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WORDS MATTER. STOP FAT TALK!

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beyond physical flaws, we need to care about us. And our words.

SoScience

the_fat_by_narsul_the_elf-d3jdzf1Woman1: ‘I’m so fat. Look at my thighs!’ Woman2: ‘I should start a diet. I’m so fat!’ Woman3: ‘OMG. I put on so much weight! I’m so fat’. I could continue endlessly.

According to one study, 93% of women engage in fat talk, speaking negatively about the size and shape of their bodies. While women, especially teenagers, seem to be the most concerned about their bodies, this trend is also increasing among men. An online survey pointed out that, though negative body talk is still less frequent among them, its consequences appear no less troubling than those identified among women. Men worry about different issues, like muscular bulk or extreme thinness, but they do fat talk too.

What are the main problems related to this disruptive behaviour? It both reflects and creates body dissatisfaction and thin-ideal internalization. The study I’ve mentioned before, led in 2011 by the Northwestern…

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#Complications (Atul Gawande). Life is complicated. Medicine too.

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surgeryWhat do we expect from a surgeon? To be precise and trustworthy is not enough, we mostly want him to save lives and spare people from death. Surgeons’ job is a tough one. “That’s why they are so well-paid”, we say. They have to save lives. Isn’t this supposed to be a God’s task?

Atul Gawande gives us an unexpected vision of doctors, particularly surgeons, which enhances a very simple fact, though very difficult to accept too: medicine is not a science and it is much more related to uncontrolled facts than what people might think (and would like it to be). Though the persistent attempts of the last two centuries to emphasize the technological and logical aspects of medicine while sacrificing the relational and humanistic sides of this scientific art, doctors are still human beings and they’re still fallible and subdued to human mistakes. Certainly, technology and scientific progress have much increased patients’ possibilities to survive. Nowadays few people die during an anesthesia and many risks, like inserting a breathing tube in the wrong throat channel or forgetting instruments inside patients’ bellies, have been drastically reduced thanks to the introduction of better monitoring systems and higher standards to control doctors’ work. Reduced doesn’t mean eliminated, though. The more scientists and doctors know, the more they would need to know. Moreover, our society and our world are getting more and more complex, some diseases have been almost definitely defeated, some new others have and will come out. Medicine needs to learn how to cope with this evolving environment, but, like all evolutionary processes, this needs time to proceed through a slow progressive adaptation.

Indeed, as it is human and deeply involved with the contradictions that mark the human soul, medicine is full of paradoxes. Medical education is as necessary as dangerous. Patients would like their doctors to be the most professional and prepared on the market. To become so, doctors need to practice a lot. At the same time, almost nobody would accept to be operated by an assistant, who still has to practice his techniques and is certainly more exposed to mistakes than the veterans. Medical education and continuous practice are the only ways to improve doctors’ professional skills. Nevertheless, they have a cost.

It’s also impossible to trace a definite paradeigma. Some people want to be conscious of their health situations, some others don’t. Doctors mainly have to follow precise protocols but they also need to adapt them to the single individuals they’re dealing with. Patients’ situations are pretty unique. If a doctor has to consider the amputation of a young girl’s leg diagnosed with necrotizing fasciitis (the so-called flesh-eating disease), he will think about cutting off the leg twice the times he would consider the same operation for an old man.

Medicine is deeply human because it doesn’t simply deals with bodies and their pathologies, but with the personal perception that accompanies those same bodies. The operation to stop pathologic blushing may cause irreversible damages to the patients’ face, expressions and sometimes it also leads to death. Still, some people prefer to risk and to try to improve their quality of life. A TV reporter that keeps on blushing every time she’s in front of the camera will never have a career with such a disability. She has to do something to achieve her life-goals. Risk is part of challenges. Improving the quality of a life, saving it is a huge challenge, don’t you think so?

Doctors are not machines and they have to deal with human conditionings like everybody else. To go further and make things better is the purpose, to do some steps backwards is part of life, something that has to be accepted. Beside the fragility of our medical knowledge and the misunderstood status of medicine, this book makes us remember that those ‘steps backwards’ may happen, sometimes for a reason, sometimes without.

That’s the first message Gawande seems to give. Our life is extremely fragile, which makes it even more precious.

