TIME Obesity

This Kind of Body Fat Burns Calories More Quickly

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The good news is that you can turn your body fat into a super-burner that’s better at melting away calories and lowering blood sugar. But it takes a lot to make the switch

For years researchers have been tantalizing us with news of a mysterious type of fat that can burn through calories and keep blood sugar levels in check. Unlike white fat that tends to sit in deposits where we least want them, this other kind of fat—called brown fat—is scant inside the human body. While newborns tend to have more brown fat, the average adult harbors barely two ounces of the stuff.

As little of it as we have, recent studies have suggested that brown fat can be triggered under the right conditions. And now, in a new paper, scientists report for the first time that it’s possible to turn white fat into brown fat — or at least something that acts like brown fat and burns up more calories.

Researchers had accomplished the feat in animals, but the latest study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, is the first to describe the phenomenon in people. The research was conducted by Ladros Sidossis from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and his colleagues.

While previous studies showed that cold temperatures could activate brown fat in healthy people, none demonstrated that the stress of the frigid exposure could transform white fat into brown fat. Speculating that it would take an extreme and continued stress on the body for that to happen, Sidossis decided to study brown fat stores in burn patients; as director of the metabolism unit at Shriners Hospitals for Children, he knew that burn injuries that cover more than 30% of the body caused the body’s stress response to remain high for weeks.

Indeed, when he compared white fat samples taken from the patients soon after their injury to those of healthy controls, he found markedly higher signs of a revved-up energy process in these cells that showed the white fat was acting more like brown fat. Confirming the finding further, when he compared the burn patients’ white fat cells soon after their injury and then a month later, he found signs that the white fat had reverted back to its original state again as the patients began recovering and their stress response waned.

Of course, Sidossis is in no way suggesting that burns are a strategy for enhancing brown fat stores. What’s important is the fact that the study showed it’s possible to make white fat burn more calories, something that could be the start of a new way of addressing obesity and diabetes. “The next step is to find the mechanism of how this is happening,” he says. “Then we can find drugs that mimic this effect to turn white fat into a more metabolically active form to help normalize weight and blood sugar.”

Scientists working with animals are already heading down that path; they’ve identified some 40 agents that might be useful in convincing white fat to work more efficiently. Now that there’s evidence that the process does occur in people — albeit under extreme conditions — studying those substances further to see if they can accomplish the same transformation of white fat, without the stress, seems worthwhile.

MORE: This New Drug Turns ‘Bad’ White Fat Into ‘Good’ Brown Fat

TIME Crime

This Chart Shows How Mass Public Shootings in the U.S. Have Risen

The "incidence rate" has quadrupled since the 1970s

If it seems like mass shootings in public places have become more commonplace in the United States after a summer of deadly shootings in Charleston, Chattanooga and elsewhere, that’s because they are.

According to a recent study released by the Congressional Research Service, the average rate of mass public shootings—defined by the FBI as “a multiple homicide incident in which four or more victims are murdered with firearms, within one event, in at least one or more public locations”—has gone up from being a singular, annual tragedy in the 1970s (a 1.1 incidence rate) to about 4.5 incidences per year between 2010 and 2013.

mass shooting frequency rising

The CRS report, which was based on data from the FBI and also from criminologist Grant Duwe, found that the U.S. sees a total of 21 mass murders by firearms a year on average—including not just public shootings in places like churches and schools, but familicide and shootings committed during other criminal activity.

The report recommends Congress direct the federal government to improve how it collects data on shootings with multiple fatalities.

TIME Science

How the Research Community Is Addressing the ‘Reproducibility Crisis’

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A big problem in the scientific community is that much of what winds up in scientific journals isn't replicable, for various reasons

What if I told you that half of the studies published in scientific journals today – the ones upon which news coverage of medical advances is often based – won’t hold up under scrutiny? You might say I had gone mad. No one would ever tolerate that kind of waste in a field as important – and expensive, to the tune of roughly US$30 billion in federal spending per year – as biomedical research, right? After all, this is the crucial work that hunts for explanations for diseases so they can better be treated or even cured.

Wrong. The rate of what is referred to as “irreproducible research” – more on what that means in a moment – exceeds 50%, according to a recent paper. Some estimates are even higher. In one analysis, just 11% of preclinical cancer research studies could be confirmed. That means that an awful lot of “promising” results aren’t very promising at all, and that a lot of researchers who could be solving critical problems based on previously published work end up just spinning their wheels.

