All posts by megmariotti

Hey old friend.

September 9, 2016.

 Battling loneliness.

Loneliness is increasingly being viewed as a serious public health issue. Researchers have found evidence linking loneliness to physical illness and to functional and cognitive decline. As a predictor of early death, loneliness surpasses obesity. Obesity. Which we hear about far more than loneliness. In the United States, about one in three people older than 65 live alone. “The profound effects of loneliness on health and independence are a critical public health problem. It is no longer medically or ethically acceptable to ignore older adults who feel lonely and marginalized.” Maybe its time to make some new friends, preferably old ones.

 Zika update.

The World Health Organization broadened its recommendations about sexual transmission of Zika virus, advising both men and women who have been in Zika-affected areas to practice safe sex for at least six months.

Post Olympic report. No Zika infections were reported in Brazil during the Olympics, either among athletes or visitors.

In food news.

More sad news about sugar. Last month, the American Heart Association announced that kids should consume no more than six teaspoons (roughly 100 calories or 25 grams) of added sugar a day. That amounts roughly to a Dannon yogurt. The recommendation is based on evidence that sugar has addictive qualities, especially for young children whose taste buds are being shaped by the foods they eat. I’m very glad this recommendation did not exist when I was a child.

Gluten free. An increasing number of Americans are eating gluten-free despite not having celiac disease, the main medical reason for adopting the diet. “The uptick may stem from wider availability and reduced prices of gluten-free products, the diet becoming ‘trendy’ for health-conscious people, and self-diagnosed gluten-sensitivity by those hoping to alleviate gastrointestinal symptoms.”

Something’s fishy. According to a report from an ocean conservation advocacy group, one in five of over 25,000 samples of seafood tested globally was mislabeled. That means you may be purchasing and consuming seafood and fish that’s not what you think it is. Take a good look at your next fish taco. Mahi mahi? Maybe not.

First face transplant.

Eleven years ago, Isabelle Dinoire became the first person ever to get a partial face transplant. After being seriously disfigured by her dog in 2005, Dinoire underwent an operation, during which doctors gave her a new nose, chin, and mouth. This week, a French hospital announced that she died in April, at 49 years old, after a long illness. The story is just breaking this week because her family asked that the news be kept private. Since her transplant, dozens of people have had similar surgeries.

Regular soap is just fine.

 Last week, the FDA issued a rule banning the use of 19 chemicals in antibacterial hand and body washes, which are marketed as being more effective than simple soap. Companies have a year to take these ingredients out of their products or remove the products from the market. The ban applies only to consumer products, not to antibacterial soaps used in hospitals and food service settings.

More grass.

According to the CDC, there’s been a 35 percent increase in the number of people using marijuana since 2002. Additionally, the number of people using marijuana daily or almost daily has nearly doubled. The findings suggest that as marijuana laws are relaxing, people perceive the drug to be less harmful. They too are relaxing. Since 2002, the number of people who think of the drug as very risky has declined.

More people with plans.

New federal data shows that fewer Americans are uninsured than ever before. The uninsured rate fell to 8.6 percent during the first three months of 2016. That’s the lowest rate the government has on record. Young Americans and those who are poor remain more likely to be uninsured.

Read some more. And share healthy bites.

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Astonishingly excellent.

August 24, 2016. 

Four hours.

In Huntington, West Virginia last week, there were 27 heroin overdoses within four hours, including one death. Officials believe that many victims were injected from a batch of the drug that was laced with Fentanyl, a synthetic opioid up to 100 times more potent than morphine. Huntington has a population of about 50,000 people and usually sees around 18 to 20 overdoses in a week. “We have never seen anything like this before to this magnitude.”

The opioid epidemic. More Americans are dying from opioids than at any time in recent history, with overdose deaths hitting 28,000 in 2014. That amounts to 78 Americans dying from an opioid overdose every day. Note: The CDC uses opioid as an umbrella term for painkillers and drugs derived naturally from opium (AKA opiates), such as heroin.

Where’s the beef?

For most of the past decade, meat consumption in the U.S. was falling. Great news for environmental, health, and animal advocates. It’s not falling anymore. According to a recent analysis, consumption of meat in the U.S. rose by 5% in 2015, the largest increase in 40 years.

