TIME Infectious Disease

CDC Lab Director In Anthrax Incident Resigns

MED CDC Anthrax
A sign marks the entrance to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta on Oct. 8, 2013. David Goldman—AP

The lab director is now permanently out of the job

The director of the bioterror lab involved in an incident which caused over 80 lab workers to be potentially exposed to anthrax has resigned.

Michael Farrell, head of the Centers for Disease Control’s Bioterror Rapid Response and Advanced Technology Laboratory had submitted his resignation on Tuesday. The resignation was first reported by Reuters and has been confirmed by TIME.

Last month, the CDC reported that procedures to deactivate anthrax when leaving a lab were not followed and that while the workers were protected, the bacteria was passed to other labs. When it was determined that anthrax had not been deactivated, the labs and CDC building were shut down and decontaminated. Lab workers have not contracted the disease.

Last month, Dr. Farrell was reassigned as the CDC conducted its investigation. Earlier this month, CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden said the incident was due to a lack of oversight, and that the CDC would increase safety precautions.

 

TIME diabetes

Having The Right Kind of Fat Can Protect Against Diabetes, Study Says

Brown tissue, also known as brown fat
Brown tissue, also known as brown fat Getty Images

People with more "brown fat" were better able to keep blood sugar under control and burn off fat stores

Not all fat is created equal, it seems. When we’re born, we have larger amounts of brown fat, so-called because it contains more dark mitochondria, the cell’s energy factories that pull in glucose and use it as fuel to drive cellular functions. Like a hard-working battery, however, brown fat releases heat as it performs its functions, which is helpful to keep newborn infants warm but gets less useful for adults as we’re better able to regulate our body temperature. So as we get older, this brown fat is gradually lost.

But in a report published in the journal Diabetes, scientists led by Labros Sidossis, professor of internal medicine at University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, found for the first time that adults who retained more amounts of brown fat were better able to keep blood sugar under control and burn off fat stores. Previous studies have linked brown fat to better weight control, but these results also hint that the tissue may be important for managing diabetes.

MORE: How Now, Brown Fat? Scientists Are Onto a New Way to Lose Weight

The researchers measured the brown fat in a small group of healthy men and also tracked how much energy they used while resting, how well they metabolized glucose, and their sensitivity to insulin, which breaks down and controls blood sugar. Because brown fat tends to be activated under cold temperatures, the scientists also measured these factors after the men sat at room temperature, and again after they sat at 65 degrees to 70 degrees F for five to eight hours.

The men who had higher amounts of brown fat – about 70g on average – increased their metabolic rate by 15%, meaning they burned more calories when they were exposed to slightly cooler temperatures, compared to the men with little or no brown fat. That alone, says Sidossis, contributed to burning 300 more calories for these men.

Those with higher brown fat were also able to break down more sugar, leading to less of it in their blood, something that hasn’t been shown before in human studies. If the subjects sat in the cooler room for 24 hours, the researchers found, that would lead to a reduction of 25g of sugar in the blood thanks to their brown fat alone. “That’s significant because if you consider people who have diabetes, they only have about 2g to 3g more sugar in the blood,” says Sidossis.

MORE: Study: Scientists Find a Way to Trigger Fat-Burning Fat

Interest in brown fat has exploded in recent years, and investigators found that adults retain more brown fat than previously thought, on either side of the base of the neck. Activating this fat store has become a popular area of research; so far, cold temperatures are the only reliable way to stimulate it, but others are exploring ways to transform white fat into brown fat. As of yet, experts haven’t found a reliable way to turn brown fat on or off in a reliable and metabolically useful way. Genetics may determine how much brown fat people are born with, but if early research is validated, it may also be possible to modify that amount, either with drugs or by transforming white fat.

MORE: Turn Down the Thermostat, Drop a Few Pounds?

If the results of the current study are confirmed, the need to do so might become more urgent. “Our data suggest that brown fat may function as both anti-obesity and anti-diabetic tissue in humans,” says Sidossis. “And that makes it a therapeutic target in the battle against obesity and chronic disease. Anything that helps in this area, we need to pursue and make sure that if there is potential there, we exploit it.”

