Vol. 149 June 1, 2016 Jargon Update, Placebo Prices May Count, and Visual Acuity in Kids and Baseball Players

Hub thumbnail 2015Jargon Update

Babylag” : the sleep deprivation symptoms experienced by 50% (gender not identified) of new parents; worse than jet lag because they can be cumulative.

“Brobats” : Robots, six times the size of human sperm cells, that move and turn by wriggling their tails; aka MagnetoSperm; may eventually be used to deliver drugs through the bloodstream.

Connectomics” : the study of “connectopathies” like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, depression, and autism spectrum disorders; spurred by the increasing use of functional MRIs (fMRI) as a non-invasive brain imaging.

Placebome” (pronounced Pla-SE-bom): the network of 10 genes that predisposes people to respond to a placebo; moving forward on personalized medicine is a long-standing goal of he Human Genome Project.

Placebos believed to be expensive may work better than those believed to be cheaper.

One or two of those 10 genes may be associated with what’s in your wallet.   The Washington Post (1/29/16, Bernstein) “To Your Health” blog reports that investigators “found that the patients performed better on motor skills tests when they believed they were on the expensive drug, an effect that increased when they were given the expensive placebo first.” The Los Angeles Times (1/29/16, Kaplan) “Science Now” blog reports that investigators “also used functional MRI scans to assess the patients’ brain activity and found that the ‘cheap’ placebo prompted more action than the ‘expensive’ one.” The blog adds that “to the researchers, this was a sign that the patients expected less from the placebo they believed cost less, so their brains responded by doing more work.” (Huh ???) There is much more to the placebo story; a story too complex to tell in a single paragraph or understand from a single study..

Outdoor activity for prevention of myopia in children (at least in Chinese children)

The prevalence of myopia (nearsightedness) increases throughout childhood, particularly during and after puberty. Myopia often progresses as children grow older and high levels of myopia are associated with an increased risk of sight-threatening complications later in life (eg, myopic macular degeneration and retinal detachment). In a study published in JAMA; 314, October 2015 , 1913 school children in China were randomized (by school) to an additional daily 40-minute outdoor class or usual activity . The cumulative incidence rate of myopia over three years was lower in the intervention group compared with the control group (30 versus 40 percent). This is the first study to suggest an effective preventative strategy.

Increasing the amount of time children spend outdoors is a simple intervention and could be a strategy to reduce the risk of developing myopia and/or slow its progression. The effect was related to just being outdoors and had nothing to do with sports or activity.This is yet another good reason to reinstitute recess periods in elementary schools. The mechanism of the preventative effect of being outdoors is unclear. Some think that lack of exposure to sunlight for long periods is associated with myopia. Myopia is more common in high-income regions of the world presumably because those people spend less time outdoors.  “Myopia, once believed to be almost totally genetic, is in fact a socially determined disease,” and is increasing in prevalence. (SciAm June 2016, p.80)

Speaking of outdoor eyesight

Wade Boggs, whose number was just retired by the Boston Red Sox, shared “better than normal” visual acuity with fellow Baseball Hall of Famer Ted Williams. “Normal vision” (20/20) is being able to see at 20 feet what most people see at 20 feet. As the letter size increases going up the Snellen chart (designed in 1862) the denominator number increases. If you have 20/100 vision you can see clearly at 20 feet what most others can see at 100 feet. Wade Boggs’ visual acuity during his baseball career was 20/12. He could see the blue dot of the MLB logo on the ball as it rotated toward him! That and several other factors apparently accounted for his superb hitting. (Wade’s favorite game as a child was the early video “Pong” which was one of several hand-eye-coordination games that he played.)

Ted Williams, the other fantastic Red Sox hitter, had 20/15 vision. He could see the stitches on the hurtling baseball. The two had very different batting stances and styles, but were good friends. After several attempts by Ted to “correct” young Wade’s stance and swing they resolved to mostly talk about fishing.

Speaking of video games

PCs are apparently passé to babies. Most are using smartphones or tablets. In a 2013 survey of nearly 1500 U.S. parents 40% of children UNDER 2 years of age used a mobile device, an increase from 10% in 2011. (66% watched TV – no increase since 2011) Most of this was probably due to the rapid increase in smartphones in those families. Smartphone use of educational media for children up to 8 yo. in lower-income families tripled between 2011 and 2013 while PC use decreased. The same study revealed that 28% of parents felt that children’s device use decreased the time they spent with their kids while 12% felt it increased their time with them.

A study of over a thousand 13-17 year olds by the same Common Sense Media organization revealed that in 2012 the  vast majority of teenagers had their own cell phone (82%) including 41% who say they have a “smart” phone, meaning they can use it to “check email, download apps, or go online.”  Cell phone ownership varied by age (74% of 13 to 14-year olds, compared to 87% of 15 to 17-year-olds), and by income (74% of lower-income youth, compared to 84% and 86% of middle- and upper-income youth). There were no significant differences in cell phone ownership by race or by parent education. Surprisingly, the teenagers who were surveyed preferred face-to-face communication (49%) over texting (33%), but other studies have shown that the fear of being “left out” seems to compel the use of social networking via devices.

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