Trump’s addiction to Diet Coke may be rotting his brain

CNN reports: President Donald Trump downs a dozen Diet Cokes each day, The New York Times reported this weekend. His love of the bubbly beverage is shared by many Americans and at least one of his predecessors. President Bill Clinton was frequently photographed with a can in his hand and reportedly placed a Diet Coke — along with a now-outdated cell phone and other items — in a time capsule at his official presidential library.


So, what happens to those who drink a dozen cans daily of the caramel-colored elixir, which contains a blend of the sweetener aspartame and artificial and natural flavors, among other ingredients?

Some research suggests that artificially sweetened drinks can increase one’s appetite and the desire for sweets. This effect was linked to aspartame, the most frequently used sweetener in diet beverages, which generates a similar response in the body as sugar. Just 30 minutes after drinking either a diet soda containing aspartame or the same amount of regular soda (with sucrose), the body reacts with similar concentrations of glucose and insulin.

Susan Swithers, a professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University College of Health and Human Sciences, refers to aspartame’s effects as “teasing” the body.

“You get this very sweet taste; your body says ‘I’m about to get sugar; I’m about to get energy,’ but those never arrive,” Swithers said, based on her research of diet soda consumption in animals. The result is, your body learns sweet taste is no longer a good signal, so instead of producing normal responses immediately, it delays. This becomes problematic when you eat actual sugar, because your blood sugar rises a little higher than it normally would, and as a result, you may eat more than usual, she explained.

“It’s kind of a small thing that happens,” she said, but over time, the cumulative effects might be strong, particularly in humans.

Looking at long-term studies in humans, Swithers noted, the results indicate that people who report drinking artificially sweetened beverages end up at higher risk than non-diet soda drinkers for lots of negative outcomes, including type 2 diabetes, hypertension and stroke, as well as dementia. [Continue reading…]

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Alabama has the worst poverty seen in the developed world, UN official says

Newsweek reports: A United Nations official investigating poverty in the United States was shocked at the level of environmental degradation in some areas of rural Alabama, saying he had never seen anything like it in the developed world.

“I think it’s very uncommon in the First World. This is not a sight that one normally sees. I’d have to say that I haven’t seen this,” Philip Alston, the U.N.’s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, told Connor Sheets of AL.com earlier this week as they toured a community in Butler County where “raw sewage flows from homes through exposed PVC pipes and into open trenches and pits.”

The tour through Alabama’s rural communities is part of a two-week investigation by the U.N. on poverty and human rights abuses in the United States. So far, U.N. investigators have visited cities and towns in California and Alabama, and will soon travel to Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia.

Of particular concern to Alston are specific poverty-related issues that have surfaced across the country in recent years, such as an outbreak of hookworm in Alabama in 2017—a disease typically found in nations with substandard sanitary conditions in South Asia and Subsaharan Africa, as reported by The Guardian. [Continue reading…]

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Under Trump, EPA has slowed actions against polluters, and put limits on enforcement officers

The New York Times reports: The highway billboard at the entrance to town still displays a giant campaign photograph of President Trump, who handily won the election across industrial Ohio. But a revolt is brewing here in East Liverpool over Mr. Trump’s move to slow down the federal government’s policing of air and water pollution.

The City Council moved unanimously last month to send a protest letter to the Environmental Protection Agency about a hazardous waste incinerator near downtown. Since Mr. Trump took office, the E.P.A. has not moved to punish the plant’s owner, even after extensive evidence was assembled during the Obama administration that the plant had repeatedly, and illegally, released harmful pollutants into the air.

“I don’t know where we go,” Councilman William Hogue, a retired social studies teacher, said in frustration to his fellow council members. “They haven’t resolved anything.”

Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. administrator, has said the Trump administration’s high-profile regulatory rollback does not mean a free pass for violators of environmental laws. But as the Trump administration moves from one attention-grabbing headline to the next, it has taken a significant but less-noticed turn in the enforcement of federal pollution laws.

An analysis of enforcement data by The New York Times shows that the administration has adopted a more lenient approach than the previous two administrations — Democratic and Republican — toward polluters like those in East Liverpool.

The Times built a database of civil cases filed at the E.P.A. during the Trump, Obama and Bush administrations. During the first nine months under Mr. Pruitt’s leadership, the E.P.A. started about 1,900 cases, about one-third fewer than the number under President Barack Obama’s first E.P.A. director and about one-quarter fewer than under President George W. Bush’s over the same time period.

