Sunday, 9 February 2014

Three Blind Mice, see how they hear the Scales Groan in Milton Keynes

Although it’s not one of my regular reads, I was interested in a paper that appeared in last week’s issue of Neuron. This journal has become one of the most influential publications in the field of neuroscience. The papers reflect research undertaken by multi-disciplinary teams drawn from the biophysical, cellular, developmental psychology and molecular disciplines. Indeed the second most cited article (with its catchy title – A hexanucleotide repeat expansion in C9-RF72 is the cause of chromosome 9p21-linked ALS-FTD) has 76 authors.  

The paper that caught my attention (which only had 7 authors) reported on a study that showed that keeping mice in the dark for a week changed the neural connections in the brain responsible for vision and hearing and enhanced their hearing. Once the mice were returned to the light, the effects lasted for several weeks. Whilst the changes would need to be more permanent before the potential for humans could be realised, there might be positive applications for people who receive cochlear implants as an adult, for people who suffer with tinnitus and the reversal of some of the hearing loss associated with old age.

It appears that even with a degree of hearing loss, it’s possible to hear the scales start to groan in some of England’s fattest towns. Copeland in Cumbria is the fattest town with 75.9% of the residents are overweight or obese. Whilst the fatter areas continue to be largely either post-industrial or post agricultural, the obesity epidemic, like many waistbands, appears to be spreading to new areas. 

Intriguingly, Milton Keynes is now the 8th fattest place in England (72.5% of people overweight or obese). Milton Keynes was planned as a new city back in the late 1960s, and the Milton Keynes of today is neither post-industrial or agricultural. Perhaps a clue to the Milton Keynes fatness is in its conception. The Master Plan for Milton Keynes was drawn up in 1969, when we were in an age that worshipped the car – possibly the biggest waist expander in history.

Indeed it appears that the Master Plan was expressly designed to accommodate cars. A car dependent city is a fat city. Apart from the 11% of the population who claim to have gym and or health club membership, most of us will only take our exercise if it’s part of our everyday routine, walking to work, using stairs instead of lifts and so on. As the interesting C3 Celebrating for Health Report on walking for health notes, urban design has an important role to play in facilitating this natural inclination we all have to health providing exercise such as walking.

Ironically, in 2004 the then Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott (he was someone who had a great fondness for both cars and eating well) announced his expansion [sic] plans for Milton Keynes. He proposed that the population would double in size over the next 20 years. I am absolutely sure he didn't have expanding waist lines in mind.

Now if you want to save your waist line, then next Friday (Valentine's Day) forgo the romantic meal out, the chocolates and champagne and instead gather some of your 5 a day fruit portions to nibble on, find a comfortable yoga position to be in and watch the new 8 part documentary Student Nurses: bedpans and bandages, (20.00, ITV 1). This is a great little programme that features the experiences of students nurses from our School and those in studying in Birmingham. You won’t need a darkened room to watch it in either.