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Craving Control: The Science Behind Junk Food Addiction

by Elim Eyobed, age 12

If you've ever had a craving for junk food, you're certainly not alone. Whether it's chips, pizza, donuts, or cake, these processed foods are so flavorful that they can become extremely addictive. As a result, it can be very difficult to stop eating.

While addiction is typically associated with drugs or alcohol, some researchers have discovered that junk food can elicit similar addictive responses. The stimulating effect of junk food triggers a recurring cycle within the brain's reward circuit. Junk food induces the release of dopamine, which in turn brings about a sense of happiness in a similar fashion to drugs and alcohol.

The primary concern here isn't necessarily the presence of carbohydrates or fats, as healthier foods such as nuts and meat contain fats, and oats are rich in carbs. Rather, the issue lies in the fact that many unhealthy foods lack the essential nutrients that unprocessed foods used to contain. Consequently, the combination of sugars and fats in these foods creates a cycle that makes it challenging to resist eating them. [Read More]

Children of Color in Wisconsin More Likely to Test Positive for Lead Poisoning

by Hanna Eyobed, age 18

Low-income communities and children of color in Milwaukee are disproportionately harmed by lead poisoning. Affecting one of eight children across most regions of Milwaukee, lead poisoning is a prevalent problem with serious health effects that raise concerns.

Black children are four times more likely to be victims of lead poisoning than white children, according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. With lead poisoning rates of 6.5%, Black children lead in the city of Milwaukee, followed by: Native American (3.2%), Asian American & Pacific Islander (3%), Hispanic (2.6%), and white (1.6%) children. The city has the highest lead poisoning rate for children under the age of six in Wisconsin. Lead poisoning can cause damage to the brain and nervous system along with halting development and growth in children. Fortunately, the percentage of children found with hazardous amounts of lead in their blood (5mgc/dl) has gradually decreased since 2001.

“Lead poisoning is an issue where there are disparities by both socioeconomic status and race and ethnicity,” DHS epidemiologist Maeve Pell stated. [Read More]

Climate Change and Habitat Loss Unveil Causes of Virus Spread from Bats to Humans

by Ayelen Flores Ruiz, age 13

Recently a disease that jumped from wild bats to humans came to be known as COVID-19. When it was first diagnosed, people suspected the disease arose from bats and as time progressed, some even falsely accused Asian populations of spreading the disease. It was unclear what started the pandemic, and because of this, scientists started attempting to discover and understand the real cause.

Scientists have learned that animals carry viruses but usually, they have no effect on other animals or humans. This is because the species has already had the virus multiple times and their immune system knows it like a best friend. The virus can then find a new species and, if its immune system does not recognize it, the virus can trigger a disease occurrence. With this information, it makes it helpful to know where, when, and why viruses pass from animals to humans. Alison Peel, a Canadian specialist in wild diseases said, “It is not easy to track when viruses jump from their wild host to a new one.”

Peel has a team working towards finding an answer to what causes a virus to spread. They are working to prevent future pandemics from happening. The team saw that the bats' ecosystems were changing, which likely contributed to or even initiated the disease spread. In particular, the team started to think that climate change played a role in the reason why viruses become more widespread. With this head start, the team began analyzing the bats’ environment and discovered that bats were not getting enough food. [Read More]

Rising Tide of Colon Cancer: Younger Patients at Risk and Seeking Answers

by Sandy Flores-Ruiz, age 17

Colon cancer, the second deadliest type of cancer in the United States, has seen a rise in diagnosis in younger patients under 50. While doctors are not exactly sure of the reason for this increase, they might know contributing factors.

Colorectal cancer, also known as colon cancer, is a disease in the digestive system. This cancer usually begins with a growth of tissue called a polyp, which is caused due to abnormal production of cells. Removing this tissue in the early stages could prevent cancer, but many of the symptoms may not appear at first. Some of those symptoms could include changes in bowel movements, bleeding, abdominal pain, fatigue, and weight loss.

