Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Prenatal exposure to common air pollutants linked to cognitive and behavioral impairment


Public Release: 25-Mar-2015
Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Researchers at the Institute for the Developing Mind at Children's Hospital Los Angeles (CHLA) and colleagues at Columbia University's Center for Children's Environmental Health have found a powerful relationship between prenatal PAH exposure and disturbances in parts of the brain that support information processing and behavioral control. Their study of 40 children, followed from before birth until 7 to 9 years of age as part of the Center's large community-based cohort, will be published online by JAMA Psychiatry on March 25.

Neurotoxic PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) are ubiquitous in the environment, in the home and in the workplace. Emissions from motor vehicles, oil and coal burning for home heating or power generation, wildfires and agricultural burning, hazardous waste sites, tobacco smoke and charred foods are all sources of exposure. PAH readily crosses the placenta and affects an unborn child's brain; earlier animal studies showed that prenatal exposure impaired the development of behavior, learning and memory.


More big storms increase tropical rainfall totals


Public Release: 25-Mar-2015
University of New South Wales

Increasing rainfall in certain parts of the tropics, colloquially described as the wet get wetter and warm get wetter, has long been a projection of climate change. Now observations have shown that an increase in large thunderstorms is the primary reason for this phenomenon.

Joint research from the Monash branch of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science (ARCCSS) and NASA published in Nature found even though other types of rainfall has decreased in frequency and the total number of thunderstorms remained the same, the increase in big storms had elevated total rainfall.

"The observations showed the increase in rainfall is directly caused by the change in the character of thunderstorms in the tropics rather than a change in the total number of thunderstorms," said lead author from ARCCSS Dr Jackson Tan.

"What we are seeing is more big and organised storms and fewer small and disorganised storms."


Drinking raw milk dramatically increases risk for foodborne illness


Public Release: 25-Mar-2015
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health

An analysis conducted by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (CLF) found that the risks of drinking raw (unpasteurized) cow's milk are significant. Consumers are nearly 100 times more likely to get foodborne illness from drinking raw milk than they are from drinking pasteurized milk. In fact, the researchers determined that raw milk was associated with over half of all milk-related foodborne illness, even though only an estimated 3.5% of the U.S. population consumes raw milk.


Microbial contaminants commonly found in milk include infectious Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Listeria species along with the Escherichia coli type O157:H7. These bacteria can cause foodborne illness in humans, including diarrhea, vomiting, cramping, fevers, and sometimes more serious consequences such as kidney failure or death.


Antarctic ice shelves rapidly thinning


Public Release: 26-Mar-2015
University of California - San Diego

A new study led by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego researchers has revealed that the thickness of Antarctica's floating ice shelves has recently decreased by as much as 18 percent in certain areas over nearly two decades, providing new insights on how the Antarctic ice sheet is responding to climate change.

Data from nearly two decades of satellite missions have shown that the ice volume decline is accelerating, according to a study published on March 26, 2015, in the journal Science and supported by NASA.

Total ice shelf volume (mean thickness multiplied by ice shelf area) across Antarctica changed very little from 1994 to 2003, then declined rapidly, the study shows. West Antarctic ice shelves lost ice throughout the entire observation period, with accelerated loss in the most recent decade. Earlier gains in East Antarctic ice shelf volume ceased after about 2003, the study showed. Some ice shelves lost up to 18 percent of their volume from 1994 to 2012.

"Eighteen percent over the course of 18 years is really a substantial change," said Paolo. "Overall, we show not only the total ice shelf volume is decreasing, but we see an acceleration in the last decade."

While melting ice shelves do not contribute directly to sea-level rise, the researchers indicate that there is an important indirect effect. "The ice shelves buttress the flow from grounded ice into the ocean, and that flow impacts sea-level rise, so that's a key concern from our new study," said Fricker.

Under current rates of thinning, the researchers estimate the ice shelves restraining the unstable sector of West Antarctica could lose half their volume within the next 200 years.


Domestic violence victims may be hurt by mandatory arrest laws


Public Release: 26-Mar-2015
University of Akron

"Just call the police, they have to do something," is sometimes the advice given to a woman who reveals that she is a victim of intimate partner violence (IPV), more commonly called domestic violence. The thinking behind the advice is a positive opinion that mandatory arrest -- a policy that was created in an effort to curb domestic violence -- is an effective way to stop the abuse. The law, active in 22 states including Ohio, says that police officers responding to a call for help would no longer need to determine whether one person was truly violent or out of control; every time someone reported abuse, the police would simply be required to make an arrest. But research suggests that the law may be intimidating victims from actually calling the police to report an instance of abuse.


"A reason a woman may not report abuse because of mandatory arrest policies is that they fear retaliation by the abuser may be worse because an arrest is mandatory," comments Novisky. Another reason is that a woman may believe the police will mistakenly arrest her as the aggressor, so she won't report it. This reasoning supports the data that mandatory arrest policies result in higher arrest rates of battered women, which could deprive them of the support they need.


Stereotypes lower math performance in women, but effects go unrecognized


Public Release: 26-Mar-2015
Indiana University

A new study from Indiana University suggests that gender stereotypes about women's ability in mathematics negatively impact their performance. And in a significant twist, both men and women wrongly believe those stereotypes will not undermine women's math performance -- but instead motivate them to perform better.


The work confirmed earlier studies by finding that female test-takers performed worse and reported greater anxiety and lower expectations about their performance compared to men when negative stereotypes about gender were introduced at the start of the experiment. But the study went beyond previous research by also measuring men's and women's insights into the experience of the people actually performing under these conditions.

Boucher found that expectations did not match reality: While both sexes expected female test-takers to experience greater anxiety and pressure to perform under the influence of negative gender stereotypes, both male and female observers expected women to successfully overcome these roadblocks. Observers expected stereotypes to increase women's anxiety, but they did not anticipate that the anxiety would undermine performance.

Moreover, this misperception occurred in both men and women. Being a woman did not confer any special insight into women's experiences of stereotype threat; female observers were almost equally likely to overestimate the performance of other women under stereotype threat. Study participants reported they thought the negative stereotypes would function as a "motivating challenge," even though women who actually performed the math problems didn't report this level of motivation when asked about their performance.


A Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered

Interesting article, and I believe there is much truth, although I would say that like many advocates of change, he goes too far in a simplistic extreme direction. Misrepresenting and exaggerating the changes that Portugal made to the law does not instill great confidence in his other statements, although other reliable sources do note the decrease in drug use in Portugal.


Johann Hari
Posted: 01/20/2015 3:20 pm EST Updated: 03/22/2015 5:59 am EDT

It is now one hundred years since drugs were first banned -- and all through this long century of waging war on drugs, we have been told a story about addiction by our teachers and by our governments. This story is so deeply ingrained in our minds that we take it for granted. It seems obvious. It seems manifestly true. Until I set off three and a half years ago on a 30,000-mile journey for my new book, Chasing The Scream: The First And Last Days of the War on Drugs, to figure out what is really driving the drug war, I believed it too. But what I learned on the road is that almost everything we have been told about addiction is wrong -- and there is a very different story waiting for us, if only we are ready to hear it.

If we truly absorb this new story, we will have to change a lot more than the drug war. We will have to change ourselves.


If you had asked me what causes drug addiction at the start, I would have looked at you as if you were an idiot, and said: "Drugs. Duh." It's not difficult to grasp. I thought I had seen it in my own life. We can all explain it. Imagine if you and I and the next twenty people to pass us on the street take a really potent drug for twenty days. There are strong chemical hooks in these drugs, so if we stopped on day twenty-one, our bodies would need the chemical. We would have a ferocious craving. We would be addicted. That's what addiction means.

One of the ways this theory was first established is through rat experiments -- ones that were injected into the American psyche in the 1980s, in a famous advert by the Partnership for a Drug-Free America. You may remember it. The experiment is simple. Put a rat in a cage, alone, with two water bottles. One is just water. The other is water laced with heroin or cocaine. Almost every time you run this experiment, the rat will become obsessed with the drugged water, and keep coming back for more and more, until it kills itself.


But in the 1970s, a professor of Psychology in Vancouver called Bruce Alexander noticed something odd about this experiment. The rat is put in the cage all alone. It has nothing to do but take the drugs. What would happen, he wondered, if we tried this differently? So Professor Alexander built Rat Park. It is a lush cage where the rats would have colored balls and the best rat-food and tunnels to scamper down and plenty of friends: everything a rat about town could want. What, Alexander wanted to know, will happen then?

