ROCHESTER, Minn. -- States that tax groceries have higher rates of obesity and diabetes, a new study has learned, and the cost of treating that extra health burden is $5.9 billion, a sum greater than the taxes collected.

That's the finding from the first study to look at the health effects on taxing groceries, work by researchers at the University of Kentucky, Cornell University and the USDA, research published last week in the journal, Health Economics Review.

Fifteen states currently impose taxes on groceries, with most of them located in the deep south, southern plains or Appalachian states, but also Idaho, Utah and South Dakota.

After comparing county-level grocery taxes with county-level health outcomes, the study found that between 2009 and 20016, the taxed states had 3% more obesity and 2.5% more diabetes.

It also found that every 1% increase in grocery taxes caused obesity to jump by more than one half of 1%.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

States that impose them favor grocery taxes because they are a stable source of revenue. The tax is regressive however, in that grocery bills are largely consistent, so filling up the kitchen cupboards requires a greater portion of the household budget in low-income families.

By making the cost of eating at home more expensive, taxing groceries can shift consumers to fast food and eating in restaurants, where calorically-dense, larger-portion, more-palatable foods prepared with refined starches and industrial oils predominate.

Study: school shootings three times deadlier with armed guards

In an effort to prevent school shootings, some states have proposed requiring armed guards at the doors of schools.

The Violence Project, a school shooting database maintained by forensic psychologists Dr. Jillian Peterson and Dr. James Densely at Hamline University in St. Paul, reviewed all shootings or planned shootings in the U.S. between 1980 and 2019.

"We assumed that with a school resource officer on site that there would be fewer casualties," said Peterson in a recent interview on Seattle-area KIRO Radio. "But we actually found the opposite. Having an armed resource officer on the scene actually increased the rate of death by three."

The study found that an armed guard was present in 23% of the 133 shootings or attempted shootings, and that after the use of an assault rifle, the presence of an armed officer was the No. 1 predictor of number of casualties.

The study controlled for other variables that could affect shooting deadliness, including school size, region of the country, region of a community, school type, grade level, and use of lockdown drills.

The authors found that 70% of school shooters were current students, suggesting they knew about the presence of an armed officer. They believed the knowledge of armed guards among such a high percent of shooters indicated the potential to increase the level of planning.

The authors say their results suggest that arming teachers is similarly unwise, citing research showing that "when there's more weapons, there's more violence," according to Peterson.

School shooters are generally considered suicidal, moreover, making the presence of an armed officer an incentive.

The authors say anonymous reporting systems are needed to reduce such shootings, as well as red flags laws, universal background checks, and safe storage of weapons in the home.

The study was published earlier this month in the journal JAMA Network Open.

Too many medications raises risk of severe COVID-19

Do the prescription drugs we take set us up for severe COVID-19?

Last spring, drug safety researchers in Canada and Spain issued a warning over the potential for severe COVID-19 connected to use of ten commonly-taken drugs with the potential to increase the risk of pneumonia.

The drugs named included popular sedatives, anticholinergics, opioids, psychotropic medications and proton pump inhibitors.

Last week, researchers in Scotland affirmed this concern by publishing findings that severe COVID-19 was strongly associated with the number of non-cardiovascular drug classes prescribed to a person.

The authors set out by identifying all 4,251 cases of severe COVID-19 in Scotland, then matching those cases by age, sex and primary care practice to over 36,000 controls from the general population, looking for what set the former apart from the latter.

The study, published in the journal BMC Medicine, found that 38% of such cases were attributable to the negative effects of polypharmacy, and unrelated to the presence of underlying conditions.

They pointed to a so-called dose-response effect in their finding, whereby higher doses of the drugs in question led to a greater likelihood of severe COVID-19. This suggested that the relationship between being on too many prescriptions and getting severe COVID-19 was one of cause-and-effect.

The team found their association strongest among persons not residing in care homes, and not with underlying conditions, associated with dispensing 12 or more drug classes. Patients fitting this profile had 11 times the risk of severe COVID-19, according to the analysis.

The largest effect by drug identified was a four-fold greater risk of severe COVID-19 for patients not in a care home and taking antipsychotics. Those were followed by opioids, proton pump inhibitors and gabapentinoids.

The authors speculated that the drugs increased the risk of severe COVID-19 infection due to their effects on sedation, respiratory depression, dehydration, and in the case of indigestion drugs, the high number of ACE-2 receptors in the gastrointestinal tract.

The authors expressed a concern that "many of the drug classes on this list are recognized indicators of overprescribing."

Their recommendation was that public health agencies monitor excessive and inappropriate prescribing in order to better reduce the incidence of severe COVID-19.