Monthly Archives: August 2016

Middle Finger

Whether you call it flipping the bird or just giving the finger, rap star M.I.A. created a frenzy with one simple gesture during Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show pointing her middle finger up in the air. Now there’s some interesting scientific information about just how long it takes for that finger to react to a stimulus.

In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, study subjects were shown an image of a hand on a computer monitor. If one of the fingers was marked, the subjects were asked to press a key with that finger, as quickly as possible. The thumb and little finger were found to have the fastest reaction times, while the middle finger was the slowest.

Each part of the body including the finger has its own nerve cell area in the brain. After further tests, the researchers concluded that the speed of the middle finger is inhibited by the nerve cells of its “neighbor” on each side. “In principle, each finger is able to react equally quickly,” said Dr. Hubert Dinse, the lead author. “Only in the selection task, the middle finger is at a distinct disadvantage.”

But slowest finger or not, M.I.A. still managed to get that pesky middle digit up in the air. What makes it so offensive, anyway? According to BBC News, waving the middle finger has been considered an insult since at least ancient Greek times, when the philosopher Diogenes used it to express his opinion of the orator Demosthenes. The Latin poet Martial called the middle finger “the indecent one,” and German tribesmen used theirs to “greet” advancing Roman soldiers.

Anthropologist Desmond Morris gives some clues as to why: “The middle finger is the penis and the curled fingers on either side are the testicles. By [giving the finger], you are offering someone a phallic gesture.”

If anything, M.I.A.’s stunt proves that this ancient gesture hasn’t lost its power to shock. NBC, which broadcast the Super Bowl, has issued an apology for not blurring out the rapper’s finger, but the network may still be subject to a fine from the Federal Communications Commission.

Fewer Broken Bones

Researchers in Florida may have uncovered a rare positive outcome from the downturn in the local economy: fewer injuries to workers.

The new study finds that traumatic orthopedic injuries dropped by 16 percent in the city of Tampa as the economy soured — a possible sign that fewer construction workers were getting injured on the job as that industry bottomed out.

The findings can’t confirm a connection between the injury rate and the economy, nor do they prove that construction workers account for the difference over time. Still, the research is food for thought and may confirm the trend that surgeons noticed over the past few years, said study author Dr. Daniel S. Chan, staff orthopedic surgeon at Florida Orthopedic Institute in Tampa.

“We observed declines in our numbers, and we thought it was the economy,” he said.

The researchers examined the number of trauma cases treated at the Florida Orthopedic Institute from 2001-2009. They then checked to see if they corresponded with factors reflecting the rise and fall of the economy over that period.

The Tampa area was a hot spot during the last big U.S. housing boom, and the researchers especially wanted to find out if the decrease in cases they observed coincided with the subsequent meltdown of the home construction industry.

Falls are an especially common injury for construction workers, Chan noted. Among other things, falls on construction sites can fracture ankles, shinbones and heel bones, he said.

The researchers found that cases of “orthopedic trauma” from the county did undergo a decline: from 2,065 in 2007 to 1,743 in 2009, a drop of 16 percent. And at the same time, the unemployment rate in the county rose steeply, from 4 percent to 10.7 percent over that same period.

Construction worker employment, especially, fell steeply — by 36 percent from 2006-2009, the study found, while the number of county building permits issued dipped by 80 percent from 2005 to 2009.

Overall, the researchers found that the number of trauma cases were statistically connected to the unemployment rate of the previous year. That’s possibly because it took a while for construction projects already in progress to come to an end, Chan said.

The findings could reflect a seemingly paradoxical fact about hard economic times, Chan said: In some cases, the health of people actually improves because they take less risks (including on-the-job risks) and take better care of themselves.

Still, Dr. Wilford K. Gibson, an orthopedic surgeon with Atlantic Orthopaedic Specialists in Virginia Beach, Va., said he’s hesitant “to draw a correlation to decreased employment and cast stones at the construction industry.”

Health Insurance is needed for your family

images-14More than half of poor families and a third of middle income families had no health insuranceduring the preceding year, and a substantial number had been without insurance for longer than that, according to a new survey by the Commonwealth Fund.

The survey found that 57 percent of adults in families who earn less than $29,726 (which is 133 percent of the poverty level) were uninsured at some point in the preceding year, and more than a third of those individuals lacked insurance for two years or more.

Moving up the income bracket, the survey found that more than one-third of adults in moderate-income families — those earning between $29,726 and $55,875 for a family of four (133 to 249 percent of the poverty level) — were uninsured during the preceding year, and 18 percent had been uninsured for two years or more.

In contrast, about one in 10 adults in families with incomes at four times the poverty level — at or above $89,400 for a family of four — were uninsured at some point during the preceding year, and just 3 percent were uninsured for two years or more.

“People with low and moderate incomes run the highest risk of lacking job-based health insurance, are least able to afford health insurance on their own, and are the most at risk of not being able to afford care in the absence of coverage,” Commonwealth Fund vice president and lead author Sara Collins said in a press release. “Consequently, problems getting needed care in the United States are disproportionately concentrated among low- and moderate-income families.”

The survey is based on responses from a randomly-selected sample of 977 low-income adults ages 19 to 64 who completed an online survey. It was conducted in the summer of 2011. The survey focused on adults, not children, because most low-income children are covered by Medicaid, which varies by state.

The survey also found that adults in low-earning families without insurance often lack recommended preventive health screenings.

Just 10 percent of low-income uninsured adults over the age of 50 had received the recommended screening for colon cancer, just one-third of low-income uninsured women ages 40 to 64 had received a mammogram, and just one-third of adults with low and moderate incomes had had their cholesterol checked in the past five years.

By comparison, those in the same income range with insurance were much more likely to have the screening tests, and those with higher incomes also were more likely to be screened, regardless of insurance status.

The most common reason given for skipping a recommended cancer screening test was that the individual didn’t think the test was necessary. But cost was a factor, too, especially among those who were uninsured at some point in the past year. For instance, 10 percent of women with insurance didn’t get a Pap test in the previous year because of cost, while 40 percent of women without insurance said cost was the reason they didn’t get the test.

Low- and moderate-income adults without health insurance also were less likely to report having a regular doctor and reported going to the emergency room for nonemergency reasons — such as needing a prescription or feeling that other sources of medical care cost too much — more often than those with insurance in the same income bracket.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) will “narrow, if not entirely eliminate, the profound income inequities that currently exist in the U.S. health care system,” the study authors said. The law bans insurers from denying coverage based on a person’s existing illness and requires insurers to cover proven preventive services free of charge to the patient.

In 2014 — the year that everyone will be required to have health insurance — insurers will no longer be able to charge more based on gender or age, Medicaid requirements will be lowered so more people will be eligible for the program, and insurance exchanges will start functioning and people who qualify will be given subsidies to help them purchase a plan from their state’s exchange.