NASA’s Cassini Probe Set to End 20-Year Journey

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which was launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn in 2004, is about to begin the final chapter of its remarkable story this month.

On April 26, the spacecraft will make the first in a series of dives through the 2,400-kilometre gap between Saturn and its rings as part of the mission’s grand finale, NASA said.

“No spacecraft has ever gone through the unique region that we’ll attempt to boldly cross 22 times,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

“What we learn from Cassini’s daring final orbits will further our understanding of how giant planets, and planetary systems everywhere, form and evolve. This is truly discovery in action to the very end,” Zurbuchen added.NASA's Cassini Probe Set to End 20-Year Journey

During its time at Saturn, Cassini has made numerous dramatic discoveries, including a global ocean that showed indications of hydrothermal activity within the icy moon Enceladus, and liquid methane seas on its moon Titan.

Now 20 years since launching from Earth, and after 13 years orbiting the ringed planet, Cassini is running low on fuel.
In 2010, NASA decided to end the mission with a purposeful plunge into Saturn in 2017.

Using expertise gained over the mission’s many years, Cassini engineers designed a flight plan that will maximise the scientific value of sending the spacecraft toward its fateful plunge into the planet on September 15.

Cassini will transition to its grand finale orbits, with a last close flyby of Saturn’s giant moon Titan, on April 22.

As it has many times over the course of the mission, Titan’s gravity will bend Cassini’s flight path.

Cassini’s orbit then will shrink so that instead of making its closest approach to Saturn just outside the rings, it will begin passing between the planet and the inner edge of its rings.

When Cassini makes its final plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere on September 15, it will send data from several instruments – most notably, data on the atmosphere’s composition – until its signal is lost, NASA said.


Long-Term Use of Antibiotics Can Put You at the Risk of Cancer

Antibiotics have long been seen as a class of wonder drugs which could fight bacterial invasions and viruses and bring relief in about no time. These are essentially anti-bacterial. Over recent years there has been much debate over the rise in the consumption of antibiotics. Prolonged use has made human body resistant to its effects while others believe that bacteria, viruses and pathogens have become much stronger and therefore resistant to the present class of drugs. Developing a newer, more potent army of antibiotic would suggest an added pressure on human health. What is little know is the fact that prolonged use of potent antibiotics can meddle with the functioning of gut bacteria (the good bacteria that is essential for gut health and immunity) that feeds on yeast and unhealthy bacteria found in our body.

“These healthy bacteria form the basis of our immune system – or they did until we took antibiotics because antibiotics regularly kill our healthy bacteria. And that can set you up for numerous problems down the road – including some very serious problems,” states Kim Evans in her piece for HuffPost US. Evans’ article published in the year 2009 throws light on the relation between prolonged antibiotic use and development of cancer. She talks about a Roman oncologist, Dr. Tullio Simoncini, who describes cancer as an advanced fungal growth or candida overgrowth, “a kind of fungal growth that develops after using antibiotics,” Evans.

new cancer 620

Another research, closely tying antibiotics use and cancer together, is the latest that was published in the online journal, Gut. “The findings, if confirmed by other studies, suggest the potential need to limit the use of antibiotics and sources of inflammation that may drive tumour formation,” noted the study.

Antibiotics fundamentally alter the gut microbiome, by curbing the diversity and number of bacteria, and reducing resistance to ‘hostile’ bugs, they say. Previous research points to depletion of certain types of bacteria and an abundance of others in patients with bowel cancer. This might all have a crucial role the development of bowel cancer, added to which the bugs that require antibiotics may induce inflammation, which is a known risk for the development of bowel cancer.

It was found that prolonged antibiotic use by people in their early to mid-life can put them at a heightened risk of abnormal growths in the colon and rectum. These abnormal growths are called polyps or colorectal adenomas, which precede the development of most cases of bowel cancer.

colon cancer

For the research, the team drew health records of 121,700 US nurses ageing 30 to 55. Health records included detailed questionnaires answered by the participants and other details on demographics, dietary habits, lifestyle factors, medical history and disease development of the participants. For the purposes of the current study, analysis of the data was restricted to 16,642 women who were aged 60 and older in 2004 and were able to provide a history of antibiotic use between the ages of 20 and 59. The participants also had at least one bowel investigation (colonoscopy) between 2004 and 2010. 1195 adenomas were newly diagnosed in this group. Recent use of antibiotics within the past four years wasn’t associated with a heightened risk of an adenoma diagnosis, but long term use in the past was.

Those who had consumed antibiotics for two months or more were 36 percent more likely to be diagnosed with an adenoma when compared to the participants who didn’t take antibiotics for any extended period in their 20s and 30s.

The team also compared women who had never taken antibiotics between their 20s and 50s to the ones who had consumed the drugs for over 15 days between their 20s and 50s. 73 percent of the latter group was found to be more susceptible to be diagnosed with an adenoma.


How to Make Natural Deodorant at Home

The season of strong sun rays, tanning and sweating is almost approaching. The summer heat brings with it many skin care woes. Out of many of the skin problems we face in this season, sweating and body odour is one of the biggest concerns. Of course, having a nutritious diet and drinking lots of fluids can help reduce or completely eliminate body odour but most of us also end up relying on deodorants and fragrances bought from the store to deal with it.

