TIME public health

Super Bowl Teams’ Cities See 18% Spike in Flu Death

Super Bowl Football
The University of Phoenix Stadium, host of Super Bowl XLIX, is seen on Jan. 29, 2015, in Glendale, Ariz. Charlie Riedel—AP

Call it Super Bowl fever. In cities that send teams to the big February game, researchers see an 18% spike in flu death in adults age 65 and older, a new paper from Tulane University shows. And the effect can get seven times worse when the game happens close to the peak of a particularly bad flu season—like the one we’re in right now.

Economists looked at cities hosting and sending teams to the Super Bowl between 1974 and 2009 and analyzed data from death records, population and weather. Cities that hosted the Super Bowl weren’t at increased risk for negative health outcomes, they found—probably in part because they tended to be in warmer areas, which protects against the flu. But in the cities that sent a team to the game, there was an 18% spike in influenza deaths in people 65 and older.

Researchers were able to determine causality, they say, since participation in the Super Bowl is as good as random. And it’s not like the heartbreak of a losing team could be blamed: There wasn’t a difference between winners and losers as the effect seemed to occur in the time leading up to the game, says lead author Charles Stoecker, PhD, assistant professor in the department of global health management and policy at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine.

Can you blame the spike in socializing and the communal nachos? “People go out to a bar or to a Super Bowl party, and they have contact with people they wouldn’t normally or in ways they wouldn’t normally,” he says. “There’s few occasions when we share chips and dip.”

MORE: Here’s How Many Calories You’ll Eat During the Super Bowl

Flu death spikes are common after big one-time events like the winter Olympics and rock festivals, Stoecker says, but the Super Bowl may be in a league of its own since it always happens squarely in flu season.

Would it be a good idea to move the Super Bowl out of the bounds of flu season? Maybe, says Stoecker, especially in years when the influenza strain looks particularly deadly—or in years like this one, when the flu vaccine is only 23% effective. “In lieu of canceling the Super Bowl outright, it would be one way of mitigating transmission.”

So if you must dip, do your part to help: Wash your hands first.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Lonely, Depressed People Are More Likely to Binge-Watch TV

The habit is a way to forget about negative feelings

Turns out that a Walking Dead marathon may not be a healthy way to bust stress at the end of a long week: a study from the University of Texas has found that people who struggle with loneliness and depression are more likely to binge-watch television than their peers. The activity provides an escape from their unpleasant feelings.

Unsurprisingly, they also found that people with low levels of self-control were more likely to binge-watch, letting the next episode auto-roll even when they knew they should be spending their time more productively.

The researchers said that binge-watching should no longer be seen as a “harmless addiction” and pointed out that the activity is related to obesity, fatigue and other health concerns.

[Deadline Hollywood]

TIME public health

What You Should Know About Chronic Lyme Disease

Yolanda Foster on 'Watch What Happens Live'
Yolanda Foster on Watch What Happens Live on Dec. 23, 2014. Bravo—NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Lyme disease affects about 300,000 people in the U.S. each year

Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Yolanda Foster is making waves with her recent blog post about her struggle with chronic Lyme disease. Foster, who was diagnosed with Lyme in 2012, according to People.com, says she’s had severe mental impairment from her condition, writing, “I have lost the ability to read, write, or even watch TV, because I can’t process information or any stimulation for that matter.”

But don’t antibiotics cure Lyme disease and, if so, what exactly is chronic Lyme? Health has the scoop:

What is Lyme disease and how is it treated?

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection, caused by the bacteria Borrelia burgdorferi and transmitted by ticks. It hits more of us than we realize—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 300,000 people are diagnosed with the disorder each year, about 10 times higher than the number actually reported to the CDC. Left untreated, it can cause symptoms such as headaches and neck stiffness, pain and swelling in joints, even neurological symptoms such as memory problems.

Lyme is diagnosed based on symptoms (including the distinctive “bull’s-eye rash“) and blood tests. Most people recover with a 21-day course of antibiotics, though if the disease has spread to your central nervous system, you may need a longer course (2-4 weeks) of intravenous antibiotics.

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Is there such a thing as chronic Lyme?

While in rare cases an infection can still persist, “when patients talk about chronic Lyme, they’re usually referring to what doctors term ‘post-treatment Lyme disease syndrome,’ where you still have a cluster of symptoms such as fatigue, trouble concentrating, and muscle and joint aches after treatment,” explains Brian Fallon, MD, MPH, director of the Lyme and Tick-Borne Diseases Research Center at Columbia University Medical Center. The CDC says approximately 10 to 20% of Lyme disease patients will have lingering symptoms like these. While it’s not clear what causes it, “it could be damage done to the body by the bacteria itself, or it could even be neurotransmitter changes in the brain induced by the prior Lyme disease,” Dr. Fallon says.

