Understanding what makes Tennessee whiskey unique

The sugar maple tree yields autumn foliage, maple syrup and Tennessee whiskey. Wood from the tree is chopped into planks, stacked in piles and burned to form charcoal. Freshly distilled, un-aged whiskey is filtered over the charcoal in a mysterious, but necessary step known as the Lincoln County Process (LCP). By law, a product cannot be called Tennessee whiskey without it. Researchers now say they have some clues as to what the process imparts to the final product.

The researchers will present their results today at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Spring 2019 National Meeting & Exposition.

“Although Tennessee whiskey and traditional bourbon both have to be made from 51 percent corn and aged in charred oak barrels, the distinction is really this filtration step,” says graduate student Trenton Kerley, who performed the work.

Even in this modern age, whiskey making is still a bit of an art form. Distillers currently adjust their product empirically at the end of a long process of brewing, filtering and aging. They blend different batches to achieve a certain flavor. But until now, no one has systematically studied the effects of the LCP step, so named for the county where the original Jack Daniel’s distillery was located. John Munafo, Ph.D., leader of the study at the University of Tennessee, says that by probing the fundamental chemistry of this process, his team could help distilleries achieve the flavor profile they desire and reduce product variability.

Munafo’s group partnered with the Sugarlands Distilling Company in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, to figure out how LCP affected the flavor of their Roaming Man Tennessee whiskey. To do that, the researchers first established baseline values for its flavor. They began with unfiltered whiskey provided by the distillery. They identified all of the aroma-active molecules (odorants) of the beverage using a combination of gas chromatography-mass spectrometry and gas chromatography-olfactometry, a technique by which a scientist can smell the individual components of a sample as they are separated. They then determined which of these compounds was important to the whiskey’s flavor with a technique called aroma extract dilution analysis, in which aroma-active compounds are diluted until they no longer be smelled. Finally, the key odorants were quantitated by stable isotope dilution assays.

After identifying the compounds that contributed to the unfiltered whiskey’s flavor, they exposed it to sugar maple charcoal also obtained from Sugarlands. Based on a procedure established by the distiller, they left the whiskey soaking in the charcoal from one to five days. Afterward, they analyzed samples by spiking them with known quantities of the odorants previously identified so they could quantify how much of each compound was removed by the LCP step.

Kerley says that based on the whiskey’s smell before and after filtration, he was not surprised by the change in chemical composition, but he was surprised by how much some of the levels changed. “I was expecting it to have an effect, but I wasn’t expecting as large of an effect as we saw in some of the compounds. For example, levels of some compounds declined by up to 30 percent after LCP,” he says.

Now that Munafo and his student better understand how LCP changes whiskey chemically, they want to adjust some of the parameters of the filtration process. Munafo says they will run a series of experiments varying the time the unfiltered whiskey is in contact with the charcoal, and another in which the whiskey-to-charcoal ratio is systematically altered. He also wants to investigate the sensory impact of combinations of compounds that are present. “There are some ‘strong’ flavor compounds present in low concentrations, but then there are ‘weaker’ aroma-active compounds such as branched alcohols that are present at high concentrations,” Munafo says. “Even though they might not be potent aroma-active compounds, they could have an effect like a perception of burning that our senses pick up.”

Down the road, the data Munafo and his students collect could be used to advise distillers on exactly what changes to make to their whiskey to produce the best flavor for their unique brand. “We want to give them levers to pull so they are not blindly trying to get the flavor target they want,” Munafo says.

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Materials provided by American Chemical Society. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

How to Shop for a Foam Roller

It seems like everywhere you turn these days, another professional athlete or casual exerciser is espousing the benefits of the foam roller. It’s one of the more accessible recovery tools out there in an overflowing market of high-tech, pricey gadgets that allegedly help you heal from a workout quicker and come back stronger and better. It also has some promising potential benefits, which is why physical therapists and sports medicine doctors often recommend it to their patients.

The thing is, there are so many options. And we’re not just talking colors and sizes. You can buy foam rollers of various shapes, densities, and surface textures. You can even buy ones that vibrate.

Having options is always a good thing, but in some cases, too many options can just be overwhelming. Foam rolling is basically just a form of self-massage that you do with a foam tube on your living room floor. It’s not supposed to be complicated.

So to help make things a little simpler for you, I asked experts about how to choose the right foam roller for your specific needs. Here are their top tips for shopping for your first foam roller.

First, consider density.