 Zika update.

The Zika outbreak in Florida is growing in two neighborhoods of Miami, including Miami Beach. The CDC advises pregnant women to avoid these neighborhoods and to consider postponing travel to all parts of Miami-Dade County. So far, 37 people are reported to have caught the virus in these neighborhoods. However, scientists are concerned that the outbreak in Florida may be more widespread. “Zika is one of those diseases that is always like an iceberg — you just see the tip,” says Alessandro Vespignani, a computer scientist at Northeastern University in Boston.

The effect on the brain. A new study demonstrates the damage to 45 Brazilian babies whose mothers were infected with Zika during pregnancy.

 Marijuana research.

While 25 states have approved the medical use of marijuana for certain conditions, including Parkinson’s, Crohn’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and lupus, the research to back up the effectiveness of its use is sparse. The Obama administration is planning to remove a barrier to marijuana research in an effort to increase the supply of marijuana available to researchers.

Physician burnout.

According to a new study, nearly two-thirds of physicians feel more overworked now than when they first started their careers. Physicians report they are spending more time at work, leading to overexertion and a poor work-life balance. Many doctors feel they have less free time and are unsatisfied with the amount of time they get to spend with patients, with paperwork cutting into that time. The problem has become so intense that more than half of the physicians surveyed have considered leaving the medical field altogether.

The health of our next president.

Donald Trump, 70, and Hillary Clinton, 68, have been more secretive than many recent presidential nominees in sharing details about their health, despite the fact that they are senior citizens. Each released a brief medical statement in 2015 but have not added to it since.

Mr. Trump. He has provided only a four-paragraph statement from his gastroenterologist last December. While it lacked many important details, it described Mr. Trump’s blood pressure (110/65) and laboratory test results as “astonishingly excellent.” His doctor concluded that Mr. Trump “will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Now, that’s astonishing.

Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Trump is questioning Mrs. Clinton’s “physical and mental strength and stamina” and sharing unfounded rumors that she is ill. You may recall that in 2012, she fainted at her home and suffered a concussion. Doctors found a blood clot, she was treated, and soon returned to her regular routine. In July 2015, Mrs. Clinton issued a two-page letter from her physician, attesting to her good health and fitness to serve as president.

It turns out.

Your choice of Instagram filters may mean more than you thought.

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Morning Anxiety.

August 9, 2016

What’s with the cupping?

A number of Olympians, including Michael Phelps, have been photographed with large red circles on their skin. They are the result of a practice known as “cupping,” an ancient therapy where heated cups are placed on the skin. The technique, a form of acupuncture, is done by lighting flammable liquid in a glass cup. Once the flame goes out, the drop in temperature creates suction, which promotes blood flow and leaves the red spots. Athletes use it to ease aches and pains, and to help with recovery due to constant training and competing. So far, the repeated effect of cupping therapy over time is not known, but it’s generally believed to be safe.

We’re growing.

A CDC report found that that U.S. men and women weigh about 15 lbs more than they did 20 years ago. The average man is 5 ft 9 in and weighs 196 lb, and the average woman is almost 5 ft 4 in and weighs 169 lb. For men, that’s 15 lb and for women, 16 lb heavier, than we were 20 years ago. Heights were about the same at that time.

And we’re anxious.

 Over the past eight years, Google search rates for anxiety have more than doubled. “So far, 2016 has been tops for searches for driving anxiety, travel anxiety, separation anxiety, anxiety at work, anxiety at school and anxiety at home.” Additionally, searches for “anxiety in the morning” and “anxiety at night” have increased significantly. Two factors that were found to cause anxiety: major recession and one less expected factor – opiate withdrawal.

 Do you floss?

 The American Dental Association recommends regular flossing to reduce the likelihood of gum disease and tooth decay. They estimate that about 40 percent of Americans floss daily, 20 percent don’t floss at all, and 27 percent lie about it. I’m guessing a good amount of people floss once a year, on the day of their annual teeth cleaning. It turns out that few studies on the effectiveness of flossing have been completed. “Overall there is weak, very unreliable evidence which suggests that flossing plus toothbrushing may be associated with a small reduction in plaque at 1 or 3 months.” Despite the lack of evidence, I immediately felt the need to floss after reading this article.

In food news.