In addition, the agency sought civil penalties of about $50.4 million from polluters for cases initiated under Mr. Trump. Adjusted for inflation, that is about 39 percent of what the Obama administration sought and about 70 percent of what the Bush administration sought over the same time period. [Continue reading…]

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The forgotten art of squatting

Rosie Spinks writes: Sentences that start with the phrase “A guru once told me…” are, more often than not, eye-roll-inducing. But recently, while resting in malasana, or a deep squat, in an East London yoga class, I was struck by the second half of the instructor’s sentence: “A guru once told me that the problem with the West is they don’t squat.”

This is plainly true. In much of the developed world, resting is synonymous with sitting. We sit in desk chairs, eat from dining chairs, commute seated in cars or on trains, and then come home to watch Netflix from comfy couches. With brief respites for walking from one chair to another, or short intervals for frenzied exercise, we spend our days mostly sitting. This devotion to placing our backsides in chairs makes us an outlier, both globally and historically. In the past half century, epidemiologists have been forced to shift how they study movement patterns. In modern times, the sheer amount of sitting we do is a separate problem from the amount of exercise we get.

Our failure to squat has biomechanical and physiological implications, but it also points to something bigger. In a world where we spend so much time in our heads, in the cloud, on our phones, the absence of squatting leaves us bereft of the grounding force that the posture has provided since our hominid ancestors first got up off the floor. In other words: If what we want is to be well, it might be time for us to get low.

To be clear, squatting isn’t just an artifact of our evolutionary history. A large swath of the planet’s population still does it on a daily basis, whether to rest, to pray, to cook, to share a meal, or to use the toilet. (Squat-style toilets are the norm in Asia, and pit latrines in rural areas all over the world require squatting.) As they learn to walk, toddlers from New Jersey to Papua New Guinea squat—and stand up from a squat—with grace and ease. In countries where hospitals are not widespread, squatting is also a position associated with that most fundamental part of life: birth.

It’s not specifically the West that no longer squats; it’s the rich and middle classes all over the world. My Quartz colleague, Akshat Rathi, originally from India, remarked that the guru’s observation would be “as true among the rich in Indian cities as it is in the West.”

But in Western countries, entire populations—rich and poor—have abandoned the posture. On the whole, squatting is seen as an undignified and uncomfortable posture—one we avoid entirely. At best, we might undertake it during Crossfit, pilates or while lifting at the gym, but only partially and often with weights (a repetitive maneuver that’s hard to imagine being useful 2.5 million years ago). This ignores the fact that deep squatting as a form of active rest is built in to both our evolutionary and developmental past: It’s not that you can’t comfortably sit in a deep squat, it’s just that you’ve forgotten how. [Continue reading…]

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Global efforts to reduce soda consumption through taxation meet fierce resistance from soda industry

The New York Times reports: public health organizations, including the W.H.O., cite soda taxes as one of the most effective policy tools for cutting consumption of what nutritionists call a “liquid candy” that has contributed to an epidemic of obesity and related health conditions around the world. Dr. Kathryn Backholer, an expert on the issue at Deakin University in Australia, said taxes on soda were “low-hanging fruit” in the fight against obesity, diabetes and other weight-related diseases because such drinks are easily categorized to tax and sensible to target because they “have little or no nutritional value.”

Dr. Backholer and other experts said the turning point for soda tax proponents came in 2014, when Mexico — Coca-Cola’s biggest consumer market by per capita consumption — approved a 10 percent tax.

Mexico also showcased how dirty the fight could get.

Last year, numerous advocates of a proposal to double Mexico’s tax to 20 percent received strings of upsetting and fraudulent texts from unknown numbers. One man got a message saying his daughter had been seriously injured; another found a text saying his wife was having an affair; a third received a link to a funeral home. Spyware was found on the phones. The proposal failed.

Elsewhere in the world, soda companies have assiduously worked their government connections and economic clout. In internal company emails leaked to an American watchdog group last year, Coke executives described strategies for winning over government ministers and other officials in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ecuador, Portugal, and regions of Spain. [Continue reading…]

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We’re sick of racism, literally

Douglas Jacobs writes: Estifanos Zerai-Misgun, a black Brookline, Mass., police officer, pulled up in an unmarked car and greeted his superior, a white lieutenant. He wasn’t prepared for the response by the lieutenant, who said, as he gestured at the vehicle, “Who would put a black man behind one of these?”

“I was shocked,” the officer later told a Boston news station about the experience. It was one of several derogatory racial comments he would hear on the job. It got so bad that he and a black colleague walked away from the force in 2015.

The statements they’d heard were offensive and at times threatening in the moment, but they also made the men fear for their safety at work in a broader sense: The black officers weren’t sure that the white colleagues who were so willing to antagonize them would back them up if they were attacked on patrol.