“If you’re new to foam rolling, start with something gentler,” Elizabeth Barachi, M.D., sports medicine doctor at NYU Langone Health, tells SELF. If you’re not used to putting pressure on and rolling out tight muscles and tissues, you’ll likely be really sensitive at first. “You’ve got to build up a tolerance for it,” says David Reavy, P.T., a board-certified clinical specialist in orthopedic physical therapy and founder of React Physical Therapy in Chicago. Like anything else, you have to slowly introduce your body to foam rolling so that it can get used to the new sensation.

The easiest way to do this is to choose a roller that’s low-density, meaning it’s a little softer and has some give. Most rollers that are solid tubes of foam, like this one from OPTP, are going to be softer and less dense. Rollers that are hollow and made of plastic with a foam layer on top, like this one from TriggerPoint, are going to be harder and more dense. Generally, the harder and denser a roller is, the deeper it can get into your sore spots, Reavy says.

Remember: Harder isn’t always better.

To gauge if the density is right for you, think about your pain as you roll on a scale from 1-10. “If you’re at a 5 or more when you’re foam rolling, it’s too much,” says Laura Miranda, D.P.T., M.S.P.T., C.S.C.S., a New York City-based trainer and creator of the Pursuit training program. “Harder isn’t always better.” That’s because part of what foam rolling is doing is releasing tension and helping the targeted area relax and loosen. If you’re in too much pain, Miranda explains, you’ll likely tense up more and do the opposite of what you’re trying to achieve.

Also, if you’re bruising, you’re probably going too hard. Besides not looking so savory, going overboard can potentially make your current condition worse, says Barachi. “It is possible to overdo it,” she says. If you hammer hard on a particular spot, it’s possible to work it so much that you end up breaking down the tissue and creating scar tissue. “That’s not a permanent problem, but it can exacerbate an existing issue—if you already have tightness and work on a spot for too long, you can really cause it to take a lot longer to get better,” Barachi says.

Once you get some experience rolling, you may find different densities are better for different body parts, says Miranda. For example, your glutes may be more tender and painful than your quads or calves. But if you’re just starting out, and especially if you’re super tight or have significant mobility issues in specific areas, it’s best to stick with a lower density roller. You can always put more pressure into it when you reach the areas that can tolerate it—it’s harder to dial back on pressure when the tool is really dense.

Then, look at the surface texture.

Nobs, ridges, notches, and spikes. You can find foam rollers with these and more surface textures. But what’s the point of these variations? They add more pressure points and can help you get at muscles from different angles, says Miranda. A smooth roller provides a large, flat surface on which to roll, and the pressure from the roller will be distributed among a few different neighboring muscles. But a ridgy or spiky roller will target more specific spots with greater intensity.

This can be a good thing if you’re trying to reach muscles that are deeper, like those in the hips and around the scapula. “Theoretically, knobs can get into some muscle groups better,” says Barachi. Think about trying to massage a spot with your whole palm, explains Miranda. You can’t get too specific or contoured. But if you dig into that same spot with just your thumb, you can really apply intense, direct pressure. Generally, when a device is smaller, it’s much easier to get it into a specific crevice.

Think about where you’ll be using it.

If you travel a lot, it might be worth having a compact roller that you can take with you, says Reavy. You can buy this nifty collapsible foam roller, or just one that’s really short and can fit in luggage, like this 4-inch roller.

One note on length, though: A shorter roller requires more stability and body awareness to use. “Depending on what you’re rolling, it can require a bit of upper-body strength,” says Miranda. “You have to be really targeted with your rolling technique.”

If you’re just buying a roller to keep at home, stick with a longer one—12-18 inches the standard you’ll see in gyms—so that you can move around as you roll without worrying about slipping off.

What about those cool vibrating rollers?

The idea behind vibrating foam rollers and other electronic massage devices is that the vibrations may help alter our perception of pain, says Reavy. It’s based on a medical idea known as the gate control theory, which basically suggests that providing non-painful stimulation to a spot that hurts potentially helps temporarily block pain signals (or “close the gates”) traveling to your brain.

The thing is, there has yet to be quality research done on these devices, so experts can’t say whether there’s actual proof that they work any better than regular old rollers. Barachi says that while there’s no solid evidence in favor of vibrating foam rollers, “if it feels good, then go ahead.”

One caveat, though, is that it’s even more important to listen to your body when you’re using a more intense device that may inhibit your perception of pain. It can be easier to go overboard. That doesn’t mean you can’t use them, but you should just be more mindful and dial back if things start to feel too intense. Forcing your muscles into submission is a good way to end up with more pain or bruising—the opposite of why you’re bothering to foam roll in the first place.