According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2020, over 147,950 people were diagnosed with colon cancer, and an estimated 53,200 people died–which is still just 8.8% of all cancer-related deaths. In 2019, 20% of the newly diagnosed patients were under the age of fifty. In comparison, only 11% under the age of fifty were diagnosed in 1995. [Read More]

Why do Covid-19 Patients Lose Their Sense of Smell?

by Camila Cruz, age 15

The loss of smell is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19.

How the virus affects each person’s body determines how long their sense of smell is lost. In many cases, patients continue with their loss of smell even after the virus has left their body. Many patients have reported still experiencing their loss of smell, in some cases up to 16 months after they’ve recovered from COVID-19.

According to Duke University sinus surgeon and researcher, Brad Goldstein, inflammation from fighting the virus causes people to lose their sense of smell. [Read More]

Why it's Important to Brush Your Teeth

by Jonah Smith, age 14

Your dentist will always tell you to brush your teeth. But why? Not brushing your teeth can cause tooth decay, an infectious disease caused by sugar-loving microbes that live in the mouth. A new study, however, might want to make you brush your teeth even more. Researchers have found that these tiny mouth microbes can combine to cause more damage than expected.

Damage from dental plaques causes cavities. Plaque coats the teeth in acid which breaks down the tooth’s hard enamel covering. Dental plaques are a type of biofilm and many types of microbes can form biofilms in the mouth. Young children who have severe tooth decay have a specific type of biofilm: the bacterium Streptococcus mutants and the fungus Candida Albicans. This fungus is a type of yeast that can cause infection in the human body.

To gather some more information, researchers collected 44 saliva and dental plaque samples from young children. Fourteen had healthy teeth and thirty had severe tooth decay. The scientists studied these samples to see what kind of germs lived in their mouths. The children with healthy teeth had bacteria, but no yeast, and children with tooth decay had both. [Read More]

Lumpectomy Advances Breast Cancer Treatment

by Dulce Maria Vazquez, age 14

A new study has found that many women with breast cancer can get rid of the tumors without having their breasts removed. This can be achieved through a lumpectomy, the surgical removal of multiple cancer lumps. This surgery usually lasts about 40 minutes with patients claiming that it is not a painful operation, Patients who dealt with many tumors have been studied using sensitive imaging techniques.

It has become more common for women to be diagnosed with more than one cancer tumor in the same breast. Some researchers inquired whether or not lumpectomies were better than the removal of the breasts itself. Two- hundred women who had two to three tumors in the same breast ranging from ages 40-87 were studied.

To meet surgical qualifications, tumors had to be no greater than five centimeters and remain two to three centimeters away from the normal breast tissue. Recently, three percent of the women in the study had their cancer return post-lumpectomy. This study was discussed at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, which caught the attention of several researchers. John Kink a Florida-based surgeon at the Moffit Cancer Center believes the integration of lumpectomies to be “a step forward” in the field of cancer research. [Read More]

Study Reveals COVID-19 Pandemic Prematurely Aged Teen Brains

by Ayelen Flores Ruiz, age 13

New MRI brain scans show that teen brains have matured beyond the years of their physical age (as much as three to four years) after the Covid-19 pandemic. This shows the importance of this time for teens’ brain development.

Scientists studying this topic were working on teen mental health before the pandemic hit, so they already had some ideas on what could have affected teens before and after. Researchers revealed that the pandemic was hard on teens, increasing anxiety and depression and prompting scientists to look at the changes that were being made to the brain.

Scientists took MRI scans from 64 teens after the pandemic. They compared the scans to different groups from before the pandemic, matched by their age and sex. The after-effects were the thickening of the hippocampus and amygdala, and the thinning of the cerebral cortex. All of these are a process of maturing for teens. This process usually takes time, but it was determined that the brain matured three to four years beyond their actual age. [Read More]

The Scientific Explanation Behind the Enjoyment of Horror Movies

by Dayanara Flores Gonzalez, age 15

In 2002 the horror film The Ring came out. For some people, this film was too frightening to be fun. Many question why people find enjoyment in scary movies.

