One hour of exercise needed a day to counteract sitting


flickr photo by AstridWestvang shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

A recent study by researchers at Cambridge University has found that an hour of exercise is necessary to counteract the health effects of sitting all day.

Low activity levels have been shown to be detrimental to health since a 1953 study in to bus drivers showing that bus drivers were at greater risk of heart disease than conductors.

According to the study, 5 million people per year die globally as a result of lack of activity.

Studies in high income countries has found that adults spend the most part of their day sitting down. Office jobs, commuting by car and sitting to watch TV in the evening.  Continue reading


Gentrification predicted by social media data


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Gentrification – the process by which a deprived area becomes affluent – can be predicted by data from location-specific social media networks.

The Cambridge University study took data from location-specific social media networks, such as Facebook places and Foursquare, to show that the ‘poor to posh’ process can be identified when high levels of deprivation and social diversity are seen to develop in an area.

Data crunch

Predicting gentrification is more than a spike of social media users tweeting about Radio 4 programmes. It is data analysis of social media check-ins which reveal behaviours derived from the particular places that people go.

37,000 users and 42,000 venues in London were used to build a network of Foursquare places and Twitter visitors, totalling half a million check-ins over a ten-month period.

Researchers quantified the social diversity of various areas by distinguishing between places that:

  • brought together strangers versus those brought together friends
  • attracted diverse individuals as opposed to those attracting ‘regulars’

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Prisoners’ Penfriends improves chance of rehabilitation, study shows


flickr photo by Muffet shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

A recent study of Prisoners’ Penfriends – a charitable scheme that runs a volunteer pen pal programme in 52 prisons – has shown that having a pen pal can contribute to prisoner wellbeing and increase the likelihood of successful rehabilitation.

Researchers Prof Jackie Hodgson and Juliet Horne from Warwick University analysed the impact of the scheme and found that the simple act of being written to and having someone to write back to provided a cheap yet effective method of maintaining moral.

In addition, pen pals could provide an early warning of a prisoner’s decline in mental health. Pen pal confidents became aware of the state of mind of their prison pen pal and were able to alert prison authorities to any increasing depression or risk of suicide.

Professor Jackie Hodgson, leading researcher, commented to Warwick Press:

“We found that something as simple as a pen pal relationship can lead to tangible benefits for prisoners. Given the recent rise in prison violence and suicides, increased prison overcrowding and the current resource pressures on the prison system, letter-writing seems an extremely valuable way to provide greater support for prisoners, based on genuine relationships of care and trust, at remarkably little cost.”

Typical pen pal

The study found that the typical prisoner was male, serving a long term sentences and before the pen pals scheme, had ‘little or no contact with anyone outside of prison’. The effect of having a pen pal helped to reduce their sense of isolation, provided a different focus from their daily routine in prison and also ‘raised their hopes for being outside of prison’.

The Prisoners’ Penfriends scheme matches volunteers with prisoners and delivers post via a PO box to ensure confidentiality. Volunteers are advised to use a fictitious name and exclude personal details such as address and family names to maintain anonymity when writing. Before being matched to a pen pal, volunteers must to agree to follow strict guidelines to ensure relationship boundaries are maintained. All ingoing and outgoing letters are read by prison staff.

The pen pal scheme however has proven to be a life changing relationship for many, with very little cost to implement. One prisoner wrote of his pen friend:

‘He is very helpful and caring and very understanding. He makes me feel like I can achieve things in life. It’s made me want to be a better man when released and achieve my dreams if possible.’

Figures and interesting stats

  • Nearly all prisoners said they intended to remain pen pals for the length of their sentence.
  • The longest pen pal relationship so far has been nine years.
  • The scheme has seen 16,000 letters being sent.

What volunteers say 
What prisoners say 

‘Imagining more than just a prisoner: the work of Prisoners’ Penfriends’.

For more information on the Prisoners’ Penfriends scheme and to sign up to be a volunteer pen pal visit or email directly.

Takeaway food outlets rise by 45% in deprived areas, study finds


creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by Stevie Spiers (Photography)

The number of takeaway food outlets has risen by as much as 45% in some of the poorest areas, according to a new study by the University of Cambridge.

Using Yellow Pages telephone directories, researchers were able to collect data on the number and location of takeaway food outlets at various points during 1990 and 2008. The findings were then mapped onto electoral ward boundaries from which a clear pattern emerged linking a rise in fast food outlets with areas of high deprivation.

The highest absolute increase in the number of outlets was seen in the areas of the highest deprivation with an increase from 4.6 outlets to 6.5 outlets per 10,000 residents.  Continue reading

Stress in Young America: Why the US is on Red Alert


A study conducted over 7 years to measure stress and its impact across America has reported that more young Americans than ever before are suffering from a level of stress considered to be beyond their capacity to cope.

Young Americans were also found to be more likely to deal with stress with negative coping strategies, such as:

  • smoking
  • drinking
  • sleeping
  • overeating

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The Fifth Sense: Umami or ‘Yummy’

Yummy Yummy

The “umami” of food; the Japanese for ‘deliciousness’, could be manipulated in foods to regulate appetite, according to research by the University of Sussex.

Umami or the detection of ‘yumminess’ in food provides information about the protein content – the yummier the food, the higher the protein content.

This detection of deliciousness in  food is the fifth sense of taste, according to researchers, preceded by the sense of sweetness (1st), saltiness (2nd), sourness (3rd) and lastly, bitterness.

What is yummy umami?

Umami is really the detection in food of the chemical glutamate – a protein found in meat. This yummy quality is found within the tastiness of bacon, for example. Continue reading

Fatal Strokes Misdiagnosed in Women, Minorities and Young People

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Thousands of patients with early signs of potentially disabling strokes, such as dizziness and headaches, are dismissed by doctors each year, according to new research by Johns Hopkins University.

Women, minorities and young people under 45 years were seen to be significantly more likely to be misdiagnosed in the week before experiencing a debilitating stroke.


Findings were taken from a review of medical records and reported in the journal Diagnosis. Younger people were found to be seven times more likely to be given an incorrect diagnosis and sent home without treatment after visiting ER complaining of dizziness or headache, according to the research. Continue reading