World and Nation

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Mental illness risk higher for children of older fathers

Children born to middle-aged men are more likely than those born to younger fathers to develop any of a range of mental difficulties, including attention deficits, bipolar disorder, autism, and schizophrenia, according to the most comprehensive study to date of paternal age and offspring mental health.

The new report, which looked at many mental disorders in Sweden, should inflame the debate, if not settle it, experts said. Men have a biological clock of sorts because of random mutations in sperm over time, the report suggests, and the risks associated with later fatherhood may be higher than previously thought. The findings were published Wednesday in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

The strengths of the new report are size and rigor. The research team, led by Brian M. D’Onofrio of Indiana University, analyzed medical and public records of some 2.6 million people born in Sweden from 1973 to 2001. Like many European countries, Sweden has centralized medical care and keeps detailed records, so the scientists knew the father’s age for each birth and were able to track each child’s medical history over time, as well as that of siblings and other relatives.

Compared with the children of young fathers, ages 20-24, those born to men age 45 and older had about twice the risk of developing psychosis, the signature symptom of schizophrenia; more than three times the likelihood of receiving a diagnosis of autism; and about 13 times the chance of having a diagnosis of attention deficit disorder.

The researchers controlled for every factor they could think of, including parents’ education and income. But much of the risk associated with paternal age remained.

The researchers say that any increased risk due solely to paternal age is most likely a result of the accumulation of genetic mutations in sperm cells.

“It’s a plausible hypothesis at this point,” Sullivan said.

—Benedict Carey, The New York Times

After leader’s arrest, drug cartel may go on

To have a crack at an international kingpin, undercover officers from Boston and New Hampshire went from the mountains of northern Mexico through the Caribbean to Spain, where they discovered operatives of the powerful Sinaloa cartel setting up new routes and new markets.

When it finally ended last year, Operation Dark Water, as the investigation was known, was heralded as a milestone in the fight against the global drug trade. Police officers seized 750 pounds of cocaine and caught four cartel members, including a first cousin to its infamous kingpin, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera.

But for the Sinaloa cartel, a criminal multinational corporation handling billions of dollars, the arrests proved only a minor setback, authorities acknowledged. The cartel has established channels of cooperation with so many European criminal groups, including Sicily’s Cosa Nostra and street gangs in Budapest, that business there continues to boom.

Operation Dark Water and other investigations against the Sinaloa cartel shed light on why. Simply put, said numerous law enforcement officials and scholars, whether Guzmán intended it or not, the cartel has transcended the man. It has learned better than any of its competitors how to produce and move drugs, how to establish new markets for them — and how to outsource business to partners worldwide.

“Sinaloa has managed to expand in such a way that the business can run itself,” said Samuel Logan, an expert on transnational crime at Southern Pulse, an investment and risk assessment firm. Comparing the cartel to McDonald’s, Logan said, “If the CEO of McDonald’s was arrested today, you could still buy a hamburger in Tokyo tomorrow.”

Ginger Thompson and Randal C. Archibold,
The New York Times

New FDA labels would make ‘serving sizes’ reflect actual servings

WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration for the first time in two decades will propose major changes to nutrition labels on food packages, putting calorie counts in large type and adjusting portion sizes to reflect how much Americans actually eat.

It would be the first significant redrawing of the nutrition information on food labels since the federal government started requiring them in the early 1990s. Those labels were based on eating habits and nutrition data from the 1970s and ‘80s, before portion sizes expanded significantly, and federal health officials argued that the changes were needed to bring labels into step with the reality of the modern American diet.

The proposed changes include what experts say will be a particularly controversial item: a separate line for sugars that are manufactured and added to food, substances that many public health experts say have contributed substantially to the obesity problem in this country. The food industry has argued against similar suggestions in the past.

Millions of Americans pay attention to food labels, and the changes are meant to make them easier to understand — a critical step in an era when more than one-third of adults are obese, public health experts say. The epidemic has caused rates of diabetes to soar, and has increased risks for cancer, heart disease and stroke.

The proposal will be open to public comment for 90 days, and it will take months before any change is made final. In a special concession to industry, the agency is allowing companies two years to put the changes into effect.

It was not clear how the food industry would react to the proposed changes, which Michael R. Taylor, the agency’s deputy commissioner for foods, estimated would cost about $2 billion to carry out. (He also said the health benefits could eventually be as much as $30 billion.)

—Sabrina Tavernise, The New York Times