroke every 40 seconds and someone dies from a stroke every 3–4 minutes. Stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is suddenly interrupted by a blood clot blocking a blood vessel in the brain (ischemic stroke, the commonest type of stroke) or by a blood vessel in the brain bursting (hemorrhagic stroke). Deprived of the oxygen normally carried to them by the blood, the brain cells near the blockage die. The symptoms of stroke depend on which part of the brain is damaged but include sudden weakness or paralysis along one side of the body, vision loss in one or both eyes, and confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek medical assistance immediately because prompt treatment can limit the damage to the brain. Risk factors for stroke include age (three-quarters of strokes occur in people over 65 years old), high blood pressure, and heart disease.
Why Was This Study Done?
Many people are left with permanent disabilities after a stroke. An accurate way to predict the likely long-term outcome (prognosis) for individual patients would help clinicians manage their patients and help relatives and patients come to terms with their changed circumstances. Clinicians can get some idea of their patients' likely outcomes by assessing six simple clinical variables. These include the ability to lift both arms and awareness of the present situation. But could the inclusion of additional variables improve the predictive power of this simple prognostic model? There is some evidence that high levels in the blood of inflammatory markers (for example, interleukin-6 and C-reactive protein) are associated with poor outcomes after stroke—inflammation is the body's response to infection and to damage. In this prospective cohort study, the researchers investigate whether inflammatory markers are associated with poor outcome after stroke and whether the addition of these markers to the six-variable prognostic model improves its predictive power. Prospective cohort studies enroll a group of participants and follow their subsequent progress.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers recruited 844 patients who had had a stroke (mainly mild ischemic strokes) in Edinburgh. Each patient was assessed soon after the stroke by a clinician and blood was taken for the measurement of inflammatory markers. Six months after the stroke, the patient or their relatives completed a postal questionnaire that assessed their progress. Information about patient deaths was obtained from the General Register Office for Scotland. Dependency on others for the activities of daily life or dying was recorded as a poor outcome. In their statistical analysis of these data, the researchers found that raised levels of several inflammatory markers increased the likelihood of a poor outcome. For example, after allowing for age and other factors, individuals with interleukin-6 levels in the upper third of the measured range were three times as likely to have a poor outcome as patients with interleukin-6 levels in the bottom third of the range. A systematic search of the literature revealed that previous studies that had looked at the potential association between interleukin-6 levels and outcome after stroke had found similar results. Finally, the researchers found that the addition of inflammatory marker levels to the six-variable prognostic model did not substantially improve its ability to predict outcome after stroke for this cohort of patients.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide additional support for the idea that increased levels of inflammatory markers are associated with a poor outcome after stroke. However, because patients with infections were not excluded from the study, infection may be responsible for part of the observed association. Importantly, these findings also show that although the inclusion of inflammatory markers in the six variable prognostic model slightly improves its ability to predict outcome, the magnitude of this improvement is too small to warrant the use of these markers in routine practice. Whether the measurement of inflammatory markers might be useful in the prediction of recurrent stroke—at least a quarter of people who survive a stroke will have another one within 5 years—requires further study.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000145.
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Len Kritharides
The US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides information about all aspects of stroke (in English and Spanish); the Know Stroke site provides educational materials about stroke prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation (in English and Spanish)
The Internet Stroke Center provides detailed information about stroke for patients, families and health professionals (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service also provides information for patients and their families about stroke (in several languages)
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources and advice about stroke (in English and Spanish)
The six simple variable model for prediction of death or disability after stroke is available here: http://dcnapp1.dcn.ed.ac.uk/scope/
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000145
PMCID: PMC2730573  PMID: 19901973
12.  Epidemiological Pathology of Dementia: Attributable-Risks at Death in the Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing Study 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(11):e1000180.
Researchers from the Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing Neuropathology Study carry out an analysis of brain pathologies contributing to dementia, within a cohort of elderly individuals in the UK who agreed to brain donation.
Background
Dementia drug development aims to modulate pathological processes that cause clinical syndromes. Population data (epidemiological neuropathology) will help to model and predict the potential impact of such therapies on dementia burden in older people. Presently this can only be explored through post mortem findings. We report the attributable risks (ARs) for dementia at death for common age-related degenerative and vascular pathologies, and other factors, in the MRC Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (MRC CFAS).
Methods and Findings
A multicentre, prospective, longitudinal study of older people in the UK was linked to a brain donation programme. Neuropathology of 456 consecutive brain donations assessed degenerative and vascular pathologies. Logistic regression modelling, with bootstrapping and sensitivity analyses, was used to estimate AR at death for dementia for specific pathologies and other factors. The main contributors to AR at death for dementia in MRC CFAS were age (18%), small brain (12%), neocortical neuritic plaques (8%) and neurofibrillary tangles (11%), small vessel disease (12%), multiple vascular pathologies (9%), and hippocampal atrophy (10%). Other significant factors include cerebral amyloid angiopathy (7%) and Lewy bodies (3%).
Conclusions
Such AR estimates cannot be derived from the living population; rather they estimate the relative contribution of specific pathologies to dementia at death. We found that multiple pathologies determine the overall burden of dementia. The impact of therapy targeted to a specific pathology may be profound when the dementia is relatively “pure,” but may be less impressive for the majority with mixed disease, and in terms of the population. These data justify a range of strategies, and combination therapies, to combat the degenerative and vascular determinants of cognitive decline and dementia.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Losing one's belongings and forgetting people's names is often a normal part of aging. But increasing forgetfulness can also be a sign of dementia, a group of symptoms caused by several disorders that affect the structure of the brain. The commonest form of dementia is Alzheimer disease. In this, protein clumps called plaques and neurofibrillary tangles form in the brain and cause its degeneration. Vascular dementia, in which problems with blood circulation deprive parts of the brain of oxygen, is also common. People with dementia have problems with two or more “cognitive” functions—thinking, language, memory, understanding, and judgment. As the disease progresses, they gradually lose their ability to deal with normal daily activities until they need total care, their personality often changes, and they may become agitated or aggressive. Dementia is rare before the age of 65 years but about a quarter of people over 85 years old have dementia. Because more people live to a ripe old age these days, the number of people with dementia is increasing. According to the latest estimates, about 35 million people now have dementia and by 2050, 115 million may have the disorder.
Why Was This Study Done?
There is no cure for dementia but many drugs designed to modulate specific abnormal (pathological) changes in the brain that can cause the symptoms of dementia are being developed. To assess the likely impact of these potentially expensive new therapies, experts need to know what proportion of dementia is associated with each type of brain pathology. Although some brain changes can be detected in living brains with techniques such as computed tomography brain scans, most brain changes can only be studied in brains taken from people after death (post mortem brains). In this study, which is part of the UK Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (MRC CFAS), the researchers look for associations between dementia in elderly people and pathological changes in their post mortem brains and estimate the attributable-risk (AR) for dementia at death associated with specific pathological features in the brain. That is, they estimate the proportion of dementia directly attributable to each type of pathology.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Nearly 20 years ago, the MRC CFAS interviewed more than 18,000 people aged 65 years or older recruited at six sites in England and Wales to determine their cognitive function and their ability to deal with daily activities. 20% of the participants, which included people with and without cognitive impairment, were then assessed in more detail and invited to donate their brains for post mortem examination. As of 2004, 456 individuals had donated their brains. The dementia status of these donors was established using data from their assessment interviews and death certificates, and from interviews with relatives and carers, and their brains were carefully examined for abnormal changes. The researchers then used statistical methods to estimate the AR for dementia at death associated with various abnormal brain changes. The main contributors to AR for dementia at death included age (18% of dementia at death was attributable to this factor), plaques (8%), and neurofibrillary tangles (11%) in a brain region called the neocortex, small blood vessel disease (12%), and multiple abnormal changes in blood vessels (9%).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that multiple abnormal brain changes determine the overall burden of dementia. Importantly, they also suggest that dementia is often associated with mixed pathological changes—many people with dementia had brain changes consistent with both Alzheimer disease and vascular dementia. Because people with dementia live for variable lengths of time during which the abnormal changes in their brain are likely to alter, it may be difficult to extrapolate these findings to living populations of elderly people. Furthermore, only a small percentage of the MRC CFAS participants have donated their brains so the findings of this study may not apply to the general population. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that the new therapies currently under development may do little to reduce the overall burden of dementia because most people's dementia involves multiple pathologies. Consequently, it may be necessary to develop a range of strategies and combination therapies to deal with the ongoing dementia epidemic.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000180.
The US National Institute on Aging provides information for patients and carers about forgetfulness and about Alzheimer disease (in English and Spanish)
The US National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke provides information about dementia (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices Web site also provides detailed information for patients and their carers about dementia and about Alzheimer disease
MedlinePlus provides links to additional resources about dementia and Alzheimer disease (in English and Spanish)
More information about the UK Medical Research Council Cognitive Function and Ageing Study (MRC CFAS) is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000180
PMCID: PMC2765638  PMID: 19901977
13.  Cholinesterase Inhibitors in Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Systematic Review of Randomised Trials 
PLoS Medicine  2007;4(11):e338.
Background
Mild cognitive impairment (MCI) refers to a transitional zone between normal ageing and dementia. Despite the uncertainty regarding the definition of MCI as a clinical entity, clinical trials have been conducted in the attempt to study the role of cholinesterase inhibitors (ChEIs) currently approved for symptomatic treatment of mild to moderate Alzheimer disease (AD), in preventing progression from MCI to AD. The objective of this review is to assess the effects of ChEIs (donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine) in delaying the conversion from MCI to Alzheimer disease or dementia.
