May 7, 2013,
Volume 59, No. 32
Concern About Health Effects of Hydraulic Fracturing
Residents living in areas near natural gas operations, also known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, are concerned their illnesses may be a result of nearby drilling operations. Twenty-two percent of the participants in a small pilot study surmise that hydrofracking may be the cause of such health concerns as sinus problems, sleeping difficulties and gastrointestinal problems.
The findings were presented at the American Occupational Health Conference on April 28 in Orlando, Florida.
Scientists collected responses from 72 adults visiting a primary care physician’s office in the hydrofracking-heavy area of Bradford County, Pennsylvania, who volunteered to complete an investigator-faciliated survey.
“Almost a quarter of participants consider natural gas operations to be a contributor to their health issues, indicating that there is clearly a concern among residents that should be addressed,” says Dr. Pouné Saberi, the study’s principal investigator with the department of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania. She is also an investigator with the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology (CEET) at Penn.
Within these 22 percent of responders, 13 percent viewed drilling to be the cause of their current health complaints and 9 percent were concerned that future health problems can be caused by natural gas operations. The previous health complaints by participants were thought to be anecdotal in nature as they were individual cases reported publicly only by popular media.
“What is significant about this study is that the prevalence of impressions about medical symptoms attributed to natural gas operations had not been previously solicited in Pennsylvania. This survey indicates that there is a larger group of people with health concerns than originally assumed,” explains Dr. Saberi.
The survey included questions about 29 health symptoms, including those previously anecdotally reported by other residents and workers in other areas where drilling occurs. Some patient medical records were also reviewed to compare reported symptoms with those that had been previously documented.
“Sinus problems, sleeping difficulties and gastrointestinal problems were the most common symptoms reported on the Bradford survey,” notes Dr. Saberi.
“We hope this pilot study will guide the development of future epidemiological studies to determine whether health effects in communities in which natural gas operations are occurring is associated with air, water and food-shed exposures and will provide a basis for health care provider education,” says CEET director Dr. Trevor Penning. “The goal of science should be to protect the public and the environment before harm occurs; not simply to treat it after the damage has been done.”
Philadelphia's Shift to a Northern Accent
A new study by University of Pennsylvania linguists shows that the Philadelphia accent has changed in the last century. The traditional Southern inflections associated with Philadelphia native-born speakers are increasingly being displaced by Northern influences.
“A Hundred Years of Sound Change,” published in the March issue of the journal Language, documents Philadelphia’s changing accent through an analysis of speech patterns of city residents spanning more than a century.
The study is co-authored by Dr. William Labov, professor of linguistics and director of Penn’s Linguistics Laboratory; Josef Fruehwald, a doctoral candidate in linguistics at Penn; and Dr. Ingrid Rosenfelder, a postdoctoral student at Penn at the time of the National Science Foundation-supported study.
Dr. Labov and his team developed new computational methods to research the way in which vowels have been pronounced by Philadelphians since 1973.
“This is a breathtaking view of language change over a long period of time,” Dr. Labov said. Approximately 1,000 people were involved in the study with 380 analyzed so far.
Nearly a million measurements show that two-thirds of the Philadelphia vowels are in the process of change. In one instance, the vowel used in the word “ate” has steadily moved closer to the vowel of “eat,” as shown by the speaker’s date of birth from 1888 to 1992. The change in progress affects equally people of all educational levels, both men and women.
“A ‘snake’ in the grass becomes a ‘sneak’ in the grass as the long vowel ‘a’ is pronounced with the speaker’s jaw in a higher position,” Dr. Labov said.
The vowel of “out” and “down” has reversed direction, after moving toward a distinctively different Philadelphia sound for the first half of the century. For those born in the 1950s and later, this vowel moved progressively back towards the position it held in 1900.
The paper looks for an explanation of these differences in the relation of Philadelphia to its geographic neighbors. In the earlier period, many Philadelphia features resembled those found in Southern dialects, and these are the changes that have reversed direction.