In Rat Park, all the rats obviously tried both water bottles, because they didn't know what was in them. But what happened next was startling.

The rats with good lives didn't like the drugged water. They mostly shunned it, consuming less than a quarter of the drugs the isolated rats used. None of them died. While all the rats who were alone and unhappy became heavy users, none of the rats who had a happy environment did.

At first, I thought this was merely a quirk of rats, until I discovered that there was -- at the same time as the Rat Park experiment -- a helpful human equivalent taking place. It was called the Vietnam War. Time magazine reported using heroin was "as common as chewing gum" among U.S. soldiers, and there is solid evidence to back this up: some 20 percent of U.S. soldiers had become addicted to heroin there, according to a study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Many people were understandably terrified; they believed a huge number of addicts were about to head home when the war ended.

But in fact some 95 percent of the addicted soldiers -- according to the same study -- simply stopped. Very few had rehab. They shifted from a terrifying cage back to a pleasant one, so didn't want the drug any more.


After the first phase of Rat Park, Professor Alexander then took this test further. He reran the early experiments, where the rats were left alone, and became compulsive users of the drug. He let them use for fifty-seven days -- if anything can hook you, it's that. Then he took them out of isolation, and placed them in Rat Park. He wanted to know, if you fall into that state of addiction, is your brain hijacked, so you can't recover? Do the drugs take you over? What happened is -- again -- striking. The rats seemed to have a few twitches of withdrawal, but they soon stopped their heavy use, and went back to having a normal life. The good cage saved them. (The full references to all the studies I am discussing are in the book.)


This gives us an insight that goes much deeper than the need to understand addicts. Professor Peter Cohen argues that human beings have a deep need to bond and form connections. It's how we get our satisfaction. If we can't connect with each other, we will connect with anything we can find -- the whirr of a roulette wheel or the prick of a syringe. He says we should stop talking about 'addiction' altogether, and instead call it 'bonding.' A heroin addict has bonded with heroin because she couldn't bond as fully with anything else.

So the opposite of addiction is not sobriety. It is human connection.

When I learned all this, I found it slowly persuading me, but I still couldn't shake off a nagging doubt. Are these scientists saying chemical hooks make no difference? It was explained to me -- you can become addicted to gambling, and nobody thinks you inject a pack of cards into your veins. You can have all the addiction, and none of the chemical hooks. I went to a Gamblers' Anonymous meeting in Las Vegas (with the permission of everyone present, who knew I was there to observe) and they were as plainly addicted as the cocaine and heroin addicts I have known in my life. Yet there are no chemical hooks on a craps table.

[But addiction to gambling and other behaviours does have a chemical hook, from chemicals produced naturally in the brain.]

Everyone agrees cigarette smoking is one of the most addictive processes around. The chemical hooks in tobacco come from a drug inside it called nicotine. So when nicotine patches were developed in the early 1990s, there was a huge surge of optimism -- cigarette smokers could get all of their chemical hooks, without the other filthy (and deadly) effects of cigarette smoking. They would be freed.

But the Office of the Surgeon General has found that just 17.7 percent of cigarette smokers are able to stop using nicotine patches. That's not nothing. If the chemicals drive 17.7 percent of addiction, as this shows, that's still millions of lives ruined globally. But what it reveals again is that the story we have been taught about The Cause of Addiction lying with chemical hooks is, in fact, real, but only a minor part of a much bigger picture.

[But there are chemical hooks in the brain to the actions connected to smoking. Also, smoking gives a quick strong dose of nicotine, while the patch gives a more slow release.]


Ironically, the war on drugs actually increases all those larger drivers of addiction. For example, I went to a prison in Arizona -- 'Tent City' -- where inmates are detained in tiny stone isolation cages ('The Hole') for weeks and weeks on end to punish them for drug use. It is as close to a human recreation of the cages that guaranteed deadly addiction in rats as I can imagine. And when those prisoners get out, they will be unemployable because of their criminal record -- guaranteeing they with be cut off even more. I watched this playing out in the human stories I met across the world.

There is an alternative. You can build a system that is designed to help drug addicts to reconnect with the world -- and so leave behind their addictions.

This isn't theoretical. It is happening. I have seen it. Nearly fifteen years ago, Portugal had one of the worst drug problems in Europe, with 1 percent of the population addicted to heroin. They had tried a drug war, and the problem just kept getting worse. So they decided to do something radically different. They resolved to decriminalize all drugs [this is a misleading simplification, see below] , and transfer all the money they used to spend on arresting and jailing drug addicts, and spend it instead on reconnecting them -- to their own feelings, and to the wider society. The most crucial step is to get them secure housing, and subsidized jobs so they have a purpose in life, and something to get out of bed for. I watched as they are helped, in warm and welcoming clinics, to learn how to reconnect with their feelings, after years of trauma and stunning them into silence with drugs.


The results of all this are now in. An independent study by the British Journal of Criminology found that since total decriminalization [exaggeration], addiction has fallen, and injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. I'll repeat that: injecting drug use is down by 50 percent. Decriminalization has been such a manifest success that very few people in Portugal want to go back to the old system. The main campaigner against the decriminalization back in 2000 was Joao Figueira, the country's top drug cop. He offered all the dire warnings that we would expect from the Daily Mail or Fox News. But when we sat together in Lisbon, he told me that everything he predicted had not come to pass -- and he now hopes the whole world will follow Portugal's example.

This isn't only relevant to the addicts I love. It is relevant to all of us, because it forces us to think differently about ourselves. Human beings are bonding animals. We need to connect and love. The wisest sentence of the twentieth century was E.M. Forster's -- "only connect." But we have created an environment and a culture that cut us off from connection, or offer only the parody of it offered by the Internet. The rise of addiction is a symptom of a deeper sickness in the way we live -- constantly directing our gaze towards the next shiny object we should buy, rather than the human beings all around us.

The writer George Monbiot has called this "the age of loneliness." We have created human societies where it is easier for people to become cut off from all human connections than ever before. Bruce Alexander -- the creator of Rat Park -- told me that for too long, we have talked exclusively about individual recovery from addiction. We need now to talk about social recovery -- how we all recover, together, from the sickness of isolation that is sinking on us like a thick fog.




Under the Portuguese plan, penalties for people caught dealing and trafficking drugs are unchanged; dealers are still jailed and subjected to fines depending on the crime. But people caught using or possessing small amounts—defined as the amount needed for 10 days of personal use—are brought before what's known as a "Dissuasion Commission," an administrative body created by the 2001 law.

Each three-person commission includes at least one lawyer or judge and one health care or social services worker. The panel has the option of recommending treatment, a small fine, or no sanction.

Peter Reuter, a criminologist at the University of Maryland, College Park, says he's skeptical decriminalization was the sole reason drug use slid in Portugal, noting that another factor, especially among teens, was a global decline in marijuana use. By the same token, he notes that critics were wrong in their warnings that decriminalizing drugs would make Lisbon a drug mecca.


Drug legalization removes all criminal penalties for producing, selling and using drugs; no country has tried it. In contrast, decriminalization, as practiced in Portugal, eliminates jail time for drug users but maintains criminal penalties for dealers. Spain and Italy have also decriminalized personal use of drugs and Mexico's president has proposed doing the same. .


Walmart, Lowe’s, Safeway and Nordstrom Are Bankrolling a Nationwide Campaign to Gut Workers’ Comp

Please read the whole article. Very disturbing.

Both amusing & disgusting that the group has removed its web page listing its members.
Mother Jones was able to recover a cached page of the members.


March 31, 2015
by Molly Redden

Nearly two dozen major corporations, including Wal-Mart, Nordstrom and Safeway, are bankrolling a quiet, multistate lobbying effort to make it harder for workers hurt on the job to access lost wages and medical care — the benefits collectively known as workers’ compensation.

The companies have financed a lobbying group, the Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation (ARAWC), that has already helped write legislation in one state, Tennessee. Richard Evans, the group’s executive director, told an insurance journal in November that the corporations ultimately want to change workers’ comp laws in all 50 states. Lowe’s, Macy’s, Kohl’s, Sysco Food Services and several insurance companies are also part of the year-old effort.


Obamacare saving hospitals millions


Mar. 29, 2015

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says hospitals across the nation are experiencing fewer losses under the Affordable Care Act, even in states like Georgia that have declined to fully participate in the federal program.

In 2014, five years after Congress enacted Obamacare, as the Affordable Care Act is commonly referred to, the amount of uncompensated care costs reported by hospitals from coast to coast dropped by an estimated $7.4 billion, according to Health and Human Services. The amount is in comparison to what it would have been without federal health care.

