alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.

Science

A physics Nobelist has an odd theory about black holes and the universe. Here's the evidence for it

University of Oxford mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose won a Nobel Prize earlier this month for a lifetime of work studying black holes, singularities from which not even light can escape. Yet he is also behind a provocative and controversial theory about the formation of the universe — namely, that the Big Bang did not mark the beginning of the universe as we know it, but merely started the next iteration of our universe. In his theory, known as conformal cyclic cosmology, our current conception of the universe is merely one of a series of infinite universes that came before it and which will come after, too.

Cosmology, of course, is full of theories of assorted degrees of harebrainedness, and many of the most famous ones — such as string theory — lack any observational evidence. But Penrose's prediction is different, as there is some evidence in observations of the cosmic background radiation — meaning the average background temperature of the entire night sky, in which one can see remnant heat from the Big Bang and differentiate bright patches in the sky. As pictured in the featured photo on this story, some of those "bright spots" could be, as Penrose believes, radiation emanations from ancient black holes that predate this universe.

"The idea of Roger's 'conformal cyclic cosmology' [CCC], is based on three facts," Pawel Nurowski, a scientist at the Center for Theoretical Physics at the Polish Academy of Sciences, explained to Salon by email.

"The idea of Roger's 'conformal cyclic cosmology' [CCC], is based on three facts," Pawel Nurowski, a scientist at the Center for Theoretical Physics at the Polish Academy of Sciences, explained to Salon by email. Specifically, Nurowski says, in order for Penrose's theory to make sense, one would have to observe a universe that has a positive cosmological constant (meaning the mysterious, constant repulsive force that pushes everything in the universe which is not gravitationally bound away from everything else), as well as a universe that would look similar at its end as it did in its beginning. Observations of our universe suggest that it will end in a disordered, empty state, with all matter converted to stray photons that never interact with each other.

Nurowski concluded, "We believe that every possible universe will have all these three features," that "we have an infinite sequence of universes (eons)" and that "Penrose considers this sequence of conformally glued eons as the full physical Universe."

"In this picture, our standard cosmology Universe is only one of the eons," Nurowski added. "So the main difference between 'conformal cyclic cosmology' and the standard cosmology is that our Universe is only a part of Penrose's universe," whereas adherents to the traditional idea of a Big Bang believe that that specific event began our current universe.

This brings us to the recent discovery that may support Penrose's CCC hypothesis. According to a paper co-authored by Penrose, Nurowski and two other scientists, unexpected hot spots that have been discovered in the cosmic microwave background of the universe suggest that there are "anomalous regions," perhaps enormous black holes left over from previous universes that have yet to decay. These regions are known as "Hawking Points," after Stephen Hawking, who first came up with the theory that black holes would very slowly decay over unimaginably long timescales, emitting what is called Hawking radiation in his honor. The discovery of these Hawking points suggests that Penrose's cosmological model is accurate.

"The existence of such anomalous regions, resulting from point-like sources at the conformally stretched-out big bang, is a predicted consequence of conformal cyclic cosmology (CCC)," the paper explains, adding that these so-called Hawking points would be caused by radiation emanating from "supermassive black holes in a cosmic aeon prior to our own."

It must be emphasized that Penrose's Nobel Prize was not awarded because of his theory of a conformal cyclical cosmology. Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb clarified in an email to Salon: "In 1939, Albert Einstein wrote a paper in Annals of Mathematics doubting that black holes exist in nature. Roger Penrose demonstrated that black holes are a robust prediction of Einstein's general theory of relativity and in doing so invented a new mathematical tool to depict spacetimes, called Penrose diagrams."

Loeb added, "He also showed that it is possible to extract energy from a spinning black hole as if it was a flywheel, through the so-called Penrose Process."

Loeb says that Penrose's belief that the hot spots prove that the black holes in question came from previous universes is controversial.

"The particular theory advocated by Penrose, Conformal Cyclic Cosmology, asserts that the Big Bang expansion repeats in succession of cycles of expansion, implying that one can see through our current Big Bang into past Big Bangs, giving rise to patterns in cosmic microwave background," Loeb explained. "Penrose made the controversial claim that such patterns are seen in data, but it was shown by others that the patterns he identified are not statistically significant.... and so his claim is controversial."

