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School Lunch Debate: What’s At Stake?

While 90 percent of schools have made the transition to new school lunch standards, some schools insist that the standards are unworkable. (Photo: USDA)

While 90 percent of schools have made the transition to new school lunch standards, some schools insist that the standards are unworkable. (Photo: USDA)

By Allison Aubrey and Jessica Pupovac, NPR

School lunches have never been known for culinary excellence. But to be fair, the National School Lunch Program — which provides free or reduced lunches to about 31 million kids every day — has never aimed to dazzle as much as to fill little bellies.

In 2010, Congress gave the Federal School Lunch Program a nutrition make-over. New regulations called for:

  • Increasing the amount of whole grains served in school cafeterias
  • Shifting to fat free or low-fat milks
  • Limiting the amount of calories that can come from saturated fats to 10 percent
  • Offering fruits and vegetables on a daily basis
  • Implementing caloric minimums and maximums for each meal

Those were just the first steps. By the school year starting this fall, schools are also required to: Continue reading

Fruit Juice vs. Soda? Both Beverages Pack a Wallop of Sugar

Minute Maid 100 percent apple juice has more fructose per liter than Coke and Pepsi. (Trisha Weir/Flickr)

Minute Maid 100 percent apple juice has more fructose per liter than Coke and Pepsi. (Trisha Weir/Flickr)

By Eliza Barclay, NPR

When it comes to choosing between sodas and juices in the beverage aisle, the juice industry has long benefited from a health halo.

’100 percent fruit juice is as bad as sugar-sweetened beverages for its effects on our health.’  

We know that juice comes from fruit, while soda is artificial. In particular, the sugars in juice seem more “natural” than high fructose corn syrup — the main sweetener in so many sodas. After all, we’ve gotten rid of most of the soda we used to offer kids at school, but schools can still offer juice.

But a study published online in the journal Nutrition, shows that on average fruit juice has a fructose concentration of about 45.5 grams per liter, only a bit less than the average of 50 grams per liter for sodas. The sneakiest — and sweetest — juice is Minute Maid 100 percent apple, with nearly 66 grams of fructose per liter. That’s more than the 62.5 grams per liter in Coca-Cola and the 61 grams per liter in Dr. Pepper. Continue reading

Should There Be a Ban on Using Food Stamps to Buy Soda?

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Banning the use of food stamps to purchase sodas and other sugary drinks could reduce both obesity and Type 2 diabetes rates, according to new research from the Stanford University School of Medicine.

‘Shift in policy could prevent 400,000 cases of obesity.’  
About one in seven Americans — more than 46 million people — currently receive food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Government surveys show that the average SNAP recipient drinks the equivalent of a little more than a can of soda a day.

Stanford researchers used two data sets, one on diet and another on price data for food, and then used simulations to estimate the effect of a ban on using SNAP funds to buy sugary beverages, including sodas and sports drinks, but excluding 100 percent fruit juices. Continue reading

Doctors Say They Would Forego Aggressive Treatment When Near Death

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Katherine Hobson, NPR

Everybody dies.

But when doctors’ time is up, they are different from the rest of us. They “go gently” rather than opt for aggressive end-of-life treatments, as one physician wrote a few years ago. They have seen the suffering of their patients at the end of life and want no part of it.

In fact, nearly 9 in 10 young physicians just finishing up their residencies or fellowships wouldn’t want to receive life-prolonging CPR or cardiac life support if they were terminally ill and their heart or breathing stopped, a Stanford University School of Medicine survey finds.

The report, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, notes the disconnect between the aggressive care the average person receives — an average of about $7,000 worth for Medicare beneficiaries in their last month of life — and what doctors would want for themselves. Continue reading

Key Drivers of the Rise in Double Mastectomies: Anxiety and MRIs

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

The number of women getting double mastectomies after a breast cancer diagnosis has been rising in the past 10 years, even though most of them don’t face a higher risk of getting cancer in the other breast.

More than two-thirds of the women who had the double mastectomy had no risk factors that would make it more likely that they would get breast cancer again.

That has cancer doctors troubled, because for those women having the other breast removed doesn’t reduce their risk of getting breast cancer again or increase their odds of survival. And they don’t know why women are making this choice.

Worry about the cancer coming back is one of the biggest reasons, according to a study of women in California and Michigan that tried to figure out which women decided on a double mastectomy, and why.

Women who had a breast MRI were more likely to decide on a double mastectomy, even if the scan didn’t show more cancer. Continue reading

Study: Steps to Save Lives in a Flu Pandemic

A nurse introduces the front desk for the negative pressure isolation rooms section, which will be used to treat potential H7N9 avian influenza patients, at a Taipei hospital on April 6, 2013, just after the H7N9 virus emerged on China's mainland. (Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images)

A nurse introduces the front desk for the negative pressure isolation rooms section, which will be used to treat potential H7N9 avian influenza patients, at a Taipei hospital on April 6, 2013, just after the H7N9 virus emerged on China’s mainland. (Sam Yeh/AFP/Getty Images)

By Brian Lau

In a new analysis, Stanford researchers, in collaboration with others across the country, suggest changes policy makers could address now to save thousands of lives and billions of dollars in the event of a pandemic, such as the one the world saw in 2009 when H1N1 swept around the world.

