New global initiative aims to bring sanitation to all worldwide

Many parts of the world still lack basic sanitation and access to clean water, which facilitates the spread disease and often results in fatalities. But now, The Water Innovation Engine Program has launched the Urban Sanitation Challenge to bring sustainable sanitation to the areas of the world where it is still not readily available.

The Water Innovation Engine was formed in response to a call to action from the United Nations/World Bank High-Level Panel on Water.

As the world’s population keeps rising, finding cheap and effective sanitation systems that consume little water and prevent disease is crucial, which prompted the Grand Challenges Canada organization to launch the program.

Currently, with many people lacking basic access to clean water and sanitation, millions are susceptible to disease, and many people, mostly children, die from these conditions.

In 2015, it was reported that 892 million people still defecate in the open, which also poses a threat to personal safety as well as health.

In India, open defecation can be dangerous, specifically for women. Many are harassed, and there have been reports of rapes and murders that happen when women go out at sunset and sunrise to relieve themselves.

“The lack of sanitation has a disproportionate impact on vulnerable women and girls and leads to diarrhea, death and delayed child development. Investing in safe urban sanitation is key to advancing gender equality, and to ensuring the health and wellbeing of every woman and every child,” said Dr. Peter A. Singer, Chief Executive Officer of Grand Challenges Canada

There are currently five projects underway with the Urban Sanitation Challenge.

The first is an affordable toilet that uses less than one cup of water, blocks odors and diseases through a weighed flap that seals itself after use, and costs no more than 10 US dollars.

More than one million of these toilets have been installed throughout the world, improving the lives of many.

The other projects include providing bundled water and sanitation services for Laguna, a province in the Philippines, bringing sustainable sanitation to low-income urban households in Peru, improving the sanitation services in Kenya, and converting human waste into renewable fuel in Rwanda.

By Kay Vandette, Earth.com Staff Writer

The 5 easiest pets to care for

Pet owners enjoy a wide range of health benefits such as lower blood pressure, decreased stress, and lower risk of stroke and heart attack, which is reason enough to head out to your local shelter and adopt.

But what if you don’t have a lot of time, energy, or money to invest in an animal? There are plenty of animals that are easier to take care of and much lower maintenance than the most popular pets like cats and dogs. Here are some ideas:

Fish

For those who do not have a lot of free time or free space to dedicate to a pet, fish would make ideal companions. Watching fish is known to have a calming effect and reduces anxiety. Fish are also quiet and will not be barking and waking up the neighbors at all hours of the night. They don’t need much – just a clean tank and some food -and fish are relatively inexpensive to take care of.

Guinea Pigs

These fluffy animals are easy to care for and bring a lot of joy into the home. Guinea pigs are generally quiet yet very sociable and affectionate. They are also intelligent and love to cuddle. You will simply need a 4-square-foot hutch, a bowl for food, and a water sipper. Guinea pigs are vegans so their food does not cost much.

Birds

For people who work long hours or have an inconsistent schedule, a bird would make a great pet. Birds are extremely intelligent and make excellent companions. They do not require a lot of attention, but with training they can become very affectionate. Birds are inexpensive to feed, and their small cage does not take up much space.

Frogs

A frog would make an exceptional pet for someone who travels a lot. You only need to feed a frog 3 to 4 times a week, and they do not produce very much waste. Frogs can be entertaining without demanding attention in return. Frogs also live longer than most other pets, with some species living as many as 25 to 30 years.

Leopard Geckos

These lizards have a docile nature that makes them a good choice of pet for children of all ages. They are small and not very heavy so they can be easily handled by kids. Once you get them set up in their cage, they do not require a lot of effort. Leopard Geckos can easily live over 20 years, so you and your family will enjoy this low maintenance animal for many years.

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer

Study: Women have diverse sexual pleasure preferences

For some time now, there has been a common misunderstanding that there are certain sexual moves or positions that are a guaranteed hit with all women. But a new study has challenged this notion and set out to explain the complexities and diverse range of female sexual satisfaction.

Researchers set out to create a wider scale to measure female pleasure and orgasm by using a population-based study involving over 1,000 US adult women, ages 18 to 94. They reported their findings in a report published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy.