So what gives? And how can we fix this problem?

What worms tell us about reproducibility

Although definitions of reproducibility and replication vary somewhat, for a study to be reproducible, another researcher needs to be able to replicate it, meaning use the same data and analysis to come to the same conclusions. There are lots of reasons why a study may not pass the replication test, from flat-out errors to a failure to adequately describe the methodology used. A researcher may have forgotten about a step in the process when he wrote up the methodology, for example, counted data in the wrong category, or written the wrong code for her statistics program.

Faking results is another reason, but it’s not nearly as common as others. Out-and-out fraud like that, or suspected fraud, is the reason for a bit fewer than half of the 400-plus retractions per year. But there are something like two million papers published annually, so the vast majority of studies containing irreproducible data are never retracted. And most scientists would agree that they shouldn’t be; after all, most science is overturned one way or another over time. Retraction should be reserved for the most severe cases. That doesn’t mean irreproducible papers shouldn’t be somehow marked, though.

Here’s a fresh example of a study that turned out not to be reproducible, because the results couldn’t be replicated: as Ben Goldacre relates in BuzzFeed, two economists published a massive study in 2004 claiming that a “deworm everyone” approach in Kenya “improved children’s health, school performance, and school attendance,” even among children several miles away who didn’t get deworming pills. Endorsed by the World Health Organization, it helped set policy that affects hundreds of millions of children annually in the developing world.

But now researchers have published papers describing two failures to replicate the original findings. Many of them just didn’t hold up, although some did.

That, as Goldacre explains, “is definitely problematic.” But the reanalyses were possible only because the original authors “had the decency, generosity, strength of character, and intellectual confidence to let someone else peer under the bonnet” – a rare situation indeed.

The fixes

Researchers are aware of the reproducibility problem, and some are trying to fix it. In response to alarming findings about the reproducibility of basic cancer research, a program called the Reproducibility Initiative has started providing “both a mechanism for scientists to independently replicate their findings and a reward for doing so.” It’s chosen 50 studies for independent validation – or not, since there’s certainly a chance the initial results won’t be reproducible. Those working on the project will perform the same kind of analyses that researchers did in the worm study replications. A similar effort has been ongoing in psychology, and other projects are under way in the social sciences.

All of these efforts will require scientists to share data, as the authors of the deworming study did. That has been a requirement in human studies for some years now, by many funders, and it’s encouraged by many journal editors. And while it’s not met 100% of the time, compliance is growing. Some basic science journals are moving to make it a requirement, too.

Perhaps more important, however, is that researchers – and the public that funds many of them – realize that science is a process, and that all knowledge is provisional. “It’s not just naive to expect that all research will be perfectly free from errors,” writes Goldacre, “it’s actively harmful.” Journalists, take note.

Translated into policy, that means valuing replication efforts, which right now are essentially unfunded and hardly ever published. If we want scientists to validate others’ work, we’ll need to create grants to do that. That means digging up additional funding, but replicating a study costs a tiny fraction of what the original work does. Funding new studies based on those that turn out to be irreproducible…well, now that’s expensive.

This article originally appeared on The ConversationThe Conversation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Heart Disease

Here’s How Much You Should Stand Each Day

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More evidence suggests getting off your seat and moving around is good for your health

We know that the amount of time we spend sitting each day wreaks havoc on our health, and in a new paper, researchers show that spending just two hours standing or moving around instead of sitting may have a real positive impact on our health.

In the new study published Thursday in the European Heart Journal, researchers had 782 men and women wear activity trackers 24 hours a day for seven days. The monitors tracked how much time the men and women spent stepping, sitting, standing, sleeping or lying down. The participants also provided blood samples and other measurements like blood pressure and weight.

With the data gathered from the trackers, the researchers used a mathematical model to estimate how the allotted time in each condition would impact the men and women’s health. Interestingly, they found that spending two extra hours a day standing instead of sitting was linked to better blood sugar levels and lower levels of fat in the blood (triglycerides). Specifically, more time spent standing was associated with a 2% lower average blood sugar levels and a 11% lower levels of triglycerides. Cholesterol levels showed improvement as well.

The findings also showed that spending an extra two hours moving instead of sitting was linked to a significant lower body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference.

