Health & Science
More earthquakes in 2018?
The number of major earthquakes could surge next year as an infinitesimal slowdown in Earth’s rotation triggers the release of vast amounts of underground energy, new research suggests. After examining all severe earthquakes recorded since 1900, a team of scientists identified five specific time periods when these seismic events occurred with much greater frequency. They found this cyclical pattern of intense earthquakes correlates with one particular geophysical event: a minuscule slowing of Earth’s rotation that occurs every 32 years. The slowdown, which is measured in just milliseconds, lasts for about five years. The researchers found a notable surge in magnitude-7-or-higher earthquakes—from about 15 to 20 per year to closer to 30— following these periodic slowdowns. “The Earth is offering us a five-year heads-up on future earthquakes,” the study’s co-author, Roger Bilham, tells The Guardian. The researchers speculate this change in rotation speed causes the planet to contract, causing increased pressure along major fault lines in tectonic plates.
Big Sugar’s deception
Newly uncovered documents add to mounting evidence that sugar executives used tobacco industry tactics to mislead consumers for decades, burying early evidence of the harmful health effects of sugar consumption. Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, found records of animal research commissioned in 1968 by a sugar industry trade group. A British scientist was paid to investigate the effects of sugar on the gut bacteria of rodents. The study’s early findings showed that sugar is metabolized differently from starches, such as beans and grains. Animals fed sucrose (table sugar) produced high levels of an enzyme linked to hardened arteries and bladder cancer. These findings were never published. In fact, the trade group halted the study before it was finished, indicating that the health damage caused by sugar was suppressed in order to preserve profits. “This is continuing to build the case that the sugar industry has a long history of manipulating science,” the study’s author, Dr. Stanton Glantz, tells The New York Times. The Sugar Association disputes this claim, arguing the animal research was discontinued due to delays and budgetary concerns.
Dogs boost longevity
Any dog owner can tell you a canine companion makes life better. But new research has found a pooch can also make life longer and healthier—particularly if you live alone. Scientists in Sweden examined the health and dogownership records of some 3.4 million people between 40 and 80 years old. They found that for those who live alone, owning a dog is associated with a 33 percent lower risk of death and a 36 percent lower risk of dying from heart disease over a 12-year period. The study found that dog ownership was also beneficial for those who didn’t live alone, cutting their overall risk of death by 11 percent, reports CNN.com. The researchers say it’s unclear whether the companionship and emotional support a dog provides alone explains their findings, or whether lifestyle changes associated with owning a dog—including taking Fido out for walks—are also a factor. “There are numerous studies showing that dog owners get more physical activity, which could help to prolong a healthy life,” says senior researcher Tove Fall. It’s also possible that exposure to a dog’s germs, fur, and slobber could also strengthen the immune system.
Health scare of the week
Girls and self-harm
Cutting, swallowing pills and poisons, and other forms of self-harm are on the rise among American girls—even those as young as 10 years old, new research reveals. A 15-year study of emergency room visits that occurred at 66 different hospitals across the country found that self-inflicted injuries among girls and young women increased by an average of 8.4 percent each year between 2009 and 2015. These behaviors surged even more dramatically among preteens, jumping nearly 19 percent annually during this sixyear period. A similar trend did not occur among boys. It’s unclear what is prompting more girls to engage in self-harm, but the study’s authors speculate that cyberbullying, social isolation, and poor sleep tied to excessive smartphone use could all play a role, The Washington Post reports. Selfharm techniques may also spread through social media in a phenomenon known as “social contagion.” The study’s lead author, Melissa Mercado, warns that self-harm is a key risk factor for suicide, and recommends that parents, teachers, and doctors take it seriously. “Suicide is preventable,” Mercado says. ■