The Pulse – August 29, 2014

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    In the fight against obesity, public health officials, the government and doctors are trying all kinds of things. In Philadelphia, they’ve added fresh food to corner stores, chain restaurants now list calorie counts on their menu, schools have banned soda in the vending machines and nixed deep fryers in the cafeteria, and there’s even a program to make Chinese takeout healthier. Still, about 40 percent of Philadelphia kids are overweight or obese—and that number is even higher in certain neighborhoods. As Pulse reporter Taunya English found out, one of the newest ideas to “Get Healthy” in Philly tries to revive a fading tradition: the family dinner.

    New research explores a potential relationship between legalizing medical marijuana and a decrease in opioid overdose deaths. It seems that in states that have legalized medical marijuana, there have been fewer deaths from prescription painkiller overdoses than experts had expected. We talk with Marcus Bachhuber of the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars program about the study’s findings.

    How smart is your electric meter? Pennsylvania is requiring the state’s major utilities to install new, techy meters in the place of those old, impossible-to-read dinosaurs that cling to the sides of our houses. The state hopes to paint a more detailed picture of how and when we’re using energy. Utilities think that being more transparent about energy use could encourage customers to conserve and consume smarter. But, as the Pulse’s Katie Colaneri asks, do the new meters make a difference?

    Imagine a full moon over the open ocean, waves lapping over a coral reef, and warm currents silently passing by. Sounds romantic, right? Apparently corals think so too! In our regular segment “So, What Do You Do,” where lay people interview scientists about their work, we meet physics and astronomy professor Alison Sweeney from the University of Pennsylvania. She studies the sex lives or corals.

    When you picture a spaceship hurtling silently through the universe, what exactly do you picture it hurtling through? Nothing? That begs the question, what is space made of? It’s a question that has vexed humanity for quite some time. Since the 1930s, scientists have theorized about “dark matter,” which is believed to be responsible for keeping the galaxy and universe together with its gravity, but it cannot be directly detected, so its exact makeup remains elusive. Though, results from the particle detector attached to the International Space Station could perhaps bring us closer to getting a grasp on dark matter. Derek Pitts, Chief Astronomer at the Franklin Institute joins us to explain what exactly we’re hoping to find.

    The American Medical Association calls the practice of shackling pregnant inmates dangerous to both mother and child, and, in 2010, Pennsylvania passed a law against the practice. Corrections workers aren’t supposed to shackle pregnant inmates after their second trimester, but the legislation lacks oversight. Reporter Audrey Quinn found evidence that pregnant Pennsylvania inmates are still being shackled despite the law.

    In this week’s installment of Patient Files—your stories of illness, recovery and healing—we hear from Eugene Tatom Sr., a 70-year-old Vietnam Veteran who recently competed in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games, which took place in Philadelphia. He says playing sports was instrumental in reclaiming his life after a land mine nearly took it from him.

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