The study cannot definitely prove that these tweaks to the amount of time spent sitting directly causes improvements in health markers, but the researchers note that the findings do fall in line with what’s known about the impact on the body of being active (or at least not being sedentary).

More research is still needed, but the findings support the longstanding advice that moving around is better for our health than lounging around, and suggest that any decisions to purchase a standing desk are not made in vain.

TIME Research

Watch NASA Crash a Perfectly Good Plane In the Name of Science

The organization's Langley facility is developing next-generation search-and-rescue technology

On Wednesday, researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia raised a Cessna 172 aircraft 100 feet in the air, suspended by cables, and then dropped it right down into an enormous pile of dirt. It smashed into the ground nose-first, flipping onto its back and delivering tremendous force to the pair of crash-test dummies within. The scientists, by all accounts, were happy.

“This will provide very good data collection for us,” said Lisa Mazzuca, NASA’s Search and Rescue mission manager. “This is exactly what we wanted. The nose hit the ground first.”

The goal, according to NASA’s team, is to improve aviation emergency response times:

Wednesday’s test, the second of three being conducted at Langley, is part of a push to bolster the reliability of emergency locator transmitters. The systems automatically alert rescue personnel in the event of an airplane crash.

But the systems, called ELTs for short, are often so damaged in crashes they fail to transmit as designed. That means it’s harder for rescue teams to reach a crash site quickly.

The first test was conducted on July 1, with the plane crashing into concrete rather than soil. Researchers hope the series of experiments will improve systems designed to help emergency responders locate downed planes by keeping those systems functional after a crash.

[NASA]

TIME Research

Millennials Now Have Jobs But Still Live With Their Parents

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A Pew study finds the perplexing pattern has affected the housing industry

Halfway through this decade and nearly seven years after the Great Recession, Millennials are bouncing back—sort of.

In a new study released by Pew, researchers find that while Millennials—people who were born after 1981—are back to the pre-recession era unemployment levels of 7.7%, they haven’t been able to establish themselves as adults in other ways, like owning a home or getting married.

Richard Fry, an economist and lead author of the study, describes the situation as Millennials’ “failure to launch.” “I think the core is a bit of a puzzle with one clear consequence,” Fry told TIME. “There’s good news: the group that was hit the hardest—young adults—are now getting full-time jobs and earnings are tracking upwards. But the surprise is that with the recovery in the labor market, there are fewer young adults living independently.” (Living independently here is defined as heading a household; in other words, owning a home.)

When the recession hit, young people moved back into their parents’ house in droves, unemployed and without much hope for any future work. The thought process was that once the economy improved and Millennials returned to work, they’d scoot out of their parents lair.

But that hasn’t been the case, and economists aren’t sure why.

“Is it a good thing or a bad thing? I don’t know,” Fry said. He was also the author of a study three years ago that explored Millennials living and work situations using 2012 data, and he thought then that the explanation was clear. “My thought was, ‘Yeah, that’s true, the job market is crummy,'” he said. “My expectation was that as the labor market improves, more young people will strike out on their own, but that’s not the case.”

About 42.2 million 18-to-34 year olds are living away from home this year; 2007 numbers were just above 2015’s independent young adult population at 42.7 million. There are a few common characteristics of these Millennial householders; they are more likely to be women (72% compared to their male counterparts) and college-educated (86% of those with bachelors degrees were living independently compared to 75% of the same peer group holding only a high school education). Fry points to women getting in permanent romantic relationships earlier that either lead to marriage or cohabitation as the cause of this gender difference.

The consequences of Millennials still living at home go far beyond the household dynamics of adult children being at home with parents. Consider the housing sector, which has not recovered from the 2008 economic tumble. If more young adults had decided to take on home ownership, the economy may have improved more.

So how are Millennials most likely living if they’re not living at home? Probably with a roommate, or doubled up with a fellow adult who is not their spouse or partner, data suggests.

But having a roommate or living at home have real demographic effects for the future, Fry says. He goes back to two key facts: that people living independently tend to be better educated and that college educated people tend to delay marriage or not marry at all (though even Millennials with a high school education are not getting married as much as they used to.) That means that less educated Millennials are facing consequences in not just the job market, but beyond.

“There’s less sorting—that when the less educated do marry, they marry others who are also less educated,” he said. “That’s going to impact household income and economic wellbeing. That’s going to affect economic outcomes.”