TIME Infectious Disease

Sierra Leone’s Chief Ebola Doctor Contracts the Deadly Virus

Symptoms of Ebola include high fevers, diarrhea and vomiting

+ READ ARTICLE

The top doctor fighting Sierra Leone’s deadly ebola outbreak has contracted the virus himself, the country’s government said Tuesday.

Sheik Umar Khan, 39, is leading an assault on the virus that the World Health Organization says has already claimed 632 lives—206 in Sierra Leone alone as of July 17.

The ebola virus is ruthless, with a mortality rate of 90%. Transmitted through direct contact with the body fluid, blood and infected tissue of victims, ebola can easily spread to the health workers working hard to fight it.

“Health workers are prone to the disease because we are the first port of call for somebody who is sickened by disease. Even with the full protective clothing you put on, you are at risk,” Khan said in an interview with Reuters, before displaying the illness.

Khan is credited with treating more than 100 Ebola victims, Reuters reports, and is considered a “national hero” by the nation’s health ministry. The doctor has been moved to a treatment facility run by the medical charity Doctors Without Borders, according to a statement released Tuesday from the president’s office.

The outbreak began in Guinea this February, but has quickly spread across West Africa.

[Reuters]

TIME Food

Fruit Recall Expands Across U.S. Over Listeria Concerns

Trader Joe's and CostCo are among the grocery stores pulling peaches, nectarines, plums and pluots

Grocery stores across the nation are pulling peaches, nectarines, plums and pluots off the shelves after a central California company issued a recall over concerns of a potential listeria contamination. The recall affects popular chains like Costco and Trader Joe’s.

Wawona Packing Co. announced the voluntary recall of fruit shipped between June 1 and July 12 after consulting with the Food and Drug Administration. The president of the company said in a statement that he is not aware of any illnesses caused by the produce so far, but that anyone with peaches, nectarines, plums or pluots recently purchased from those stores should throw it away.

“By taking the precautionary step of recalling product, we will minimize even the slightest risk to public health,” Brent Smittcamp wrote.

Listeria can cause flu-like symptoms including fever, headache, nausea and diarrhea and may be deadly to children and the elderly. It may also cause miscarriage or stillbirth in prgnant women.

Wawona Packing Co. shut down and cleaned their facilities after it discovered the contamination, and new tests are negative for any bacteria.

TIME Research

Survey: Teen Use of Human Growth Hormones Surges

Rate of high schoolers admitting use of synthetic hGH, or performance enhancing drugs, jumps from 5% to 11% in one year

The number of teens using synthetic human growth hormones (hGH) without a prescription have doubled, according to a new survey of high school students.

A survey from the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids found that 11% of the 3,705 high schoolers surveyed reported “ever having used” synthetic hGH without a prescription. That’s a jump from the last four years: in 2012 and 2011 the number of teens using hGH was 5%. The survey also found that steroid use among teens went up from 5 to 7%.

African-American and Hispanic teens were the most likely to say they’ve used synthetic hGH, and the researchers found that both boys and girls had claimed to use hGH and steroids without a prescription. The awareness of online steroid and hGH marketing among teens also rose from 17% in 2012 to 22% in 2013, and kids are less likely to think there is a high or moderate risk associated with them compared to earlier years.

The data shows that about one in five teens says they have at least one friend who uses steroids, and another one in five teens say it’s easy to get them.

Prescription and over-the-counter hGH are considered safe for uses that include treatment for muscle deterioration due to HIV/AIDS and longterm treatment for kids of short stature. But as the report points out, some supplement products that are not regulated by the FDA and not safe for teen consumption can make it onto store shelves, and many are sold online.

“The proliferation of commercially available products that are marketed saying they contain synthetic hGH, or promote the natural production of hGH within the body, is staggering,” said Steve Pasierb, president and CEO of the Partnership for Drug-Free Kids in a statement.

Teens tend to use synthetic hGH and steroids–which can be injected or taken orally–to improve their athletic performance or physical appearance. The Partnership for Drug-Free Kids encourages parents and coaches to talk to young people about the risks. The group has also collaborated with the Major League Baseball Charities to create a program that teaches young athletes about the dangers of performance-enhancing drugs.