These antiperspirants may do more harm than good. The store-bought deodorants may contain aluminum which has been linked to deadly diseases like breast cancer and Alzheimer’s. They may also contain propylene glycol which a petroleum based substance. It is known to cause damage to the central nervous system, heart and liver. Some fragrances may also have Parabens and Phthalates that are synthetic preservatives and they have negative effects on the hormonal system.

It’s good to sweat. It is the medium to get your body to detoxify naturally. Using deodorants clogs the pores of the skin which does not allow the toxins to get eliminated. Despite that, your body still tries to detox to remove toxins through excessive sweating which often leaves embarrassing sweat patches on our clothes. So, in order to keep your skin healthy and happy, we suggest you make your own deodorant at home. It’s really easy to make one with every day beauty ingredients. Have a look:

What you need:

1/3 cup of coconut oil
2 Tbsp baking Soda
1/3 cup of arrow root powder
10-15 drops of essential oil (lavender or orange-scented)


Method: Take a small mixing bowl and add coconut oil, baking soda and arrow root powder. If your skin is super sensitive, you can use less of the baking soda in the mixture. Blend everything together to make s creamy mix. Now, add the essential oil. And voila, you very own natural deodorant is ready!

How to use: Gently, take the paste with 3 fingers and rub over the armpit. Let it dry for 2 minutes and enjoy the natural fragrance. The coconut oil also helps in moisturising your skin and keeping it soft unlike the harsh spray deodorants that may take away all the moisture from your skin.

Business to consumer will remain one of the fastest-growing segments


BNP Paribas Asset Management India Pvt. Ltd’s track record, post Anand Shah’s joining the fund house in 2011 has been good. But, the calendar year of 2016 exposed chinks in stock picking strategy. Shah, as the fund house’s chief investment officer (now he is also the deputy chief executive officer and oversees the fund management as well as sales), has always liked investing in shares of consumer-facing companies. But last year, demonetisation and the entry of Reliance Jio in the telecom space adversely impacted his portfolios. His holdings in the telecom sector proved very costly. Will he be able to recover from this fall? Mint spoke to Shah to find out his future strategy. Edited excerpts:

Earlier this year, you had said that demonetisation had impacted your fund house’s equity schemes’ portfolios. It has been around four months since demonetisation. What’s your further assessment?

Re-monetisation appears to be now happening. Money is coming in. The economy that was largely cash-led has suffered, but things there as well are slowly resuming back to normal. So, four-wheelers never really got impacted. But two-wheelers, which largely dealt in cash, were impacted. Multiplexes, which largely dealt with credit cards and online bookings didn’t suffer as much, but single screen theatres where people book tickets largely by cash, suffered. Formal economies didn’t get impacted. The informal economy got adversely impacted.

But things are getting back to normal now. Most of our equity schemes have recovered their losses more or less.

You have always liked businesses that face the consumer. After the demonetisation impact, no matter how temporary an impact it has appeared to have had on the various industries, have you changed your likings about the sort of sectors you invest in?Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

The B2C businesses has created wealth for investors for decades. They also have more entry barriers and so it is not easy to take away a retail consumer in a hurry. There are valid reasons to invest in B2C companies. Further, the other two segments (business to business or B2B and business to government or B2G) have made a comeback.

In the B2B space, the metals sector is back as the Chinese economy has normalized and there’s hope of an economic recovery in the US. We have exposure to this segment.

In the B2G segment, the government’s spending is up. There are businesses that will benefit from government spending.

A bulk of our portfolios will remain in B2C businesses because comfortable demographics will ensure that it will remain one of the fastest growing segments in the market. On top of it, before demonetisation, we were looking at these companies to do well on the back of a good monsoon last year as well as the pay commission. Both these factors are not going away in a hurry. So, to us, this (demonetisation) is temporary, the B2C segment will only bounce back with a vengeance.

Your schemes’ performance went down big time in the calendar year 2016. Was their exposure to telecom sector the only reason or were there other reasons?

Two things happened together. The good part of the portfolio, business to consumer (B2C) segment companies, which gave me 600-700 bps outperformance for the last 8 years was dealt a blow (demonetisation), which is a once in a century phenomenon. One basis point is one-hundreth of a percentage point. I believe we won’t see another demonetisation for next one century at least. So while the fall in share prices of our holdings in the telecom sector stocks could have been absorbed by the otherwise resilient B2C companies, even the latter got impacted by demonetisation.

When you were buying more shares of Bharti Airtel Ltd throughout 2015-16, did you not see Reliance Jio’s impending impact? There was a lot of buzz around—and expectation from—the telecom company. Something big was expected by most of us.

We were prepared for a 50% lower pricing in data. We were not prepared for free handouts. Nobody anticipated. We have seen in the past that competition exists where the likes of Telenor and Tata Telecom enter the markets offering 30-50% discounts in tariffs and plans. And slowly and gradually, new entrants capture market share. That’s how B2C companies work. They capture market share, but they don’t capture it overnight.

