Friday, February 23, 2018
Perspective

A Little Perspective: Finland's baby boxes; the nose knows; roaches go belly up; and chocolate

Finland's way to reduce infant deaths

Are babies better off if they sleep in a cardboard box? For decades, the government of Finland, which has one of the world's lowest infant mortality rates, has given expectant mothers a cardboard box, which is filled with baby supplies and can double as a baby bed. Now American hospitals and public health groups have taken notice and begun to supply free baby boxes to parents with the goal of reducing sleep-related infant deaths.

But the rapid pace at which the box programs have been adopted by states and hospitals worries some experts, who say the boxes have not yet been proven to be a safe infant sleep environment or an effective tool in reducing infant mortality.

Unlike other baby products, including bassinets and cribs, the cardboard boxes aren't regulated by the Consumer Product Safety Commission and haven't been tested to meet mandatory safety standards required of all other infant sleep products on the market.

The enthusiasm for the boxes is largely because they are popular in Finland, where the infant mortality rate — 1.7 deaths per 1,000 live births — is less than one-third that of the United States. In Finland, the baby box is free to all new mothers if they obtain prenatal care by the fourth month of pregnancy.

But the box is just one aspect of the health care provided to new mothers in that country. Anita Haataja, a senior researcher at Kela, which oversees the development and delivery of the maternity packages in Finland, said there is no research proving that the boxes themselves help prevent infant deaths. Most parents in Finland don't even use the boxes as a baby bed.

Rachel Rabkin Peachman, New York Times

Your nose knows as much

It's conventional wisdom that humans' sense of smell is worse than that of other animals — dogs, mice, moles and even sharks. The truth is, humans are actually pretty good at sniffing out our world. All day long, special cells inside the nose capture chemicals from the environment, sending signals to a squished blob of brain called the olfactory bulb.

The bulb relays information to other parts of the brain that link odors to other stimuli in our environments, and to memories and emotions.

It's true that your dog is so good at sniffing partly because she has an extrasensory organ with 50 times more receptors to process scents. But it's also true that you can smell a banana just as well as she can.

Humans can follow a scent trail, researchers recently pointed out. We can detect the sour ping of vomit and decide to move to the next subway car. We can tell by a person's odor if he works in a coffee shop. And, research suggests, maybe even whether he'd be a good mate.

Joanna Klein, New York Times

Roaches die belly up. Why?

In the wild, roaches are more likely to die as the prey of birds or small animals, or possibly of old age, after an adult life span of 20 to 30 weeks for a female German cockroach. If they are not eaten, they probably end up as random parts of the organic detritus on the forest floor.

In a domestic situation, a roach may find itself on a smooth floor of polished wood, tile or stone. With a relatively high center of gravity and a smooth, rounded back, a roach that gets turned over for any reason will find it very hard to right itself without twigs, leaves or other uneven features for its legs to push against.

And if the roach has been the target of an insecticide, certain kinds of poison, notably organophosphate nerve poisons, cause muscular spasms that can flip a cockroach onto its back. These nerve poisons can inhibit an enzyme called cholinesterase, which breaks down a neurotransmitter called acetylcholine. An excess of this chemical in the nervous system leads to the spasms and interferes with muscular coordination, leaving the insect trapped on its back as it dies.

C. Claiborne Ray, New York Times

Heartening new research

Eating chocolate has been tied to a reduced risk of heart disease. Now scientists have uncovered one possible reason. Using data from a large Danish health study, researchers have found an association between chocolate consumption and a lowered risk for atrial fibrillation, the irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke, heart failure and other serious problems. The study is in Heart.

Scientists tracked diet and health in 55,502 men and women ages 50-64. They used a well-validated 192-item food-frequency questionnaire to determine chocolate consumption. During an average 14 years of follow-up, there were 3,346 diagnosed cases of atrial fibrillation.

After controlling for total calorie intake, smoking, alcohol consumption, body mass index and other factors, they found that compared with people who ate no chocolate, those who had one to three 1-ounce servings a month had a 10 percent reduced relative risk for atrial fibrillation, those who ate one serving a week had a 17 percent reduced risk, and those who ate two to six a week had a 20 percent reduced risk.

Nicholas Bakalar, New York Times

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