Newsletter Digest: Biodiversity, bariatric surgery and Running Hot

Biodiversity deal hangs in balance

Representatives of 190 countries are working down to the wire at a UN Convention on Biological Diversity in Nagoya, Japan to agree on a treaty to protect the world’s ecosystems.

The COP10 meeting on biodiversity, which concludes this evening, is aiming to set global goals for preserving biodiversity and preventing the extinction of species.

This week saw the release of a flurry of scientific papers on the state of biodiversity. Papers published online by the journal Science and featuring research from 200 scientists, including Victoria University conservation and biodiversity expert Dr Ben Bell, suggests 20 per cent of vertebrates on Earth are “threatened” species – 13% of birds, 22% of reptiles, 25% of mammals, and 41% of amphibians.

A second study published by Science points out that computer models currently used to estimate future biodiversity loss are unreliable and inconsistent, which will make attempts to set policies to tackle biodiversity loss more difficult.

Japan on Wednesday pledged US$ 2 billion towards implementing the outcomes of the UN summit. The World Bank used the summit to kick off a five-year pilot study to “incorporate the value of ecosystems into countries’ national accounts”.

Boost for bariatric surgery funding

A $2 million funding injection for bariatric surgery announced this week will see around 75 extra New Zealanders receive the surgery each year for the next four years.

Experts contacted by the Science Media Centre welcomed the news of the increased availability of this type of surgery for the morbidly obese, but stressed that other preventative measures related to diet and exercise were more important than ever in fighting obesity.

Registered dietitian, Nikki Talacek, said bariatric surgery was effective in controlling diabetes in patients

“We have had numerous cases of people who have had diabetes pre surgery, and then come off all their diabetes medication after surgery, including insulin,” she said.

Effective but expensive…

But AUT Professor of Nutrition, Elaine Rush, said bariatric surgery was not without its side-effects and was a relatively expensive way to tackle problems related with obesity:

“The [State of Victoria] assessment of cost effectiveness of obesity interventions in children and adolescents modelled interventions for reducing obesity. Bariatric surgery (gastric banding) was judged to cost $2000 for every disability life year saved and reduction in TV advertising of high fat and/or high sugar foods and beverages directed at children as $4 for every disability life year saved.

“The difference is that the number in need of gastric banding is relatively small (one in six hundred) but costs the government but the cost to of a ban on advertising is borne by the advertisers not the tax payer.”

Comments from experts are available in full on the SMC website.

Emerging scientists meet next week

The Running Hot conference in Wellington next week (Nov 1 – 3) will see emerging researchers from around the country gather to discuss how the science sector in general can extract more value out of research.

The theme of the conference: Wonders and Widgets – realising the value of research for New Zealand mirrors the Government’s innovation focus and its push to get more effective outcomes from research that is funded from the public’s purse. The conference, which was previously held in 2006 and 2008, usually attracts high-calibre international speakers and this year is no different.

Check out the conference programme here. Running Hot is an excellent opportunity to meet a wide range of scientists in one place and many of those attending are known to the Science Media Centre. Contact us if you would like more background on the New Zealand speakers.