There are skeptics in the astrophysics community. Ethan Siegel, an astrophysicist who pens a science blog that is published in Forbes magazine, was very critical of Penrose's theory. Last week, he penned an article titled "No, Roger Penrose, We See No Evidence Of A 'Universe Before The Big Bang.'"

"The predictions that [Penrose] has made are refuted by the data, and his claims to see these effects are only reproducible if one analyzes the data in a scientifically unsound and illegitimate fashion," Dr. Siegel wrote. "Hundreds of scientists have pointed this out to Penrose — repeatedly and consistently over a period of more than 10 years — who continues to ignore the field and plow ahead with his contentions."

Nurowski and Loeb both pushed back against Siegel's claims.

"The person that wrote this article seems to never read our recent Monthly Notices paper," Nurowski wrote to Salon, linking to he and Penrose's article showing evidence for Hawking points. "[Siegel] also seems not to read our three other papers. He gives a quote of a picture from an old paper with Penrose and Gurzadyan. He has not a single argument against our newest MNRAS [Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society] paper.... I stress that the statistical analysis in our paper is at the highest astronomical standards."

He added, "I am happy to answer any critics, provided that I hear a single argument against this what we have written, and not the repetition of this what the standard cosmology says. Either we are talking about facts or beliefs. Our paper is about facts. But to talk about them, one has to read the paper first."

Loeb seemed to echo this view, despite his own skepticism about CCC.

"My problem with Penrose's theory is that it is not fully worked out and that there is no statistically irrefutable evidence to support the patterns that he claims to have identified in the cosmic microwave background, but we should remain open minded to new ideas on what preceded the Big Bang," Loeb explained. "This is the story of where we came from, our cosmic roots. The simple picture we have now is clearly incomplete and requires more scientific work. Not more bullying of any new idea."

Is the pandemic making us drink more or less? It's complicated

Are people drinking more or less during the pandemic? It's a question that's been on the mind of researchers, and the public alike. Humans often turn to alcohol in difficult times, which comes with its own problems: research shows that when you turn to drinking to cope with stress it's more likely to turn into a problem. Yet as recently as last year, studies found that American millennials just weren't that into drinking, perhaps because of related trends in wellness and healthy lifestyles.

Now that we're seven months into the pandemic, researchers are beginning to look at data and polls to study how drinking behaviors have changed.

According to a recent report in the journal JAMA Network Open, Americans are drinking 14 percent more often during the coronavirus pandemic. The study compared responses from a survey of 1,540 participants of their self-reported drinking habits in spring to the year prior. For women, the increase was up to 17 percent compared to last year. Specifically, heavy drinking for women—which was defined as four or more drinks within a couple of hours—increased by 41 percent. The study's participants were between the ages of 30 and 80; the data collected was from the RAND Corporation American Life Panel.

"Women were particularly affected in our data," Michael Pollard, a sociologist and co-author of the paper told Salon. "The higher baseline distress, and likely greater increases in distress during the pandemic, suggest that women will similarly increase the use of alcohol to cope at higher levels than men; it is certainly a concern."

Pollard said since women typically have higher levels of mental distress than men, coupled with larger increases in domestic labor at home, it's no surprise that women reported drinking more than men once the pandemic started. The pandemic has had a greater economic and social impact on women than men. Women, and particularly women of color, are more likely to be "essential" workers, too, who are under particular stress.

"Heavy alcohol use by women specifically has been somewhat overlooked by the scientific literature, but clearly it is a real and growing concern," Pollard told Salon. "For example, some of my colleagues at RAND conducted a review of the last 20 years of assessments of the efficacy of Alcohol Use Disorder treatments, and concluded that we simply don't have scientific evidence to inform whether or not those treatments are as effective for women as men—because nobody has set out to study it, and because women are systematically under-enrolled in these studies."

Indeed this study's findings are congruent with what was reported on at the beginning of the pandemic. In the United States, alcohol sales increased by 55 percent the week ending March 21, 2020, compared to the previous year, according to Nielsen data. But this was also during a time when people were stockpiling because it was unclear whether or not the groceries stores would be safe, and how long the lockdown restrictions would last.

According to a separate study by researchers at Washington State University, one in four adults reported a change in alcohol use immediately after stay-at-home orders were issued. Interestingly, the study surveyed more than 900 twin pairs from March 26 to April 5, 2020. An estimated 14 percent of respondents said they drank more alcohol than the week prior.

