• Making cycling safer and more appealing
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    The Guardian

    Making cycling safer and more appealing

    Sally Watson calls for protected lanes, John Kirkwood and Simon Geller describe their experience of cycling in the US, and Matt Caine says London is heading in the right direction. While some people may be happy cycling in painted lanes ( Millions wasted painting ‘gesture’ cycle lanes, 17 June; Letters, 19 June), research suggests that most people don’t think they are safe. We need to design cycling infrastructure that works for everyone, not just the 3% of the population who cycle already. Subjective safety is as important, if not more important, than objective safety, which is why countries like the Netherlands build protected cycle lanes on main roads and reduce speeds and volumes of traffic in residential areas. I would not let my eight- and 11-year-olds cycle in a painted lane on a main road and I doubt many others would either. Cycling is a social justice issue and transport infrastructure needs to be inclusive. Let’s build protected lanes to give everyone the option of cycling. Sally Watson Chair , Newcastle Cycling Campaign . Our experience of cycling in two contrasting cities in the US is that it takes a combination of measures, not just painted lanes, to encourage more people to use bicycles for their urban journeys. In Washington DC and Fort Collins, Colorado, we have individually witnessed the successful impact of cycle trails, protected bike lanes (eg Pennsylvania Avenue, DC), painted lanes, secure bike parking for commuters – especially those within a building where showers are available – racks on the front of all buses for two bikes (no extra charge for passengers and no increase in accidents), plus excellent signage of bicycle routes. Research shows these measures work. CityLab states that “Nearly 17,000 cyclists rode their bikes to work in Washington DC in 2016” and adds “That’s nearly triple the mode share it had in 2006”. As well as infrastructure, one feature that can’t be overlooked is the discipline and courtesy of all road and pavement users. Generally, we noticed that pedestrians and runners keep to the right on trails, cyclists use their bells or shout “on your left” when passing those on foot, and motorists give way to trail users when they cross highways. This discipline is a striking feature of cycling in the US compared with the UK. Courtesy to other road users is, after all, the cheapest way to avoid conflict. In that respect, it is important to emphasise that we are not cyclists, motorists or pedestrians but rather people who sometimes cycle, or drive, or walk. John Kirkwood and Simon Geller Sustrans volunteers . I visited London for seven sunny days (yes, the whole summer) for the first time last year. I also bought a well-known brand of London-made, fold-up bicycle, to ride around the streets. While the bike lanes are far from perfect, I can tell you they are far better than the lack of infrastructure and the war on cyclists that is conducted by those in power in my home town. The attitude of Londoners, motorised or otherwise, is also far better. Sure, there is room for improvement but cycling around London made my holiday. It’s the fastest, cheapest and most rewarding way to take in the sites or to commute into the town. London is heading in the right direction. It’s not Copenhagen yet but it’s a lesson to us all and something the inhabitants can be justly proud of. Matt Caine Newport Beach, Sydney, Australia . Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com . Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters . Do you have a photo you’d like to share with Guardian readers? Click here to upload it and we’ll publish the best submissions in the letters spread of our print edition

  • Induced lactation: why a woman doesn't need to bear a child in order to breastfeed it
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    The Guardian

    Induced lactation: why a woman doesn't need to bear a child in order to breastfeed it

    A viral photograph of a couple breastfeeding their twin babies has highlighted the process that allows a woman to nurse a child she has not carried. So how does it work?. A photograph of Jaclyn and Kelly Pfeiffer breastfeeding their twin babies has gone viral, highlighting the fact that it is possible to nurse a baby you haven’t given birth to. Jaclyn didn’t carry the babies but has been able to breastfeed them thanks to a process known as induced lactation. It tends to be used by same-sex couples, as well as adoptive parents and women whose babies were carried by a surrogate. The outcome can be variable, depending on the situation and what the goal is, says Helen Gray, from Lactation Consultants of Great Britain, an organisation that describes itself as the professional voice of breastfeeding. “They might want to try to bring in a full breast-milk supply and provide all of the baby’s milk, or, if they are co-parenting in a same sex relationship, they may be hoping that each mother will provide enough so they can share the breastfeeding.” Or they may want to provide a small amount to top up bottle feeds. It also depends on how long the mother has to start the process before the baby is born, or comes to live with the family, and on her medical history – hormonal conditions may make it harder to produce milk, says Gray. “The basics of milk supply are always supply and demand,” says Gray. “Expressing is the main component of bringing in [an induced] milk supply. Some people will add to that with prescription medication and birth-control pills to simulate [pregnancy] hormones. Some people don’t want to take medication, or will struggle to get it prescribed for them.” This particularly applies to domperidone, an anti-nausea drug that can increase the risk of serious cardiac side-effects. “The more time you can put into it the better,” says Gray, though she points out that some people – especially those who have been pregnant and breastfed before – will find it easier than others. At least six weeks would be “useful”, says Gray. “If you’re looking to bring in a full milk supply and you have time to do that, the baby is going to need to feed at least eight times in 24 hours so you need to be working towards that.” This means attempting to express milk with a breast pump eight times a day, including at least once during the night. It is, says Gray, “a lot of work, time commitment and energy investment, and you need a lot of support.”

  • Baby formula at Walmart recalled over concerns metal found inside
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    The Independent

    Baby formula at Walmart recalled over concerns metal found inside

    A company has recalled over 23,000 containers of baby formula amid concerns the product may contain metal.The nationwide recall of Perrigo Company's 35 oz containers of Parent’s Choice Advantage Infant Formula Milk-Based Powder with Iron was announced by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).The FDA explained the reason for the recall was because of “the potential presence of metal foreign matter” in the exclusively Walmart-sold product.The affected products will have a Lot Code of C26EVFV and a “use by” date of 26 February 2021, which can be found on the bottom of the package.“Any consumers who purchased the product should discontinue use and can visit any Walmart store for a refund,” the agency said.The FDA said that there were no reports of injury or illness related to the baby formula, rather the recall was due to “an abundance of caution stemming from a consumer report”.> Perrigo Issues Voluntary Recall For Parent’s Choice Advantage Infant Formula Milk-Based Powder With Iron https://t.co/JRygqhZwmd pic.twitter.com/eBj1BnqPHK> > — U.S. FDA (@FDArecalls) > > June 24, 2019No other Perrigo Company products or retailers are affected by the recall.Consumers who have questions about Parent’s Choice Advantage Infant Formula Milk-Based Powder with Iron are advised to contact Perrigo Consumer Affairs on 866-629-6181.The news comes months after Tyson Foods – the world’s second largest processor and marketer of chicken, beef, and pork – recalled more than 69,000 pounds of frozen chicken strips.The American food company made the decision to recall the products in March after the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) received two complaints that metal was found in the chicken strips.The affected products include the brand’s buffalo and crispy style ready-to-eat products that were produced on 30 November 2018.The Independent has contacted the Perrigo Company for comment.

  • What is dyspraxia, what are the symptoms and how common is it?
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    The Independent

    What is dyspraxia, what are the symptoms and how common is it?

