Feature

Health & Science

Why more women are cheating; A surprising source of X-rays; Placebos: Trick or treatment?; The problem with fat babies; Where cold germs lie in wait

Why more women are cheatingFor decades, surveys of sexual behavior have found that married men are far more likely to cheat than married women. That’s still true—but new research shows that the “adultery gap” is narrowing, especially among women under 35, says The New York Times. Everybody—male and female, young and old—is cheating more than they used to, according to sex researchers. A new study by David Atkins of the University of Washington finds that the lifetime rate of infidelity for men has risen from 20 percent over the past two decades to 28 percent today. For women, the infidelity rate has risen more dramatically, from 5 percent to 15 percent. The increase in the number of women who work long hours and travel for business is a major factor, researchers say. So are the Internet and cell phones, which enable men and women to become “intimate” at a distance, leading to actual affairs. Finally, the improved health of post-menopausal women and men over 50—along with erectile dysfunctional drugs—has kept people sexually active much longer than in the past, creating more opportunities for infidelity. Some researchers, though, wonder if the tripling of infidelity rates among women may only signify an increase in their candor in responding to sex surveys. “Men want to think women don’t cheat, and women want men to think they don’t cheat,” says Rutgers anthropologist Helen Fisher. “Therefore, the sexes have been playing a little psychological game with each other.”

A surprising source of X-raysBelieve it or not, that roll of Scotch tape on your desk is an X-ray machine. Researchers at UCLA have discovered that by unspooling a household roll of invisible tape inside a vacuum, they can create bursts of X-ray light strong enough to produce clear images of the bones in their fingers. The researchers believe the phenomenon occurs because the sticky adhesive on the back of the tape becomes positively charged as it peels, while the polyethylene roll becomes negatively charged; the resulting buildup of electrical energy results in brief, explosive bursts of X-rays. “We’re marveling at Mother Nature,” says UCLA physicist Seth Putterman, who is already looking for practical medical and scientific applications. By the way, don’t worry about being bathed in radiation next time you tear off a piece of tape: It only works when it’s done in a vacuum. Placebos: Trick or treatment?Have you ever walked into your doctor’s office with a viral infection and walked out with an antibiotic? Ever complained of fatigue and received a prescription for vitamins? If so, you’ve probably been given a placebo, says the British Medical Journal, and you’re not the only one. A survey of 679 physicians has found that up to 58 percent admit they occasionally prescribe medication for the simple reason that taking a pill—any pill—will sometimes make their patients feel better. The placebo effect is a well-documented phenomenon in which patients given fake or medically ineffective treatment, such as sugar pills, get better because they expect to get better. Rarely do doctors actually use the classic sugar pill as placebos, says the new study. Instead, today’s doctors employ the placebo effect using vitamins (38 percent), sedatives (13 percent), over-the-counter analgesics (41 percent), and antibiotics (13 percent). How do you know you’re getting a placebo? Listen to how your doctor describes his prescription. “Let’s try this,” your doctor might say. “I’m not sure it will help, but you might feel better.” 

The problem with fat babiesPregnant women who gain more than 40 pounds have twice the risk of delivering babies who will have weight problems throughout life, says a new study. The study of 40,000 women by the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Oregon found that women who exceed doctors’ recommendations for weight gain are much more likely to give birth to babies weighing more than 9 pounds. Large babies often lead to difficult births and Caesarian sections, and previous studies show they are also more likely to become overweight children and struggle with obesity as adults.

Where cold germs lie in waitIf someone in your home or office has a cold, they’re leaving viruses on everything they touch, says the Associated Press. Scientists at the University of Virginia asked 16 volunteers suffering from colds or the flu to lead them around their homes, showing them the surfaces they’d touched over the past 18 hours. Previous research has shown that cold and flu viruses can live up to three days on surfaces such as countertops and doorknobs. Tests found that six out of 10 remote controls in the homes of the sick volunteers tested positive for rhinovirus, along with eight out of 10 faucets, four out of seven phones, and all of the salt and pepper shakers. A separate study by the same researchers found cold viruses on 20 percent of the toys in five pediatricians’ offices. “Mamas know this,” said researcher Dr. Owen Hendley. “They say, ‘We go to a doctor for a well-child checkup, the kids play with the toys, and two days later they have a cold.’”

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