 Almost antibiotic-free McNuggets. After making a pledge last year, McDonald’s is no longer serving chicken raised on antibiotics that are important in human medicine. This is a response to the concern that the more antibiotics are given to animals, the more quickly bacteria could become resistant to it. About “70 percent of medically important antibiotics (classes of drugs also used in human medicine) in the U.S. are sold for use on animals, not people.” The FDA is encouraging farmers who raise livestock to reduce antibiotic use. Chicken served at McDonald’s may still contain ionophores, a type of medicine that is not used to treat people.

Super. Foods like salmon and kale have been called “superfoods.” It turns out that the label doesn’t have an established definition. “Despite thousands of websites and lifestyle articles devoted to superfoods, there is hardly any published research in peer-reviewed scientific journals.” The European Union forbade food companies from using the term on food labels unless they could use an approved piece of research to back up a health claim. The U.S. does not have similar regulations.

The challenge of de-prescribing.

Nearly 60 percent of Americans take at least one prescription drug. An estimated 15 percent take five or more medications, which is known as polypharmacy. As medication lists grow, so can the many side effects. It’s hard for doctors to “de-prescribe” medicines, citing that when “patients expect treatment, we are more likely to prescribe a drug—whether medication is needed or not.” Often patients want to stay on a drug that has helped them, even if it was prescribed for a condition that was temporary. Additionally, discontinuing a drug prescribed by another physician, gives doctors pause, because “physicians hesitate to step on another doctor’s toes.”

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Comeback kids.

August 2, 2016.

 Oh, Mi-ami.

Zika is now in the US. Fourteen people in Florida have been infected with the virus by local mosquitoes.

Travel warning. The CDC issued an unprecedented travel warning, advising pregnant women and their partners not to travel to a community near downtown Miami, where Zika is circulating. This is the “first time the CDC warned people not to travel to an American neighborhood” for fear of catching a disease.

 In the U.S. There are now more than 1,600 confirmed Zika cases in the continental U.S. Up until last week, all of them had been a result of travel abroad. The virus was contracted either by a mosquito bite elsewhere or by intercourse with someone who had been to a Zika-affected area.

In Puerto Rico. There are about 5,500 confirmed infections on the island, including 672 pregnant women. But experts believe this is an undercount, estimating that thousands of residents, including up to 50 pregnant women, are infected each day.

What is Zika? An infectious disease mainly spread through mosquito bites and can also be sexually transmitted. Symptoms, if any, are mild and can include fever, rash and headache. Infections during pregnancy can cause microcephaly (small head) and other brain malformations in some babies.

Making a comeback.

Now, some good news in the world of children’s health. Time magazine reports that “after years of falling vaccination rates and alarming outbreaks of measles, whooping cough and other vaccine-preventable illnesses, the trend lines at last appear to be changing.” Parents have become more accepting of vaccines for two main reasons: increased fear of infectious diseases in general and concern that their child could contract a vaccine-preventable disease. The evidence wins.

The buckets helped.

I’m certain you recall the ice bucket challenge of 2014. More than 2.4 million tagged videos circulated on Facebook, many of them dominating your feed. Supporters raised over $115 million for the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association. Those donations helped fund research to help people living with the disease. This week, the association announced the discovery of the NEK1 gene, which is among the most common genes that contribute to the disease and is associated with three percent of ALS cases. It provides scientists with a new potential target for therapy development.

Room service. To your hospital bed.

“At the Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital outside Detroit, patients arrive to uniformed valets and professional greeters. Wi-Fi is free and patient meals are served on demand 24 hours a day. Members of the spa staff give in-room massages and other treatments.” As hospitals compete with one another to provide patient care, marketing and word-of-mouth recommendations are important, especially because there is so little reliable comparative data on hospitals’ medical outcomes. One concern cited in this New York Times article: who is paying for this?

 Did you know?

At home pregnancy tests did not become available in the U.S. until 1977. This is years after the technology first became available. Until then, it was thought that women needed a doctor to administer the test and “managers [at the company that made them] seemed terrified by scenarios in which hysterical women killed themselves” upon finding out they have an unwanted pregnancy. It was pioneer Margaret Crane who pushed back, arguing that women can remove the doctor middleman and complete the test themselves. Today, eight out of ten women learn they are pregnant from a drugstore device.

