Fresh Health News: Summer 2021

Smoke Alarm

Lighting up doubles the risk of coronary heart disease in African Americans

Smoking is a well-documented risk factor for the world’s leading killer, coronary heart disease (CHD). Until recently, though, little data existed around this connection as it specifically pertains to African Americans. Supported by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute as well as the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the Jackson Heart Study takes a long-term look at cardiovascular disease within the African American population. After tracking the development of CHD in 4,500 subjects between 2000 and 2016, researchers published their findings in the Journal of the American Heart Association this past spring. By assessing calcified plaque buildup in participants’ coronary arteries (a key predictor for cardiac events such as heart attacks), investigators noted that current smokers appear to have more than twice the risk of developing CHD when compared with lifelong nonsmokers. This data is especially troubling given that black people are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites. While smoking has significantly declined among African American adults in recent years, 15 percent of the population still lights up regularly.

Broaden Her Horizons

Most girls begin losing interest in science by middle school, reports the National Science Foundation. As a result, women account for just 28 percent of the science and engineering workforce. But researchers from North Carolina State University have engineered a new theory on how to bridge that gender gap. A recent study published in the International Journal of Science Education compared scientific learning among 640 fifth-grade students divided between indoor and outdoor settings. While the boys’ grades in and attitudes towards science didn’t vary widely from one environment to the next, the girls exploring science outside fared far better than those limited to a classroom. The scientists hypothesize that these students thrive on tangible, inquiry-based learning over mere desk duty. So if you want to nurture a young lady’s scientific nature, encourage her to dig into the great outdoors. Build a sidewalk-chalk sundial, conduct an egg-drop experiment or practice field research on coastal erosion—a quick online search yields endless ideas for backyard summer science projects.

Plus Brain

Humans tend to think more is more: We juggle packed schedules, implement countless rules, write to-do lists rather than not-to-do lists. We purchase gadgets guaranteed to provide additional time, more happiness, greater wealth and better health. In fact, an observational study published in the journal Nature shows that when making decisions, people generally consider what they can add rather than what they can take away unless specifically prompted to subtract. The brain is much quicker to think plus rather than minus when it comes to solving problems big and small. In studying this psychological phenomenon, researchers noticed that even if removing an element results in a better outcome, people more frequently look to improve situations and ideas by introducing something new. Want to add to your understanding? (Of course you do—it’s human nature.) Read the book inspired by the research, Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less by University of Virginia professor Leidy Klotz.

Prediction Model

Cancer takes nearly 600,000 American lives each year, but of the disease’s 100-plus iterations, which are statistically most worrisome? While we can’t reliably predict the future, analysts have spliced current case numbers with demographic data to predict cancer rates over the next two decades. According to the American Medical Association’s JAMA Network Open, breast cancer will persist as the most frequently diagnosed cancer, even as its mortality rate drops about 40 percent. Lung cancer also remains the top cause of cancer-related death despite a sharp overall decline in instances. Perhaps most striking is the jump expected in obesity-related cancer deaths. Let’s look at cancer in the year 2040:

  1. Melanoma skin cancer could grow from the fifth to the second most-common cancer, though experts are unsure if the increase will be due to additional UV exposure or improved early detection.
  2. Prostate cancer, currently the second most frequent malignancy in men, could drop to spot number 14 thanks to improved screening guidelines.
  3. Though not currently among the top 10 cancer killers, pancreatic and liver cancers are predicted to strike as the second and third deadliest cancers, since no reliable screening tools presently exist

Photographs by (smoking) vystekimages;(girls science) Photodiem; (salad) Ale02 ; (chalkboard) fran_kie; (ribbons) Jo Panuwat