Even if Mr. Zerai-Misgun and his colleague were never directly physically harmed, the experience probably took a toll on their bodies. Perceptions of discrimination like those the officers experienced, as well as those that are less direct, may make us sick. And in the current political environment, with its high-profile expressions of racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia and xenophobia, along with widely covered acts of hate and bigotry, countless Americans are at risk of this type of harm. [Continue reading…]

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New Delhi’s ‘gas chamber’ smog is so bad that United Airlines has suspended flying there

The Washington Post reports: Citing toxic smog that one official said has turned India’s capital city into a “gas chamber,” United Airlines has canceled flights to New Delhi until the air gets better.

At least in United’s eyes, the Indian capital’s smog concerns are on par with environmental disasters such as hurricanes and volcanoes — a risk to be avoided. The company said it was letting passengers switch flights without charge or helping them find seats on other carriers.

It was unclear if other airlines would follow suit. Virgin Atlantic, KLM and Etihad Airlines all compete for business to New Delhi, according to CNN Money.

An advisory on United’s website said travel to New Delhi was suspended through at least Monday. [Continue reading…]

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Global cost of obesity-related illness to hit $1.2tn a year from 2025

The Guardian reports: The cost of treating ill health caused by obesity around the world will top $1.2tn every year from 2025 unless more is done to check the rapidly worsening epidemic, according to new expert estimates.

Obesity and smoking are the two main drivers behind the soaring numbers of cancers, heart attacks, strokes and diabetes worldwide, grouped together officially as non-communicable diseases. They are the biggest killers of the modern world.

The United States faces by far the biggest treatment bill, with a rise from $325bn per year in 2014 to $555bn in just eight years’ time, partly because of the high cost of medical care in the US. But all countries are looking at a very steep rise in costs that will be unaffordable for most. In the UK, the bill is set to rise from $19bn to $31bn per year in 2025. The NHS chief executive, Simon Stevens, has already warned that obesity threatens to bankrupt the NHS.

Over the next eight years, the experts say, the US will spend $4.2tn on treating obesity-related disease, Germany will spend $390bn, Brazil $251bn and the UK $237bn if these countries do not do more to try to prevent it. [Continue reading…]

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After a decade of reduction, global hunger is rising again due to conflict and climate change

Quartz reports: After a decade of progress made to cut the number of undernourished people on Earth, global hunger appears to be rising again.

The primary driver of growing hunger is the increase of conflicts around the world, many of which have been compounded by climate change, according to the 2017 State of Food Security and Nutrition report published by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) on Sep. 15.

Among the 815 million undernourished people—representing more than one in 10 people alive today—more than 489 million live in parts of the world afflicted by armed conflicts. Many of these are regions that have suffered years of violence, including the Horn of Africa, the Great Lakes of Africa, and the parts of the Middle East affected by the Syrian War. Countries outside these regions that have faced similar ongoing conflict include South Sudan, Yemen, Cameroon, Chad, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and India. [Continue reading…]

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In the Caribbean, colonialism and inequality mean hurricanes hit harder

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A satellite image of Hurricane Irma spiraling through the Caribbean.
NOAA/AP

By Levi Gahman, The University of the West Indies: St. Augustine Campus and Gabrielle Thongs, The University of the West Indies: St. Augustine Campus

Hurricane Maria, the 15th tropical depression this season, is now battering the Caribbean, just two weeks after Hurricane Irma wreaked havoc in the region.

The devastation in Dominica is “mind-boggling,” wrote the country’s prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, on Facebook just after midnight on September 19. The next day, in Puerto Rico, NPR reported via member station WRTU in San Juan that “Most of the island is without power…or water.”

Among the Caribbean islands impacted by both deadly storms are Puerto Rico, St Kitts, Tortola and Barbuda.

In this region, disaster damages are frequently amplified by needlessly protracted and incomplete recoveries. In 2004, Hurricane Ivan rolled roughshod through the Caribbean with wind speeds of 160 mph. The region’s economy took more than three years to recover. Grenada’s surplus of US$17 million became a deficit of $54 million, thanks to decreased revenue and the outlays for rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Nor were the effects of a 7 magnitude earthquake that rocked Haiti in 2010 limited to killing some 150,000 people. United Nations peacekeepers sent in to help left the country grappling, to this day, with a fatal cholera outbreak.

A tent city in post-earthquake Haiti.
Fred W. Baker III/Wikimedia Commons

These are not isolated instances of random bad luck. As University of the West Indies geographers who study risk perception and political ecology, we recognize the deep, human-induced roots of climate change, inequality and the underdevelopment of former colonies – all of which increase the Caribbean’s vulnerability to disaster.

