1st U.S. incubator baby: Sept. 7, 1888
For the first time, a premature baby is treated in an incubator in America. Her name is Edith Eleanor McLean and, though she weighs only two and a half pounds, she’s nursed to health at State Emigrant Hospital in New York in a 3-ft. square, 4-ft. high box called a “hatching cradle.” That makes sense because the device, first used in France a few years earlier, is modeled after a chicken incubator being used at the Paris Zoo.
But incubators were expensive and hospitals were reluctant to invest in them—in part because it was not the practice at the time to spend a lot of time trying to help what were known as “weak infants.” But a few French doctors came up with the idea of charging the public to look at the babies inside what was promoted as the “Amazing Mechanical Mom.” Then, a German physician named Martin Couney went a step further–he created a preemie baby exhibit at the Berlin Exposition in 1896.
Some people attacked Couney, charging that he was exploiting children by displaying tiny babies in what critics saw as a sideshow. But Couney felt that not only did it provide an opportunity to show how technology could help premature babies, but it also was the only way to ensure that they were given a chance to live. And the public lined up day after day to see them.
Inspired by Couney’s idea, organizers of the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis set up their own premature baby exhibit. But unlike the display in Berlin, no glass separated the infants and the people watching them. Half of the babies died.
By then, however, Couney, who had moved to America, had arranged to create a preemie display at Coney Island. The attraction resembled a normal hospital ward, with babies, nurses providing specialized care, and the doctor looking over everything. People paid a dime to look through the glass at the preemies. The healthier and older babies were put in incubators along an open hallway, with a railing keeping the public back.
Over the next 40 years, many of the premature babies born in New York were sent to Coney Island, where they were treated, without any charge to their parents—the admission fee covered the cost. More than 8,000 premature babies, including Couney’s own daughter, were cared for there, and 6,700 survived.
By the 1940s, most hospitals had come around to using their own incubators and the Coney Island exhibit finally closed. But it, perhaps more than anything else, advanced care for premature babies. At the turn of the 20th century, only 15 percent of premature babies survived. Now, more than 85 percent do.
More slices of history
Electromagnetic stimulation may boost memory
Brain stimulation through electromagnetic pulses may help improve memory, according to new research.
Scientists at Northwestern University first assessed the baseline memory of 16 volunteers and pinpointed the region of the hippocampus—the part of the brain that plays a central role in memory processes. The researchers did this by presenting the volunteers with pictures of faces associated with unrelated words, such as hat or car, which the volunteers were asked to remember.
During the memory tests, a device sent electromagnetic pulses to the area of the volunteers’ head above the hippocampus. The session lasted 20 minutes a day and was repeated for five days. Following the five sessions, the volunteers were asked to perform similar memory tests.
After five days of receiving the electromagnetic stimulation, the participants made on average 30 percent fewer mistakes than they did before the procedure.
The results, published in the journal Science, suggest that non-invasive brain stimulation techniques may help improve memory as well as the ability to learn new things. Researchers said it also carries the potential to treat memory disorders, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.
Junk food can change brain behavior
Consuming junk food on a regular basis may lead to changes in the brain that could ultimately make it more difficult to practice healthy eating behaviors, according to a new animal study.
Using young male rats, scientists at the University of New South Wales in Australia first taught them to associate different sound cues with cherry- and grape-flavored sugar water. When rats that maintained a healthy diet overindulged in either of the flavors, they stopped responding to the sound cues with which the flavor was associated.
Next, the researchers allowed the rats to add junk food to their diet, including pie, dumplings, cookies and cake. Researchers observed that the rats had about a 10 percent weight gain and lost interest in healthy foods.
The rats were then made to return to eating a healthy diet, but researchers observed that it took them a long time to regain their responses that had been recorded at the start of the study.
The study’s findings, published in the journal Frontiers, suggest that eating an unhealthy diet can affect decision-making, which could lead to long-term changes in the brain. The study also suggests that advertisements for junk food may have a greater effect on people who are overweight and may be contributing to the obesity crisis, researchers added.
Misleading labels may hide trans fat
Nutrition labels on packaged foods can be misleading when it comes to revealing how much trans fat is inside.
So says a new study by the New York Department of Health and Mental Hygiene after an analysis of more than 4,000 top-selling packaged foods. It found that almost one in 10 of the foods contained trans fat, but 84 percent of those foods claimed on their labels to have “0” grams of trans fat.
Trans fat is a specific type of fat that is formed when hydrogen is added to liquid oils to turn them into solid fats. The FDA determined that partially hydrogenated oils are not “generally recognized as safe” for consumption. People who consume trans fat may be at higher risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes,
The food products examined in the study ranged from cookies to salad dressing and canned soup. The researchers found that half of the foods in the potato chips category and 35 percent of cookies contained trans fat,
Study boosts “soda tax” for fighting obesity
The “best option” for reducing childhood obesity would be a tax on sweetened sodas, concludes a new study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.
Researchers selected three approaches for how the U.S. government could most effectively tackle the problem:
- After-school physical activity programs
- A 1 cent per ounce excise tax on sugar-sweetened beverages
- A ban on child-directed fast food television advertising
For each of these policies, the researchers reviewed available literature published between 2000 and 2012. They then created computer models analyzing a simulated school-aged population after 20 years of policy implementation to estimate the impact for each policy on diet, physical activity and body mass index (BMI).
The simulations show that after-school activity programs would reduce obesity the most among children aged 6 to 12 (by 1.8 percent), the advertising ban would reduce obesity the least (by 0.9 percent), and the tax on sugary drinks would reduce obesity the most in people aged 13 to 28 (by 2.4 percent).
The researchers said the soda tax was also the best option because it also could generate significant revenue that could be applied to other obesity prevention programs.
The study found that all three strategies would be particularly effective at reducing childhood obesity in black and Hispanic populations, who have higher rates of obesity than other racial/ethnic groups.
Research suggests that almost one-third of American youths between two and 19 are overweight or obese.