Science Now
Discoveries from the world of science and medicine
Study: Being overweight or obese led to 481,000 cancers in one year

Looking for ways to reduce your risk of cancer? Try losing weight.

A new study estimates that 3.6% of cancers diagnosed around the world in 2012 could be traced to the excess weight of patients. That works out to 481,000 cases of cancer in adults who were at least 30 years old, according to the report in Lancet Oncology.

About 23% of these cancers were diagnosed in North America, where the proportion of cancers that could be traced to people’s extra pounds was highest. An additional 14% of these weight-related cancers were diagnosed in East Asia, where the risk due to extra weight was low but the population is so large that the patients added up.

The international research team found that countries with a “high” or “very high” human development index – a measure of a nation’s wealth known as HDI – could blame a higher fraction of their cancers on extra weight than could countries with a “moderate” or “low” HDI. In fact, the proportion of cancers linked to excess weight in the richest...

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Are dogs sloppy or smart drinkers? Both, it turns out

Dogs aren’t known to be the most graceful of drinkers – place a bowl of water in front of a thirsty canine and you’re likely to see much of its contents splattered across the floor. But researchers who have studied the exquisite lapping strategy of the cat have found that even though dogs seem sloppy when they have a drink, they have a clever strategy of their own.

The findings, described at the American Physical Society’s Division of Fluid Dynamics meeting in San Francisco, provide fresh insight on this basic and yet still mysterious animal behavior.

When it comes to getting a mouthful of water, different animals have distinct strategies, said research co-author Sunghwan Jung, an assistant professor at Virginia Tech.

Some, like humans, employ suction -- we use our cheeks to create negative pressure in our mouths, vacuuming in liquid from the lip of a cup or through a straw. Carnivores, including those from the canine and feline families such as wolves and lions, lack complete cheeks....

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Toxic gut bacteria help vultures digest their rotten lunch, study says

The turkey vulture is a wonder of nature. In a gross way.

It urinates directly on its own legs. It frequently projectile-vomits. Nearly every meal it eats would cause food poisoning in humans. And if an animal's hide is too thick, it will begin to tear into its food through a natural orifice, frequently the anus. 

Now, a new study suggests that the microbial population of the vulture's gut is composed primarily of two bacteria, both of which are toxic to vertebrates. 

"They are really neat birds, once you get all over the gross stuff," said Keith Bildstein, director of conservation science at Hawk Mountain in Kempton, Pa., who was not involved in the study.

When a vulture encounters a dead deer, cow or bird, it is also encountering millions of bacteria that are busily secreting chemical poisons in the process of digesting the animal's remains, explains Bildstein. This is an effective strategy for the bacteria -- it allows them to eat the animal and keep other organisms at bay that...

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FDA unveils new national calorie-posting rules

Movie theater chains will have to inform patrons how many calories are in those giant buckets of popcorn and restaurants with at least 20 locations will have to reveal the calorie content of their specialty cocktails under new rules unveiled by the Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA rules, published Tuesday, aim to set a national standard for posting calorie information on virtually all menu items sold in chain restaurants, entertainment venues and vending machines. When fully implemented two years from now, they will bring uniformity to the patchwork of state and local calorie-posting requirements that exist today.

The rules, drafted under a provision of the Affordable Care Act, will apply to chains that have 20 or more locations operating under the same name and offering “basically the same menu items,” the FDA said.

“Increased awareness about the choices we make certainly does not mean that we always eat what is healthy,” FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg wrote Tuesday on her...

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Brown bag school lunches have little nutrition -- lots of dessert

What could be more wholesome for students than a bag lunch packed at home? A lunch from the school cafeteria.

Researchers found that the typical lunch brought from home contained far fewer vegetables, fruit, meat (or meat alternatives) and whole grains than federal nutrition standards advised.

They also included too much salt, soda and dessert, according to a report published Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics by researchers who observed 337 kids at a dozen elementary and middle schools in Houston.

Since 2012, schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program have had to serve meals that meet the standards set down in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. But there’s no such requirement for those who fill the lunch boxes and brown bags that children take to school.

And in the Houston schools studied, you could certainly tell.

The gaps between the food served at school and the food brought from home were not small:

-- School lunches included 2.5 cups of fruit, but...

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Among chimps, mothers of boys are more outgoing than mothers of girls

When it comes to raising their young, chimpanzee mothers are more socially outgoing and gregarious if they are caring for a boy, as opposed to a girl, according to a new study.

In a paper published Monday in the journal PNAS, researchers concluded that chimpanzee mothers in Gombe National Park in Tanzania were far more likely to spend time with larger groups of chimps if their offspring were male, especially during their offspring's first six months.

The conclusions, which were based on documented observations between 1974 and 2011, raise questions not only about how the gender roles of chimpanzees are shaped by maternal behavior, but what it may or may not say about our own evolution, according to the study authors.

Primate mothers play a key role in the social development of their offspring, and research suggests that depriving an infant of its mother's attention can foster anxiety, inappropriate aggression and an inability to form social relationships.

In the case of chimpanzees,...

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