For example, despite some banks like Kotak Bank and Yes Bank offering (close to) 6% interest on savings bank rate, we don’t see people leaving their banks and queuing up outside these banks. The B2B segment is price sensitive; price doesn’t generally matter in the B2C segment.

But Reliance Jio’s strategy and entry was extremely disruptive. It destroyed the sector’s health.

What is your outlook on the telecom sector now and where do you go from here as far your schemes’ exposure to this sector is concerned?

We have already sold our holdings in Idea Cellular much earlier than when Jio came, as that’s where we suffered large underperformance. Bharti Airtel has not performed badly for us, actually.

The telecom sector now is in a complete flux where balance sheets have grown because companies now have to deliver a 4G network in 2017 and 2018, as opposed to 2020. They had to prepone their capital expenditure, be it spectrum purchase or electronic capex. Typically, there is a 10-year cycle for every technology cycle. So, if 3G came in 2010, 4G was expected in around 2020. So now telecom companies have expanded their balance sheets, but their revenues have shrunk due to stiff competition. This combination reduces Return on Capital Employed and Return on Equity, as an industry, to abysmally low levels.

Consolidation has just begun, which is good. We still have more firms than many developed nations. Abroad, there are 2-3 firms, so we will see another year of pain, before another round of consolidation happens.

Analysts have pushed back earnings visibility further. What do you think?

We do have earnings problem at Nifty level but that’s not true for quite a few companies. Despite pockets of volatility in the past 3-4 years, we haven’t had problems of earnings growth for the companies in our portfolios.

If you look at financial year (FY) 2015, the first half (up to September 2014) was profitable, we didn’t have growth issues. We had a de-growth on year-on-year earnings between September 2014 and March 2015. Most of the de-growth came from commodity producers. Earnings didn’t collapse for everybody in the second half of FY2015. And thus, if you look at entire FY15, half of the Nifty companies’ earnings grew at 15% average, and half of Nifty companies’ earnings fell by 15%. And the same story continued in first half of FY16 because year-on-year, the commodity prices were lower. While lower commodity prices were great for macro economy, it had some negative impact on the earnings of the commodity producers.

In the second half of FY16, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) announced asset quality review of banks’ lending portfolios. Since companies had to recognize their bad assets more stringently, their earnings, led by those of the corporate banks, fell. Those banks that had lent to metal companies suffered further as commodity prices had fallen. And in the second half of 2016, crude oil prices fell from 50$ a barrel to 30$ a barrel and steel prices further went down. So commodity producers and corporate banks dragged down Nifty earning growth in FY16. The country as a whole wasn’t messed up. Some pockets suffered. We had decent growth in earnings for our underlying companies in FY2015 and FY2016.

FY2017 was looking fine with good monsoons (after 2 years) and spending boost due to implementation of pay commission for government employees. But then, in the second half came demonetization, and that has put new doubts on earnings visibility on most of the companies.

Coming back to present times, and looking at expectations for FY2018, we believe that our economy is doing well. Growth is coming back. To a lesser extent than we would like, but I think the government and RBI are doing the right things. Lower interest rates, lower inflation, investments on infrastructure—everything is moving in the right direction. It’s the harder way of economy recovery; wherein we are spending money on roads, railways which doesn’t give us GDP growth rate immediately.

But, I believe these are the right things to do for sustainable economic growth as well sustainable earnings recovery. We believe more than half of the index companies are already benefiting from these activities and it’s not that all the segments of the market are doing badly. There are plenty of opportunities to do stock picking.

Last year apart, your overall long term performance has been good. Yet, BNP Paribas Asset Management India Ltd’s overall assets under management hasn’t grown as much, as opposed to the industry.

Till December 2015, BNP Paribas Asset Management India Ltd was one of the fastest growing asset management companies in the Indian mutual funds industry. Our distribution strength lies in global markets. So globally, we are one of the seven largest offshore funds in the world that invest in India. Our Indian arm is profitable making it one of the very few fund houses in our size bracket to be profitable.

We have to now stabilize our performance, which is happening already. We have strengthened our tie-ups with distributors and last but not the least, we are putting in place our fixed income pie. We are making investments wherever needed.

Fighting for Special Education


The confirmation of Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of Education raises questions among faculty at schools across the nation about how to organize to protect public education. For many special education teachers in particular, the threat of widespread cuts to public schools is particularly urgent.

Betsy DeVos is a champion of school privatization and advocate of dismantling public education, and she confidently and aggressively plans to pursue these goals.

US special education departments have long suffered from ableist policy and funding practices, which are part and parcel of the neoliberal assault on public schools — in which students with disabilities are always the ones thrown under the bus.

DeVos, who openly opposes a federal guarantee of free and appropriate education to students with disabilities, appears poised to further ravage these services.

But it’s not only teachers who are hungry to defend students most victimized by ongoing attacks on special education. During the 2016 walkout by Boston Public School students, thousands of young activists and working-class families raised the demand for full funding for disability programing alongside a broader demand for well-funded public schools.

