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Greenfield: Games are damaging children's brains

"Every hour you spend in front of a screen is an hour not spent climbing a tree or giving someone a hug."

Baroness Greenfield has spoken out against the dangers of allowing to children to play video games, arguing it has negative effects on both attention span and behaviour.

Speaking to the Daily Telegraph, Greenfield explained that she believes gaming can physically alter the human brain.

"The human brain has evolved to adapt to the environment. It therefore follows that if the environment is changing, it will have an impact on your brain," she argued.

"If you play computer games to the exclusion of other things this will create a new environment that will have new effects ... every hour you spend in front of a screen is an hour not spent climbing a tree or giving someone a hug."

She also suggested the audience she addressed yesterday at the opening of a new science wing at Sherbourne Girls' school go outside "to climb trees and feel the grass under your feet and the sun on your face."

In 2009 Greenfield argued that gaming could affect the pre-frontal cortex of the brain.

"You use it or lose it. And if you don't use it, you are infantilising the brain, it won't come on stream as much, that's the hypothesis."

Until last year Baroness Susan Adele Greenfield was director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, and is a member of the House Of Lords.

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Latest comments (40)

Ken Addeh5 years ago
is this basically a "kids...put down the controllers and go outside" thing... or is this a legitimate argument?

Will have to read the whole article to see if it's a general stigma towards games again.
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Edward Buffery Head of LQA (UK), Testronic5 years ago
Seems obvious to me that if a kid spends all their time doing 1 thing (especially something unnatural like sitting in front of a screen) during their formative years, they'll grow up permanently different because of it. Always interesting to see these things investigated though.
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Actually a recent study shows children who play games have better intelligence and aptitude tests due to hand/eye coordination . So this report is skewed and not all inclusive
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Brian Lewis Operations Manager, PlayNext5 years ago
It is actually a valid argument.. but with an equally valid counter argument. The basic idea is this. Our brains evolve the skill needed to survive in our environment. When we change the environment, we change the skills learned. This is something that could easily be tested.

All it takes is a series of physical/mental tests between two groups. One that grows up in a highly physical environment (say third world) vs one that grows up in a highly mental environment (upper class first world). The skills learned will be very different, and this should actually be reflected in the brain development.
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Jack Wallington Head of Industry Programmes, IAB UK5 years ago
Our recent study Gaming Britain (at the IAB) found games were overwhelmingly a positive force for building and maintaining friendships and family relationships. Also that 33 million people, half the UK population play games regularly. 98% of children play games, and in a BBC study in 2005 found a similar percentage of children played video games. If it's this widespread and damaging, the entire nation is a bunch of loonies. Which clearly isn't the case! Well, hopefully ;)
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The BRAIN is a quantum computing device, very plastic, very fluid. There is no such thing as brain rot (myth).
Many of the patients we look after with respiratory or cardiac arrest and suffer CVAs, may adapt the brain to develop new cognitive functions utilizing different areas of the brain.

We do not really understand how the brain really works as the brain is Neuroplastic, and information is not localised in one area per se (but as a analogy can be said to be scattered across various areas for some information and localised for aspects such as sensory elements). One could go even as far as thinking of the brain as a highly connected quantum hard drive, with redundancy systems inbuilt

As such, we are always improving, absorbing, growing as adults - and the more you exercise the brain ins all aspects of creative, physical, mental, spiritual elements, the more you can rewire and reprogram yourself to do alot.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game5 years ago
She suggested kids go and climb trees whilst at a school? I hope she filled out a health and safety risk assessment before suggesting that, if those girls go break their legs climbing trees that could come back and bite her in the ass.
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Andrew Clayton QA Weapons Tester, Electronic Arts5 years ago
@Andrew Not to mention the environmental impact of climbing that tree. That could detrimentally affect the growth patterns of trees everywhere. They'll need to make sure it's cleared with the EPA as well.