Worth a watch.

The Frontline documentary, Chasing Heroin, is a powerful two-hour investigation that tells the stories of individual addicts and their families and reveals a major public health issue, noting how the opioid pill market is “priming the heroin market.”

In the news. This week, NPR reported that health care claims for people with opioid dependence diagnoses “rose more than 3,000 percent between 2007 and 2014.” That’s a big jump. But on the bright side: at least it’s being recognized more.


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March 16, 2016

 First in the U.S.

Last month, the Cleveland Clinic performed the first uterus transplant in the U.S. This procedure creates a possible path to parenthood other than surrogacy or adoption for women who don’t have a uterus. The transplant, which used a uterus from a woman in her 30s who died suddenly, was performed on a 26 year-old patient who was born without one.

Plot thickens. Last week, the surgeons removed the transplanted uterus due to a “sudden complication.” The nature of the problem was not specified, but the patient is doing well and recovering.

Which one is the uterus? The female organ where the fetus develops before birth. Also known as the womb.

 A lot of diabetes.

Researchers recently determined that 55% of California adults have either diabetes or pre-diabetes. Rates of diabetes have increased more than 175% nationally since 1980. It’s now the seventh-leading cause of death in California.

What is diabetes? A condition in which the body does not properly process food for use as energy. Click here to learn more and understand the role of insulin in the mix.

Also in California.

The state Senate voted last week to raise the legal age to buy tobacco products from 18 to 21. If signed, California will become the second state, after Hawaii, to raise the age limit for buying cigarettes. More than 100 cities around the country, including New York and Boston, have already taken this step.

Go cold turkey. Speaking of smoking, according to a new study, people who quit smoking all at once are more likely to be successful than those who cut down on cigarettes gradually.

In food news.

Nutty. There’s no consensus on why peanut allergies quadrupled in the U.S. in just over a decade. The advice on when babies should first try peanut products has changed in that time. New evidence suggests it’s good for babies to try peanuts in their first year of life and that early exposure may protect kids from developing the allergy. The American Academy of Pediatrics is working on a new guideline. In the interim, they recommend that children try peanut-containing products between 4 and 11 months old.

The one percent. In a recent study, scientists found that nearly 60 percent of an American’s daily calories come from “ultraprocessed” food, defined as food containing flavors, colors, sweeteners, hydrogenated oils, emulsifiers and other additives that you probably don’t have in your kitchen. This type of food is the main source of added sugar in the U.S. diet. Meanwhile, Americans get less than 1 percent of their daily calories from vegetables.

Breakfast. For decades, the food industry has promoted the claim that skipping breakfast causes weight gain. It certainly helps sell corn flakes. But rigorous scientific studies have found no evidence that it’s true. “Whether or not you have breakfast in itself is not going to impact your body weight.”

The price of drugs.

Spending on prescription drugs in the U.S. rose 5.2 percent in 2015, driven mostly by increased costs of specialty medications to treat conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis. While the increase is more than quadruple the rate of inflation, it still counts as good news. In 2014, drug spending increased more than 14 percent. Progress.

Obamacare, explained.

Obamacare, or the Affordable Care Act, was signed into law 6 years ago. Since then, we have seen:

More people with insurance. Twenty million people have gained health insurance since the law was signed. This number includes people who received private health insurance on exchanges, those who gained Medicaid under state expansions and twenty-somethings who are able to stay on their parents’ health plans until age 26.

Confusion. The Affordable Care Act is one of the least understood programs of our time. Even Hillary Clinton had a hard time explaining it at a recent Town Hall. Hard to blame her. The bill is about 2,700 pages. I had a hard time getting through the bestseller, the Goldfinch, and that was just over 700 pages. Oh, and it wasn’t about health care policies.

A number of lawsuits. There have been a few, related to Medicaid expansion, forcing employers to provide coverage that includes contraception, the legality of subsidies, and much more.


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Catching up.

July 30, 2015

More lymes.

Lyme disease is gradually spreading from the Northeast and becoming more common farther south. The CDC found that it’s in four times as many counties now as in 1993. The cause of the increase is unknown, though climate change and the spread of deer are possible factors.