The current resistance to Trump has demonstrated the readiness of ordinary people to stage effective opposition to systemic injustice of all kinds. From the massive demonstrations for women’s rights to the pro-immigrant, anti-Islamophobia protests staged at airports across the nation, these mobilizations have shown that hundreds of thousands of people are invested in opposing oppression and fighting for a more just society.

We have an opportunity to tap into this momentum and harness the energy of this resistance to simultaneously oppose the DeVos agenda and bring the struggle against disability oppression to the forefront of the movement for education justice.

In order to achieve this, we have to examine the nature of disability oppression and how the disenfranchisement of students with disabilities in the US education system is wedded to a broad assault on public services for working-class people.

Their “Disability” and Ours

Asocialist approach to fighting disability oppression starts with the “social model of disability,” which identifies disability oppression — like all other forms of oppression — as rooted in the way our society is organized. Exclusion and discrimination toward people with physical or mental differences are not a natural consequence of human nature; impairments exist in a context where exclusion and discrimination based on impairment are permitted.

Under capitalism, the labor market and the organization of work are key components in the construction of disability as a social category. Inherent in the ideology and practice of capitalism is the idea that a person’s well-being is dependent on their ability to sell their labor for a wage.

Thus, physical and mental differences that preclude or interfere with performing wage labor are considered central to very condition of “disability.” The Social Security Administration of the United States plainly states on its website, “You cannot do work…This is a strict definition of disability.”

This definition of disability is absurd, defined only by one’s ability to make profits for a boss. We should recognize a definition of disability that includes all those who experience oppression as a consequence of impairment.

Although the state does provide benefits for some people with disabilities, disability welfare in severely limited in accordance to the “principle of less eligibility,” the idea that any assistance to the unemployed must be limited to an amount less than the wages of the poorest workers — to ensure that disability payments don’t undercut employers paying poverty wages. )

In the realm of education, there are parallels to the federal definition of disability and how it is used to regulate labor markets and access to social services. One aspect of the criteria for diagnosing a student with a learning disability (and thus qualifying them for special education services) is the determination that a student “does not make adequate progress to meet age or grade-level standards.”

Within the US education system — the primary function of which is to reproduce the American workforce — students with disabilities are defined as those whose performance is not in line with state standards for college and career-readiness or those who require additional or individualized educational resources to meet those standards.

When teachers ask, “Why is it always kids with disabilities who are first to be thrown under the bus?” the dismaying answer is that the character of schooling in the United States has always reflected the needs of capitalism rather than any kind of humanistic value in bettering people’s lives.

When advances to special education services have been won in the past, it has not been due to the benevolence of those who manage the state deciding to hand down reforms for the benefit of students with special needs.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), for example, was won thanks to the struggle waged from below by civil rights activists and advocates of the Independent Living movement, who put forward a radical perspective on the politics of disablement and exposed masses of ordinary to a critique of ableism for the first time.

Unfortunately, protections won under IDEA legislation have not been enough to defend the interests of students with disabilities in public education. Students with severe disabilities have become increasingly vulnerable as public education generally and special education policy in particular have been refashioned to reflect neoliberal priorities.

Preparing Special Needs Students to Fail

Neoliberalism is driven by the belief that the “free market” should coordinate all aspects of social life. So neoliberal measures include privatization of public institutions, the cutting of social services (because they led to “market distortions”), and attacks on labor unions (which frustrate “market efficiency”).

Privatization converts resources for public goods into private profits for corporations and their investors. This creates an incentive for advocates of neoliberal policy to set up public schools to fail, thus creating a justification for privatization. This, in turn, gives political leaders the opportunity to reward their friends and supporters in the private sector with contracts to run various aspects of the public school system.

The effective use of discrimination against special education students as a weapon against public education is particularly clear in the legacy of the No Child Left Behind Act, passed during the George W. Bush administration.

In 2004, the IDEA Act — originally established to ensure the full inclusion of children with disabilities in public education — was revised to reflect alignment with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and its practice of placing sanctions on districts with low academic performance.

Under NCLB, the standardized exams scores of students diagnosed with severe cognitive disabilities were for the first time held against districts in determining school ratings, which in turn affected schools’ access to funding. It wasn’t an oversight of NCLB that students with disabilities were unfairly assessed by standards that made no accommodation for their abilities. On the contrary, this was part of a carefully devised strategy that set up public schools to fail.

Obama’s 2009 Race to the Top (RTTT) program pushed the polices of NCLB into overdrive, much to the continued detriment of special education students. RTTT used the offer of additional grant money to incentivize states to adopt a set of common national standards and assessments, with test scores enshrined as the arbiter of student progress.

The program lacked any adapted standards and assessments to account for the cognitive diversity of students. RTTT deliberately set up special education students to fail, all under the guise of delivering them an “equal education.”

Schools whose special education departments cannot demonstrate proficiency on state-mandated standardized testing are now punished through low ratings that result in defunding and the implementation of “school-choice” programs. In a worst-case scenario, low-scoring schools can be taken into state receivership.

This is where education “reformers,” who represent the interests of neoliberal restructuring, step in and recommend that schools be converted to business-managed charter schools. Although charter schools promote themselves as open to all, their admissions processes often include screening students based on academic records, disciplinary history, and special needs.