Oh and don't forget the noise violations that laughing children cause. There is no bigger source of sound pollution than a group of happy children.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game5 years ago
And then what if once up the tree, when they find a stable branch, that hopefully want fall off onto an old man's head, being careful not to knock off the nest of an endangered species, they turn on their DS?
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Nick Burcombe CEO & Co Founder, Playrise Digital Ltd.5 years ago
So if they hug trees in front of the screen does everything work out just fine?
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Reginald Williams Panel Recruitment Coordinator, GameLoft5 years ago
She puts forth an interesting HYPOTHESIS. Now do the research and come back to me with some scientific evidence rather than anecdotes and conjecture.
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Kelly Ryan Video Game analyst, n00balert5 years ago
I don't think this study is done well at all. If Greenfield stated that video games evolved the mind rather than physically alter the brain this would be a totally diffrent article. And the fact that he says "could alter the brain" shows he has doen no physical research
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Dave Hawes Project Manager coding, Eutechnyx5 years ago
Baroness Greenfield has come under major criticism for these claims as they are in fact without research, without evidence and she refuses to officially write it up as a claim, presumably because she knows at least enough about science that this kind of thing would never pass serious peer review. She was removed from her last post in part due to being more interested in promoting herself rather than science. Saying games alter the brain is about the same as saying "doing any activity alters the brain" due to how the brain works. Also given that there are literally millions of people who have grown up playing games, and are functioning perfectly normally in society, it seems self-evident that this is the usual sensationalist "game hating" which fills column inches. I mean after all, people were right about how rock-n-roll destroyed society right...
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Gregore Candalez Journalist and Account Manager, FD Com.5 years ago
Relative. I'm inclined to take this so-called hypothesis another act of prejudice towards games. I'm not sure, also, what kinds of games she thinks kids play nowadays, but I am positive that, in most cases, it exercises the brain within environments the children don't usually have access to: Dead Island, for instance.

Children nowadays are highly urban and overprotected. The majority of children spend almost their whole free time watching TV; whilst simple TV shows are just consumed, videogames are interactive and they require at least a small quantity of reason and logic.

Also, after playing Deadrising, I am 100% positive I could survive a zombie outbreak for 72 hours in a shopping mall. :)
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Kayleigh McDougall Studying BA(Hons) Game Design and Production Management, University of Abertay Dundee5 years ago
Great.... Yet another person trying to move the blame from bad parenting to games.

One thing for the behaviour - if she really is an educated psycholgist then she will know that it's not down to games. I've done enough psychology in my life to know that it's not the games that cause this change in behaviour, instead it's what they see in the outside world. Unless she's letting them play games like Grand Theft Auto, then I don't see the problem.

I was brought up with games, and am I violent? I don't think so. And my attention span is really good funnily enough, despite the fact that I used to spend all weekend infront of the tv playing the PS2.

Stupid person. She should do her research before she opens her all-to-big mouth.
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Pernille Sylvest5 years ago
D-vitamin deficiency can cause negative effects on attention span and behavior, since the wide range of crap it can cause effects both psyche and physical health. Depression, PMS, chronic pain, fatigue are just some of them.

In that case games can no be blamed for being the direct cause.
Lack of enough sun, fish, meat and egg is.

In Denmark, lack of d-vitamin is reported as a growing problem, and we are a poster child for a heavilly computer/digitally oriented population, so I would be very surprised if this is any different in other "gamer" heavy countries.

Too bad monitors do not emit a dose of sunray, would save me some money in d-vitamin supplements (cholecalciferol) :p
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Sean Warren Inspector 5 years ago
Environmental factors effect behavior?
Who knew?!?!
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Greg Wilcox Creator, Destroy All Fanboys! 5 years ago
If the Baroness is right, does that make game programmers a bunch of retarded robot monkey-slaves because they're around games much longer during the creation process? How about the folks in QA or art, music and other aspects of development? I bet if she realized that actual people work on some games for years, she'd see at least SOME value in games from a different perspective. If not, what a Royal Doltess, I say...

Perhaps Her High & Mightyness needs to actually see and PLAY a few of these games she's railing against. I bet a bit of hidden object or Professor Layton followed by a few brain-frying puzzlers and perhaps a great cinematic actioner will make her see the light...
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 5 years ago
I always have to chuckle when somebody is in panic of brains being physically altered. That is the whole idea of the brain to begin with. Maybe Mrs. Greenfield is the exception and was born with a static brain unable to reconfigure itself, thereby having a beef with technology more complicated than rocks and sticks.