Finally, for certain spots, consider rolling with a ball instead.

“A ball is the same concept as spikes on rollers,” says Miranda. “Sometimes a ball is actually better.” A spiky roller can be “more like an aggressive punch in the muscle,” whereas a “ball can provide a more gentle release of that muscle,” she says. A ball can also just be easier to maneuver—it’s so small and targeted that you can just place it under the exact spot you’re trying to release. Lacrosse balls, like these ones from Champion Sports, make really great targeted self-massage devices for hard-to-reach areas by the shoulder blades and hips.

However, Miranda adds that a lacrosse ball may be too intense for some people to start with—“I personally can’t tolerate it on my own glutes,” she says—so you might want to start with a tennis ball, which is less dense. You can also try a small foam ball, like these from U.S. Toy. “It’s the same idea, but not so dense and it can get into areas that are not accessible by a big, long foam roller,” Miranda says. (Massage balls come in tons of different densities and textures, so you’ve got lots of options here, too.)


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Gastrointestinal complaints in children could signal future mental health problem

A Columbia University study has found that adversity early in life is associated with increased gastrointestinal symptoms in children that may have an impact on the brain and behavior as they grow to maturity.

The study was published online March 28 in the journal Development and Psychopathology.

“One common reason children show up at doctors’ offices is intestinal complaints,” said Nim Tottenham, a professor of psychology at Columbia and senior author on the study. “Our findings indicate that gastrointestinal symptoms in young children could be a red flag to primary care physicians for future emotional health problems.”

Scientists have long noted the strong connection between the gut and brain. Previous research has demonstrated that a history of trauma or abuse has been reported in up to half of adults with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), at a prevalence twice that of patients without IBS.

“The role of trauma in increasing vulnerability to both gastrointestinal and mental health symptoms is well established in adults but rarely studied in childhood,” said study lead author Bridget Callaghan, a post-doctoral research fellow in Columbia’s psychology department. In addition, she said, animal studies have demonstrated that adversity-induced changes in the gut microbiome — the community of bacteria in the body that regulates everything from digestion to immune system function-influence neurological development, but no human studies have done so.

“Our study is among the first to link disruption of a child’s gastrointestinal microbiome triggered by early-life adversity with brain activity in regions associated with emotional health,” Callaghan said.

The researchers focused on development in children who experienced extreme psychosocial deprivation due to institutional care before international adoption. Separation of a child from a parent is known to be a powerful predictor of mental health issues in humans. That experience, when modeled in rodents, induces fear and anxiety, hinders neurodevelopment and alters microbial communities across the lifespan.

The researchers drew upon data from 115 children adopted from orphanages or foster care on or before approximately they were 2 years old, and from 229 children raised by a biological caregiver. The children with past caregiving disruptions showed higher levels of symptoms that included stomach aches, constipation, vomiting and nausea.

From that sample of adoptees, the researchers then selected eight participants, ages 7 to 13, from the adversity exposed group and another eight who’d been in the group raised by their biological parents. Tottenham and Callaghan collected behavioral information, stool samples and brain images from all the children. They used gene sequencing to identify the microbes present in the stool samples and examined the abundance and diversity of bacteria in each participant’s fecal matter.

The children with a history of early caregiving disruptions had distinctly different gut microbiomes from those raised with biological caregivers from birth. Brain scans of all the children also showed that brain activity patterns were correlated with certain bacteria. For example, the children raised by parents had increased gut microbiome diversity, which is linked to the prefrontal cortex, a region of the brain known to help regulate emotions.

“It is too early to say anything conclusive, but our study indicates that adversity-associated changes in the gut microbiome are related to brain function, including differences in the regions of the brain associated with emotional processing,” says Tottenham, an expert in emotional development.

More research is needed, but Tottenham and Callaghan believe their study helps to fill in an important gap in the literature.

“Animal studies tell us that dietary interventions and probiotics can manipulate the gut microbiome and ameliorate the effects of adversity on the central nervous system, especially during the first years of life when the developing brain and microbiome are more plastic,” Callaghan says. “It is possible that this type of research will help us to know if and how to best intervene in humans, and when.”

Callaghan and Tottenham are currently working on a larger-scale study with 60 children in New York City to see if their findings can be replicated. They expect the results later this year.