This kind of screening serves two purposes: first, to limit admission to students who require the fewest resources and therefore are less costly to teach (i.e., neurotypical, able-bodied students); and second, to filter out students who are most likely to receive low scores on state testing (i.e., students with learning differences or cognitive disabilities).

Educating students with special needs thus becomes a pesky financial burden.

Built to Exclude

The exclusion and mistreatment of students with disabilities long predates the dismantling of public school districts or the rise of discriminatory charter schools.

However, it is a mistake to believe we can win better conditions for special needs students by setting higher goals for their performance on standardized exams or by abandoning the project of building public schools that are more inclusive.

We cannot fight for a vision of education justice that includes disability justice within the current neoliberal model of education, because that model was built to exclude special-needs students and to silence those that demand free, accessible, community-controlled schools that can genuinely serve children of all abilities.

As a result, we should focus our demand not on “equality” as defined by the proponents of the one-test-fits-all position, but on equity. Our side must put forward a vision of education that acknowledges diversity in learners and strives to give each child an education that is responsive to their unique needs.

This is not a vision of education that places lower expectations on special-education students because of the misconception that they are inherently low achievers. It is a vision that upholds the reality that there are a multitude of ways to acquire knowledge and express intelligence.

Refusal to acknowledge this reality harms students with learning differences in particular. Just ask an educator — the research is on our side with regard to this issue. Today at graduate programs for prospective teachers, pupils study the principles of universal design, Howard Gardener’s theory of multiple intelligences, and Lev Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development.

All the foundations of progressive pedagogy tell us that human learning is a social and creative process that different students will access through diverse modes of knowledge development. This clearly refutes the notion that schooling should be built around rigid inculcation with standardized content.

Worth More

Building a movement for education justice that acknowledges diversity in the way children learn means demanding the freedom for educators to design and teach curricula responsive to the needs of their students. As it stands now, the teachers who are best trained to develop curriculum for students with special needs are rarely able to draw on this expertise because standardized testing creates significant pressure to “teach to the test.”

This is why it is critical to link demands for disability justice to demands raised by teachers unions: a stronger voice for educators in policy-making, education spending, and academic design are vital components of winning equitable education for students with disabilities.

One example of how the fight for disability justice can be waged in tandem with the education justice struggle is the “opt-out movement” — a collaborative effort in which teachers unions, parents, and students rally together under the slogan, “Less testing, more learning.”

The goal of this movement is to give parents and children both the right and the confidence to opt out of state standardized tests, and thus shift the education system away from a system designed to punish teachers, students, and schools that don’t perform well on high-stakes tests.

In 2016, more than 640,000 students across the United States refused to participate in these exams and simultaneously raised public consciousness about the harm that testing inflicts, particularly in communities of color. Advocates for disability justice should similarly see opt-out campaigns as platforms to voice demands that will advance the cause for equitable special education.

Likewise, the recent success of the “Save Our Public Schools” campaign in Massachusetts saw thousands of parents, students, and social-justice activists of all kinds stand with teachers unions in their call to vote against a ballot proposal that would drain billions of dollars from public schools to fund the expansion of charter schools.

“Save Our Public Schools” became the most widely publicized ballot question campaign in the history of the state, won tremendous public support, and successfully secured funding for public schools — all while educating voters about the role charter schools play in promoting a two-track system that discriminates against students with disabilities.

Beyond concrete protections for public special ed, the “Save Our Public Schools” campaign shows what can be achieved through fusing broad calls for social justice with the demands of teachers as well as the particular demands of students with disabilities.

Solidarity across social movements and between various struggles for justice will be required to win against Trump. The fact that the his agenda will pose a threat for all movements for liberation — feminist, disability rights, women, immigrants, Muslims, queer and trans people, working-class people, and many more — should signal to activists that fighting alone is neither preferable nor possible. One way we can build the fight for disability rights is to combat the ableism inherent in the project of privatizing education.

Our rallying cry should be unequivocal: education must be a human right for people of all mental and physical abilities. Education cannot be a means for generating private gain for massive corporations. Building a movement for schools that reflects this vision is one step toward the project of building a society that refuses the idea that our worth is dependent on our ability to produce profit — a society that would render obsolete the very basis for disability oppression.

These 5 Life Skills Are Tied to Health Benefits


There’s a good reason for older adults to be conscientious and optimistic, a new study from England suggests.

Researchers found that men and women ages 52 and older who had higher scores on measures of five “life skills” — conscientiousness, control, determination (i.e., persistence), emotional stability and optimism — experience a broad range of health benefits and positive outcomes later in life, compared with older adults who had lower scores. This finding held true even after the researchers took into account people’s socioeconomic background, education and cognitive abilities.

These “life skills” include personal characteristics and capabilities thought to increase a person’s chance of success and well-being in life, according to the study, which was published online today (April 10) in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. [9 DIY Ways to Improve Your Mental Health]

The findings suggest that these attributes are relevant to many aspects of life, from economic prosperity and social relationships to health and biology, even at older ages, said the study’s lead author Andrew Steptoe, a professor of psychology and epidemiology at University College London.

