Best, Worst Places To Be a Mom

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Motherhood has its joys and challenges, and the ratio of one to the other can vary wildly depending on where in the world a mom lives. In a list ranking 160 of the best and worst countries on the planet to be a mother, the United States was 28th from the top, according to Save the Children, the international charity that aims to help children in need. Norway topped the list, while Afghanistan came in dead last.

Countries were ranked based on the measurement of four key factors in a mother's life: her own health, economic status, political clout, and the well-being of her children.

All countries were ranked according to lifetime risk of maternal death, percentage of women using modern contraception, female life expectancy, expected number of years of formal schooling, ratio of estimated female to male earned income, participation of women in national government, and mortality rate for children under age five. In industrialized countries, additional factors considered were maternity leave benefits, number of young children enrolled in pre-school education programs and number of older children enrolled in high school.

In developing countries, meanwhile, additional factors included how frequently skilled health care workers assist with birthing babies, children's access to clean water, and the number of children enrolled in primary education program, including the ratio of girls to boys.

Here is a list of the top 10 best and worst places worldwide to be a mom.

Best Places

1. Norway
2. Australia
3. Iceland
4. Sweden
5. Denmark
6. New Zealand
7. Finland
8. Netherlands
9. Belgium
10. Germany

Worst Places
151. Equatorial Guinea
152. Eritrea
153. Sudan
154. Mali
155. DR Congo
156. Yemen
157. Guinea-Bissau
158. Chad
159. Niger
160. Afghanistan

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Embrace Infant Warmer Could Save Thousands

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(STANFORD, Calif.) -- Four Stanford University students-turned entrepreneurs have developed an innovative, inexpensive infant warmer that has the potential to save thousands of babies in the developing world.

Embrace Infant Warmers are non-electric, miniature sleeping bags that use a removable wax insert, which can be heated safely using hot water. The product is easy to sanitize and can be heated over and over again. Once the hot wax insert is placed inside the sleeping bag, it can maintain a consistent 98 degrees for four to six hours, keeping a premature or Low Birth Weight (LBW) newborn at a healthy body temperature. The team has also designed a second model for rural clinics that will use an electric heating apparatus instead of water to warm the wax.

The team's invention came out of a class assignment at Stanford's Institute of Design in 2007, when they were tasked to come up with a low-cost incubator design that could help save premature babies born into poverty.

According to World Health Organization, 20 million premature and LBW babies are born around the world every year and four million of them die within the first four weeks of life -- that's 450 babies dying every hour. Incubators are vital because the internal organs of premature babies are not fully developed at birth.

Premature and LBW babies are at an even greater risk of falling victim to hypothermia and potentially neo-natal death because there is so little fat on them. Those babies that do survive often face a lifetime of debilitating diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, and weak brain development.

By 2013, Jane Chen, part of the team that designed the product, expects the Embrace will be able to save more than 100,000 babies in India and prevent illness for as many as 800,000. She and her team are planning to expand to other developing nations in the years to come.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Breast Cancer: FDA Considers Avastin Withdrawal

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- New evidence suggests the benefits do not outweigh the risks of Avastin for treating metastatic breast cancer, according to officials at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The agency has now begun the process of withdrawal of the popular advanced breast cancer treatment.

The FDA granted an accelerated conditional approval for Avastin in February 2009 to treat late-stage breast cancer patients. The drug, it had been suggested, slowed the progression of the disease or improved overall survival.

But results from four new trials that enrolled more than 3,000 women found no significant reduction in disease progression or death among those who took Avastin along with chemotherapy.

"These trials were intended to confirm progression-free survival, and they did not," Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the FDA's Center of Drug Evaluation and Research, said at a news conference. "There was no symptomatic benefit and no effect in overall survival."

Avastin is still available to patients, but the announcement is the beginning of a regulatory withdrawal of the drug from the market. And some cancer specialists say the basis of the announcement has huge implications for the way their patients will be treated.

Still, the studies not only showed no overall benefit from the drug, but even suggested some patients had an increased risk of death because Avastin is, in some ways, toxic.

"We would encourage at this time patients to discuss with their physician what the appropriate action should be," said Dr. Richard Pazdur, director of the FDA's Office of Oncology Drug Products.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


Iowa Woman Never Experiences Fear

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(IOWA CITY, Iowa) -- Snakes, spiders, haunted houses and scary movies may evoke shrieks of fright in many people, but there's a woman in Iowa who doesn't seem to be afraid of them -- or anything else.

She goes only by the initials S.M. to protect her identity and she is the subject of a study published in the latest edition of the journal Current Biology that looked at how a certain part of the brain experiences fear.

Neurology researchers at the University of Iowa have been studying the woman for a number of years because she is one of very few people known to have damage to the amygdala on both sides of her brain. The amygdala is an almond-shaped structure that studies have shown plays a role in processing fear and other emotions, though experts say its exact role is unclear.

The damage to S.M.'s amygdala was caused by another rare condition, Urbach-Wiethe disease, which caused calcium deposits to form and cause lesions on the amygdala.

