Conference: A long and healthy life: The contribution of medical research to AU community health


CONFERENCE DATE AND VENUE: Tuesday 27 September 2005 at The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, 1G Royal Parade, Parkville, Victoria.

Conference previews:
1. Childhood cancer link to smokers' sperm.
2. Ageing population can be a positive.

1. The 64,000 Australian smokers who will become fathers this year are exposing their children to vastly increased risks of leukaemias and other cancers, one of Australia's top experts in public health will tell the AAMRI conference in Parkville tomorrow.

Professor Stephen Leeder, from the University of Sydney, points out that the increased childhood cancer risks emerge not from passive smoking after a child's birth, but from genetic damage to the father's sperm caused by smoking.

Leeder quotes recent research conducted in China, which suggests that the duration of paternal smoking and the number of cigarettes smoked per day increases the risk of cancers in children.

Compared with children whose fathers had never smoked cigarettes, children whose fathers smoked more than five pack-years prior to their conception had a 1.7 times higher risk for all cancers combined. A breakdown of the cancer risk for children in the study showed that children had a 3.8 times higher risk for acute lymphocytic leukaemia, a 4.5 times higher risk for lymphoma and a 2.7 times higher risk for brain tumours.

Professor Leeder says, "The health chances of children are being set, even before conception, by the smoking behaviour of the father. For any man who intends to become a father, the message is simple, obvious and emphatic: if you smoke, you profoundly threaten the health of your future children. It's tragic enough that smoking is likely to kill one billion smokers worldwide this century. Now that we also know that smoking causes genetic damage to sperm, leading to huge increases in childhood cancer risks, the case against smoking is overwhelming. For the health of your own genes and the wellbeing of your future children: don't smoke!"

Professor Leeder will deliver his address, Health is a whole-of-life issue, to the conference at 11.30AM. Professor Leeder will be available for interview at the conclusion of his address or by prior arrangement. Contact: Brad Allan, tel. 61-393-45 2-345.

Note that Professor Leeder's address will be preceded by a speech by Victorian Minister for Innovation, John Brumby, at 11.00AM: The interface between life sciences, research, socially beneficial biotech investment and government.

2. Professor Allan McLean, from the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI), Melbourne and Professor Richard Head, from CSIRO, Adelaide, pose the question: Does an ageing population equal an intergenerational opportunity? Their answer is a strong "Yes", offering a positive perspective on the ostensible crisis approaching the Australian community because of the ageing population.

McLean and Head contend that ageing ought to be viewed as a continuum and a whole of life process, where older citizens can have the potential to make significant contributions to economic growth and community wellbeing. They argue that the assumed decline with age of a worker's productivity is, for the most part, mistaken. McLean and Head point out that a skilled worker's productivity often peaks between 50-55 years of age and that the decline in performance between 55 and 80 years of age is marginal.

Economic modelling data suggest that when 64 year old workers remain in employment for an additional one to three years, the benefit to GDP is a huge 12%-16%. This increase in GDP would itself finance the increased costs to the community when older workers do eventually retire.

Given that the workplace performance of older workers is typically so strong, the real challenge is to shift perceptions and to ensure that workers' health and motivation is maintained within a supportive and "age friendly" environment. Additionally they highlight the significance of nutrition, physical activity and assistive technologies for this population. Preventive nutrition, physical activity and other lifestyle changes have the proven potential to reduce acute illnesses and cancer by as much as 60% in older people.

Healthy ageing of the population represents an important social opportunity not a doomsday scenario.


Professor McLean and Professor Head will deliver their address to the conference at 12.00PM. They will be available for interview at the conclusion of the address or by prior arrangement. For further information, contact: Dr John Barlow, Deputy Director of NARI: tel 61-383-872-296.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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