Monday, November 26, 2012

Give And Take: How The Rule Of Reciprocation Binds Us

In 1974, Phillip Kunz and his family got a record number of Christmas cards. In the weeks before Christmas they came daily, sometimes by the dozen. Kunz still has them in his home, collected in an old photo album.

"Dear Phil, Joyce and family," a typical card reads, "we received your holiday greeting with much joy and enthusiasm ... Merry Christmas and Happy New Year's. Love Lou, Bev and the children."

The cards from that year came in all shapes and sizes, but the basic message was the same. The writers wanted Kunz to know that he and his family were cared for, and also they wanted to share their own news. They included pictures of family members and new homes and smiling graduates with freshly minted diplomas.

It all seems pretty normal, except for one thing: Kunz didn't know any of them.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Study: Unemployment may raise risk of heart attack

People who are unemployed at any time during their life may be at an increased risk of having a heart attack after age 50, a study finds Monday.

In fact, the chances of a heart attack associated with multiple job losses may be on par with the risks people face from known factors such as smoking, hypertension and diabetes, says the study's lead author, Matthew Dupre, an assistant professor of medicine at Duke University.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Regular Checkup Is Good for the Mind as Well as the Body

EVERYONE is familiar with the concept of a periodic medical checkup — some sort of scheduled doctor’s visit to check your blood pressure, weight and other physical benchmarks.

The notion of a regular mental health checkup is less established, perhaps because of the historical stigma about mental illness. But taking periodic stock of your emotional well-being can help identify warning signs of common ailments like depression or anxiety. Such illnesses are highly treatable, especially when they are identified in their early stages, before they get so severe that they precipitate some sort of personal — and perhaps financial — crisis.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

Flu During Pregnancy Linked to Autism, Says Survey

Mothers who reported having the flu during pregnancy were at least twice as likely to have a child with autism as those who did not report having the flu, according to new survey results from a Danish study. While the study does not suggest that high fever -- or flu -- causes autism, many experts said the correlation reinforces recommendations that all pregnant women should get the flu shot.

 The study by researchers in Denmark and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at nearly 97,000 children ages 8 to 14 who were born in Denmark between 1997 and 2003, only 1 percent of whom were diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. The researchers interviewed the mothers during their pregnancy and after delivery about any infections and high fevers they'd experienced while pregnant, as well as whether they had used antibiotics.

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Monday, November 5, 2012

The nearer the bar, the greater the chances of risky drinking

Does living near a bar encourage people to overindulge, or do heavy drinkers move to neighborhoods with easy access to alcohol? A new study suggests it may be the former for some people.

Researchers in Finland found that of nearly 55,000 Finnish adults followed for seven years, those who moved closer to bars were somewhat more likely to increase their drinking.

When a person moved one kilometer (0.6 mile) closer to a bar, the odds of becoming a heavy drinker rose 17 percent. A "heavy drinker" meant more than 10 ounces a week for men and about seven ounces a week for women, of distilled alcohol.

The link doesn't prove that mere distance from a bar turns people into alcohol abusers, according to the researchers.

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Friday, November 2, 2012

Losing Sleep Leads to Gains in Weight

What does sleep have to do with weight? The latest research finds a link between lack of sleep and hunger.

New research published in the journal SLEEP shows that getting more shuteye could lead to less overeating, and that lack of sleep has different influences on hunger in men and women.

To take a closer look at the hormonal effects of sleep restriction on hunger, the researchers brought 27 healthy men and women into a sleep lab and manipulated the amount of time they slumbered. In the first condition, the participants slept for four hours a night for three nights in a row. Three weeks later, they were allowed to sleep for nine hours a night for three consecutive nights.

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

That Guy Won? Why We Knew It All Along

The economy, “super PAC” money, debate performances, the candidates’ personalities. Roll it all together, and it’s obvious who’s going to win.

Or, uh, it will be.

Amid the many uncertainties of next Tuesday’s presidential election lies one sure thing: Many people will feel in their gut that they knew the result all along. Not only felt it coming, but swear they predicted it beforehand — remember? — and probably more than once.

These analysts won’t be hard to find. They will most likely include (in addition to news media pundits) neighbors, friends, co-workers and relatives, as well as the person whose reflection appears in the glare of the laptop screen. Most will also have a ready-made argument for why it was inevitable that Mitt Romney, or Barack Obama, won — displaying the sort of false, after-the-fact “foresight” that psychologists call hindsight bias.

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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Scientists defend safety of genetically modified foods

To the naked eye, the white puffs of cotton growing on shrubs, the yellow flowers on canola plants and the towering tassels on cornstalks look just like those on any other plants. But inside their cells, where their DNA contains instructions for how these crops should grow, there are a few genes that were put there not by Mother Nature but by scientists in a lab.

Some of the genes are from a soil bacterium called Bacillus thuringiensis that makes proteins lethal to flies, moths and other insects. Others are from the soil bacterium Agrobacterium that programs plants to make a key enzyme that isn't vulnerable to a popular weed killer. These modifications allow farmers to grow crops with easier weed control and fewer pest-killing chemicals.

To an increasingly vocal group of consumers, this genetic tinkering is a major source of anxiety. They worry that eating engineered foods could be bad for their health or cause unanticipated environmental problems. At the very least, they insist, they deserve the right to know whether the foods they might buy contain genetically modified ingredients.

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Saturday, October 27, 2012

Are Energy Drinks Fatally Caffeinated?

One family is suing an energy drink maker after a 14-year old died soon after consuming the caffeinated beverages.

 In the last three years, five people died after downing highly caffeinated Monster Energy drinks, according to information released by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The agency has not confirmed that the energy drinks were directly responsible for the deaths, but the voluntary reports to the FDA are part of 37 adverse events sent in by the public involving Monster drinks. The agency says it is investigating any potential health risks associated with the caffeine content of these beverages.

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Friday, October 26, 2012

Laughter as a Form of Exercise

Is laughter a kind of exercise? That offbeat question is at the heart of a new study of laughing and pain that emphasizes how unexpectedly entwined our bodies and emotions can be.

 For the study, which was published this year in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, researchers at Oxford University recruited a large group of undergraduate men and women.

 They then set out to make their volunteers laugh.

 Most of us probably think of laughter, if we think of it at all, as a response to something funny — as, in effect, an emotion.

 But laughter is fundamentally a physical action. “Laughter involves the repeated, forceful exhalation of breath from the lungs,” says Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary psychology at Oxford, who led the study. “The muscles of the diaphragm have to work very hard.” We’ve all heard the phrase “laugh until it hurts,” he points out. That pain isn’t metaphoric; prolonged laughing can be painful and exhausting.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Physical Exercise May Outweigh Mental Exercise In Preventing Brain Shrinkage, Study Finds

It seems there is another item to add to the already infinite “benefits of physical exercise” list.

Physical exercise, as opposed to mental exercise, helps prevent brain shrinkage, according to a study in the Oct. 23 issue of Neurology. Brain shrinkage has been linked to Alzheimer’s disease and can cause problems with thinking and memory.

“There is growing evidence of the beneficial effect of physical activity on brain structure,” said study author Dr. Alan Gow, Ph.D, with the University of Edinburgh in Scotland. "Though this needs to be confirmed in large scale trials, exercising more would certainly be a worthwhile endeavor.”

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Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Boys -- like girls -- hitting puberty earlier

Boys in the United States are starting puberty earlier than ever, according to a new study publishing in the November issue of the journal Pediatrics.

In the study, lead author Marcia Herman-Giddens from the University of North Carolina's School of Public Health and her colleagues show that boys are starting to sexually develop six months to two years earlier than medical textbooks say is standard.