    TV presenter Rav Wilding recently opened up about being diagnosed with dyspraxia, saying he has found it "tricky" coping with the co-ordination disorder throughout his life.The Crimewatch Roadshow presenter told Press Association that dyspraxia is "kind of like dyslexia with your hands", explaining that he struggled in school when he was unable to do activities that his classmates could with ease.Signs of dyspraxia may be present from an early age, with possible symptoms including poor co-ordination skills and untidy handwriting.So what is dyspraxia, what are the symptoms and how common is it? Here's everything you need to know: What is it?Dyspraxia is a form of developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD), the Dyspraxia Foundation states.The disorder can affect fine motor skills – the co-ordination of small muscles, such as the hands and fingers – and gross motor skills – the co-ordination of large muscles, such as the arms, legs and torso.The condition may also impact a person's articulation when speaking.While the terms dyspraxia and DCD are sometimes used interchangeably, they don't always refer to the same condition when used.The NHS explains that the term "DCD" is preferred by the majority of healthcare professionals, as the term "dyspraxia" may have "several meanings"."For example, dyspraxia can be used to describe movement difficulties that occur later in life as a result of damage to the brain, such as from a stroke or head injury," the NHS adds. What are the symptoms?Signs of dyspraxia may become evident from a young age in infants and children.These symptoms include difficulty playing with toys or taking part in games that involve co-ordination skills, trouble using cutlery, untidy handwriting and an inability to do tasks such as doing up buttons or tying shoelaces, the NHS states.Other symptoms may include falling over frequently and dropping objects.However, the NHS points out that these signs may not necessarily by indicative of dyspraxia.For more information about symptoms of dyspraxia, click here. What are the causes?While there is no confirmed cause of dyspraxia, there are factors that may put a child at greater risk of developing the disorder.These include being born prematurely, weighing a below-average weight at birth, having relatives who had DCD or having a mother who drank alcohol or consumed illegal drugs during pregnancy, the NHS outlines. How common is it?Dyspraxia is more likely to affect boys than girls, states learning and attention issue organisation Understood.It is believed to affect 10 per cent of the population, the Mental Health Foundation outlines, while two per cent are estimated to be severely affected by the condition.Celebrities diagnosed with dyspraxia include Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe, model Cara Delevingne and singer Florence Welch. How is it treated?While children who have been diagnosed with dyspraxia may "grow out" of their symptoms, the NHS states, treatment may prove beneficial in the long run.A paediatric occupational therapist may help a child with dyspraxia learn how carry out tasks such as handling cutlery, tying their shoelaces and writing.Other health professionals that may benefit a child living with dyspraxia may include a paediatrician, a clinical psychologist and an educational psychologist.For more information about dyspraxia, you can contact a local dyspraxia support group by visiting the Dyspraxia Foundation website here.

  • James Middleton opens up about ‘crippling’ depression and scrutiny of his success
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    The Independent

    James Middleton opens up about ‘crippling’ depression and scrutiny of his success

    James Middleton has spoken about his “crippling” depression and being judged on his success.Earlier this year, the Duchess of Cambridge’s brother spoke candidly about his diagnosis with clinical depression, explaining that he once felt like a “complete failure” due to the condition.Now, the founder of personalised greetings business Boomf said while there was no particular reason for his depression, he could recall feeling guilty for his privileged upbringing.‘It’s what keeps you in bed, while anxiety makes you feel guilty for being there,” he told Tatler.“I thought ‘What do I have to be depressed about?’ I’ve been so lucky with my upbringing, I had all the things I wanted.“It’s not that I wanted more, but there was something that wasn’t always there... And the more I ignored it, the more it was taking over.”While his parents, Carol and Michael Middleton, knew something “wasn’t right”, the 32-year-old said he felt incapable of talking to them about how he was feeling at the time.> View this post on Instagram> > Sail away with me ⛵️ ☀️> > A post shared by James Middleton (@jmidy) on May 7, 2019 at 10:23am PDTThe entrepreneur continued: “I shut myself off, I didn’t communicate with my family at all. But there’s only so long you can hold your breath.”Following a period of therapy and time in Glen Affric – his brother-in-law James Matthews’ Scottish estate – Kate’s brother admitted to finally feeling content.“I am happy – I feel like James Middleton again,” he said. “I feel like I was when I was 13, excited about life. I feel like myself again and I couldn’t ask for more.”Elsewhere in the interview, Middleton – who is currently in a relationship with French financial expert Alizee Thevenet – spoke about the pressure of being in the public eye.Following Kate’s wedding to the Duke of Cambridge in 2011, the then 23-year-old James said that the sudden media attention around him made him question his sense of self, his abilities and his business.“Suddenly, and very publicly, I was being judged about whether I was a success of a failure,” he said.“That does put pressure on you. Because in my mind I’m doing this irrespective of my family and events that have happened.”On his relationship with the royals, he added: “I lead a separate life to them. “If there’s interest in me, great. If there’s interest in me because of them, that’s different.”In his January essay for the Daily Mail, Middleton described depression as “an absence of feelings” and revealed that his eldest sister’s work with mental health charity Heads Together was partly what inspired him to come forward with his own story of the condition.“I know I’m richly blessed and live a privileged life. But it did not make me immune to depression,” he wrote.“It is tricky to describe the condition. It is not merely sadness. It is an illness, a cancer of the mind.”If you have been affected by any issues mentioned in this article, you can contact The Samaritans for free on 116 123 or any of the following mental health organisations:mind.org.uknhs.uk/livewell/mentalhealthmentalhealth.org.uksamaritans.organxietyuk.org.ukThe full interview can be seen in the August issue of Tatler, available on newsstands and digital download on Thursday 27 June 2019.

  • How to spot someone having a stroke and what to do
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    The Independent

    How to spot someone having a stroke and what to do

    On Monday, the family of former deputy prime minister John Prescott revealed he has been admitted to hospital after suffering a stroke.A statement about Prescott's health, posted on Twitter, said that the 81-year-old was taken to Hull Royal Infirmary on Friday.The family said they wanted to praise the "swift actions" of the ambulance staff and the doctors and nurses at the hospital's A&E stroke unit.According to the Stroke Association, strokes are the fourth leading cause of death in the UK, and the cause of 400 childhood deaths across the country every year.There are different types of strokes and recovery length depends on the severity of the attack.The sooner someone receives treatment, the less the brain will be damaged.> A statement from the family of John Prescott. pic.twitter.com/0wgCNYn0ZV> > — John Prescott (@johnprescott) > > June 24, 2019Here’s everything you need to know about strokes, from how to recognise the symptoms to what the different types of stroke are: What is a stroke?Described by the UK’s Stroke Association as a “brain attack”, a stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is cut off.This prevents key nutrients and oxygen from getting to the brain, causing severe damage to the brain cells, which can impair a person’s speech and the way they move and think. What are the different types of stroke?There are three types of stroke.Ischaemic strokes, which are most common, occur when an artery that supplies blood to your brain becomes blocked by a blood clot. The blood clots usually form in areas where the arteries have become narrowed over time due to a buildup of fatty deposits; this process is known as atherosclerosis.Haemorrhagic strokes happen when there is bleeding in or around the brain caused by a blood vessel rupturing. This kills all of the surrounding brain cells.The third type, according to the British Heart Foundation, is a mini-stroke, which is caused by a brief reduction in blood supply to part of the brain. These kinds of stokes, sometimes referred to as transient ischaemic attacks, shouldn’t cause permanent damage to the brain, and most symptoms should pass within 24 hours. What causes a stroke?For ischaemic strokes, which are caused by narrowing arteries, certain things such as smoking, obesity, diabetes, excessive alcohol consumption and high cholesterol can be triggers.Arteries naturally narrow as you get older, so elderly people are also more at risk.The main causes for haemorrhagic strokes, which are less common, are stress, lack of exercise, obesity and smoking. How to spot someone is having a strokeThe symptoms for a stroke depend on the person and the type of stroke, though the NHS uses the F.A.S.T acronym to list the main signs as: * Face – the face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have drooped. * Arms – the person with suspected stroke may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of weakness or numbness in one arm. * Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake. * Time – it’s time to dial 999 immediately if you notice any of these signs or symptoms.If you suspect you or someone else is having a stroke, the NHS advises phoning 999 immediately and asking for an ambulance. What happens after someone has had a stroke?Recovery from a stroke will vary depending on how much damage has been caused to the brain.Some people will recover quickly, but others will need long-term support from a range of specialists, such as language therapists, dietitians, physiotherapists and psychologists.After a stroke, a person’s cognitive functions (communication, spatial awarenesses, memory and concentration) can be severely compromised, and in these instances, a rehabilitation plan will be created to help a person recover fully.Strokes can also cause weakness in the body and, in some cases, paralysis. Physiotherapy will be prescribed if this is the case and a care worker may also be provided.Other issues that may arise after a stroke include: vision problems, bladder issues, difficulty swallowing.Mental health issues, such as depression and anxiety, may also arise after a stroke.For more information about strokes, visit the Stroke Association website, or call the charity’s helpline on 0303 3033 100.The helpline is open Monday, Thursday and Friday from 9am to 5pm, Tuesday and Wednesday from 8am to 6pm, Saturday from 10am to 1pm and is closed on Sunday.