A new bird flu strain — H7N9 — emerged in March, 2013, World Health Organization report 400 deaths since last April, most of them in Asia.

Researchers used data from the 2009 pandemic and the virus characteristics of the H7N9 bird flu in a model to estimate the health and economic consequences. They studied the effect of both vaccination programs and public health initiatives, using different time points during the first 12 months of a simulated severe pandemic in a densely populated metropolitan area.

In 2009, a vaccine was developed and became available 9 months into the pandemic. Researchers found that a shorter time to vaccination — 6 months instead of 9 –  would avert nearly 6,000 deaths and save $1.9 billion in treatment costs. The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine this week. Continue reading

Study: Does A Junk Food Diet Make You Tired?

 

UCLA psychology professor Aaron Blaisdell studied what happened to rats when they were fed a junk food diet. (Photo/Chris Richard)

UCLA psychology professor Aaron Blaisdell studied what happened to rats when they were fed a junk food diet. (Photo/Chris Richard)

By Chris Richard

A new UCLA psychology study has found evidence that being overweight may make people tired and then become more sedentary, not the other way around.

The rats on the junk food diet rested nearly twice as long as the lean rats.    
 Researchers got the proof from testing rats, whose physiology is similar to that of human beings.

A team led by psychology professor Aaron Blaisdell of UCLA’s Brain Research Institute put one group of 16 rats on the standard lab diet, largely ground corn, wheat, soybean and fish meal. A second group got a highly processed and refined diet, with casein as the main protein source, soybean oil, sugar and a little starch: a rat’s version of junk food.

It may be no surprise that after three months, the junk food eaters got fat. Continue reading

Emotional Symptoms Can Linger After Kids’ Concussions

Emotional symptoms such as frustration, and sleep difficulty can start more than a week after the initial injury and may be a sign of more serious concussion. (Paul-W/Flickr)

While headaches and fatigue are the most common concussion symptoms, nearly one in five patients may also suffer emotional symptoms. (Paul-W/Flickr)

By Brian Lau

That big hit your child took on the football field was over a week ago. He says his headaches are gone — but he’s just not himself. He can’t sleep and he just snapped back at you when you asked him how he was doing. You wonder if this is just normal teenager behavior or a sign of the concussion.

Frustration, irritability, and sleep difficulty a week or more after injury may signal a more serious concussion.
Concussions are diagnosed by physical symptoms like headaches, dizziness, difficulty thinking clearly, or fatigue after a head injury. But those physical symptoms may evolve into emotional symptoms during the days and weeks after an injury according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Yes, headaches and fatigue were the most common symptoms immediately following a concussion, according to researchers at Harvard Medical School. But emotional symptoms such as frustration, irritability, restlessness, and sleep difficulty were seen in up to 17 percent of patients a week or more after injury and may be a marker of a more serious concussion. Continue reading

Study: Heavy Bleeding Very Common As Women Approach Menopause

So common that it will help doctors determine when bleeding is normal, when interveetinon is necessary. (Getty Images)

The researchers hope their findings will help doctors and patients understand what “normal” bleeding is during perimenopause. (Getty Images)

 By Jennifer Huber

I could hear the fear and panic in my friend’s voice over the phone. She was having her period, but bleeding so heavily that she was debating whether to go to the emergency room. Yet she wasn’t sure. She wondered if she might be over-reacting, if her experience was simply what happened as a woman approached menopause.

More than three-fourths of women in the study reported periods lasting at least 10 days.

As women get older, their periods can begin to change. This perimenopausal time typically starts when a woman is in her 40s and lasts about four years. (The average age of menopause, when periods stop, is 51.) For some women, the transition means unpredictable, prolonged or heavy bleeding, and that can be frightening. Now new research shows that these changes may be quite normal.

In the study, researchers from across the country, including UC Davis and UCLA, reviewed data from 1,320 women ages 42-52 who kept detailed records of their menstrual cycles over time. The researchers found that instances of heavy or prolonged bleeding were very common. Continue reading

Silicon Valley Health-Tech Wrestles with the FDA

The FDA's recent enforcement action against genetic testing firm 23andme rattled health-tech executives. (Hong Chang Bum/Flickr)

The FDA’s recent enforcement action against genetic testing firm 23andme rattled health-tech executives. (Hong Chang Bum/Flickr)

By Christina Farr

Health care entrepreneurs are a different breed than most entrepreneurs. Rather than hunkering down to build a cool product, they need to think about regulation and red tape — right from the start.

Ignoring the FDA and pushing ahead with a product is not a viable option.  

As boring as it may sound, health-tech founders need to develop a relationship with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This process might drag on for some time, as this authority has the unenviable job of overseeing an explosion of new medical technology, whether it’s a new electronic health record or a device that turns your smartphone into an ear scope.

As the recent enforcement action against genetic testing firm 23andMe demonstrated, ignoring the FDA and pushing ahead with a product is not a viable option.

In recent years, Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs have become increasingly critical, attacking the agency’s antiquated processes in a string of interviews and op-eds. Continue reading