Even in states like Georgia, where the governor and legislature have refused to expand Medicaid coverage, hospitals are reporting lower levels of uncompensated costs. Uninsured and underinsured patients are putting less strain on the budgets of public hospitals.

That includes Southeast Georgia Health System, which operates hospitals in Brunswick and in St. Marys.

During a 10-month period that ended Feb. 28, uncompensated medical costs shouldered by the health system decreased by about $9.2 million, said Michael D. Scherneck, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Southeast Georgia Health System.

That’s a 12.1 percent change from the level for the same 10-month period the previous fiscal year. The total amount for that fiscal year reached $75.8 million, according to Scherneck.


“Be reminded ... that the state of Georgia has opted not to expand Medicaid coverage, and as such, there remains a portion of the residents within our community that do not qualify to receive any subsidy on their insurance premiums, and as a result, they remain uninsured,” Scherneck said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said more people would have been covered and hospitals would have saved even more had their states fully embraced the federal program. Of the $7.2 billion decrease in total uncompensated hospital cost, more than half — $5 billion — occurred in states that had expanded Medicaid.

Georgia is one of 22 states that has declined to expand Medicaid.

Atlantic Ocean overturning found to slow down already today


Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK)

The gradual but accelerating melting of the Greenland ice-sheet, caused by man-made global warming, is a possible major contributor to the slowdown. Further weakening could impact marine ecosystems and sea level as well as weather systems in the US and Europe.

"It is conspicuous that one specific area in the North Atlantic has been cooling in the past hundred years while the rest of the world heats up," says Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, lead author of the study to be published in Nature Climate Change. Previous research had already indicated that a slowdown of the so-called Atlantic meridional overturning circulation might be to blame for this. "Now we have detected strong evidence that the global conveyor has indeed been weakening in the past hundred years, particularly since 1970," says Rahmstorf.

Because long-term direct ocean current measurements are lacking, the scientists mainly used sea-surface and atmospheric temperature data to derive information about the ocean currents, exploiting the fact that ocean currents are the leading cause of temperature variations in the subpolar north Atlantic. From so-called proxy data - gathered from ice-cores, tree-rings, coral, and ocean and lake sediments - temperatures can be reconstructed for more than a millennium back in time. The recent changes found by the team are unprecedented since the year 900 AD, strongly suggesting they are caused by man-made global warming.


The observed cooling in the North Atlantic, just south of Greenland, is stronger than what most computer simulations of the climate have predicted so far. "Common climate models are underestimating the change we're facing, either because the Atlantic overturning is too stable in the models or because they don't properly account for Greenland ice sheet melt, or both," says Michael Mann of Pennsylvania State University in the US. "That is another example where observations suggest that climate model predictions are in some respects still overly conservative when it comes to the pace at which certain aspects of climate change are proceeding."

he cooling above the Northern Atlantic would only slightly reduce the continued warming of the continents. The scientists certainly do not expect a new ice age, thus the imagery of the ten-year-old Hollywood blockbuster 'The Day After Tomorrow' is far from reality. However, it is well established that a large, even gradual change in Atlantic ocean circulation could have major negative effects.

"If the slowdown of the Atlantic overturning continues, the impacts might be substantial," says Rahmstorf. "Disturbing the circulation will likely have a negative effect on the ocean ecosystem, and thereby fisheries and the associated livelihoods of many people in coastal areas. A slowdown also adds to the regional sea-level rise affecting cities like New York and Boston. Finally, temperature changes in that region can also influence weather systems on both sides of the Atlantic, in North America as well as Europe."

If the circulation weakens too much it can even break down completely - the Atlantic overturning has for long been considered a possible tipping element in the Earth System. This would mean a relatively rapid and hard-to-reverse change. The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates there to be an up to one-in-ten chance that this could happen as early as within this century. However, expert surveys indicate that many researchers assess the risk to be higher. The study now published by the international team of researchers around Rahmstorf provides information on which to base a new and better risk assessment.

Trust increases with age; benefits well-being


Public Release: 19-Mar-2015
Northwestern University


"When we think of old age, we often think of decline and loss," said study co-author Claudia Haase, an assistant professor of Human Development and Social Policy at Northwestern's School of Education and Social Policy.

"But a growing body of research shows that some things actually get better as we age," Haase said. "Our new findings show that trust increases as people get older and, moreover, that people who trust more are also more likely to experience increases in happiness over time."


One explanation for age-related increases in trust is that since older adults are increasingly motivated to give back to others, they believe them to be good and trustworthy, Poulin said.

"We know that older people are more likely to look at the bright side of things," Haase added. "As we age, we may be more likely to see the best in other people and forgive the little letdowns that got us so wary when we were younger."

Though trust can have negative consequences, especially among older adults at risk of falling for scams and fraud, the studies found no evidence that those negative consequences erode the benefits of trust.

"Both studies found a positive association between trust and well-being that was consistent across the life span, suggesting that trust is not a liability in old age," Poulin said.

"Our findings suggest that trust may be an important resource for successful development across the life span," Haase added.

IQ of children in better-educated households is higher


Public Release: 24-Mar-2015
University of Virginia

Young adults who were raised in educated households develop higher cognitive ability than those who were brought up in less ideal environments, according to a new study conducted by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University, the University of Virginia and Lund University in Sweden.

While the study does not refute previous findings that DNA impacts intelligence, it does prove that environmental influences play a significant role in cognitive ability as measured in early adulthood.

The study compared the cognitive ability - as measured by IQ - of 436 Swedish male siblings in which one member was reared by biological parents and the other by adoptive parents. The IQ of the adopted males, which was measured at ages 18-20, was 4.4 points higher than their nonadopted siblings.


The adoptive parents in the study tended to be more educated and in better socioeconomic circumstances than the biological parents. In the study, parental education level was rated on a five-point scale; each additional unit of education by the rearing parents was associated with 1.71 more units of IQ. In the rare circumstances when the biological parents were more educated than the adoptive parents, the cognitive ability of the adopted-away offspring was lower than the one who was reared by the genetic parents.


Previous studies have found that educated parents are more likely to talk at the dinner table, take their children to museums and read stories to their children at night.

"We're not denying that cognitive ability has important genetic components, but it is a naïve idea to say that it is only genes," Kendler said. "This is strong evidence that educated parents do something with their kid that makes them smarter and this is not a result of genetic factors."


Monday, March 30, 2015

Pay gap between male and female RNs has not narrowed


Public Release: 24-Mar-2015
The JAMA Network Journals

An analysis of the trends in salaries of registered nurses (RNs) in the United States from 1988 through 2013 finds that male RNs outearned female RNs across settings, specialties, and positions, with no narrowing of the pay gap over time, according to a study in the March 24/31 issue of JAMA.

Fifty years after the Equal Pay Act, the male-female salary gap has narrowed in many occupations. Yet pay inequality persists for certain occupations, including medicine and nursing. Studies have documented higher salaries for male registered nurses, although analyses have not considered employment factors that could explain salary differences and have not been based on recent data, according to background information in the article.


The salary gap was $7,678 for ambulatory care and $3,873for hospital settings. The gap was present in all specialties except orthopedics, ranging from $3,792 for chronic care to $6,034 for cardiology. Salary differences also existed by position (such as for middle management, nurse anesthetists).


Lung transplant patients in the UK fare better than publicly insured Americans


Public Release: 24-Mar-2015
Johns Hopkins Medicine

Publicly insured Americans who undergo lung transplantation for cystic fibrosis fare markedly worse in the long run than both publicly insured patients in the United Kingdom and privately insured Americans, according to the results of a study conducted by researchers from Johns Hopkins in Baltimore and U.K. colleagues working in that nation's government-funded National Health Service.


The analysis, based on a review of medical records and published March 24 in the American Journal of Transplantation, reveals that publicly insured U.S. patients had overall poorer survival compared with their U.K. counterparts insured by the National Health Service. U.S. patients on Medicaid or Medicare insurance also fared worse than their privately insured fellow Americans.


"The U.K. National Health Services' lung transplant program equals the top-notch care achieved under American private insurance and outperforms care received by publicly insured Americans," says Stephen Clark, D.M., professor of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Northumbria and Freeman Hospital in Newcastle and lead investigator of the U.K. team. "The results of the study underscore the ability of publicly funded health care systems to achieve excellent results in complex transplant surgery, and this is something we are rather proud of."