  • Tell us about the one lifestyle change that worked for you
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    The Guardian

    Tell us about the one lifestyle change that worked for you

    As part of a series exploring how one change can make a profound personal impact, we want to hear from you. What is the most impactful lifestyle change that you have made that has improved your health and wellbeing? Over the past few months, writers have been describing their experiences of the one change that worked for them, as part of a weekly series. We have heard stories of overcoming addiction, rediscovering faith, ending an engagement, exercising less, going out more. Now, it is over to you. If you have a story you would like to share – this could be something dramatic like giving up drinking, becoming a vegan or taking up a new exercise regime, or it could be something much more subtle which affected a big change – we want to hear from you. Share your experiences To tell us about the change that worked for you, fill out the form below with some small details about you and the change that you would like to write about. One of our journalists may be in touch further and we hope to publish some of our favourite contributions as part of the series. If you’re having trouble using the form, click here. Read terms of service here.

  • 'White supremacy': popular knitting website Ravelry bans support for Trump
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    The Guardian

    'White supremacy': popular knitting website Ravelry bans support for Trump

    Administrators take action to ensure site ‘is inclusive of all’. One of the biggest knitting websites in the world, which claims to have more than 8 million members, has announced that it will ban users from expressing support for Donald Trump, saying that to do so constitutes “white supremacy”. On Sunday, administrators for Ravelry, a site for knitters, crocheters, designers and anyone dabbling in the fibre arts, said that they were making any expression of support for Trump and his administration in forum posts, patterns, on their personal profile pages or elsewhere permanently off limits. “We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. Support of the Trump administration is undeniably support for white supremacy,” the site’s administrators said in a post. Users could also be permanently banned under the policy. The Trump ban comes only months after political upheaval gripped the knitting and crochet community around issues of racial and cultural insensitivity. That debate was sparked by popular knitwear designer and blogger Karen Templer, who wrote in January about a planned trip to India, likening it, in her excitement, to visiting Mars. Many in the craft community objected to the characterisation, calling it othering and reductive. Templer apologised soon afterwards, but the incident had a ripple effect, sparking off conversations about diversity and inclusivity in the craft community on Instagram, Ravelry and other places that crafters congregate online. A similar debate about cultural sensitivity and appropriation recently occurred in the sewing community. Ravelry said its new policy was not banning participation from people who supported Trump, only expressions of that support. “We are not endorsing the Democrats nor banning Republicans,” the post said. “We are definitely not banning conservative politics. Hate groups and intolerance are different from other types of political positions.” The policy drew on a similar statement made last year by roleplaying game site RPG.net, which banned advocacy of Trump from its forums on the grounds that the Trump administration was an “elected hate group”. “His public comments, policies, and the makeup of his administration are so wholly incompatible with our values that formal political neutrality is not tenable,” said RPG.net’s administrators in a post. “We can be welcoming to (for example) persons of every ethnicity who want to talk about games, or we can allow support for open white supremacy. Not both.” The knitting and crochet community has played a prominent role in the anti-Trump movement in the past, with women wearing homemade pink “pussy” hats to demonstrations around his election and inauguration becoming a distinctive symbol of protest against his presidency.

  • The environmental dangers of veganism
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    The Guardian

    The environmental dangers of veganism

    Avocados travel huge distances to reach consumers, points out Matthew Loukes. Photograph: Anna-Rose Gassot/AFP/Getty ImagesThe subheading on your article (The 14 rules for going vegan, G2, 19 June) says: “The environmental, health and ethical benefits of veganism are beyond doubt.” This sounds plausible, but one must think rather more critically about this subject. I’d be more than happy if you replaced “veganism” with “rejecting industrialised food production”. But does anyone think that a move to plant-based eating that includes, for example, monoculture (almonds), habitat destruction (palm oil) and food miles (avocados) is something we should aim for? There are lots of good arguments for changing our diet, but thought must be given to the means of food production and distribution. Big Food doesn’t care about what’s inside the burger; it’s only interested in the inside of wallets and uninquiring minds. Matthew Loukes London • Join the debate – email guardian.letters@theguardian.com• Read more Guardian letters – click here to visit gu.com/letters• Do you have a photo you’d like to share with Guardian readers? Click here to upload it and we’ll publish the best submissions in the letters spread of our print edition

  • Parenting guides teach us everything – except how to be parents
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    The Guardian