"We expected that down the road people might turn to alcohol after the stay-at-home orders were issued, but apparently it happened right off the bat," Ally Avery, lead author of the study and a scientific operations manager at WSU Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, said in a statement. "It shows the need to make sure there is more mental health support since it had an impact on people right away."

The situation varies between countries, curiously. A study by researchers at the University College London found that young Australians are actually drinking less during lockdown, partly because of the lack of social opportunities. Those who reported drinking less reports that they've had an improved financial situation and physical health. Similarly, a July poll from Alcohol Change UK found that 37 percent of 1,647 UK residents surveyed had attempted to manage their alcohol consumption during lockdown by having alcohol-free days, reducing the amount of alcohol they purchased, or attending a virtual support group. However, the same study did find that one in five of drinkers surveyed were drinking more frequently during the pandemic.

Notably, before the pandemic, Americans were drinking more than they were just prior to Prohibition.

"Consumption has been going up. Harms (from alcohol) have been going up," Dr. Tim Naimi, an alcohol researcher at Boston University, told AP News in January. "And there's not been a policy response to match it."

Yet, as mentioned briefly above, there is a nascent movement of younger people abstaining. In the last few years, so-called "Dry January" — a monthlong abstinence from alcohol drinks — has become trendy.

"I have seen preliminary studies that suggest depression and anxiety peaked early in the pandemic, but returned back to normal after a month or two," Pollard said. "A big question now is, will alcohol use behaviors persist, or will they go back to the way they were before COVID-19?"

It will be interesting to see if, as the pandemic continues apace, Dry January is popular in 2021.

All things considered, it appears that drinking patterns have bifurcated. Some drinkers now drink more, and others abstain more. The polar reaction suggests that many have reconsidered the role of alcohol in their life.

Was it realistic to expect college students to follow COVID-19 protocols? The science suggests no.

Back in June, leading adolescent brain researcher Laurence Steinberg wrote a New York Times op-ed predicting that students returning to college campuses during a pandemic would not go well.“These plans are so unrealistically optimistic that they border on delusional and could lead to outbreaks of COVID-19 among students, faculty and staff,” wrote Steinberg, who is a professor of psychology at Temple University and the author of “Age of Opportunity: Lessons From the New Science of Adolescence.”He was right, of course. A late September survey conducted by the New York Times looked at more than 1...

Suffering from COVID-19 science overload? This university team wades through the deluge so you don't have to

SEATTLE — Remember early spring, when it felt like we were all plunged into a crash course in epidemiology, heads spinning with terms like “R-naught,” “flatten the curve” and “herd immunity?” Every new nugget of data and scientific insight about the novel coronavirus was headline news, ricocheting from Twitter to technical journals to talking heads.The wall-to-wall coverage has eased since then, but the pace of discovery hasn’t. Every day, hundreds of new research papers are published or posted about the virus and pandemic, ranging from case studies of single patients to randomized, controlled...

Belief in chloroquine’s effectiveness is linked to reduced willingness to receive COVID-19 vaccine, study finds

People who believe that the antimalarial drug chloroquine is an effective remedy against COVID-19 are less likely to say they will receive a vaccination for the virus when one is available, according to new research published in Frontiers in Psychology.The new study indicates that various conspiracy theories about COVID-19 are associated with a reduced willingness to vaccinate.The lead author of the study, Paul Bertin (@PaulBertin_), is a PhD student at the Université Côte d’Azur in France who has been studying conspiracy theories and their relations to group identities.“When the COVID-19 pand...

Who decides when vaccine studies are done? Internal docs show Fauci plays a key role

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease official, will oversee most of the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine trials in the U.S., but not that of the current front-runner made by Pfizer, documents obtained by ProPublica show.

According to a draft charter spelling out how most of the advanced COVID-19 vaccine trials will be monitored, Fauci is the “designated senior representative" of the U.S. government who will be part of the first look at the results. That puts Fauci in the room with the companies — including Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca — in deciding whether the vaccines are ready to seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration.

Fauci's role, which has not been previously reported and was confirmed for ProPublica by the National Institutes of Health, could offer some reassurance in the face of widespread concerns that President Donald Trump wants to rush through an unproven vaccine. As Sen. Kamala Harris, the Democratic nominee for vice president, put it at last week's debate, “If the public health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I'll be the first in line to take it."