Credits image: commons.wikimedia.org

Looking for money? The charm of gambling

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spreading kinds of addiction. Gambling in Italy.

SoScience

According to the new IPSAD® survey (Italian Population Survey on Alcohol and other Drugs)led by the Institute of Clinical Phisiology of Pisa, last year in Italy more than 1 million students said they had gambled. 630000 under 18 admitted they had bet at least 1 euro, though the clear restrictive legislation dedicated to teenagers. Between 2008 and 2011, the percentage of people (15-64 years old) that bet money at least once went from 42% to 47%: almost 19 million gamblers, among whom 3 million are at risk of becoming addicted.

This survey, conducted on 11000 people, is an important source to analyse the current use and abuse of alcohol and drugs in Italy. But it also provides numbers to consider the risks connected to other types of addiction, like gambling, which have started to capture wider public attention more recently. The research points out that the majority of gamblers…

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WELCOME (?) TO THE NEW-BORN D.S.M.

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my new post about the new D.S.M on SOSCIENCE

SoScience

pazzo big

After being widely (and wildly) debated before its publication, the D.S.M.-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) finally comes out today, having been revised for the last 13 years. The D.S.M. has always been a controversial issue, since it has a huge impact on the public health. As a sort of psychiatry’s bible, it doesn’t only imply consequences on the health system, though, but it’s deeply related to economic and social issues (e.g. it establishes which children will receive special-education services, which drugs regulators will accept and which conditions insurers will cover). No edition has been attacked like this one, with critics coming within the profession as well from psychiatry’s usual opponents.

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Stress out (to survive the crowd)

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Mothers would do (almost) anything for their offspring, even give them a little stress, if necessary, as red squirrels seem to prove. An international study, including biologists from the University of Guelph, showed that during pregnancy the females of these rodents increase the production of stress hormone to promote the development and survival of their babies under stressful conditions. This happens when the number of squirrels of a specific area increases rapidly, so that the competition for a territory and the difficulties to survive during the winter grow. The research, published on Science, studied a group of red squirrels from Yukon for the last six years. To make the females believe they were surrounded by an increasing number of squirrels, the researchers used loudspeakers to simulate the calling of other squirrels. Thus, they found that, when the squirrels feel that the “neighbours” to cope with are becoming more and more, mom-squirrels secrete stress hormone to make their offspring grow faster and be readier to face the surrounding environment. To check the effects of this hormone, the scientists also fed some moms with peanut butter enriched with the same substance and found that baby-squirrels grow more quickly even in this case. When the outside world changes, red squirrels (and probably other animals) just find a way to adapt their parenting.