    Parenting guides teach us everything – except how to be parents

    Peace at last: rather than worrying about parenting mistakes, maybe we should just try not to think about it too much. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PAVisiting a maternity ward last week I saw the oddest thing. A series of posters designed to promote breastfeeding, each one a disembodied white woman’s torso. The first featured her tits being groped by a variety of hands. “Bond with your baby,” said a slogan over the tit pictured stage left, a child’s hand covering the nipple. And above the second tit, this one enclosed by a pink male hand, the words, “Bond with your man.” OK. The next poster showed the tits in a leopard-print bra, a baby sucking on one nipple, and the slogan, “Designer mum. Designer milk.” An involuntary shudder. Not just at the suggestion that the reason so many women bottle-feed their babies is to protect their “designer” bosom, but at the memory of drowning in similarly delirious mothering advice, in finding myself bleeding on a battleground, its lines drawn in crayon.Parenting advice is big business, despite appearing to consist of just two contrasting ideas: the first, control the kid; the second, control yourself. The many millions of books written, about feeding, sleeping, carrying, playing, inevitably extend into a variety of things to buy, whether tech-driven sleep aids or parenting coaches, or “mumpreneur” networking events. And yet, despite so many parents’ shaky investments (at a time when their earnings must be impacted) much of the advice is offered without much, if any, serious explanation why.On maternity leave I remember standing in the supermarket hovering over a box of formula, having slept for no more than two hours at a time for months and, as if trying to remember a dream, searching the empty pocket of my brain for the reasons why it had felt important to breastfeed. Something about immunity? Bonding? I really wanted to buy the formula, but the books said no, and I didn’t dare get it wrong. So on I fed, my designer tits relegated to TK Maxx, my exhaustion a feral cat that hid in corners and screamed at cars.> At times that abstracted advice must have been a relief. A calm voice telling you what to do and whenAt times that abstracted advice must have been a relief – a calm voice telling you what to do and when. But from this distance I’m scandalised. “By not explaining why,” writes Emily Oster in her new bestseller, Cribsheet, “we remove people’s ability to think about these choices for themselves, with their own preferences playing a role.” Oster is an economist, and Cribsheet is a chatty but extensive analysis of what research reveals about the benefits and drawbacks of co-sleeping, breastfeeding, toilet training, circumcision and other fraught conversations that typically take place at 3am. Its interrogations are sensible and sane, but its final advice is the most radical: rather than worrying about parenting mistakes, just… try not to think about it.It’s the antithesis of the intensive mothering so many parenting books advise. A level of concentration, both on the child and on educating oneself about how to bring up that child that, despite existing in order to relieve stress, becomes its own new anxiety. In 2017 researchers looked at how the use of parenting books affected 354 mothers – the more books they read, the study found, “The more likely they were to have symptoms of depression, low self-efficacy and not feel confident as a parent.” With the completion of one book a new level is unlocked, one that can only be won by reading more books, downloading more apps. The next level after sorting a baby’s sleep patterns, of course, being to sort workplace structures, government sexism and societal inequality.It is rare, though, for a parenting book to admit, as Oster’s does, that even with all the knowledge and all the apps, there is rarely one “correct” choice. Not just because the data is limited, or the parent (like the customer they quickly become) is always right. But because it happens backwards – it’s after making the choice, whether to breastfeed or to close the door on a screaming baby, that we decide it was the right one, and so prescribe it to others. “If I choose not to breastfeed, I don’t want to acknowledge that there are even small possible benefits to breastfeeding,” she explains. “So I encamp myself in the position that breastfeeding is a waste of time. On the other side, if I spend two years taking my boobs out every three hours, I need to believe that this is what it takes to deliver a life of continued successes to my child.” The avoidance of cognitive dissonance: it does more for self-help than any mindfulness technique.The decent books are honest about the limits of socioeconomic data, gentle about the tensions, and explicitly acknowledge the role of luck. But too often parenting advice is simply “content” – that self-reproducing machine that expands to fit all broken spaces, all internet cracks. Staring at those posters in the maternity ward last week, the flimsy advice felt more like craven exploitation of new parents, desperate to try to fix a system they are powerless to even touch.Email Eva at e.wiseman@observer.co.uk or follow her on Twitter @EvaWiseman

  • Father gets tattoo on chest to match son’s heart surgery scar
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    The Independent

    Father gets tattoo on chest to match son’s heart surgery scar

    A father has had a tattoo inked on his chest in tribute to the scar his son sustained during life-saving heart surgery.When Leanne Watts was 28 weeks pregnant with her son, Joey, she was informed he had a rare condition called supravalvular aortic stenosis.The heart defect causes the large vessel which carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body to narrow.On 23 May, six-year-old Joey, from Beverley, East Yorkshire, underwent an eight-hour operation at Leeds Children's Hospital to widen the blood vessel, a procedure which came with a one-in-10 chance of survival.The surgery, which has proven successful for Joey so far, resulted in him acquiring a 9cm scar down the centre of his chest."When Joey saw the scar, he just said, 'Is this where they have cut me to fix my heart?'" Mrs Watts said."We've told him it should be something to be proud of and he shouldn't be ashamed by what has happened to him."All of these warriors should be proud of their scars and all they achieve in life."On 29 May, the day after Joey was discharged from hospital, his father, Martin Watts, went to a local tattoo parlour to have a copy of his son's scar tattooed on his chest.Mr Watts also had his son's heartbeat tattooed on his chest to the right of the scar design. The Watts family are supporting the "ScarSelfie" campaign being promoted by the Children's Heart Surgery Fund (CHSF), which is encouraging patients of heart surgery to share pictures of their scars on social media.The campaign also encourages donations to CHSF, which provides aid to the Leeds Congenital Heart Unit at Leeds Children's Hospital."We fully understand that showing a scar picture is a very personal decision and not for everyone," said Sharon Milner, CEO of CHSF."We are blown away by the bravery and resilience of the hundreds of CHD patients who undergo open-heart surgery and life-saving procedures at the Leeds Congenital Heart Unit every day – like Joey."Joey's older brother, seven-year-old Harley, was diagnosed with the some condition when he was 14 weeks old.Harley is due to undergo the same surgery later this year, while Joey will require three further operations to widen his pulmonary branches and stretch his blood vessels.“You take comfort from the way surgeons at Leeds handled things with Joey,” Ms Watts said. “It will be just as scary but they have given you reason to believe.“I thought superheroes wore capes, they don’t, they wear surgical scrubs and gowns."Supravalvular aortic stenosis is linked to William's Syndrome, a congenital disorder which can cause heart issues.“It’s a very rare condition and is linked to William’s Syndrome. For some reason, the boys don’t have William's Syndrome but they have the heart condition of a child with William’s," Mrs Watts explained.

  • ‘Technology is an extra pair of hands for new mums’: Helpful apps and tools for new parents
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    The Independent

    ‘Technology is an extra pair of hands for new mums’: Helpful apps and tools for new parents

    With my 11-month-old son sound asleep and his oxygen levels refreshing themselves every 30 seconds on my iPhone, I can’t help but think to myself: how did my parents’ generation survive without technology?When my son Hudson was born, I was left with no choice but to go it alone due to my partner leaving me when I was eight months pregnant. During this difficult time, the luxury of having help from family was also out of the question as Hudson was born in New York, which is where I was living at the time, and my family were based in the UK. Alone, unsure, and most definitely confused and exhausted, technology gave me relief knowing that there were tools out there that could help me through. This is true today, even with my move back home to London a few months ago and as my little one grows bigger.At times technology has felt like another pair hands for me, and as a single mum that has been important. As a new breed of millennial parents begin to adopt more and more smart technology, nurseries are becoming connected data centres. Bottles, prams, cots, dummies – they can all collect information if you want them to. This tech might not seem essential, but you can’t put a price on peace of mind. In today’s world, I’ve got many tools at my fingertips to do the best job as a parent. Whether it’s my favourite yoga app to squeeze in a few minutes of me time, or the ability to find my “village” through the Peanut app, which is basically Tinder for mums, I know I’m not alone. I even track my son’s growth progress, ensuring I’m doing the utmost in terms of his development through The Bump. Many of these apps are free to download and are incredibly straightforward to use. Today’s tech savvy tools like the Elvie Hands Free Breast Pump, Kegel Trainer and Owlet Smart Sock all come with a free app. This not only provides you with essential data to track progress, but they all have on-demand help in the forms of coaching and chat boxes, so you are never alone through the process. There are some things that I can’t do without. With an Owlet Smart Sock, I can relax knowing that my son is OK in his cot. It uses hospital-grade technology to track oxygen levels and heart rate and sends it straight to my phone via a base station. I can pump my breasts hands-free with an Elvie Pump, allowing me to regain that time I would have lost being tethered to a wall – enabling me to continue to work. In addition to apps, thanks to my smartphone I’ve been able to FaceTime my mother in times of need and share my experiences on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter with others in the same position, something that’s most certainly served as an emotional support system. Granted my moral compass kicks in from time to time. It shouts at me to trust my intuition, and not rely on stats and data. However, when it comes to the baby boomers, I suppose it is a case of “they can’t miss something that they never had”. As a helping hand, technology should be used as a tool in not only the first few steps, but through every step of parenting.For me, the most valuable thing these tools have been able to provide is extra, much needed time with my son. We no longer need to feel exhausted with sleep deprivation from lying awake worrying about our sleeping babies. Nor do we have to trawl through endless baby books, searching for the answer. When a quick search on a smartphone app can find it. We can reclaim our time, leaving room to create more precious and much needed moments with our little ones. Instead of shunning new innovation, let’s embrace the next generation of parenting. Who knows what parents will be able to do in the future? They say that nothing can prepare a new parent for when their baby comes home, but in this day and age, we can do our utmost to be as prepared as we can be.