But there's a big caveat. Fauci doesn't have the same hands-on role for the vaccine that seems poised to show results soonest: Pfizer's. That's because Pfizer opted not to accept government funding and participate in the federal program to develop a coronavirus vaccine, known as Operation Warp Speed. (The government did make an almost $2 billion deal with Pfizer to preorder up to 600 million doses of the company's vaccine, but it isn't contributing money to the vaccine's development like it is for other companies.)

“(We) offered opportunities for collaboration with Pfizer," said a spokesperson for the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, a branch of the NIH. “Pfizer chose to conduct their Phase 3 study without Operation Warp Speed or NIH support."

Pfizer's CEO, Albert Bourla, said Friday that the earliest his company would be ready to apply for authorization would be the third week of November. While Pfizer might know by the end of October if its vaccine is effective, it would need additional time to gather sufficient safety data to present to the FDA, Bourla said in an open letter on the company's website.

Fauci's role in overseeing the companies that are participating in Operation Warp Speed arises from a unique arrangement that the government set up to monitor the trials. Typically, clinical trials set up their own independent panels of scientists, known as a data safety monitoring board or DSMB, to watch out for safety concerns or early signs of success. But all of the vaccine trials in Operation Warp Speed are sharing a common DSMB whose members were selected by Fauci's agency, the NIAID. They're also sharing a network of clinical trial sites where some volunteers are recruited for the studies.

A DSMB is responsible for making recommendations such as halting the trial if there is a safety concern or letting the manufacturer know that there's enough evidence to submit an application to the FDA. Ordinarily, a DSMB's recommendation goes to the company running the trial. In this case, the U.S. government — which gets two representatives, one from the NIAID and one from the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority — will also have a seat at the table in deciding what to do next.

“Once the DSMB makes a decision, the DSMB provides the recommendation to not only the study sponsor but also to the" U.S. government, whose “designated senior representative" is Fauci, the NIAID confirmed in an email. Fauci declined to be interviewed.

That's not the same as saying Fauci has the last word. The company and the government are supposed to reach a consensus, the agency said. But if they can't all agree, the ultimate decision belongs with the company.

Still, it would be an improbably brazen move for a company to move ahead over Fauci's objection, given his public stature, experts said. “These are the most important trials in medical history, this is the ultimate fishbowl," said Dr. Eric Topol, director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute. “I don't think any sponsor would dare defy the DSMB's recommendation."

While the mechanics of a DSMB may be unfamiliar to most members of the public, people probably know and trust Fauci, according to Amy Pisani, executive director of the national nonprofit organization Vaccinate Your Family. “(He's) the sweetheart of the nation right now," Pisani said. “I do think people have faith in Anthony Fauci."

“Having Fauci with oversight is terrific," Topol added. “The more people who are experts looking at it, the better. You can't be careful enough."

Other members of the DSMB for the COVID-19 vaccines, though not as well known as Fauci, are also widely respected in their fields. DSMB members are typically kept confidential to shield them from outside influence, but ProPublica has been able to identify a few members. The charter obtained by ProPublica described the group, which has about a dozen members, as having expertise in “biostatistics, clinical trials, infectious diseases, vaccine development and ethics."

The panel's chair is Dr. Richard Whitley, a professor of pediatrics, microbiology, medicine and neurosurgery at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His role became public when the university announced it, though the webpage was later taken down.

His leadership provides another level of comfort in the trustworthiness of the trials to those who know him. “He is not only famously bright but he is famously independent and outspoken," said Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt Medicine. “He'll look at the data and tell you exactly what he thinks."

Whitley declined to comment.

Susan Ellenberg, professor of biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania and a former director at the FDA, told ProPublica in an interview that many people, including herself, were worried the NIH might be “pushed by the political leadership at HHS to release data" from trials prematurely, which could undermine the integrity of a trial. HHS, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is the NIH's parent agency. Her concern was that political leaders might not understand scientific arguments to not disrupt the trials when wanting to have data “to be able to move quickly in an urgent situation," she said.

At the time of the interview, Ellenberg had not identified herself as a member of the NIH's DSMB, but later acknowledged that she was a member.

Dr. Malegapuru William Makgoba, an immunologist based in South Africa, is one of a few international members of the DSMB. Makgoba is well known for his work on public health initiatives around HIV/AIDS, including the South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative. Makgoba confirmed his role on the DSMB but declined to comment further.

