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Why a yawning foetus is a healthy foetus, elderly illness on the rise from cold homes and why eating chocolate might just make you a Nobel laureate

The Guardian reports today that ultrasound scans that catch unborn babies yawning in the uterus may help doctors monitor the normal development of children in the womb.

The idea comes from researchers who used footage of foetuses at different gestational stages to show that healthy babies yawned less as they approached their birth dates. Scientists at Durham and Lancaster Universities said that while it remained unclear why unborn babies yawned, the movement may be related to the maturation of their central nervous systems.

‘It may be that, in order to get part of the brain to mature in the correct way, you need a certain stimulus, and yawning might be that stimulus,’ said Nadja Reissland, a psychologist who specialises in foetal development at Durham University.

The prospect of monitoring foetal yawns as an indicator of a baby’s health is supported by other studies in the field. Previous work has found evidence to suggest that some medical conditions might affect the yawning patterns of growing foetuses. In 2002 researchers at New York Downtown hospital noticed that unborn babies with anaemia displayed ‘unusual bursts’ of yawning.

Elsewhere, the BBC says a report from Age UK suggests illnesses related to living in a cold home cost the NHS £1.36bn every year.

The charity says thousands of older people are dying prematurely due to the health effects of living in the cold.

Each year in England and Wales there are about 27,000 extra deaths each winter, mostly among older people.

And finally eating chocolate might make you clever.  An article in the Daily Mail reports on new research which suggests that eating chocolate may help you win a Nobel prize.

Scientists in New York found the higher a country’s chocolate consumption, the more Nobel laureates it spawns.

The new research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, is tongue-in-cheek, admits the lead author Dr. Franz Messerli.

But nonetheless, the results did show a surprisingly powerful scientific correlation between the amount of chocolate consumed in each country and the number of Nobel laureates it produced, he said.

The Swiss, naturally, take the lead, with the Swedes and Danes following closely behind.