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Baby Simulators Linked to Higher Risk of Teen Pregnancy

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Bad news for makers of robot babies: Scientists say educational infant simulators like “Baby Think It Over” don’t reduce, and may actually increase, rates of teen pregnancy. They published their findings in The Lancet.

Bringing home an electronic baby (or a sack of flour, or an empty eggshell with a face drawn on it) has become something of a rite of passage in middle and high schools around the world. The latest baby simulators cry when they need to be fed, comforted, burped, or given a diaper change, while tracking whether or not their “parents” are actually doing these things.

In Australia, infant simulators are part of schools’ Virtual Infant Parenting (VIP) program, which also includes lessons about the sacrifices required by pregnancy (no more keg stands, girls!) and the financial costs of childcare, as well as sessions on healthy relationships, sexual health, and contraception. Teaching the VIP seems like an obvious choice—what better way to scare teenagers straight?

To test the program’s efficacy, researchers recruited 57 schools in Western Australia. Half of the schools were assigned the robotic baby VIP program (1267 students), while the other half continued with a standard health class curriculum (1567 students). Because the study aimed to understand teen pregnancy, the recruited students were all girls between the ages of 13 and 15 when the study began. The researchers also looked at medical records from local hospitals and abortion clinics.

The results were not encouraging. Girls in the control group had a 4 percent risk of becoming pregnant by the time they reached age 20, but those who had taken an infant simulator home were twice as likely (8 percent) to become teen moms. Abortion rates were also higher in the VIP group (9 percent) than in the control group (6 percent).

"Our study shows that the pregnancy prevention programme delivered in Western Australia, which involves an infant simulator, does not reduce the risk of pregnancy in teenage girls,” lead author Sally Brinkman said in a press statement. “In fact, the risk of pregnancy is actually increased compared to girls who didn't take part in the intervention."

Brinkman notes that VIP-like programs are growing in popularity around the world. Infant simulator sessions are currently taught in 89 countries, and that number is only growing. If these programs are in fact working against their creators intentions, that’s a serious cause for concern. A suite of infant simulators can cost tens of thousands of dollars—and most schools don’t have money to spare.

The researchers don’t yet know why the VIP program seems to fail so miserably, but what’s clear, says health expert Julie A Quinlivan of the University of Notre Dame Australia, is that we need to do better. “The cure for teenage pregnancy is more difficult than a magic doll,” she wrote in a commentary in The Lancet. “We have to address both mothers and fathers. Programs need to start in infancy. Investment in vulnerable children is needed to entice these adolescents from the path of premature parenthood into brighter futures. We cannot afford the quick fix, especially when it doesn't work."

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New Patient Test Could Suggest Whether Therapy or Meds Will Work Better for Anxiety

Like many psychological disorders, there's no one-size-fits-all treatment for patients with anxiety. Some might benefit from taking antidepressants, which boost mood-affecting brain chemicals called neurotransmitters. Others might respond better to therapy, and particularly a form called cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT.

Figuring out which form of treatment works best often requires months of trial and error. But experts may have developed a quick clinical test to expedite this process, suggests a new study published in the journal Neuropsychopharmacology.

Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago have noted that patients with higher levels of anxiety exhibit more electrical activity in their brains when they make a mistake. They call this phenomenon error-related negativity, or ERN, and measure it using electroencephalography (EEG), a test that records the brain's electric signals.

“People with anxiety disorders tend to show an exaggerated neural response to their own mistakes,” the paper’s lead author, UIC psychiatrist Stephanie Gorka, said in a news release. “This is a biological internal alarm that tells you that you've made a mistake and that you should modify your behavior to prevent making the same mistake again. It is useful in helping people adapt, but for those with anxiety, this alarm is much, much louder.”

Gorka and her colleagues wanted to know whether individual differences in ERN could predict treatment outcomes, so they recruited 60 adult volunteers with various types of anxiety disorders. Also involved was a control group of 26 participants with no history of psychological disorders.

Psychiatrists gauged subjects’ baseline ERN levels by having them wear an EEG cap while performing tricky computer tasks. Ultimately, they all made mistakes thanks to the game's challenging nature. Then, randomized subjects with anxiety disorders were instructed to take an SSRI antidepressant every day for three months, or receive weekly cognitive behavioral therapy for the same duration. (Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of evidence-based talk therapy that forces patients to challenge maladaptive thoughts and develop coping mechanisms to modify their emotions and behavior.)

After three months, the study's patients took the same computer test while wearing EEG caps. Researchers found that those who'd exhibited higher ERN levels at the study's beginning had reduced anxiety levels if they'd been treated with CBT compared to those treated with medication. This might be because the structured form of therapy is all about changing behavior: Those with enhanced ERN might be more receptive to CBT than other patients, as they're already preoccupied with the way they act.

EEG equipment sounds high-tech, but it's relatively cheap and easy to access. Thanks to its availability, UIC psychiatrists think their anxiety test could easily be used in doctors’ offices to measure ERN before determining a course of treatment.

A Pitless Avocado Wants to Keep You Safe From the Dreaded 'Avocado Hand'

The humble avocado is a deceptively dangerous fruit. Some emergency room doctors have recently reported an uptick in a certain kind of injury—“avocado hand,” a knife injury caused by clumsily trying to get the pit out of an avocado with a knife. There are ways to safely pit an avocado (including the ones likely taught in your local knife skills class, or simply using a spoon), but there’s also another option. You could just buy one that doesn’t have a pit at all, as The Telegraph reports.

British retailer Marks & Spencer has started selling cocktail avocados, a skinny, almost zucchini-like type of avocado that doesn’t have a seed inside. Grown in Spain, they’re hard to find in stores (Marks & Spencer seems to be the only place in the UK to have them), and are only available during the month of December.

The avocados aren’t genetically modified, according to The Independent. They grow naturally from an unpollinated avocado blossom, and their growth is stunted by the lack of seed. Though you may not be able to find them in your local grocery, these “avocaditos” can grow wherever regular-sized Fuerte avocados grow, including Mexico and California, and some specialty producers already sell them in the U.S. Despite the elongated shape, they taste pretty much like any other avocado. But you don’t really need a knife to eat them, since the skin is edible, too.

If you insist on taking your life in your hand and pitting your own full-sized avocado, click here to let us guide you through the process. No one wants to go to the ER over a salad topping, no matter how delicious. Safety first!

[h/t The Telegraph]


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