Discovered: BPA causes concern; thin people often less healthy than fat peers; Neandertals accessorized with feathers; baby boys shouldn't be given pacifiers.
Soda can chemicals correlated with obesity. We already know that swilling too much sugary soda is a fast path to obesity. But now we also have cause for concern about the cans containing that carbonated high fructose goodness, specifically the chemicals coating their insides. Research from NYU's Leonardo Trasande and colleagues now suggests that commonly used Bisphenol-A (BPA) correlated with the rise of childhood and teen obesity. "This is the first association of an environmental chemical in childhood obesity in a large, nationally representative sample," Trasande says, referring to the data he studied from 2003 to 2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. He found that children with high levels of BPA in their systems were 2.6 times more likely to be obese than kids who had low levels. This isn't the first strike against BPA. It has also been linked to reproductive problems and pregnancy hazards. Earlier this year, the FDA banned BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups, but it's still allowed in aluminum cans and other containers. [Smithsonian]
For beating the odds against disease, thin may not be in. "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels," says Kate Moss. But skinny might not feel so great once you digest the "obesity paradox," which shows that thin people suffering from certain chronic illnesses are more likely to die from them than similarly afflicted overweight people. The New York Times brings us up to speed on the research being done around this issue. The John Ochsner Heart and Vascular Institute's Carl Lavie was an early observer, documenting higher mortality rates for thin people experiencing heart failure back in 2002. A slew of subsequent studies have connected the obesity paradox with heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, hypertension and diabetes. Why do thin people fare so poorly? Perhaps their bodies enter a self-consuming catabolic state when fighting disease. Or maybe genetic variations between thin and overweight people aggravate conditions. Perhaps doctors aren't offering thin people enough treatment because they're thought to be naturally healthier. Maybe body mass index isn't an appropriate measurement, resulting in an overstatement of the paradox. In any case, maintaining heart health should be a priority for both fat and thin people, says Arizona State University's Glenn Gaesser. "More often than not, cardiovascular fitness is a far more important predictor of mortality risk than just knowing what you weigh." [The New York Times]
Cavemen wore feathers for decoration. What do Etsy shoppers and Neandertals have in common? A love of feathery accessories, according to new research from paleontologist Clive Finlayson, zooarchaeologist Jordi Rosell and colleagues. Their fieldwork in Gibraltar shows that Neandertals were more sophisticated than previously thought, and that they hunted ravens and other birds not for food, but for their pretty feathers. They likely wore these feathers as decoration, as humans still do. "We don’t think it’s a coincidence that so many modern human cultures across the world have used them," says Finlayson. This isn't just a cute finding—it could change how we think about Neandertals. Maybe they weren't dimwitted proto-people simply focussed on finding food and shelter. Maybe they also had a passion for fashion, something thought to be distinctly homo sapiens. "It means they had color symbolism," says Stony Brook University's John Shea, commenting on the research. "They were able to imbue colors in their natural world with some kind of arbitrary meaning."
Science wants to pull pacifiers out of baby boys' mouths. Men who feel emotionally stunted now have a convenient new scapegoat for their problems: the pacifier. By studying young children who exhibited varying degrees of pacifier reliance as babies, psychologists from the University of Wisconsin, Madison have found that pacifiers stunt emotional development in baby boys. They theorize that the pacifiers prevent babies from trying out different facial expressions, a key step in infants' emotional development. "By reflecting what another person is doing, you create some part of the feeling yourself," says Paula Niedenthal, who led the study. The effect was not observed in girl babies though, perhaps because they begin emotional development before or despite pacifier usage. [University of Wisconsin, Madison]