  • An Uber riddle, a cat caper and a character called Tim
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    The Guardian

    An Uber riddle, a cat caper and a character called Tim

    It’s all happening on book club night. Two days before book club, my wife comes to find me in my shed. “I’m going over the road to look at the kittens,” she says. “OK,” I say. “Don’t come back with one.” I know this statement carries zero weight, but I sometimes feel the need to say these things so the record reflects my position. “They’re so sweet!” she says. The day before book club I receive an email from Uber, thanking me for my recent journey from King’s Cross to Acton. I have not left the house in four days. I find the middle one at the front door, back from university with approximately a third of his worldly possessions. “Uber mentioned you might be here,” I say. “Yeah, hi,” he says. My wife comes down the stairs. “Did you take a taxi?” she says. “I strongly disapprove of that.” “That’s why I use his account,” the middle one says, pointing at me. “Do you want to come over the road to see the kittens?” she says. “Yes,” he says. “Don’t come back with one,” I say. On the day of book club, I flip through the book – I finished it over a month ago and remember little about what happens. I am reminded that the main character is called Tim, and that he is also sort of a jerk: aloof, diffident, boring, emotionally unreachable. Yeah, we get it, I think. That afternoon my wife tells me that Kate from over the road isn’t coming to book club. “Why not?” I say. “Because of the cat,” she says. She explains that the previous day Kate’s cat got out through an open window and disappeared, leaving behind a litter of week-old kittens. “Harsh,” I say. “But then today it snuck back in and made off with one of the kittens,” she says. “Kate’s beside herself.” “I can see that’s bad,” I say. “But not missing-book-club bad.” My wife goes over the road with the middle one. An hour later she returns without him. “So, the cat’s now grabbed a second kitten,” she says. “No one knows where she’s taking them.” “That’s awful,” I say. “On the other hand…” “On the other hand, what?” she says. “Keep the window open, cat takes all the kittens away, the end,” I say. “Problem solved.” It has been raining on and off all day. As we leave for book club, it is on again. Kate is keeping lookout on the corner while the middle one climbs over a garden wall. “We think they might be back there somewhere,” Kate says. “You’re both going to get arrested,” I say. “I don’t care,” Kate says. At book club, my wife explains the reason for Kate’s absence. “That’s terrible,” Nicky says. “I was like, ‘Problem solved’,” I say. No one speaks. Everyone else arrives, and we sit down. I usually have a lot to say at book club, but tonight I find myself preoccupied. It’s raining harder than ever, and getting dark. Halfway through the evening, my wife’s phone pings. She looks at the screen. “Oh!” she says. “What?” I say. She shows me a long text message from Kate, recounting how the middle one, after crouching in the rain for hours, managed to track the cat to a secluded spot in a stranger’s back garden, where, in the dark, he gathered up the missing kittens in his jacket. Cat and kittens were now reunited, and safely home. “Aw,” says everyone. Not for the first time, I am reminded of the simple spirit of kindness that resides in every human heart except mine. After a few minutes looking at pictures of kittens on my wife’s phone, we return to the book. “So,” Emma says, “do we like Tim?” “Not really,” Sash says. “Were we supposed to?” “He was sort of meant to be inadequate, wasn’t he?” Nicky says. “Emotionally deficient,” Emma says. “Of course he was,” I say. “That’s why he’s called Tim.” “I didn’t really like the book, to be honest,” my wife says. “That’s why we’re all called Tim,” I say. On the way home, my wife takes me to see the kittens. They are smaller, and frailer, than I could have possibly imagined.

  • Stephen Collins on life hacks – cartoon
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    The Guardian

    Stephen Collins on life hacks – cartoon

    Stephen Collins on life hacks – cartoon

  • I have decided to embrace my family’s traditions and go to a cricket match
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    The Guardian

    I have decided to embrace my family’s traditions and go to a cricket match

    I finally understand the appeal – it’s the pleasure of slowness, of enjoying the heat of the sun, the sound of leather on willow. I have a complex relationship with cricket. For years I associated it with tortuous summers in which male relatives commandeered the front room for days on end so they could watch, what, exactly? Eight hours of competitive waiting around? I’d find myself in the garden as the shouts of “ H owzat!” erupted. They came from the living room but perhaps, I imagined, the universe itself – a means to gauge my declining will to live. “How’s that?” asked the cosmos. “Rubbish!” I’d think. When I was growing up, all the Asian kids in my neighbourhood had cricket in their lives. It was part of the furniture. But as I got older, I learned more about the sport’s history, its colonial links, Norman Tebbit’s cricket test – and cricket started to feel altogether hostile. But this year, England is hosting the Cricket World Cup on my doorstep. I bought a ticket, hoping to embrace my family’s traditions. I can only describe the whole thing as a very English experience. It chucked it down in the morning, postponing play. Attendees were told a shorter match could occur if the weather cleared up, and so began the wait. Eventually the sun appeared: umbrellas came down, fans banged drums and danced tipsily, umpires filled the field as players milled around. Finally the announcement came over the PA: “This match has been abandoned.” Five hours of talking about the weather, and then we all went home. Still, watching an empty piece of grass for several hours gives you time to think. And I felt that I finally understood the appeal. It’s the pleasure of slowness, of sitting still and enjoying one thing at a time – the heat of the sun, the sound of leather on willow, the joy of a book when play is paused; and the absurd bemusement at how the English invented a sport you still can’t play in the rain.

  • Should I ignore the gut feelings telling me to break up with my boyfriend?
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    The Guardian

    Should I ignore the gut feelings telling me to break up with my boyfriend?