This research has been a long time coming. Herman-Giddens first documented early puberty in girls in 1997, and several studies have since backed up those findings.

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Monday, October 22, 2012

Docs Say Choose Organic Food To Reduce Kids' Exposure To Pesticides

For the first time, the nation's pediatricians are wading into the controversy over whether organic food is better for you – and they're coming down on the side of parents who say it is, at least in part.

 It's worth buying organic to avoid pesticide residues, at least in some foods, says the American Academy of Pediatrics in a report released today. Contrary to what the Stanford University study on organics a few weeks back suggested, the pediatricians say when it comes to feeding kids, relying on federal standards for pesticide residue isn't good enough.

 The pediatricians are worried because babies of female farm workers in California showed small but significant developmental and motor delays when their mothers were exposed to pesticides at levels similar to those deemed acceptable in conventionally grown produce while pregnant.

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Sunday, October 21, 2012

After counseling, people ate more fruit -- not more vegetables

African American adults who were counseled to eat more produce and get more exercise as ways to reduce their chances of getting cancer and heart disease ate more fruit over the course of a month, researchers said.

But they didn’t exercise or up their consumption of vegetables, according to the work presented Wednesday at the American Assn. for Cancer Research meeting in Anaheim.

The work was looking at the notion that a greater effect could be achieved if people understood that one risky behavior – a poor diet, for instance – is associated with the chance of developing multiple diseases, said Melanie Jefferson of the Medical University of South Carolina, the lead researcher. That idea showed promise, she said.

The results also showed the interesting idea that participants changed one behavior but not others.

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Poor Sleep May Lead To Too Much Stored Fat And Disease

Is that 6 a.m. workout getting in the way of good sleep? Don't think your fat cells won't notice.

A new study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine finds that inadequate shut-eye has a harmful response on fat cells, reducing their ability to respond to insulin by about 30 percent. Over the long-term, this decreased response could set the stage for Type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease and weight gain.

The study adds to a growing body of evidence that there's "an intimate relationship between the amount of sleep we get and our ability to maintain a good, healthy body weight," says sleep expert Helene Emsellem, director of the Center for Sleep and Wake Disorders in Chevy Chase, Md.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Cholesterol Is Falling in Adults, Study Finds

Cholesterol levels in adults are falling, and changes in the amount of trans fats in the American diet may be part of the reason, new research suggests.

The findings, published Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical Association, were celebrated as something of a triumph by health authorities, who said the data showed that the nation had reached its 2010 goal of getting the average total cholesterol level in adults below 200 milligrams per deciliter. Researchers examined a nationally representative sample of tens of thousands of Americans over the last two decades and recorded a decline of 10 points in average total cholesterol — to 196 mg/dL from 206 mg/dL.

While the so-called bad cholesterol decreased, there was a slight uptick in HDL cholesterol, higher levels of which are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease. Triglycerides, which are also linked to heart disease, initially rose 5 points to 123 mg/dL from 1994 to 2002, then dropped to 110 mg/dL by the end of 2010.

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Thursday, October 18, 2012

Get Up. Get Out. Don’t Sit.

Just as we were all settling in front of the television to watch the baseball playoffs, two new studies about the perils of sitting have spoiled our viewing pleasure.

The research, published in separate medical journals this month, adds to a growing scientific consensus that the more time someone spends sitting, especially in front of the television, the shorter and less robust his or her life may be.

To reach that conclusion, the authors of one of the studies, published in the October issue of The British Journal of Sports Medicine, turned to data from the Australian Diabetes, Obesity and Lifestyle Study, a large, continuing survey of the health habits of almost 12,000 Australian adults.

Along with questions about general health, disease status, exercise regimens, smoking, diet and so on, the survey asked respondents how many hours per day in the previous week they had spent sitting in front of the television.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Too little sleep may fuel insulin resistance

People who consistently get too little sleep face bigger concerns than daytime fatigue and crankiness. Over the long term, sleep deprivation also increases the risk of serious health problems including obesity and type II diabetes.

Scientists have come up with a number of plausible explanations for this increased risk. Various studies have shown, for instance, that how much we sleep can affect blood sugar levels, hormones that control appetite, and even the brain's perception of high-calorie foods.

A small new study, published Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine, adds a key piece to the puzzle by drilling down to the cellular level: Sleep deprivation, the study found, impairs the ability of fat cells to respond to insulin, a hormone that regulates metabolism and is involved in diabetes.

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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Creativity 'closely entwined with mental illness'

Creativity is often part of a mental illness, with writers particularly susceptible, according to a study of more than a million people.

Writers had a higher risk of anxiety and bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, unipolar depression, and substance abuse, the Swedish researchers at the Karolinska Institute found.

They were almost twice as likely as the general population to kill themselves.

The dancers and photographers were also more likely to have bipolar disorder.

As a group, those in the creative professions were no more likely to suffer from psychiatric disorders than other people.

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Monday, October 15, 2012

Classroom Yoga Helps Improve Behavior Of Kids With Autism

Researchers have found that kids with autism spectrum disorder who did yoga at their elementary school behaved better than kids with autism who weren't doing yoga.

The researchers surveyed teachers at a school in the Bronx who said a daily yoga program reduced the kids' aggressive behavior, social withdrawal and hyperactivity.

Kristie Patten Koenig, an assistant professor of occupational therapy at New York University who led the study, says that yoga was effective because it seems to play to the strengths of kids with autism, while also reducing stress.

"We know that anxiety fuels a lot of the negative behavior, so the yoga program gives them a strategy to cope with it," Koenig tells Shots. "And if it's done every morning, it becomes an integral part of the day that sets the status of the classroom and allows the kids to become calm, focused and ready to learn."

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

10 Ways to Build Healthy Bones (and Keep Them Strong)

Bones are quite literally the support system of the body, so it’s super important to keep them strong and healthy. Bones are continuously being broken down and rebuilt in tiny amounts. Before about age 30, when bones typically reach peak bone mass (which varies from person to person), the body is creating new bone faster, but after age 30, the bone building balance naturally shifts and more bone is lost than gained.

Some people have a lot of savings in their “bone bank” because of factors including genetics, diet and how much bone they built up as teenagers. The natural depletion of bone doesn’t affect these lucky ducks too drastically. But in those with a smaller bone fortune, when the body can’t create new bone as fast as the old bone is lost, osteoporosis can set in, causing bones to become weak and brittle and allowing them to fracture more easily. The disease is most common in postmenopausal women over the age of 65 and in men over the age of 70.

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Saturday, October 13, 2012

"Bad news" more likely to stress women than men

A new study reveals that women are more likely to be stressed by negative news reports than their male counterparts.

 "It's difficult to avoid the news, considering the multitude of news sources out there," lead author Marie-France Marin, a PhD candidate in neuroscience at the University of Montreal, said in a press release. "And what if all that news was bad for us? It certainly looks like that could be the case."

 Sixty participants were divided into four groups and were asked to read either neutral stories (for example, about the opening of a new park or a film premiere) or negative stories revolving around accidents and murders.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Restaurant Discounts For Gastric Bypass Patients May Send Mixed Messages

Every year, hundreds of thousands of Americans turn to stomach-shrinking bariatric procedures, hoping for extreme weight loss.

All of these reduced appetites might seem like bad news for the restaurant business, but surgeon-distributed food discount cards aim to make dining out cheaper and more practical for gastric bypass patients.

But is this kind of encouragement really a good idea?

To accommodate the patients' reduced stomach volumes, the cards, called WLS (Weight Loss Surgery) cards, ask restaurants to allow patients to order a smaller portion of food for a discounted price.