Those that have not are movements towards patterns heard in the Northern dialects of western New England, New York state and the Great Lakes Region. The “Northernization” of the Philadelphia region is related to other findings on the direction of linguistic change in North America.
Local dialects are receding among younger speakers in the Southern states, while new sound changes are advancing steadily among younger speakers in the North. The full study is available at http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/language/v089/89.1.labov.html
Increasing Sleep and Reducing Adolescent Obesity
Increasing the number of hours of sleep adolescents get each night may reduce the prevalence of adolescent obesity, according to a new study by researchers from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. Results of the study show that fewer hours of sleep is associated with greater increases in adolescent body mass index (BMI) for participants between 14– and 18-years old. The findings suggest that increasing sleep duration to 10 hours per day, especially for those in the upper half of the BMI distribution, could help to reduce the prevalence of adolescent obesity. Full results of the study are available online in the latest issue of Pediatrics.
Previous studies have shown that a correlation exists between short sleep and obesity, but until now few have been able to rule out other variables such as time spent watching television and being physically active. The new study observed over 1,000 Philadelphia-area high school students from their freshmen through senior high school years. At six month intervals, study participants were asked to report their sleep patterns. At the same intervals heights and weights were reported and BMIs were calculated. Study authors suggest the results could have far-reaching implications and aid in reducing the high levels of adolescent obesity in the US.
“The psychosocial and physical consequences of adolescent obesity are well documented, yet the rate has more than tripled over the last four decades,” says lead author Dr. Jonathan A. Mitchell, a postdoctoral fellow in the Center for Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Penn Medicine. “What we found in following these adolescents is that each additional hour of sleep was associated with a reduced BMI for all participants, but the reduction was greater for those with higher BMIs. The study is further evidence to support that getting more sleep each night has substantial health benefits during this crucial developmental period.”
Overall, researchers noted the strength of the association between sleep and BMI was weaker at the lower tail of the BMI distribution, compared to the upper tail. For example, each additional hour of sleep was associated with only a slight reduction in BMI (0.07 kg/m2) at the 10th BMI percentile. In comparison, at the 50th percentile a higher reduction in BMI was observed (0.17 kg/m2), and at the 90th percentile an even greater reduction in BMI was observed (0.28 kg/m2). Importantly, the relationship between sleep duration and BMI remained after adjusting for time spent in front of computer and television screens and being physically active, leading to the conclusion that more sleep could contribute to the prevention of adolescent obesity, even if national screen time and physical activity guidelines are met.
Most with PTSD Getting the Wrong Therapy
There are psychological interventions that effectively ameliorate the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, but most are not treated, US researchers say.
Trauma expert Dr. Edna Foa, professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry and director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety, of the University of Pennsylvania, pioneered the use of prolonged exposure therapy in which patients approach—in both imaginary and real-life settings—situations, places, and people they have been avoiding. The repeated exposure to the perceived threat denies individuals’ expectations of experiencing harm and, over time, leads to a reduction in their fear.
Dr. Foa, Dr. Seth Gillihan of Haverford College in Pennsylvania and Dr. Richard Bryant of the University of New South Wales in Sydney reviewed studies describing interventions that can effectively treat PTSD.
The researchers found prolonged exposure therapy and other forms of cognitive behavioral therapy proved highly effective in addressing the distress and dysfunctional problems that trauma victims experience.
However, they also found the majority of mental health professionals did not use such evidence-based treatments when working with patients suffering from PTSD.
Instead, many clinicians are using individualized psychotherapy which focuses on the underlying causes of one’s problems and symptoms. But studies show scant evidence that psychodynamic therapy—which focuses on such issues as difficult childhood relationship with parents—effectively eases PTSD symptoms, the researchers found.
The findings were published in the Psychological Science in the Public Interest.
May 7, 2013, Volume 59, No. 32