What is Lyme disease? Lyme disease is caused by bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, carried by blacklegged ticks. It was first recognized in the Lyme, Connecticut area in 1975. Infection causes fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash. If untreated, it can spread to the joints, heart and nervous system.

Avril Lavigne recently went public about her battle with Lyme disease. I know this because I spent a fair amount of time at the dentist this month. They carry People magazine.

 Campus suicide.

Six students at the University of Pennsylvania committed suicide in a 13-month stretch, and the school is not the only one to experience what is called a “suicide cluster.” Nationally, the suicide rate among 15 to 24 year-olds has increased from 9.6 deaths per 100,000 in 2007 to 11.1 per 100,000 in 2013. Anxiety and depression are now the most common mental health diagnoses among college students.

The events have led to a discussion about the “pressure of perfection” with one Penn student saying “everyone around me was so spectacular and so amazing and I wanted to be just as amazing as they are.”

In food news.

We’re full. The typical American adult’s daily calorie intake is in the midst of its first sustained decline since we began tracking, more than 40 years ago. The number of calories that the average American child consumes fell by 9 percent. Additionally, the amount of full-calorie soda consumed dropped by 25 percent since the late 1990s.

Maybe not too full. Last month, the Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Sid Miller, announced that he would remove statewide restrictions on deep fryers and soda sales in the state’s public schools. Miller said school districts should decide for themselves how to manage these sales. In the same announcement, he also announced his plans to curb childhood obesity.

How sweet. Last week, the FDA proposed a rule to require that food labels not only say how much sugar is in a product, but also what percentage the sugar adds to the daily recommended intake. Packages already tell us the percentage of sodium, fat, cholesterol and fiber. But sugar is provided in grams, not in terms of recommended intake. What is the recommended daily intake? No more than 10 percent of your daily caloric intake. For a 2,000 calorie diet, that’s 200 calories, or about 50 grams.

The high cost of cancer treatment.

Cancer drugs can easily cost $120,000 a year with out-of-pocket expenses at about $30,000. To put this in perspective, the average U.S. family makes $52,000 annually. According to a 2013 study, these prices cause 10 to 20 percent of cancer patients “to skip or compromise the prescribed treatment.” To address this issue, over 100 U.S. doctors came together and agreed on recommendations for the federal government to make cancer drugs affordable. Leonard Saltz, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, says he has “a deep concern that this is a serious problem that’s interfering with access to care.”

Counting sheep.

A recent NY Times Q&A shares the following: “There’s no doubt that sleeping just four hours a night catches up to people within a few nights, leading to impairments of attention, learning and memory and worse performance in school and at work.” Another scary fact? People who sleep less than five hours a night for five years have a “300 percent increased risk of hardened arteries.” That should help you sleep tonight.

 Obamacare, Explained.

What is an ACO? One of the ways Obamacare seeks to reduce health care costs. An Accountable Care Organization is a group of doctors, hospitals, and other health care providers, who come together to give coordinated care to their Medicare patients. The goal is to ensure that patients receive appropriate care, avoiding unnecessary duplication of services and preventing medical errors. When an ACO succeeds in delivering quality care and spending less, it shares in the savings it achieves.

The dad bod.

A new study looked at over 10,000 men and found that young, first-time dads gained an average of 4.4 pounds, while childless males actually lost 1.4 pounds. Researchers are calling this the “fatherhood effect,” and they suspect that that despite good intentions, new fathers end up with less time and energy to exercise, sleep and relax. Also, there are more plates to clean.

Note. Popular culture calls it the “dad bod,” and even Urban Dictionary has a definition.


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In a trans.

June 18, 2015

The posture guru.

Over a period of ten years, Esther Gokale, an acupuncturist in Palo Alto, traveled around the world studying cultures with low rates of back pain to learn about how they live. One of the first things the “posture guru” noticed was the shape of their spines. Unlike most Americans who have S-shaped spines, their spines were shaped like the letter J. Much flatter, all the way down the back. Then at the bottom, it curves to stick the buttocks out. Think ancient Greek statues. Or maybe Beyonce?

Why are our spines shaped differently? One theory is that Americans tend to be heavier and less active than the cultures Gokale studied. “I think the sedentary lifestyle promotes a lack of muscle tone and a lack of postural stability because the muscles get weak.”