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Materials provided by Columbia University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

I’m a Fitness Editor and These Are the 7 Pairs of Black Leggings I Basically Live In

Hi, I’m Amy, and I wear fitness leggings as normal pants all the time. No, my office isn’t really that casual, but yes, I use my job as a fitness editor as an excuse to don activewear more often than I should. Any day I don’t have to wear jeans or a dress schlepping around Manhattan is a good day. On the weekends, I change out of my “lounging around the house” leggings right into my “out on the street” leggings as I move from cleaning my apartment to running errands or meeting friends for lunch. Basically, I fancy myself somewhat of a leggings expert, if that were an actual title that a person could hold.

Since part of my job as a fitness editor is to know about all the new activewear and athleisure options on the market and what’s worth recommending to our readers, I have tested out my fair share of leggings. I’ve probably sweated in at least 100 different pairs of leggings, and at one point I had about that many sitting in my apartment. (Please don’t ask my husband about this, it’s a sore subject.) Beyond having the unique and very specific opportunity to discover exactly what I like most in a pair of leggings depending on the activity I’m doing, I’ve also learned to deeply appreciate the power of a great pair of black leggings.

I’m not usually an “all black everything” type of person, but black leggings are truly the most versatile. They’re like the little black dress of the activewear world. Black is so easy to match with most of my sports bras, tanks, sneakers, and sweatshirts. I also feel more confident in black as opposed to a light pattern that will betray me the second I get sweaty or (god forbid) end up being more see-through than I had planned. Brightly colored and patterned options are fun, and I do wear them, but not nearly as often as I wear a trusty pair of solid black leggings.

Over the years, I’ve clung to a handful of black leggings I love the most and while the list is always evolving, there are a few staples that I turn to regularly. Not all my favorite leggings are black—I wear many more pairs than just the options below (for example, when I’m running I usually turn to pants specifically meant for the sport) but these are the all-black pairs I find myself throwing on whenever I need to grab something quick without overthinking it.

Black leggings are reliable. The pairs below, in particular, have never once let me down, which is why I wear them again and again and recommend them wholeheartedly to anyone still on the prowl for that one great pair of black leggings.

One thing I want to note: As a straight-sized woman, I realize that it’s way easier for me to find leggings that fit my body than it is for many other people. While some of the leggings below do go up to 3X, it’s harder than it should be to find size-inclusive clothing options, particularly in activewear. Some mass brands are slowly but surely extending their size offerings, and many new and wonderful size-inclusive activewear brands have launched in recent years (check out these 40 plus-size brands our Big Fit Girl columnist, trainer Louise Green, recommends), but we still have a long way to go when it comes to this issue.

All products featured on SELF are independently selected by our editors. If you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Mental Health Awareness Means Talking About All Types of Mental Illness

Mental illness is incredibly common: Nearly one in five adults in the United States lives with a mental illness, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH). But in spite of its prevalence, there still exists a tremendous amount of stigma associated with mental health conditions. That stigma can have far-reaching consequences, from limiting our understanding of these conditions to interfering with a person’s willingness to seek treatment when they truly need it.

The good news is that, culturally, we’re making some headway on that stigma. I have written and edited health content for a little over a decade, and it’s been amazing to see how the conversation around mental health has evolved in that time. Many brave people have publicly shared stories about their experiences navigating mental health conditions. And as the wellness industry has exploded, so too has our cultural understanding that being well and taking care of yourself requires tending to your mental health, and that means seeking help if you need it.

It’s no longer shocking when a celebrity discusses seeing a therapist, or living with depression or anxiety. That’s in part because we’ve made some progress toward normalizing these things and making it clear that they’re incredibly common and nothing to be ashamed of. There’s still work to do, of course, but there’s also good reason to feel optimistic. We’re heading in the right direction.

That said, certain mental health conditions still largely remain in the shadows, with an unequal share of awareness and attention. One such condition is bipolar disorder.

This is on my mind because March 30 is World Bipolar Day.

The mission of this day is to bring awareness to bipolar disorder and to eliminate social stigma. Bipolar disorder is one of the most misunderstood mental illnesses, and the confusion around it persists even as we make strides in the way we talk about other mental health conditions. Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder characterized by significant shifts in mood and energy levels, according to the NIMH. These shifts are referred to as “mood episodes” and they can come in various forms, though the two main types are manic episodes and depressive episodes. There are several types of bipolar disorder, each dependent on the symptoms that someone experiences and the severity, duration, and combination of those symptoms.