“Most previous studies utilized clinical, college and convenience samples. We worked to change that with this research and provide data surveying a U.S. nationally representative probability sample of adult women,” said Debby Herbenick, a professor at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington and lead author of the study.

The results found that among the women surveyed, a little over 18 percent reported that intercourse alone was enough for orgasm, almost 37 percent reported that they required clitoral stimulation, and 41 percent of the respondents emphasized a preference for just one specific style of touch.

One important finding was that there was no one preferred method among the women surveyed, with responses indicating a varied array of preferences in regards to touch, location, and pressure.

“The study results challenge the mistaken, but common, notion that there are universal ‘sex moves that work’ for everyone. On the other hand, the data also make clear that there are certain styles of touch that are more commonly preferred by women, emphasizing the value of studying sexual pleasure – and not just sexual problems,” said Brian Dodge, an associate professor in the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington and a collaborator of the study.

The study is the first of its kind to use US nationally representative data showing the varied preferences of women when it comes to sexual satisfaction and stimulation.

The study is just part of the IU School of Public Health’s Center for Sexual Health Promotion’s mission to understand and promote sexual health worldwide.

By Kay Vandette, Earth.com Staff Writer

Any activity counts as long as you get 30 min of exercise

Any physical activity that allows you 30 minutes of exercise a day or 150 minutes a week is enough to help raise your heart rate and hinder cardiovascular disease.

Exercise is often posed as something grueling and exhausting, but a new study reveals that even 30 minutes of brisk walking, including walking to work and doing chores, could be a lifesaver.

The Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study was led by the Population Health Research Institute of McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences and included data on more than 130,000 people from seventeen countries.

What makes the PURE study stand out is that unlike other similar studies measuring the positive impact of physical activity, it includes people from low and middle-income countries.  

“By including low and middle-income countries in this study, we were able to determine the benefit of activities such as active commuting, having an active job or even doing housework,” said Dr. Scott Lear, a professor of Simon Fraser University’s Faculty of Health Sciences and the study’s lead investigator.

The study shows that many people worldwide do not meet the activity guidelines necessary to improve heart health, and that something as simple as walking to work or washing the floor could have a positive impact.

According to the research, 150 minutes of exercise a week can reduce the risk of death from cardiovascular disease by 28 percent.

The results also showed that there was no cap on the amount of exercise that would be beneficial. It turned out that only 3 percent of study participants met their allotted exercise requirements by leisure activity, while the majority of the subjects were able to meet the criteria by walking to work and doing chores.

“If everyone was active for at least 150 minutes per week, over seven years a total of 8% of deaths could be prevented,” said Dr. Salim Yusuf, the director of the Population Health Research Institute.

By Kay Vandette, Earth.com Staff Writer

Science proves good and bad moods are contagious

If you’re hanging out with a friend who is in a particularly good or bad mood, you may notice that their attitude tends to rub off on you. That feeling is now supported by research, as a new study led by a team from the University of Warwick has found that both good and bad moods can be picked up from friends – but luckily, depression can’t.

The researchers looked at data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, which contains info on the moods and friendship networks of U.S. adolescents in schools. Their findings show that moods spread over friendship networks, as do some symptoms of depression such as loss of interest and helplessness. On the bright side, they also found that these effects weren’t strong enough to cause other friends to suffer from depression as well.

Results showed that having more friends who suffer from bad moods leads to a higher likelihood of an individual also experiencing bad moods with a decreased probability of improving. The opposite effect occurred with adolescents who had more positive social networks.

“Evidence suggests mood may spread from person to person via a process known as social contagion,” explains Rob Eyre, the lead researcher of the study. “Previous studies have found social support and befriending to be beneficial to mood disorders in adolescents while recent experiments suggest that an individual’s emotional state can be affected by exposure to the emotional expressions of social contacts.”

About 350 million people suffer from depression worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. With so many people affected by this condition, this study emphasizes the importance of understanding the impacts adolescents have on each other when they’re exhibiting depressive symptoms. The study also shows that there is more to depression than simply being in a bad mood.

The researchers suggest evidence-based strategies for improving mood, such as exercise, sleeping well, and managing stress.