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Thursday, October 11, 2012

Instead Of Surgery, Man Pedals Off The Pounds

A lot of Americans are struggling to lose a whole lot of weight, and they try all kinds of crazy things. 

Ernest Gagnon — a man from Billerica, Mass. — decided to shed pounds by getting into the often intense, high-adrenaline sport of cyclocross: racing road bikes on obstacle courses.

Two years ago, Gagnon tipped the scales at 570 pounds. He was depressed and embarrassed to leave the house. "

Being as big as I was, I really felt like I didn't belong anywhere," Gagnon says. "I was stuck in my house for almost 10 years, just going to my work and back."

Back then, Gagnon's diabetes was getting more serious. He was losing the circulation to his legs, and his doctors were talking about gastric bypass surgery.

Then, some sort of a switch flipped in his head and Gagnon decided he was going to race bikes, something he'd wanted to do since he was a kid.

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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Are You Likely to Respond to Exercise?

Research has confirmed that people’s physiological responses to exercise vary wildly. Now a new genetic test promises to tell you whether you are likely to benefit aerobically from exercise. The science behind the test is promising, but is this information any of us really needs to know?

The new test, which is being sold by a British company called XRGenomics, is available to anyone through the company’s Web site and involves rubbing inside your cheek with a supplied swab and returning the tissue sample to the company. Results are then available within a few weeks. It is based on a body of research led by James Timmons, a professor of systems biology at Loughborough University in England, and colleagues at the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Louisiana and other institutions.

That original research, published in a landmark 2010 study, looked into the genetics of why some people respond to endurance exercise so robustly, while others do not. Some lucky men and women take up jogging, for example, and quickly become much more aerobically fit. Others complete the same program and develop little if any additional endurance, as measured by increases in their VO12 max, or their body’s ability to consume and distribute oxygen to laboring muscles.

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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Study: Weight Watchers as Successful as Clinical Weight-Loss Programs

Commercial weight-loss programs like Weight Watchers may be just as effective in losing weight as clinical programs, and the key ingredient to success in both programs is buddying up, according to a new study published Tuesday in the journal Obesity.

In the study, 141 overweight and obese adults were randomly assigned into one of three groups -- a weight-loss behavioral program led by a health professional, or Weight Watchers, led by peers who had achieved their own weight-loss success, or a combination of both programs.

Overweight and obese adults who participate in any of the three weight-loss treatments that involved group counseling, whether it was with a health professional or with peers, as well as physical activity and diet change lost a significant amount of weight nearly a year later, the study found.

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Soda industry: Vending machines will show calories

As criticism over sugary sodas intensifies, Coke, Pepsi and Dr Pepper are rolling out new vending machines that will put calorie counts right at your fingertips.

The counts will be on the buttons of the machines, which will also feature small posted messages reminding the thirsty that they can choose a low-calorie drink. The vending machines will launch in Chicago and San Antonio municipal buildings in 2013 before appearing nationally.

The move comes ahead of a new regulation that would require restaurant chains and vending machines to post calorie information as early as next year, although the timetable and specifics for complying with that requirement are still being worked out.

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Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Peanut Butter Cure Moves From Hospital To Snack Room

Just over a decade ago, a French doctor invented a treatment for severely malnourished children that had a revolutionary, life-saving impact.

The product goes by different names in different parts of the world, such as Plumpy'Nut, Nourimanba and Chiponde. It's basically peanut butter with some added ingredients: dried milk, oil, sugar, and essential minerals and vitamins.

It's been so successful that some public health officials now are pushing to expand its use. It wouldn't just be a treatment to save a life, but a snack to keep kids healthy in the first place.

There's one catch: The proponents of this strategy still have to show that it really works.

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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Feeling the Pressure to Drink for Work

As an ad-sales executive with Forbes magazine, Terry Lavin worked hard to earn his reputation as a dependable drinking buddy.

“I just basically rented space at P. J. Clarke’s,” he said, referring to the Midtown Manhattan watering hole. “I was always the last to leave, always had a cocktail in my hand.”

In a business built on likability, the role helped him succeed. Until 2010, when he decided to give his body a break and quit drinking for six months. His health got better; his business did not.

“I would call guys I was friendly with, guys who had their hands on big ad budgets, to see if they wanted to go to happy hour or get something to eat,” he recalled, “And they’d say: ‘Are you drinking? No? Don’t worry about it.’ ”

So much for the benefits of the sober life.

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Friday, October 5, 2012

Obese Children Less Sensitive to Taste

A small study has found that obese children are more likely than others to have a weak sense of taste. German researchers tested tasting ability in 99 obese and 94 normal-weight children, whose average age was 13, by having them try to identify tastes on strips of filter paper and asking them to distinguish among sweet, sour, salty, umami (savory) and bitter. The children also were asked to rate the taste’s intensity on a five-point scale.

Girls were better than boys at distinguishing tastes, and older children scored higher than younger; there were no differences by ethnicity. Obese children scored an average of 12.6 out of a possible 20, while the normal-weight children averaged 14.1, a statistically significant difference.

 On the intensity scale, obese children rated all flavor concentrations lower than did those in the normal-weight group.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Researchers Say Kids Are Exposed To 'Startling' Amounts Of Background TV

Parents, if nobody is watching the TV, please turn it off.

Researchers who conducted a national survey of kids' exposure to TVs droning on in the background say, "The amount of exposure for the average child is startling."

How much is it, exactly? Try just under four hours a day for the typical kid.

So why care about a TV that nobody seems to be paying attention to? Well, the researchers write, background TV may lower the quality of interactions between parents and kids, lower kids' performance on tasks that require real thinking and drain kids' attention during playtime.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2012

GM cows make 'low allergy' milk

A genetically modified cow that produces milk less likely to cause allergic reactions has been engineered by New Zealand scientists.

 Up to 3% of infants are allergic to cows' milk in their first year of life.

 The modified cow produced milk without beta-lactoglobulin - a whey protein to which some people are allergic.

 The study has been labelled a "milestone" by one scientist, but some campaign groups say it raises ethical concerns.

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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Is Alzheimer’s Type 3 Diabetes?

Just in case you need another reason to cut back on junk food, it now turns out that Alzheimer’s could well be a form of diet-induced diabetes. That’s the bad news. The good news is that laying off soda, doughnuts, processed meats and fries could allow you to keep your mind intact until your body fails you.

We used to think there were two types of diabetes: the type you’re born with (Type 1) and the type you “get.” That’s called Type 2, and was called “adult onset” until it started ravaging kids. Type 2 is brought about by a combination of factors, including overeating, American-style.

The idea that Alzheimer’s might be Type 3 diabetes has been around since 2005, but the connection between poor diet and Alzheimer’s is becoming more convincing, as summarized in a cover story in New Scientist entitled “Food for Thought: What You Eat May Be Killing Your Brain.” (The graphic — a chocolate brain with a huge piece missing — is creepy. But for the record: chocolate is not the enemy.)

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

How Exercise Can Help You Master New Skills

Can you improve your body’s ability to remember by making it move? That rather odd-seeming question stimulated researchers at the University of Copenhagen to undertake a reverberant new examination of just how the body creates specific muscle memories and what role, if any, exercise plays in the process.

To do so, they first asked a group of young, healthy right-handed men to master a complicated tracking skill on a computer. Sitting before the screen with their right arm on an armrest and a controller similar to a joystick in their right hand, the men watched a red line squiggle across the screen and had to use the controller to trace the same line with a white cursor. Their aim was to remain as close to the red squiggle as possible, a task that required input from both the muscles and the mind.

