TIME Health Care

How a New Study on Premature Babies Could Influence the Abortion Debate

Pro-life advocates say the research supports their arguments

A new study showing that a tiny percentage of extremely premature babies born at 22 weeks can survive with extensive medical intervention could change the national conversation about abortion, though the research is unlikely to have a major effect on women’s access to abortions in the short term.

Anti-abortion advocates said the study—which was published by the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday and found that 3.5% percent of 357 infants born at 22 weeks could survive without severe health problems if hospitals treated them—could benefit the anti-abortion movement by sparking discussion about the viability of premature babies.

“Some people are strongly committed to pro-life, some are strongly committed to the other side,” but many fall somewhere in the middle, said Burke Balch, director of the Robert Powell Center for Medical Ethics for the National Right to Life Committee, the non-profit advocacy organization. “The fact that those children could survive will affect those in the middle.”

The anti-abortion movement has tried to shift attention away from women who seek abortions—as in, debates on whether abortion should be allowed in cases of rape or incest—and instead focus on the unborn baby, using the argument that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks to justify state bans on abortion after that time. Some 13 states have banned abortion after 20 weeks, according to Naral Pro-Choice America, a non-profit advocacy organization. Other states, such as Wisconsin, South Carolina and West Virginia have started debating such measures this year. The 20-week bans, Balch said, are partially designed to bring the focus back to the child—and the new data on premature babies will make that easier. “It strengthens the persuasiveness argument, even if it doesn’t impact the legal argument,” he said.

While anti-abortion advocates hope the study will shift public opinion, the fact that a small number of babies can survive at 22 weeks with extraordinary interventions will likely not have a large impact on a woman’s ability to get an abortion today, experts said.

The Supreme Court has held that states can restrict abortions if the fetus is viable—able to survive outside the womb—even if the mother’s health is not threatened by the pregnancy. But there is no strict legal definition of viability; instead, it is determined on a case-by-case basis by the individual doctor. While it is possible that the study could affect a doctor’s decision about the viability of a pregnancy, doctors would usually focus more on the details of the specific case. And few doctors and clinics offer abortions at such a late stage anyway, experts added.

“Viability has never been a set number,” said Eric Ferrero, vice president of communications at Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the reproductive health non-profit. “It is determined by each doctor based on the woman and the pregnancy and it varies. That’s what the medical community has said and what Roe v. Wade says, and that’s unchanged by this study, which is about the extremely intensive care that is provided in some places.”

Though the new research has sparked discussion of abortion, its real relevance is for expectant parents researching the medical treatment available for premature babies, particularly those who may want to find out whether their hospital provides interventions to save babies at 22 weeks.

“I think it’s important information, especially for women excited about having a baby,” says Elizabeth Nash, an expert on state laws governing reproduction at the Guttmacher Institute, a research and advocacy group focused on reproductive health. “It’s much more tangential to abortion, except that abortion opponents will look to this information to try to restrict access, and that’s where we have to pay attention.”

TIME Research

Here’s What Time of Day Babies Are Born

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Getty Images

Just in time for Mother's Day, a new report shows when babies are most likely to be born

According to new data, American mothers-to-be aren’t having too many late night surprises. A new report shows the highest percentage of U.S. births in 2013 (the most recent data available) happened during morning and midday hours.

The new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s National Center for Health Statistics looked at 2013 birth certificate data from the National Vital Statistics System (NVSS), and found that the highest percentage of births took place occurred during the hours of 8:00 a.m. and noon. Less than 3% of babies were born during each hour from midnight to 6:59 a.m.

Though most births happen during the day, the latest findings report that when babies are born on a Saturday or Sunday, they are more likely to happen in the late evening or overnight—11:00 p.m. through 5:59 a.m.—compared to births that happen between Monday to Friday.

When it comes to how women gave birth, there were also some distinct patterns in timing. The researchers reported that compared to with induced and non-induced vaginal deliveries, cesarean deliveries were the least likely to occur during evening and early morning. Non-induced vaginal births were more likely to happen in the early morning compared to cesarean and induced vaginal births. Births in out-of-hospital settings were most likely to happen in the early morning hours starting at 1:00 a.m.