    He is the best partner I have had in many ways, so I don’t know why I feel this way. I am a 38-year-old woman and have been with my boyfriend, 32, for two years. I’ve swung between thinking we should break up, and convincing myself we can make it work and that my gut feeling of uncertainty stems from my own issues . While we have our problems, we are willing to work through them, and he is by far the best partner I have had in many ways. There is no reason to believe that we can’t overcome our difficulties (except perhaps that we haven’t yet, despite counselling), so I don’t know why I feel this way. Has anyone ignored their instincts and put in the effort to improve the relationship with positive results? . When leaving a message on this page, please be sensitive to the fact that you are responding to a real person in the grip of a real-life dilemma, who wrote to Private Lives asking for help, and may well view your comments here. Please consider especially how your words or the tone of your message could be perceived by someone in this situation, and be aware that comments that appear to be disruptive or disrespectful to the individual concerned will be removed. . Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure discussion remains on topics raised by the writer. Please be aware there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site. . If you would like fellow readers to respond to a dilemma of yours, send us an outline of the situation of about 150 words. For advice from Pamela Stephenson Connolly on sexual matters, send us a brief description of your concerns. . All correspondence should reach us by Wednesday morning. Email private.lives@theguardian.com (please don’t send attachments). Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms

  • Fifth of young men who exercise engage in 'disordered eating' to gain muscle, study finds
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    The Independent

    Fifth of young men who exercise engage in 'disordered eating' to gain muscle, study finds

    A fifth of young men who exercise to gain muscle may be at risk of so-called muscularity-orientated disordered eating behaviours, a new research finds.The study, conducted by researchers at the UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital in San Francisco, found that 22 per cent of males aged 18-24 who work out to bulk up exhibit these disordered eating behaviours.Meanwhile, five per cent of women in the same age category show similar characteristics.The behaviours are defined as including at least one of the following: eating more or differently to gain weight or bulk up, and use of dietary supplements or anabolic steroids to achieve the same goal.The study’s researchers say that such behaviours, if left unchecked, may develop into muscle dysmorphia, which is characterised by a strict diet, obsessive over-exercising, and an extreme preoccupation with physique.“Some eating disorders can be challenging to diagnose,” said the study’s first author Jason Nagata, MD, of the UCSF Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine.“Unlike anorexia nervosa, which may be easily identified by parents or paediatricians, disordered eating to increase bulk may masquerade as healthy habits and because of this, it tends to go unnoticed.”Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), or body dysmorphia, is a mental health condition where a person spends a lot of time worrying about flaws in their appearance, the NHS states. These flaws, as they view them, are often unnoticeable to others.In the case of muscle mass, the dysmorphic disorder is also known as “bigorexia” – an anxiety disorder which causes someone to see themselves as small, despite actually being big and muscular.The research, published in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, involved researchers analysing the behaviour of 14,891 young adults from the US.The analysts wanted to find out if their early data, when the participants’ average age was 15, showed something about their perceptions and habits that may serve as warning signs of disordered eating.Their findings showed that young men who exercised specifically to gain weight had 142 per cent higher odds of this type of eating. Meanwhile, the odds increased by 248 per cent for young women.Male participants who perceived themselves as being underweight also had 56 per cent higher odds of developing the behaviours linked to muscularity-orientated disordered food consumption, while in women the odds were 271 per cent higher.Smoking and alcohol use in men, and smoking in women, increased odds moderately.When it came to the intake of supplements to gain weight or build muscle, 6.9 per cent of the men reported they had take something to increase this, with 2.8 per cent saying they used anabolic steroids.Use by women was significantly lower at 0.7 per cent and 0.4 per cent, respectively.“Supplements are a black box, since they are not regulated,” stated Nagata.“In extreme cases, supplements can cause liver and kidney damage. Anabolic steroids can cause both long-term and short-term health issues, including shrunken testicles, stunted growth and heart disease.”The NHS states that anabolic steroids are prescription-only medicines that are sometimes taken without medical advice to increase muscle mass and improve athletic performance.However, when taken without medical permission, they can cause serious side effects and addiction.Nagata continued, explaining that visible signs that could indicate behaviours may be developing into muscle dysmorphia include a highly restrictive diet that omits fats and carbohydrates, compulsive weighing and checking of appearance, and extensive time dedicated to exercise that may cut into social activities.At its most extreme, the behaviours can lead to heart failure due to insufficient calories and overexertion, as well as muscle dysmorphia which is linked to social withdrawal and depression.If you have been affected by any of the issues mentioned in this article, you can contact the following organisations for support:Mind.org.ukBeateatingdisorders.org.ukNHS MoodzoneMentalhealth.org.uk

  • Men who eat two portions of yoghurt a week less likely to develop bowel cancer, study suggests
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    The Independent

    Men who eat two portions of yoghurt a week less likely to develop bowel cancer, study suggests

    Men who regularly eat yoghurt could reduce their risk of developing pre-cancerous growths by a fifth, new research suggests.The study, conducted by the University of Washington, found that men who eat two or more servings of yoghurt a week had a significantly lower chance of developing adenoma – polyps in the bowel which may eventually become cancerous. After tracking more than 32,000 men for 25 years, the researchers found that those who consumed at least two portions of yoghurt a week had 19 per cent fewer adenoma growths.Furthermore, regular eaters were also 26 per cent less likely to have tumours of the most high-risk type. As the study was observational, the researchers said they were unable to ascertain why yoghurt could lower the risk of pre-cancerous growths.However, they did suggest that it could be due to two bacterias commonly found in live yoghurt – Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.The researchers added that the dairy product's anti-inflammatory properties might also reduce gut leakiness – when undigested food particles, bacterial toxins and germs pass through the intestinal wall – and in turn protect against disease. Researcher Dr Yin Cao, from Washington University, said: “Our data provide novel evidence for the role of yoghurt in early stage of colorectal cancer development and the potential of gut bacteria in modulating this process.”The findings, if confirmed by future studies, suggest that yoghurt might serve as a widely acceptable modifiable factor, which could complement colorectal cancer screening and/or reduce risk of adenoma among the unscreened.“The study tracked a total of 32,606 men and 55,743 women, all of whom had a lower bowel endoscopy – a medical procedure which enables doctors to look at the inside of the gut using an instrument called an endoscope.Every four years, the participants provided information on their lifestyle and diet, including how much yoghurt they ate. During the study period, 5,811 pre-cancerous growths developed in the men, and 8,116 in the women.While men who ate yoghurt had a far lower risk of developing the growths, no association was seen in women.Katie Patrick, health information officer, from Cancer Research UK, said: “The colon is home to trillions of microbes and how the bacteria in our gut might affect bowel cancer risk is a fascinating area of research. Lots of things affect the types of bugs in our gut and our overall gut health, including the foods we eat.“But men don’t need to fill their shopping trolleys with yoghurt because it’s too early to say from this study whether eating more yoghurt could reduce the risk of bowel cancer. “However, there is good evidence that you can reduce your risk by eating more foods high in fibre, like wholegrain bread or brown rice, and cutting down on processed and red meat.”Bowel cancer is the fourth most common cancer in the UK, with more than 42,000 people diagnosed with the condition in the UK every year.This equates to around 115 new cases of bowel cancer every day.Symptoms of bowel cancer can include a change in your bowel habits, blood in stool, weight loss, pain in your abdomen or back, fatigue and feeling as though you need to strain your back package, even after going to the toilet, Cancer Research UK outlines.However, the NHS adds that experiencing symptoms associated with bowel cancer, such as abdominal discomfort and constipation, may not necessarily be indicative of bowel cancer.For more information on symptoms of bowel cancer, visit the NHS here and Cancer Research UK here.