The researchers emphasize that their study did not look into the specific causes of the difference in survival rates but say their findings warrant a careful look into the factors driving the gap if it is to be eliminated.


More schools, more challenging assignments add up to higher IQ scores


Public Release: 24-Mar-2015
Penn State

More schooling -- and the more mentally challenging problems tackled in those schools -- may be the best explanation for the dramatic rise in IQ scores during the past century, often referred to as the Flynn Effect, according to a team of researchers. These findings also suggest that environment may have a stronger influence on intelligence than many genetic determinists once thought.

Researchers have struggled to explain why IQ scores for developed nations -- and, now, developing nations -- have increased so rapidly during the 20th century, said David Baker, professor of sociology and education, Penn State. Mean IQ test scores of American adults, for instance, have increased by about 25 points over the last 90 years.

"There've been a lot of hypotheses put forward for the cause of the Flynn Effect, such as genetics and nutrition, but they generally fall flat," said Baker. "It really begged the question of whether an environmental factor, or factors, could cause these gains in IQ scores."

School enrollment in the United States reached almost 90 percent by 1960. However, the researchers, who report their findings in the current issue of Intelligence, suggest that it is not just increasing attendance, but also the more challenging learning environment that are reasons behind the IQ score rise.

"If you look at a chart of the Flynn Effect over the 20th century in the United States, for example, you notice that the proportion of children and youth attending school and how long they attend lines up nicely with the gains in IQ scores," said Baker. "As people went to school, what they did there likely had a profound influence on brain development and thinking skills, beyond just learning the three R's. This is what our neurological and cognitive research shows."

He added that over the century, as as a higher percentage of children from each new generation went to school and attended for more years, this produced rising IQ scores.

"Even after full enrollments were achieved in the U.S. by about the 1960s, school continued to intensify its influence on thinking," said Baker.

While even basic schooling activities can shape brain development, over the past century, schools have moved from learning focused on memorization to lessons that require problem solving and abstract thinking skills, which are often considered functions of fluid intelligence, Baker said.

"Many like to think that schooling has become 'dumbed down,' but this is not true," said Baker. "This misperception has tended to lead cognitive scientists away from considering the impact of schooling and its spread over time as a main social environment in neurological development."

Just as more physical exercise can improve sports performance for athletes, these more challenging mental workouts in schools may be building up students' mental muscles, he added, allowing them to perform better on certain types of problems that require flexible thinking and abstract problem solving, such as IQ tests.

"Certain kinds of activities -- like solving problems, or reading -- stimulate the parts of the brain that we know are responsible for fluid intelligence," said Baker. "And these types of activities are done over and over in today's schools, so that you would expect these students to have higher development than populations of people who had no access to schooling."

Students must not only solve more challenging problems, they must use multiple strategies to find solutions, which adds to the mental workout in today's schools, according to Baker.


He said that genetics alone could not explain the Flynn Effect. Natural selection happens too slowly to be the sole reason for rising IQ scores. This suggests that intelligence is a combination of both genetics and environment.

"The best neuroscience is now arguing that brains of mammals, including, of course, humans, develop in this heavy genetic-environmental dependent way, so it's not an either-or situation," said Baker. "There's a high genetic component, just like there is for athletic ability, but the environment can enhance people's abilities up to unknown genetic limits."


To measure the challenge level of lessons, the researchers analyzed more than 28,000 pages of content in textbooks published from 1930 to 2000. They measured, for example, whether students were required to learn multiple strategies to find solutions or needed other mental skills to solve problems.

Children less likely to come to the rescue when others are available


Public Release: 24-Mar-2015
Association for Psychological Science

Children as young as 5 years old are less likely to help a person in need when other children are present and available to help, according to new research published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

"The children in our study helped at very high levels only when responsibility was clearly attributable to them," explains psychological scientist and lead researcher Maria Plötner of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, Germany. "These findings suggest that children at this age take responsibility into account when deciding whether to help."

The research indicates that, just like adults, children show the "bystander effect," which is most likely driven by a diffusion of responsibility when multiple bystanders are available to help someone in need.

Previous research has shown that children are generally very helpful, but few studies had specifically looked at whether the presence of others affects this helping behavior.


Effective Narcississm


Public Release: 24-Mar-2015
Study provides academic support for new Steve Jobs portrayal
Research: Narcissistic leaders are most successful with a little humility
Brigham Young University

It's no surprise that some of the most celebrated leaders in the business world also happen to be self-promoting narcissists.

New research from Brigham Young University's Marriott School of Management finds those strong characteristics are not such a bad thing--as long as those leaders temper their narcissism with a little humility now and then.

"Just by practicing and displaying elements of humility, one can help disarm, counterbalance, or buffer the more toxic aspects of narcissism," said Bradley Owens, assistant professor of business ethics at BYU. "The outcome is that narcissism can possibly be a net positive."

One of the most prominent examples of this type of leader was Steve Jobs. In fact, the study mentions the former Apple CEO by name: "Although Jobs was still seen as narcissistic, his narcissism appeared to be counterbalanced or tempered with a measure of humility, and it was this tempered narcissist who led Apple to be the most valuable company in the world..."


Study results show leaders with high narcissism and high humility were perceived as more effective leaders with more engaged followers. Fortunately, Owens said, humility can be developed.

"We are finding that virtues such as humility are subject to development or deterioration depending on a willingness to practice them," he said. "In this way, they are like moral muscles."

Why all migraine patients should be treated with magnesium

I found this after reading a letter to the editor in New Scientist that taking magnesium tablets once or twice a week cured her migraines.


Mar. 18, 2012

Magnesium, the second most abundant intracellular cation, is essential in many intracellular processes and appears to play an important role in migraine pathogenesis. Routine blood tests do not reflect true body magnesium stores since <2% is in the measurable, extracellular space, 67% is in the bone and 31% is located intracellularly.


Migraine sufferers may develop magnesium deficiency due to genetic inability to absorb magnesium, inherited renal magnesium wasting, excretion of excessive amounts of magnesium due to stress, low nutritional intake, and several other reasons. There is strong evidence that magnesium deficiency is much more prevalent in migraine sufferers than in healthy controls.


Both oral and intravenous magnesium are widely available, extremely safe, very inexpensive and for patients who are magnesium deficient can be highly effective. Considering these features of magnesium, the fact that magnesium deficiency may be present in up to half of migraine patients, and that routine blood tests are not indicative of magnesium status, empiric treatment with at least oral magnesium is warranted in all migraine sufferers.

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Mental health report finds staffing problems linked to ward suicides


Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
University of Manchester

Suicidal patients who are under observation may be put at risk by relying on inexperienced staff and agency nurses, according to a new report issued today.

Commissioned by the Healthcare Quality Improvement Partnership as part of the Clinical Outcome Review Programmes, researchers from The University of Manchester's National Confidential Inquiry into Suicide and Homicide by People with Mental Illness, found that 18 in-patients a year died by suicide while under observation. This usually meant checks every 10-15 minutes but in 9% the patient was supposed to be under constant observation.

The research team examined the details of all suicides in the UK over 7 years under observation. They also conducted an on-line survey for patients and staff to report their experience of observation.

The researchers found that half of deaths examined occurred when checks were carried out by less experienced staff or agency staff who were unfamiliar with the patient. Deaths occurred when staff were distracted by ward disruptions, during busy periods, or when the ward was poorly designed.

One nurse who participated in the focus group said: "Very few nurses really understood what an observation meant. They thought it meant go away, see someone, come back and sign the sheet."

Professor Louis Appleby, Director of the Inquiry, also leads the National Suicide Prevention Strategy for England. He said: "The current observation approach is not working safely enough. This is an important part of keeping patients safe, but we found that where deaths occurred, responsibility had often been given to less experienced members of staff. Deaths also occurred when the protocols were not followed. Observation is a skilled task, not an add-on that can be delegated to anyone available."


The research also found that patients have mixed feelings about observation, finding it intrusive or protective. The process is often unpopular with staff.

One patient who participated in the study said: "You feel like a prisoner. It is so, so traumatic. You don't feel they care about your welfare - you are seen as causing them an extra burden."


Suspension leads to more pot use among teens, study finds


Public Release: 19-Mar-2015
University of Washington

Suspending kids from school for using marijuana is likely to lead to more -- not less -- pot use among their classmates, a new study finds.

Counseling was found to be a much more effective means of combating marijuana use. And while enforcement of anti-drug policies is a key factor in whether teens use marijuana, the way schools respond to policy violators matters greatly.


Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sugar Beets Make Hemoglobin

I knew hemoglobin & chlorophyll are very similar chemically, but I didn't know some vegetables contain hemoglobin itself.


Jan 20, 2015 |By Amy Nordrum

Hemoglobin is best known as red blood cells' superstar protein—carrying oxygen and other gases on the erythrocytes as they zip throughout the bodies of nearly all vertebrates. Less well known is its presence in vegetables, including the sugar beet, in which Nélida Leiva-Eriksson recently discovered the protein while working on her doctoral thesis at Lund University in Sweden. In fact, many land plants—from barley to tomatoes—contain the protein, says Raúl Arredondo-Peter, an expert on the evolution of plant hemoglobins, or leghemoglobins, at the Autonomous University of the State of Morelos in Mexico. “Hemoglobins are very ancient proteins,” he notes. Scientists first discovered them in the bright-red nodules of soybean roots in 1939 but have yet to determine the proteins' role in plants in most cases. One popular idea is that hemoglobin binds with and delivers nitric oxide to cells, sending signals to regulate growth.


Plant hemoglobins might even serve as a blood substitute for humans someday—an idea that Arredondo-Peter says is conceivable but far off because they do not carry and release oxygen at the same rates as human hemoglobins. Or they could be exploited to trick our senses: food scientists at Stanford University are experimenting with plant hemoglobins as an ingredient in veggie burgers to make them taste more like bloody steaks.

Warming Arctic blamed for worsening summer heatwaves


by Fred Pearce
Mar. 12, 2015 \
in the Mar. 21 - 27, 2015 issue, p. 18

It seems our weather is getting slower – and hotter. Arctic warming appears to be aggravating summer heatwaves across Europe and North America, by putting the brakes on atmospheric circulation in mid-latitudes.

The team that uncovered this Arctic effect says it caused the Russian heatwave of 2010, which lasted six weeks, killing crops and causing massive forest fires; the west European scorcher of 2003 that killed an estimated 70,000 people; and possibly the record US heatwave of 2012, which decimated corn crops.

Dim Coumou and colleagues at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany studied atmospheric circulation in the northern hemisphere from 1979 to 2013. They found longer and more frequent hot spells in mid-latitudes that, they say, are likely to have been triggered by a reduction in the temperature difference between the Arctic, which is warming quickly, and mid-latitudes, where average warming is slower.

The Arctic has in fact warmed twice as fast as the rest of the globe, because of the melting of the ice replaces a reflective surface with dark ocean that absorbs much more solar energy.

Climatologists believe that this temperature difference drives the general west-to-east movement of mid-latitude weather systems, such as the depressions that bring storms and the high-pressure systems that bring hot dry weather in summer and intense cold in winter. A smaller temperature difference slows these systems down, so their associated weather persists for longer.

Coumou's team found that the frequency of stalled weather systems in summer has doubled since the onset of rapid Arctic warming around 2000. In many cases, they stop moving for weeks at a time. That can mean long spells of hot weather that dry out soils, kill crops, empty rivers, trigger forest fires – and strain the body, with consequences for our health. So even though average weather is not changing much at mid-latitudes, the incidence of heatwaves is increasing fast.


The resulting stalled weather systems have been blamed - alongside the changing polar vortex - for the present long cold winter in the eastern US and the one immediately before this. But Coumou says that the summer effects are just as strong.

Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University, New Jersey, says the findings support her hypothesis that Arctic warming is slowing the jet stream, a high-altitude wind that drives atmospheric circulation at ground level in mid-latitudes.

"Coumou and his colleagues are looking at the individual weather systems that ride along the flow of the jet. And they find that as the Arctic warms, the weather systems stall, leading to more persistent heatwaves," she says. "In the case of heatwaves, there is less surface wind to stir up and distribute heat from a scorching sun beating down on dry soil."

With the Arctic melt set to continue, the long-range forecast is looks set to feature more heatwaves and more drought.

Mercury pollution danger for arctic ivory gulls


Mar. 20, 2015

A paper in Proceedings of the Royal Society B today says that mercury levels in arctic ivory gulls have risen almost 50 fold over the last 130 years. Scientists think this increase in mercury pollutants could be to blame for plummeting population figures.

Since the 1980s populations of ivory gulls in Canada have nosedived by more than 80%. In Canada the species is now endangered with only 400-500 breeding pairs left. The reason for the drastic decline in the population is unclear but scientists think there could be a link to mercury pollution. A study in 2004 found that the eggs of ivory gulls have the highest concentration of mercury of any arctic seabird.

Using museum specimens, the scientists tested the concentration of mercury in the feathers of 80 ivory gulls that lived over the last 130 years. Mercury in the body of birds builds up in feathers when it is trapped and stabilised by processes which produce keratin which feathers, claws and hair are made of.

The team found 45 times more mercury in the feathers of ivory gulls from 2007 than those from the 1877s. As well as eating fish, ivory gulls are also known to scavenge blubber and meat from marine mammal carcasses and may be consuming high concentrations of mercury from these apex predators at the top of the food chain where pollutants tend to accumulate.

The researchers tested stable isotopes of carbon and nitrogen in the feathers to determine whether a change in the diet of the ivory gulls in Canada could account for the huge increase in mercury consumption. They found no evidence of a dietary change that could explain the increase in mercury they found.

'This dramatic change in the absence of a dietary shift is clear evidence of the impact of anthropogenic [from human activity] mercury on this high-latitude threatened species,' say the researchers.

Mercury consumption has been shown to have damaging effects on wildlife, affecting the breeding success of birds. The researchers conclude that increased levels of mercury in the environment is likely partly responsible for the severe decrease in the ivory gull population in Canada. Other contributing causes could be illegal hunting and changing sea-ice conditions.

'Bioavailable mercury, transported long distances in the atmosphere from emission sources in Asia, is expected to continue increasing in the Arctic,' say the team, raising the alarm over future population declines in wildlife, even for those animals that live far from the sources of human pollution.

Expanding Medicaid under ACA helped to identify 23 percent more people with previously undiagnosed diabetes


Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
American Diabetes Association

States that have expanded their Medicaid programs under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) are capturing an increased number of people with previously undiagnosed diabetes, allowing them to begin treatment earlier, potentially reducing complications and other negative outcomes, according to a study being published online today and in the May issue of Diabetes Care.

The release of the study coincides with the 5th anniversary of the ACA, which expanded Medicaid eligibility to reach nearly all non-elderly adults with incomes at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty level (about $16,105 for individuals), while giving states the option of offering this expanded coverage. Twenty-six states chose to do so, while 24 states did not. The study compared increases in patients with newly diagnosed diabetes in both groups, finding a 23 percent increase in newly diagnosed diabetes patients in states that expanded their Medicaid programs, compared to a 0.4 percent increase in states that did not.

"The division of states created an opportunity to examine the impact of Medicaid expansion on specific health metrics, such as detection of disease," wrote the authors of the study, who relied upon the Quest Diagnostics database to identify newly diagnosed patients with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Diabetes was chosen, the authors noted, because it has such a large at-risk population and because "aggressive prevention and treatment programs have been shown to improve outcomes."

"Clearly, expanding Medicaid has allowed those 26 states that did so to identify a large number of people who previously did not know they were living with diabetes," said Vivian Fonseca, MD, Professor of Medicine and Pharmacology, Tullis Tulane Alumni Chair in Diabetes Chief, Section of Endocrinology at the Tulane University Health Sciences Center, Tulane University School of Medicine. "Early identification can be potentially life-saving for people with diabetes, and can at the very least greatly increase the chances of preventing or delaying complications. Data on prevention of complications comes from several trials funded by the National Institutes of Health, American Diabetes Association and others. In the long term, such prevention of complications has been shown to be cost saving, since the complications -- including blindness, amputations and kidney failure requiring dialysis or transplant -- are extremely expensive."


Smoking in front of your kids may increase their risk of heart disease as adults


Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
American Heart Association

Kids exposed to their parents' smoking may have a higher risk of developing heart disease in adulthood than those whose parents didn't smoke, according to research in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

The study's results add to the growing evidence that exposure to smoking from parents has a lasting effect on children's cardiovascular health in adulthood.


Regardless of other factors, the risk of developing carotid plaque in adulthood was almost two times (1.7) higher in children exposed to one or two parental smokers compared to children of parents who did not smoke. Further, risk was elevated whether parents seemed to limit their children's exposure:

Almost two times (1.6) higher in children whose parents smoked, but seemed to limit their children's exposure.