Methods and Findings
The terms “donepezil”, “rivastigmine”, “galantamine”, and “mild cognitive impairment” and their variants, synonyms, and acronyms were used as search terms in four electronic databases (MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cochrane, PsycINFO) and three registers: the Cochrane Collaboration Trial Register, Current Controlled Trials, and ClinicalTrials.gov. Published and unpublished studies were included if they were randomized clinical trials published (or described) in English and conducted among persons who had received a diagnosis of MCI and/or abnormal memory function documented by a neuropsychological assessment. A standardized data extraction form was used. The reporting quality was assessed using the Jadad scale. Three published and five unpublished trials met the inclusion criteria (three on donepezil, two on rivastigmine, and three on galantamine). Enrolment criteria differed among the trials, so the study populations were not homogeneous. The duration of the trials ranged from 24 wk to 3 y. No significant differences emerged in the probability of conversion from MCI to AD or dementia between the treated groups and the placebo groups. The rate of conversion ranged from 13% (over 2 y) to 25% (over 3 y) among treated patients, and from 18% (over 2 y) to 28% (over 3 y) among those in the placebo groups. Only for two studies was it possible to derive point estimates of the relative risk of conversion: 0.85 (95% confidence interval 0.64–1.12), and 0.84 (0.57–1.25). Statistically significant differences emerged for three secondary end points. However, when adjusting for multiple comparisons, only one difference remained significant (i.e., the rate of atrophy in the whole brain).
Conclusions
The use of ChEIs in MCI was not associated with any delay in the onset of AD or dementia. Moreover, the safety profile showed that the risks associated with ChEIs are not negligible. The uncertainty regarding MCI as a clinical entity raises the question as to the scientific validity of these trials.
A systematic review of trials of cholinesterase inhibitors for preventing transition of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to dementia, conducted by Roberto Raschetti and colleagues, found no difference between treatment and control groups and concluded that uncertainty regarding the definition of MCI casts doubts on the validity of such trials.
Editors' Summary
Background.
Worldwide, more than 24 million people have dementia, a group of brain disorders characterized by an irreversible decline in memory, problem solving, communication, and other “cognitive” functions. The commonest form of dementia is Alzheimer disease (AD). The risk of developing AD increases with age—AD is rare in people younger than 65 but about half of people over 85 years old have it. The earliest symptom of AD is usually difficulty in remembering new information. As the disease progresses, patients may become confused and have problems expressing themselves. Their behavior and personality can also change. In advanced AD, patients need help with daily activities like dressing and eating, and eventually lose their ability to recognize relatives and to communicate. There is no cure for AD but a class of drugs called “cholinesterase inhibitors” can sometimes temporarily slow the worsening of symptoms. Three cholinesterase inhibitors—donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine—are currently approved for use in mild-to-moderate AD.
Why Was This Study Done?
Some experts have questioned the efficacy of cholinesterase inhibitors in AD, but other experts and patient support groups have called for these drugs to be given to patients with a condition called mild cognitive impairment (MCI) as well as to those with mild AD. People with MCI have memory problems that are more severe than those normally seen in people of their age but no other symptoms of dementia. They are thought to have an increased risk of developing AD, but it is not known whether everyone with MCI eventually develops AD, and there is no standardized way to diagnose MCI. Despite these uncertainties, several clinical trials have investigated whether cholinesterase inhibitors prevent progression from MCI to AD. In this study, the researchers have assessed whether the results of these trials provide any evidence that cholinesterase inhibitors can prevent MCI progressing to AD.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers conducted a systematic review of the medical literature to find trials that had addressed this issue, which met criteria that they had defined clearly in advance of their search. They identified three published and five unpublished randomized controlled trials (studies in which patients randomly receive the test drug or an inactive placebo) that investigated the effect of cholinesterase inhibitors on the progression of MCI. The researchers obtained the results of six of these trials—four examined the effect of cholinesterase inhibitors on the conversion of MCI to clinically diagnosed AD or dementia (the primary end point); all six examined the effect of the drugs on several secondary end points (for example, individual aspects of cognitive function). None of the drugs produced a statistically significant difference (a difference that is unlikely to have happened by chance) in the probability of progression from MCI to AD. The only statistically significant secondary end point after adjustment for multiple comparisons (when many outcomes are considered, false positive results can occur unless specific mathematical techniques are used to prevent this problem) was a decrease in the rate of brain shrinkage associated with galantamine treatment. More patients treated with cholinesterase inhibitors dropped out of trials because of adverse effects than patients given placebo. Finally, in the one trial that reported all causes of deaths, one participant who received placebo and six who received galantamine died.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the use of cholinesterase inhibitors is not associated with any delay in the onset of clinically diagnosed AD or dementia in people with MCI. They also show that the use of these drugs has no effect on most surrogate (substitute) indicators of AD but that the risks associated with their use are not negligible. However, because MCI has not yet been clearly defined as a clinical condition that precedes dementia, some (even many) of the patients enrolled into the trials that the researchers assessed may not actually have had MCI. Thus, further clinical trials are needed to clarify whether cholinesterase inhibitors can delay the progression of MCI to dementia, but these additional trials should not be done until the diagnosis of MCI has been standardized.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.0040338.
An essay by Matthews and colleagues, in the October 2007 issue of PLoS Medicine, discusses how mild cognitive impairment is currently diagnosed
The US Alzheimer's Association provides information about all aspects of Alzheimer disease, including fact sheets on treatments for Alzheimer disease and on mild cognitive impairment
The UK Alzheimer's Society provides information for patients and caregivers on all aspects of dementia, including drug treatments and mild cognitive impairment
The UK charity DIPEx provides short video clips of personal experiences of care givers of people with dementia
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.0040338
PMCID: PMC2082649  PMID: 18044984
14.  The Physical and Psychological Impact of Multiple Sclerosis Using the MSIS-29 via the Web Portal of the UK MS Register 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(1):e55422.
Introduction
The MSIS-29 was developed to assess the physical and psychological impact of MS. The aims of this study were to use the responses to the MSIS-29 via the web portal of the UK MS Register to: examine the internal properties of the scale delivered via the internet, profile the cohort, and assess how well the scale measures impact of disability on the potential workforce.
Methods
Between May 2011 and April 2012, 4558 people with MS completed the MSIS-29(v.1). The responses were collated with basic demographic and descriptive MS data and the resulting dataset was analysed in SPSS(v.20).
Results
Internal consistency was high (Cronbach's alpha 0.97 MSIS-29-PHYS, 0.92 MSIS-29-PSYCH). The mean MSIS-29-PHYS score was 60.5 (50.6%) with a median of 62 and the mean MSIS-29-PSYCH score was 24.8 (43.8%) with a median of 24. Physical scores increased with age and disease duration (p<0.001, p<0.001), but there was a weak negative relationship between psychological scores and age (p<0.001). The odds of people having an employment status of sick/disabled were 7.2 (CI 5.5, 9.4, p<0.001) for people with a moderate physical score, and 22.3 (CI 17.0, 29.3, p<0.001) for people with a high physical score (relative to having a low physical score).
Conclusions
This largest known study of its kind has demonstrated how the MSIS-29 can be administered via the internet to characterise a cohort, and to predict the likely impact of disability on taking an active part in the workforce, as a reasonable proxy for the effects of MS on general activities. The findings examining MSIS-29-PHYS and MSIS-29-PSYCH scores against age support the use of two sub-scales, not a combined score. These results underline the importance of using a scale such as this to monitor disability levels regularly in guiding MS care to enable people to be as active as possible.
doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0055422
PMCID: PMC3561202  PMID: 23383186
15.  Relationship between Vehicle Emissions Laws and Incidence of Suicide by Motor Vehicle Exhaust Gas in Australia, 2001–06: An Ecological Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(1):e1000210.
In an ecological study, David Studdert and colleagues show that areas of Australia with fewer vehicles pre-dating stringent carbon monoxide emission laws have lower rates of suicide due to asphyxiation by motor vehicle exhaust gas.
Background
Globally, suicide accounts for 5.2% of deaths among persons aged 15 to 44 years and its incidence is rising. In Australia, suicide rates peaked in 1997 and have been declining since. A substantial part of that decline stems from a plunge in suicides by one particular method: asphyxiation by motor vehicle exhaust gas (MVEG). Although MVEG remains the second most common method of suicide in Australia, its incidence decreased by nearly 70% in the decade to 2006. The extent to which this phenomenon has been driven by national laws in 1986 and 1999 that lowered permissible levels of carbon monoxide (CO) emissions is unknown. The objective of this ecological study was to test the relationship by investigating whether areas of Australia with fewer noxious vehicles per capita experienced lower rates of MVEG suicide.
Methods and Findings
We merged data on MVEG suicides in Australia (2001–06) with data on the number and age of vehicles in the national fleet, as well as socio-demographic data from the national census. Poisson regression was used to analyse the relationship between the incidence of suicide within two levels of geographical area—postcodes and statistical subdivisions (SSDs)—and the population density of pre-1986 and pre-1999 passenger vehicles in those areas. (There was a mean population of 8,302 persons per postcode in the study dataset and 87,413 persons per SSD.) The annual incidence of MVEG suicides nationwide decreased by 57% (from 2.6 per 100,000 in 2001 to 1.1 in 2006) during the study period; the population density of pre-1986 and pre-1999 vehicles decreased by 55% (from 14.2 per 100 persons in 2001 to 6.4 in 2006) and 26% (from 44.5 per 100 persons in 2001 to 32.9 in 2006), respectively. Area-level regression analysis showed that the suicide rates were significantly and positively correlated with the presence of older vehicles. A percentage point decrease in the population density of pre-1986 vehicles was associated with a 6% decrease (rate ratio [RR] = 1.06; 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.05–1.08) in the incidence of MVEG suicide within postcode areas; a percentage point decrease in the population density of pre-1999 vehicles was associated with a 3% decrease (RR = 1.03; 95% CI 1.02–1.04) in the incidence of MVEG suicide.