There is a CVS in this Target.

CVS is the nation’s largest dispenser of prescription drugs and the biggest operator of health care clinics. This week, they announced they will buy Target’s pharmacy and clinic businesses, a deal worth about 1.9 billion dollars. Under the terms, CVS acquires over 1,600 pharmacies from Target in 47 states and operates them under the CVS name. “This transaction will free up our resources we can deploy in support of our key growth priorities,” including wellness, style and baby and children’s products, said their CEO.

In food news.

Lose the trans. This week, the FDA gave the food industry three years to eliminate trans fats from the food supply. Trans fats are a major contributor to heart disease in the U.S. and have already been substantially reduced in food. They are still found in frostings, microwave popcorn, packaged pies, frozen pizzas, margarines and coffee creamers. But not for long.

Half paycheck. Upscale grocery store chain Whole Foods, sometimes called “Whole Paycheck” because of its high prices, announced that it’s launching a new set of stores with lower prices to appeal to younger, millennial shoppers. The spinoff’s name has not been decided. The company plans to open stores next year.

Seeing double.

According recently released federal data, the prices of a series of common procedures at hospitals have increased by more than 10 percent between 2011 and 2013, more than double the rate of inflation. Meanwhile, the amounts paid by Medicare have stayed flat. The rising list prices mainly affect the uninsured and people who use hospitals outside their insurance network.

Oldies but goodies.

The golden arm. Seventy-eight year old James Harrison, referred to as the “Golden Arm,” has been donating blood regularly since age 18. It is estimated that he has donated enough blood to save two million babies. “Some people say, ‘Oh, you’re a hero,’ ” he says. “But I’m in a safe room, donating blood. They give me a cup of coffee and something to nibble on. And then I just go on my way. … No problem, no hardship.”

26.2 at 92. This month, Hariette Thompson of Charlotte, North Carolina became the oldest woman to complete a marathon. The 92 year-old completed San Diego’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in 7 hours and 24 minutes. “It’s amazing to me that I feel as well as I do. I’m a little stiff but limbering up as the day goes on,” she said the day after the race.

Bitty bites.

Razor anyone? Last month, some reporters in New Mexico swabbed the beards of several local men and took the results for testing. “Several of the beards that were tested contained a lot of normal bacteria, but some were comparable to toilets.”

Metal mouths. Americans like a good smile. Over the past twenty years, “the number of North American teenagers in orthodontic treatment has nearly doubled, so that 80 percent are currently in an orthodontist’s care.”

Flats are nice too. A recent review of available research about footwear found that walking in heels can “alter the natural position of the foot-ankle complex, and thereby produce a chain reaction of effects that travel up the lower limb at least as far as the spine.” Based on their findings, experts advise against running in heels.


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Anything for mom.

May 20, 2015

 Maternity leave.

The U.S. is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t offer paid family leave, according to a United Nations report. Currently, the federal law allows for 12 weeks of unpaid leave. The issue is getting some political attention. 

A Mother’s Day tribute. Watch John Oliver defend paid family leave during his show on Mother’s Day. “In America, there is nothing that we wouldn’t do for moms,” he says, “except for one major thing.”

A global force for good. In an effort to retain talented women, this week Navy Secretary Ray Mabus will propose doubling the amount of paid maternity leave so that sailors and Marines can take up to 12 weeks.

Why are moms better than dads at baby talk? According to one theory, “The basic idea is that moms provide the link to the domestic, more intimate type of talk, while dads provide the link to the outside world. In that sense, moms and dads provide different kinds of experiences that give kids more comprehensive exposure to what kinds of language they need in the real world.”

 Bug-bites bite.

In a study of 37 pairs of twins, researchers found that one of the reasons mosquitos are more attracted to some people than others is genetic. “Twins that were identical were very similar in their level of attractiveness to mosquitoes, and twins that were [not identical] were very different in their level of attractiveness.” This suggests that genetics may control the trait for being attractive or unattractive to mosquitoes.

Speaking of moms, mine said the reason mosquitoes bite is because I’m sweet.

They’re safe.