"We wanted to know: can such a patient experience fear normally in response to fear-inducing stimuli?" said Daniel Tranel, one of the study authors and professor of neurology and psychology at the University of Iowa.

To determine the impact of this rare condition on the fear response, Tranel and his colleagues exposed the woman to things that normally frighten people -- spiders, snakes, a place ranked as one of the "most haunted," and frightening film clips. They used questionnaires to assess whether she experienced the symptoms of fear over a three-year period and also asked her to rate the level of different emotions at random times for a three-month period.

S.M. reported little-to-no symptoms of fear on the questionnaires and also rated herself as fearless most often during the emotional experience sampling. However, she did experience other emotions, such as joy, happiness and sadness normally, the researchers said.

S.M. also had exposure to fearful situations in her past. She was held up at gunpoint and at knifepoint and was almost killed during a domestic incident. S.M. told researchers she did not feel fear during these life-threatening situations. She was also aware that her inability to react to fearful stimuli was not normal.

"It's very striking that she has only a rational response, not a physiological one," said Dr. Jon Shaw, professor of psychiatry at the University of Miami School of Medicine. "The body is not prepared for a physiological response because the amygdala has been taken out of the loop."

Tranel said this study, along with S.M.'s recollection of past incidents, show that the amygdala plays a vital role in how people respond to fear.

"This gives us, for the first time, really solid empirical evidence that the amygdala is critical for the induction and the experience of fear as triggered by visual and auditory stimuli," said Tranel. 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Graphic HIV/AIDS Video Horrifies Gay Community

Photo Courtesy - New York City Health Department (NEW YORK) -- A public service announcement produced by the New York City Health Department promoting condom use to prevent HIV/AIDS has horrified advocacy groups, who say it demonizes and frightens gays and those living with the disease.

The video, which aired on such cable networks as the gay and lesbian channel Logo, Bravo and the Travel Channel, chides, "When you get HIV, it's never just HIV. You're at a higher risk for dozens of diseases even if you take medications, like osteoporosis, dementia, and anal cancer."

Gay advocacy groups and blogs were barraged by complaints after viewing the video on YouTube.

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation and the Gay Men's Health Crisis in New York are demanding the video be withdrawn, saying scare tactics do not work and that the PSA is stigmatizing.

"While it's extremely important that we continue to educate New Yorkers about HIV/AIDS prevention, the sensationalized nature of the commercial, including its tabloid-like fear tactics, misses the mark in fairly and accurately representing what it's like to live with HIV/AIDS," said GLAAD President Jarrett Barrios.

"It's our hope that the department will work with us to create a PSA that promotes safety and solutions, rather than stigma and stereotype."

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Scientists Suggest Reason Political Rivals Can't See Eye to Eye 

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(LINCOLN, Neb.) -- New research suggests there may be a biological reason why some folks turn left while others turn right. Maybe liberals and conservatives literally can't quite see eye to eye.

A provocative new study out of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln suggests we may not be as open-minded as we think, and it's all because of biology. Finding a biological basis for everything from believing in God to picking a mate is all the rage these days, but this study explores new territory.

"It's well established in almost any scientific discipline that there are biological influences on behavior," Mike Dodd, lead author of the study, said in a telephone interview. "But political scientists have been kind of resistant to that because they like to think that political temperament is entirely environmentally determined. It's based on your experience."

That attitude doesn't necessarily apply to Dodd's co-authors, John R. Hibbing and Kevin B. Smith, political science professors at the university who have been searching for some time now for evidence that there is a biological component to formulating our "political temperament."

And the three believe they have found something that literally separates liberals from conservatives. These opposite ends of the political spectrum respond differently to something called "gaze cues," the shifting of a person's attention from one place to another in an attempt to see where another person is looking.

What they have found so far is liberals are easily distracted when a face on a computer screen shows a person looking one way or the other. The liberal will mimic the face's action, looking in the same direction as the face. That's called following a "gaze-cue." Conservatives were far more likely to remain fixed on the eyes of the face, less distracted.

Why? Well, this gets a little debatable. In their study, to be published in the journal Attention, Perception & Psychophysics, the researchers offer these assumptions:

Conservatives "tend to be more supportive of individualism, and less likely to be influenced by others, than those on the left." They value "personal autonomy."

Liberals, on the other hand, "are often thought of as more empathetic and more concerned with the welfare of others relative to conservatives, meaning that liberals may be more susceptible to the influence of social cues."

That stops short of saying conservatives are tough minded and liberals are wishy-washy. So the assumptions may not please everyone. But the research is intriguing.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Brr! Can Frigid Temps Lead to Weight Loss?

Author Tim Ferriss; Photo Courtesy - ABC News (NEW YORK) -- Finally, an upside to the frigid temperatures that have gripped much of the nation -- all the shivering could help shed a few pounds.

"The body wants to maintain a balance, a homeostasis of 98.6 degrees," said author Tim Ferriss, who promotes this type of "thermal dieting." "If you make it cold, the body will do everything it can to get back to 98.6. And it has to burn calories to do that -- heat equals calories."