How is post-Lyme syndrome treated?

The treatment is itself controversial, mainly because it’s virtually impossible to tell if symptoms remain due to a recurrent infection or if they’re due to residual damage from Lyme. “The current diagnostic tests just reveal whether someone has antibodies due to previous exposure to Lyme disease, so while they indicate if you’ve ever been infected, they don’t show whether or not you’re infected now,” explains Dr. Fallon.

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A small subgroup of doctors argue that the condition is caused by residual bacterial infection and should be treated with long-term antibiotic therapy for months or even years. (Indeed, animal studies do suggest that Lyme infection may persist in some cases, Dr. Fallon says.) However, groups such as the Infectious Diseases Society of America frown on this approach. “There’s no research to show that this type of treatment works—several studies have shown that people taking long-term antibiotic for Lyme disease to treat lingering symptoms fare the same as those who take placebo,” states Chris Ohl, MD, an infectious disease expert at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.

Dr. Fallon allows for another possibility: Lyme bacteria are “very slow growing, so if you go off antibiotics but find your symptoms return within two to three weeks, it’s highly unlikely that Lyme is the culprit,” he explains. “But if they return within a few months, or even a year, you may have a recurrent infection” and thus may need another (short) course of antibiotics.

If it’s not really Lyme, what causes those symptoms?

It could be another condition entirely—such as another tick-borne infection. “It may very well be that [a patient has] developed an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, which was triggered by the Lyme disease,” adds Dr. Fallon.

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“Most of the cases I’ve seen, we’ve done a thorough workup and eventually come up with an underlying condition like anemia, a thyroid condition, a viral infection like Epstein-Barr virus, or even hepatitis C,” says Michael Parry, MD, Thomas J. Bradsell Chair of Infectious Diseases at Stamford Hospital in Stamford, Connecticut.

If extensive testing reveals nothing, then most doctors recommend cautious monitoring and addressing the symptoms (for example, treating joint or muscle pain with either over-the-counter or prescription anti-inflammatory drugs). It’s also important to utilize therapies also used with conditions like chronic fatigue syndrome, including good sleep and exercise habits and, if needed, treatment for depression.

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This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Alcohol

Buzz Kill: Three Daily Alcoholic Drinks May Boost Stroke Risk

More than two drinks per day was defined by the study's authors as "heavy" drinking

You may want to keep that third beer of the night stashed in your fridge.

People in their 50s and 60s who down more than two alcoholic beverages daily have a 34 percent higher risk of stroke compared to lighter drinkers — and are more apt to suffer a stroke five years earlier in life regardless of their genetics or their other health habits, asserts a study released Thursday.

In fact, sipping beyond a two-drink maximum each day may boost a middle-aged person’s stroke risk more than even traditional health dangers like high blood pressure and diabetes, say researchers who base their findings on tracking more than 11,000 Swedish twins for roughly half their lives.

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Infectious Disease

The Disneyland Measles Outbreak Likely Came From Overseas

Mickey Mouse performing during a parade at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., Jan. 22, 2015.
Mickey Mouse performing during a parade at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., Jan. 22, 2015. Jae C. Hong—AP

Health professionals say the outbreak highlights the need for childhood vaccinations

An outbreak of measles that began in California’s Disneyland is likely to have come from overseas, health officials said Thursday.

The highly infectious disease was probably carried into the U.S. by a foreign tourist or an American returning home, NBC News reports.

Ninety-four people have now been infected with measles across eight states; 67 of those cases are linked to the Disneyland park.

“We don’t know exactly how this outbreak started but we do think it was likely a person infected with measles overseas,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Schuchat says the reason for the outbreak is because people are failing to get vaccinated.

[NBC]

TIME Research

Most Americans and Scientists Tend to Disagree, Survey Finds

science chemistry beakers
Getty Images

And that's not a good thing, scientists say

Regular Americans and their scientist counterparts think much differently about science-related issues, according to a new pair of surveys.

The Pew Research Center, in collaboration with the American Association for the Advancement of Science, asked 5,750 American citizens and scientists their opinions on a series of scientific topics. They found striking gaps between the two groups, particularly on issues related to biomedical science.

Food is a major source of friction for the both camps. A full 57% of Americans think that consuming genetically modified foods is unsafe, but 88% of scientists say GMO foods are safe to eat. Pesticide use is another contentious issue: 68% of scientists think it’s safe to eat foods grown with pesticides, while only 28% of lay Americans agree.