By Connor Ertz, Earth.com Staff Writer

Babies learn perseverance from adults

Babies learn a lot about how to behave from the cues they observe from the other people around them. According to the results of a new study, this may also be connected to their drive to push through failure and attempt to achieve a goal. This is an important trait for infants to learn, as other studies have found that school-aged children who learn to push through initial failures are more successful later in life. Adults may be role models for infants to learn perseverance and the ability to persist when faced with failure.

Babies also may be able to absorb abstract concepts about how to behave by observing adults push through setbacks.

In a study done by by Julia Leonard and her colleagues, the researchers measured how long 15 month-old children persisted at a task after seeing adults exert variable amounts of effort. One group of infants watched an adult succeed at one of two tasks – either opening a container or removing a toy from a key ring – after struggling for thirty seconds. A second group of infants watched adults do these tasks quickly and with no effort. The third group was the baseline group and didn’t observe any demonstration by the adults.

Next, the babies were presented with a different task – activating a toy music box by pressing a non-functional button. The infants who had watched the adults struggle and succeed made more attempts to activate the box than those who observed adults making little effort or the baseline condition.

These results show that babies truly do learn from their surroundings, and are influenced by how adults act around them. This is important for parents and any other adults working with babies to understand as they subconsciously teach perseverance to the infants around them.

By Connor Ertz, Earth.com Staff Writer

Mid-life physical activity helps you stay fit into old age

A new study has found that prolonged participation in sports beginning in mid-life can help keep a person physically fit and active in their old age.

The study set to determine if sustained physical activity in middle-aged men had any effect on old age. Researchers wanted to see if retired men were more or less likely to continue some form of physical activity based on their fitness history.

The results revealed that sports were the physical activity most likely to endure into old age, and suggests that playing sports could lead to a healthier and more active life after retirement.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University College London and published in the journal BMJ Open.

Researchers gathered data for 3,500 men who were part of the British Regional Heart Study.

The men were observed for 20 years, starting when they were ages 40 to 59, and then follow-ups occurred after 12, 16, and 20 years.

The study participants were asked about their medical history, lifestyle, fitness preferences, how long they would do a certain activity and what that activity was.

If a test participant played sports, they were also asked to include how long they had been playing for.

The researchers found that men who were active in middle age were almost three times as likely to be physically active after 20 years, with sports being the heaviest influencer of later-life activity.

If the participants reported that they had played sports for 25 years, they were five times as likely to be physically active after retirement.

“Early engagement in sport and structured exercise may be vital for developing the necessary motor skills needed to establish a lifelong habit for physical activity,” said Daniel Aggio, the lead author of the study. “However, it may also be important to provide opportunities to take up other forms of exercise, such as walking, during the transition to old age.”

The study reinforces the notion that the earlier one gets started with consistent physical activity, the easier it is to maintain as you age.

By Kay Vandette, Earth.com Staff Writer

Poll: Science sites are more accurate than general news outlets

A study from the Pew Research Center reveals that most Americans only get science news a few times a month, and even then they stumble upon the information instead of seeking it out. 36 percent of Americans say they get science news more than a few times per week. 30 percent of those individuals report intentionally seeking it out, while only 17 percent of Americans report actively seeking out and consuming science news.

A survey of 4,024 U.S. adults shows that 54 percent of Americans rely on general news outlets for their science news. Despite this fact, Americans admit that specialty sources such as museums, science magazines and websites (like Earth.com!), and science documentaries are more likely to be accurate. In fact, nearly half of U.S. adults say that specialty sources have reliable science news most of the time, while only 28 percent believe general news sources get the science facts right most of the time.

With science information being increasingly at the center of public and political issues, it is surprising that more Americans are not actively pursuing it. The 17 percent minority of Americans who seek out science news and consume it most often are more engaged with science information in their personal lives and on social media. They are also more likely to have visited a park or museum in the last year and to have a science-related hobby.

The study reveals that only around 26 percent of social media users follow science accounts. 44 percent of individuals who use social media report seeing science news on these outlets that they have not seen elsewhere. 52 percent say that they mostly distrust the accuracy of the science posts, while 26 percent say they mostly trust science posts on social media.

The research also finds that Republicans and Democrats are equally likely to be active science news consumers and show similar levels of interest in science news. There is a notable difference, however, in opinions about how the media covers science. 64 percent of Democrats say that news media outlets do a good job of covering science compared with 50 percent of Republicans.