Conclusions
Areas of Australia with fewer vehicles predating stringent CO emission laws experience lower rates of MVEG suicide. Although those emission laws were introduced primarily for environmental reasons, countries that lack them may miss the benefits of a serendipitous suicide prevention strategy.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Suicide (self-inflicted death) is a major, preventable public-health problem. About 1 million people die each year from suicide and about 20 times as many people attempt suicide. Globally, suicide rates have increased by nearly a half over the past 45 years and suicide is now among the three leading causes of death in people aged 15–44 years. Within this age group, 1 in 20 deaths is a suicide. Most people who commit suicide have a mental illness, usually depression or substance abuse, but suicide can also be triggered by a stressful event such as losing a partner. Often warning signs are present—a person who talks about killing themselves must always be taken seriously. Adequate prevention and treatment of mental illness and interventions that teach young people coping skills and improve their self-esteem have shown promise in reducing suicide rates, as have strategies (for example, restrictions on the sale of pain killers) that reduce access to common methods of suicide.
Why Was This Study Done?
In Australia, the suicide rate has been declining since 1997 when a record 2,722 suicides occurred. Fewer suicides by asphyxiation (oxygen deprivation) by motor vehicle gas exhaust (MVEG) account for much of this decline. MVEG contains carbon monoxide, a toxic gas that blocks oxygen transport around the body. Although MVEG suicide is still the second most common means of suicide in Australia, its incidence has dropped by two-thirds since 1997 but why? One possibility is that national laws passed in 1986 and 1999 that lowered the permissible level of carbon monoxide in vehicle exhaust for environmental reasons have driven the decline in MVEG suicides. Evidence from other countries suggests that this might be the case but no-one has directly investigated the relationship between MVEG suicide and the use of vehicles with reduced carbon monoxide emissions. In this ecological study (a study in which the effect of an intervention is studied on groups of people rather than on individuals), the researchers ask whether the number of pre-1986 and pre-1999 vehicles within particular geographic areas in Australia is correlated with the rates of MVEG suicide in those areas between 2001 and 2006.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained data on MVEG suicides from the Australian National Coroners Information System and data on the number and age of vehicles on the road from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. MVEG suicides dropped from 498 in 2001 to 231 in 2006, they report, and 28% of passenger vehicles registered in Australia were made before 1986 in 2001 but only 12% in 2006; the percentage of registered vehicles made before 1999 fell from 89% to 60% over the same period. The researchers then used a statistical technique called Poisson regression to analyze the relationship within postcode areas between the incidence of MVEG suicide and the presence of pre-1986 and pre-1999 vehicles. This analysis showed that in areas where older vehicles were more numerous there were more MVEG suicides (a positive correlation). Specifically, the researchers calculate that if the proportion of pre-1986 vehicles on the road in Australia had stayed at 2001 levels throughout their study period, 621 extra MVEG suicides would have occurred in the country over that time.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that in areas of Australia that had fewer vehicles on the road predating stringent vehicle emission laws, there were lower rates of MVEG suicide between 2001 and 2006. Unfortunately, this study cannot provide any information on the actual age of vehicles used in MVEG suicides or on the relationship between vehicle age and attempted MVEG suicides. It also cannot reveal whether those areas that had the sharpest decreases in the density of older vehicles had the sharpest decreases in suicide rates because very few suicides occurred in most postcodes during the study. Most importantly, the design of this study means that the researchers cannot discount the possibility that the changes in Australia's emission laws have steered people towards other methods of taking their own lives. Nevertheless, the findings of this study suggest that the introduction of stringent vehicle emission laws for environmental reasons might, serendipitously, be a worthwhile long-term suicide prevention strategy in countries where MVEG suicide is common.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000210.
Another PLoS Medicine research article, by Shu-Sen Chang and colleagues, investigates the evolution of the epidemic of charcoal-burning suicide in Taiwan
The US National Institute of Mental Health provides information on suicide and suicide prevention
The UK National Health Service Choices Web site has detailed information about suicide and its prevention
The World Health Organization provides information on the global burden of suicide and on suicide prevention (in several languages)
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources about suicide (in English and Spanish)
Suicide Prevention Australia is a nonprofit, nongovernmental organization working as a public-health advocate in suicide prevention
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has recently published a review of suicide statistics in Australia
The National Coroners Information System is a database contains information on every death reported to an Australian coroner since July 2000 (January 2001 for Queensland)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000210
PMCID: PMC2796388  PMID: 20052278
16.  Publication Bias in Antipsychotic Trials: An Analysis of Efficacy Comparing the Published Literature to the US Food and Drug Administration Database 
PLoS Medicine  2012;9(3):e1001189.
A comparison of data held by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) against data from journal reports of clinical trials enables estimation of the extent of publication bias for antipsychotics.
Background
Publication bias compromises the validity of evidence-based medicine, yet a growing body of research shows that this problem is widespread. Efficacy data from drug regulatory agencies, e.g., the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), can serve as a benchmark or control against which data in journal articles can be checked. Thus one may determine whether publication bias is present and quantify the extent to which it inflates apparent drug efficacy.
Methods and Findings
FDA Drug Approval Packages for eight second-generation antipsychotics—aripiprazole, iloperidone, olanzapine, paliperidone, quetiapine, risperidone, risperidone long-acting injection (risperidone LAI), and ziprasidone—were used to identify a cohort of 24 FDA-registered premarketing trials. The results of these trials according to the FDA were compared with the results conveyed in corresponding journal articles. The relationship between study outcome and publication status was examined, and effect sizes derived from the two data sources were compared. Among the 24 FDA-registered trials, four (17%) were unpublished. Of these, three failed to show that the study drug had a statistical advantage over placebo, and one showed the study drug was statistically inferior to the active comparator. Among the 20 published trials, the five that were not positive, according to the FDA, showed some evidence of outcome reporting bias. However, the association between trial outcome and publication status did not reach statistical significance. Further, the apparent increase in the effect size point estimate due to publication bias was modest (8%) and not statistically significant. On the other hand, the effect size for unpublished trials (0.23, 95% confidence interval 0.07 to 0.39) was less than half that for the published trials (0.47, 95% confidence interval 0.40 to 0.54), a difference that was significant.
Conclusions
The magnitude of publication bias found for antipsychotics was less than that found previously for antidepressants, possibly because antipsychotics demonstrate superiority to placebo more consistently. Without increased access to regulatory agency data, publication bias will continue to blur distinctions between effective and ineffective drugs.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
People assume that, when they are ill, health-care professionals will ensure that they get the best available treatment. But how do clinicians know which treatment is likely to be most effective? In the past, clinicians used their own experience to make such decisions. Nowadays, they rely on evidence-based medicine—the systematic review and appraisal of trials, studies that investigate the efficacy and safety of medical interventions in patients. Evidence-based medicine can guide clinicians, however, only if all the results from clinical trials are published in an unbiased manner. Unfortunately, “publication bias” is common. For example, the results of trials in which a new drug did not perform better than existing drugs or in which it had unwanted side effects often remain unpublished. Moreover, published trials can be subject to outcome reporting bias—the publication may only include those trial outcomes that support the use of the new treatment rather than presenting all the available data.
Why Was This Study Done?
If only strongly positive results are published and negative results and side-effects remain unpublished, a drug will seem safer and more effective than it is in reality, which could affect clinical decision-making and patient outcomes. But how big a problem is publication bias? Here, researchers use US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reviews as a benchmark to quantify the extent to which publication bias may be altering the apparent efficacy of second-generation antipsychotics (drugs used to treat schizophrenia and other mental illnesses that are characterized by a loss of contact with reality). In the US, all new drugs have to be approved by the FDA before they can be marketed. During this approval process, the FDA collects and keeps complete information about premarketing trials, including descriptions of their design and prespecified outcome measures and all the data collected during the trials. Thus, a comparison of the results included in the FDA reviews for a group of trials and the results that appear in the literature for the same trials can provide direct evidence about publication bias.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 24 FDA-registered premarketing trials that investigated the use of eight second-generation antipsychotics for the treatment of schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder. They searched the published literature for reports of these trials, and, by comparing the results of these trials according to the FDA with the results in the published articles, they examined the relationship between the study outcome (did the FDA consider it positive or negative?) and publication and looked for outcome reporting bias. Four of the 24 FDA-registered trials were unpublished. Three of these unpublished trials failed to show that the study drug was more effective than a placebo (a “dummy” pill); the fourth showed that the study drug was inferior to another drug already in use in the US. Among the 20 published trials, the five that the FDA judged not positive showed some evidence of publication bias. However, the association between trial outcome and publication status did not reach statistical significance (it might have happened by chance), and the mean effect size (a measure of drug effectiveness) derived from the published literature was only slightly higher than that derived from the FDA records. By contrast, within the FDA dataset, the mean effect size of the published trials was approximately double that of the unpublished trials.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The accuracy of these findings is limited by the small number of trials analyzed. Moreover, this study considers only the efficacy and not the safety of these drugs, it assumes that the FDA database is complete and unbiased, and its findings are not generalizable to other conditions that antipsychotics are used to treat. Nevertheless, these findings show that publication bias in the reporting of trials of second-generation antipsychotic drugs enhances the apparent efficacy of these drugs. Although the magnitude of the publication bias seen here is less than that seen in a similar study of antidepressant drugs, these findings show how selective reporting of clinical trial data undermines the integrity of the evidence base and can deprive clinicians of accurate data on which to base their prescribing decisions. Increased access to FDA reviews, suggest the researchers, is therefore essential to prevent publication bias continuing to blur distinctions between effective and ineffective drugs.
Additional Information
Please access these web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001189.
The US Food and Drug Administration provides information about drug approval in the US for consumers and health-care professionals
Detailed information about the process by which drugs are approved is on the web site of the FDA Center for Drug Evaluation and Research; also, FDA Drug Approval Packages are available for many drugs; the FDA Transparency Initiative, which was launched in June 2009, is an agency-wide effort to improve the transparency of the FDA
FDA-approved product labeling on drugs marketed in the US can be found at the US National Library of Medicine's DailyMed web page
Wikipedia has a page on publication bias (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit; available in several languages)
MedlinePlus provides links to sources of information on schizophrenia and on psychotic disorders (in English and Spanish)
Patient experiences of psychosis, including the effects of medication, are provided by the charity HealthtalkOnline
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001189
PMCID: PMC3308934  PMID: 22448149
17.  Strategies for Increasing Recruitment to Randomised Controlled Trials: Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(11):e1000368.
