Highlights of the BMC series: April 2016

Using Twitter to monitor depression at the population level • Are teenagers getting less alcohol from their parents? • Gender stereotypes affect adults’ responses to the cries of babies • How does the past evolution of bacteria affect its further adaptions? • Is exercise beneficial for adults with HIV?

Medical Ethics: Using Twitter to monitor depression at the population level

As social media platforms become increasingly popular and part of our day-to-day lives, most users give little thought to the amount of data generated that can be utilized by researchers. The data can be analyzed to gain insight into public opinion, attitudes and behaviors, but it can also be used to assess complex issues such as mental health. While there has been much discussion regarding the ethical guidelines for research on internet discussion forums, research utilizing the ‘big-data’ generated from Twitter and other social media platforms has its own set of ethical issues. A paper published in BMC Medical Ethics used focus groups to gauge the current attitudes of the general public to the use of this data in research. They found wide ranging attitudes from acceptance through to opposition, but were able to identify key new perspectives particularly with respect to consent, privacy and oversight.

Public Health: Are teenagers getting less alcohol from their parents?

Alcohol use and misuse in teenagers is very common, despite the age restrictions on its purchase (18 years of age in the UK and Australia). With 74% of 14 year olds in Australia having consumed alcohol at some point, it is clear that that this is being obtained from other sources and a significant amount is thought to come from parents. This study in BMC Public Health has analyzed the data from surveys administered to teenagers in Australia over 15 years, to look for trends in the parental supply of alcohol. The authors found a substantial reduction between 2004 and 2013 and this may have contributed to an overall reduction in the level of alcohol consumption in teenagers.

Image of the month

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Confocal images of the bone-eating worm Osedax published in BMC Evolutionary Biology this month, where the complete nervous system has been described for the first time. Take a look at the full paper for lots more images!

Psychology: Gender stereotypes affect adults’ responses to the cries of babies

From birth, gender stereotypes are applied to our children – for example the choice of clothes, the activities encouraged, and the expectations in different challenges. Some stereotypes however are not so obvious to detect. This paper in BMC Psychology showed that despite the the cries of babies not varying in pitch between genders, adults were more likely to identify higher pitch cries as baby girls and lower pitch cries as boys. Further to this, lower pitch boys were perceived as more masculine and higher pitch girls as more feminine. As the authors note, such biases may have implications on the child’s immediate welfare as well as the development of their gender identity.

Palliative Care: Issues and suggestions for systematic reviews in palliative care

An article published in BMC Palliative Care  this month addressed some core issues related to research methodology. In order to ensure consistency and usability of systematic reviews, an agreed terminology is required. Two international research groups, preparing protocols for systematic reviews assessing the effectiveness of specialist palliative care, collaborated to ensure a high degree of methodological consensus and clarity between reviews. The aim of this article was to present the discussion so that other research groups can easily identify potential pitfalls and methodological necessities, which could also help guide the future design of clinical trials.

Evolutionary Biology: How does the past evolution of bacteria affect its further adaptions?

A study published in BMC Evolutionary Biology this month aimed to investigate whether the historical contingency of a population of bacteria had an effect on further adaptations at the genetic or phenotypic level. By growing an ancestral population in 4 different environments before finally transferring them to a single environment, it was possible to look for differences in the adaptions to the final environment between populations from the four historical environments. While no changes were observed at a genomic level, there were differences observed at the phenotypic level and this highlights the complex genotype-phenotype map.

Infectious Diseases: Is exercise beneficial for adults with HIV?

Access to combination antiretroviral therapy has transformed a HIV diagnosis into a chronic illness that can be effectively managed. A result of this change in prognosis is that patients are living longer lives and experiencing more of the health-related consequences of HIV, adverse effects of treatment, and multi-morbidity. A systematic review published in BMC Infectious Diseases this month sought to examine the safety and effectiveness of exercise on the overall health of HIV patients. The study reported that performing aerobic exercise three times per week for at least five weeks is both safe and beneficial to health and this finding can be used to inform guidelines that can improve the quality of life for HIV affected people.

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