TIME Opinion

Have the Feds Made School Food Worse with Government-Approved Junk?

Vending machine
Getty Images

"Healthy" snacks in schools are seriously lacking in nutrition

Last week I attended the School Nutrition Association’s annual meeting in Boston, a gathering of the nation’s school food service workers. While most of the controversy lately has focused on the federally-required improvements to nutrition standards for school lunches, getting lost in the shuffle are new standards coming online this fall for school snacks and beverages.

These foods are known collectively as “competitive foods” because they compete with the school meal program; think kids eating their lunches out of vending machines. With schools desperate for extra cash, the likes of Coca-Cola and Frito-Lay take full advantage by hawking their unhealthy products to schoolchildren.

This problem caused Congress and the White House to include in its 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requirements that U.S. Department of Agriculture set nutrition guidelines for foods sold outside the school meal program. (Thanks to a lawsuit filed by the soda lobby some thirty years ago, a court found that USDA had no authority over soda and junk food, and it’s taken this long to correct that decision.)

To help guide USDA, the Institute of Medicine made science-based recommendations to the agency for the best nutritional approach. But as often happens in Washington, what starts out as a public health policy comes out the other end as industry-friendly, watered down rules.

Instead of insisting that schools do right by kids – and the taxpayer-funded school meal program – by removing vending machines altogether, the feds just required a few tweaks to the ingredients. Big Food put its sophisticated R&D departments to work and out came “USDA-compliant” junk food. Several vendors proudly told me that their “healthier” products weren’t even available in stores, as if this were a good thing.

But is it really better now that “reduced fat” Cheetos have replaced regular in schools? Can parents rest easier knowing their kids are buying “whole grain” Pop-Tarts still containing 15 grams of sugar? Can USDA really claim that the “low sugar” line of Gatorade products (called G2) is significantly superior nutritionally, given that they contain artificial sweeteners and dyes?

As I warned in my comments to USDA last year, too narrow a focus on nutrition indicators such as whole grain and levels of sugar and fat would not address the bigger problem with competitive foods: branding. Corporations hawking junk foods and beverages in schools have no problem tweaking a few ingredients as long as they remain in front of the eyeballs of impressionable youngsters. Schools are not only big business, they are essential to ensure brand loyalty for life.

While real food such as fresh produce, along with truly healthy snacks such as dried apples, were also on display in the expo hall, several vendors I spoke to complained about the challenge of being able to compete with the likes of Kellogg’s and PepsiCo on price, given the economies of scale.

Now with the federal government seal of approval on dressed up junk foods, what messages are we sending to children in their place of learning? That Cheetos and Pop-Tarts are great snacks as long as they contain a sprinkling of “whole grains”? That blue-colored Gatorade is an acceptable beverage as long as it contains fake sugars? Some have defended these changes as incremental. OK, but given how hard it was to get the current rules passed (not to mention the ongoing fight over school meals), it’s likely to be a very long time before we see real improvements.

Meanwhile, school kids are now being exposed to deceptive marketing messages on health-washed junk foods, brought to them by mega-corporations who aim to get them hooked on a lifetime of bad eating habits, all courtesy of the federal government.

Michele Simon is a public health lawyer and president of Eat Drink Politics, a corporate watchdog consulting firm.

TIME Brain

Learning to Read Does Not End in Fourth Grade

Girl learning to read
Cultura RM/Gary John Norman—Getty Images/Collection Mix: Subjects RM

Do you remember when reading stopped requiring so much effort, and became almost second nature?

Probably not, but researchers have long believed that it probably happened some time during fourth grade. That’s when, they thought, word-processing tended to become more automatic and less deliberate, and you started to read to learn, as opposed to learning to read.

But a new study published in the journal Developmental Science questions that assumption, showing that children are still learning to read past fourth and even fifth grade. The shift to automatic word-processing, in which the brain recognizes whether a group of symbols constitutes a word within milliseconds, allowing fluid reading that helps the reader focus on the content of the text rather than on the words, may occur later than previously thought.

To test when this process develops, researchers fitted 96 college, third, fourth and fifth grade students with electrode caps to scan their brains as they were shown on a screen real words, fake words, strings of letters and strings of random symbols.