“As the use of medical interventions for childbirth (i.e., induction of labor and cesarean delivery) has increased during the last few decades, an increasing proportion of deliveries occur during regular daytime hours,” the study authors write. Understanding when women are most likely giving birth and what types of births are occurring when, can help hospitals better prepare to ensure mother and child are healthy.

TIME Research

Some Premature Babies Can Survive After Only 22 Weeks, Study Says

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Getty Images

Roughly 5,000 babies are born at 22 or 23 weeks in the U.S. each year

A new study has found that some premature babies can survive outside the womb with medical treatment as early as 22 weeks into pregnancy.

The study, published on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, raises questions about treatment practices for premature babies while also adding a new layer to the abortion debate.

Hospitals vary in how they approach treatment for babies born before 24 weeks, widely viewed to be the minimum age of viability, the New York Times reports. But the study, which analyzed almost 5,000 babies born at between 22 and 27 weeks, found that a small number of babies born at 22 weeks could survive with treatment, some with long-term impairment. Those that were not treated died.

Each year, roughly 5,000 babies are born at 22 or 23 weeks in the US, according to the Times.

[NYT]

TIME Careers & Workplace

You’re More Likely to Be Enthusiastic at Work If You Have a Female Boss

That applies whether you're a man or a woman

Women managers have an advantage over their male peers when it comes to motivating employees, researchers say.

A Gallup study, State of the American Manager: Analytics and Advice for Leaders, found that 33% of employees are engaged when a woman runs the show, compared to 25% with a man at the helm.

Female managers also tend to be more enthusiastic about their own jobs than their male counterparts.

Gallup found 41% of female managers feel engaged at work compared to 35% of male managers.

The study also found that women managers were more enthusiastic at work than men, regardless of whether they had children.

When it came to same-sex management, the study found that female employees were on average more likely to feel involved in their work (35%) if their boss was a woman, compared to just 25% of male employees who show enthusiasm with a male manager.

The study also found women were better at encouraging their subordinates’ development, checking in on their employees’ progress and tended to provide more positive or constructive feedback.

Gallup says it hopes the results will encourage organizations to hire and promote more women managers. Currently only one third of Americans have a female boss.

TIME Music

Hip-Hop Was the Biggest Revolution in American Music and That’s Backed By a Study of 17,000 Songs

Photo of Public Enemy Jan. 1, 1991
Ebet Roberts—Redferns/Getty Images Photo of Public Enemy , on Jan. 1, 1991

Forget the British invasion of the 1960s or the synth-pop of the 1980s

The explosion of hip-hop onto the music scene in the 1990s was the biggest musical revolution in American pop history.

That’s according to a team of scientists who, for the first time, have analyzed the evolution of Western pop music, spanning from 1960 to 2010, and published their findings in the Royal Society Open Journal.

The team, from Queen Mary University of London and Imperial College London, looked at 30-second snippets from about 17,000 songs from the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 over a 50-year period. The researchers studied trends in style and diversity as well as how harmony, chord changes and tonal quality changed over time.

“We can actually go beyond what music experts tell us, or what we know ourselves about them, by looking directly into the songs, measuring their makeup, and understanding how they have changed,” said lead author of the study Matthias Mauch.

Mauch’s team found that there were three distinct music revolutions: 1964, 1983 and 1991.

1964 was the start of “British invasion” when bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones flooded the American charts. But contrary to popular belief, these bands didn’t initiate the rock revolution, they were merely following existing trends.

The rise of new technologies — such as synthesizers, samplers and drum machines — in the 1980s ushered in a new style of music, personified in bands like Duran Duran or the Eurythmics.

But then hip-hop exploded into the mainstream in the 1990s, sparking the biggest music revolution in 50 years.

“The rise of rap and related genres appears, then, to be the single most important event that has shaped the musical structure of the American charts in the period that we studied,” Mauch said.

TIME Research

How Onions May Be Used as Artificial Muscles

Onions can bend, contract and elongate just like muscles

Imagine getting an onion transplant to replace an injured muscle. It may sound absurd, but new research published in the journal Applied Physics Letters suggests that onions have ideal properties for use as artificial muscles.

Researchers from the National Taiwan University in Taipei put onions through a variety of tests to measure their potential as artificial muscles. First, the researchers removed a single layer of the inside of the onion. They then freeze-dried the cells to remove water that could cause rupturing later on. Finally, they added small layers if gold to allow the onion to respond to electric current prompting it to move.