Margee Kerr, a sociologist at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania focuses on recreational fear; Kerr says that watching horror movies increases activity in the nervous system. Another researcher named Mathies Clasen surveyed more than 250 American horror fans to find out why they enjoyed watching horror films.

Once the responses came back, they revealed that there were three types of fans: the first group was called “Adrenaline Junkies” who said that, “being scared made them feel alive.” The next group was named “White Knucklers”. These people reported negative reactions to scary movies. The last group was the “Dark Copers”, who use horror as a coping mechanism for bad feelings and events that they experienced in real life. [Read More]

Understanding the Health Impacts and Controversies Surrounding Daylight Saving Time

by Ayelen Flores Ruiz, age 13

Although daylight saving time is very popular with many people, it may have negative health effects for humans, according to some scientists.

Daylight saving time is when clocks move an hour forward in the spring and return to standard time in the fall. This makes people lose an hour of sleep, causing scientists to question if this is healthy. Kenneth Wright, an expert on sleep and body clocks, says that daylight saving time is the wrong name for this procedure. He says that humans are only changing the way they live concerning the sun, making their bodies out of sync. The action of changing the clocks creates a problem with the human body’s circadian rhythm as it resets.

Wright and other scientists advocate for permanent standard time instead of switching twice a year. The U.S. Senate voted for daylight saving to become permanent in March 2022, but without a vote from the House, it has not become law. Something similar happened in Congress in the 1970s, however, it was not passed as people feared the shift could cause fear or depression among adolescents and others. [Read More]

Investigators Find Child Labor Violations in the Meatpacking Industry

by Hanna Eyobed, age 17

Meatpacking factories are violating labor laws and exposing children to dangerous chemicals, federal labor investigators found. Kids as young as 13 have faced dangerous exposure to chemicals used to clean biohazardous substances in Nebraska, Missouri, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

In Wisconsin alone, 50 illegally employed minors were hired under the supervision of the Packers Sanitation Service Inc. (PSSI). Upon investigation by the Labor Department, the PSSI was placed under review by a federal judge. The Labor Department also found 31 underage workers in three plants owned by the companies JBS and Turkey Valley Farms in Nebraska and Minnesota. Other underage employees have been identified in Arkansas. A 13-year-old who used to clean the JBS plant every night in Grand Island, Nebraska suffered a serious chemical burn from what was used to clean the plant. Other teens working at the plant stated that “everyone there knew '' that they were minors, according to investigators. The Labor Department has been comparing school records with employee rosters to find underage workers.

It’s part of a larger investigation of PSSI’s more than 700 locations and other meat-packing companies in the Midwest. “This case should serve as a stark reminder for all employers that the U.S. Department of Labor will not tolerate violations of the law, especially those that put vulnerable children at risk,” said Michael Lazzeri, regional administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor, Wage and Hour Division. [Read More]

The World’s Population is Now 8 billion

by Jonah Smith, age 13

If you looked up on Google how many people were on Earth, the answer would be 7.8 billion people. But according to a recent United Nations report, in late 2022 our population finally hit 8 billion. The population is still rising, but the rate of growth has slowed. The rate the U.N. based their last predictions on was the rate of growth from 2017. At that time, the U.N. predicted that the world’s population could reach 11.2 billion people by the year 2100. With this new data, the population is now expected to peak during the 2080s at 10.4 billion people. Once it peaks, the numbers will plateau until 2100.

This new information also highlights the challenges linked with population growth, said Maria-Francesca Spatolisano of the U.N. during a news conference on July 11th, 2022. These challenges include meeting people's social and economic needs (food, water, shelter, etc.), as well as how people use Earth’s resources and alter the environment.