The common DSMB appears to be unprecedented, if only because there have not previously been multiple vaccines in development for the same disease at the same time. Experts said the arrangement offers benefits such as bolstering the evidence available to show that any one shot is safe and effective.

Standardizing trial measurements should make the vaccines easier to compare head to head, which may be useful for knowing whether one is better or worse than another in certain subgroups, such as the elderly or people with compromised immune systems, according to Vanderbilt's Schaffner.

“To me, it's better for public health to have a fairly common assessment," said Dr. Gregory Glenn, president of research and development at Novavax, which has received $1.6 billion from Operation Warp Speed and hopes to begin its Phase 3 trial in the U.S. this month as part of the NIH's clinical trial network.

There may also be some benefits from a safety perspective.

If a potential safety issue appears in one trial, having a common data safety monitoring board for multiple trials means that the board knows to look out for that same issue across all the trials, said Dr. Tal Zaks, chief medical officer of Moderna. “When AstraZeneca had an adverse side effect, we have a DSMB looking at our trial — the fact that it's the same DSMB means that there's not one DSMB that has to go educate another DSMB," Zaks said. (ProPublica's board chairman, Paul Sagan, is a member of Moderna's board and a company stockholder.)

AstraZeneca's trial has been put on hold in the U.S. while the company and the FDA investigates what happened with a participant who had a bad reaction. It's not yet clear whether the reaction was due to the vaccine or unrelated.

“AstraZeneca is committed to working with governments and key partners to ensure we develop and gain regulatory approval for an effective vaccine as quickly as possible," the company said in a statement.

AstraZeneca added that another benefit of joining the government's consortium was that its large network of trial sites can help reach minority communities that are historically less represented in clinical trials and also more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Pfizer's decision not to participate means that it and the other companies may miss out on some of these benefits of pooling resources. “It's at least unfortunate, and not very sporting, as the British would say," Schaffner said.

At the same time, there could be advantages to Pfizer's going solo. “One of the greatest risks to this process is the perception of political influence, and in that regard, having parallel efforts, especially efforts seen as independent of one another and/or independent of perceived sources of political influence, is a good thing," said Mani Foroohar, an analyst at the investment bank SVB Leerink.

Pfizer declined to comment on its decision not to join the government's shared DSMB and trial network.

Whether it's Pfizer or one of the companies participating in Operation Warp Speed, the final say on whether a vaccine is ready for public use belongs to the FDA.

The FDA has promised to present the data to an advisory committee of external experts in a public meeting. A preliminary meeting will be held on Oct. 22 to discuss, generally, the standards the FDA will seek to see before authorizing any vaccine. The agency has also committed to holding advisory committee meetings to review data from individual vaccine candidates.

Between the independent trial safety monitoring boards and the public advisory committee meetings, “any kind of hanky-panky there that people are worried about is going to (go through) multiple checkpoints," Fauci said in an interview with Dr. Howard Bachner on the JAMA Network podcast on Sept. 25. “The big elephant in the room is, is somebody going to try to make a political end run to interfere with the process? … If you look at the standard process of how these things work, I think you can feel comfortable that it is really unlikely that that is going to happen."

Filed under:

Zoo scientists revive cells from 40-year deep freeze to clone endangered horse

SAN DIEGO — Kurt looks and acts like any other young horse. He scampers and strides on springy legs, testing their strength. When it’s time to recharge, he nuzzles up to his mother for some nourishing milk.But Kurt is no ordinary horse. Kurt is a clone.The 2-month-old colt is a Przewalski’s horse, a species native to central Asia that once went extinct in the wild and is still critically endangered, with only about 2,000 remaining.San Diego Zoo Global researchers have high hopes that Kurt can help turn things around for his species. He was cloned from skin cells taken from a stallion in 1980 a...

Nobel-prize winning CRISPR researchers say the technology could defeat coronavirus

Earlier this week, the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to a pair of scientists who discovered a genetic technology that can alter DNA — and, perhaps, help researchers treat COVID-19 and other future diseases.

The scientists who discovered this technology, known as the CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors (or CRISPR for short — clusters of regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats), are Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier from the Max Planck Unit for the Science of Pathogens in Berlin, and Dr. Jennifer A. Doudna from the University of California, Berkeley. In an interview with TechCrunch last month, Doudna explained that their technology could prove essential in fighting both the novel coronavirus and other dangerous microorganisms.

