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Military continues sex-misconduct fight with new guide for members, commanders

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  • OTTAWA — The Canadian Forces have a new manual on how to respond to sexual misconduct, aiming to close many of the gaps identified in the military’s policies on abuse in its ranks.

    But some concerns remain unaddressed — including the “duty to report” regulation, which critics say discourages victims from seeking support if they aren’t ready or willing to begin a formal complaint.

    The information in the 100-page document was previously spread in many places, which a Defence Department assessment published in February cited as a big reason many service members were confused and uncertain about the issue.

    Some had only a vague understanding of what constituted inappropriate behaviour and what to do when an incident occurred, including how to support victims.

    The new manual, which was developed in consultation with the military’s sexual-misconduct response centre (a counselling-oriented agency outside the chain of command) and a group of outside experts, goes to great pains to address the latter question in particular.

    One of the first sections talks about how and why some people affected by sexual misconduct prefer to be called “victims,” others want to be referred to as “survivors,” and still others don’t like either identifier.

    It also spells out the roles, responsibilities and training available for every service member as well as the additional responsibilities that commanding officers have in supporting victims and investigating incidents.

    In a report last November, auditor general Michael Ferguson found many victims were not properly supported when they did speak up because of gaps in the services available and a lack of suitable training and policies.

    To that end, commanders are also being given a new handout to help them wrap their heads around how sexual-misconduct cases are to be treated step by step — with a reminder at every step to check in with victims.

    Those check-ins are not to be one-way updates, either, but opportunities to make sure each victim is getting the support needed and has input into how the case is handled.

    The sexual-misconduct response centre is also working on plans to provide case workers, or victim-liaison officers, to service members affected by sexual misconduct.

    But the “duty to report” regulation remains. It compels military members to report inappropriate or criminal behaviour, sexual or not, and begins a formal complaint process.

    Defence chief Gen. Jonathan Vance has said the idea is to require anyone who learns of sexual misconduct to tell authorities so cases don’t get hidden, but the effect can be to drag them into the open against victims’ wishes. Ferguson and former Supreme Court justice Marie Deschamps, who conducted an explosive analysis of the extent of sexual misconduct in the Forces in 2015, have criticized the policy as actually discouraging victims from coming forward.

    Vance has said the military is looking at ways to maintain the requirement while better protecting victims.

    Ferguson also warned that military police often failed to provide information to victims about supports they can use or give them updates on cases, and there were concerns about a lack of training for chaplains and military health-care providers to help victims.

    The federal victims’ ombudsman has also raised concerns about proposed legislation around victims’ rights in the military justice system, specifically that it does not require military police, prosecutors and others to inform victims that they have rights.

    Lee Berthiaume, The Canadian Press

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    Health

    Healthy eating obsession can be a sign of mental-health struggles: study

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  • TORONTO — While we should all strive for a balanced diet, York University researchers say the extreme pursuit of healthy eating can be a sign of mental-health struggles.

    Jennifer Mills, an associate professor in York’s psychology department, co-wrote a recent paper on orthorexia nervosa, which she describes as an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating, published in the journal Appetite.

    In reviewing academic literature on the subject, the authors found that people with a history of eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive tendencies, perfectionism and other psychological and behavioural tendencies were at higher risk of developing orthorexia.

    “There is nothing wrong with healthy eating. Healthy eating is something we should all aspire to,” Mills said in an interview. “But (we need) to be aware that mental-health difficulties can manifest through food.”

    Orthorexia has not been recognized in the standard manual psychiatrists use to diagnose mental disorders, and the York study found research on the subject is limited.

    But as so-called clean diets have picked up steam, Mills said there’s been growing interest in medical and research circles about the social and psychological side-effects of a “pathological” preoccupation with healthy eating.

    While there’s overlap between the risk factors for orthorexia and certain eating disorders — such as poor body image, a drive for thinness and dieting — Mills said the conditions differ in key ways, particularly their motivations.

    People with a restrictive eating disorder like anorexia will typically reduce their food intake in order to reach a low body weight or change their appearance. But for those with orthorexia, Mills said the focus on food is about quality rather than quantity.

    Many people with orthorexia are proud of their bodies, she said, but are decidedly picky about what they put in them.

    This often involves eliminating certain types of food from their diets, such as sugar, saturated fat, gluten, animal products, artificial flavours and preservatives.

    For some, she said, the list of forbidden foods can grow so long that their diet may be lacking in essential nutrients, which in severe cases can lead to health hazards such as anaemia, vitamin deficiencies or excessive weight loss.

    But Mills said one of the reasons orthorexia tends to go overlooked, including by medical professionals, is that many people with the condition are physically healthy, even though they may be suffering psychologically.