In the end, they found that onions bend, contract and elongate in response to external action, just like muscles. When the researchers applied the right voltage to the onion, it would contract and grip a ball of cotton.

Vegetable cells are promising for use in the body because they can perform many of the same functions when they are no longer living, unlike many other cells. “People have tried to use live muscle before. But then how to keep the muscle cells alive becomes a problem. We use vegetable cells because the cell walls provide muscle strength whether the cells are alive or not,” Wen-Pin Shih, a study researcher, told Smithsonian magazine.

Still, researchers say issues remain that may make it difficult to use onions in human beings. For one, the voltage required to trigger the movement may be too high.

TIME Research

This Is How People Judge How Smart You Are

How smart we are is best conveyed through our voice

A new study from researchers at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business suggest that when giving a pitch, an interviewee’s voice—not what they’ve written down—is what’s most convincing when it comes to gauging intellect.

In the study, published in the journal Psychological Science, the researchers conducted several experiments using MBA students. They videotaped the students while they were giving elevator pitches. Prospective employers or professional recruiters then watched, listened to or read transcripts of those pitches.

The researchers found that the evaluators rated the job candidates as more intelligent, thoughtful, and competent when they heard their pitch as opposed to when they read it. Showing the evaluators the video didn’t impact the results of the evaluations any more than hearing the candidate’s voice.

“Our data does not show that appearances don’t matter,” says study author Nicholas Epley, a professor at he University of Chicago Booth School of Business. “What they show is that your intelligence is not necessarily something I can see on your body, but I think it’s a cue that we can pick up or hear in your voice.”

MBA students didn’t expect this to be the case. “People seem to be afraid of sounding stupid or something, but in fact, they seem to be in danger of seeming stupid when they type,” says Epley.

In the context of a job interview, Epley says their data suggests that if there’s an opportunity to speak to someone directly, you should take it.

Epley also adds that the study sheds light on why people treat each other terribly on the Internet. “We think this gets to something really fundamental in social life,” he says. “We think this speaks to a broader capacity to recognize that other people are human beings. And the capacity to recognize someone’s mind, we think comes quite literally through their voice. So much of our conversations and interactions with each other are done digitally with the voice stripped out. I don’t think it’s any accident that people online people seem to treat each other as mindless idiots.”

Though the study is still preliminary, it reminds us that in certain contexts we can fail to recognize someone’s mind, or humanity, because they may not have much of a voice.

TIME Research

U.S. Ranks Worst Developed Country for Maternal Health

But there's plenty of room for improvement

A woman in the United States faces a one in 1,800 risk of maternal death, according to an annual report by the charity Save the Children, the worst of any developed country in the world. What’s more, they’re more than 10 times as likely to die from a cause related to pregnancy as those in Belarus, Poland and Austria.

The State of the World’s Mothers 2015 report, a global index that ranks the best and worst places to be a mother based on the latest available data on indicators like political status, economics, education, children’s well-being and maternal health, ranks the U.S. at No. 33 of 179 surveyed countries—down two spots from last year.

The U.S. ranked No. 42 on children’s well-being, No. 61 on maternal health and No. 89 for political status—or the participation of women in national government. Among the other statistics, the report finds that an American child under the age of 5 is nearly just as likely to die (6.9 per 1,000 live births) as one in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Slovakia or Macedonia.

Of the 25 capital cities of wealthy countries surveyed, the report finds Washington, D.C., had the highest rate of infant mortality (7.9 deaths per 1,000 live births as of 2012). In comparison, cities like Stockholm and Oslo had rates below 2.0. Washington’s rate fell in 2013, to 6.6, but a number of major American cities have had rates much higher. In 2011, Detroit’s rate was reported at 12.4, and in Cleveland, it was 14.1.

Prematurity was considered a major factor in the Detroit rate, but others included insufficient prenatal care, a dearth of education and poverty. Save the Children found race to be a factor, too.

The national average for deaths per live births in the U.S. is 6.1 per 1,000, but the report finds it’s much higher for unwed, poor and young black mothers. As one example, a black mom in San Francisco is six times more likely than a white one to lose her baby before its first birthday.