Four times higher in children whose parents smoked but did not seem to limit their children's exposure.


Chefs, offering choice may increase vegetable, fruit selection in schools


Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
The JAMA Network Journals

Fruit and vegetable selections in school meals increased after students had extended exposure to school food made more tasty with the help of a professional chef and after modifications were made to school cafeterias, including signage and more prominent placement of fruits and vegetables, but it was only chef-enhanced meals that also increased consumption, according to an article published online by JAMA Pediatrics.


The authors found that after three months of chef-enhanced meals, entree and fruit selection were unchanged but the odds of vegetable selection increased compared with control schools. After seven months, entree selection remained unchanged in the intervention schools compared with control schools. However, the odds of students selecting fruit increased in the chef, smart café and chef plus smart café schools compared with controls. Among the students who selected fruit, the servings consumed were greater in chef schools compared with control schools but there was no effect of the smart café intervention.

The odds of students selecting vegetables also increased in the chef, smart café and chef plus smart café schools compared with control schools. The percentage of vegetables consumed increased by 30.8 percent in chef schools and by 24.5 percent in chef plus smart café schools compared with control schools, according to the study.


How much math, science homework is too much?


Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
American Psychological Association

When it comes to adolescents with math and science homework, more isn't necessarily better -- an hour a day is optimal -- but doing it alone and regularly produces the biggest knowledge gain, according to research published by the American Psychological Association.


The researchers found that the students spent on average between one and two hours a day doing homework in all subjects. Students whose teacher systematically assigned homework scored nearly 50 points higher on the standardized test. Students who did their math homework on their own scored 54 points higher than those who asked for frequent or constant help. The curves were similar in science.

"Our data indicate that it is not necessary to assign huge quantities of homework, but it is important that assignment is systematic and regular, with the aim of instilling work habits and promoting autonomous, self-regulated learning," said Javier Suarez-Alvarez, PhD, co-lead author with Ruben Fernandez-Alonso, PhD. "The data suggest that spending 60 minutes a day doing homework is a reasonable and effective time."

The total amount of homework assigned by teachers was a little more than 70 minutes per day on average, the researchers found. While some teachers assigned 90-100 minutes of homework per day, the researchers found that the students' math and science results began to decline at that point. And while they found a small gain in results between 70 and 90 minutes, "that small gain requires two hours more homework per week, which is a large time investment for such small gains," said Suarez-Alvarez. "For that reason, assigning more than 70 minutes of homework per day does not seem very efficient."

As for working autonomously or with help, the researchers found that students who needed help and did 70 minutes of homework per day could expect to score in the 50th percentile on their test while autonomous students spending the same amount of homework time could expect to score in the 70th percentile. One possible explanation of this result is that self-regulated learning is strongly connected to academic performance and success, according to Suarez-Alvarez.


Republican Lawmakers Choose ACA Over Private Market

And it's an easy bet that if Republicans do repeal the Affordable Care Act, they will retain taxpayer-paid health insurance coverage for themselves.


By: Sarah Jones
Sunday, March, 29th, 2015

Republicans love the private market and hate “welfare”. Amiright?

That is, unless they are the ones getting the subsidies, or “welfare” as they call it when poor people with dark skin take it.

Hypocritical Republican lawmakers like Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) could have gone for a “private market” solution, but instead they chose to let you subsidize their healthcare via President Obama’s healthcare law.

Lindsay Wise of the McClatchy Washington Bureau broke this down in Kentucky .Com as it pertained to the Chairman of the Tea Party Caucus in the House, Kansas Rep. Tim Huelskamp. Yup, he has also chosen to sign up for President Obama’s healthcare law:


It’s true that members of Congress who want to take advantage of health benefits offered through their employer – the federal government – must use plans offered through a government-run exchange in the District of Columbia.
But that’s not the whole story.
Huelskamp could have foregone coverage completely, or shunned the exchange and purchased a family health plan directly from a private broker.


It was big news when Senator Ted Cruz signed up for President Obama’s healthcare law after he shut down the entire government in a fit over… Obamacare.

But apparently while Cruz was “principled” enough to waste 24 billion dollars plus of your money shutting down the government in hopes that he could defund the healthcare law, he is not “principled” enough to reject Obamacare and the subsidies lawmakers get if they use it.

Yes, it’s true. Cruz could have gone for a “private market” solution – you know, the thing Republicans are always trying to shove onto you? Yes, well, it’s not good enough for Ted Cruz.


Cruz tried to worm his way out of his entire raison d’être by claiming he was only objecting to the job killing part of Obamacare. Of course, that’s a Republican “belief” and not reality. If he isn’t aware of the stats yet, Cruz might want to take a gander at 2014, during which we had the best job growth since 1999. But, all is not lost. Cruz can thank himself for shaving “0.6 percent off the nation’s economic growth” with his shutdown, according to a Standard & Poor’s analysis.


Project to reduce violence in Panama City with improved parenting


Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
University of Manchester

University of Manchester researchers have piloted a parenting trial which aims to improve child behaviour in Panama City the place with the eighth highest murder rate in the world.

Gang crime and child maltreatment are pressing concerns in Panama and the UN described the capital Panama City as having the world's eighth highest murder rate in 2014. To mitigate this, the UN and the Panamanian government have prioritised investing in children to keep them away from gangs and drugs.

As part of this process, the researchers from The University of Manchester's School of Psychological Sciences tested a parenting intervention in six primary schools in low income neighbourhoods in the city.

Anilena Mejia led the pilot study: "We felt that a lack of resources shouldn't mean that children and parents in poorer areas receive less help than those in wealthier countries," she said. "The idea behind this pilot was to establish if a simple level of support could make a difference."

The researchers recruited 108 parents of children aged 3-12 who had been selected by the schools and divided them into two groups. One group was a control which received no intervention and the other attended a session called 'dealing with disobedience'.

In the two-hour session, this group watched videos and took part in planned activities which addressed issues such as encouraging good behaviour and reasons for disobedience. The method, known as Triple P, had been developed in Australia and was accompanied by workbooks and resources which the parents could take home with them.

After six months, the parents were interviewed about their child's behaviour and, compared to the control group there was a marked improvement.

One parent, the mother of boy aged 10, said: "Now if something happens, I take action. I find a solution. Before I will turn away and leave, because I thought there was no solution. But not anymore."

Another, the mother of boy aged 9, said: "After the program I understood how my yelling was affecting my kids, and that I was making them be inhibited"

Anilena added: "This was a small project but it showed some encouraging signs of success. With more time, we'd like to develop resources which are specific for the culture and issues in particular countries and use them to break the cycle of poor parental skills which leads to crime and ill health."

Delayed retirement could increase inequalities among seniors


Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
University of Montreal

Raising the age of eligibility for the Old Age Security pension and the Guaranteed Income Supplement will increase inequalities between older people. "This change will force retired people into greater dependence on their private savings to support them as they get older. Research shows that greater privatisation of the retirement income system results in growing inequalities among the older population. When you raise the pension eligibility age, you are also opening the door to rising disparities" according to demographer Yves Carrière, of the University of Montreal, who presented, last week in Ottawa, a report on this topic to the Population Change and Life-course Strategic Knowledge Cluster meeting.

Mr. Carrière, a specialist on Canada's retirement income system, has collated the most recent international research on this issue and concludes that there might be unpleasant surprises in store for future generations of retired people. "Despite the stated aim of preventing inter-generational inequities - because there are fewer people of working age to support more and more people in retirement - we run the risk of generating greater inequalities between those who will be in retirement in the future: that is, within the very generations we say we want to be fair to".

To limit the inflation of costs caused by the baby boomers joining the ranks of the retired in Canada, the Federal Government has announced that it intends to raise the age of eligibility for the Old Age Security pension and the Guaranteed Income Supplement by two years (from age 65 to 67). The rise is to take effect over six years starting in 2023. Yves Carrière argues that this policy will further impoverish those older people whose incomes are already low.

Number of births may affect mom's future heart health


Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
UT Southwestern Medical Center

DALLAS - March 23, 2015 - Women who give birth to four or more children are more likely to have cardiovascular changes that can be early indicators of heart disease than women who have fewer children, new research by UT Southwestern Medical Center cardiologists finds.

"This study adds to a body of evidence that pregnancy, which generally occurs early in a woman's life, can provide insight into a woman's future cardiovascular risk," said Dr. Monika Sanghavi, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and lead author of the study.


The associations were not affected by adjusting for socioeconomic status or traditional cardiovascular risk factors, suggesting that physiological changes associated with pregnancy may account for the change, Dr. Sanghavi said.