Patrina Caldwell and colleagues performed a systematic review of randomized studies that compared methods of recruiting individual study participants into trials, and found that strategies that focus on increasing potential participants' awareness of the specific health problem, and that engaged them, appeared to increase recruitment.
Background
Recruitment of participants into randomised controlled trials (RCTs) is critical for successful trial conduct. Although there have been two previous systematic reviews on related topics, the results (which identified specific interventions) were inconclusive and not generalizable. The aim of our study was to evaluate the relative effectiveness of recruitment strategies for participation in RCTs.
Methods and Findings
A systematic review, using the PRISMA guideline for reporting of systematic reviews, that compared methods of recruiting individual study participants into an actual or mock RCT were included. We searched MEDLINE, Embase, The Cochrane Library, and reference lists of relevant studies. From over 16,000 titles or abstracts reviewed, 396 papers were retrieved and 37 studies were included, in which 18,812 of at least 59,354 people approached agreed to participate in a clinical RCT. Recruitment strategies were broadly divided into four groups: novel trial designs (eight studies), recruiter differences (eight studies), incentives (two studies), and provision of trial information (19 studies). Strategies that increased people's awareness of the health problem being studied (e.g., an interactive computer program [relative risk (RR) 1.48, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.00–2.18], attendance at an education session [RR 1.14, 95% CI 1.01–1.28], addition of a health questionnaire [RR 1.37, 95% CI 1.14–1.66]), or a video about the health condition (RR 1.75, 95% CI 1.11–2.74), and also monetary incentives (RR1.39, 95% CI 1.13–1.64 to RR 1.53, 95% CI 1.28–1.84) improved recruitment. Increasing patients' understanding of the trial process, recruiter differences, and various methods of randomisation and consent design did not show a difference in recruitment. Consent rates were also higher for nonblinded trial design, but differential loss to follow up between groups may jeopardise the study findings. The study's main limitation was the necessity of modifying the search strategy with subsequent search updates because of changes in MEDLINE definitions. The abstracts of previous versions of this systematic review were published in 2002 and 2007.
Conclusion
Recruitment strategies that focus on increasing potential participants' awareness of the health problem being studied, its potential impact on their health, and their engagement in the learning process appeared to increase recruitment to clinical studies. Further trials of recruitment strategies that target engaging participants to increase their awareness of the health problems being studied and the potential impact on their health may confirm this hypothesis.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Before any health care intervention—a treatment for a disease or a measure such as vaccination that is designed to prevent an illness—is adopted by the medical community, it undergoes exhaustive laboratory-based and clinical research. In the laboratory, scientists investigate the causes of diseases, identify potential new treatments or preventive methods, and test these interventions in animals. New interventions that look hopeful are then investigated in clinical trials—studies that test these interventions in people by following a strict trial protocol or action plan. Phase I trials test interventions in a few healthy volunteers or patients to evaluate their safety and to identify possible side effects. In phase II trials, a larger group of patients receives an intervention to evaluate its safety further and to get an initial idea of its effectiveness. In phase III trials, very large groups of patients (sometimes in excess of a thousand people) are randomly assigned to receive the new intervention or an established intervention or placebo (dummy intervention). These “randomized controlled trials” or “RCTs” provide the most reliable information about the effectiveness and safety of health care interventions.
Why Was This Study Done?
Patients who participate in clinical trials must fulfill the inclusion criteria laid down in the trial protocol and must be given information about the trial, its risks, and potential benefits before agreeing to participate (informed consent). Unfortunately, many RCTs struggle to enroll the number of patients specified in their trial protocol, which can reduce a trial's ability to measure the effect of a new intervention. Inadequate recruitment can also increase costs and, in the worst cases, prevent trial completion. Several strategies have been developed to improve recruitment but it is not clear which strategy works best. In this study, the researchers undertake a systematic review (a study that uses predefined criteria to identify all the research on a given topic) of “recruitment trials”—studies that have randomly divided potential RCT participants into groups, applied different strategies for recruitment to each group, and compared recruitment rates in the groups.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 37 randomized trials of recruitment strategies into real and mock RCTs (where no actual trial occurred). In all, 18,812 people agreed to participate in an RCT in these recruitment trials out of at least 59,354 people approached. Some of these trials investigated novel strategies for recruitment, such as changes in how patients are randomized. Others looked at the effect of recruiter differences (for example, increased contact between the health care professionals doing the recruiting and the trial investigators), the effect of offering monetary incentives to participants, and the effect of giving more information about the trial to potential participants. Recruitment strategies that improved people's awareness of the health problem being studied—provision of an interactive computer program or a video about the health condition, attendance at an educational session, or inclusion of a health questionnaire in the recruitment process—improved recruitment rates, as did monetary incentives. Increasing patients' understanding about the trial process itself, recruiter differences, and alterations in consent design and randomization generally had no effect on recruitment rates although consent rates were higher when patients knew the treatment to which they had been randomly allocated before consenting. However, differential losses among the patients in different treatment groups in such nonblinded trials may jeopardize study findings.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that trial recruitment strategies that focus on increasing the awareness of potential participants of the health problem being studied and its possible effects on their health, and that engage potential participants in the trial process are likely to increase recruitment to RCTs. The accuracy of these findings depends on whether the researchers identified all the published research on recruitment strategies and on whether other research on recruitment strategies has been undertaken and not published that could alter these findings. Furthermore, because about half of the recruitment trials identified by the researchers were undertaken in the US, the successful strategies identified here might not be generalizable to other countries. Nevertheless, these recruitment strategies should now be investigated further to ensure that the future evaluation of new health care interventions is not hampered by poor recruitment into RCTs.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000368.
The ClinicalTrials.gov Web site is a searchable register of federally and privately supported clinical trials in the US and around the world, providing information about all aspects of clinical trials
The US National Institutes of Health provides information about clinical trials
The UK National Health Service Choices Web site has information for patients about clinical trials and medical research
The UK Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Units also provides information for patients about clinical trials and links to information on clinical trials provided by other organizations
MedlinePlus has links to further resources on clinical trials (in English and Spanish)
The Australian Government's National Health and Medical Research Council has information about clinical trials
WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform aims to ensure that all trials are publicly accessible to those making health care decisions
The Star Child Health International Forum of Standards for Research is a resource center for pediatric clinical trial design, conduct, and reporting
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000368
PMCID: PMC2976724  PMID: 21085696
18.  What Can We Conclude from Death Registration? Improved Methods for Evaluating Completeness 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(4):e1000262.
Julie Rajaratnam and colleagues evaluate the performance of a suite of demographic methods that estimate the fraction of deaths registered and counted by civil registration systems, and identify three variants that generally perform the best.
Background
One of the fundamental building blocks for determining the burden of disease in populations is to reliably measure the level and pattern of mortality by age and sex. Where well-functioning registration systems exist, this task is relatively straightforward. Results from many civil registration systems, however, remain uncertain because of a lack of confidence in the completeness of death registration. Incomplete registration systems mean not all deaths are counted, and resulting estimates of death rates for the population are then underestimated. Death distribution methods (DDMs) are a suite of demographic methods that attempt to estimate the fraction of deaths that are registered and counted by the civil registration system. Although widely applied and used, the methods have at least three types of limitations. First, a wide range of variants of these methods has been applied in practice with little scientific literature to guide their selection. Second, the methods have not been extensively validated in real population conditions where violations of the assumptions of the methods most certainly occur. Third, DDMs do not generate uncertainty intervals.
Methods and Findings
In this paper, we systematically evaluate the performance of 234 variants of DDM methods in three different validation environments where we know or have strong beliefs about the true level of completeness of death registration. Using these datasets, we identify three variants of the DDMs that generally perform the best. We also find that even these improved methods yield uncertainty intervals of roughly ± one-quarter of the estimate. Finally, we demonstrate the application of the optimal variants in eight countries.
Conclusions
There continues to be a role for partial vital registration data in measuring adult mortality levels and trends, but such results should only be interpreted alongside all other data sources on adult mortality and the uncertainty of the resulting levels, trends, and age-patterns of adult death considered.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Accurate worldwide information on the levels and patterns of mortality (deaths) is essential for planning and monitoring global public-health initiatives. The gold standard method for collecting such information is death registration. In high-income countries, death registration is effectively 100% complete, but the situation in many developing countries is very different. In most African countries, for example, less than one-quarter of deaths are officially recorded. Although other data sources such as household surveys can be used to estimate mortality levels in such countries, partial registration data could provide useful information about mortality levels in developing countries if its completeness could be evaluated. One way to do this is to use demographic methods called “death distribution methods” (DDMs). Demography is the study of the size, growth, and other characteristics of human populations; DDMs compare the age distribution of recorded deaths (the relative proportion of deaths in each age group) with the age distribution of the population in which they occurred to provide a correction factor that can be used to calculate corrected mortality levels from registered deaths. DDMs are used by the World Health Organization to monitor adult mortality in nearly 100 countries.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although widely used, few studies have compared the performance of the many available DDM variants, and DDMs have not been extensively validated by testing them in populations for which the completeness of death registration is known. In addition, because DDMs are mathematical in nature, they do not provide any indication of the uncertainty associated with the correction factors they yield. This means that public-health officials using estimates of mortality levels generated from partial registration data using DDMs have no idea of the limits between which the true mortality levels of their populations lie. In this study, the researchers systematically evaluate the performance of 234 DDM variants and use the optimal variants that they identify to analyze registration completeness over time in six developing countries.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers constructed 234 DDM variants by combining each of three general types of DDMs with 78 different “age trims”; demographers often age-trim—drop older and/or younger age groups—when using DDMs to estimate correction factors for observed death rates. The researchers then evaluated the performance of the variants in three “validation” datasets for which the completeness of death registration is known—a microsimulation of a population of 10 million people followed for 150 years, population data from US counties between 1990 and 2000, and population data from high-income OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries with populations of more than 5 million between 1950 and 2000. Detailed analyses of the performance of the DDM variants with all three datasets identified three optimal DDMs, one of each type. However, even with these optimal DDMs, the uncertainty intervals associated with estimates of relative completeness of registration were roughly +/− one-quarter of the estimate. Finally, the researchers applied their optimal DDMs to six developing countries over time. This analysis showed that death registration for adults has been relatively complete since 1970 in Mexico, for example, whereas in Tunisia, death registration has improved from nearly 50% in 1965 to complete by 1980. It also indicated that the three DDMs can give consistent results in some contexts.