  • Later-in-life virgins – ‘At my age, it becomes a red flag’
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    The Guardian

    Later-in-life virgins – ‘At my age, it becomes a red flag’

    Some say they avoid town centres in order to not be faced with happy couples (posed by model). Photograph: Chalabala/Getty Images/iStockphotoRichard’s colleagues call him their work therapist. He’s empathetic and a good listener, he says – “so a lot of people tell me about their personal shit”, including the people he works with at his retail management job in the south-eastern US. But when they complain to him about their sex lives, or he sees happy couples hand-in-hand in the shop, “I think: ‘That’s not something that’s going to happen for me.’” At 31, Richard is a virgin.If it seems as though taboos about sex have lifted in these ostensibly open-minded times, there is one that holds steady: the stigma over never having had sex. While it has become widely unacceptable to criticise someone for having too many partners, being a virgin “still seems to be something that can be only mocked or shamed or suspect”, says Richard.It may be that later-in-life virginity is dismissed as a problem with an easy fix. Cath Mercer, a principal investigator on the Natsal survey of sexual attitudes and lifestyles in Britain, says the vast majority (95%) of the general population report have made their “sexual debut” – as she rather grandly puts it – by age 25. And the most recent data available, from 2010-12, suggests that just 2.2% of British men and 1.1% of women were virgins at the age of 30.Yet there are many reasons that a thirty or fortysomething might never have had sex, says Libby, a 37-year-old Canadian. “It could be tied to mental health issues, ranging from low self-esteem and social anxiety to serious depression. It could be due to a childhood of abuse, or physical health issues like cerebral palsy, or a religious upbringing, or even lack of comprehensive sex education.”Libby connects her virginity to her personality traits (“cynical, private, loud, opinionated and chubby – though my friends would say I’m being too hard on myself”) and her 10-year struggle with depression and anxiety. “When I was sick, I could barely get out of bed, let alone put myself out there to potential partners.”When she was well, she found that medication – for her mental health, and oral contraceptives to mitigate her very painful periods – wiped out her libido. “And if you don’t have the drive, sex isn’t something you pursue,” says Libby. “I don’t blame drugs entirely – as I said, I never put much effort into dating and sex – but I do think they play a large part in my story.”Richard also identifies poor mental health as a factor in his virginity. He is now on antidepressants and – following substance abuse in his 20s – sober. He guesses that his religious upbringing – where sex was not discussed beyond “Don’t do it” – was also influential. But, maybe counterintuitively, he says the reason he has not had sex is that, to him, it’s not just about sex. “If that was all I wanted to accomplish, I would’ve just gone out and got it over with a long time ago.” He has had “a handful” of chances to lose his virginity, but drunken opportunities at parties when he was younger “just didn’t feel right”, and his subsequent sobriety put an end to those.Dating apps are no solution – for him or many others. As Libby puts it: “If someone is still a virgin after 30, they likely have some issues tied to it, none of which will be solved with a swipe to the right and a random hookup.”Although Richard describes himself as introverted and afraid of intimacy and rejection, he says the reason he struggles to approach strangers cold is “not because I’m desperate – it’s because I’m not that desperate”. He is articulate, even wryly humorous, about his virginity, even as he says it causes him day-to-day unhappiness. “It’s like trying to date with an STD that’s not contagious and easily curable, but still puts people off.”Although he desires a relationship more than sex, he says that at a certain point his status can become self-perpetuating. “At my age, it becomes a red flag for people. I don’t really have interpersonal romantic experience, not even just on a physical level, but on an emotional level, too.”He rejects the stereotype that lack of sexual experience extends to life experience (in the style of Steve Carrell’s naive 40-Year-Old Virgin). “I’ve been through a lot, even for a regular person.” Nor is he a “mopey neckbeard or, even worse, incel” – the group of overwhelmingly misogynistic men who blame women for their poor sex lives.A few years ago, Richard went to see a sex therapist, but never returned. “He asked me – and this will always stick in my head – ‘Why don’t you just pay someone if you want to have sex?’ “I said: ‘Well, I want someone to want me, I want to want them, I want us to want to do this.’ He got really indignant. ‘It’s just sex – you need to get over yourself.’”The thing is, says Richard, “you don’t know who’s going to judge you for it or who won’t. There’s no way to tell.”The therapist spent the rest of the hour practising a mindfulness technique, says Richard. “‘Like, ‘Tell me what you think of yourself with regards to relationships – what would you be without this thought?’ I thought: ‘I wouldn’t be in your office right now, paying you $200.’”Three years ago Richard was pursued by a woman who retreated after learning, via a game of 20 questions over text, that he was a virgin. “When I kind of pried, she said that she thought that she would ‘ruin’ me.” That response is not uncommon, he says. “It’s like they’re dictating your sexuality for you, in a way – what you are and aren’t ready for, what you can handle emotionally, just based on that one titbit about you.”Julia, from Los Angeles, also comes up against preconceptions. At 31 going on 32, she is an evangelical Christian and still a virgin, as is her boyfriend. People in secular circles are surprised to learn they have never had sex – “My boyfriend’s business partner wondered if he’s secretly gay since we’re not doing it” – but then so are some Christians. These days, she says, most young evangelicals have premarital sex (or rush into marriage). “I was actually surprised that my boyfriend is a virgin – that’s how common it is.”It is not easy staying chaste, Julia says – “we have to be proactively careful about that”, particularly when they are travelling together – but their church community keeps them accountable. “And I have a very full and rich life as a virgin.”That said, she and her boyfriend are seriously discussing marriage; she’s already warned him that they are going to “have sex every day, seven days a week” (although the novelty may wear off, she concedes). “I’m excited to have sex with my future husband. What we lack in experience, we’ll learn together.”But, Julia agrees, as a virgin by choice she is an anomaly. For others the hurdles can seem insurmountable.Jim, a 35-year-old from East Sussex, has never been kissed. He had few friends in secondary school, where his confidence was shot by bullying, and his social circle has dwindled since then. Like Richard, he is sober, thereby missing out on pubs and clubs – “the main route for kids in the 90s to have gotten together with someone”. He works in IT, a male-dominated industry, and although he has some hobbies (archery, rock-climbing) he feels women there aren’t open to being approached, if he even knew how. “You don’t want to seem unwelcome or forceful.”Holding him back, he says, are absence of opportunity, his looks (he describes himself as in shape but balding, and “just not nice-looking”), his shyness and his lack of self-confidence – which worsens with each passing year.He has never told anyone that he is a virgin. “It’s not something that has come up. If it did, I would probably lie and say that I had sex when I was 16 or 18 but that I haven’t had it in ages. It’s never having been in a relationship that bothers me more.” For that reason, he says, he decided against going to a sex worker when he considered it a few years ago. “I got to thinking that if I paid for it, that would probably make me feel even more worthless.”Sex, as he sees it, is a destination, but he is more interested in the journey. “It’s the getting a girlfriend, a partner – going to places with someone, who you can talk about your day with, and they’ll be listening. ‘Virgin’ is the easiest tag to apply, but there’s more to it than that. It’s an experience that’s been missing from me, and from other people.”It bothers him more some days than it does others, he says – but the number of times he has avoided a town centre because of not wanting to see couples is “worryingly high”. Richard says something similar. “When I meet someone or see someone I find attractive, instead of feeling a little spark, there’s just a feeling in the pit in my stomach that says: ‘Nothing’s ever going to happen.’”Libby, however, is feeling good about the future. Over the past few years her health has improved, allowing her to invest in her work, home, family and friendships. At New Year’s, she realised that her only regret about the years she had spent unwell was her lack of dating and sexual experience. She changed medication “and it seems to be the right cocktail. I’m feeling better than I have in a long time and, as an unexpected bonus, my libido woke up.”She has since signed up for two online dating sites and had more good experiences than bad. Until very recently, only her two closest friends knew she was a virgin. “Now that I’m dating, I find myself telling potential interests fairly early on,” she says. “It’s a great way to weed out undesirable guys.” She hopes her future partners will be patient, open to teaching, and willing to go at her pace.“I know it won’t be perfect or like a romance novel or a porn video, but it will be my first time, on my terms. And a weight will be lifted off my shoulders.”All names have been changed.