The third-, fourth- and fifth-graders processed real words, fake words, and letter strings similarly to the college students, showing that some automatic word-processing begins as early as third grade. But only the college students processed the meaningless symbols differently from actual words—which suggests that brain activity in the three groups of young children remained the same whether they were processing real words or not. While they showed some signs of automatic word processing, or no longer exerting effort to read, for the most part the younger children still treated familiar and unfamiliar words in the same way.

However, when the researchers switched to a written test, which presumably gave the participants the more time to think about the distinctions, all groups scored above 95 percent, showing that with some effort, or when their conscious brains were involved, the children also realized the difference between real and fake words.

That suggests that for the young children, the processing wasn’t automatic just yet. Study author Donna Coch, associate professor of education at Dartmouth, says that it’s not that fourth graders can’t read well, but rather they aren’t quite as efficient as adults at reading.

“You have a limited amount of resources, and if you’re using them on words that could not be words in your language, that’s taking up resources that could be used in word processing,” says Coch. “If you don’t have to put in effort to sound out words, you can pay more attention to understanding.”

So if fourth-graders aren’t quite reading to learn, then when does the shift toward more complete automatic word-processing occur? According to Coch, that probably happens some time between fifth grade and college—a period she says that hasn’t been studied.

For now, the results strongly suggest that reading skills need to continue to be nurtured during that period. “This certainly does suggest that teachers beyond fourth grade are still teachers of reading,” says Coch.

TIME You Asked

You Asked: Will Eating Before Bed Make Me Fat?

What to eat at night
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

You’ve been told eating before bed is a no-no. But a little pre-slumber snack can help you sleep more soundly without packing on pounds—if you reach for the right foods.

Especially if you tend to eat dinner a few hours before bedtime or you’re very active (or both), snacking before bed will help stabilize your blood sugar levels during the long, meal-less night, explains Stephanie Maxson, senior clinical dietician at the University of Texas’s MD Anderson Cancer Center.

Why should you care about blood sugar? As most diabetics know, blood sugar and its attendant hormones can supercharge or deflate your appetite and energy levels, as well as mess with your body’s efforts to store or burn fat. “Having low blood sugar in the morning will cause a person to feel sluggish and make it more difficult to get out of bed,” Maxson explains, adding that low blood sugar could also wake you up or otherwise disrupt your sleep in the middle of the night.

Ideally, you want to encourage stable blood sugar levels for optimal health, which will be tough to do if you’re going 10 or 12 or 14 hours without eating, Maxson says. (This is one reason she and many other nutrition experts underscore the importance of eating breakfast.)

“It’s such a big myth that you don’t need any energy for sleep,” adds Cassie Bjork, a registered dietician and founder of HealthySimpleLife.com. Not only can the right bedtime snack provide the fuel your body needs to burn calories while you sleep, but a little grub also calms the release of hunger hormones that tell your body to store fat, Bjork explains.

That said, a pint of ice cream isn’t going to do you any favors. Instead, you should be reaching for complex carbohydrates like whole wheat bread, non-starchy vegetables, popcorn, and fruit, Maxson says. These foods break down slowly, and so help stave off the blood sugar spikes or crashes that could mess with your sleep or appetite, she explains. For athletes, adding a protein like turkey or chicken to a bedtime snack can help with muscle repair during the night while also providing a hit of an essential amino acid called tryptophan, which is beneficial for sleep, Maxson says.

And don’t shy away from a little fat, which can further slow the absorption of carbohydrates into your system, Bjork says. Some avocado or peanut butter—or a splash of melted butter on your popcorn—can help if you frequently wake up hungry or tired.

Just be sure to avoid things like chips, cookies, cereal, or pretty much any traditional dessert food, advises Dr. Joan Sabaté, a professor of public health and nutrition at Loma Linda University. Because fiber and other digestion-slowing nutrients are typically stripped away from these foods during their preparation, your body absorbs them quickly and they tend to cause quick spikes in your blood sugar, which can make it tough for your to sleep, Sabaté explains.