What Do These Findings Mean?
By using multiple validation databases, these findings identify three optimal DDMs for the estimation of completeness of death registration. The researchers recommend that analysts apply all three methods when estimating the completeness of death registration data and look at the consistency of the results produced. They warn that the level of uncertainty associated with the estimation of completeness of registration means that results yielded by DDMs should be interpreted with considerable caution. In particular, they note that although correction factors provided by DDMs may be a good way of estimating mortality levels, the uncertainty in these factors may make them unsuitable for analyzing trends over time in mortality levels. Overall, the researchers conclude that partial death registration data have a role to play in measuring adult mortality levels, provided that they are analyzed alongside other data sources.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000262.
This study and two related PLoS Medicine Research Articles—by Obermeyer et al. and by Rajaratnam et al. —are further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Mathers and Boerma
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation makes available high-quality information on population health, its determinants, and the performance of health systems
Grand Challenges in Global Health provides information on research into better ways for developing countries to measure their health status
The World Health Organization Statistical Information System (WHOSIS) is an interactive database that brings together core health statistics for WHO member states, including information on vital registration of deaths; the WHO Health Metrics Network is a global collaboration focused on improving sources of vital statistics
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000262
PMCID: PMC2854130  PMID: 20405002
19.  Muscle-Strengthening and Conditioning Activities and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes: A Prospective Study in Two Cohorts of US Women 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(1):e1001587.
Anders Grøntved and colleagues examined whether women who perform muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities have an associated reduced risk of type 2 diabetes mellitus.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
It is well established that aerobic physical activity can lower the risk of type 2 diabetes (T2D), but whether muscle-strengthening activities are beneficial for the prevention of T2D is unclear. This study examined the association of muscle-strengthening activities with the risk of T2D in women.
Methods and Findings
We prospectively followed up 99,316 middle-aged and older women for 8 years from the Nurses' Health Study ([NHS] aged 53–81 years, 2000–2008) and Nurses' Health Study II ([NHSII] aged 36–55 years, 2001–2009), who were free of diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular diseases at baseline. Participants reported weekly time spent on resistance exercise, lower intensity muscular conditioning exercises (yoga, stretching, toning), and aerobic moderate and vigorous physical activity (MVPA) at baseline and in 2004/2005. Cox regression with adjustment for major determinants for T2D was carried out to examine the influence of these types of activities on T2D risk. During 705,869 person years of follow-up, 3,491 incident T2D cases were documented. In multivariable adjusted models including aerobic MVPA, the pooled relative risk (RR) for T2D for women performing 1–29, 30–59, 60–150, and >150 min/week of total muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities was 0.83, 0.93, 0.75, and 0.60 compared to women reporting no muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities (p<0.001 for trend). Furthermore, resistance exercise and lower intensity muscular conditioning exercises were each independently associated with lower risk of T2D in pooled analyses. Women who engaged in at least 150 min/week of aerobic MVPA and at least 60 min/week of muscle-strengthening activities had substantial risk reduction compared with inactive women (pooled RR = 0.33 [95% CI 0.29–0.38]). Limitations to the study include that muscle-strengthening and conditioning activity and other types of physical activity were assessed by a self-administered questionnaire and that the study population consisted of registered nurses with mostly European ancestry.
Conclusions
Our study suggests that engagement in muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities (resistance exercise, yoga, stretching, toning) is associated with a lower risk of T2D. Engagement in both aerobic MVPA and muscle-strengthening type activity is associated with a substantial reduction in the risk of T2D in middle-aged and older women.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Worldwide, more than 370 million people have diabetes mellitus, a disorder characterized by poor glycemic control—dangerously high amounts of glucose (sugar) in the blood. Blood sugar levels are normally controlled by insulin, a hormone released by the pancreas. In people with type 2 diabetes (the commonest form of diabetes), blood sugar control fails because the fat and muscle cells that normally respond to insulin by removing excess sugar from the blood become less responsive to insulin. Type 2 diabetes, which was previously known as adult-onset diabetes, can often initially be controlled with diet and exercise, and with antidiabetic drugs such as metformin and sulfonylureas. However, as the disease progresses, the pancreatic beta cells, which make insulin, become impaired and patients may eventually need insulin injections. Long-term complications of diabetes, which include an increased risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart disease and stroke, reduce the life expectancy of people with diabetes by about 10 years compared to people without diabetes.
Why Was This Study Done?
Type 2 diabetes is becoming increasingly common worldwide so better preventative strategies are essential. It is well-established that regular aerobic exercise—physical activity in which the breathing and heart rate increase noticeably such as jogging, brisk walking, and swimming—lowers the risk of type 2 diabetes. The World Health Organization currently recommends that adults should do at least 150 min/week of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic physical activity to reduce the risk of diabetes and other non-communicable diseases. It also recommends that adults should undertake muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities such as weight training and yoga on two or more days a week. However, although studies have shown that muscle-strengthening activity improves glycemic control in people who already have diabetes, it is unclear whether this form of exercise prevents diabetes. In this prospective cohort study (a study in which disease development is followed up over time in a group of people whose characteristics are recorded at baseline), the researchers investigated the association of muscle-strengthening activities with the risk of type 2 diabetes in women.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers followed up nearly 100,000 women enrolled in the Nurses' Health Study (NHS) and the Nurses' Health Study II (NHSII), two prospective US investigations into risk factors for chronic diseases in women, for 8 years. The women provided information on weekly participation in muscle-strengthening exercise (for example, weight training), lower intensity muscle-conditioning exercises (for example, yoga and toning), and aerobic moderate and vigorous physical activity (aerobic MVPA) at baseline and 4 years later. During the study 3,491 women developed diabetes. After allowing for major risk factors for type 2 diabetes (for example, diet and a family history of diabetes) and for aerobic MVPA, compared to women who did no muscle-strengthening or conditioning exercise, the risk of developing type 2 diabetes among women declined with increasing participation in muscle-strengthening and conditioning activity. Notably, women who did more than 150 min/week of these types of exercise had 40% lower risk of developing diabetes as women who did not exercise in this way at all. Muscle-strengthening and muscle-conditioning exercise were both independently associated with reduced diabetes risk, and women who engaged in at least 150 min/week of aerobic MVPA and at least 60 min/week of muscle-strengthening exercise were a third as likely to develop diabetes as inactive women.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that, among the women enrolled in NHS and NHSII, engagement in muscle-strengthening and conditioning activities lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes independent of aerobic MVPA. That is, non-aerobic exercise provided protection against diabetes in women who did no aerobic exercise. Importantly, they also show that doing both aerobic exercise and muscle-strengthening exercise substantially reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes. Because nearly all the participants in NHS and NHSII were of European ancestry, these results may not be generalizable to women of other ethnic backgrounds. Moreover, the accuracy of these findings may be limited by the use of self-administered questionnaires to determine how much exercise the women undertook. Nevertheless, these findings support the inclusion of muscle-strengthening and conditioning exercises in strategies designed to prevent type 2 diabetes in women, a conclusion that is consistent with current guidelines for physical activity among adults.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001587.
The US National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse provides information about diabetes for patients, health-care professionals and the general public, including information on diabetes prevention (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information for patients and carers about type 2 diabetes and explains the benefits of regular physical activity
The World Health Organization provides information about diabetes and about physical activity and health (in several languages); its 2010 Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health are available in several languages
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on physical activity for different age groups; its Physical Activity for Everyone web pages include guidelines, instructional videos and personal success stories
More information about the Nurses Health Study and the Nurses Health Study II is available
The UK charity Healthtalkonline has interviews with people about their experiences of diabetes
MedlinePlus provides links to further resources and advice about diabetes and about physical exercise and fitness (in English and Spanish)
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001587
PMCID: PMC3891575  PMID: 24453948
20.  Hip Fracture Incidence in Relation to Age, Menopausal Status, and Age at Menopause: Prospective Analysis 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(11):e1000181.
Using data from the UK Million Women Study, Emily Banks and colleagues investigate the relationships between the incidence of hip fracture and a woman's age, menopausal status, and age at menopause.
Background
Bone mineral density is known to decrease rapidly after the menopause. There is limited evidence about the separate contributions of a woman's age, menopausal status and age at menopause to the incidence of hip fracture.
Methods and Findings
Over one million middle-aged women joined the UK Million Women Study in 1996–2001 providing information on their menopausal status, age at menopause, and other factors, which was updated, where possible, 3 y later. All women were registered with the UK National Health Service (NHS) and were routinely linked to information on cause-specific admissions to NHS hospitals. 561,609 women who had never used hormone replacement therapy and who provided complete information on menopausal variables (at baseline 25% were pre/perimenopausal and 75% postmenopausal) were followed up for a total of 3.4 million woman-years (an average 6.2 y per woman). During follow-up 1,676 (0.3%) were admitted to hospital with a first incident hip fracture. Among women aged 50–54 y the relative risk (RR) of hip fracture risk was significantly higher in postmenopausal than premenopausal women (adjusted RR 2.22, 95% confidence interval [CI] 1.22–4.04; p = 0.009); there were too few premenopausal women aged 55 y and over for valid comparisons. Among postmenopausal women, hip fracture incidence increased steeply with age (p<0.001), with rates being about seven times higher at age 70–74 y than at 50–54 y (incidence rates of 0.82 versus 0.11 per 100 women over 5 y). Among postmenopausal women of a given age there was no significant difference in hip fracture incidence between women whose menopause was due to bilateral oophorectomy compared to a natural menopause (adjusted RR 1.20, 95% CI 0.94–1.55; p = 0.15), and age at menopause had little, if any, effect on hip fracture incidence.