“Despite wide political divides in views about some science-related issues, such as climate change and energy, U.S. adults from both sides of the aisle are quite similar in their levels of interest, consumption, and tendency to get science news from general news outlets,” explains researcher Amy Mitchell.

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer

Study: Self-control is not a finite resource

Exhibiting self-control means more than just harnessing your impulsive desires or exercising restraint. It can also refer to the day-to-day decisions you make to be your most productive and efficient self.

Say you practice self-control all day, working hard, eating right, staying focused, and by the time you get home and wind down for the evening, you’re spent. Instead of exercising or doing a load of laundry, you decide to watch a few episodes of your favorite show. Is this because you’ve used up your allotted amount of self-control for the day?

Previously, psychologists and scientists condoned the idea that self-control is limited, and exhibiting self-control throughout the day exhausts those resources.  

Any early studies that tried to conclusively prove that people lose motivation on tasks through the day, though, were unable to do so with sufficient evidence.

But now, a new study from the University of Toronto has found that self-control is not a finite resource, although we may experience fatigue at the end of the day.

The study was led by Daniel Randles and was published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Randles found that self-control doesn’t necessarily diminish throughout the day, but what is mentally taxing is the amount of focus and time spent on a single task. Randles also discovered that time of day does not affect motivation.

For the study, Randles and his team collaborated with Cerego, an online software company that provided online tests to two groups of students over seventeen-week intervals.

The tests were based around language and topic learning, and the researchers recorded how long the students spent per session and what time they performed the tasks.  

The results of the tests showed that time of day had no impact on a student’s completing a test.

“Time-of-day has no detrimental effect on motivation; rather there is a strong tendency to increase learning time at night,” said Randall.

The researchers found that what did affect performance was the amount of time spent on a single task, noting drops in performance after an hour had been spent on a test.

The research proves that motivation is dependent on how long we spend focusing on a single task, but that self-control is not limited.

By Kay Vandette, Earth.com Staff Writer

Rigid gender stereotypes and expectations found across the globe

Gender expectations are universal for adolescents around the world – not necessarily in their exact specifications, but in their prevalence and the effects they have on young girls and boys.

A novel 15-country study released by the Global Early Adolescent Study has found that the onset of adolescence triggers a surprisingly common set of rigidly enforced gender expectations that researchers connected to an increase in lifelong risks of everything from HIV to violence and suicide.

In the most comprehensive study to date, researchers analyzed data from high, low, and middle-income countries encompassing how children entering adolescence perceive growing up as their respective genders. The countries range from China to Bolivia and Scotland to the United States. Public health experts from around the world joined together to assess how a variety of culturally enforced gender stereotypes – all associated with increased risk of mental and physical health problems – become established between the ages of 10 and 14.

“We found children at a very early age – from the most conservative to the most liberal societies – quickly internalize this myth that girls are vulnerable and boys are strong and independent,” says Robert Blum, director of the Global Early Adolescent Study at Johns Hopkins University. “And this message is being constantly reinforced at almost every turn, by siblings, classmates, teachers, parents, guardians, relatives, clergy and coaches.”

Blum believes that these findings point towards a need to restructure adolescent health interventions in order to focus on much younger age groups, as these interventions usually focus on adolescents 15 years or older.

“Adolescent health risks are shaped by behaviors rooted in gender roles that can be well established in kids by the time they are ten or 11 years old,” explains Kristin Mmari, associate professor and lead researcher for the qualitative research at the Global Early Adolescent Study. “Yet we see billions of dollars around the world invested in adolescent health programs that don’t kick in until they are 15, and by then it’s probably too late to make a big difference.”

Researchers found that, in countries around the world, children are made to believe in gender-based restrictions, some of which are rationalized to “protect” girls yet leave them vulnerable to subservience and physical abuse. In many of the countries studied, these stereotypes leave girls at an increased risk of dropping out of school, being exposed to violence, child marriage, early pregnancy, and HIV.

Boys were also found to be harmed by stereotypes they learn in early adolescence. Emphasis on physical strength and independence make them more likely to be victims of physical violence as well as homicide, and more likely to use tobacco or similar substances.

Mmari states that many of the gender stereotypes found in this study come as no surprise. Unfortunately, they are ingrained in children at a young age and are relatively common across cultures and economic status. Helping children beat the issues that come along with imposed stereotypes would need to be a concerted effort across many nations.