Bipolar disorder is a complicated, multifaceted mental illness that can significantly impact someone’s daily life. So why isn’t it given the time and space that anxiety and depression are given in our collective conversations around mental health?

Certainly part of the story here is that anxiety and depression are among the most common mental illnesses. While an estimated 31.1 percent of adults in the U.S. will experience an anxiety disorder at some point, an estimated 4.4 percent will experience bipolar disorder. That may be a much smaller slice of our population, but it’s still millions of people affected by the condition.

Of course, this isn’t to say that the work in busting stigma around anxiety and depression is done; rather, it’s a call to action to bring that energy to other mental health conditions as well.

At SELF, we strive to talk about the nuances of mental health conditions not just on awareness days but throughout the calendar year. We’ve been making a genuine effort over the past few months to create more content around a wider range of mental health conditions, including bipolar disorder. That includes talking about the basics (like key facts people should know about bipolar disorder) as well as real stories from people living with the condition (like this personal essay about what it feels like to experience psychosis, which is a symptom for some people with bipolar disorder). But the conversation shouldn’t end there. We’re doing our best to give genuinely helpful information to people living with bipolar disorder, which means writing about treatment, symptoms, how to deal with mood episodes, and how to navigate medication side effects.

Beyond bipolar disorder, we have also been working to provide more coverage of other heavily stigmatized and misunderstood mental health conditions such as schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, and OCD, among others.

I’m proud of the work that we’ve done in this space and the stories that we’ve elevated and given a platform to. But I’m also aware that it’s just a start, and that there’s so much more we can and should be doing, and so many more stories that we should strive to tell. SELF’s goal is to help people feel better. In order to live up to that mission we need to do as much as we can to raise awareness and eliminate stigma all year long—exactly what World Bipolar Day calls for.


3 Ways to Become More Stress Resilient

Resilience means being able to adapt to life’s inevitable stresses and setbacks. In other words, you bounce back quickly when something goes wrong. If you frequently feel unhappy, or often wish you could take back the way you reacted to something, you may need to work on your resiliency.

Here are three tactics you can use to raise your resiliency threshold and get more enjoyment from life.

  1. Create awareness. Becoming more aware of your thoughts and actions can help you recognize patterns and areas where you can improve. Plus, it allows you to acknowledge what you’re already doing well. The next time you feel stressed, simply pause and notice your reaction. You might ask yourself, “Where is this coming from?” Once you’ve done that, you can choose another response or way of thinking.

    Try these tips to strengthen your personal awareness:

    • Listen to your body. How does your body react to stressful situations? Do you clench your jaw or teeth? Do you notice your heart rate increasing? Are your thoughts racing, or are you repeatedly worrying about the same issue?
    • Write it down. Make a list of your signs and symptoms of stress. This gives you a moment to check in with yourself and pause before you respond.
    • Reflect. Take note of what your mind is telling you in the moment of stress. You can then question if what you’re telling yourself is true, real or rational. Stress often triggers irrational thoughts. By noticing them, you can step back and gain perspective.
  2. Focus your attention. A powerful technique for dealing with stressful situations is to cultivate your attention to focus on the present moment. Doing so reduces the mind’s tendency to wander and ruminate on the what-if thoughts that often add to stress. Focusing your attention takes practice, especially in a world that’s filled with text messages, social media, and other distractions. To develop this skill, try focusing on the details in your everyday surroundings and experiences. Discover new aspects of old haunts and habits. Find the beauty in the mundane.

    Try these ideas:

    • Take a walk around your neighborhood and see it through fresh eyes. Pay attention to your route. Acknowledge the bark and branches of trees, the front doors you pass, the landscaping rocks, the neighbor’s dog barking. Be fully present and try to take in as many details as you can.
    • Once you’re home, reflect on how that walk was different than usual. How do you feel?
    • Look for points in your day where you can practice cultivating your attention, such as mindfully eating your dinner by engaging your senses to notice the taste, aromas, and textures of each dish. Or try focusing on your breath, noticing the coolness of the air as you inhale and the warmth on your exhale. Can you feel the rise and fall of your chest with each breath? You’ll likely be surprised at what you notice when you simply take the time to pay attention.
  3. Don’t pass judgment … for at least 3 minutes. Do you find yourself judging and assessing everything you experience? “This would be better if …” “They should have …” “I would have done it this way …” Combat this “righting reflex” by challenging yourself to simply experience someone or something for three minutes without trying to critique or improve. When you delay judgment, you create space for gratitude. You may find that what’s in front of you is good enough—or enjoyable as is.