Someone should also give her a memo of people not interacting with her, because they interact with a computer game, is not a sign of them being brain dead. It is a sign of the game requiring concentration and a sign of how unimportant Mrs. Greenfield is to people playing computer games. I understand, this can be a shocking experience and lead to leaving in a huff making silly claims. Such as blaming an experience of social rejection on brain degradation caused by something arbitrary.
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Adam Campbell Producer, Hopster5 years ago
Right now I could do with more gaming, it would probably help my brain a lot..
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Chris McKay5 years ago
Amazed at how the telegraph can take information from a 'scientist' who was denounced as Director of The Royal Institution because all she did was spend her budget on a refurb and spent most of her other time trying to be self serving.

Amazing how the telegraph failed to mention that one.

What really gets me though is the fact that she has no hard or clear evidence as with any other claim she has made 'in the name of science' when in reality she is using an issue that has been raised, without clear evidence, time and time again to gain the backing of 'worried parents'.

Maybe instead of blaming games for a child's lack of intelligence or ability to 'climb a tree' we should be looking at the parents. You may find that its the parent who actually doesn't interact with the child and instead planks them in front of a game to make their life easier therefore giving the child no 'intellectual stimulus' in the real world.
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Gemma Suen Games Artist, Oysterworld Games5 years ago
I read a lot of comments actually comparing the article to Adults playing/making games. I think what Ms. Greenfield is trying to say is that children today, that play too many games and do not go outside to physically play will end up with a disadvantage when they become adults. I would say it's pretty plausible given that most of us probably have not played THAT many games in our childhood. Do you remember having a smartphone when you were 9?

Now days children have iphones, laptops, ps3s, xbox360s. So much more gaming opportunity than ever before. Heck, I would blame it on the parenting, but what better do they know? They probably haven't looked at studies like these to realise too much video gaming is a bad thing. So I wouldn't go so far as to call her biased or idiotic. If she wants to make that piece of information public to regular people, maybe she should. We students, industry people, freelancers have had natural interest in games, technology, but it doesn't mean we've consumed a massive amount of it in our childhood. I always find 'consuming' gets in the way of 'creating'.
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Brian Hannah Studying Bsc Hons Computer Games Software Development, Glasgow Caledonian University5 years ago
I think you have to take a break from gaming at times and get out and about, I agree its maybe down to bad parenting, If kids retreat into playing video games too much they will end up lacking any social skills later on in life.
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Klaus Preisinger Freelance Writing 5 years ago
@Brian
too bad one study (book version: Grand Theft Childhood) found the exact opposite to be true and another long term study in Tennessee (http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2010/07/2... found the most important age for social development being between 2 and 5, long before video games hit hard.

We should be very careful, when we accuse something (here: video games) of causing people to have a lack in something, when at the same time we never question how this missing skill was supposed to enter them in the first place. Just because you stop doing one thing, does not magically grant you aptitude in another thing. If you just want to waste your time, there is no shortage of methods outside video games.
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Matias Goldberg Programmer 5 years ago
While I agree to almost everything that has been said (from what the article says, the games vs bad parenting, etc), kids have been staring at a TV (but passive rather than active) for decades. It was called "television".

I think she's right, but the "threat" she sees in games is no worse than staying in front of the TV watching cartoons or series all day; which has been happening for a long time now.
Bad parenting or staying +5 hs straight in a sedentary state (whether because of watching TV, playing games, etc) because no responsable adult supervised him is a lot worse than any game

Also Gemma Suen is right, we didn't have an iPhone when we were 9. Kids nowadays do. Don't compare our situation with the current one as if they were the same (this is just an example, there are many other differences).
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James Zoller Game Journalist, GamingCX5 years ago
this would be a far more interesting article if the research was provided, or atleast a link to the research
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Chris McKay5 years ago
When I was 9 I had a mobile phone... When I was about 5 I had a NES and each year a new Nintendo came out since then I have had one or another console. So realistically I could be used as an example of a child who has grown up through most of their early to mid development stage playing games.

I preffered going out and playing on a bike or on my roller skates and playing kirby in the streets (throwing a ball from one side of the street to the other hoping you hit a kirb and it returns to gain points).

