TIME public health

80% of Sunscreens Don’t Really Work or Have ‘Worrisome’ Ingredients: Report

Here's how to find one that works

Summer is around the corner, and when it comes to sunscreen, it’s important to know how to stay covered.

Yet new research published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology shows that many Americans aren’t protecting their skin as much as they should. Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) asked people how often they use sunscreen when out in the sun for over an hour and only 14% of men said they regularly slathered on sunscreen. Women, at 30%, were twice as diligent about putting on sunscreen—while men were more likely than women to report never using sunscreen.

The problem isn’t only compliance. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released its 2015 sunscreen guide on Tuesday, which reviewed more than 1,700 SPF products like sunscreens, lip balms and moisturizers. The researchers discovered that 80% of the products offer “inferior sun protection or contain worrisome ingredients like oxybenzone and vitamin A,” they say. Oxybenzone is a chemical that can disrupt the hormone system, and some evidence suggests—though not definitively—that adding vitamin A to the skin could heighten sun sensitivity.

The report points to Neutrogena as the brand most at fault for promising sun protection without delivering. The EWG says that Neutrogena claims its baby sunscreens provide “special protection from the sun and irritating chemicals” and is labeled “hypoallergenic,” but it contains a preservative called methylisothiazolinone that has been deemed unsafe for use in leave-on products by the European Commission’s Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety. The company also boasts of high SPF levels like SPF 70 or SPF 100+, even though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says there’s only notable protection up to SPF 50, the report adds. Neutrogena did not respond to requests for comment by publication time.

In the new report, EWG also provides a Hall of Shame of products that don’t deliver on their sun protection promises, as well as a database for users to search how protective their particular sun products are—and find one that works.

To stay protected this summer, the researchers suggest, use sunscreens with broad spectrum SPF of 15 or higher, limit time in the sun, wear clothing to cover exposed skin and re-slather your sunscreen every couple hours.

TIME public health

These Are the Healthiest (and Unhealthiest) Cities in America

A jogger runs past the United States Capitol building at sunrise in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013.
Pete Marovich—Bloomberg/Getty Images A jogger runs past the United States Capitol building at sunrise in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Oct. 15, 2013.

West Coast cities make up six of the top 10

For the second year running Washington, D.C., tops the American Fitness Index (AFI) ranking as the healthiest metropolitan area in the U.S.

The nation’s capital can credit an above average access to public infrastructure for the top spot, according to the eighth annual report.

Minneapolis–St.Paul, Minn., came in second and three California metro areas — San Diego, the Bay Area and Sacramento — rounded out the top five.

“Our goal is to provide communities and residents with resources that help them assess, respond and achieve a better, healthier life,” said Walter Thompson, chair of the AFI advisory board, in a press release.

Indianapolis came in last place as it failed to reach the target goal in nearly all of the 32 health indicators measured. Memphis and Oklahoma City also ranked near the bottom.

The AFI used publicly available data points that are measured routinely and can be changed through community effort (so climate cannot be considered a health indicator).

Below you can find a list of the top-10 healthiest metro areas, according to the AFI:

  1. Washington, D.C.
  2. Minneapolis
  3. San Diego
  4. San Francisco
  5. Sacramento, Calif.
  6. Denver
  7. Portland
  8. Seattle
  9. Boston
  10. San Jose, Calif.
TIME public health

Outbreak of Norovirus Linked to a Popular Oregon Lake

15,400 people visited the lake that weekend

Flu season is over, but with the summer comes health concerns of a different pathogenic sort. An outbreak of the stomach bug norovirus last summer was linked to a popular lake destination in Oregon, found a new study released in the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

After the weekend of July 12, 2014, the Multnomah County Health Department received word of 13 cases of acute gastrointestinal illness from people who’d visited Blue Lake Regional Park, a popular lake near Portland, Ore., the weekend prior. The investigation identified 70 likely cases of norovirus, which causes stomach flu and is most famously known for striking cruise ship passengers, from the weekend of July 11-13. About 15,400 people visited the park that weekend, and the lake was closed for 10 days to control the outbreak. People who went swimming in the lake were 2.3 times more likely to get sick than those who visited but didn’t go in the water.

Though the authors weren’t able to say for sure, the most likely cause of the outbreak was “a swimmer’s vomit or fecal incident in the lake,” the report reads. Lakes are especially vulnerable, the authors write, since they tend to attract small children and are not chemically treated.

This isn’t the first time the lake has caught a nasty virus. In 1991, Blue Lake was linked to an outbreak of E. coli and Shigella, and in 2004, it had an outbreak of norovirus that affected more than 100 people.