Updated: 2016-12-29

Publication Date: 2016-12-29

Exercise is more critical than diet to maintain weight loss

A new study from the University of Colorado Anschutz Health and Wellness Center (AHWC) at the CU Anschutz Medical Campus revealed physical activity does more to maintain substantial weight loss than diet.

The study, published in the March issue of Obesity, was selected as the Editor’s Choice article.

“This study addresses the difficult question of why so many people struggle to keep weight off over a long period. By providing evidence that a group of successful weight-loss maintainers engages in high levels of physical activity to prevent weight regain — rather than chronically restricting their energy intake — is a step forward to clarifying the relationship between exercise and weight-loss maintenance,” said Danielle Ostendorf, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the CU Anschutz Health and Wellness Center.

The findings reveal that successful weight-loss maintainers rely on physical activity to remain in energy balance (rather than chronic restriction of dietary intake) to avoid weight regain. In the study, successful weight-loss maintainers are individuals who maintain a reduced body weight of 30 pounds or more for over a year.

Key findings include:

  • The total calories burned (and consumed) each day by weight-loss maintainers was significantly higher (300 kcal/day) compared with that in individuals with normal body weight controls but was not significantly different from that in the individuals with overweight/obesity.
  • Notably, of the total calories burned, the amount burned in physical activity by weight-loss maintainers was significantly higher (180 kcal/day) compared with that in both individuals of normal body weight and individuals with overweight/obesity. Despite the higher energy cost of moving a larger body mass incurred by individuals with overweight/obesity, weight-loss maintainers were burning more energy in physical activity, suggesting they were moving more.
  • This is supported by the fact that the weight-loss maintainer group also demonstrated significantly higher levels of steps per day (12,000 steps per day) compared to participants at a normal body weight (9,000 steps per day) and participants with overweight/obesity (6,500 steps per day).

“Our findings suggest that this group of successful weight-loss maintainers are consuming a similar number of calories per day as individuals with overweight and obesity but appear to avoid weight regain by compensating for this with high levels of physical activity,” said Victoria A. Catenacci, MD, a weight management physician and researcher at CU Anschutz Medical Campus.

The study looked at successful weight-loss maintainers compared to two other groups: controls with normal body weight (Body Mass Index (BMI) similar to the current BMI of the weight-loss maintainers); and controls with overweight/obesity (whose current BMI was similar to the pre-weight-loss BMI of the maintainers). The weight-loss maintainers had a body weight of around 150 pounds, which was similar to the normal weight controls, while the controls with overweight and obesity had a body weight of around 213 pounds.

This study is one of the few to measure total daily energy expenditure in weight-reduced individuals using the gold standard doubly labeled water method. This method allows researchers to precisely determine an individual’s energy expenditure through collecting urine samples over one to two weeks after people are given a dose of doubly labeled water. Doubly labeled water is water in which both the hydrogen and the oxygen atoms have been replaced (i.e. labeled) with an uncommon isotope of these elements for tracing purposes.

The measure of total daily energy expenditure from doubly labeled water also provides an estimate of energy intake when people are weight stable, as they were in this study. Prior studies used questionnaires or diet diaries to measure energy intake, which have significant limitations.

The researchers also measured each individual’s resting metabolic rate in order to understand how much of the total daily energy expenditure is from energy expended at rest versus energy expended during physical activity. Prior studies used self-reported measures or activity monitors to measure physical activity, which are techniques that cannot provide the same accuracy.

The findings are consistent with results from the longitudinal study of “The Biggest Loser” contestants, where physical activity energy expenditure was strongly correlated with weight loss and weight gain after six years.

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Materials provided by University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. Original written by Julia Milzer. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Consider women juggling research/childcare

Offering financial aid to cover childcare costs for female academics attending conferences is one of the suggestions offered by QUT researchers who surveyed Australian women on how caring for children has affected their careers.

The decreased opportunity to network is a serious barrier to many women when it comes to getting their name out and meeting potential funding or research partners.

The paper by Professor Adrian Barnett and Lauren Sewell from QUT’s School of Public Health and Social Work, just published by PLOS One — The impact of caring for children on women’s research output: A retrospective cohort study — also recommends institutions that use publication and citation benchmarks as a key criteria for appointment and promotion should adjust those to cater for women who have cared for children.

“There is emerging evidence that women who care for children collaborate less with their colleagues, which could be a result of commitments outside of work like greater child-caring responsibilities,” said Professor Barnett.