Conclusions
At around the time of the menopause, hip fracture incidence is about twice as high in postmenopausal than in premenopausal women, but this effect is short lived. Among postmenopausal women, age is by far the main determinant of hip fracture incidence and, for women of a given age, their age at menopause has, at most, a weak additional effect.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Anyone can break a hip but most hip fractures occur in elderly people. As people age, their bones gradually lose minerals and become less dense, which weakens the bones and makes them more susceptible to fracture. Because women lose bone density faster than men as they age and because women constitute the majority of the elderly, three-quarters of hip fractures occur in women. Hip fractures can cause long-term health problems and premature death. Thus, although surgical repair of a broken hip usually only requires a hospital stay of about a week, a quarter of elderly people who were living independently before their fracture have to stay in a nursing home for at least a year after their injury and a fifth of elderly people who break a hip die within the year. Most hip fractures are caused by falls. Regular exercise to improve strength and balance combined with review of medicines (to reduce side effects and interactions), regular eye examinations, and the removal of fall hazards from the home can help to prevent hip fractures in elderly people.
Why Was This Study Done?
Bone density decreases very rapidly in women immediately after menopause—the time when menstruation permanently stops—and then continues to decrease more slowly with age. Most women have their menopause in their early 50s but menopause can occur in younger women. Early menopause is thought to be a risk factor for osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) and fractures later in life but little is known about how menopause influences hip fracture risk as women age. In this prospective study (a type of study in which a group of people is followed for several years to see whether they develop a particular condition), the researchers investigate the incidence of hip fractures in relation to age, menopausal status, and age at menopause among the participants of the Million Women Study. This study, which recruited 1.3 million women aged 50–64 years who attended UK breast cancer screening clinics between 1996 and 2001, has been investigating how reproductive and lifestyle factors affect women's health.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
At enrollment and three years later, the study participants provided information about their menopausal status and other health and lifestyle factors likely to affect their fracture risk. From these data, the researchers identified more than half a million women who had never used hormone replacement therapy (which reduces fracture risk) and who had given complete information about their menopausal status. They then looked for statistical associations between the occurrence of a first hip fracture in these women over the next few years and their age, menopausal status, and age at menopause. Among women aged 50–54 years, postmenopausal women were twice as likely to have a hip fracture as premenopausal women. Among postmenopausal women, the incidence of hip fractures increased steeply with age and was seven times higher in 70–74-year olds than in 50–54-year olds. Women who had their menopause before age 45 had a slightly increased risk of hip fracture but any effect of age at menopause on the risk of hip fracture was small compared to the effect of age itself, and the slightly increased risk may have been due to other factors that could not be fully accounted for in the analysis.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings indicate that around the time of menopause, although hip fractures are rare, the risk of a fracture in postmenopausal women is twice that in premenopausal women. The findings also show that among postmenopausal women, age is the major determinant of hip fracture risk and that for women of a given age, their age at menopause has little effect on hip fracture risk. Women attending breast cancer screening clinics and completing questionnaires about their health may not be representative of the general population. Furthermore, these findings rely on women self-reporting their menopausal status accurately. Nevertheless, the results of this study suggest that clinicians advising women about hip fracture prevention should probably base their advice on the woman's age and on age-related factors such as frailty rather than on factors related to menopause. Clinicians can also now reassure elderly women who had an early menopause that their risk of hip fracture is unlikely to be higher than that of similar women who had a later menopause.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000181.
The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons has detailed information about hip fractures
The US National Institute of Arthritis and Muscoloskeletal and Skin Diseases has an interactive feature called “Check up on your bones and provides detailed information about osteoporosis, including advice on fall prevention
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a fact sheet about hip fractures among older adults
MedlinePlus has links to resources about hip fracture, osteoporosis, and menopause (in English and Spanish)
More information on the Million Women Study is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000181
PMCID: PMC2766835  PMID: 19901981
21.  One Size Does Not Fit All: Using Qualitative Methods to Inform the Development of an Internet Portal for Multiple Sclerosis Patients 
Disabled and elderly populations are the fastest growing segment of Internet usage. However, these people face an “Inverse Information law”- access to appropriate information is particularly difficult to those who need it the most. Our tertiary care Multiple Sclerosis (MS) center received funding to develop a MS specific patient portal linked to web messaging system so as to empower patients to become more active participants in their health care. In order to design an effective portal, we conducted a qualitative study using focus groups and direct observation techniques. The study explores the perceptions, expectations and interactions of MS patients with the portal and underscores the many challenges MS patients face in getting quality health information on the Internet. Many of the patient barriers were due to inappropriate font sizes, low contrast, cluttering of web page and use of dynamic and flashing objects. Some of these issues are not addressed by Section 508 accessibility guidelines. We believe that any future patient portal or health information web site needs to address these issues and educate the patients about accessibility options to enhance utilization and user satisfaction.
PMCID: PMC1560589  PMID: 16778993
22.  Markers of Dysglycaemia and Risk of Coronary Heart Disease in People without Diabetes: Reykjavik Prospective Study and Systematic Review 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(5):e1000278.
Background
Associations between circulating markers of dysglycaemia and coronary heart disease (CHD) risk in people without diabetes have not been reliably characterised. We report new data from a prospective study and a systematic review to help quantify these associations.
Methods and Findings
Fasting and post-load glucose levels were measured in 18,569 participants in the population-based Reykjavik study, yielding 4,664 incident CHD outcomes during 23.5 y of mean follow-up. In people with no known history of diabetes at the baseline survey, the hazard ratio (HR) for CHD, adjusted for several conventional risk factors, was 2.37 (95% CI 1.79–3.14) in individuals with fasting glucose ≥7.0 mmol/l compared to those <7 mmol/l. At fasting glucose values below 7 mmol/l, adjusted HRs were 0.95 (0.89–1.01) per 1 mmol/l higher fasting glucose and 1.03 (1.01–1.05) per 1 mmol/l higher post-load glucose. HRs for CHD risk were generally modest and nonsignificant across tenths of glucose values below 7 mmol/l. We did a meta-analysis of 26 additional relevant prospective studies identified in a systematic review of Western cohort studies that recorded fasting glucose, post-load glucose, or glycated haemoglobin (HbA1c) levels. In this combined analysis, in which participants with a self-reported history of diabetes and/or fasting blood glucose ≥7 mmol/l at baseline were excluded, relative risks for CHD, adjusted for several conventional risk factors, were: 1.06 (1.00–1.12) per 1 mmol/l higher fasting glucose (23 cohorts, 10,808 cases, 255,171 participants); 1.05 (1.03–1.07) per 1 mmol/l higher post-load glucose (15 cohorts, 12,652 cases, 102,382 participants); and 1.20 (1.10–1.31) per 1% higher HbA1c (9 cohorts, 1639 cases, 49,099 participants).
Conclusions
In the Reykjavik Study and a meta-analysis of other Western prospective studies, fasting and post-load glucose levels were modestly associated with CHD risk in people without diabetes. The meta-analysis suggested a somewhat stronger association between HbA1c levels and CHD risk.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Among people diagnosed with type 2 diabetes mellitus (the commonest type of diabetes worldwide), poor management or lack of appropriate treatment can lead to long-term complications resulting from persistently high sugar levels in the blood. The long-term complications of type 2 diabetes are generally divided into two main groups: microvascular problems (such as nerve damage, kidney disease, and eye disorders), and macrovascular disease (such as heart disease, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease). A major goal of diabetes treatment is to keep glucose control as normal as possible through diet, weight control, exercise, and pharmacological treatments. However, it is unclear whether the link between high blood sugar and macrovascular disease (principally heart disease and strokes) also holds for people who have slightly higher than normal blood sugar levels, but in whom this level does not reach the diabetic threshold. Some previous research studies have suggested that a continuous relationship exists between blood sugar level and the risk of heart disease across the spectrum, i.e., below the diabetic threshold as well as above it. If such a relationship were confirmed this might have important implications for the management of high blood sugar levels even among people who would not normally meet the usual definition for a diagnosis of diabetes (the “diabetic threshold”).
Why Was This Study Done?
Studies which examine the risk of serious, but relatively common, outcomes (such as a nonfatal heart attack or fatal heart disease), often suffer from insufficient statistical power: a large number of participants need to be recruited, and followed up over a long time, to find out whether certain factors measured at baseline (e.g., fasting glucose) are indeed associated with a particular outcome (e.g., heart attack) or not during follow up. Given the inconclusive nature of some previous studies in this area, the researchers who carried out this work wanted to gather evidence from a large prospective cohort, and a reappraisal of all existing evidence, in relation to the possible link between high blood sugar and risk of heart disease in people without diabetes.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
In this study, the researchers report results from a prospective population-based study (in which participants are followed forward in time) from Reykjavik, Iceland. In the study, men and women without history of heart disease aged between 31 and 57 in 1966 were first invited to join the cohort, and were followed forward in time using national registries that recorded deaths (and causes of death), and incidence of heart disease. A total of 8,888 male and 9,681 female participants were recruited. At baseline, laboratory measurements were taken to record blood sugar levels using two different methods: fasting blood glucose and post-load glucose. Among the group of participants, 4,664 people were recorded as having either a nonfatal heart attack or fatal heart disease, during approximately 23 years of follow-up. In addition, the researchers attempted to identify from the published medical literature previous prospective studies conducted in Western populations that had looked at the association between blood sugar levels and risk of coronary heart disease. They requested, and obtained, re-analyses of data conducted in accordance with a common protocol for most of the identified studies and then analysed these, together with the results of the Reykjavik cohort, to produce a summary estimate (meta-analysis) of the association between blood sugar levels and risk of coronary heart disease in people without diabetes.