Zinc deficiency linked to immune system response, particularly in older adults

Getting too much zinc can cause other problems, including interfering with other minerals.


Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
Oregon State University

Zinc, an important mineral in human health, appears to affect how the immune system responds to stimulation, especially inflammation, new research from Oregon State University shows.

Zinc deficiency could play a role in chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes that involve inflammation. Such diseases often show up in older adults, who are more at risk for zinc deficiency.

"When you take away zinc, the cells that control inflammation appear to activate and respond differently; this causes the cells to promote more inflammation," said Emily Ho, a professor and director of the Moore Family Center for Whole Grain Foods, Nutrition and Preventive Health in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, and lead author of the study.

Zinc is an essential micronutrient required for many biological processes, including growth and development, neurological function and immunity. It is naturally found in protein-rich foods such as meat and shellfish, with oysters among the highest in zinc content.

Approximately 12 percent of people in the U.S. do not consume enough zinc in their diets. Of those 65 and older, closer to 40 percent do not consume enough zinc, Ho said. Older adults tend to eat fewer zinc-rich foods and their bodies do not appear to use or absorb zinc as well, making them highly susceptible to zinc deficiency.

"It's a double-whammy for older individuals," said Ho, who also is a principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute.


Understanding the role of zinc in the body is important to determining whether dietary guidelines for zinc need to be adjusted. The recommended daily intake of zinc for adults is 8 milligrams for women and 11 milligrams for men, regardless of age. The guidelines may need to be adjusted for older adults to ensure they are getting enough zinc, Ho said.

There is no good clinical biomarker test to determine if people are getting enough zinc, so identifying zinc deficiency can be difficult. In addition, the body does not have much ability to store zinc, so regular intake is important, Ho said. Getting too much zinc can cause other problems, including interfering with other minerals. The current upper limit for zinc is 40 milligrams per day.


High-definition scans suggest effects of smoking may be seen in unborn babies


Public Release: 23-Mar-2015
Durham University

The harmful effects of smoking during pregnancy may be reflected in the facial movements of mothers' unborn babies, new research has suggested.

Researchers at Durham and Lancaster universities said the findings of their pilot study added weight to existing evidence that smoking is harmful to fetuses as they develop in the womb and warranted further investigation.

Observing 4-d ultrasound scans, the researchers found that fetuses whose mothers were smokers showed a significantly higher rate of mouth movements than the normal declining rate of movements expected in a fetus during pregnancy.

The researchers suggested that the reason for this might be that the fetal central nervous system, which controls movements in general and facial movements in particular did not develop at the same rate and in the same manner as in fetuses of mothers who did not smoke during pregnancy.

Previous studies have reported a delay in relation to speech processing abilities in infants exposed to smoking during pregnancy, the researchers added.


In common with other studies, the research also showed that maternal stress and depression have a significant impact on fetal movements, but that the increase in mouth and touch movements was even higher in babies whose mothers smoked.

The study also found some evidence of a bigger delay in the reduction of facial touching by fetuses whose mothers smoked, compared to the fetuses of non-smokers, but the researchers said this delay was less significant.


Power naps produce a significant improvement in memory performance

After taking a nap for about an hour, this is the first thing I saw when I turned on my computer.


Public Release: 20-Mar-2015
Saarland University


Sara Studte, a graduate biologist specializing in neuropsychology, working with her PhD supervisor Axel Mecklinger and co-researcher Emma Bridger, is examining how power naps influence memory performance. The results are clear: 'Even a short sleep lasting 45 to 60 minutes produces a five-fold improvement in information retrieval from memory,' explains Axel Mecklinger.

Strictly speaking, memory performance did not improve in the nap group relative to the levels measured immediately after the learning phase, but they did remain constant. 'The control group, whose members watched DVDs while the other group slept, performed significantly worse than the nap group when it came to remembering the word pairs. The memory performance of the participants who had a power nap was just as good as it was before sleeping, that is, immediately after completing the learning phase, says Professor Mecklinger.


The research teams draws a clear conclusion from its study: 'A short nap at the office or in school is enough to significantly improve learning success. Wherever people are in a learning environment, we should think seriously about the positive effects of sleep,' says Axel Mecklinger. Enhancing information recall through sleeping doesn't require us to stuff bulky tomes under our pillow. A concentrated period of learning followed by a short relaxing sleep is all that's needed.

Additives to biodegrade plastics don't work


Public Release: 20-Mar-2015
Michigan State University

Recycling plastic works; additives to biodegrade plastic do not.

A new study from Michigan State University shows that several additives that claim to break down polyethylene (i.e., plastic bags) and polyethylene terephthalate (i.e., soda bottles) simply don't work in common disposal situations such as landfills or composting.

"Making improper or unsubstantiated claims can produce consumer backlash, fill the environment with unwanted polymer debris and expose companies to legal penalties," said Susan Selke, co-author of the study and MSU packaging professor.

The results, featured in the current issue of Environmental Science and Technology, are a culmination of a three-year study that focused on five additives and three categories of biodegradation, which cover the majority of methods available on the market today.


"There was no difference between the plastics mixed with the additives we tested and the ones without," said Rafael Auras, co-author and MSU packaging professor. "The claim is that, with the additives, the plastics will break down to a level in which microorganisms can use the decomposed material as food. That simply did not happen."

William Rathje, the late Arizona paleontologist and founder of the Tucson Garbage Project, revealed that even after years underground, chicken bones still had meat on them, grass was still green and that even carrots still maintained their orange color.

Since organic materials take so long to decompose, it's not surprising then that plastics, even with the aid of additives, would take decades or longer to break down, if at all. So, if the additives don't work, what's the solution?

"The solution is to not make claims that are untrue," Selke said. "The proper management of waste plastics is the proper management of waste plastics."

And for now, that means not using any of the disposal methods or additives included in the study as feasible options, Selke said.

It's a growing trend that many U.S. cities and countries have banned or have adopted legislation taxing the retail use of plastic bags, one of the largest sources of polyethylene waste. Plastic manufacturers are also seeking solutions to this problem, Selke said.

"Package-user companies funded this study because they wanted to know if the additives that are being marketed to them work," she said. "They wanted scientific proof to evaluate the products and disposal approaches that are available to them to break down plastic."

Obese women 40 percent more likely to get cancer


Public Release: 16-Mar-2015
Cancer Research UK

Obese women have around a 40 per cent greater risk of developing a weight-related cancer in their lifetime than women of a healthy weight, according to new figures* released by Cancer Research UK today (Tuesday).

Obesity increases a woman's risk of developing at least seven types of cancer - including bowel, post-menopausal breast, gallbladder, womb, kidney, pancreatic and oesophageal cancer.

The new statistics find that obese women have around a one in four risk of developing a cancer linked to weight in their lifetime.

In a group of 1,000 obese women, 274 will be diagnosed with a bodyweight-linked cancer in their lifetime, compared to 194 women diagnosed in a group of 1,000 healthy weight women.


Dr Julie Sharp, head of health information at Cancer Research UK, said: "Losing weight isn't easy, but you don't have to join a gym and run miles every day or give up your favourite food forever. Just making small changes that you can maintain in the long term can have a real impact. To get started try getting off the bus a stop earlier and cutting down on fatty and sugary foods. Losing weight takes time so gradually build on these to achieve a healthier lifestyle that you can maintain. And find out about local services, which can provide help and support to make lifestyle changes over the long term.

"We know that our cancer risk depends on a combination of our genes, our environment and other aspects of our lives, many of which we can control - helping people understand how they can reduce their risk of developing cancer in the first place remains crucial in tackling the disease.

"Lifestyle changes - like not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, eating a healthy diet and cutting back on alcohol - are the big opportunities for us all to personally reduce our cancer risk. Making these changes is not a guarantee against cancer, but it stacks the odds in our favour."

The cost of dominance


Public Release: 19-Mar-2015
University of Utah

SAVANNAH, Ga., March 19, 2015 - Bad news for relentless power-seekers the likes of Frank Underwood on House of Cards: Climbing the ladder of social status through aggressive, competitive striving might shorten your life as a result of increased vulnerability to cardiovascular disease. That's according to new research by psychologist Timothy W. Smith and colleagues at the University of Utah. And good news for successful types who are friendlier: Attaining higher social status as the result of prestige and freely given respect may have protective effects, the researchers found.


In surveys with 500 undergraduate volunteers, hostile-dominant types reported greater hostility and interpersonal stress. Warm-dominant types tended to rank themselves as higher in social status. Both styles were associated with a higher personal sense of power.