The men repeated the task multiple times, until the motion necessary to track the red line became ingrained, almost automatic. They were creating a short-term muscle memory.

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Friday, September 28, 2012

New Anti-Obesity Ads Blaming Overweight Parents Spark Criticism

This week, a new anti-obesity media campaign launched in Minnesota has been getting a lot of attention, and not necessarily the good kind.

One ad features two kids bragging about how much their dads can eat, and trying to one-up each other. A dad walks up, hears the kids, and looks down guiltily at his tray of burgers and fries. Another ad shows an overweight mom wheeling a cart of unhealthy groceries around the store, eventually noticing that her chubby daughter is wheeling a smaller cart but doing the same thing.

The messaging has sparked fresh debate about going after overweight people in the name of taking on the well-documented public health concerns over the country's growing waistlines. The Atlantic places the ads in the "gray area between educating and shaming."

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

For Weight Loss, Less Exercise May Be More

Most people who start working out in hopes of shedding pounds wind up disappointed, a lamentable circumstance familiar to both exercisers and scientists. Multiple studies, many of them covered in this column, have found that without major changes to diet, exercise typically results in only modest weight loss at best (although it generally makes people much healthier). Quite a few exercisers lose no weight. Some gain.

But there is encouraging news about physical activity and weight loss in a new study by researchers at the University of Copenhagen. It found that exercise does seem to contribute to waist-tightening, provided that the amount of exercise is neither too little nor, more strikingly, too much.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Avoiding Sugared Drinks Limits Weight Gain in Two Studies

Amid fervid criticism that New York City risks becoming a nanny state, city health officials this month banned the sale of supersize sugar-laden drinks in restaurants and movie theaters. Now scientists have handed the ban’s advocates a potent weapon: strong evidence that replacing sugared drinks with sugar-free substitutes or water really can slow weight gain in children.

Two-thirds of all American adults and one-third of children in the United States are overweight or obese. The contribution of sugary sodas and fruit drinks to this epidemic has been hotly disputed. But two new randomized clinical trials published on Friday in The New England Journal of Medicine lend credence to the idea that limiting access to these beverages may help reduce obesity.

Beverage industry officials denounced the research, which may fuel wider efforts to curb consumption through taxes or other restrictions.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

French scientists question safety of GM corn

A controversial new French study claims that rats fed a diet of Monsanto’s genetically modified maize and/or exposed to the company’s top-selling weedkiller were more likely to die prematurely and develop tumors and organ damage.

The two-year, peer-reviewed study, allegedly the first to look at the long-term effects of genetically engineered corn on animals, was published today in the Food and Chemical Toxicology journal. It was backed by the Committee of Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering (CRII-GEN), a French nonprofit known for its opposition to GM foods.

In a telephone conference call with U.S. reporters on Wednesday afternoon, Gilles-Eric Seralini, a biologist at Caen University and the study’s lead author, noted that GM animal studies typically conclude after three months, likely because companies behind genetically modified foods don’t want to know the long-term consequences of their products.

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Can Food Be Addictive?

The notion that food can be addictive has been debated for some time and largely rejected by both nutrition and addiction researchers. But this spring, the secretary of health, Kathleen Sebelius, said that for some, obesity is “an addiction like smoking.” One month earlier, Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, gave a lecture at Rockefeller University, making the case that food and drug addictions have much in common, particularly in the way that both disrupt the parts of the brain involved in pleasure and self-control.

Princeton University and University of Florida researchers have found that sugar-binging rats show signs of opiatelike withdrawal when their sugar is taken away — including chattering teeth, tremoring forepaws and the shakes. When the rats were allowed to resume eating sugar two weeks later, they pressed the food lever so frantically that they consumed 23 percent more than before. Scientists in California and Italy last year reported that the digestive systems of rats on a fatty liquid diet began producing endocannabinoids, chemicals similar to those produced by marijuana use.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Obese Kids Have Less Sensitive Taste Buds

Everyone’s taste buds are different. That’s why some people can swallow the spiciest peppers while others have no fondness for sweet desserts (gasp!). Now a recent study suggests that taste-bud sensitivity may have something to do with the risk of obesity in children.

German researchers report that obese kids have less sensitive taste buds than their normal weight peers, and may therefore eat more food to get the same flavor sensation.

The researchers looked at 193 healthy children aged 6 to 18. Roughly half the kids were normal weight and half were obese. For the study, researchers placed 22 taste strips on the children’s tongues, representing each of the five types of taste — sweet, sour, salty, umami (savory) and bitter — at four levels of intensity, as well as two blank strips. The participants were asked to identify each of the tastes, and also rank each taste strip’s level of intensity.

 Read more:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Adult Obesity Rates Could Exceed 60 Percent in 13 States by 2030, According to New Study

The number of obese adults, along with related disease rates and health care costs, are on course to increase dramatically in every state in the country over the next 20 years, according to F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2012, a report released today by Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

For the first time, the annual report includes an analysis that forecasts 2030 adult obesity rates in each state and the likely resulting rise in obesity-related disease rates and health care costs. By contrast, the analysis also shows that states could prevent obesity-related diseases and dramatically reduce health care costs if they reduced the average body mass index of their residents by just 5 percent by 2030.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Study links chemical BPA to obesity in children

Deepening the mystery surrounding the health effects of bisphenol A, a large new study has linked high levels of childhood and adolescent exposure to the industrial chemical to higher rates of obesity — in white children only.

The latest research, published in the Journal of the American Medical Assn., measured bisphenol A, or BPA, levels in the urine of a diverse group of 2,838 Americans ages 6 to 19. Researchers from New York University also reviewed data on the participants' weight, dietary intake, physical activity and socioeconomic backgrounds.

At first blush, the link between BPA and obesity appeared to be powerful: Compared with children and teens with the lowest apparent exposure to the ubiquitous chemical, those with the highest exposure were roughly 2.5 times more likely to be obese.

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

Yogurt Berry Parfait With Steel-Cut Oats

This is a great way to enjoy both steel-cut oats and yogurt, whether or not you use the yogurt for this parfait. The oats soften overnight in the yogurt and thicken the yogurt at the same time. Look for organic yogurt that has no thickeners or gums added to it.

6 tablespoons quick-cooking steel-cut oats

2 cups Greek-style yogurt

1/4 cup clover honey or organic sugar

2 cups blueberries or mixed raspberries, blackberries and blueberries

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon shelled pistachios, finely chopped

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Stressed? Exercise may help ward off anxiety

Exercise not only improves mood, it may help people maintain reduced anxiety in the face of stressful or emotional events, a new study says.

While many studies have shown a link between exercise and better mood, it was not known "whether these positive effects endure when we're faced with everyday stressors once we leave the gym," said study researcher J. Carson Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Kinesiology at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.

In the study, participants engaged in either a 30-minute period of rest, or 30 minutes of cycling on two days. A survey designed to measure anxiety levels was given before and after the activity.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Work Stress Linked to More Heart Attacks

Thank God it’s Friday. A recent review of 13 studies by a group of European researchers links high work stress with an increase in heart attack risk.

 The research team examined data from studies of nearly 200,000 people from seven European countries and found that workers with highly demanding jobs and little control over decision-making were 23% more likely to have a heart attack over the 7.5-year study, compared with their peers with less job stress. This association remained unchanged when the study authors factored in socioeconomic status, gender and age.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

New York OKs nation's first ban on super-sized sugary drinks

New York City passed the first U.S. ban of oversized sugary drinks on Thursday in its latest controversial step to reduce obesity and its deadly complications.