In the Reykjavik cohort, the researchers confirmed an increased risk of coronary heart disease among individuals with blood sugar above the diabetic threshold, as compared to those below it. However, when they looked at blood sugar in people below the diabetic threshold, they found no evidence that higher levels were strongly linked with greater risk of coronary heart disease. This held for both methods of measuring blood sugar levels (fasting and post-load).
In the meta-analysis, the researchers obtained data for 27 different studies, comprising 303,961 participants and 16,982 cases of heart disease. In this meta-analysis, very small increases in risk of heart disease were found with higher levels of blood sugar, when measured using fasting blood glucose or post-load glucose. However, studies using glycated haemoglobin (a measure of average sugar levels over the past 1–3 months or so) found this measure to be associated with a somewhat higher risk of heart disease.
What Do these Findings Mean?
In this prospective cohort and wider meta-analysis, the researchers did not find evidence of a strong or continuous association between blood sugar levels and risk of heart disease amongst people without diabetes. The prospective study, and analysis of other cohorts, was large, but only looked at participants of European decent, so it is not clear whether the findings will also hold for non-European groups.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000278.
Information is available from the US National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse about diabetes, heart disease, and stroke
Centers for Disease Control provides information for the public and professionals about diabetes on their diabetes minisite
Medline Plus encyclopedia has an entry about coronary heart disease
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000278
PMCID: PMC2876150  PMID: 20520805
23.  Blood Glucose and Risk of Incident and Fatal Cancer in the Metabolic Syndrome and Cancer Project (Me-Can): Analysis of Six Prospective Cohorts 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(12):e1000201.
Tanja Stocks and colleagues carry out an analysis of six European cohorts and confirm that abnormal glucose metabolism is linked with increased risk of cancer overall and at specific sites.
Background
Prospective studies have indicated that elevated blood glucose levels may be linked with increased cancer risk, but the strength of the association is unclear. We examined the association between blood glucose and cancer risk in a prospective study of six European cohorts.
Methods and Findings
The Metabolic syndrome and Cancer project (Me-Can) includes cohorts from Norway, Austria, and Sweden; the current study included 274,126 men and 275,818 women. Mean age at baseline was 44.8 years and mean follow-up time was 10.4 years. Excluding the first year of follow-up, 18,621 men and 11,664 women were diagnosed with cancer, and 6,973 men and 3,088 women died of cancer. We used Cox regression models to calculate relative risk (RR) for glucose levels, and included adjustment for body mass index (BMI) and smoking status in the analyses. RRs were corrected for regression dilution ratio of glucose. RR (95% confidence interval) per 1 mmol/l increment of glucose for overall incident cancer was 1.05 (1.01–1.10) in men and 1.11 (1.05–1.16) in women, and corresponding RRs for fatal cancer were 1.15 (1.07–1.22) and 1.21 (1.11–1.33), respectively. Significant increases in risk among men were found for incident and fatal cancer of the liver, gallbladder, and respiratory tract, for incident thyroid cancer and multiple myeloma, and for fatal rectal cancer. In women, significant associations were found for incident and fatal cancer of the pancreas, for incident urinary bladder cancer, and for fatal cancer of the uterine corpus, cervix uteri, and stomach.
Conclusions
Data from our study indicate that abnormal glucose metabolism, independent of BMI, is associated with an increased risk of cancer overall and at several cancer sites. Our data showed stronger associations among women than among men, and for fatal cancer compared to incident cancer.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Large prospective population-based research studies can have the power to discover new associations, and to verify previously proposed associations, between specific risk factors and the subsequent occurrence of disease. One such study, the “Me-Can” (Metabolic syndrome and Cancer project) is investigating associations between cancer incidence and a cluster of metabolic risk factors that make up metabolic syndrome: a large waistline; a high level of fats called triglycerides in the blood; a low level of “good” cholesterol; high blood pressure; and raised blood glucose (hyperglycemia). Here the researchers investigate the associations between one of these risk factors—raised blood glucose—and cancer. It is normal for blood glucose levels to vary before and after meals, but raised levels that persist long-term are known to lead to organ damage and severe complications. It is thought that more than 30% of cancer-related deaths could be prevented by modifying key risk factors, such as tobacco control, modifying diet, staying active, and limiting exposure to environmental risk factors.
Why Was This Study Done?
A previous large research study (including roughly 1.3 million men and women, conducted in Korea) has already evaluated the association between high blood glucose levels and cancer risk, and found that high blood glucose levels were linked with increased risk of cancer—both getting it and dying from it. Studies in European and US populations have also found a link, but they considered relatively small numbers of people and so these could not be used to calculate the risk with respect to specific cancer sites. The researchers carrying out the Me-Can project wanted to verify whether the associations reported in the Korean study also held true for European populations.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers identified 274,126 men and 275,818 women from existing health studies in Norway, Austria, and Sweden for whom data had been recorded on blood glucose level, height, and weight. For each participant a baseline measurement was defined, consisting of data from the first health examination, which had complete data (including a blood glucose measurement and whether the participant smoked). The participants were tracked via national registers for up to around 25 years after the baseline measurement but most commonly for around a decade. Any cancer diagnosis was recorded, whether the participant survived to the end of the study, and causes of death for participants who died during the study. The researchers analyzed the data to assess whether a higher blood glucose level was associated with increased risk of certain cancers, in both men and women. The researchers took weight for height, and smoking into account and adjusted for measurement error from additional blood glucose measurements. The researchers found that, overall, the higher the level of blood glucose, the higher the risk of getting and dying from cancer. Average normal blood glucose levels are about 5 mmol/l, also expressed as 5 mM or 90 mg/dl. For each additional 1 mmol/l increase in blood glucose level, the risk of getting cancer was increased by 5% for men and 11% for women.
What Do These Findings Mean?
The authors concluded that high blood glucose is associated with increased cancer risk. The results largely confirm findings from the Korean study, although there are some differences in the risks of cancers at some specific sites, which may be due to differences in the populations such as genetics, diet, and rates of smoking. Among the strengths of the study are its large sample size and that glucose were measured more than once for many individuals in the study. However, the study is limited in that the researchers did not have data on other possible factors such as genetics, physical activity, or dietary factors, which are linked to cancer incidence and also may be related to blood glucose levels. The researchers propose that controlling blood glucose may lower cancer risk in the population. Although this interpretation is consistent with the data, the study design cannot conclusively demonstrate a causal association between glucose levels and cancer risk.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000201.
The US National Cancer Institute provides online information and statistics on cancer, including risk factors for cancer
The American Heart Association provides information on sugars in the diet, including helpful hints on how to reduce the amount eaten
The UK's National Health Service's Change4Life campaign provides information and ideas for those wishing to make their lifestyle, including diet, more healthy
Cancer Research UK is the world's leading charity dedicated to beating cancer through research. Its websites provide information about cancer and the research it funds
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000201
PMCID: PMC2791167  PMID: 20027213
24.  Associations between Active Travel to Work and Overweight, Hypertension, and Diabetes in India: A Cross-Sectional Study 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(6):e1001459.
Using data from the Indian Migration Study, Christopher Millett and colleagues examine the associations between active travel to work and overweight, hypertension, and diabetes.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Background
Increasing active travel (walking, bicycling, and public transport) is promoted as a key strategy to increase physical activity and reduce the growing burden of noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) globally. Little is known about patterns of active travel or associated cardiovascular health benefits in low- and middle-income countries. This study examines mode and duration of travel to work in rural and urban India and associations between active travel and overweight, hypertension, and diabetes.
Methods and Findings
Cross-sectional study of 3,902 participants (1,366 rural, 2,536 urban) in the Indian Migration Study. Associations between mode and duration of active travel and cardiovascular risk factors were assessed using random-effect logistic regression models adjusting for age, sex, caste, standard of living, occupation, factory location, leisure time physical activity, daily fat intake, smoking status, and alcohol use. Rural dwellers were significantly more likely to bicycle (68.3% versus 15.9%; p<0.001) to work than urban dwellers. The prevalence of overweight or obesity was 50.0%, 37.6%, 24.2%, 24.9%; hypertension was 17.7%, 11.8%, 6.5%, 9.8%; and diabetes was 10.8%, 7.4%, 3.8%, 7.3% in participants who travelled to work by private transport, public transport, bicycling, and walking, respectively. In the adjusted analysis, those walking (adjusted risk ratio [ARR] 0.72; 95% CI 0.58–0.88) or bicycling to work (ARR 0.66; 95% CI 0.55–0.77) were significantly less likely to be overweight or obese than those travelling by private transport. Those bicycling to work were significantly less likely to have hypertension (ARR 0.51; 95% CI 0.36–0.71) or diabetes (ARR 0.65; 95% CI 0.44–0.95). There was evidence of a dose-response relationship between duration of bicycling to work and being overweight, having hypertension or diabetes. The main limitation of the study is the cross-sectional design, which limits causal inference for the associations found.
Conclusions
Walking and bicycling to work was associated with reduced cardiovascular risk in the Indian population. Efforts to increase active travel in urban areas and halt declines in rural areas should be integral to strategies to maintain healthy weight and prevent NCDs in India.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) and obesity (excessive body fat) are major threats to global health. Every year, more than 36 million people (including 29 million in LMICs) die from NCDs—nearly two-thirds of the world's annual deaths. Cardiovascular diseases (conditions that affect the heart and the circulation), diabetes, cancer, and respiratory diseases are responsible for most NCD-related deaths. Obesity is a risk factor for all these NCDs and the global prevalence of obesity (the proportion of the world's population that is obese) has nearly doubled since 1980. In 2008, 35% of adults were overweight and 11% were obese. One reason for the growing burden of both obesity and NCDs is increasing physical inactivity. Regular physical activity helps to maintain a healthy body weight and to prevent or delay the onset of NCDs. For an adult, 30 minutes of moderate physical activity—walking briskly or cycling, for example—five times a week is sufficient to promote and maintain health. But the daily lives of people in both developed and developing countries are becoming increasingly sedentary and, nowadays, at least 60% of the world's population does not do even this modest amount of exercise.