The psychologists also monitored the blood pressure of 180 undergraduates as they reacted to stressful conversations with others who were scripted to act deferentially or dominantly. Hostile-dominant types experienced significant increases in blood pressure when interacting with a dominant partner, but not with a deferential one. Previous studies have found that increased blood pressure reactivity to stress puts people at risk for cardiovascular disease.

In a third study with 94 young, married couples, Smith and colleagues found that hostile-dominance in men was linked with higher blood pressure recorded throughout the day with a wearable monitor, but not among women. Warm-dominance in women predicted lower blood pressure, but not in men.

Among 154 older, married couples (average age of 63), a warm-dominant style was associated with less conflict and more support. A hostile-dominant style was associated with more severe atherosclerosis in men and women, as measured by coronary artery calcification. Hostile-dominance was also linked with greater marital conflict and lower marital support.

"It's not a style that wears well with other people," Smith says. The good news is that people can take steps to change a hostile personality style. "Something usually has to fall apart first before they are willing to entertain that option," Smith says. "But there is some evidence that it is possible to teach old dogs new tricks, and if you do, it can reduce coronary risk."

Being near greened vacant lots lowers heart rates


Public Release: 19-Mar-2015
University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine

Greening vacant lots may be associated with biologic reductions in stress, according to a new study from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Residents who walked near newly greened vacant lots had significantly lower heart rates compared to walking near a blighted, or neglected, vacant lot.


The average heart rate reduction attributable to being in view of the greened lots was over 5 beats per minute (bpm) lower than when near non-greened lots. In contrast, at the control site, there was minimal change in heart rate from the pre- to post-time period when walking past control lots versus non-study vacant lots. In a second analysis, the total net reduction of heart rate when near and in view of greened vacant lots was over 15 bpm. Walks ranged from about 1,500 to 2,000 feet in length.


Hidden benefits of electric vehicles revealed


Public Release: 19-Mar-2015
Michigan State University


electric vehicles emit significantly less heat. That difference could mitigate the urban heat island effect, the phenomenon that helps turn big cities like Beijing into pressure cookers in warm months.

Moreover, the cooling resulting from replacing all gas-powered vehicles with electric vehicles could mean city dwellers needing less air conditioning, another environmental win.

"It's easy not to see the big picture on issues like electric cars and global warming, but when we look with a holistic approach, we find these unexpected connections," said co-author Jianguo "Jack" Liu, who holds the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability at MSU and is director of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability (CSIS). "Heat waves kill, and in terms of climate change, even one degree can make a difference."


Fewer multiple births could reduce autism risk in ART children


Public Release: 19-Mar-2015
Columbia University

In a paper published online today (Thursday, March 19), scientists report that the incidence of diagnosed autism was twice as high for assisted reproductive technology (ART) as non-ART births among the nearly 6 million children in their study, born in California from 1997 through 2007. However, much of the association between ART and autism was explained by age and education of the mother as well as adverse perinatal outcomes, especially multiple births. After accounting for these factors, the study showed an elevated risk only for mothers ages 20-34.

Notably, the study reported no significant increased risk of autism for women who gave birth to singleton children. "These results indicate that the higher autism risk may be due mainly to the large numbers of multiple births and complications of pregnancy and delivery among children conceived with ART," said Christine Fountain, assistant professor of sociology at Fordham University and affiliated researcher at Columbia University.







New MIND diet may significantly protect against Alzheimer's disease


Public Release: 19-Mar-2015
Rush University Medical Center

A new diet, appropriately known by the acronym MIND, could significantly lower a person's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, even if the diet is not meticulously followed, according to a paper published online for subscribers in March in the journal Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association.

Rush nutritional epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris, PhD, and colleagues developed the "Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay" (MIND) diet. The study shows that the MIND diet lowered the risk of AD by as much as 53 percent in participants who adhered to the diet rigorously, and by about 35 percent in those who followed it moderately well.

"One of the more exciting things about this is that people who adhered even moderately to the MIND diet had a reduction in their risk for AD," said Morris, a Rush professor, assistant provost for Community Research, and director of Nutrition and Nutritional Epidemiology. "I think that will motivate people."

Morris and her colleagues developed the MIND diet based on information that has accrued from years' worth of past research about what foods and nutrients have good, and bad, effects on the functioning of the brain over time. This is the first study to relate the MIND diet to Alzheimer's disease.


The MIND diet is a hybrid of the Mediterranean and DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets, both of which have been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions, like hypertension, heart attack and stroke. Some researchers have found that the two older diets provide protection against dementia as well.


The MIND diet is also easier to follow than, say, the Mediterranean diet, which calls for daily consumption of fish and 3-4 daily servings of each of fruits and vegetables, Morris said.

The MIND diet has 15 dietary components, including 10 "brain-healthy food groups" -- green leafy vegetables, other vegetables, nuts, berries, beans, whole grains, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine -- and five unhealthy groups that comprise red meats, butter and stick margarine, cheese, pastries and sweets, and fried or fast food.

With the MIND diet, a person who eats at least three servings of whole grains, a salad and one other vegetable every day -- along with a glass of wine -- snacks most days on nuts, has beans every other day or so, eats poultry and berries at least twice a week and fish at least once a week and benefit. However, he or she must limits intake of the designated unhealthy foods, especially butter (less than 1 tablespoon a day), cheese, and fried or fast food (less than a serving a week for any of the three), to have a real shot at avoiding the devastating effects of AD, according to the study.

Berries are the only fruit specifically to make the MIND diet. "Blueberries are one of the more potent foods in terms of protecting the brain," Morris said, and strawberries have also performed well in past studies of the effect of food on cognitive function.

The MIND diet was not an intervention in this study, however; researchers looked at what people were already eating. Participants earned points if they ate brain-healthy foods frequently and avoided unhealthy foods. The one exception was that participants got one point if they said olive oil was the primary oil used in their homes.


"With late-onset AD, with that older group of people, genetic risk factors are a small piece of the picture," she said. Past studies have yielded evidence that suggests that what we eat may play a significant role in determining who gets AD and who doesn't, Morris said.

When the researchers in the new study left out of the analyses those participants who changed their diets somewhere along the line -- say, on a doctor's orders after a stroke -- they found that "the association became stronger between the MIND diet and [favorable] outcomes" in terms of AD, Morris said. "That probably means that people who eat this diet consistently over the years get the best protection."

In other words, it looks like the longer a person eats the MIND diet, the less risk that person will have of developing AD, Morris said. As is the case with many health-related habits, including physical exercise, she said, "You'll be healthier if you've been doing the right thing for a long time."


Unconscious race and social class biases appear unassociated with clinical decisions


Public Release: 18-Mar-2015
The JAMA Network Journals

While unconscious race and social class biases were present in most trauma and acute-care clinicians surveyed about patient care management in a series of clinical vignettes, those biases were not associated with clinical decisions, according to a report published online by JAMA Surgery.

Disparities in the quality of care received by minority patients have been reported for decades across multiple conditions, types of care and institutions, according to the study background. Adil H. Haider, M.D., M.P.H., of Brigham and Women's Hospital, Boston, conducted a web-based survey among physicians from surgery and related specialties at an academic, level I trauma center.


The study results included 215 clinicians (74 attending surgeons, 32 fellows, 86 residents, 19 interns and four physicians). The authors found implicit race and social class biases were present for most respondents. Average test scores among all clinicians were 0.42 for race (indicates moderate preference) and 0.71 for social class (indicates strong preference). Scores did not differ significantly by practitioner specialty, race or age. Subtle differences in scores between women and men were not significant in further analyses.

Some analysis indicated an association between race and social class biases among survey responders in 3 of 27 possible patient management decisions in the survey vignettes, including respondents being more likely to diagnose a young black woman with pelvic inflammatory disease rather than appendicitis and being less likely to order an MRI of the cervical spine for patients with neck tenderness after a motor vehicle accident if they were of low rather than high socioeconomic status. However, those differences were not significant in further analysis and authors, overall, found no differential patient treatment related to race or social class biases.

"Although this study of clinicians from surgical and other related specialties did not demonstrate any association between implicit race or social class bias and clinical decision making, existing biases might influence the quality of care received by minority patients and those of lower socioeconomic status in real-life clinical encounters. Further research incorporating patient outcomes and data from actual clinical interactions is warranted to clarify the effect of clinician implicit bias on the provision of health care and outcomes," the study concludes.