"It's really interesting to think about the ability to program CRISPR to be detecting not only the current coronavirus, but also other viruses," Doudna told Tech Crunch in September. "I don't think any of us think that, you know, viral pandemics are going away — I think this current pandemic is a call to arms, and we have to make sure that scientifically, we're ready for the next attack by a new virus."

CRISPR has become a household acronym, famous because of its potential to easily edit any organism's genome. CRISPR technology can and has been used to modify crops into genetically modified organisms (GMOs), correct genetic disorders and prevent or treat diseases.

CRISPR works by using a version of the protein Cas9 (one that has been complexed with a synthetic guide RNA) as a pair of molecular scissors, capable of "cutting" strands of DNA at pre-specified locations and adding new genes, removing existing ones or both.

The award of the Nobel Prize to CRISPR researchers symbolizes its tremendous promise to medicine. Indeed, scientists are already trying to use this technology to treat people with COVID-19. Scientists at Stanford University and the Molecular Foundry were working on using CRISPR technology to fight influenza when, in January, they decided to pivot toward trying to fight the novel coronavirus. Those scientists developed a technique known as PAC-MAN, or Prophylactic Antiviral CRISPR in human cells. Their next step is to try to synthesize PAC-MAN with other gene altering technologies and use that on animals. If that works, they will then try to test this technology on people, in the hope of more effectively treating those whose novel coronavirus infections developed into the COVID-19 disease.

CRISPR technology was developed after scientists learned how bacteria and archaea (single-celled organisms that do not have a nucleus) use CRISPR-derived RNA and a variety of Cas proteins to demolish the DNA of viruses and other foreign invaders. In 2017, a team of scientists led by researchers at the University of Tokyo managed to show CRISPR in action for the first time. Yet knowledge of CRISPR was taken one step further when Charpentier was studying a deadly bacteria called Streptococcus pyogenes and discovered tracrRNA, a previously unknown molecule that the bacteria used to slice up DNA.

After publishing her discovery in 2011, Charpentier began working with Doudna to both recreate this genetic manipulation tool and simplify its molecular structure so that it can be more easily used by human beings. Finally they figured out how to use the genetic scissors to alter not just virus DNA, but DNA molecules from any predetermined site.

Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health and one of the first people to decode the human genome, expressed great satisfaction at Charpentier's and Doudna's recognition.

"This technology has utterly transformed the way we do research in basic science," Collins told The New York Times. "I am thrilled to see Crispr-Cas getting the recognition we have all been waiting for, and seeing two women being recognized as Nobel Laureates."

The pandemic's effects on opioid users in the US and Europe

Substance abusers are at greater risk of contracting Covid-19, according to recent studies, a worrying fact as use of synthetic opioids gradually increases in Europe.Users of opioids or tobacco face a greater risk of catching the coronavirus and are more likely to suffer a more serious case of Covid-19 and to die, says a recent study by the National Institutes of Health in the US.The study, published in Molecular Psychiatry, a trade journal, assessed more than 73 million patients and found that people with opioid use disorder are at a particularly high risk.Nora Volkow, who heads the National ...

By banishing cartoons and adding warnings, Mexico takes on obesity

Their days are numbered: the beaming parrot on infant cereal, the pastry chef bear, the cartoon chocolate drops.These cartoons, which have accompanied generations of Mexican consumers and promoted sales, will have to disappear from packaging, accused of being accomplices in the country's obesity epidemic.New regulations oblige the Mexican food industry, including the big international brands, to put warning labels on packaged food and sugary drinks, and to change the presentation of unhealthy products.Mexico, the world's largest consumer of soft drinks, is the country with the largest share of...

Excessive social media use linked to depression during pandemic, study suggests

Excessive social media use during the pandemic is a predictor of symptoms of depression and secondary trauma, a new study by researchers at Pennsylvania State University and Jinan University in Guangzhou, China, suggests.The study, published last month in Computers in Human Behavior, surveyed 320 participants living in Wuhan about how they accessed and shared health information with friends, family members, and colleagues over WeChat, China’s most popular social media app. They also used a stress scale to measure anxiety and depression by asking participants to rate statements such as “I felt ...