I still stand by the fact that most of the time if a child spends too long infront of a computer, tv, games console it is more due to bad parenting than it being the childs fault. Before games came along, like others say, there was tv to do that. The main issue is that the press and people like Greenfield decide to chase the easy option instead of truely looking at a cause. Her comments are applicable to anything you do in life really regardless of activity.
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Thomas Bahon Head of Payment Services, Ankama Games5 years ago
"Every hour you spend in front of a screen is an hour not spent climbing a tree or giving someone a hug."

Climbing a tree and giving someone a hug ain't it what monkeys do to the exclusion of other things?
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Brian Hannah Studying Bsc Hons Computer Games Software Development, Glasgow Caledonian University5 years ago
This article made me think of the movie Surrogates, anyone seen it? People in the future interact through robots controlled from inside a chamber not unlike one of those sensory deprevation tanks.

I think we shouldnt forget the importance of play, Animals play all the time when they are young to enable them to learn to interact with other animals. I think play in kids is kinda practice for adult behavior and if kids spent hour after hour playing games they wont get this kinda interaction with other's. They might not make friends easy or lack confidence. I guess thats all behavioral science and somthing I know very little about.

Edited 1 times. Last edit by Brian Hannah on 16th October 2011 10:47pm

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Chad Hogan Freelance 5 years ago
I grew up in a bad area, most of my friends ended up in jail or drug addicts. Gaming was my way of escaping that life and finding my way into my current life. Did this researcher ever think of that? Gaming saved me from becoming the next hoodrat.

I climbed plenty of trees too. What does this woman do when she goes inside for the night, watch TV all evening? I would argue that a nice balance of life and gaming is very happy. I think this woman needs a little somethin' somethin' if you know what I mean.
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Chad Hogan Freelance 5 years ago
I grew up in a bad area, most of my friends ended up in jail or drug addicts. Gaming was my way of escaping that life and finding my way into my current life. Did this researcher ever think of that? Gaming saved me from becoming the next hoodrat.

I climbed plenty of trees too. What does this woman do when she goes inside for the night, watch TV all evening? I would argue that a nice balance of life and gaming is very happy. I think this woman needs a little somethin' somethin' if you know what I mean.
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Geoffrey Suttor Creative Producer/Lead/Animator 5 years ago
"Dangers of kids watching too much TV" sorry what? Oh you said games.
I had a flash back to my childhood. I recall people saying the same thing about kids watching too much TV (c.1980s).

Next...
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Lets face it, anything that has a remote casual association related to games, will be bandied about by any nincompoop with half a brain cell with the usual hysteria of games as violent, or negative or something something.

Whilst praise for interaction and application of games as the next gen interface for human beings is rarely championed, but there are a few, this goes against the train of TPTB because they are not so immersed in the adoption of new technologies, and as such its easier to scaremonger and view the entertainment industry with a doubtful eye, rather than objectively try, observe and then comment before selling it wholesale as a negative impact of our young folk or people in general.

Naturally, we should go on the charm offensive with recent articles whereby gamers solved complex mathematical and scientific problems via grouped collective. That'll give those half brain cells something to really think about for millennia to come
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Thomas Bahon Head of Payment Services, Ankama Games5 years ago
@Chad Hogan

I remember I received a phone call from a mother when we banned her son from our online game with exactly the same explanation. She told me she prefer to keep her child stuck inside playing games all day long rather than outside beatin down the block.

Does Baroness Greenfield have children?
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Adam Hay Design Engineer, Imagination Technologies5 years ago
Every minute a child is playing a game is a minute a child is solving a problem and improving their hand-eye coordination.

I'm not saying it's a replacement for reality, but it's far from the evil that some people label it. What I don't understand is how politicians don't like to admit to playing games because they see them as negative. This is the same group of people who will occasionally stand and say 'I smoked Cannabis' to appear relevant and 'in touch with youth'.

So smoking a joint is good, and playing a game is bad? Thanks for the advice. I'd better adjust my barely-drinking, drug-free, xbox-owning lifestyle right away.
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Neil Young Programmer, Rebellion Developments5 years ago
Well written expert response:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/tomchi...
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Paul Greasby Advisor, 777 Flight Deck5 years ago
What exactly does a child get out of climbing a tree? I think there's more danger of falling out with risk of head injury than the perils of interacting in a mind-stimulating, response engaging environment. In many cases game players are competing or collaborating with other real people, or AI players who are convincingly real.