Anything featuring caffeine—yes, that includes chocolate—is also a bad idea at bedtime, Maxson says.

TIME Obesity

Most Overweight Kids Don’t Think They’re Overweight, a New Study Finds

New data from the CDC shows many kids and adolescents misperceive their weight status

About 81% of overweight boys and 71% of overweight girls believe they are about the right weight, according to recent data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Overall, the survey, which collected data on the weight of U.S. adolescents between the ages of 8 and 15 from 2005 to 2012, found that about 30% of children and adolescents perceive their weight status incorrectly. That’s estimated to equate to about 9.1 million young people.

While the majority of overweight kids incorrectly classified their weight status, general weight misperception in the study also meant that kids who were not obese could think that they were, or that they could incorrectly consider themselves underweight.

The data also shows that weight misperceptions tended to be slightly higher among boys than girls, and had a higher prevalence among non-Hispanic black and Mexican-American kids. Weight misperception was significantly lower among kids and adolescents in higher-income families compared with kids in lower-income families.

Sadly, these are the same populations whose parents are more likely to be overweight, Dr. Daniel Neides, medical director for the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic, tells TIME. That suggests the possibility that overweight kids view their weight status as normal because that’s what they see in their own families. “As our country gets heavier, children don’t necessarily see it as abnormal,” he says. (Neides was not involved with the survey.)

The trouble is also that parents often don’t want to hear that their child is overweight. Prior research has shown that only about a quarter of parents of overweight kids say a doctor has told them that their kids were overweight. “People are very sensitive to weight and to growth charts, and [parents] will argue it hasn’t been updated in years,” says Neides. “We feel like young people are immortal and will be fine, and that population also doesn’t see the long-term implications.”

But overweight children is serious business. Kids are increasingly being diagnosed with diseases that usually only appear in adults, like Type 2 diabetes. A 2013 Harvard Medical School study also found a 27% increase in the proportion of children ages 8 to 17 with elevated blood pressure. “I am seeing people younger and younger coming into my office with osteoarthritis from weight,” says Neides. “We weren’t learning about kids with these problems when I was in medical school.”

The new data should serve as a warning to families and physicians that young people are confused about their weight status, and that if overweight kids continue to believe they’re the right weight, it could have detrimental effects on progress being made against the obesity epidemic.

TIME cities

San Francisco Will Vote On Soda Tax in November

San Francisco Board Of Supervisors Proposes Putting Soda Tax On Nov. Ballot
Various bottles of soda are displayed in a cooler at Marina Supermarket on July 22, 2014 in San Francisco. Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

The city could be the first in the nation to tax the sugary drinks

San Francisco lawmakers voted Tuesday to advance a proposal to tax sugary sodas. If voters approve the measure in November, the tax will become the first of its kind in the nation.

“In San Francisco, we set examples,” said Board of Supervisors President David Chiu. “We have a responsibility to try new things and fight the fight and see where this goes.”

The lawmakers agreed that the city would be better off if residents consumed fewer sugary beverages, which have been linked to obesity and diabetes. But the 6-4 vote reflected the divide over whether a 2-cent-per-ounce tax on soda is the best way to promote healthier habits.

Proponents of the measure argued that education alone is not enough and that a financial signal would better get the message across. Critics said that a “regressive flat tax” could end up passing costs onto low-income consumers who disproportionately purchase soda, without curbing soda intake. “This is being forced down people’s throats,” says Supervisor London Breed, who voted against the measure.

A Field Research poll released in February found that 67% of California voters would approve such a tax if the revenue is earmarked for healthy initiatives, as it is in the San Francisco proposal. An analysis from a city economist estimated that the tax would curb soda intake in the city by 31%. Under the measure, a bottle of soda that sells for $1.60 now would cost $2.

To become law, the initiative will have to be approved by two-thirds of voters and withstand strong opposition from deep-pocketed organizations like the American Beverage Association. Such “Big Soda” lobbyists have spent millions defeating soda tax measures in Congress and at least a dozen states. In 2012, soda tax measures in the California towns of El Monte and Richmond failed by wide margins.

Earlier this month, Berkeley lawmakers voted to put a one-cent-per-ounce soda tax before voters there in November.

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