Help Mississippi Lose Weight

Not only is Mississippi the hardest state to spell, it may also be the fattest. According to a recent article on, Mississippi is the most obese state in the United States with an adult obesity rate of 33%. The state also has the highest rate of overweight and obese children in the U.S.

Paul Lacoste, a former professional football player, has launched his crusade to make Mississippi slim down. ”It’s time for Mississippi to get in shape and show the world we can beat obesity,” said Lacoste.

Lacoste is leading a 12-week fitness program for all of Mississippi while trying to avoid partisan politics. To learn more about Lacoste’s program, visit HERE.  The entire article can also be viewed HERE.


Just When You Think You’re Boring

Next time the person with whom you are conversing appears to lose interest, be careful. The ability to follow his or her gaze direction may keep you safe as it is an important way to detect predators, to recognize important social events nearby, and to anticipate what may happen next.  Understanding attention and inattention is a critical component to understanding the mind.

In a recent article published in PLoS ONE, Friederike Range and Zsofi Viranyi at the University of Vienna explains that animals often follow the gaze of other animals not just into the distance, but also around barriers. The researches found this uncommon cognitively advanced task in animals like the wolves, for example. Hand-raised wolves avoided an obstacle in order to check where another animate object (like a person) was looking, an indication that gaze following past barriers is not an advanced skill limited to primates.

The researchers contend that this information may shed light on the evolutionary origins of gaze following, offering new theories about the selective process as it affects attention coordination. The entire article can be viewed HERE.

The Language Of More Than One

A recent study has concluded that speaking more than one language can bolster the brain, serving as a “mental gymnasium” of sorts. The same study found that bilingual speakers often outperform monolinguals (people who speak only one language) in certain mental acumen evaluations, such as eliminating irrelevant information from a conversation and focusing on matters of importance. These same skills make bilinguals better at prioritizing tasks as well as multitasking.

“We would probably refer to most of these cognitive advantages as multi-tasking,” said Judith Kroll, Director of the Center for Language Science at Penn State University. “Bilinguals seem to be better at this type of perspective taking. The received wisdom was that bilingualism created confusion, especially in children,” Kroll told attendees at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C. “The belief was that people who could speak two or more languages had difficulty using either. The bottom line is that bilingualism is good for you.”

Researchers trace the source of these enhanced multi-tasking skills to the way bilinguals mentally negotiate between the languages, a skill that Kroll refers to as mental juggling. Bilinguals often slip in and out of both languages, carefully choosing the word or phrase from one language that best articulates their thoughts. At the same time, however, fluent bilinguals rarely slip into another language by accident when they converse with someone who understands only one language.

Kroll continued: “The important thing that we have found is that both languages are open for bilinguals; in other words, there are alternatives available in both languages. Even though language choices may be on the tip of their tongue, bilinguals rarely make a wrong choice.”

Kroll noted that these enhanced skills of bilinguals do not necessarily make them more intelligent or event better learners. “Bilinguals simply acquire specific types of expertise that help them attend to critical tasks and ignore irrelevant information.” Kroll compared the process of language selection to a form of mental exercise. “The bilingual is somehow able to negotiate between the competition of the languages. The speculation is that these cognitive skills come from this juggling of languages.”


Mercury and Medicine

The letters “Hg” stand for mercury, also known as quicksilver or hydrargyrum, a chemical element identified with the  symbol “Hg” (a Latin and Greek hybrid: hydrargyrum, from “hydr-” meaning watery or runny and “argyros” meaning silver). The atomic number for mercury is 80.

An extremely toxic chemical, Mercury was historically a  medicinal panacea, used for centuries to cure a simple scrape on the knee all the way up to syphilis.

Medicinal uses for Mercury trace back as far as 1500 BC. In ancient China and Tibet, it was believed that mercury could prolong life, heal fractures, and maintain generally good health. The ancient Greeks used mercury in ointments; the ancient Egyptians and the Romans used  the compound in cosmetics, although this led to deformations in the face.

Mercury was prescribed in either a pill or liquid form throughout the 19th century to treat various conditions, including constipation, depression, and toothaches, as well as to assist in child-bearing. In the beginning of the 20th century, doctors prescribed mercury to children on an annual basis as both laxative and dewormer. Mercury was also used in teething powders for infants.

The photo at the right shows the side effects when one physician treated his patient’s cold with “calomel,” a Mercury-based potion thought to make patients salivate and flush the body of “bad humors.” The toxic nature of mercury was simply unknown at the time.

Typically, mercury can be inhaled and absorbed through the skin, and exposure overall is very dangerous. Some side effects from Mercury exposure include tremors, chest pain, dyspnea, cough, violent muscular spasms, loss of memory, psychotic reactions, hallucinations, and suicidal tendencies.