[Read more…]

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Poor diet is a factor in one in five deaths, global disease study reveals

The Guardian reports: Poor diet is a factor in one in five deaths around the world, according to the most comprehensive study ever carried out on the subject.

Millions of people are eating the wrong sorts of food for good health. Eating a diet that is low in whole grains, fruit, nuts and seeds and fish oils and high in salt raises the risk of an early death, according to the huge and ongoing study Global Burden of Disease.

The study, based at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, compiles data from every country in the world and makes informed estimates where there are gaps. Five papers on life expectancy and the causes and risk factors of death and ill health have been published by the Lancet medical journal.

It finds that people are living longer. Life expectancy in 2016 worldwide was 75.3 years for women and 69.8 for men. Japan has the highest life expectancy at 84 years and the Central African Republic has the lowest at just over 50. In the UK, life expectancy for a man born in 2016 is 79, and for a woman 82.9.

Diet is the second highest risk factor for early death after smoking. Other high risks are high blood glucose which can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, high body mass index (BMI) which is a measure of obesity, and high total cholesterol. All of these can be related to eating the wrong foods, although there are also other causes. [Continue reading…]

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Want to fix America’s health care? First, focus on food

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Poor diet hurts our health and our wallets.
Lukas Goja/Shutterstock.com

By Dariush Mozaffarian, Tufts University

The national debate on health care is moving into a new, hopefully bipartisan phase.

The fundamental underlying challenge is cost – the massive and ever-rising price of care which drives nearly all disputes, from access to benefit levels to Medicaid expansion.

So far, policymakers have tried to reduce costs by tinkering with how care is delivered. But focusing on care delivery to save money is like trying to reduce the costs of house fires by focusing on firefighters and fire stations.

A more natural question should be: What drives poor health in the U.S., and what can be done about it?

We know the answer. Food is the number one cause of poor health in America. As a cardiologist and public health scientist, I have studied nutrition science and policy for 20 years. Poor diet is not just about individual choice, but about the systems that make eating poorly the default for most Americans.

If we want to cut down on disease and achieve meaningful health care reform, we should make it a top nonpartisan priority to address our nation’s nutrition crisis.

[Read more…]

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Company Town captures ‘quiet tragedy’ of community polluted by big business

 

The Guardian reports: The documentary Company Town opened in New York City on Friday night, for a short run at Cinema Village on East 12th Street. Introducing a sold-out screening, New York state attorney general Eric Schneiderman said co-directors Natalie Kottke-Masocco and Erica Sardarian had captured one of the “quiet tragedies that are taking place all across America all the time”.

The film tells the story of Crossett, Arkansas, a small town dominated by a huge Georgia-Pacific paper mill owned by the Koch brothers, Charles and David, hugely influential Republican donors with a deeply contentious – activists would say appalling – record on the environment. People who live in Crossett blame the mill for the heedless dumping of cancer-causing chemicals they say pollutes drinking water and shortens already straitened lives.

“This is a story that never gets told,” Schneiderman said, “and it takes tremendous commitment to get to the quiet tragedies that are taking place all across America all the time.

“The environmental movement really has not done as good a job perhaps as we should have done carrying the essential message that people who are poor and without power are always on the front lines of pollution and environmental justice.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s war on science

In an editorial, the New York Times says: The news was hard to digest until one realized it was part of a much larger and increasingly disturbing pattern in the Trump administration. On Aug. 18, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine received an order from the Interior Department that it stop work on what seemed a useful and overdue study of the health risks of mountaintop-removal coal mining.

The $1 million study had been requested by two West Virginia health agencies following multiple studies suggesting increased rates of birth defects, cancer and other health problems among people living near big surface coal-mining operations in Appalachia. The order to shut it down came just hours before the scientists were scheduled to meet with affected residents of Kentucky.

The Interior Department said the project was put on hold as a result of an agencywide budgetary review of grants and projects costing more than $100,000.

This was not persuasive to anyone who had been paying attention. From Day 1, the White House and its lackeys in certain federal agencies have been waging what amounts to a war on science, appointing people with few scientific credentials to key positions, defunding programs that could lead to a cleaner and safer environment and a healthier population, and, most ominously, censoring scientific inquiry that could inform the public and government policy. [Continue reading…]

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Why so many people don’t ‘just leave’ when a major hurricane hits

Eleanor Goldberg writes: Historic storm or not, many Floridians have no choice but to stay put when the winds rise.

Those who don’t evacuate before huge storms are often criticized for “choosing” to stay behind. A 2010 study from Northwestern found that the majority of observers looked favorably on Hurricane Katrina victims who had evacuated, calling them “hardworking and self-reliant.” Those who didn’t leave were described as “lazy, negligent and stubborn.”