TIME Diet/Nutrition

The Science of Why You Crave Comfort Food

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It's not just because these foods are tasty. It's because they make us feel less alone

In mid-July, I was visiting my hometown in Minnesota when I happened upon the unmistakable scent of something deep-fried. I was at a concert, and no matter how off-brand a dietary choice of corn dogs and cheese curds may be for a health writer, I went for it. How could I not? I spent two thoroughly enjoyable summers during college working at the Minnesota State Fair, and that experience continues to make corn-and-grease-dipped hot dogs not only appetizing but somehow irresistible, too.

Summer is the season for nostalgic eating: Hot days in the park call for a trip to the ice cream truck, concerts call for corn dogs, baseball games call for hotdogs and beer, ice-cold movie theaters call for popcorn. And it’s not just me. Researchers suggest that when we associate foods with happy memories, the effects are profound, impacting how good we think foods taste as well as how good those foods make us feel.

It makes intuitive sense that positive experiences with a given food could influence our craving for it later on, but recent research also suggests something else is at play, too: comfort foods remind us of our social ties, which means they may help us feel less lonesome when we feel isolated. In a recent July 2015 study, Jordan Troisi, an assistant professor of psychology at Sewanee, The University of The South, and his colleagues found that people with strong relationships preferred the taste of comfort food when they experienced feelings of social isolation.

“Comfort food seems to be something people associate very significantly with close relationships,” says Troisi. “This probably comes about by individuals coming to associate a particular food item with members of their family, social gatherings, and people taking care of them, which is why we see a lot of comfort foods [that are] traditional meals or things had at a party.”

Of course, what counts as comfort food is different person to person. When Troisi has asked people write about an experience they’ve had with a comfort food, essays have ranged from soup to kimchi. “It’s not just that ice cream, for instance, is really tasty. It’s that someone has developed a really significant meaning behind the idea of ice cream due to their relationships with others, and that’s what is triggering this effect,” he says.

Even the smell of a meaningful dish can elicit feelings of belonging, some research suggests. In a February 2015 study, Virginia Commonwealth University researcher Chelsea Reid and her colleagues had 160 people smell 12 different scents, including apple pie, cotton candy and baby powder and rate the extent to which the scent was familiar, arousing, autobiographically relevant, and the extent to which it elicited nostalgia. “Nostalgia can be evoked in different ways, but scents may be particularly likely to evoke nostalgia due to the strong link between scents and memory. The smell of pumpkin pie might bring all those holidays with family flooding back, or the smell of a familiar perfume might arouse memories with your partner,” says Reid.

Biologically speaking, scent and memory are closely tied. “Psychological research has demonstrated that smells are powerfully linked to memory, and to autobiographical memory in particular,” says Reid. “The olfactory bulb, which is involved in the sense of smell, is linked to areas in the brain associated with memory and emotional experiences.”

Humans have a fundamental need to belong, says Reid, and because nostalgia often centers around personal events involving people they care about, she sees the evocation of nostalgia as one way people can obtain a sense of belonging even when the people they are close to are not close by.

So while corn dogs in the summer may not be fine dining by any standard, for me, they trigger happy memories of summers long ago—and that’s a good thing. In moderation, of course.

Read next: 5 Foods That Taste Better Now Than They Will All Year

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TIME Nike

How Nike’s Medieval Ice Pack Helmet Will Cool Athletes’ Skulls

Or, how to be cool without looking cool.

According to Nike, pouring a bottle of water on your head isn’t a good enough way to cool down after finishing a decathlon. The sporting goods company’s solution? A super-cooling piece of headgear, which doesn’t have a price tag yet, but is surely more expensive than a water bottle.

The device fits snugly like a hat on the forehead, head and neck, then drapes over the face with loose mesh. It may make athletes look straight out of a Friday the 13th set, but the cooling effect might be worth the bad photos. The hood is like a head-shaped ice pack, which surrounds the athlete with chilled water.

In a Nike [fortune-stock symbol=”NKE”] press release, Olympic decathlete Ashton Eaton, who is partnering with Nike to create the headgear, explains why he wants to wear a medieval ice pack helmet: “A perfect scenario would be to fell like you’ve just started on every event. There more you do, the more attrition you experience.” For Eaton, cooling off quickly isn’t a matter of comfort: it helps him regenerate between his ten events.

