The Commuters with the Most Health Worries

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Discovered: which commuters have more health worries, the smell of aroma molecules in chocolate, a catch with modified mosquitoes, zapping away addictive spending tendencies, and trying to debunk the "Freshman 15."

  • Little about commuting to work seems good for your health. Car, bus, and train commuters have more health complaints ("everyday stress, exhaustion, missed work days," ABC News clarifies) than those on foot or bicycle, according to a Swedish study of 21,000 people. The key word there appears to be "complaints," as the "study does not reveal whether commuting by car or public transit actually causes health problems," ABC News reported. But it's easy to understand the worries: sitting in traffic and breathing in fumes has been shown to raise heart attack risk. And, a small but maybe not entirely unrelated link, gas station pump handles were named the filthiest/germiest things you can encounter on a commute. [ABC News]
  • The individual molecules of chocolate don't smell that appealing. A little unappetizing pre-Halloween science: "A recent analysis found that the individual aroma molecules in roasted cacao beans (the primary ingredient of chocolate) can smell of everything from cooked cabbage to human sweat to raw beef fat." But, once combined, the flavor emerges: "600 of these flavor compounds melt together in just the right combination to yield the taste and scent of what we all call chocolate." The other 597 molecules must be powerfully sweet. [Scientific American
  • Researchers trying to figure out how to zap away at addictive spending. On Sunday night,  Newsweek unveiled a cover story on rebooting the addictive parts of our brains that just want instant-gratification. The article pointed to transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), which was used to "pinpoint regions of people’s brains responsible for specific functions." Newsweek explains: "In other words, if zapping an area disables that area, then anything the person can no longer do is presumably controlled by that spot." And the magazine appears to see practical implications for this research in the future: "So far, none of the researchers using TMS to map the brain have wheeled the device to a shopping mall and aimed it at people who buy $300 sunglasses and $150 T-shirts despite having contributed $0 to their savings, but the notion isn't preposterous." [Newsweek]
  • Some evidence that the 'Freshman 15' is, generally, more like a 'Freshman 3.' The idea that college students gain weight in their first year won't go away soon, but Ohio State researchers gave their best effort at debunking the cliché. An analysis of longitudinal data that began in 1997 using a sample of 7,418 people found that "women gained an average of 2.4 pounds during their freshman year, while men gained an average of 3.4 pounds. No more than 10 percent of college freshman gained 15 pounds or more -- and a quarter of freshman reported actually losing weight during their first year." [Ohio State University]
  • There could be a catch with genetically modified mosquitoes. It may seem like a good thing that mosquitoes have been engineered by a company called Oxitec to "pass a lethal gene to their offspring, killing them before they reach adulthood," as The New York Times reports from a new study. Good riddance to the pests, even before humans can spray mosquito-confusing DEET at them. But there's also this: "the research is arousing concern about possible unintended effects on public health and the environment, because once genetically modified insects are released, they cannot be recalled." More specifically, the Times informs, Oxitec has been criticized for rushing "into field testing without sufficient review and public consultation, sometimes in countries with weak regulations." [The New York Times]

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