TIME Smoking

Bribery Is The Best Way To Quit Smoking, Study Shows

People really don't want to lose money

A new study found that the best way to get people to quit smoking was to bribe them.

Published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study found that even more important than rewarding people with cash if they quit was the threat of losing money if they weren’t successful.

By comparing five different smoking cessation techniques among over 2,000 CVS Caremark employees, the study found that techniques requiring an up-front cash deposit that would be taken away if the participant didn’t successfully quit were much more effective than those that simply offered a cash reward.

“It leveraged people’s natural aversion to losing money,” lead author Dr. Scott Halpern of the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania told Reuters.

Many more people were willing to enroll in a simple reward-based program than to put down money up front, but according to Halpern, the deposit programs were twice as effective as the more popular reward programs, and five times more effective than providing free non-smoking aids like nicotine replacement therapy.

The study found that group programs were no more effective than individual-based ones.

“The trick now is to refine the deposit programs so they’ll be more popular without losing much, if any, of their effectiveness,” Halpern told Reuters Health.

TIME public health

This Natural Bug Repellent Works Better Than Deet

mosquito-human-skin
Getty Images

If mosquitoes love to slurp your blood—and yes, some people are more prone to a bite than others—you’ll likely stop at nothing to keep them away, harsh chemicals and all. A Consumer Reports survey of 2,011 U.S. adults found that almost 75% are more concerned with the many diseases transported by mosquitoes and ticks, like Lyme disease, West Nile Virus and chikungunya, than with potentially dangerous chemicals in their bug spray. But a new investigation by the product-testing group Consumer Reports finds that you have more natural options that are even more effective.

In Consumer Reports’ entire history of testing bug sprays, harsh chemicals like N, N-diethyl-meta-toluamide, commonly known as deet, have always come out on top. But for the first time, safer, gentler products were more effective.

The winning products used picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus as the active ingredients. Both are chemically synthesized ingredients but more similar to natural compounds than deet; they also come with fewer side effects. Best in show were Sawyer Fisherman’s Formula, which held mosquitoes and ticks at bay for eight hours, and Repel Lemon Eucalyptus, which protected against ticks for eight hours and mosquitoes for seven hours.

MORE: You Asked: Why Do Mosquitos Always Bite Me?

To test the effectiveness of the sprays, researchers enlisted the help of some brave testers—the “swat team,” they called them—who were spritzed with different repellents, left to sit for 30 minutes, and then told to reach into a cage with 200 mosquitoes hungry for blood (but free of diseases). Researchers watched the feast and recorded the number of bites; two or more bites in a five-minute session meant the repellent failed. They tested for ticks, too—and even braver testers had repellent applied to parts of their arms and disease-free deer ticks released on their arms to crawl. If two ticks crossed into the sprayed areas, the repellent failed.

Products starring plant oils like citronella, lemongrass and rosemary didn’t work. Candles and wristbands didn’t work, either.

“Look first for products with 20 percent picaridin or 30 percent oil of lemon eucalyptus,” the report said. “We think they’re safer than those with deet.” If deet is your only option, aim for a concentration of about 15 percent, which even outperformed the product with 25 percent. In concentrations more than 30 percent, deet might be dangerous, the authors conclude.

Read the entire Consumer Reports investigation here.

TIME Obesity

‘Thrifty’ Metabolisms May Make It Harder to Lose Weight

File photo dated Thursday October 16, 2014. of a young girl using a set of weighing scales as slimmers should forget what they have been told about avoiding rapid weight loss in favour of slow but sure dieting, according to new research.
Chris Radburn—PA Wire/Press Association Images File photo dated Thursday October 16, 2014. of a young girl using a set of weighing scales as slimmers should forget what they have been told about avoiding rapid weight loss in favour of slow but sure dieting, according to new research.

The study marks the first time lab results have confirmed the widely held belief

Losing those love handles may be easier for some people than for others, says a new study that confirmed the theory that physiology plays a role in a person’s ability to lose weight.

According to a press release, researchers at the Phoenix Epidemiology and Clinical Research Branch studied the metabolisms of 12 obese men and women undergoing a six-week 50% calorie-reduction experiment. After measuring participants’ energy expenditure after a day of fasting and then re-examining them during the caloric-reduction period, researchers found that the slower the metabolism works during a diet, the less weight the person loses.

Coining the terms “thrifty” vs. “spendthrift” metabolisms, the experiment marks first time lab results have confirmed a widely held belief that a speedy metabolism plays a role in weight loss.