When it comes to using animals in research, 89% of scientists give the practice the green light, but only 47% of Americans are ok with it—and 50% of Americans are against the use of animals in research. Non-scientist Americans were also far less likely to believe in evolution than scientists.

On eight of the 13 topics, researchers saw at least a 20-percentage point gap in opinion between Americans and scientists. That’s a troubling statistic, scientists say. According to the survey, 84% of them believe the public’s lack of knowledge about the field is a major problem.

Scientists and non-scientists agree on at least one topic, however: neither group thinks that science, technology, engineering and math education in American elementary and high schools is performing well enough when compared to programs across the globe.

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

Income Matters Most to People in This Age Group

TIME.com stock photos Money Dollar Bills
Elizabeth Renstrom for TIME

Money may mean the most in midlife

Can money buy you happiness? It might depend on your stage of life, finds a new study in the journal Psychology and Aging. The link between life satisfaction and income is strongest in 30-50 year-olds, while it’s only weakly correlated in older people and young adults, the study shows.

Researchers looked at life satisfaction survey data from more than 40,000 people in Germany, the United Kingdom and Switzerland, taken over the course of many years. The results were consistent in all three regions.

People in the middle of their lives likely value income because of increased financial responsibilities, including the need to support a family, the study authors say. Young adults may place less value on income because of support from their parents, and older people are more likely to have resources outside of income like retirement savings, they explain.

Other research has suggested that money doesn’t do anything to make people happy, and, if it does, its influence is fairly subtle. But this study suggests that looking at the aggregate data without teasing out different age groups won’t necessarily provide the most relevant view.

“Our findings suggest that if money does buy happiness, it does so to different degrees for different people,” the study says.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Here’s How Many Calories You’ll Eat During the Super Bowl

Washington, District of Columbia, United States
Jeff Mauritzen—Getty Images

And how much exercise you'd have to do to burn them off

The game lasts four hours, but what you eat will stick with you way longer than that. By some (admittedly unscientific) estimates, Americans who snack on typical Super Bowl fare, like pizza, beer, soda, chips, dips, hot wings and nachos, could take in as many as 2,400 calories and 121 grams of fat just during the game. That’s more than most people should eat in a single day. In fact, you’d have to run an entire marathon to burn it off, says Sara Bleich, PhD, associate professor in health policy and management at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. That’s assuming you’re 175 pounds and running a 15-minute mile, Bleich tells us.

Add on a few miles if you happen to root for the team that loses. A 2013 study in the journal Psychological Science found that on the Monday after a big football game, people who had cheered for the team that lost ate 16% more saturated fat than they usually did. (Fans of the winning team got a win for their waistlines; they ate 9% less saturated fat than usual.)

Here’s how much these Super Bowl food bombs will cost you, according to the USDA’s national nutrient database:

3 slices of pepperoni pizza: 939 calories

5 cans of regular beer: 732 calories

3 cans of cola: 455 calories

6 chicken wings: 710 calories

2 servings of cheese nachos: 549 calories

3 servings of barbecue potato chips: 412 calories

Half a cup of salsa con queso: 179 calories

And the lowest scorer in the Super Bowl calorie game? Half a dozen celery sticks with a tablespoon of ranch: 67 calories. Feel free to load up on those.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

This Is the No. 1 Driver of Diabetes and Obesity

Sugar cubes with one standing out in the middle
Larry Washburn—Getty Images

"A sugar calorie is much more harmful," says the lead researcher

A primary driver for type 2 diabetes is sugar, according to a new report.

In the report, published Thursday in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, a team of researchers performed a literature review to determine whether certain ingredients are much more dangerous than others when it comes to diabetes, and to challenge the idea that all calories are equal. To do so, they looked at the effects of carbohydrates from similar calories. They compared starch, pure glucose and lactose to added sugars like sucrose (table sugar) and fructose, which occurs naturally in fruit but which we mostly consume as a sweetener, such a with high-fructose corn syrup, added to food and drinks).

What they found was that the added sugars were significantly more harmful. Fructose was linked to worsening insulin levels and worsening glucose tolerance, which is a driver for pre-diabetes. It caused harmful fat storage—visceral fat on the abdomen—and promoted several markers for poor health like inflammation and high blood pressure. “We clearly showed that sugar is the principal driver of diabetes,” says lead study author James J. DiNicolantonio, a cardiovascular research scientist at Saint Luke’s Mid America Heart Institute. “A sugar calorie is much more harmful.”

