Weekend reads: Depression is an illness—but does it have a purpose?

Interesting stories and studies from the past week

The Daily Briefing editorial team highlights several interesting health care stories and studies that didn't quite make this week's Briefing. What are you reading this weekend? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.

Rachel Schulze's reads

Forget race times or weight loss. These runners run for food.  A new trend in running is gaining momentum: Food racing, which combines running and eating. One such race, the Krispy Kreme Challenge, started in 2004 in Raleigh, North Carolina, when a group of college students dared each other to run from North Carolina State University to a nearby Krispy Kreme across town, eat a dozen doughnuts, and then run back to campus. The event has since grown in size—drawing an expected 8,000 runners this year—and has become a fundraiser for UNC Children's Hospital. A few other food races include the Bacon 5K Challenge in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the Brain Freezer 5K in Burlington, Vermont, and the COBS Cinnamon Bun Run 8-Miler in Alberta.

Here's where germs come from: NPR produced an animated video miniseries that teaches people about the history of germs. The first video explains that before the agricultural revolution—about 10 thousand years ago—many of the worst infections didn't yet exist. But once humans started working closely with domesticated animals, the chances of infection increased. Later, the growing human populations in cities gave germs a steady supply of people to infect. The next episode, coming out Feb. 16, will discuss how humans started to figure out what germs were and how to fight them.

Sam Bernstein's reads

Depression is an illness—but does it have a purpose? About 15 percent of Americans will experience a major depressive disorder during their lifetime. Depression is rightfully considered an illness, but some psychologists say it could also have an evolutionary purpose, Matthew Hutson writes for Nautilus. Symptoms of depression such as withdrawing from life and excessive rumination, they say, may be part of an integrated system designed to help us focus on and overcome our problems.

Coding may be the next big blue-collar job. When many people think of a coder, they imagine a brilliant loner with a billion-dollar idea huddling over a computer in Silicon Valley. But as Clive Thompson writes in Wired, "this Silicon Valley stereotype isn't even geographically accurate." The vast majority of programmers live outside the Valley and work on less-than-lifechanging projects. They might maintain their local bank's login page or keep an auto manufacturer's database software running. These jobs pay well, are in-demand, and don't always require a college degree. And employers are picking up on the shift in thinking: In Kentucky for instance, a company called Bit Source recruits coal mining veterans and teaches them to code.

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