By an 8-0 vote with one abstention, the mayoral-appointed city health board outlawed sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces nearly everywhere they are sold, except groceries and convenience stores. Violators of the ban, which does not include diet sodas, face a $200 fine.

Opponents, who cast the issue as an infringement on personal freedom and called Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who proposed the ban in May, an overbearing nanny, vowed to continue their fight. They may go to court in the hopes of blocking or overturning the measure before it takes effect in March.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

McDonald's Adds Calorie Counts And Maybe Grilled McNuggets To Menu

If you didn't know that a Big Mac has 550 calories, or the Southwest Chicken Salad has 290, those numbers will be hard to miss the next time you visit McDonald's.

That's because the fast-food giant announced today that it will begin posting calories on its menu boards right above customers heads in the restaurant, and at the drive-thru starting next week.

McDonald's USA President Jan Fields says after talking with customers, it's clear they want more information. "They asked us to make it easier to find nutrition information at the restaurants," she says. (In fact, the company has offered nutrition information about its products for decades, if you knew to ask for them or to flip over the paper on your tray.)

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Really? Using a Computer Before Bed Can Disrupt Sleep

In today’s gadget-obsessed world, sleep experts often say that for a better night’s rest, Americans should click the “off” buttons on their smartphones and tablets before tucking in for the night. Electronic devices stimulate brain activity, they say, disrupting your ability to drift off to sleep. But according to the National Sleep Foundation, more than 90 percent of Americans regularly use a computer or electronic device of some kind in the hour before bed.

Increasingly, researchers are finding that artificial light from some devices at night may tinker with brain chemicals that promote sleep. Researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute showed that exposure to light from computer tablets significantly lowered levels of the hormone melatonin, which regulates our internal clocks and plays a role in the sleep cycle.

In the study, published in the journal Applied Ergonomics, the researchers had volunteers read, play games and watch movies on an iPad, iPad 2 or PC tablet for various amounts of time while measuring the amount of light their eyes received. They found that two hours of exposure to a bright tablet screen at night reduced melatonin levels by about 22 percent.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

More Choice, and More Confusion, in Quest for Healthy Eating

Lisa Todd’s grocery cart reflects the ambivalence of many American shoppers.

Ms. Todd, 31, prowled the aisles of a busy Kroger store here last week. Her cart was a tumble of contradictions: organic cabbage and jar of Skippy peanut butter. A bag of kale and a four-pack of inexpensive white wine. Pineapples for juicing and processed deli meat.

 The chicken, perhaps, summed it up best. A package of fryer parts from Tyson, the world’s largest poultry producer, sat next to a foam tray of organic chicken legs.

 The conventional food was for her boyfriend, the more natural ingredients for her.

 “We’re not 100 percent organic, obviously, but I try to be,” she said. “He doesn’t care, so I’m trying to maintain happiness in the relationship.”

 Like many people who are seeking better-tasting, healthier food, Ms. Todd had heard about a recent study on organic food from Stanford University’s Center for Health Policy.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Fish oils 'help slow age decline'

Moderate exercise, and a regular intake of oily fish fatty acids, keeps elderly immobility at bay, a study suggests.

 Findings of a recent trial show that women aged over 65 who received omega-3 fatty acids gained almost twice as much muscle strength following exercise than those taking olive oil.

 A larger trial is planned to confirm these findings and to determine why muscle condition improves.

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Farm Use of Antibiotics Defies Scrutiny

The numbers released quietly by the federal government this year were alarming. A ferocious germ resistant to many types of antibiotics had increased tenfold on chicken breasts, the most commonly eaten meat on the nation’s dinner tables.

 But instead of a learning from a broad national inquiry into a troubling trend, scientists said they were stymied by a lack of the most basic element of research: solid data.

 Eighty percent of the antibiotics sold in the United States goes to chicken, pigs, cows and other animals that people eat, yet producers of meat and poultry are not required to report how they use the drugs — which ones, on what types of animal, and in what quantities. This dearth of information makes it difficult to document the precise relationship between routine antibiotic use in animals and antibiotic-resistant infections in people, scientists say.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

Experts Issue a Warning as Food Prices Shoot Up

With the worst drought in half a century withering corn across the Midwest, agricultural experts on Tuesday urged international action to prevent the global spike in food prices from causing global hunger.

 The directors of three major United Nations food and agriculture programs sounded the alarm both on the immediate problem of high food prices and the “long-term issue of how we produce, trade and consume food in an age of increasing population, demand and climate change.”

 Agricultural production has fallen in a number of major crop exporters this summer. Sweltering heat and a severe drought have damaged the corn crop in the United States. Droughts have also hit Russia and Ukraine, hurting the wheat harvest, as well as Brazil, affecting soybean production.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Lunch Trays Got Too Lean in City’s Fight Against Fat

Worried that children were losing the war on obesity, New York City began to slim down its school lunch offerings several years ago, replacing fries with baked potato strips and introducing nonfat chocolate milk, whole grain pasta and salad bars, among other tweaks.

 In the process, the city also cut calories. So much so, city officials now acknowledge, that it often served children fewer calories than required by the federal government.

 The Bloomberg administration has often found itself stymied by the powers of Albany or Washington in its policy goals, including enacting congestion pricing, erecting a stadium on the West Side of Manhattan, taxing soda or banning the use of food stamps for sugar-sweetened beverages.

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Millions of Americans Have Uncontrolled High Blood Pressure: CDC

One-third of Americans have high blood pressure and only half of them have it under control, dramatically increasing their risk for possibly fatal heart attacks and strokes, a new government report shows.

That translates into 67 million Americans with high blood pressure and only 36 million people keeping it at healthy levels through medication or other means, the new data suggests.

 "[About half] of Americans with high blood pressure don't have it under control and because of that, it's public enemy number two," Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a Tuesday news conference.

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Can Love Handles Kill? Why Having a Paunch May Be Worse Than Being Obese

As new research shows, those who have normal weight but concentrated “central” fat are more than 50% more likely to die earlier from all causes than those who are obese.

 A team of eight scientists presented the research in Munich on Aug. 27 at a European Society of Cardiology meeting. Led by Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, the scientists examined data for 12,785 Americans who had been tracked for approximately 14 years for a major CDC study. Lopez-Jimenez and his team reviewed information on both body-mass index (BMI)—a measure of how fat you are in proportion to your height—and waist-to-hip ratio (WHR), the circumference of your belly in relation to the circumference of your hips. (You can calculate your BMI here and your WHR here.)

 Read more:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Changing Our Tune on Exercise

What would it take to persuade you to exercise?

A desire to lose weight or improve your figure? To keep heart disease, cancer or diabetes at bay? To lower your blood pressure or cholesterol? To protect your bones? To live to a healthy old age?

You’d think any of those reasons would be sufficient to get Americans exercising, but scores of studies have shown otherwise. It seems that public health experts, doctors and exercise devotees in the media — like me — have been using ineffective tactics to entice sedentary people to become, and remain, physically active.

For decades, people have been bombarded with messages that regular exercise is necessary to lose weight, prevent serious disease and foster healthy aging. And yes, most people say they value these goals. Yet a vast majority of Americans — two-thirds of whom are overweight or obese — have thus far failed to swallow the “exercise pill.”

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Saturday, September 1, 2012

Can You Learn While You're Asleep?

If you're a student, you may have harbored the fantasy of learning lessons while you sleep. Who wouldn't want to stick on a pair of headphones, grab some shut-eye with a lesson about, say, Chinese history playing in his ears — and wake up with newly acquired knowledge of the Ming Dynasty? 

Sadly, it doesn't work. The history lesson either keeps you from going to sleep, or it doesn't — in which case you don't learn it.