Previous research has found that these five life skills are important to success in early life in areas such as educational achievement and work performance, but scientists didn’t know much about the roles these personality attributes may play in people’s health at older ages, Steptoe told Live Science.

In the study, the researchers evaluated data collected from about 8,100 people who were participating in the English Longitudinal Study of Ageing (ELSA), a long-term study of middle-age and older adults living in England that began in 2002. The average age of the participants at the study’s start was 67.

In 2010, the ELSA participants were given a questionnaire to evaluate the five life skills measured in this new study. For example, this questionnaire asked the participants to self-rate how determined they felt over the past month on a scale ranging from “not at all” to “very much.”

To gauge optimism, the participants were asked to rate how much they felt that “life is full of opportunities.” And to evaluate the participants’ sense of control over their lives, the researchers asked the participants to rate how much they felt in control over what happens to them at home. A personality test developed for people in middle age and older was used to assess conscientiousness and emotional stability.

In addition to measuring these five life skills, the researchers collected information from the participants in order to evaluate their physical and psychological health, economic resources, cognitive capacity and social well-being.

The findings showed that the participants who scored generally higher on the measures of these five skills also had better outcomes in various aspects of their health, Steptoe said. [Extending Life: 7 Ways to Live Past 100]

For example, only 3 percent of older adults who rated high in four or five of the life skills had symptoms of depression, compared with about 23 percent of those who had low life-skill scores (not scoring high on any life skills). Moreover, about 37 percent of older adults with low life-skill scores rated their health as fair or poor, compared with 6 percent of older adults with four or five life skills.

Higher scores on measures of life skills was also linked with more economic success, fewer chronic diseases, a faster walking speed and a lower prevalence of obesity, compared with older adults with low scores. Older adults with more life skills were also less lonely, had more close relationships and did more volunteer work, according to the findings.

The researchers aren’t sure why having more life skills later in life appears to be linked with such a wide variety of health and social benefits.

One possible explanation is that “these skills help people to negotiate the challenges of life more effectively,” Steptoe told Live Science. For example, developing these attributes can help people take advantage of opportunities and stick to goals despite facing obstacles, he suggested.

Older adults with more life skills may be less likely to become discouraged when things go wrong, and they might persist with the belief that things will eventually improve, Steptoe speculated.

The findings also revealed that no single skill was more important than any other; rather, it was the accumulation of all five attributes that influenced people’s health and well-being later in life. [9 Healthy Habits You Can Do in 1 Minute (Or Less)]

This finding suggests that each life skill taps into a different aspect of a person’s makeup and that the combination of all five skills is especially powerful, Steptoe said.

Although all five attributes involved in the study have a genetic component, a person who didn’t inherit a tendency to be persistent or optimistic can still develop these characteristics, Steptoe noted. He said that people can learn or work on these skills, or change their attitudes toward them, in specific situations, such as increasing a person’s sense of control while at work.

“Developing life skills in early adulthood and middle age may put people in a good position when they move into older ages,” Steptoe said.


UK inflation rate remains at 2.3%


UK inflation held steady last month, as rising prices for food and clothing were offset by lower air fares.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said inflation as measured by the Consumer Prices Index remained at 2.3%.

The main downward effect on inflation last month came from air fares, which was due to the timing of Easter.

However, the ONS data showed food prices in March were 1.2% higher than last year, the biggest annual rise in three years.

Spending squeeze

Inflation has been accelerating in recent months, partly as a result of the fall in the pound after the Brexit vote, which has raised import prices.

Although the inflation rate remained unchanged from February, it remains above the Bank of England’s target of 2% and is the highest since September 2013.

“Inflation may be steady, but it’s still currently outpacing wages and interest rates, which spells trouble for households and cash savers,” said Laith Khalaf, senior analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown.

“The inflationary squeeze that’s coming is going to mean consumers have to spend more at the check-outs and petrol pumps, and that reduces their capacity to fund discretionary spending.”

Earlier on Monday, a survey by the British Retail Consortium and KPMG suggested consumers were reining back spending in the face of rising food prices.Aeroplane

Total spending on non-food items fell by 0.8% in the January-to-March period, the survey found, which was the weakest three-month performance for nearly six years.

The ONS figures showed that the cost of air fares fell by nearly 4% in March from the month before. However, last year, when Easter Sunday fell on 27 March, air fares had jumped by more than 20% amid higher demand.

With Easter Sunday falling on 16 April this year, economists are expecting inflation to pick up this month.

As well as air fares, fuel also had a downward impact on inflation in March, as the prices paid by motorists at the pump fell slightly.

The biggest upward impact on inflation came from food and non-alcoholic drinks, where prices rose by 0.4% in March from the month before, compared with a 0.6% fall a year earlier.

Factory prices

The ONS’s new preferred inflation measure of CPIH, which contains a measure of housing costs, also remained unchanged at 2.3% in March.

The Retail Prices Index (RPI) measure of inflation fell to 3.1% last month, from 3.2% in February.

ONS deputy national statistician Jonathan Athow said: “Food, drink and clothing prices all rose in March.

“However, this is offset by air fares, which fell slightly but last year rose substantially thanks to the timing of Easter.