The population will grow differently across various areas. For example, high-income countries, which have low birth rates, will grow due to more people moving there, a U.N. report predicts. In low-income countries, populations will rise as there are more births than deaths. This report also states that in 61 countries, populations are expected to drop by one percent or more between now and 2050. The net effect is that overall, populations are still expected to rise. [Read More]

To Stop the Spread of Dengue Fever, Scientists Infected Mosquitoes with Something Else

by Samuel Garduño, age 14

Aedes aegypti, the mosquito that carries the deadly dengue virus, began as a forest insect in the sub-Saharan part of Africa, but one lineage evolved to enjoy the urban environment. Transported through slave ships, these mosquitoes have traveled globally for centuries, carrying viruses like dengue. Today, dengue is recognized by the World Health Organization as a top ten global threat. Dengue infects around 390 million people and kills about 25,000 individuals annually. Dengue may be a lethal virus, but there’s a solution: Wolbachia.

The bacterium Wolbachia was discovered in 1924 in a different mosquito species, but it wasn’t until the 1980’s that scientists realized its astounding ability to spread and to control the dengue virus. Mosquitoes carrying Wolbachia can’t be infected with dengue, thus helping to prevent the spread of the deadly virus. With equal importance, Wolbachia spreads quickly among mosquitoes. It allows an insect mother containing the bacteria to produce more abundantly and pass the bacteria to her offspring. Therefore, Wolbachia is a fast and effective method of combating dengue. The bacteria is also an eco-friendly and non-toxic method of controlling dengue; it doesn’t even kill mosquitoes!

Oliver Brady, a dengue expert at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, stated that “Wolbachia is a highly effective intervention against dengue.” To test the effectiveness of Wolbachia, the nonprofit World Mosquito Program (WMP) conducted a test in 2017 in the city of Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Researchers split the city into 24 sectors and released the carrier mosquitoes in half of them. In a year, results showed that 95 percent of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes contained Wolbachia. Starting in January 2018, fever comparisons were done between the Wolbachia and Wolbachia-free zones. [Read More]

Astronauts Face Bone Weakness While in Space

by Moore Vang, age 13

Astronauts may want to prepare for their next space mission by bringing exercise gear for their legs.

When astronauts spend time in space, they undergo some loss of internal support in their bones. This leads to the bones becoming thinner than before taking off into space. Space trips that last at least six months are equivalent to about 20 years of aging through bone loss. However, a new study shows that a year back on Earth rebuilds about half the strength originally lost in the affected bones. Leigh Gabel, an exercise scientist at the University of Calgary in Canada, says that “bones are a living organ” and that the bones in our body are “constantly remodeling.” Gabel was a part of a team with 17 astronauts who spent from four to seven months in space. Their team used a certain type of a CT or computer tomography scan to show the bones in their bodies, which was used to measure the structure of their bones on a fine scale. They focused primarily on the structures of the lower leg and lower arm which showed details on a scale of 61 micrometers.

The astronauts took images of the bones in the lower arm and leg four times: once before they took flight, when they returned home, and then again six and 12 months later. From each of those photos, Gabel’s team could determine the bone strength and density. A year after returning to Earth, astronauts that went to space for fewer than six months regained all their bone strength they had before taking the flight. However, those who stayed longer in space suffered more permanent bone loss in their shin bones. Surprisingly, the lower arm showed almost no loss, likely due to the bone not being weight-bearing, unlike the lower leg bones on Earth. Instead, arm bones get stronger in space than on Earth because astronauts rely on exercising their arms by pushing off handles and doorways in space. [Read More]

Fake Medicine, Real Results

by Moises A. Hernandez, age 17

The placebo effect, as doctors call it, is something that creates a real and positive change in a person's body but cannot be explained by the characteristics of the placebo itself. Something as simple as a father saying to a little girl who fell and bumped her knee, “I’ll kiss it and make it better,” can make the girl forget her pain.