 But researchers may have taken the first baby step to making the fantasy come true: In an unusual experiment published in Nature Neuroscience, researchers Anat Arzi, Ilana Hairston and others showed that people are capable of learning simple lessons while fast asleep.

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Friday, August 31, 2012

Introducing Microgreens: Younger, And Maybe More Nutritious, Vegetables

We've come to accept the baby-fication of our vegetables – baby spinach, baby lettuce, and baby squash prized for their tenderness and cute size have all staked out territory in the produce section of many a grocery store.

 Now, growers (and a few inventive chefs) have decided we need vegetables that are even more juvenile than babies — seedlings so small, and so young, they're called microgreens. The advantages of these tiny leaves less than 14 days old are many, their proponents say. They make vibrantly hued garnishes to salads, sandwiches and soups. And whether they're spinach, pea, beet or purple mustard, microgreens are rumored to pack even more nutrients that their adult versions.

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Severe Diet Doesn’t Prolong Life, at Least in Monkeys

For 25 years, the rhesus monkeys were kept semi-starved, lean and hungry. The males’ weights were so low they were the equivalent of a 6-foot-tall man who tipped the scales at just 120 to 133 pounds. The hope was that if the monkeys lived longer, healthier lives by eating a lot less, then maybe people, their evolutionary cousins, would, too. Some scientists, anticipating such benefits, began severely restricting their own diets.

 The results of this major, long-awaited study, which began in 1987, are finally in. But it did not bring the vindication calorie restriction enthusiasts had anticipated. It turns out the skinny monkeys did not live any longer than those kept at more normal weights. Some lab test results improved, but only in monkeys put on the diet when they were old. The causes of death — cancer, heart disease — were the same in both the underfed and the normally fed monkeys.

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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Fifty and fit means fewer chronic diseases after 65

Here's a message that every one of those derisive "Turning 50?" birthday cards ought to carry: A new study finds that those who are most fit at midlife suffer the fewest chronic diseases after the age of 65 and boost the number of years they will live healthy lives.

It does not, alas, make them live much longer.

 Those are the findings of research published Monday in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It's based on 18,670 men and women who, at around their 50th birthday in 1984, were completely healthy as they underwent a battery of measurements and fitness tests at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, Texas. After these participants were enrolled at 65 in Medicare, the federal health plan for the seniors, the researchers tracked their health for a 10-year period up to 2010.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

Food Waste Is Overwhelming. Here Are Five Things People Are Doing About It

The food world is buzzing today about the latest news on just how often we waste perfectly good food. And we admit, the statistics are pretty depressing.

 About 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. The average American consumer wastes 10 times as much food as someone in Southeast Asia — up 50 percent from Americans in the 1970s. Yet, 1 in 6 Americans doesn't have enough to eat, says the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And food waste costs us about $165 billion a year and sucks up 25 percent of our freshwater supply. 

That's all according to the report with the not-so-subtle title, "Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill," just released by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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Sunday, August 26, 2012

Child eating disorders on the rise

Swimming outdoors, playing with the family pet and enjoying an ice cream cone -- that is the summer life of a typical 9-year-old girl.

Not for Sarah Smith. As a child, Smith (whose name has been changed to protect her privacy) formed habits that would eventually lead her to develop both bulimia and anorexia nervosa, both of which she is still dealing with today.

Smith remembers her parents using food in a reward-punishment system. When she was good, she got treats; if she was bad, snacks were forbidden.

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Kids Ditching Full-Sugar Soda For Diet Drinks, Just Like Mom And Dad

Diet soda, once the soft drink of choice for adults watching their calories, isn't just for grown ups anymore. Increasingly, kids are getting their fix, too.

 In fact, consumption of diet drinks has doubled among U.S. children over a decade. About 1 in 4 of adults drink low-calorie or no-calorie sweetened drinks and foods. And for children: Six percent were consuming diet drinks in 1999-2000. This increased to 12.5 percent in 2007-2008. The findings were recently published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

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Friday, August 24, 2012

30 minutes exercise 'better than an hour of training' for weight loss

Researchers concluded that 30 minutes of daily training was as “equally effective” at shedding the pounds as 60 minutes worth of sweating.

The University of Copenhagen study concluded that sweating for half the time was “enough to turn the tide” for obesity.

The research, published in the American Journal of Physiology, found those who ran, rowed, or cycled for 30 minutes a day lost an average 8lb over a three month period.

In comparison, men who pushed their daily training routine out for an hour lost two pounds less.

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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Cartoon stickers may sway kids' food choices: study

Can Elmo make children like apples?

For children who turn up their noses at fruits and vegetables, slapping a cartoon face on a healthy snack may make those choices more appealing, according to a U.S. study.

Researchers, whose findings appeared in the Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, discovered that when elementary school students were offered apples and cookies with lunch, children were more likely to opt for an apple when it was branded with a cartoon sticker - such as one of the "Sesame Street" character Elmo.

 "If we're trying to promote healthier foods, we need to be as smart as the companies that are selling the less-healthy foods," said David Just, co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Program, who worked on the study.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Antibiotics Too Soon May Set Babies Up for Obesity: Study

Giving your baby antibiotics too early may increase their chances of being overweight in childhood, new research suggests.

 Specifically, infants exposed to antibiotics during the first six months of their lives are 22 percent more likely to be overweight between the ages of 10 months and 3 years -- though their weight tends to return to average by the time they are 7 -- according to a study published in the International Journal of Obesity on Tuesday.

 This effect on the child's body mass appears to be dependent upon the timing of the antibiotics. The exposure to antibiotics later in childhood -- while the child is between six months and 3 years old -- is not associated with increased body mass.

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Sunday, August 19, 2012

Saving Lives In Africa With The Humble Sweet Potato

A regular old orange-colored sweet potato might not seem too exciting to many of us.

 But in parts of Africa, that sweet potato is very exciting to public health experts who see it as a living vitamin A supplement. A campaign to promote orange varieties of sweet potatoes in Mozambique and Uganda (instead of the white or yellow ones that are more commonly grown there) now seems to be succeeding. (Check out this cool infographic on the campaign.) It's a sign that a new approach to improving nutrition among the world's poor might actually work.

 That approach is called biofortification: adding crucial nutrients to food biologically, by breeding better varieties of crops that poor people already eat.

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Saturday, August 18, 2012

Largest-Ever Survey on Global Tobacco Use Issues Dire Warnings

Nearly half of all men and more than 1 in 10 women use tobacco in many developing countries, and women are starting to smoke at earlier ages, according to the largest survey to date on international tobacco use. If current trends continue, warns the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco could kill a billion people around the world in this century.

 The authors of the new study say the numbers call for urgent changes in tobacco policy and regulation in developing nations. While tobacco use is declining in industrialized countries, it remains strong — or is even increasing — in low- and middle-income countries, a trend the authors attribute to powerful pro-tobacco forces worldwide.

 Read more:

Friday, August 17, 2012

Study: A Childhood Need for Immediate Gratification Predicts Adult Obesity

In what has become known as "the marshmallow test" of delayed gratification, researchers in the 1960s developed a novel way to measure self-control among children. Having recruited preschoolers from a university daycare, scientists presented each child with one marshmallow. They were then told they could either eat the one they had or wait an unspecified amount of time and be rewarded with an additional marshmallow. Various follow-up studies on delayed gratification have been performed on the results since the project's conclusion. This particular study attempted to determine what correlation, if any, existed between the self-control of the children at age 4 and the rate of obesity among the now adult participants.