“While behavioral factors such as adherence to diet affect weight loss to an extent, our study suggests we should consider a larger picture that includes individual physiology — and that weight loss is one situation where being thrifty doesn’t pay,” said lead author Dr. Susanne Votruba, Ph.D.

Researchers have yet to figure out if the differences in metabolic speeds are innate traits or develop over time. Also, the study was only focused on weight loss, and the team does not know if the body’s response to caloric reduction can be used to prevent weight gain.

Over one-third of Americans are obese, and it leads to some of the most common forms of preventable deaths in the country.

TIME public health

San Francisco Bans Chewing Tobacco at Sports Venues

Effective Jan. 1, 2016

On Friday, San Francisco became the first American city to ban smokeless tobacco—chewing tobacco and “moist inhalable snuff”—at sports venues.

The new ordinance, signed by Mayor Ed Lee, goes into effect on Jan. 1, 2016. Violators will be asked to leave the playing fields (where cigarette and cigar smoking is already banned), the Associated Press reports.

Anti-smoking groups argue that a ban on smokeless tobacco—which has been linked to cancer and nicotine addiction—sends the right message to kids who look up to the players. But San Francisco Giants pitcher Matt Cain said the measure may be hard to enforce, noting that coffee pouches resemble tobacco pouches, according to an article on the team’s website.

The state Assembly is still considering a bill banning tobacco use—electronic cigarettes included—wherever there’s a baseball game, the AP reports.

Read next: Why Lawmakers Want Smokeless Tobacco Thrown Out of the Homes of a National Pastime

TIME public health

USDA Proposes More Humane Treatment of Veal Calves

FRANCE-GASTRONOMY-CHEESE-CAMEMBERT
Charly Triballeau—AFP/Getty Images Veal calves eat straw in a dairy farm on April 18, 2013 in Vimoutiers, northwestern France.

Correction appended, May 8, 2015

The USDA wants to change the rules on how calves are slaughtered for veal, saying new regulations would make the process more humane.

The proposal comes from the department’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which says veal calves that are unable to stand up and walk should not be slaughtered for food. Currently, veal calves that cannot walk are set aside to rest, and if they recover, they can still be slaughtered.

Under the proposed rules, the calves that cannot walk would be euthanized instead. Regulators are concerned that the current rules allow the slaughter of calves that can’t walk because they’ve been mistreated. Changing the regulation would discourage this mistreatment of the animals.

FSIS will take comments on the proposal for 60 days, then will decide whether to change the regulation.

Correction: The original version of this story incorrectly described the USDA’s position. The agency is concerned that veal calves which cannot stand are being treated poorly.

TIME public health

Cities like Baltimore Still Suffer From the Toxic Legacy of Lead Contamination

Abandoned row houses are shown in the Sandtown neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested, in Baltimore on May 3, 2015.
Andrew Burton—Getty Images Abandoned row houses are shown in the Sandtown neighborhood where Freddie Gray was arrested, in Baltimore on May 3, 2015.

Before Freddie Gray suffered a fatal injury at the hands of the police, the Maryland native was allegedly the victim of lead poisoning

The Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore has all the markers of the depressed inner city. Unemployment is high, drug abuse is rampant and many houses are vacant and dilapidated. Less apparent—but equally insidious—is the prevalence of lead poisoning.

More than a decade before Freddie Gray suffered a fatal injury while in custody of the Baltimore Police Department, the Maryland native was allegedly the victim of the neurotoxin that contaminated the walls and windows in the dilapidated home where he grew up, according to a report in the Washington Post. Gray reportedly struggled academically, accumulated a criminal record and had trouble focusing—all outcomes associated with the long-term effects of lead poisoning.

Gray was not alone. Hundreds of thousands of young Americans were exposed to lead during their childhood, and, for many, the poisoning has been associated with dramatic problems in their day-to-day lives as adults. And despite the fact that lead was phased out as an additive in gasoline in the 1970s and 1980s, lead poisoning continues to affect children—most of them poor—to this day.

Baltimore, a city where nearly a quarter of the population lives in poverty, has become ground zero in the fight against lead poisoning. Many Baltimore homes were built in an era when the use of lead paint was common, and economic crisis has left many homes and neighborhoods in disrepair, exposing children to lead in chipping paint.

Lead hasn’t been used in paint since 1978, and regulations require landlords to reduce the risk that their tenants are exposed to the substance. But many landlords opt to use risk reduction methods that contain lead temporarily, but leave tenants vulnerable in the longterm. For instance, a landlord may paint over lead paint with safe paint to meet regulations. That reduces the chance of exposure but doesn’t eliminate it. Furthermore, the regulations in Baltimore don’t address owner-occupied homes. To eliminate risk paint needs to be stripped entirely and windows and doors need to be removed, said Ruth Ann Norton, who heads the Baltimore-based Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning.