DiNicolantonio and his fellow authors say current dietary guidelines are harmful since they recommend levels of sugar consumption that are unhealthy. For instance, the Institute of Medicine says added sugar can make up 25% of the total calories we consume, and the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans say up to 19% of calories from added sugars is alright. That varies greatly from the American Heart Association, which recommends no more than 6 tsp of sugar a day for women 9 tsp for men. The World Health Organization has proposed that added sugar make up only 5% of a person’s daily calories.

“The studies that we looked at clearly show that once you hit 18 percent compared to just 5 percent of your total calories from sugar, there’s significant metabolic harms promoting prediabetes and diabetes,” says DiNicolantonio. “In fact, there’s a two-fold increase.”

This is not the first time sugar has been fingered as a primary culprit in American’s bad health. Other researchers are pushing the message that it’s refined carbohydrates like added sugars that are the problem.

“We need to understand that it isn’t the overconsuming of calories that leads to obesity and leads to diabetes. We need to totally change that around,” says DiNicolantonio. “It’s refined carbs and added sugars that lead to insulin resistance and diabetes, which leads to high insulin levels, which drives obesity.”

DiNicolantonio recommends major changes to combat the problem. He says the government should stop subsidizing corn which makes high fructose corn syrup so cheap and should instead subsidize healthy foods so that consumers are encouraged to make the switch from processed foods to whole foods, since it’s the processed stuff that’s putting so much sugar in our diets. He adds that in his opinion, sugar-sweetened beverages should not be sold in schools or hospitals, and perhaps the government should put warning labels on them.

Such severe changes are not likely in the immediate future, but if sugar is indeed the number on cause for diabetes among all other foods, then more needs to happen to help Americans cut back. Especially since there is no real need for added sugar in our diets.

TIME Research

IBM Thinks it Can Make Your Food Safer: Will it Work?

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Getty Images

IBM plans to sequence the microbiomes of food ingredients to prevent outbreaks earlier

Our food system is by no means bulletproof when it comes to pathogens. In just the past year, the United States saw major outbreaks of listeria in caramel apples and salmonella in nut butters, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 48 million Americans suffer from some kind of food-borne diseases annually. Meanwhile, food-borne illness results in $9 billion in medical costs and another $75 billion in contaminated food that’s recalled and tossed out every year. Regulatory agencies have acknowledged that more needs to be done.

One strategy comes from IBM, which announced on Thursday that it’s partnering with Mars on a project called the Sequencing the Food Supply Chain Consortium. Their goal, which will likely take at least three years to accomplish, is to sequence the makeup of various foods and then enter that information into a database. The thinking is that if they can establish, at the molecular level, what a given ingredient is supposed to look like, systems can be put into place to catch brewing problems before contaminated foods make it to your table.

“The hypothesis is that [this process] offers you a microscope into what’s happening in that [food] environment,” says Jeff Welser, vice president of IBM Research. “Any deviation from that might indicate there’s a problem.” IBM says it will take into account variations that could occur in ingredients based on where in the world the product is coming from, and what time of year it is.

“A key challenge for food safety experts today is that typically when they test food they only really have a chance of finding what they set out to look for,” says David Crean, global head of technical food safety development at Mars. “If they are testing for Salmonella, they won’t find Listeria.”

The process is highly time- and data-intensive, and not necessarily something companies will want to put their foods and ingredients through constantly, but IBM thinks the science could be developed into a simple test. “You ought to be able to do this when you’re doing normal testing during the day, like for E.coli. The goal is to find the markers that give you a safety-check barcode, if you will, and if you see a change then it lets you know we need to do further testing,” says Welser.

Within three to five years the consortium estimates it will have more companies involved as well as some version of the testing process available for commercial use. They plan to engage with regulatory agencies like the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when it’s determined the process works well.

The FDA says it is prioritizing food safety, and in 2011 the FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) was signed into law by President Obama. The FDA says it’s the most sweeping reform of food safety laws in over 70 years and the goal is to shift focus from responding to contamination to prevention. The FDA is supportive of whole genome sequencing as a way to find bacteria in food.

“Overall this seems to be a great basic science project,” says Jonathan A. Eisen, a professor at University of California, Davis. “Personally I believe we need major efforts in characterizing the communities found in and on food, and that a full characterization of the microbes in the facilities where food is produced would be great. This is the first I have heard of a company planning to do this on a large scale.” Eisen is not involved in the consortium, but has researched the suite of microbes in food.

The concept is ambitious, but could be a new way to keep our foods safer than they are currently.

Read next: Most Americans and Scientists Tend to Disagree, Survey Finds

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