The overall top 10 included Norway, Finland, Iceland, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Australia and Belgium. The bottom 10 were Haiti and Sierra Leone (tied), Guinea-Bissau, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, Niger, Mali, Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Somalia.

Read the full report here.

TIME Research

Can Antidepressants Be Safe for Kids?

A new study looks into how antidepressants can best be used to help kids quickly without initial side effects

Currently, antidepressants carry a “black box warning” cautioning people that the pills can cause an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors. But researchers in a new study published in the journal Translational Psychiatry have taken a closer look at what exactly is causing these behaviors, and how to avoid them.

The warning was first affixed to antidepressants 10 years ago, after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that a phenomena of increased “suicidality”—which means suicidal thoughts and behaviors, as opposed to actual suicide—could occur in young people who begin taking antidepressants.

As TIME has previously reported, many in the psychiatry community were upset by the addition of the warning, saying it discourages prescribing the drugs to people who need them. Depression is the greatest risk for suicide, not antidepressants, they argue.

In the new study, researchers decided to take a closer look at what exactly was happening when young people started on antidepressants. It’s been known for some time that often, when people take antidepressants, the individuals’ symptoms can get worse before they get better. Dr. Adam Kaplin, an assistant professor of psychiatry and neurology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and his colleagues looked closely at this period, and how this adjustment period might be mitigated in young people.

Serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI) cause serotonin levels to rise. But there is a receptor in the brain called the 5-HT1AR, which acts like a break and prevents this from happening. Eventually, the receptor regulates, and allows serotonin levels to increase, but before that happens, patients can feel worse. The researchers tested this with mice, and showed that mice became anxious when they were first given an SSRI. But when the researchers gave these mice drugs that blocked the 5-HT1AR receptor in addition to the SSRI, the mice fared better.

“Not only did it completely reverse that anxiety, it made them less anxious than they were at baseline. It made the SSRI’s positive effects kick in almost immediately,” says Kaplin.

Currently, fluoxetine (Prozac) is the slowest-acting SSRI, and the only one approved for kids ages 8 to 12, the authors say. The researchers used a computer simulation to determine how long the adjustment period is for other types of SSRIs as well. They found that starting with half the normal dose and slowly increasing to the full dose over the course of a month was the best strategy for limiting the downside that comes with the adjustment period.

The researchers say they hope their study sheds light on what’s happening when kids start on antidepressants, and what an appropriate dosing strategy may look like. “We are saying, Look, these drugs are perfectly safe once you understand them, and you understand that you have to start them low and go slow or add something that blocks the 5-HT1AR receptor,” says Kaplin. “We are trying to say this is not a mystery. We understand the mechanism.”

Currently there are no drugs that effectively block the 5-HT1AR receptor in the way the researchers would like, but Kaplin says they are looking for a company that may be interested in developing one for human use.

 

TIME Research

See How What Makes Us Happy Has Changed Over the Past 80 Years

Man jumping in mid air on beach
Daniel Ingold—Cultura RF/Getty Images

These days we consider good humor and leisure time to be crucial to our happiness

Psychologists from the University of Bolton in the U.K. have re-created a famous study conducted in the same town almost eight decades ago that sought to find out what made people happy.

In 1938, an advert was placed in the local paper asking readers “What is happiness?” reports Science Daily. After rating the importance of 10 factors from 226 people, researchers found that people believed security, knowledge and religion were the most important aspects of happiness.

Last year, Sandie McHugh and Professor Jerome Carson repeated the social experiment and found that while security was still in the top three, good humor and leisure came in poll position.

Meanwhile, religion, which was the third most important factor in 1938, has fallen to the bottom of the current list. In 1938, most people said they were happiest at home in Bolton, whereas today 63% said they were happier away from the town.

One factor that hasn’t changed, though, is the importance people place on luck — 40% believed good fortune was vital to their happiness both back then and in 2014. And in both eras, most people said they didn’t think happiness was related to material possessions and wealth.

“The overall impression from the correspondence in 1938 is that happiness factors were rooted in everyday lives at home and within the community,” said McHugh. “In 2014, many comments value family and friends, with good humor and leisure time also ranked highly.”

[Science Daily]

Read next: 7 Easy Happiness Boosters According to Harvard Research

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