“If land lords don’t comply with the law, we need to have strong and immediate enforcement,” she said. “But the truth is we have to couple that with investment to actually do the work, to hire young men and women to to replace windows and to remove the lead paint.”

Given that lead was banned in the 1970s, many people are unaware that the toxin is still present in some homes. More than 525,000 children were diagnosed with an elevated level of lead in the 200s, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Most people think lead is history, that we passed a ban, therefore it’s not a problem,” said Norton. “Since 1993, we have reduced childhood lead poisoning by 98%, but the job isn’t done.”

For those exposed to lead as children when their brains are still developing, the poisoning can be devastating. The cognitive effects of lead poisoning include diminished intelligence, shortened attention span and increased risk for developing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, according to Mount Sinai’s Dr. Philip Landrigan, who did pioneering research in the 1970s on the health effects of lead. “Unfortunately, it’s permanent,” he said. “The human brain displays very little capacity to repair itself once it’s damaged.”

And it might be difficult to recognize when a child has been exposed. Symptoms aren’t immediately visible, and a lead dust specimen the size of nickel could contaminate a 3,000 square-foot home, Norton said.

The effect of lead poisoning on the brain at an early age can hold back victims for life. Like Gray, many victims of lead poisoning have struggle to find and keep jobs. Some research has even suggested that lead poisoning causes sufferers to lose control of their impulses and behave erratically, which may make it more likely that they’ll commit violent crimes.

“If we’ve poisoned the child the rest of the investment fails, they can’t read, they can’t get to the classroom and they can’t learn,” said Norton “And I don’t want to fill our jails with kids.”

TIME public health

Your iPhone Can Now Tell If You Have a Parasite

loa loa worm parasite
Getty Images Loa Loa, or eyeworm

A new way to diagnose a nasty kind of worm

Parasitic worms plaguing Africa may soon meet their match—because now, there’s an app for them, too. According to a new report in the journal Science Translational Medicine, researchers have developed a way to rapidly test for a particularly troublesome kind of eye worm through an iPhone.

Worms are a huge problem in parts of Central and West Africa. A single species called O. volvulus causes “river blindness,” the second-biggest cause of infectious blindness in the world, and another, W. bancroftiis, causes lymphatic filariasis, the second leading cause of disability in the world.

The good news is that they can be cured with an anti-parasitic drug called ivermectin. The bad news is that a third kind of worm—a particularly disgusting kind called Loa loa, or African eye worm—makes treatment much more risky. Loa loa wriggle out of the eye when they mature and spread throughout the body, but even though they look terrifying, they’re not life-threatening. However, when people harbor high quantities of these worms and take the antiparastic drug ivermectin, they can suffer fatal brain damage within days. That enormous side effect has stopped mass drug administration in its tracks, putting the effective drug on ice and countless at risk for blindness and disability.

Finding people with high levels of this worm is extremely important, but screening takes days and requires resources. In order to test levels, technicians have to make a blood smear on a glass slide, stain the sample to highlight the worms and manually count them under a microscope. But now, engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, have developed a method that takes just three minutes using a smartphone device called CellScope Loa.

Here’s how it works: you slide your iPhone into a small 3D-printed box, which is built with microprocesssors, a motor and some LEDs for illumination. Align the phone camera with lenses in the box, and after a quick fingerprick for blood and the push of a button, the phone takes five short videos of worms wriggling in the blood and wirelessly analyzes the sample with the help of an app. The microscope senses the motion of the Loa loa, and within a matter of seconds, a worm count pops up on the screen.

The researchers tested the CellScope on 33 people in Cameroon and compared that analysis against the gold-standard smear technique. The diagnoses and very low false-negative rates matched.

Being able to diagnose worms with one streamlined portable device has a lot of advantages over current testing methods, which involve bulky microscope, a computer, a laboratory and a lot of time and money, says Daniel Fletcher, head of the lab that designed CellScope and associate chair and professor of bioengineering at UC Berkeley. Teams that provide mass drug administration services will be able to take the CellScope to villages, filter out who shouldn’t be treated and give worm medication to the rest, he says.

Next, the team will test the device on 40,000 people in Cameroon.

It’s possible that the device will have implications far beyond the African eye worm. “Right now, we’ve designed the algorithms to look for this particular kind of worm,” Fletcher says. “But we’re hopeful that the general strategy of using all parts of the phone—not just the camera, but using its ability through Bluetooth to control other components, its computing ability to analyze images, and the screen to report results—could be applicable to a range of other resources.”

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