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Thursday, August 16, 2012

Eating walnuts daily may improve sperm quality

Men who are attempting to make the step into fatherhood may benefit from a daily dose of walnuts.

 A new study from UCLA researchers and funded in part by the California Walnut Commission shows that men who ate 75 grams of walnuts - about half a cup - a day for 12 weeks were able to improve the quality of their sperm.

 Approximately 70 million couples deal with subfertility or infertility worldwide, the researchers stated. In 30 to 50 percent of those cases, the problem has to do with the man.

 Researchers asked 58 healthy men between the ages of 21 to 35 to eat half a daily dose of walnuts, while they advised another group of 59 men to avoid eating tree nuts. Most of the men snacked on the walnuts raw, but a few added them into other dishes including grinding them up into hamburgers or mixing them with applesauce and cinnamon.

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lab-grown meat gives food for thought

A burger grown in a laboratory. Sounds like science-fiction? Well up until very recently it probably was but now the prospect of lab-grown meat appearing on our supermarket shelves is closer than ever. 

Synthetic or test-tube meat involves taking a small amount of cells from a living animal and growing it into lumps of muscle tissue in the lab, which can then, in theory, be eaten as meat for human consumption.

 As well avoiding killing animals, scientists believe it could help reduce the environmental impact of meat production. 

The technology to create artificial meat has been around since the turn of the century -- NASA once looked into developing it for their astronauts -- but making an edible and commercially viable product has remained out of reach. It also remains to be seen whether consumers will accept it as an alternative to farm animal-based meat.

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Monday, August 13, 2012

Study: Junk food laws may help curb kids' obesity

CHICAGO – U.S. laws strictly curbing school sales of junk food and sweetened drinks may play a role in slowing childhood obesity, according to a study that seems to offer the first evidence such efforts could pay off.

 The results come from the first large U.S. look at the effectiveness of the state laws over time.

 Children in the study gained less weight from fifth through eighth grades if they lived in states with strong, consistent laws versus no laws governing snacks available in schools. Also, children who were overweight or obese in fifth grade were more likely to reach a healthy weight by eighth grade if they lived in states with the strongest laws.

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

School Lunch Milk Cartons Take A Hit In New Ad Campaign

Forget the school vending machine fights. An anti-cheese group says that innocent-looking carton of milk on lunch trays is the real culprit for our children's weight woes.

 The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit group known for bucking conventional nutrition wisdom, advocates for vegan alternatives to dairy. Earlier this year, it unleashed a campaign against milk-based products, showing people grabbing their excess fat and attributing the weight to cheese. Some folks called the campaign "obnoxious and offensive," but with the latest ad tactic, the group seems to have toned things down a bit.

 This time, PCRM is using wholesome-looking families to target school lunches. It wants to replace calcium supplied by milk (popularized for children's diets in order to stave off rickets) with beans, sweet potatoes and figs. Its latest initiative, just launched in the Washington, D.C., metro area, charges milk with unnecessarily upping the saturated fat content of student diets.

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Most Americans still not getting enough exercise - U.S. study

More American adults are walking regularly but less than half of them exercise enough to improve their health, according to a federal study released on Tuesday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, based on a telephone survey from 2010, found that 62 percent of adults walk 10 minutes or more a week, up from 55.7 percent in 2005.

 However, only 48 percent of adults exercise enough to improve their health, which was up from 42.1 percent in 2005, the CDC said.

 The agency recommends at least 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise, such as brisk walking, which can lower the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, depression and some forms of cancer.

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Friday, August 10, 2012

From brain to mouth: The psychology of obesity

Everyone knows that people put on weight because they consume more calories than they burn. But as the medical community struggles to get a handle on obesity in the USA, a growing body of research is delving deeper to find out more about the psychology behind the numbers.

Although people might be inclined to think of nutritionists or dietitians, obesity is "one of the big common public health issues that falls right in the heart of psychology," says psychologist Paul Rozin of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.

Among a host of questions aimed directly at the psychology of eating are why Americans are eating more than they used to; whether some foods can really be addictive; and whether more people than in the past are genetically predisposed to pack on pounds.

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Thursday, August 9, 2012

Looking for Fitness in a Glass of Juice

Many of the Olympians competing in London are juiced — though not in the colloquial sense that someone is doping. Instead, the juice these athletes are imbibing is literal, with beetroot juice and tart cherry juice two of the most popular choices. Growing numbers of elite athletes are turning to these natural beverages to provide what they hope will be a legal performance benefit.

Recent studies, however, raise questions about whether the athletes are necessarily receiving the benefits that they think they are and what that means for the rest of us who’d love to find fitness in a glass.

Beetroot juice, as the name implies, is created from the knotty parts of of a beet. Who first imagined that liquefying beetroots might improve physical performance is unknown. But he or she appears to have been on to something. In a series of studies in the past two years, beetroot juice has been found to enhance certain types of athletic performance. In a representative study published last year, for instance, cyclists who ingested half a liter of beetroot juice before a 2.5-mile or a 10-mile time trial were almost 3 percent faster than when they rode unjuiced. They also produced more power with each pedal stroke.

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Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Buttered Popcorn Flavoring Linked to Alzheimer's

The flavorant that adds buttery taste to foods and a smooth feel to beverages may also trigger Alzheimer's disease, new studies suggest.

 The flavorant, diacetyl, already is linked to lung damage in people who work in microwave popcorn factories. This led many microwave popcorn makers to stop using diacetyl in their products. But now other workers exposed to diacetyl -- and possibly consumers as well -- may face another scary risk. 

University of Minnesota drug-design expert Robert Vince, PhD, and colleagues find that diacetyl causes brain proteins to misfold into the Alzheimer's-linked form called beta amyloid. Moreover, the popcorn butter flavorant can pass through the blood-brain barrier and can inhibit the brain's natural amyloid-clearing mechanisms.

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Study finds that avoiding lies can improve your health

Honesty may boost your health, suggests a study that found telling fewer lies benefits people physically and mentally.

Each week for 10 weeks, 110 individuals, ages 18-71, took a lie detector test and completed health and relationship measures assessing the number of major and minor lies they told that week, says lead author Anita Kelly, a psychology professor at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. She presented findings at the annual meeting of the American Psychological Association, which ended Sunday. 

"When they went up in their lies, their health went down," says Kelly. "When their lies went down, their health improved."

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Monday, August 6, 2012

Use honey to calm coughing in kids

Over-the-counter cold remedies aren’t appropriate for young children -- the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against their use in children under age 6 -- because they’re not effective and may pose health hazards. So what to do for children whose incessant hacking prevents them from getting a good night’s sleep?

Honey may be the perfect remedy, according to a study published in Monday’s issue of the journal Pediatrics. Israeli researchers compared three different honey products against a placebo containing date extract on 300 children ages 1 to 5 with colds and found that giving two teaspoons of honey just before bedtime relieved the frequency and severity of coughing better than the placebo.

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Sunday, August 5, 2012

You Think Beauty Is Skin Deep? You're Not A Chiropractor

When the nation's chiropractors descended on Chicago for a weeklong convention in May 1956, they threw a beauty contest.

The judges crowned Lois Conway, 18, Miss Correct Posture. Second place went to Marianne Caba, 16, according to an account in the Chicago Tribune. Ruth Swenson, 26, came in third.

But this was no ordinary pageant.

"All three were picked not only by their apparent beauty, and their X-rays, but also by their standing posture," the Tribune reported. "Each girl stood on a pair of scales — one foot to each — and the winning trio each registered exactly half her weight on each scale, confirming the correct standing posture."