With just a puff of air, a kiss, or a few kind words, a loving person can stop the pain of a child. Even though it should have no effect, a real change happens in the person’s body. That is why placebos are vital in medical research. In clinical trials, for example, a pill that contains no medicine but looks just like one with medicine is given to some participants. Researchers do this to show that people who are actually taking the medicine get better compared to those who really are not, therefore proving that a new medicine works.

“Placebos don’t do anything for bacteria,” Kathryn Hall, a medical researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital said. “Placebos can’t fight cancer. They can’t fight viruses.” [Read More]

Should We Add Insects to Our Diet?

by Emily Rodriguez Lima, age 14

When we think about consuming bugs, most of us would immediately respond by saying, “ew!” Although bugs may look nasty or creepy, they are a good source of protein. If insects are raised and prepared correctly, the protein they carry can be beneficial for our bodies. Raising them requires less water, less land, and overall less resources than other animals.

Though a lot of us did not grow up having insects as part of our meals, scientists have been trying to figure out how to incorporate and make them appealing to humans. Many people throughout the world eat bugs as part of their culture. From ancient times, people have eaten bugs as it was believed it would give you knowledge. A common insect many have tried are crickets. These insects, like many others, are good for your body.

If you are interested in having insects as a small snack, the best option is to do research and buy them at a local grocery store. Do not go to your backyard, garden, or local park and grab them since these insects can contain chemicals and germs that are harmful to the human body. [Read More]

Can Walking Improve Your Memory?

by Mariama Bah, age 14

Until the late 1990s, scientists believed that human brains were fixed and through aging, decreased in function. This belief has since changed due to studies indicating that our brains continue to make neurons, cells that transmit information to other cells in our body and allow creation of thoughts and memories. Studies also showed that exercise could increase neurogenesis, which is the process of creating neurons.

Studies revealed that human brains create new neurons throughout life and it is possible to accelerate neurogenesis through exercise, but these studies mainly focused on gray matter. With white matter, it was a different story. White matter, brain wiring connecting the neurons, is considered fragile and was thought to weaken as aging occurred. That is until a professor of neuroscience and human development at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Agnieszka Burzynska, and her team of graduate students decided to test whether white matter is just as malleable as gray matter.

The team recruited 250 older people and tested their aerobic and cognitive skills, then divided them into three groups. The first, the control group, did stretching and balancing exercises three days a week; the second group began walking together three times a week for forty minutes; and the third started taking dance classes together three times a week. After six months, the groups re-did the skills tests and all but the control group saw improvement, both physically and mentally, with the walkers exhibiting the most improvement. The scientists found that the white matter in the brain of the walkers and dancers had grown. The stretchers however, showed degeneration of the white matter and did poorly on their cognitive tests. [Read More]

New Study Suggests Cannabis May Cause
Long Term Changes to Teen Brains

by Kelly Vazquez, age 16

Since the late 1930s, cannabis, otherwise known as marijuana, has been a topic of great debate in the United States. Currently, many states have legalized marijuana or decriminalized it for recreational and medical use. Despite the growing movement to legalize recreational use for adults, Matthew Albaugh, professor at University of Vermont, explains that it can still be harmful for young users. He stated,“Brain areas that change the most during adolescence may be especially vulnerable to cannabis exposure.” There have been significant studies that indicate cannabis having brain altering effects on humans.

Albaugh and his team conducted a study with 799 14-year-olds throughout four European countries: Germany, France, Ireland, and England. The kids received MRI scans and five years later, the study was repeated with the same kids. During the second MRI, 46% of them said they had tried cannabis; approximately 75% said they had used the substance 10 or more times. The study showed that there was quite a contrast between the prefrontal cortex (which is responsible for decisions, impulses, and focus) of those who used cannabis and those who didn’t. The prefrontal cortex had thinned faster for those who used cannabis than those who didn’t, even more so for those who used it frequently. These results have been somewhat inconsistent since researchers can’t experiment with real teenagers. However, results do add to the existing data that supports the claim that cannabis affects the brain's development.