“Change can happen, but it requires political will and a variety of interventions,” says Blum. “It also requires the knowledge that children pick up on these gender mythologies at a very young age and they proceed to play out in a variety of ways – often damaging – for the rest of their lives.”

By Connor Ertz, Earth.com Staff Writer

People who rely on instinct are more likely to believe fake news

People who believe that facts in the news are shaped by politics are more likely to stand behind false truths, according to a new study. Individuals who rely on their instincts are also more likely to embrace fake news, while people who form fact-based beliefs have a more accurate view of issues in the news.

Kelly Garrett is a professor of Communication at Ohio State University and the study’s lead author.

“Scientific and political misperceptions are dangerously common in the U.S. today,” said Garrett. “The willingness of large minorities of Americans to embrace falsehoods and conspiracy theories poses a threat to society’s ability to make well-informed decisions about pressing matters.”

Garrett teamed up with Brian Weeks of the University of Michigan to get a better idea of how people form their beliefs and to determine whether this influences their inclination to accept ideas that have little or no evidence to support them. The team examined data from three nationally representative surveys that included as many as 1,000 participants.

Participants in the surveys had rated statements such as “I trust my gut to tell me what’s true and what’s not,” “Evidence is more important than whether something feels true,” and “Facts are dictated by those in power.”
The experts analyzed the responses to estimate how much the individuals relied on their intuition, needed concrete evidence, or believed that “truth” is political.

Next, the researchers examined how the participants’ approach to deciding what is true was related to their beliefs about controversial subjects. The study included questions about topics such as the connection between human activity and climate change.

The researchers found that participants who believed that news is molded by politics and power were more likely to stand behind fabrications. On the other hand, those who needed concrete evidence were less likely to believe fabricated news.

“While trusting your gut may be beneficial in some situations, it turns out that putting faith in intuition over evidence leaves us susceptible to misinformation,” said Weeks.

Garrett pointed out that it is important to acknowledge that people’s beliefs are not based solely upon political predispositions.

“Misperceptions don’t always arise because people are blinded by what their party or favorite news outlet is telling them,” he said.

Garrett added that, “Making an effort to base your beliefs on evidence is an easy way to help avoid being misled.”

The study is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

By Chrissy Sexton, Earth.com Staff Writer

Public health strides helped India avoid 1 million child deaths

New research shows that the country of India has avoided roughly 1 million child deaths for children under the age of five since 2005. This is due to major reductions in mortality from diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhea, tetanus, and measles. In India, most deaths occur at home without medical attention.

However, Dr. Prabhat Jha, head of the Centre for Global Health Research of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto, writes that almost three times that number could have been saved if national progress in child health matched that of some states.

Jha is the lead investigator of the Million Death Study, which is one of the largest studies of premature deaths in the world. In this survey, hundreds of census staff knocked on doors at over one million homes in India in order to interview household members about deaths. Physicians independently examined these “verbal autopsies” in order to establish the most probable cause of death.

“You get the truth when you knock on doors and talk to parents,” says Dr. Jha. “We knocked on the doors of 100,000 homes where children died. If the health system failed these families, they will tell you all about it. These are far more reliable numbers than models or projections from small studies.”

Results of the study showed a 3.3 percent annual decline in mortality rates of neonates (infants less than one month old) and a 5.4 percent decline for children age on month to 59 months. Further analysis shows that the declines increased starting in 2005, and were fastest in urban areas and richer states. Mortality rates for tetanus, measles, infection, pneumonia, and diarrhea all decreased drastically.

India accounts for about a fifth of the child deaths that occur around the world, which number about 6 million in total each year. Between 2000 and 2015, roughly 29 million Indian children died. Although that is certainly terrible, if the mortality rates of 2000 had remained unchanged during that time period, about 10 million more children would have died.

The authors of the study point towards increased government spending on public health in India and the launch of a program encouraging women to give birth in hospitals, as well as for children to have a second dose of measles vaccine, for the decrease in child deaths.

Scientists from Bangladesh and Tanzania write that the “Million Death Study can be a model for other countries where vital registration systems are still fragmented.”

By Connor Ertz, Earth.com Staff Writer