“The costs of raw materials and the price of manufactured goods leaving factories were both little changed, as falling fuel prices helped stem further rises.”

Data from the ONS showed the annual rate of producer price inflation fell back slightly in March.

The prices of goods leaving the factory gate were up 3.6% from a year earlier, compared with a rate of 3.7% in February.

The prices paid by companies for materials and energy rose at an annual pace of 17.9%, down from February’s rate of 19.4%.

“Today’s producer prices release suggests that the impact of the weaker pound on manufacturers’ input costs may have peaked,” said Martin Beck, senior economic adviser to the EY Item Club.

“However, there is still some way to go until these pressures have fully passed along the supply chain to consumers, so the headline measures of inflation are likely to climb further over the coming months.

“It is looking increasingly likely that the CPI measure will breach the 3% barrier during the summer.”

Australia Study Cairns celebrates 20th anniversary


The organisation, which manages destination marketing for education providers within the regional city of Cairns in far north Queensland, shared the milestone with agents and educators attending the annual event.

Study Cairns president Carol Doyle said the success of the organisation highlighted the level of understanding within the city for the importance of international education to the local economy, as well as the opportunity it provides to students and the community.

“International education really connects students with the community”

“Cairns is recognised as being Queensland’s leading tourism destination. Tourism is great for the economy, but it doesn’t mean much to locals,” she told The PIE News.

“International education, which has similar concepts behind it like tourism … really connects [students] with the community,” she continued, pointing to the global perspective international students provide local students.

Doyle added the industry helps local students “look at global opportunities and gets them to see the big picture.”

The membership organisation, which includes James Cook University, Central Queensland University and the Holmes Institute, recently received official ‘recognised student organisation’ status from Trade and Investment Queensland.

The 10th annual workshop was held April 5-7. This year marked the first time it was hosted outside of a major capital city, which Doyle said was the result of six years of work by Study Cairns to entice ICEF to the region.

It was the most successful ANZA to date, with around 450 delegates from Australia, New Zealand and around the world. Doyle argued the record attendance showed agents had a strong desire to find out more about study experiences in Australia’s regions.

Nearly 30,000 international students from over 76 countries study in Cairns each year. The sector contributes an estimated A$150m annually to far north Queensland and employs 1,050 people in the city.


Growing up with a pet may boost a baby’s bacterial health


“Having a pet dog…can help reduce the child’s chances of developing allergies and becoming obese in later years,” claims the Daily Mirror, in a somewhat misleading report.

Researchers did find a link between pet ownership and an increased diversity of “healthy bacteria” in infants, but didn’t look at long-term outcomes such as the development of allergies or obesity.

The researchers carried out a range of tests on faecal (poo) samples taken from infants to assess the levels and composition of the bacteria in their guts.

Gut bacteria is widely known to play an important role in future health. Infant gut bacteria is thought to be influenced by several factors including the method of birth delivery, drinking breast milk versus formula, and treatment of the mother with antibiotics. So the hypothesis that furry pets could boost infant immunity has increasingly been discussed.

Overall, the study found that the composition of gut bacteria was richer and more diverse in infants who had been exposed to pets both in the womb and after birth. But whether or not this observation actually has any effect on health outcomes wasn’t explored.

Proven methods you can use to reduce your child’s risk of allergies include breastfeeding and ensuring they are never exposed to tobacco smoke, including in the womb.

Where did the story come from?There is some evidence that growing up with a pet may reduce asthma risk

This Canadian study was carried out by researchers from several institutes including the University of Toronto, the University of Alberta and the University of British Columbia. It was funded by a grant from the CIHR Canadian Microbiome Initiative.

The study was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Microbiome. It is available on an open-access basis and is free to read online.

Both the Mirror’s and the Mail Online’s headlines were misleading, wrongly giving the impression that researchers had looked at allergy and obesity rates in later life. This was not the case.

The body of reporting in both sources was much more balanced and had greater focus on the gut bacteria.

What kind of research was this?

This was an analysis of a subgroup of infants from a larger prospective cohort study: the Canadian Healthy Infant Longitudinal Development Study (CHILD). It wanted to assess whether a baby’s exposure to pets while in the womb and after birth has any impact on their gut bacteria.

Giving antibiotics to a mother during labour can disrupt her baby’s gut bacteria, so antibiotic use was also analysed – as well as the method of delivery: caesarean (elective versus emergency) and vaginal delivery (with or without antibiotics).

Prospective cohort studies such as this are useful for understanding whether a link between an exposure (in this case, pets) and an outcome (a change in infant gut bacteria) exists. However, the challenge with this study design is that it isn’t able to fully rule out the involvement of other confounding environmental and lifestyle factors, such as diet.

Although a randomised controlled trial (RCT) is the best way to validate any findings, it certainly wouldn’t be practical (let alone ethical) to expose parents and their infants to pets against their will. The study also doesn’t explore whether levels of infant gut bacteria have any effect on long-term outcomes.

What did the research involve?

This study analysed a subsample of 753 infants from the CHILD study, which enrolled pregnant women between 2009 and 2011.

The mothers were given a questionnaire about pet ownership during their second or third trimester of pregnancy, and three months after birth.