The argument about games killing the brains of the young is about as old school as it's possible to get. Further, it shows an absence of knowledge of any recent video game, or the people that play them. I'd love to know if there is any evidence to support any of the arguments the Baroness has put forward.
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Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game5 years ago
@Paul Greasby, actually, a good point, although, like anything, taking something to excess is not particularly good, I bet far more permanent damage has been done to children over the years by rugby/ US football/ falling off horses. The sort of wholesome activity the Baroness no doubt encourages.
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Mike Rusby 3d character modeller 5 years ago
As a friend of mine once said,' if I want some fresh air I will open a window':)
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more news on the plastic brain, weak association between the number of Facebook frends vs Grey matter usage, read and intepret at your own peril

19 October 2011 Last updated at 07:44
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Internet 'may be changing brains'
By Helen Briggs Health editor, BBC News website
Surfing the web More than 100 university students were studied
Continue reading the main story
Related Stories

Brain 'rejects negative thoughts'

Social network sites may be changing people's brains as well as their social life, research suggests.

Brain scans show a direct link between the number of Facebook friends a person has and the size of certain parts of their brain.

It's not clear whether using social networks boosts grey matter or if those with certain brain structures are good at making friends, say researchers.

The regions involved have roles in social interaction, memory and autism.

The work, published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B Biological Sciences, looked at 3-D brain scans of 125 university students from London.
Grey matter

Researchers counted the number of Facebook friends each volunteer had, as well as assessing the size of their network of real friends.

A strong link was found between the number of Facebook friends a person had and the amount of grey matter in certain parts of their brain.
Continue reading the main story
“Start Quote

We cannot escape the ubiquity of the internet and its impact on our lives, yet we understand little of its impact on the brain, which we know is plastic and can change over time”

Dr John Williams, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust

The study also showed that the number of Facebook friends a person was in touch with was reflected in the number of "real-world" friends.

"We have found some interesting brain regions that seem to link to the number of friends we have - both 'real' and 'virtual'," said Dr Ryota Kanai, one of the researchers from University College London.

"The exciting question now is whether these structures change over time. This will help us answer the question of whether the internet is changing our brains."

One region involved is the amygdala, which is associated with memory and emotional responses.

Previous research has shown a link between the volume of grey matter in the amygdala and the size and complexity of real world social networks. Grey matter is the brain tissue where mental processing takes place.

Three other areas of the brain were linked with the size of someone's online social network but not their tally of real-world friends.
'Plastic' brain

The right superior temporal sulcus has a role in perception and may be impaired in autism. The left middle temporal gyrus is associated with "reading" social cues, while the third - the right entorhinal complex - is thought to be important in memory and navigation.
Continue reading the main story
The data

Volunteers were asked questions such as: How many friends are in your phonebook? How many friends have you kept from school and university? How many people would you invite to a party? How many friends do you have on Facebook?
These questions led to an estimation of someone's social network size

Professor Geraint Rees, from UCL, who led the research, said little is understood about the impact of social networks on the brain, which has led to speculation the internet is somehow bad for us.

"Our study will help us begin to understand how our interactions with the world are mediated through social networks," he said.

"This should allow us to start asking intelligent questions about the relationship between the internet and the brain - scientific questions, not political ones."
Cause and effect

Facebook, the world's most popular social networking site, has more than 800 million active users around the world. The site allows people to keep in touch with friends, from a handful to a thousand or more.

Dr John Williams, Head of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the Wellcome Trust, which funded the study, said: "We cannot escape the ubiquity of the internet and its impact on our lives, yet we understand little of its impact on the brain, which we know is plastic and can change over time.

"This new study illustrates how well-designed investigations can help us begin to understand whether or not our brains are evolving as they adapt to the challenges posed by social media."

Although the study found a link between human brain structure and online social network size, it did not test cause and effect.

Dr Heidi Johansen-Berg, reader in Clinical Neurology at the University of Oxford's Centre for Functional MRI of the Brain, said the study found only a weak relationship between the number of Facebook friends and the number of friends in the real world.

"Perhaps the number of Facebook friends you have is more strongly related to how much time you spend on the internet, how old you are, or what mobile phone you have," she said.

"The study cannot tell us whether using the internet is good or bad for our brains."

[link url=http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-15353397
]http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-15353397
[/link]
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