“These factors need to be considered when research output is assessed for the granting of funding — it is not enough to view research performance only in the context of reduced hours.

“Individual cases need to be looked at because caring for children can affect different women in different ways. A single parent with limited family support will most likely find it harder to attending important networking events and collaborate with peers compared to someone with access to childcare and a supportive partner.”

Professor Barnett said that Australia’s two primary funding agencies — the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) and the Australian Research Council (ARC) have both come under fire for giving too much weight to research quantity rather than quality, with some researchers accusing it of being an ‘old boys’ club’.

“Both ARC and the NHMRC allow applicants to detail career disruptions which may have impacted on their research performance, including child birth and carer responsibilities and assess outputs relative to that, but it is unclear how that is achieved,” he said.

“There is also limited research which quantifies the impact of caring for children on research output and studies have had conflicting results.

“Our study aimed to address many of the limitations of previous research. We evaluated women’s output over their entire career and measured both the output and visibility of women using publications and citations.

“We also used three measures of research collaboration to investigate a potential impact of women’s networks after caring for children — the number of authors per paper, the number of affiliations per year and the number of co-author countries outside Australia.”

The study included 95 women who were randomly selected from papers published in three Australian journals between 2007 and 2015 — the Medical Journal of Australia, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, or the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

“We looked at annual publication and citation counts which are viewed as an essential measure of research quality, visibility and relevance,” Professor Barnett said.

“In the end, our results revealed a complex picture, with differential impacts on output depending on the number of children, the outcome considered, and the presence of statistically influential women.

“Caring for children was negatively associated with citations, especially for women who cared for two children, who are far more common. The ability to travel to research conferences in Australia and overseas is also greatly affected.

“A simple numerical adjustment to a women’s track record is unlikely to be possible, because the impact of caring for children is so varied that the average impact is meaningless.

“As well as looking after children, some of our participants pointed out they were often the primary carers for elderly parents which could also end up having a big impact on their career.”

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Materials provided by Queensland University of Technology. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.

Kicking goals for kids with autism

Ahead of World Autism Awareness Day on April 2, researchers from the University of South Australia are turning autism interventions on their head with a stand-out sports program that’s training coaches how to best achieve results for students with autism.

Supporting Success is a school-based multi-sports program designed to help children with autism develop important life skills via regular organised sports. Yet it does so by focusing on the child’s environment instead of directing the intervention to the child itself.

UniSA researcher, Emma Milanese says Supporting Success is unique in that it provides important first-line interventions and training for coaches as a means for helping children with autism.

“Coaches play a paramount role in providing the ‘right’ environment for students with autism to enjoy and participate in sport, yet the challenge is that they often feel unprepared to work in special settings.

“Our research shows that there are specific tactics that coaches can use to encourage students with autism to more effectively participate in sports and physical activities.

“These include using visual cards to communicate; demonstrating activities before students have a go; using distinct coaching aids to familiarise students with sports equipment; and various approaches for overcoming individual sensory challenges.

“We’re very pleased to hear that both parents and teachers are reporting great improvements in physical and interpersonal skills, concentration, and general calmness, as well as increased interests in new experiences, new friendships, and a general feeling of being more connected with the environment and community.”

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a lifelong developmental condition that can affect how a person communicates and interacts with the world around them. In Australia, the Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates approximately 164,000 Australians are living with ASD, with Autism Spectrum Australia indicating that the prevalence of ASD could be as high as 1 in every 70 people.

Co-researcher, UniSA’s Richard McGrath says the findings show how important it is to consider the world from the perspective of a child with ASD.

“Many kids on the spectrum struggle to process auditory commands which can make verbal instructions tricky, but add a visual cue card as a prompt, or actively show them what they need to do, and it’s a completely different story,” McGrath says.

“Similarly, we’ve found it effective to use plain words to describe activities. Instead of sports-specific lingo, like ‘Throw the cricket ball at the stumps’, we’re suggesting coaches use literal words, like ‘Throw the ball at the three sticks.’ This was far more effective for kids with autism, especially when they were just learning about the sport.”

Developed in partnership with Modbury Special School and not-for-profit organisation SportsUnited, Supporting Success was initially created for adolescents to help them build self-confidence and belief in their own abilities through sport. Now in its fourth year, the program has been extended to junior primary school children to help improve their gross motor skills, communication and socialisation skills.

Supporting Success partner, Ginny Pyatt from the Modbury Special School says the coaching interventions provide valuable strategies for encouraging children with ASD to participate in sports.

