Every month, Scientific American—the longest-running magazine in the U.S. and an authoritative voice in science, technology and innovation—provides insight into scientific topics that affect our daily lives and capture our imagination, establishing the vital bridge between science and public\ policy.
>> Key information from this month’s issue:
• One third of Americans are obese, and another third are overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If current trends continue, obesity will soon surpass smoking as the biggest single factor in early death. Research on the causes of obesity, though valuable, will not solve this public health crisis; what may, is behavioral science, which tells us how to change our habits and our “food environment.” See How to Fix the Obesity Crisis
• In San Francisco’s Bay Area schools at least 40% of kids are not vaccinated, leaving them unprotected against whooping cough, measles and other preventable disease—part of a nationwide trend toward parents withholding vaccinations. Immunization against contagious diseases is only effective when “herd immunity” is reached, which requires immunization of as much as 95% of the population. The right to choose vaccines, to decide what is best for oneself and one’s children, ends where science has so clearly documented a threat to the public welfare. See Science Agenda: Fear and Its Consequences
• In November 2010 The Institute of Medicine put out a study concluding that vitamin D supplements are unnecessary and potentially harmful for most Americans. Many scientists disagree with this ruling. The disagreement exposes a rift between those scientists who accept only clinical trials as proof of efficacy and those who accept observational data. The debate could affect medical advice on other supplements. See Advances: Which Pills Work?
• A 40-ton 900-megahertz magnet is helping scientists figure out how influenza A resists antiviral drugs. The research could one day usher in a new class of anti-flu medicines. See Advances: Charging against the Flu
• Currently, almost all U.S. fish farms exist inside the three-mile strip of water that states control and that create pollution hazards. But some scientists have developed a more environmentally friendly way to farm fish—in offshore pens. Some believe that if the U.S. put a licensing system into place for federal waters out to the 200-mile boundary, it would bring investment in fish farms and generate revenue. Government estimates show that a sustainable offshore fish-farming industry in less than one percent of the State of California’s waters could bring in up to $1 billion a year. See The Blue Food Revolution
• The new Republican House majority provides an opportunity to shape the science agenda for bipartisan efforts to reduce the nation’s energy usage and to take steps towards a clean energy–based economy. See Forum: The Bright Side of Gridlock
Social Media Shaping Medical Practice
• Multiple sclerosis affects at least 250,000 people in the U.S. Last year, surgical treatment for MS was reported and amplified through social-networking platforms, prompting many patients to sign up for the new treatment even though the procedure is unproven. It is important for physicians to be aware of what patients are reading online, so they can address the science and theory behind sprouting rumors. See The Science of Health: The YouTube Cure