Following the Disney measles outbreak earlier this year, lawmakers in California introduced legislation that would require children to receive mandatory vaccines before starting school. Only those who have a medical reason can opt out. In April, the bill passed the state health committee and in May, the state Senate. If enacted into law, California will be one of three states (including Mississippi and West Virginia) without a personal belief vaccine exemption.

In Indiana.

The HIV outbreak in Indiana related to abuse of intravenous prescription drugs has led to 150 cases since December, making it the biggest outbreak in the state’s history.

A needle-exchange program started in April for Scott County residents is distributing clean and collecting used syringes. Although Indiana bans needle exchanges, Gov. Mike Pence authorized a short-term program to address the outbreak.

 In food news.

 GMO label option. Likely due to consumer demand, the U.S. Agriculture Department has developed a new government certification and labeling for foods that are free of genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. The certification is the first of its kind, would be voluntary, and companies would have to pay for it.

It’s glowing. Kraft Mac & Cheese as you know it is about to change. Under pressure from “healthier” competitors and customer concerns, the company is removing artificial preservatives and synthetic colors from the blue box. It may also lose its fluorescent orange glow.

Confession. I try to limit processed foods, but I love Kraft mac & cheese. I ate a whole box for dinner last Sunday. By myself.

Six teaspoons. The World Health Organization now recommends no more than six teaspoons of sugar a day for the average adult.  If you start to look at ingredients, you will see that there is sugar in almost all processed foods. One container of Yoplait’s original strawberry yogurt would take up your entire recommended daily allowance.

Fed up. A really interesting documentary about the state of the American diet and its impact on our health. In short, sugar is bad. It encourages viewers to complete a 10 day no sugar challenge. Join me.

A great read.

Overkill. Dr. Atul Gawande’s latest on unnecessary medical care in the U.S. and how it can harm our health. “The medical system had done what it so often does: performed tests, unnecessarily, to reveal problems that aren’t quite problems to then be fixed, unnecessarily, at great expense and no little risk. Meanwhile, we avoid taking adequate care of the biggest problems that people face—problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, or any number of less technologically intensive conditions.”

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All smiles.

April 21, 2015

The Boston Marathon.

 The 119th Boston Marathon took place yesterday, with about 30,000 athletes making the trek from Hopkinton to Boston. Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa took first in the men’s race, completing 26.2 miles in 2 hours and 9 minutes. Note: his average mile pace was just under 5 minutes. Desisa also won in 2013 and gave his medal to the city in memory of the bombing victims. Caroline Rotich of Kenya sprinted to the finish to win the women’s race, smiling all the way.

Risks by region.

The American Cancer Society compiled nationwide survey data on rates of smoking, obesity, lack of exercise and poor diet, all factors that increase lifetime risks of developing cancer.

What did they find? They estimate that about 1.6 million people in the U.S. will develop cancer this year. Smoking, obesity and other major cancer risk factors remain common and vary widely across the country.

Lowest rate of smoking. Utah, 10.5%. Lowest rate of obesity. Colorado, 21.3%. Highest rate of vegetable consumption. California, 22.7%.

See your state’s performance.

Obamacare, explained.

Do people like Obamacare? Not exactly. Most polls show that Americans are divided on Obamacare. The most unpopular part of the health care law is the individual mandate, a requirement that nearly all people purchase health insurance. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 70 percent of Americans don’t like the mandate.

Breakfast and a physical.

Rob Marsh is a physician in rural VA who recently expanded his practice, opening an office next to a truck stop to serve some of the nearly 20,000 truckers that pass through Raphine, VA every day. “There are five or six truck stops in the nation that have medical care,” he says in an interview with NPR. “There is a significant percentage of truck drivers — I’ve heard anywhere from 15, 20 percent — that their truck is their home. So they don’t have a home doctor, and we’re becoming that. They know that they come through this truck stop once a week or twice a month or whatever, and that we’ll be here for them.”

Even in Nursing.

A recent study found that even though women outnumber men in the nursing profession by more than 10 to 1, men still earn more. After controlling for age, race, marital status and children in the home, males in nursing outearned females by $7,700 per year in outpatient settings and $3,900 in hospitals. The biggest disparity was for nurse anesthetists, with men earning $17,290 more.

Why? The data don’t suggest why men earn more. “Some have suggested men have better negotiating skills” and are able to start out earning higher salaries.

Um. What? I’m a nurse and a female. This report is disappointing.