Exposure to pets was categorised into:

  • no pet exposure in the prenatal and postnatal periods
  • only prenatal pet exposure
  • both prenatal and postnatal pet exposure

The category assessing “only postnatal pet exposure” was found to only include seven mothers, so it was excluded from subsequent analysis.

Gut bacteria in faecal samples was analysed for infants with complete data on prenatal and postnatal pet exposure (n=746).

Data on a range of potential confounding factors was also collected:

  • mode of delivery
  • use of antibiotics during delivery
  • maternal race
  • maternal asthma and allergy status during pregnancy
  • type of home
  • size of household
  • type of floor
  • presence of siblings
  • breastfeeding status
  • infant antibiotic exposure before three months

The data was analysed to test for any links between pet exposure and the composition of gut bacteria.

Statistical analysis was carried out to compare four different birth scenarios:

  • vaginal without antibiotics
  • vaginal with antibiotics
  • elected caesarean
  • emergency caesarean

 The analysis was adjusted to take into account the confounders.

What were the basic results?

Out of the 746 infants, 46.8% of households owned furry pets during and after pregnancy. The majority of pet owners had dogs, closely followed by cats.

Overall, the composition of gut bacteria was richer and more diverse in infants who had been exposed to pets during both the prenatal and postnatal period. In particular, there was an abundance of two bacteria, ruminococcus and oscillospira. Previous research has linked each of these strains to improved “gut health”.

The researchers add that previous studies have found an association between lower levels of these bacteria and a greater likelihood of childhood allergies and obesity. But this hypothesis was not investigated in this study.

The study also found that a baby’s exposure to pets while in the womb resulted in lower levels of streptococcal bacteria in their gut.

How did the researchers interpret the results?

The researchers concluded: “Our findings highlighted the differential impact of pet exposure on infant gut microbiota following variant birth scenarios; however, in common, the abundance of ruminococcus and oscillospira were found to be increased independent of other factors.

“In addition, our finding of reduced streptococcal colonization with prenatal pet ownership may lower the risk for childhood metabolic and [allergic] disease. Further research is needed to link the pet-related microbiota changes with health outcomes of infants in the CHILD cohort, as well as in other populations.”


This subgroup analysis of babies from a large Canadian birth cohort assessed whether exposure to furry pets before and after birth has any impact on infant gut bacteria. Overall it found that exposure to pets while in the womb and after birth was linked with richer and more diverse gut bacteria.

The researchers say that several studies in the past, including their own, have found a link between richness of gut bacteria and both the development of allergies and the development of obesity. Therefore these findings may be taken to imply that pet exposure could protect against allergy and obesity in infants – as in media reports. However, later child health outcomes, including the development of allergy or obesity, were not investigated in this study.

This short term study only looked at the composition of gut bacteria in infants at three months of age. It would be useful to see how long-term exposure to pets affects gut bacteria in individuals and whether the same results are observed, and to see whether there is any link with other health outcomes.

The study also found that pre-natal exposure to pets resulted in lower levels of streptococcal bacteria. Many women carry group B streptococcus without symptoms, and this can sometimes cause infection in newborns, hence the relevance of this link. However, again this has not been investigated further.

There is also the possibility that any links between pet ownership and bacterial levels are being influenced by other environmental and health-related confounders. Bacterial levels may not necessarily be a direct result of the pets. Also, bear in mind that the results of this Canadian study may not necessarily apply to the UK or other countries.

These findings pave the way for future research around pet exposure and health outcomes in individuals, especially around allergies. However, this research is too early in stage to recommend that parents-to-be have a pet to protect their children against allergies, and certainly not against obesity (although walking your dog could be good exercise!).

Breastfeeding children and minimising their exposure to tobacco smoke will also reduce their allergy risks. And regular exercise and a healthy diet should prevent a child from becoming obese.

One Third Young Indians Suffer From Lifestyle Diseases Report


One in three or 33 per cent of Indians over 30 years of age are suffering from one or more lifestyle diseases such as diabetes, high cholesterol, blood pressure, thyroid and cancer, a report has revealed.

GOQii — a California-based virtual fitness coaching platform — in its ‘GOQii India Fit’ 2017 report showed that nearly 9.4 per cent people are suffering from high cholesterol followed by 7.7 per cent suffering from diabetes and 6.76 per cent suffering from thyroid.

“Over the years, there has been an increase in the number of chronic diseases due to the disruptive lifestyle changes in the country. Lack of exercise, erratic eating habits, increase in stress levels and poor sleep patterns are just some of the key reasons behind the increase of this epidemic,” Vishal Gondal, CEO and Founder of GOQii said in a statement on Thursday.

While men were found to be victims of diabetes, cholesterol and cardiac related problems, women were found to have issues related to low BP and thyroid.One-Third Young Indians Suffer From Lifestyle Diseases: Report

Further, an average Indian was found to sleep for 6.72 hours every day which is less than a healthy average of 7-9 hours daily.

Lack of proper sleep is a grave concern for 31.3 per cent population. This coupled with the lack of exercise and increase in stress is adding to the cause of falling health levels of Indians, the report said.

The report was based on a survey of over one lakh individuals across the country.