Later sunsets ‘make kids more active’


Children playing as the sun goes down
Moving the clocks forward by one extra hour all year in the UK could lead to children getting more exercise every day, say researchers.

Their study of 23,000 children found that daily activity levels were 15% to 20% higher on summer days than winter days.

The UK research team said increasing waking daylight hours would have a worthwhile benefit on public health.

The clocks are set to go back by one hour this weekend across the UK.

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Evening daylight plays a role in increasing physical activity in the late afternoon and early evening – the ‘critical hours’ for children’s outdoor play”

Dr Anna GoodmanLondon School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

This will result in darker afternoons and fewer hours of daylight after children finish school.

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and the University of Bristol analysed the activity levels of this large group of children aged five to 16 years old in nine countries, including England and Australia.

All the children wore accelerometers or electronic devices around their waists that measured body movement.

The results, published in the International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity, suggest that more evening daylight can help keep children active for longer.

Every child

Proposals to shift the clocks forward by one additional hour for the whole year and not move them back in October, have been debated in parliament at various times over the years, but never been implemented.

The study calculated that these proposals – which would give British children 200 extra waking daylight hours per year – would increase the average time children spend doing moderate to vigorous physical activity from 33 to 35 minutes a day.

Lead author Dr Anna Goodman, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said an extra two minutes may not seem like much, “but it was not trivial in relation to children’s overall activity levels”.

Young children running in a field

Dr Goodman added: “This study provides the strongest evidence to date that, in Europe and Australia, evening daylight plays a role in increasing physical activity in the late afternoon and early evening – the ‘critical hours’ for children’s outdoor play.

“Introducing additional daylight savings measures would affect each and every child in the country, every day of the year, giving it a far greater reach than most other potential policy initiatives to improve public health.”

This effect appeared to apply to girls and boys and to overweight and normal-weight children, as well as children from different socio-economic backgrounds, the study said.

As part of the study, researchers looked at the activity of 439 children just before and just after the clocks changed in their country.

The results showed that each child immediately became more active on the days when sunset had been moved an hour later.

“In England next week, there will be a sudden drop in physical activity levels of 5% because of the clocks going back,” Dr Goodman said.

Co-author Ashley Cooper, professor of physical activity and public health at the University of Bristol, said: “While the introduction of further daylight savings measures certainly wouldn’t solve the problem of low physical activity, we believe they are a step in the right direction.”

Opponents of daylight saving measures say mornings would become darker, especially in Scotland, and this could have an impact on children going to school and people travelling to work.

US ‘probes hackable’ medical devices


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The US government is reported to fear that pacemakers could be hacked

US officials have revealed they are investigating about two dozen suspected examples of medical equipment vulnerable to hack attacks, potentially putting patients’ lives at risk.

The products include heart implants and drug infusion pumps, according to a report by the Reuters news agency.

It said investigators were concerned that flaws in the kit could be used to cause heart attacks and drug overdoses.

There are no known examples of deaths having happened this way.

One expert suggested that investigators’ efforts would better channelled elsewhere.

But the Department of Homeland Security indicated its fears were justified.

“It isn’t out of the realm of the possible to cause severe injury or death,” an unidentified government official told Reuters.

“These are the things that shows like Homeland are built from.”

The TV series Homeland featured a plot in which a fictional US vice-president was targeted via his pacemaker.

There have been warnings that drug overdoses could be given by internet-connected kit

Dick Cheney, who was vice-president under President George W Bush, later revealed he had feared a similar attack and had the wireless connectivity of his pacemaker disabled.

Hacked pumps

The inquiry is reportedly being co-ordinated by the US Department of Homeland Security’s Industrial Control Systems Cyber Emergency Response Team (ICS-Cert).

It is said to also cover medical imaging equipment and hospital networking systems.

The probe is reportedly an extension of research by Barnaby Jack, a security expert who died in July 2013, a week before he was scheduled to give a talk on the topic at the Black Hat conference.

He had earlier told the BBC about a way he had found to compromise insulin pumps used by diabetic patients, which connected to the internet to get updates.

“We can influence any pump within a 300ft [91m] range,” Mr Jack told the BBC. “We can make that pump dispense its entire 300-unit reservoir of insulin and we can do that without requiring its ID number.”

Barnaby Jack
Barnaby Jack spoke to the BBC in 2012 about medical device hacks

Reuters said that government staff told it they were working with device-makers to identify and patch software bugs and other vulnerabilities.

Three manufacturers, whose kit is believed to affected, told the news agency that they had already made safety improvements, but declined to provide specifics. The BBC requested further comment and one of the firms, Medtronic, provided a statement.

“We are committed to addressing the industry-wide issue of wireless hacking,” it said.

“We believe the risk to an individual customer is low and the therapeutic benefits of our cardiac devices for treating heart conditions and insulin pumps for diabetes far outweigh this risk.

“Medtronic has already taken a number of concrete actions to enhance device security and… will assess whether additional security measures can be implemented without compromising the therapy that the device is designed to deliver to patients.”

However, one expert suggested that the danger of such hacks was minor when compared with the risks caused by another tech-related problem with medical equipment – inconsistent user interfaces – and that efforts would be better spent on that issue.