Eaton is testing the prototypes for Nike in the months leading to the 2016 Summer Olympics, according to Wired. Olympic athlete Brianne Theisen-Eaton, who is married to Eaton, will be testing out the hood during her summer training as well.

TIME Healthcare

Hospitals Have Reduced Deaths, Hospitalizations, and Costs Among Medicare Patients

"It's a jaw-dropping finding"

American hospitals have reduced deaths, hospitalizations, and costs among people over the age of 65 in the past couple of decades, according to a new report released Tuesday.

“We didn’t expect to see such a remarkable improvement over time,” said Harlan Krumholz, a cardiologist at the Yale School of Medicine and lead author of the study, which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

Krumholz and his colleagues looked at over 68 million Medicare beneficiaries between 1999 and 2013. The group was chosen for their “fee-for-service” structure, where doctors and hospitals would be paid per procedure or visit.

They found that hospitalization rates for this group plummeted 24%, saving more than 3 million people unnecessary hospital visits. Their chance of survival and recovery had improved from less than two decades ago: patients were 45% less likely to die during their stay, 24% less likely to die within a month of being admitted, and 22% less likely to die within the year.

Deaths among the group fell 16%, meaning 300,000 lives were saved in the 14-year span, according to the report. Patients who visited the hospital also saw a 15% drop in their bills compared to 1999.

Krumholz said that better training for hospital staff led to many of the improvements.

“There has been tremendous focus on making sure that our hospitals are safer and that treatments are more timely and effective,” Krumholz told USA Today.

People are also living healthier, longer lives—smoking less, breathing cleaner air, and able to take advantage of scientific breakthroughs in medicine.

Despite doing so well, Krumholz doesn’t think it’s time for hospitals to get lax.

“The things we’re trying to do to make things better are working,” Krumholz noted. “Rather than wave the victory flag, we want to see that trend continue. There’s no reason to take our foot off the pedal.”

 

TIME Research

There’s a New Way to Predict West Nile Virus Outbreaks

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Scientists are working on a promising new model

It’s peak mosquito season in the United States, which means the risk for the mosquito-borne West Nile is up. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the agency sees the most cases of the disease between June and September.

As of July 21, 2015, the CDC reports that 33 states have reported West Nile in people, mosquitoes or animals and there have been 23 cases of West Nile in humans. Though many people with West Nile will not develop symptoms, the disease can cause inflammation of the brain or inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal chord. Only about 1% of people will develop neurological illness from the virus. Unfortunately there are no drugs or vaccines for West Nile. Cases have been reported in every state except for Alaska and Hawaii.

Given the fact that there’s no cure or vaccine for West Nile, being able to predict when and where the disease could spread in the U.S. before it happens would be a boon for public health experts, and researchers are getting closer to that possibility. In May, scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published their recent findings that showed links between the weather and incidence of West Nile virus nationwide.

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

The researchers analyzed associations between temperature and precipitation and higher prevalence of West Nile virus disease in the U.S. from the years 2004 to 2012. The found notable and consistent patterns among different regions in the U.S. For instance, in the East, a drier than normal fall and spring was associated with an above average number of outbreaks. But patterns looked different in the West. Weather may influence breeding patterns as well as other vectors of the disease like birds.

The researchers are now in the process of using their findings to build a model using climate data to predict the risk of West Nile Virus transmission across the U.S. “If we can predict [West Nile virus] outbreaks, we can target public health messages to high risk regions of the country. And counties will have additional information to use for deciding about when, where, and if they should do mosquito control,” says researcher Micah Hahn a scientist at NCAR and CDC.

According to NCAR scientists Andrew Monaghan and Mary Hayden, who are also working on the model, additional data sets are being considered and implemented to help the model predict the number of cases expected in each U.S. county, including land use data, demographic data, and mosquito maps.

The hope is that the CDC will eventually adopt the model. According to Monaghan, having this information could help the CDC allocate resources to places that are likely going to be the most affected. The researchers want the model to be both informative and easily digestible to the average person. It’s also possible that the model could one day be translated to work for other mosquito-borne diseases in the United States besides West Nile.

Some researchers estimate that a functioning system will be available in about a year. Others involved are more broad in their estimations: “We continue to work on it but it may be several years before we have a validated model that we can use, if we get there at all,” says Dr. Marc Fischer of the CDC. Still, those in the community remain optimistic that such a system is possible, and may be available sooner rather than later.

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