    “When people go to their doctors and say, ‘I eat really healthy,’ the most typical response they’ll get is, ‘That’s great… Keep doing what you’re doing,'” said Mills.

    “But they may be struggling more privately with just this sense that they’re starting to lose control, that this is actually taking away from their life.”

    For individuals with orthorexia, eating foods that conflict with their diets is likely to cause extreme guilt or anxiety, said Mills. This distress is usually bound up in perceived risks of disease or physical impairment. But in treating their bodies as temples of health, some may lose sight of their mental welfare, she said.

    They may spend a lot of time and money planning and preparing meals, and can find it difficult to eat food made by others, Mills said.

    Some strict dieters find these sacrifices are worth it given the health benefits, Mills acknowledged. But people with orthorexia may feel their fixation on food is so all-consuming that it interferes with their work, family and social activities, she said.

    “When we’re extremely stressed or overwhelmed, we look for ways of coping. And for some people, having very, very tight control over their eating is a way for them to feel like they’re in control, but then the irony is that they’re not,” she said.

    “Being healthy mentally means having flexibility, and having time and mental space freed up for other kinds of things, and not having your world revolve around food.”

    Mills said one of her research team’s most surprising findings was that orthorexia occurs in relatively equal rates between men and women. This suggests the condition may be less like an eating disorder, which disproportionately affect women and girls, and more like anxiety or obsessive-compulsive disorder, which are similarly prevalent across genders, she said.

    She said diagnosing orthorexia can be slippery, because it isn’t defined by specific eating habits, but rather, a pattern of problematic thoughts and behaviours that detract from a person’s quality of life.

    Mills hopes the study increases awareness about orthorexia, a condition she believes is on the rise, fuelled by a culture that prizes healthy eating and wellness among its ultimate virtues.

    “It’s all around us: messages about how we should be doing better; we should be eating better; we should be constantly striving to improve ourselves,” she said.

    “I think it has a way of encouraging black-and-white thinking about food … and (that) can make people feel worse about themselves.”

    Adina Bresge, The Canadian Press

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    Ontario researchers invent way to store vaccines at higher temperatures

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  • Ontario researchers say they’ve come up with a simple way to store vaccines at higher temperatures for weeks at a time, potentially solving a major problem in the fight against preventable diseases around the world.

    The cheap technology from the team at McMaster University involves the use of a sugary gel that allows for easier, longer shipments of vaccines that typically need to be consistently stored at cold temperatures.

    “If we can make vaccines easier and more accessible through technology, then we can save a lot of lives,” said Vincent Leung, a chemical engineering professor and the lead author of the study that was published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Reports.

    Most vaccines require the “cold chain,” an uninterrupted refrigerated supply chain where they’re stored at temperatures between 2 C and 8 C at all times. Otherwise, the effectiveness of vaccines can be greatly affected, the study notes.

    Leung worked for four years on the project as part of his doctoral research and had help from other disciplines, including biochemists and immunologists, he said.

    The solution the researchers devised is simple.

    McMaster chemical engineers had previously created a sugary gel for use in various applications, including an edible coating that can prolong the shelf life of fruits and vegetables.

    The research team mixed two sugars — pullulan and trehalose — with the vaccines and let them dry, either by air, or vacuum to speed up the process. The gel seals in the vaccine, which can later be reconstituted with water by clinicians in the field and given to patients.

    “It’s easier to think of Listerine breath strips because that’s the main material,” Leung explained. “It will form a film like that, then (is) put into a vial for deployment.”

    For the study, the research team stored mixtures of the sugary gel and numerous vaccine types at various temperatures for different lengths of time and then tested the vaccines.

    They found, for example, that “enveloped DNA vaccines” that usually require consistent cold storage, such as the herpes simplex virus type 2 vaccine, retained their efficacy for at least two months of storage at 40 C with the use of the sugary gel. The team also showed the inactivated influenza vaccine remained effective after three months of storage at 40 C.

    “This can really improve deployment and give easier access to those that don’t have refrigeration or access to electricity,” Leung said.

    The fact that the dried gel vaccine can easily be reconstituted by clinicians in the field could make the storage and transportation method invaluable in certain situations, such as the delivery of Ebola vaccines in remote areas of Africa.

    “Part of our goal was to have a very simple and cost-effective solution to address this accessibility issue for vaccines,” Leung said.

    The research team is now looking at partnerships and more funding to further develop the technology, and is also going through the proper regulatory procedures to be approved by the likes of Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

    “The good thing is the sugars we’re using are already used in the food and drug industry and approved by FDA and Health Canada,” Leung said. “On that end, it should not be as hard to get it approved.”

    Liam Casey, The Canadian Press

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