“We’ve got no documented cases of people being killed as a result of hacking of medical equipment, but there are many instances of people dying as a result of safety usability failures,” said Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge.

“You can find instances of pumps from the same manufacturer where the up key and the down key might be ‘2’ and ‘5’ on one pump and ‘2’ and ‘7’ on another – the design of some medical equipment interfaces is as careless as the design of aircraft cockpits was in the 1930s.

“And there have been tragic cases, not just of kids being killed when they are given 10 times the dosage of morphine or whatever, but of nurses who are blamed for this subsequently committing suicide.”

World first: “dead heart” successfully transplanted at Australian hospital


In a game-changing breakthrough, Australian surgeons have successfully performed a heart transplant with a heart that had stopped beating.

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Doctors and scientists at St Vincent’s Hospital in Sydney, Australia recently transplanted two circulatory dead hearts, which were no longer beating, into two patients, both of whom are now recovering well.

Currently, donor hearts are taken from brain dead patients whose hearts are still beating, which limits the number of hearts available for transplant.

But the donor hearts used for these world-first transplants had been dead for at least 20 minutes, and were revived using a ground-breaking preservation fluid before being successfully transplanted into patients with heart failure.

Bob Graham, the executive director of the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute, who led the research team, told Elizabeth Jackson from the ABC that this will mean around 30 percent more people will be able to have heart transplants.

The successful transplants were the result of a collaboration between the Victor Chang Cardiac Research Institute in Sydney and St Vincent’s Hospital.

Michelle Gribilar, 57, had the first transplant of this kind a few months ago, and is now recovering well. The second recipient, Jan Damen, underwent the surgery a fortnight ago and is now in recovery. Both suffered congenital heart failure.

The scientists developed a special preservation solution that works on a “heart in a box” to keep the dead heart healthy even without blood flow.

Graham explained the process to ABC:

“[Five minutes after the donor has died] we can take the heart out and we can put it on a console where we connect it up with blood going through the heart and providing oxygen.

“Gradually the heart … starts beating again, and we can keep it warm and we can transport it on this console and we also give it a preservation solution that allows it to be more resistant to the damage of lack of oxygen.

“So those two things coming together almost like a perfect storm have allowed this sort of donation, this sort of transplantation of a heart that has stopped beating to occur. Before that it wasn’t possible.”

Einstein’s Gravity Waves Could Be Found with New Method


Gravitational waves, invisible ripples in the fabric of space and time, might be detected by looking for the brightening of stars, researchers say.
These mysterious ripples were first proposed by Albert Einstein as part of his theory of general relativity. The waves’ size depends on the mass of the objects creating them.
“Gravitational waves are emitted by accelerating masses,” said lead study author Barry McKernan, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Really big waves are emitted by really big masses, such as systems containing black holes merging with each other.

Scientists have still not made direct observations of gravitational waves, although researchers continue to endeavor to detect them using experiments involving lasers on the ground and in space. The waves interact very weakly with matter, which partly explains why seeing these ripples in spacetime is difficult.
Now, McKernan and his colleagues suggest that gravitational waves could have more of an effect on matter than previously thought, with their influence potentially brightening stars.
“It’s neat that nearly 100 years after Einstein proposed his theory of general relativity, there are still interesting surprises it can turn up,” McKernan told Space.com. “We’re brought up as astronomers thinking the interaction between matter and gravitational waves is very weak, essentially negligible, and that turns out not to be true.”
The researchers suggest that stars that vibrate at the same frequency as gravitational waves passing through them can absorb a large amount of energy from the ripples.
“You can imagine gravitational waves as sounds from a piano, and stars as a vibrating violin string held near that piano,” McKernan said. “If the frequency of the sounds matches the frequency of the violin string, the string can resonate with the sound.” If a star gets pumped up with large amounts of energy from gravitational waves in this way, “the star can puff up and look brighter than it normally would,” McKernan said.
One challenge is determining whether any star brightening astronomers detect is from gravitational waves or some other factor. The researchers suggest the key to spotting the effects of gravitational waves involves looking at large groups of stars.
“When a population of stars is near a system of merging black holes and is getting pounded by gravitational waves, we think that the more massive stars will light up first,” McKernan said. “It’s like playing keys on a piano and starting with low pitches.” As the black holes get closer together, the frequency of the gravitational waves they generate will increase, “and we’d expect to see brightening of smaller stars,” he added. “If we see a population of stars where the smaller stars are brightening after the bigger stars in a collective way, that might be a sign of gravitational waves.”
This research also suggests a different way to indirectly detect gravitational waves. If scientists develop working gravitational wave detectors on Earth or in space, when a star passes in front of powerful sources of gravitational waves such as merging black holes, the detector may see a drop in the intensity of those waves. This will happen if the eclipsing star is vibrating at the right frequency.
“You usually think of stars as being eclipsed by something, not the other way around,” McKernan said in a statement.
McKernan and his colleagues Saavik Ford, Bence Kocsis and Zoltan Haiman detailed their findings online Sept. 22 in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society: Letters.