Today, Mercury is still used in thermometers, barometers, manometers sphygmomanometers, float valves, some electrical switches, and other scientific apparati, although concerns about the element’s toxicity have led to the phasing out of many such devices. To replace Hg, alcohol-filled, digital, or thermistor-based instruments have found favor in clinical settings.

Smile, But Only If You Mean It

In a recent study published in the Academy of Management Journal, researchers followed a group of bus drivers for two weeks. They selected this group because bus drivers generally must engage in frequent, and hopefully courteous, interactions with people.

The study examined what transpired when the drivers engaged in “fake smiling,” also known as “surface acting.” This was compared with “deep acting,” described as authentic smiles through positive thinking.

The researchers concluded that when the bus drivers forced a smile, their moods deteriorated, and they tended to withdraw from work.  The attempt to suppress those negative thoughts, apparently, may create the persistence of these memories.

On the other hand, when the bus drivers tried to display smiles associated with pleasant thoughts and memories, their overall moods improved, and their productivity increased. Overall, the study concluded that hiding displeasure with an inauthentic smile may actually worsen your mood.

California’s Evolving Health Exchange Under PPACA

Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), each state must establish its own health benefit exchange by 2014. The following table prepared by Ed Neuschler and Rick Curtis of the Institute for Health Policy Solutions compare California’s proposed exchange (AB 1602/SB 900) with the requirements under PPACA.

The chart compares state and federal guidelines, including:

  • Exchange governance
  • Funding
  • Certification and contracting
  • Products
  • Premium collection
  • Plan Payment
  • The small employer market
  • Eligibility and enrollment

California’s Insurance Exchange vs. PPACA

Lost Hospital — Carville Hospital (Gillis W. Long Hansen’s Disease/Leprosy Center), Carville, Louisiana

Hansen’s disease, also known as Leprosy, is caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium leprae and Mycobacterium lepromatosis. The disease, named after physician Gerhard Armauer Hansen, typically presents itself with visible skin lesions, and if left untreated, can progress and cause permanent damage to the skin, nerves, limbs and eyes.

Leprosy may be one of the oldest diseases in history, first documented in an Egyptian papyrus circa 1550 B.C.

In 1921, the United States Public Health Service established the nation’s first “leprosarium,” located in modern day Carville, Louisiana. The leprosarium was a sanctuary of sorts for leprosy patients, as well as an academic and treating hospital for leprosy.  What eventually came to be known as “Carville” was a refuge for leprosy patients and a premier center in the efforts to to find a cure for the disease.

Carville’s history predates federal intervention, however. Dr. Isadore Dyer, an established academic figure on the subject of leprosy, helped negotiate the acquisition in 1925 of an area near the Robert Coleman Camp on a tract of land he purchased and quickly converted into a sugar plantation. Around 1857 Dyer built an elegant home on the campus that he used before and after the American Civil War for various purposes, including the treatment of leprosy.

By 1902 the facility housed up to 62 patients. By 1905 the State of Louisiana purchased the property and made some necessary improvements.  By 1917, however, the U.S. Public Health Service was looking to establish a site as a treatment center for leprosy, and the federal government assumed operations of the hospital in January 1921.

By 1923 the hospital expanded to house 425 patients, although even with these modern changes, the disease had strong connections with isolation and hopelessness. The hospital was indeed  more like a prison in many ways.

By 1931, however, conditions at Carville transitioned from prison-like into a campus dedicated to treatment, research, and care for voluntary leprosy patients.

After World War II, a number of veteran patients were admitted to Carville. Indeed, the publicity generated by the American Legion on behalf of Carville was perhaps the most influential action in solidifying not only the work at, but the reputation of Carville.

In 1941, the discovery of Promin was shown to cure leprosy, although the treatment involved painful injections. Called the “Miracle of Carville,” Promin led to dapsone pills in the 1950s. Pioneered by Dr. R.G. Cochrane at Carville, dapsone pills eventually became the main treatment for leprosy. Although initially quite successful, the bacteria causing leprosy eventually developed a resistance to the treatment.

A treatment involving multiple drugs appeared in the 1970s, the results of drug trials on the island of Malti. The World Health Organization began recommending this treatment in 1981, which was a combination of three drugs: dapsone, rifampicin, and clofazimine. This treatment could take up to one year, and sometimes longer, depending on the severity of the leprosy infection.

In 1986, the Carville facility became known Gillis W. Long Hansen’s Disease (Leprosy) Center, named after a United States Congressman. During its 100 plus years of dedication to treating the disease, Carville was the home to patients who often spent a majority of their lives on its campus, and sometimes even marrying there.

Carville closed in 1998 after operating for 104 years. The buildings and grounds were transferred to the State of Louisiana in 1998, and a museum honoring the work at Carville remains open to the public.