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Ellen F. O'Connell / Hazelton Standard-Speaker via AP

A new study in Science Advances found adults who learn to read have increased activity in parts of the brain previously thought unrelated to the task.

Researchers measured brain activity before and after teaching illiterate adult women how to read over a six-month period and found learning to read changed activity in the thalamus and brainstem, evolutionary "older" brain regions humans share with other mammals.

Why it matters: There are an estimated 44 million adults who are unable to read simple sentences and about one out of 10 Americans have dyslexia. The study provides further insight into possible causes for reading disorders like dyslexia.

The details: The scientists taught a group of 21 illiterate Hindi-speaking adults how to read Devanagari script for 6 months, comparing the changes in their brains before and after the tutelage, along with a sample of 9 illiterate adults who did not receive any teaching. Brain scans showed the expected increased function in the cortex after six months but also connectivity between the brainstem and the thalamus that help filter visual information in the brain.

What they're saying: "Interestingly, it seems that the more the signal timings between the two brain regions are aligned, the better the reading capabilities," the study's author Falk Huettig of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, told Scientific American. "It appears that these brain systems increasingly fine-tune their communication as learners become more and more proficient in reading."

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The pandemic could be worsening childhood obesity

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The 10-month long school closures and the coronavirus pandemic are expected to have a big impact on childhood obesity rates.

Why it matters: About one in five children are obese in the U.S. — an all-time high — with worsening obesity rates across income and racial and ethnic groups, data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey show.

Dave Lawler, author of World
5 mins ago - World

Biden's Russia challenge

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The Biden administration has already proposed a five-year extension of the last treaty constraining the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals, announced an urgent investigation into a massive Russia-linked cyberattack, and demanded the release of Russia’s leading opposition figure, Alexey Navalny.

Why it matters: Those three steps in Biden's first week underscore the challenge he faces from Vladimir Putin — an authoritarian intent on weakening the U.S. and its alliances, with whom he’ll nonetheless have to engage on critical issues.

The podcast business is booming, but few are making money

Data: PwC Global Entertainment & Media Outlook; Chart: Michelle McGhee/Axios

Nearly every major media and entertainment company is pouring lots of cash into launching new podcasts. But many of them aren't making big money — at least not yet.

Why it matters: As is the case with most new technologies, when it comes to podcasts, consumer adoption has outpaced monetization.