Ferriss, the best-selling author behind The 4-Hour Workweek and the just-released The 4-Hour Body, is known for his lessons on how to manipulate the body to your advantage.

Using winter to lose that winter weight is just one example. He said people can burn up to 50 percent more calories by exposing themselves to below-freezing temperatures, which causes the body to work overtime.

"There's actually a type of fat called brown adipose tissue -- BAT," he said. "Cold can trigger this BAT. It actually produces heat, and you burn fat tissue."

But Dr. David Katz, director and founder of the Integrative Medicine Center and professor at Yale University, was doubtful and said if people were really that desperate to lose weight, they should just try diet and exercise.

He also warned that exposure to extreme cold, especially through ice baths, could cause complications in people with cardiovascular problems or even induce cardiac arrhythmia in those at risk. Ferriss himself also notes in his book that readers should consult a physician before attempting some of these techniques.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio 


Sleep-Deprived Individuals Appear Less Healthy and Attractive, Study Finds

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(LONDON) -- Did you get your beauty rest last night?

Swedish researchers say there's an important link between sleep and your physical appearance. In a study published Wednesday in the British Medical Journal, researcher John Axelsson and his team at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm found that sleep-deprived individuals appear less healthy, more tired, and less attractive than those who have received a full night's worth of sleep.

"Sleep is the body's natural beauty treatment," Axelsson said. "It's probably more effective than any other treatment you could buy."

In the study, 23 healthy adults from ages 18-31 were first photographed after eight hours of sleep, wearing no makeup. The same adults were photographed again after sleeping only five hours and being kept awake for a full 31 hours, with the same lighting and camera settings.

The photos were rated by 65 untrained observers who graded the images in these three categories -- how healthy, attractive, and tired the individuals appeared. On the whole, the participants were judged to be worse-off after sleep deprivation, in all categories, and the scientists believe the effects would be even more dramatic in person, when factors like blink rate and drowsiness could be observed.

Only one photo set was publicly released from the sample, showing a young man. After sleep deprivation, his eyes seem duller and the skin under his eyes appear puffy.

While the effects in Axelsson's research were observed after severe sleep deprivation, he says his team will soon tackle whether an occasional short night of sleep can also cause problems. This experiment called for severe deprivation because the scientists wanted to maximize any effects.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


Women Gain Less Weight Than Men...If They Exercise

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- Women may be the lucky ones when it comes to keeping the middle-age weight off -- if they put in the work.

A new study from Northwestern University researchers found that although everyone gained weight as they got older, men and women who regularly exercised gained less weight over time than those who did not. Women, especially, gained less weight when they made exercise a habit.

"Stay active," said Dr. Arlene Hankinson, an instructor in the department of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. "It's not just achieving a high level of activity. The difficult part is maintaining that level throughout your life."

More than 3,500 adults from four major cities took part in the 20-year study. Inactive women gained about 13 more pounds than those who were active. Sedentary men gained only about six more pounds than their exercising counterparts.

To measure results, researchers asked study participants questions on how often they undertook 13 different moderate to vigorous activities, including sports, jogging, housework and construction.

The highest activity levels were defined as 150 or more minutes per week of exercise.

The authors also noted that people who reported moderate or inconsistent activity levels generally had a similar outcome to those who reported low daily activity.

"It's important to understand that the type of activity is probably not as important as the moderate to vigorous intensity and how often someone is doing it," said Hankinson. "You don't have to look for a dramatically high intensity of activity as long you're able to maintain it."

Dr. Robert H. Eckel, professor of medicine, physiology and biophysics at the University of Colorado Denver Anschutz Medical Campus, said it was important to cite the difference between the effects of diet and exercise.

"Losing weight is diet (caloric intake), whereas prevention of weight gain is more physical activity," Eckel wrote in an e-mail. "I'm not sure what to make of the male-female difference, but [it] might have something to do with that group of women who are committed or obsessed with maintaining their shape and weight." 

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio


CDC Report: 48 Million Americans Contract Foodborne Illnesses Annually

Photo Courtesy - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(WASHINGTON) -- Roughly one-out-of-six Americans, or 48 million people, get sick from foodborne illnesses each year, according to the latest report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Of the 48 million people affected, 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000 die.

In the first report issued on the rates of foodborne illnesses in the U.S. since 1999, the CDC notes that although there are 31 known pathogens that cause foodborne illnesses, the majority of cases are caused by unspecified agents.

Furthermore, findings show that 90 percent of known pathogen illnesses are caused by only seven "bugs" -- the most common being the norovirus, which accounts for about 58 percent of annual known pathogen foodborne illnesses.  The other top four are salmonella, C. perfringens, Campylobacter spp., and Staphylococcus aureus, the pathogen responsible for staph infections.

Over the past decade, the rate of foodborne illnesses caused by many known pathogens has decreased by 20 percent, but the CDC emphasizes that there is a need for greater emphasis on prevention.  Reducing foodborne illnesses by just one percent  would keep 500,000 Americans from getting sick each year.

Copyright 2010 ABC News Radio

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