This blog will be closing at the end of this week but will remain accessible as an archive.

Margaret McCartney will continue blogging from:

You will also now be able to add comments to her weekly columns at:

You can also follow the FT’s science coverage at:

Thank you for reading and contributing to the discussion on the blog

By Rebecca Knight

The Lancet, last month, retracted its controversial 1998 study that linked the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism.

To be clear: the only evidence that showed a connection between vaccinations and the neural development disorder has been formally expunged from the scientific record.

Here is a link to the FT’s article about the now discredited study:
Lancet retracts MMR link to autism

By Rebecca Knight

Finally, some health news I can get behind: it’s possible to get more fit by doing less exercise.
A study, conducted by researchers at McMaster University in Canada, finds that brief spurts of high-intensity interval training – a form of exercise with the accurate acronym: HIT – produces the same benefits to your body as conventional long duration endurance training. (HIT means doing a number of short bursts of concentrated exercise with short recovery breaks in between.)
“Doing 10 one-minute sprints on a standard stationary bike with about one minute of rest in between, three times a week, works as well in improving muscle as many hours of conventional long-term biking less strenuously,” says Prof Martin Gibala, one of the authors of the research.

By Rebecca Knight

Should we treat foods high in sugar and saturated fat – such as French fries and soda – like cigarettes and liquor, and subject them to a “sin” tax?
Some health advocates think so, and this week a study that appears in the Archives of Internal Medicine, one of the JAMA/Archives journals, provides some pretty persuasive scientific evidence to support such a measure. The study, conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that if junk foods were subjected to a “fat tax” people would eat them less and lose weight as a result. 

By Rebecca Knight

Anyone who has ever spent considerable time with a young child who’s learning to talk -not just baby babble, but learning how to pronounce words, string phrases, and put sentences together – knows that it’s a fascinating thing to watch.

I have a two year-old daughter who every day is figuring out how to express herself with language. (She expresses herself in other ways too, she is a toddler, after all, but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll stick to language.) It started with basic words: ball, kitty, yellow, mama, daddy. Then phrases: “mo wawa pease” – that’s: “more water please” for the uninitiated. And now she repeats everything I say. Every. Little. Thing.
Perhaps what’s been most exciting, however, is the fact that she, unlike me, speaks two languages. At home, we speak English, but she also spends a lot of time with her Brazilian nanny who speaks to her almost exclusively in Portuguese. My daughter understands most everything her nanny says, and answers her, accordingly, in Portuguese. It’s true, what they say, small children are like sponges.
According to a new study, they’re sponges in the womb, too. The research, which appears in the latest issue of the journal Psychological Science, found that infants born to bilingual mothers who spoke both languages during pregnancy show signs of different language preferences than babies born to mothers who spoke only one language. 

By Rebecca Knight

A study by psychologists at the University of Leeds has found that people who spend a lot of time surfing the internet are more likely to show depressive symptoms.
Hmm. I spend a lot of time on the internet. I mean a lot. Some of it is productive: I pay bills, I glance through the news, I shop for groceries, and I locate sources for stories I am writing. But admittedly, a lot of it is frivolous: incessant emailing, Facebook-checking, blog-browsing, Tweet-reading, and vain, idle Google searches for whatever happens to occupy my brain space at any given moment.

By Rebecca Knight

Can something as simple as the timing of when we take a coffee break help us better remember the presentation we just attended, or retain the details of the podcast we just heard?
A study by researchers at New York University thinks it can. In an experiment focused on memory consolidation – the phase when a memory is stabilised after it is originally created – the researchers found that memories are reinforced during periods of rest while we are awake. Past studies had shown this process occurs during sleep, not when we are wide-awake but resting.
Put simply: taking a break after a meeting can actually help you retain information because your brain wants you to tune out other things, so you can tune in to what you just learned.

By Rebecca Knight

Most of the time blogging for’s health section is a lot of fun. I get to write about cool breakthrough technologies and therapies that might change the way our bodies fight disease. I get to learn about the latest studies that could have a practical impact on nutrition, fitness and family health. And plus I get to read comments from readers all over the world about how they view health and wellbeing. It’s not a bad gig.
But every once in a while I come across a piece of science news that is rather depressing. That happened this week. 

By Rebecca Knight

What are you doing to keep your mind sharp and supple as you age? Eating a diet chock-full of blueberries and beans and other antioxidant-rich foods? Meditating? Playing a game of chess, or doing a crossword puzzle every day?
Two new reports show that perhaps the best way to keep your brain young is to exercise. The reports, which appear in the latest issue of Archives of Neurology, one of the JAMA/Archives journals, find that those who do moderate physical activity in mid life or later appear to reduce their risk of mild cognitive impairment. A six-month high-intensity aerobic exercise programme may also improve cognitive function in people who already have the condition.

By Rebecca Knight

We’ve all encountered people that had terrible, miserable childhoods. People who were abandoned as babies, or who grew up in poverty; people whose parents were unstable, and had problems with alcohol, or drugs, or gambling; or worse: people whose parents were cruel, and abused them.

I often think that these people, after enduring such unhappy childhoods, are somehow “owed” adulthoods free of trouble. Surely they’ve suffered enough. In the interest of fairness, shouldn’t they be blessed with good health at least? But most of the time, I observe, these people are often the sickliest. They have trouble with their weight, or have diabetes, or suffer from heart disease, or battle depression. It seems unjust.

Health and science blog (Archived)

This blog, part of the FT's health series, is a forum for readers interested in the science, policy, management, technology, business and delivery of healthcare.

This blog is no longer active but it remains open as an archive.

About our regular bloggers

Margaret McCartney is a Glasgow-based GP and FT Weekend columnist. She started writing for the Life and Arts section in 2005 and moved to the magazine in 2008. She also has her own blog:

Clive Cookson has been a science journalist for the whole of his working life. He joined the FT in 1987. Clive, the FT's science editor, picks out the research that everyone should know about. He also discusses key policy issues, from R&D funding to science education.

Andrew Jack is pharmaceuticals correspondent, covering the industry and public health issues. He has been a journalist with the FT for 19 years, based in London, Paris and Moscow