“Sport and exercise are extremely important for children on the autism spectrum,” Ginny Pyatt says.

“We’ve seen Supporting Success deliver incredible improvements in students’ physical competencies and sporting skills, but also in their confidence, social capabilities and well-being.

“Plus, the new junior-primary program is not only helping children build their skills in climbing, jumping, running and balancing, but importantly it’s also helping them build friendships, which is just beautiful.

“Through Supporting Success we’ve been able to positively impact the lives of more than 50 children and families affected by ASD. This program has given these children a sense of normalcy, an opportunity to have fun with their peers, and far-improved interpersonal skills, all which will hold them in good stead for the future.”

April Fools hoax stories could offer clues to help identify ‘fake news’

Studying April Fools hoax news stories could offer clues to spotting ‘fake news’ articles, new research reveals.

Academic experts in Natural Language Processing from Lancaster University who are interested in deception have compared the language used within written April Fools hoaxes and fake news stories.

They have discovered that there are similarities in the written structure of humorous April Fools hoaxes — the spoof articles published by media outlets every April 1st — and malicious fake news stories.

The researchers have compiled a novel dataset, or corpus, of more than 500 April Fools articles sourced from more than 370 websites and written over 14 years.

“April Fools hoaxes are very useful because they provide us with a verifiable body of deceptive texts that give us an opportunity to find out about the linguistic techniques used when an author writes something fictitious disguised as a factual account,” said Edward Dearden from Lancaster University, and lead-author of the research. “By looking at the language used in April Fools and comparing them with fake news stories we can get a better picture of the kinds of language used by authors of disinformation.”

A comparison of April Fools hoax texts against genuine news articles written in the same period — but not published on April 1st — revealed stylistic differences.

Researchers focused on specific features within the texts, such as the amount of details used, vagueness, formality of writing style and complexity of language.

They then compared the April Fools stories with a ‘fake news’ dataset, previously compiled by a different team of researchers.

Although not all of the features found in April Fools hoaxes were found to be useful for detecting fake news, there were a number of similar characteristics found across both.

They found April Fools hoaxes and fake news articles tend to contain less complex language, an easier reading difficulty, and longer sentences than genuine news.

Important details for news stories, such as names, places, dates and times, were found to be used less frequently within April Fools hoaxes and fake news. However, proper nouns, such as the names of prominent politicians ‘Trump’ or ‘Hillary’, are more abundant in fake news than in genuine news articles or April Fools, which have significantly fewer.

First person pronouns, such as ‘we’, are also a prominent feature for both April Fools and fake news. This goes against traditional thinking in deception detection, which suggests liars use fewer first person pronouns.

The researchers found that April fools hoax stories, when compared to genuine news:

  • Are generally shorter in length
  • Use more unique words
  • Use longer sentences
  • Are easier to read
  • Refer to vague events in the future
  • Contain more references to the present
  • Are less interested in past events
  • Contain fewer proper nouns
  • Use more first person pronouns

Fake news stories, when compared to genuine news:

  • Are shorter in length
  • Are easier to read
  • Use simplistic language
  • Contain fewer punctuation marks
  • Contain more proper nouns
  • Are generally less formal — use more first names such as ‘Hillary’ and contain more profanity and spelling mistakes
  • Contain very few dates
  • Use more first person pronouns

The researchers also created a machine learning ‘classifier’ to identify if articles are April Fools hoaxes, fake news or genuine news stories. The classifier achieved a 75 per cent accuracy at identifying April Fools articles and 72 per cent for identifying fake news stories. When the classifier was trained on April Fools hoaxes and set the task of identifying fake news it recorded an accuracy of more than 65 per cent.

Dr Alistair Baron, co-author of the paper, said: “Looking at details and complexities within a text are crucial when trying to determine if an article is a hoax. Although there are many differences, our results suggest that April Fools and fake news articles share some similar features, mostly involving structural complexity.

“Our findings suggest that there are certain features in common between different forms of disinformation and exploring these similarities may provide important insights for future research into deceptive news stories.”

The research has been outlined in the paper ‘Fool’s Errand: Looking at April Fools Hoaxes as Disinformation through the Lens of Deception and Humour’, which will be presented at the 20th International Conference on Computational Linguistics and Intelligent Text Processing, to be held in La Rochelle in April.

The paper’s authors are Edward Dearden and Alistair Baron of Lancaster University. Edward Dearden’s PhD studies have been supported by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.

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Materials provided by Lancaster University. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.