This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English. I'm Faith Lapidus.
And I'm Bob Doughty. This week, we will tell about a call to limit a widely used pain medicine. We will also tell about obesity -- a growing health problem in the United States. And, we will tell about plans for an unusual laboratory in the state of South Dakota.
The United States government might order new restrictions on a commonly used painkiller. Taking too much acetaminophen can cause liver damage and even death.
Recently, a group of experts advised the Food and Drug Administration that the drug needs more controls and better directions for use. Acetaminophen, also called paracetamol, is found in Tylenol, Excedrin and other products that do not require a doctor's order or prescription. These products are used for pain, high body temperature, colds and sleeplessness.
Their easy availability is part of the problem. People can accidentally take too much acetaminophen if they take several medicines that all contain it.
The group proposed reducing the largest non-prescription dose of acetaminophen from one thousand milligrams. The experts said that is too much. They said adults should not take more than six hundred fifty milligrams at a time. They also said people should take less than four thousand milligrams of acetaminophen in a single day.
Acetaminophen overdose is a leading cause of liver damage in the United States. Researchers say it resulted in fifty-six thousand hospital emergency room visits a year during the nineteen nineties. There were almost four hundred sixty deaths a year from liver failure.
The group was especially concerned about prescription drugs that combine acetaminophen with stronger painkillers. The experts proposed banning combination drugs like Percocet and Vicodin. Still, the experts were divided in their votes. The Food and Drug Administration is not required to follow the advice of its committees, but generally does.
Acetaminophen is used as a pain and fever reducer for adults and children. It does not cause stomach problems or bleeding like aspirin, ibuprofen and some other drugs can.
But experts say taking even small amounts over the suggested dose can cause liver damage. Some people suffer harm from smaller amounts than others. Mixing alcoholic drinks with acetaminophen is especially bad for the liver.
People should ask a health expert about drug combinations that could be harmful. And they should make sure they know what is in the medicines they take and how much of each one is safe to take.
The United States is facing a growing concern: rising obesity rates.
A new report says adult obesity rates rose last year in twenty-three of the fifty states. No states showed a rate decrease. And, the percentage of obese or overweight children was at or above thirty percent in thirty states.
Two groups -- the Trust for America's Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation -- released the report earlier this month. They used a system of measurement called the Body Mass Index to define words like obese and overweight.
To find your B-M-I, divide your weight in kilograms by height in meters squared. A normal B-M-I is between eighteen point five and twenty-four point nine. The B-M-I of someone overweight is between twenty-five and twenty-nine point five. And, an obese person has a B-M-I above thirty.
The new report says widespread obesity is increasing the rates of chronic, or long-lasting, disease. It says obesity is responsible for an increasing part of health care costs in the United States.
Doctor Jeff Levi is head of the Trust for America's Health. He says health care costs have grown while many Americans are getting fatter.
Obesity has been linked to health problems like heart disease, stroke and type-two diabetes. The report says the current recession could worsen obesity rates by increasing food prices. It says this would make healthy foods cost more. The report blames the recession for rising rates of depression, anxiety and stress. It says the three conditions have been linked to obesity in many individuals.
Mississippi had the highest rate of adult obesity in the new study. Thirty-two point five percent of the state's adults were obese. In fact, Mississippi has had the highest rate of obese adults in each of the past five years. Three other states have rates above thirty percent last year. They were West Virginia, Alabama and Tennessee. Colorado was the only state with an adult obesity rate below twenty percent.
Mississippi also had the highest rate of obese and overweight children. Forty-four point four percent of all children between the ages of ten and seventeen years were obese or overweight. Minnesota and Utah had the lowest rate -- twenty-three point one percent.
The report offers some ideas for dealing with obesity within government health care reforms. They include making sure that every adult and child has a right to preventive medical services. The report also calls for creation of a national program to fight obesity.
Finally, a former gold mine seems like an unlikely place to study the universe. But that is just what scientists are planning to do deep below the Black Hills in South Dakota. That is where the Homestake Gold Mine is being prepared to become the world's deepest underground science laboratory.
Scientists say the old mine is the perfect place to study dark matter. Scientists have wondered about mysterious dark matter particles for more than seventy years. The idea is that the matter we see does not have enough gravitational pull to keep galaxies together. Dark matter is believed to represent nearly one fourth of the universe's total mass. Scientists can observe what they believe to be dark matter only through its gravity.
The Homestake Gold Mine was chosen to study dark matter because it is largely protected from the radiation that could interfere with the project. The deepest part of the mine is nearly two thousand five hundred meters below ground. Some experiments are already taking place in the mine at a depth of about one thousand five hundred meters.
Homestake operated as a gold mine for one hundred twenty-five years before closing about nine years ago. However, this is not the first time the mine has been used for science. In the nineteen sixties, Ray Davis Junior used the mine for his work showing the existence of solar neutrinos. He and another scientist, John Bahcall, received the Nobel Prize for physics for their work.
Pumps that were used to keep the mine dry have not been in operation since its closure. So today, before the new research can begin, water must be removed from the mine. Workers must also build new structural supports in the mine to ensure its safety.
Two experiments are already planned for the mine. The first is the Large Underground Xenon detector experiment, or LUX. It will include a three hundred kilogram tank of liquid xenon. That container will be inside an even larger one filled with extremely pure water. If dark matter particles exist, scientists say, they should be able to observe a small amount of light given off when they hit the nucleus of a xenon atom.
The United States Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation approved more than one million dollars to pay for the experiment. The scientists plan to begin work on the project later this year. They are hoping to learn more about dark matter in an effort to better understand how the universe expands and shrinks.
The second planned experiment is called Majorana. In this project, scientists hope to prove that neutrinos have mass. They hope to begin this experiment later this year.
Researchers are awaiting approval of additional money from Congress so that two deeper laboratories can be built. The researchers want to begin building those laboratories by two thousand twelve. They hope to have them open by two thousand sixteen. The projects are expected to cost five hundred fifty million dollars.
This SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by Mario Ritter, Marisel Salazar and Brianna Blake, who was also our producer. I'm Faith Lapidus.
And I'm Bob Doughty. Read and listen to our programs at voaspecialenglish.com. Join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.