  • What is the point of rewilding lynxes? (Is it to see if they purr?)
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    The Guardian

    What is the point of rewilding lynxes? (Is it to see if they purr?)

    On the way back? The lynx. Photograph: Arterra/UIG via Getty ImagesWhat is the point of rewilding lynxes in the UK? Would this involve the killing of feral domestic cats? And while on the subject – do lynxes purr?Christina Healey, London SE1Post your answers – and new questions – below or email them to nq@theguardian.com

  • Why do gyms play such loud music?
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    The Guardian

    Why do gyms play such loud music?

    Keep it up ... and the noise down? Photograph: David Sacks/Getty ImagesWhy do gyms play music so loudly? It’s like being in a nightclub. Even when wearing headphones to listen to one’s own music, it is impossible to block their music out.Pete Dorey, BathPost your answers – and new questions – below or email them to nq@theguardian.com

  • Reality TV ‘encourages children to drink and smoke’, study suggests
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    The Independent

    Reality TV ‘encourages children to drink and smoke’, study suggests

    Reality TV shows such as Love Island are encouraging young people to smoke or drink underage by bombarding them with images of alcohol and tobacco more than other prime-time programmes, a new study finds.The study, conducted by researchers from University of Nottingham’s Centre for Tobacco and Alcohol Studies, measured depictions of alcohol and tobacco products on several reality programmes that aired on UK channels for 112 episodes between January and August 2018.The programmes analysed also included Made in Chelsea, The Only Way is Essex, Geordie Shore and the now discontinued Celebrity Big Brother.In total, the researchers estimated that 4.9 billion images of alcohol were shown to the UK population in the episodes, including 580 million to children under the age of 16.Meanwhile, 214 million overall tobacco impressions were shown to the public, including 47 million to children under 16.Researchers analysed the number of one-minute clips containing tobacco and/or alcohol imagery in the episodes, including actual use, implied use, tobacco or alcohol-related materials, product-specific branding and estimated viewer exposure to the imagery on screen. This data was then combined with audience viewing figures with mid-year population figures for 2017.The research’s findings, which are published in the Journal of Public Health, showed that alcohol content appeared in all 112 episodes and in 2,212 one-minute clips, which is the equivalent of 42 per cent of all the footage studied.Meanwhile, alcohol consumption was apparent in 18 per cent of footage and 34 per cent featured inferred consumption, predominantly by characters holding alcoholic beverages.Love Island included the greatest number of clips showing alcohol, while alcohol branding featured in 69 per cent of Geordie Shore episodes.Tobacco content appeared in 20 of the 112 episodes, with the majority (98 per cent) – including actual tobacco use, inferred tobacco use, and tobacco paraphernalia – featuring in Celebrity Big Brother.“Given that seeing alcohol or tobacco imagery in the media promotes use among young people, our study therefore identifies reality television shows as a major potential driver of alcohol and tobacco consumption in young people in the UK,” says Alexander Barker, lead researcher on the study from the University of Nottingham’s Division of Epidemiology and Public Health.“Tighter scheduling rules, such as restricting the amount of content and branding shown in these programmes, could prevent children and adolescents from being exposed to the tobacco and alcohol content.”The researchers previously reported high levels of tobacco imagery, including branding, in the third series of Love Island in 2017.However, after complaints over the level of smoking in the series to Ofcom, ITV decided to remove all smoking content featured in the show, resulting in the new study finding no content of that nature in last year’s series of the hit programme. At the time of receiving the complaints, an ITV spokesperson said: “The islanders are only shown smoking if this happens at the same time as they are having conversations we believe to be editorially important to the narrative of the show.”The spokesperson added that the contestants’ cigarettes were in plain white packs so that the show would not be seen to be promoting one brand.The Ofcom Code prohibits product placement of alcoholic drinks, cigarettes and other tobacco products. The organisation states that there must be “editorial justification” for a product to be placed in a programme.In light of the new study, a spokesperson from Love Island told The Independent: "Alcohol is always restricted and provided by production in moderation at our discretion."They added that while smoking is prohibited within the villa or the villa garden this year, producers have provided a designated smoking area outside of the villa where islanders will be able to have a cigarette if they choose to."Islanders will only be able to use the smoking area alone which will limit conversations," they added.

  • Facebook posts ‘better at predicting some health conditions’ than demographic data, claim researchers
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    The Independent

    Facebook posts ‘better at predicting some health conditions’ than demographic data, claim researchers

    Facebook posts might be better at predicting some health conditions than traditional demographic information, a new study suggests.Researchers at Stony Brook University and The University of Pennsylvania Health System have found that the language people use on Facebook could help clinicians predict whether or not they suffer from illnesses such as depression and diabetes in a similar way to physical symptoms.The research team used an automated data collection technique to gather and analyse the entire Facebook post history of almost 1,000 patients, who had also linked their electronic medical records to their social media profiles.After acquiring and examining information on the language used in their posts and their demographics, such as age and sex, the researchers found they were able to identify 21 different conditions using data collected from participants’ Facebook posts alone. These included psychosis, anxiety and alcoholism.In 10 of the conditions identified, researchers concluded that Facebook data was a better predictor than demographic information.Some words had obvious links to the conditions. For example, the team found that those who used words such as “drink” and “bottle” in their posts were more likely to abuse alcohol.Less obviously, those who used religious language in their posts, e.g. words such as “God” and “pray”, were 15 times more likely to have diabetes compared to those who rarely used those words.Lead author Raina Merchant, director of Penn Medicine's Center for Digital Health, said: "This work is early, but our hope is that the insights gleaned from these posts could be used to better inform patients and providers about their health."As social media posts are often about someone's lifestyle choices and experiences or how they're feeling, this information could provide additional information about disease management and exacerbation."Senior author Andrew Schwartz, assistant professor of computer science at Stony Brook University, added that our “digital language” reflects a different aspect of our lives to traditional medical data and could provide medical professionals with key diagnostic insights."Many studies have now shown a link between language patterns and specific disease, such as language predictive of depression or language that gives insights into whether someone is living with cancer,” he added. “However, by looking across many medical conditions, we get a view of how conditions relate to each other, which can enable new applications of AI for medicine."In light of the findings, the research team suggests there may be potential for developing systems that allow patients to hand over their social media data to medical officials should they choose to so that they can provide clinicians with additional data that may improve how effectively their condition is treated. "For instance, if someone is trying to lose weight and needs help understanding their food choices and exercise regimens, having a healthcare provider review their social media record might give them more insight into their usual patterns in order to help improve them," Merchant explained.Merchant is conducting a trial later this year to test this theory.