Such harsh judgments didn’t match the reality of the situation.

Fourteen percent of the people who remained in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina had a physical disability. Fifty-five percent of them didn’t have access to a car or another way to leave. And 68 percent didn’t have either money in the bank or a useable credit card, Pacific Standard Magazine reported in 2015. [Continue reading…]

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Cholera spreads as war and poverty batter Yemen

The New York Times reports: The Yemeni farm laborer was picking crops in a hot field when the call came. His children, all seven of them, had fallen gravely ill.

Some were vomiting, others had diarrhea, and all were listless, indicating that they had fallen victim to the latest disaster to afflict this impoverished corner of the Arabian Peninsula: one of the worst outbreaks of cholera infection in recent times.

The laborer, Abdulla Siraa, set about frantically trying to raise money to treat the children — $240, or about six times what he typically earns in a month — and raced as fast as he could on the 30 miles home over roads virtually destroyed in Yemen’s civil war.

“I spent the whole journey reciting Quranic verses and praying for the survival of my children,” he said.

But when he arrived, he learned that his 4-year-old daughter, Ghadeer, had already died, after hours of calling out for him, though the rest of his children would survive.

For much of the world, cholera, a bacterial infection spread by water contaminated with feces, has been relegated to the history books. In the 19th century, it claimed tens of millions of lives across the world, mainly through dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.

That ended with modern sanitation and water systems. When it pops up now, it is usually treated easily with rehydration solutions and, if severe, with antibiotics.

But the war currently battering Yemen has damaged infrastructure and deepened poverty, allowing the disease to come roaring back. Cholera is also on the rise in the Horn of Africa because of long-simmering conflicts there. Yemen’s African neighbors, Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya, have had a total of about 96,000 cholera cases since 2014, international aid groups say.

The crises in Africa, however, pale in comparison to the one in Yemen. [Continue reading…]

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The chimpanzees’ materia medica

Linda Nordling writes: Fancy eating a kroma fruit? How about a prickly badi? Or zoobo leaves?

If you are feeling unwell, perhaps you should. These West African plants are part of a ‘jungle pharmacy’ sought out by wild chimpanzees to treat ailments ranging from worm infestations to bacterial infections. And because humans share 98% of their DNA with chimps, and are susceptible to some of the same diseases, they might work on people too.

At least that is the theory behind a research project in Côte d’Ivoire that is screening such plants for possible human treatments. So far it has identified compounds that able to kill bacterial and yeast infections in a petri dish, and even some that seem to inhibit cancer development. Eventually, such discoveries could lead to new antibiotics, antifungals or cancer treatments.

But drug discovery is a long road, and these compounds have only passed the first hurdle says Constant Ahoua, the Ivorian botanist in charge of the project. Ahoua, a postdoctoral researcher at the Afrique One-ASPIRE programme based in Abidjan, has been studying chimp diets for a decade. For his PhD he screened 27 plant species eaten by wild chimps, specifically targeting those not already known to be used in traditional human medicine. Of the extracts he made from the plants, 18% were active against bacteria and 5% against yeasts.

Next up, Ahoua will publish a paper on the anti-cancer compounds he discovered in his research. “We found seven compounds that inhibit cancer-triggering enzymes, and two of them are completely new,” he says. [Continue reading…]

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Good news, despite what you’ve heard

Nicholas Kristof writes: Just since 1990, more than 100 million children’s lives have been saved through vaccinations and improved nutrition and medical care. They’re no longer dying of malaria, diarrhea or unpleasant causes like having one’s intestines blocked by wriggling worms. (This is a good news column, but I didn’t say it wouldn’t be a bit gross.)

“There are deworming campaigns now, so it’s much rarer that we go into surgery for obstruction and see a big mass of worms,” explained Agatha Neufville, the nursing director at the Ganta United Methodist Hospital.

Nine out of 10 Americans say in polls that global poverty has been staying the same or worsening. So let’s correct the record.

There has been a stunning decline in extreme poverty, defined as less than about $2 per person per day, adjusted for inflation. For most of history, probably more than 90 percent of the world population lived in extreme poverty, plunging to fewer than 10 percent today.

Every day, another 250,000 people graduate from extreme poverty, according to World Bank figures. About 300,000 get electricity for the first time. Some 285,000 get their first access to clean drinking water. When I was a boy, a majority of adults had always been illiterate, but now more than 85 percent can read.

Family planning leads parents to have fewer babies and invest more in each. The number of global war deaths is far below what it was in the 1950s through the 1990s, let alone the murderous 1930s and ’40s. [Continue reading…]

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