Why Was This Study Done?
Strategies to increase physical activity levels often promote active travel (walking, cycling, and using public transport). The positive impact of active travel on physical activity levels and cardiovascular health is well established in high-income countries, but little is known about the patterns of active travel or the health benefits associated with active travel in poorer countries. In this cross-sectional study (an investigation that measures population characteristics at a single time point), the researchers examine the mode and duration of travel to work in rural and urban India and associations between active travel and overweight/obesity, hypertension (high blood pressure, a risk factor for cardiovascular disease), and diabetes. In India, a lower middle-income country, the prevalence of overweight and NCDs is projected to increase rapidly over the next two decades. Moreover, rapid unplanned urbanization and a large increase in registered motor vehicles has resulted in inadequate development of the public transport infrastructure and hazardous conditions for walking and cycling in most Indian towns and cities.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
For their study, researchers analyzed physical activity and health data collected from participants in the Indian Migration Study, which examined the association between migration from rural to urban areas and obesity and diabetes risk. People living in rural areas were more likely to cycle to work than people living in towns and cities (68.3% versus 15.9%). Among people who travelled to work by private transport, public transport, walking, and cycling, the prevalence of overweight or obesity was 50.0%, 37.6%, 24.9%, and 24.2%, respectively. Similar patterns were seen for the prevalence of hypertension and diabetes. After adjustment for factors that affect the risk of obesity, hypertension, and diabetes (for example, daily fat intake and leisure time physical activity), people walking or cycling to work were less likely to be overweight or obese than those travelling by public transport, and those cycling to walk were less likely to have hypertension or diabetes. Finally, people with long cycle rides to work had a lower risk of being overweight or having hypertension or diabetes than people with short cycle rides.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that, as in high-income settings, walking and cycling to work are associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease in India. Because this was a cross-sectional study, these findings do not prove that active travel reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease—people who cycle to work may share other unknown characteristics that are actually responsible for their reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. Moreover, this study did not consider non-cardiovascular outcomes associated with active travel that might affect health such as increased exposure to air pollution. Nevertheless, these findings suggest that programs designed to maintain healthy weight and prevent NCDs in India should endeavor to increase active travel in urban areas and to halt declines in rural areas by, for example, increasing investment in public transport and improving the safety and convenience of walking and cycling routes in urban areas.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001459.
This study is further discussed in a PLOS Medicine Perspective by Kavi Bhalla
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on all aspects of healthy living, on chronic diseases and health promotion, on overweight and obesity and on non-communicable diseases around the world; its Physical Activity for Everyone web pages include guidelines, instructional videos and personal success stories (some information in English and Spanish)
The World Health Organization provides information about physical activity and health, about obesity, and about non-communicable diseases (in several languages); its 2010 Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health are available in several languages; its Global Noncommunicable Disease Network (NCDnet) aims to help low- and middle- income countries reduce NCD-related illnesses and death through implementation of the 20082013 Action Plan for the Global Strategy for the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable Diseases (also available in French); Face to face with chronic diseases is a selection of personal stories from around the world about dealing with NCDs
The American Heart Association provides information on many important risk factors for non-communicable diseases and provides tips for becoming more active
Information about the Indian Migration Study is available
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001459
PMCID: PMC3679004  PMID: 23776412
25.  Facilitating the Recruitment of Minority Ethnic People into Research: Qualitative Case Study of South Asians and Asthma 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(10):e1000148.
Aziz Sheikh and colleagues report on a qualitative study in the US and the UK to investigate ways to bolster recruitment of South Asians into asthma studies, including making inclusion of diverse populations mandatory.
Background
There is international interest in enhancing recruitment of minority ethnic people into research, particularly in disease areas with substantial ethnic inequalities. A recent systematic review and meta-analysis found that UK South Asians are at three times increased risk of hospitalisation for asthma when compared to white Europeans. US asthma trials are far more likely to report enrolling minority ethnic people into studies than those conducted in Europe. We investigated approaches to bolster recruitment of South Asians into UK asthma studies through qualitative research with US and UK researchers, and UK community leaders.
Methods and Findings
Interviews were conducted with 36 researchers (19 UK and 17 US) from diverse disciplinary backgrounds and ten community leaders from a range of ethnic, religious, and linguistic backgrounds, followed by self-completion questionnaires. Interviews were digitally recorded, translated where necessary, and transcribed. The Framework approach was used for analysis. Barriers to ethnic minority participation revolved around five key themes: (i) researchers' own attitudes, which ranged from empathy to antipathy to (in a minority of cases) misgivings about the scientific importance of the question under study; (ii) stereotypes and prejudices about the difficulties in engaging with minority ethnic populations; (iii) the logistical challenges posed by language, cultural differences, and research costs set against the need to demonstrate value for money; (iv) the unique contexts of the two countries; and (v) poorly developed understanding amongst some minority ethnic leaders of what research entails and aims to achieve. US researchers were considerably more positive than their UK counterparts about the importance and logistics of including ethnic minorities, which appeared to a large extent to reflect the longer-term impact of the National Institutes of Health's requirement to include minority ethnic people.
Conclusions
Most researchers and community leaders view the broadening of participation in research as important and are reasonably optimistic about the feasibility of recruiting South Asians into asthma studies provided that the barriers can be overcome. Suggested strategies for improving recruitment in the UK included a considerably improved support structure to provide academics with essential contextual information (e.g., languages of particular importance and contact with local gatekeepers), and the need to ensure that care is taken to engage with the minority ethnic communities in ways that are both culturally appropriate and sustainable; ensuring reciprocal benefits was seen as one key way of avoiding gatekeeper fatigue. Although voluntary measures to encourage researchers may have some impact, greater impact might be achieved if UK funding bodies followed the lead of the US National Institutes of Health requiring recruitment of ethnic minorities. Such a move is, however, likely in the short- to medium-term, to prove unpopular with many UK academics because of the added “hassle” factor in engaging with more diverse populations than many have hitherto been accustomed to.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Background
In an ideal world, everyone would have the same access to health care and the same health outcomes (responses to health interventions). However, health inequalities—gaps in health care and in health between different parts of the population—exist in many countries. In particular, people belonging to ethnic minorities in the UK, the US, and elsewhere have poorer health outcomes for several conditions than people belonging to the ethnic majority (ethnicity is defined by social characteristics such as cultural tradition or national origin). For example, in the UK, people whose ancestors came from the Indian subcontinent (also known as South Asians and comprising in the main of people of Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi origin) are three times as likely to be admitted to hospital for asthma as white Europeans. The reasons underpinning ethnic health inequalities are complex. Some inequalities may reflect intrinsic differences between groups of people—some ethnic minorities may inherit genes that alter their susceptibility to a specific disease. Other ethnic health inequalities may arise because of differences in socioeconomic status or because different cultural traditions affect the uptake of health care services.
Why Was This Study Done?
Minority ethnic groups are often under-represented in health research, which could limit the generalizability of research findings. That is, an asthma treatment that works well in a trial where all the participants are white Europeans might not be suitable for South Asians. Clinicians might nevertheless use the treatment in all their patients irrespective of their ethnicity and thus inadvertently increase ethnic health inequality. So, how can ethnic minorities be encouraged to enroll into research studies? In this qualitative study, the investigators try to answer this question by talking to US and UK asthma researchers and UK community leaders about how they feel about enrolling ethnic minorities into research studies. The investigators chose to compare the feelings of US and UK asthma researchers because minority ethnic people are more likely to enroll into US asthma studies than into UK studies, possibly because the US National Institute of Health's (NIH) Revitalization Act 1993 mandates that all NIH-funded clinical research must include people from ethnic minority groups; there is no similar mandatory policy in the UK.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The investigators interviewed 16 UK and 17 US asthma researchers and three UK social researchers with experience of working with ethnic minorities. They also interviewed ten community leaders from diverse ethnic, religious and linguistic backgrounds. They then analyzed the interviews using the “Framework” approach, an analytical method in which qualitative data are classified and organized according to key themes and then interpreted. By comparing the data from the UK and US researchers, the investigators identified several barriers to ethnic minority participation in health research including: the attitudes of researchers towards the scientific importance of recruiting ethnic minority people into health research studies; prejudices about the difficulties of including ethnic minorities in health research; and the logistical challenges posed by language and cultural differences. In general, the US researchers were more positive than their UK counterparts about the importance and logistics of including ethnic minorities in health research. Finally, the investigators found that some community leaders had a poor understanding of what research entails and about its aims.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings reveal a large gap between US and UK researchers in terms of policy, attitudes, practices, and experiences in relation to including ethnic minorities in asthma research. However, they also suggest that most UK researchers and community leaders believe that it is both important and feasible to increase the participation of South Asians in asthma studies. Although some of these findings may have been affected by the study participants sometimes feeling obliged to give “politically correct” answers, these findings are likely to be generalizable to other diseases and to other parts of Europe. Given their findings, the researchers warn that a voluntary code of practice that encourages the recruitment of ethnic minority people into health research studies is unlikely to be successful. Instead, they suggest, the best way to increase the representation of ethnic minority people in health research in the UK might be to follow the US lead and introduce a policy that requires their inclusion in such research.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1000148.
Families USA, a US nonprofit organization that campaigns for high-quality, affordable health care for all Americans, has information about many aspects of minority health in the US, including an interactive game about minority health issues
The US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality has a section on minority health
The UK Department of Health provides information on health inequalities and a recent report on the experiences of patients in Black and minority ethnic groups
The UK Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology also has a short article on ethnicity and health
Information on the NIH Revitalization Act 1993 is available
NHS Evidences Ethnicity and Health has a variety of policy, clinical, and research resources on ethnicity and health
doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1000148
PMCID: PMC2752116  PMID: 19823568

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