Dialogue on a star

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George is 5 years old, he’s got blue witty eyes, a platinum blonde bob like the Little Prince and many, many questions. He’s always got a good excuse to eat snacks and chocolate bars “If you don’t give me that, how can I become tall like my father?”. And he’s already learned how to bribe ‘his’ women to revere him “Do you play with me? Mom says that females have to run when they become a bit old”. It’s useless to explain that his babysitter is only 24 years old and that old age is a very relative concept. Probably influenced by his parents (both fitness freaks), George already shows the attitude of the male α. However, I’ve known him for a while, so I’ve learnt to skirt over his demands. In virtue of my supposed being old, I’m the one who asks questions.
One night we’re home alone and I take him out on the terrace, as far as possible from the TV. Before he starts asking me to chase his poodle together, I question him point-blank:
“George, do you know how far that star is?”
He replies with a puzzled and amused expression: “Mmm… Like going to Grandma Rosi! ”
“Water! You didn’t guess it! Grandma Rosi lives 20km from here, as if we went up and down the avenue from here to the tower with the lion in the city 20 times! Stars are much more distant. They’re so far away that we don’t say how many miles away they are but for how long the light travels between us and them. This space is called a light year. If I tell you numerically, a light year is equal to 9463 x 10^9km. Do you know how many kilometers the light covers in a second? 300,000, imagine! Light travels for 18,000,000km in a minute and gets to 1,080,000,000km in a hour. In a day, which has 24 hours, they become 25.920.000.000km. Multiplied by 365 days, 9.460.800.000.000km. ”
“Mmm [minute of silence]. This story is very boring, can you change it? ”
“Wait a minute, how impatient you are! The nice part hasn’t come yet. How old are you? ”
“5 on 21st May.”
“So, do you remember the day you were born?”
“No, I do not remember, but mom says that I was crying louder than all the other kids.”
“You know what? If you were on a star over here, you could see the day of your birth!”
“Really?”
“Really, yes! More or less. You should be on a star that is 5 light years from Earth. The universe is so huge that the light that comes from stars and distant planets must travel very long distances to reach us. So there’s a star whose light has been traveling for 5 years to get here now. 5 years, like you. If you were on that star, you’d see the light that the Earth spread when you got out of mommy’s tummy. Taking a trip in the space is a bit like travelling back in time. Do you want to know what’s your star’s name? ”
“Do stars have a name?”
“Of course, everyone needs a name, even stars. Shall you take your i-Pad to check? ”
Giorgio rushes immediately in the living room to look for his technological tool. He already knows what the Internet, Wi-fi and eBay are. If I think that at his age I was still playing with dolls and the grey gimmick Dad called computer seemed a military decoration to me, then yes, I can say that I am of an old generation.
“So let’s try: ‘Distance 5 star light years’. Your star is called Rigel Kentaurus. It’s 4.5 light years from here. If someone actually lives there, now they may watch your birth!”
“Rigel Kentaurus … And yours? What’s its name?”
“We have to look for a star that is 24 light years from here: it has to be 24 x 10 ^ 12 km far away, a long long long number. Here we are, it’s called HD 16160 and it’s part of the constellation of Cetus. In these days they may attend my birth.”
“If we go there…can I see baby-you?”
“Hehe, it is almost impossible! We should travel faster than light or by the time we get there we would have missed my birth! We should cover more than 300.000km / s.

But we can go there with our imagination, is that enough? “

Credits image: http://www.salzgeber.at/astro/pics/20081126_heart/

…’If I hug you, don’t be afraid’

1 over 80. That is the actual proportion of autistic babies, according to what Franco Antonello said tonight while being interviewed on Tv at ‘Le invasioni barbariche‘.

Andrea, his autistic son, was there in the studios with him, playing with his I-Pad, moving his hands like a crazy butterfly and stealing the anchorwoman’s papers. Franco took his a curly long-haired teenager with him for the interview because he strongly wanted it. Though getting scared for a while when he entered the studios, Andrea stayed quite calm during the whole chat. He got excited just when he saw the mountains on the screen which showed some of the pictures these father and son took while travelling together.

This travelling together gave birth to a wonderful book, ‘If I hug you, don’t be afraid’, written by Fulvio Ervas and already translated and distributed in many countries (Franco confessed he was almost thrilled when he saw the Chinese cover). I don’t know what you think about it, but I feel cuddled everytime I repeat to myself this very title. It sounds like a sweet embrace itself, the sweetest sentence a parent could use for his scared son to calm and feel reassured. Franco took Andrea to a 3-months travel to America. After years spent in hospitals, treatments, therapies, Franco decided to leave for a different type of adventure, just the two of them, to explore some bits of this wonderful world and spend together the thrilling sensations of discoveries. Unpredictable, like Andrea.

1 over 80 autistic babies. 400.000 just in Italy. After the book, after the interviews that spread the story of his travel with his son, Franco started receiving hundreds of e-mails from parents and siblings of autistic guys. Full of questions and the urgent need of suggestions. “I don’t feel like giving scientific and medical advice, I don’t have recipes. I work in communication and I feel things, I don’t have proper solutions for myself. I feel, instinctively” he said during the interview. But he felt like giving some practical advice.

During his travels all around Italy and the world, he happened to see a lot of desperate situations, without either institutional and social support. “Families can’t cope with autism on their own, mothers and fathers don’t have to feel they are alone”. Franco and Andrea might have more many economical and cultural possibilities if compared with other poorer and isolated families, but “we’re doing all that also for them, for people who don’t have our ways to deal with this condition. We’re talking about situations that are similar to Andrea’s one because we want them to find a voice.

We resist, if we do exist.

I strongly recommend this book. It helped me to perceive the power of an authentic story.

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