Ebola update.

Worldwide. Since the outbreak began more than a year ago, there have been 26,611 cases of Ebola, with 10,611 reported deaths.

West Africa. Three countries in West Africa – Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone – were hit hardest by the Ebola outbreak. Some good news. In Liberia, there have been no new Ebola cases since March 20. If that number remains at zero, the country will be declared Ebola-free in the beginning of May. The number of cases is also decreasing in Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Back to school. Children in Sierra Leone returned to school last week after staying home for nine months because of the Ebola outbreak.

DVF-approved hospital gowns.

In an effort to improve patient satisfaction, some hospitals are ditching the often-over-exposing paper towel gown for a more comfortable fit. The Cleveland Clinic sought the help of fashion icon Diane von Furstenberg. They decided on a reversible gown with a front and back V-neck, complete rear coverage, softer fabric, and a new bolder print pattern. I wonder if patients can take those home.

 A new term.

Grandparent deficit.” The unintended consequence of parents waiting until later in life to have children. Grandma’s tired.

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March 5, 2015

 Healthy bites took a winter break. It’s back.

 It looks fresh.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture approved genetically engineered apples that are resistant to turning brown when sliced or bruised. “Arctic Golden” and “Arctic Granny Smith” are expected to be available late 2016.

Yum. Genetically modified apples. Not everyone is thrilled.

In other food news. McDonald’s will gradually stop buying chicken raised with antibiotics needed to fight human infections. This is being called “the most aggressive step by a major food company to change chicken producers’ practices in the fight against dangerous superbugs.”

The Obamacare Supreme Court Case.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard arguments for King v. Burwell, the case that could deny more than 7 million people health insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act.

The case of King v. Burwell. The Affordable Care Act states that people who get their insurance through websites “established by the state” are eligible for tax credits. But only 13 states and DC set up websites, meaning everybody else shops for insurance on the US government’s site, Millions of Americans in the remaining 36 states are getting tax credits from the US to help pay for their insurance.

If the lawsuit is successful, it would deny health insurance subsidies in 36 of the law’s state insurance exchanges, destroying much of Obamacare in those states.

The names. David King is a 64-year-old man from Virginia who was forced to purchase health care coverage because of the individual mandate. Sylvia Matthews Burwell is the US Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The decision. It appears that the Supreme Court is split. A final decision will be made in June.


Measles is spreading in the US, with 170 cases so far this year in at least 17 states. Many infections are linked to an outbreak that began in Disneyland in December, likely started by someone who brought the disease from another country.

Contagious. Measles spreads through the air and is among the most contagious of all viruses. It’s estimated that 90 percent of people exposed will get sick, unless they are immune because they had measles already or have been vaccinated.

A recent poll shows that nearly 80% of Americans support vaccinations, saying that “all healthy, medically eligible children should be vaccinated.”

Their message. Some doctors went on Jimmy Kimmel Live last week with something to share: get your kids vaccinated.

Ebola update.

Worldwide. Ebola has infected nearly 24,000 people and killed around 10,000, according to the CDC.

Sierra Leone is one of the countries that has been hit hardest. In recent weeks, the number of new cases had gone down significantly. Schools reopened and travel bans were lifted. And then – some fishermen infected with the virus arrived and Ebola is back in Sierra Leone.

Didn’t see this coming. Nina Pham, the nurse who was the first person to contract Ebola in America, is suing the hospital where she contracted the virus. Pham said that the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas failed to provide her and her colleagues adequate training and protection while she cared for Thomas Eric Duncan, the first patient diagnosed in the U.S. during the outbreak. Pham wants “unspecified damages for physical pain and mental anguish, medical expenses and loss of future earnings.”

The PB&J comeback.

An estimated 2 million children in the US have peanut allergies, a figure that has more than doubled over the last decade. Peanuts cause the majority of deaths for food allergies and an estimated 15,000 emergency room visits per year.

A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that children are much less likely to develop peanut allergies if they consume peanuts at an early age, as early as 4 months.

Hope for the future. Maybe more kids will get to try fluffernutters. And Reeses Pieces. And Elvis-inspired sandwiches.

Hospital rankings.

A new study finds that the published rankings from various sources are often contradictory and confusing.

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