Jacqueline-Marie Ferland, brain researcher at Icahn School of Medicine, explains that the thinning of the prefrontal cortex is often connected to maturing, decision making, rationality, and managing impulsivity; a properly matured prefrontal cortex can perform these functions. However, another study on young animals shows that thinning too early can cause long term problems with behavior and memory. [Read More]

Assisted Reproduction Technologies Bring Hope to Thousands of Couples Around the World —
by Sandy Flores, age 15

Many people do not know that over 15% of the couples in the world cannot conceive naturally. This situation can cause a lot of sorrow and feelings of loss. Just a century ago, science could not help these couples, however, medical science has evolved over the last few decades, offering new hope for those who cannot have babies. [Read More]

Study Shows Paxlovid Decreases COVID-19 Related Hospitalizations and Deaths — by Moises Hernandez, age 18

A new study shows that a treatment for COVID-19 significantly reduces hospitalization and death rates. Patients prescribed Paxlovid are about five times less likely to be hospitalized and ten times less likely to die, compared to patients to whom the medication is not prescribed, according to a study published on Epic Research. [Read More]

How Teens Learn to Avoid Risky Behavior — by Jacob L. Dunn, age 12

Many teenagers engage in risky behavior, such as committing crimes, due to impulsiveness. There are various factors that influence teenagers to be so impulsive, including social and peer pressure and a difficulty in controlling their actions. [Read More]

Thousands of Sick Kids Linked to Lead Pipes in Milwauke — by Sydney Steidl, age 15

More than 9,000 Wisconsin children were found to have lead poisoning between 2018 and 2020, with nearly two out of three of those children from Milwaukee County. [Read More]

Epidemiologists: The Scientists Who Study Pandemics — by Eleanor Pleasnick, age 12

There are many illnesses in the world, such as the novel Coronavirus, which is currently fueling a global pandemic. Between 1918-1920, there was another pandemic: the Spanish flu pandemic. These are just a couple of examples of the diseases that epidemiologists study by observing these illnesses and their patterns. [Read More]

An Epidemic of Overdoses: Synthetic Fentanyl Causes Dramatic Increase in Opioid Addiction —
by Sydney Steidl, age 15

In 2020 alone, 93,331 people in the United States died from drug overdoses, a 30% increase from the previous year and the highest number on record. [Read More]

Crab Shell Bandages: the Future of Medicine? — by Dyami Rodriguez, age 16

Scientists at the University of Wuhan in China have discovered that shells from crabs, shrimps, and lobsters can help heal wounds faster, as well as reduce the chance of infection. The shells contain a material called chitin (Ky-tin), which have powerful healing properties. Scientists are testing ways to make chitin into gauzes and bandages to accelerate the healing process. [Read More]

The Worst Plague in European History Killed Millions in Just Four Years — by Dulce Maria Vazquez, age 13

Surprisingly, the Bubonic plague, known to cause one of the deadliest disease outbreaks in history, only lasted for only four years. During those four years, two million people died in the country of England alone. In total, the plague killed over 20 million people worldwide. Due to the large death poll, the Bubonic plague is commonly known as the Black Death. [Read More]

The Macabre Dissections of Andreas Vesalius Revolutionized Medical Science — by Devika Pal, age 16

Before the 16th century, there was little to no knowledge on human anatomy. Most of the information came from centuries prior and was largely incorrect. This changed in the 16th century with the anatomical discoveries of Andreas Vesalius. His works on dissecting and studying bodies helped greatly to expand the knowledge of human anatomy. [Read More]

Dr. Charles Drew Pioneered Methods of Blood Storage and Transfusion that Are Still Saving Lives Today —
by Yoyo Hoskins, age 15

Dr. Charles Drew, known as the Father of Blood Banks, was an African-American surgeon who developed innovative methods to store blood plasma for transfusions and established the first grand-scale blood bank in the United States. [Read More]