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Exercise, meds both help depressed heart patients

(Reuters) - People with heart disease who are also depressed may get as much relief from their depression symptoms with regular exercise as with medication, according to a U.S. study.

 Researchers writing in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that of 101 heart patients with signs of depression, those who exercised for 90 minutes per week and those who started taking Zoloft both improved significantly compared to participants assigned to drug-free placebo pills. 

Pharmaceutical firm Pfizer supplied the Zoloft, known generically as sertraline, and placebos for the study, but researchers said the company was not involved with any other part of it.

 Alan Rozanski, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, said exercise can be thought of as another "potent tool on the shelf" to fight depression in heart patients.

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Dieting vs. Exercise for Weight Loss

Two groundbreaking new studies address the irksome question of why so many of us who work out remain so heavy, a concern that carries special resonance at the moment, as lean Olympians slip through the air and water, inspiring countless viewers to want to become similarly sleek.

And in a just world, frequent physical activity should make us slim. But repeated studies have shown that many people who begin an exercise program lose little or no weight. Some gain.

To better understand why, anthropologists leading one of the new studies began with a research trip to Tanzania. There, they recruited volunteers from the Hadza tribe, whose members still live by hunting and gathering.

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Pets Can Help Autistic Children Learn to Share and Comfort Others

Some autistic people report feeling more strongly connected to animals than to other people, but a new study suggests that introducing companion animals to autistic children at the right time in life may help with human bonding, too.

 French researchers studied 40 children with autism and their families, examining whether the family had a pet and, if so, when the animal was acquired, and whether the presence or absence of a pet had any influence on the autistic child’s ability to bond. Most households with pets had either dogs or cats, but one family kept a rabbit, and another a hamster. Read more:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Bloomberg’s Breast-Feeding Plan: Will Locking Up Formula Help New Moms?

There are lots of experts who have lots of opinions about New York City’s new plan to encourage breast-feeding in new moms by urging hospitals not to give them baby formula. Advocates praise the move as a way to limit the influence of formula manufacturers on new mothers. Skeptics wonder whether the policy will shame women who choose not to breast-feed.

 As for my sister-in-law, Rachel, who recently gave birth in a Manhattan hospital to her first child, she knows firsthand how nurses pushing formula can impact an inexperienced mother. After her C-section, a nurse offered to give her newborn a bottle “to make it easier on you.” Exhausted and uncertain, she agreed — even though she’d intended to breast-feed. “I was a new mom,” she said. “I didn’t know what I was doing.”

 Those are exactly the sorts of moms that Mayor Michael Bloomberg hopes to influence with his voluntary Latch On NYC initiative. When it goes into effect in September, nurses in participating hospitals will be instructed not to give formula to babies unless there’s a medical reason to do so or unless moms specifically request it (they’ll first have to listen to a mandatory speech about why breast is best). Formula will be locked away like medication, and staff will be required to sign it out, track its distribution and report those figures to the Health Department, which presumably wants to know whether the new policy will cut formula use citywide. Twenty-seven of the city’s 40 hospitals have agreed to participate.

 Read more:

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

More Americans have gluten problems than once thought; but for others, it’s just a food fad

It sounds like an unfolding epidemic: A decade ago, virtually no one in the U.S. seemed to have a problem eating gluten in bread and other foods. Now, millions do.

 Gluten-free products are flying off grocery shelves, and restaurants are boasting of meals with no gluten. Celebrities on TV talk shows chat about the digestive discomfort they blame on the wheat protein they now shun. Some churches even offer gluten-free Communion wafers.

“I don’t know whether there’s more people getting this or that more people are noticing” they have a problem, said the Rev. Richard Allen, pastor at Mamaroneck United Methodist Church, north of New York City.

 Or is it just another food fad?

read more

Monday, July 30, 2012

Retracting a Plug for Meatless Mondays

The message seemed innocuous enough, coming as it did from the federal agency tasked with promoting sustainable agriculture and dietary health: “One simple way to reduce your environmental impact while dining at our cafeterias,” read a United States Department of Agriculture interoffice newsletter published on its Web site this week, “is to participate in the ‘Meatless Monday’ initiative.”

Thousands of corporate cafeterias, restaurants and schools have embraced the idea of skipping meat on Mondays in favor of vegetarian options, an initiative of the nonprofit Monday Campaign Inc. and the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.

 But by Tuesday afternoon, amid outraged Twitter messages by livestock producers and at least one member of Congress, the agency’s “Greening Headquarters Update” had been removed. “U.S.D.A. does not endorse Meatless Monday,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. The newsletter, which covered topics like the installation of energy-efficient lights on the Ag Promenade and recycling goals, “was posted without proper clearance,” the statement said.

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

The 10-Minute Workout, Times Three

“Every four years, the summer Olympics get people excited to exercise,” says Glenn Gaesser, a professor and director of the Healthy Lifestyles Research Center at Arizona State University, who oversaw a new study about exercise and high blood pressure that was inspired in part by the coming games in London.

 The streets and gyms fill with people who, fueled by stories of Olympic success, “run or work out for an hour or more,” Dr. Gaesser says.

But “within a few weeks, most people have quit” and resumed their sedentary lives. “We wanted to see if there were approaches to exercise that would fit more easily into people’s lifestyles, but still be effective” in terms of improving health, he says. Specifically, he and his colleagues hoped to determine whether breaking up exercise into small, manageable segments performed throughout the day would work as well as one longer, continuous bout.

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Saturday, July 28, 2012

McDonald's Food Has A Healthy Glow, At Least In China

Here in the U.S., McDonald's food is not usually considered all that healthy. But in China, it is.

 That's because Chinese consumers trust American brands more than their own, says Shaun Rein, founder of China Market Research, who studies Chinese consumer behavior. Rein says that in China, McDonald's is seen as providing safe and wholesome food.

 Rein talked with NPR's Linda Wertheimer about a new Chinese McDonald's ad campaign. The ad (see screen grab above) uses brightly colored vegetables and rain falling on tomatoes to reinforce McDonald's healthful image in China.

 "They wanted to use nice, healthy, looking food for the Chinese consumer because the Chinese are petrified of the food supply chain," Rein says. Rein reassures us that Chinese consumers know that much of the McDonald's menu is high in fat. And there's no denying that obesity is a growing problem in the China, as it is worldwide.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

The Countries That Work Out The Most (And Least)

As HuffPost reported Tuesday, The Lancet recently released a series of reports on the state of physical activity -- or, more accurately, inactivity -- around the globe. Among the results? One in 10 deaths is now attributable to inactivity. But to find out just how inactive we were, as a species, Brazilian researcher Dr. Pedro C. Hallal from the Universidade Federal de Pelotas, compiled answers to 155 population surveys from 122 countries.

 "In most countries, inactivity rises with age and is higher in women than in men. Inactivity is also increased in high-income countries," Hallal told The Telegraph. It's true that many affluent countries topped the ranking, though countries with great poverty, such as the Dominican Republic and Swaziland, also made it on the list. Also noteworthy were countries that are often associated with healthful lifestlyes: Japan, known for longevity and low cardiovascular disease rates, was in the bottom 25; Brazil, which is known for its strong sports traditions was also on the list; and several Mediterranean countries also associated with healthy eating and lifestyle were represented, including Italy, Spain and Portugal.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Oopsie babies? A third of U.S. births unintended, study finds

More than one-third of U.S. births between 2006 and 2010 were the result of unintended pregnancies, a new government report says. That means the overall rate of unintended births has not changed much since 1982.

The findings showed that in total, 37.1 percent of pregnancies in 2006 to 2010 were unintended; the rate in 1982 was 36.5 percent. The rate rose to 39.1 in 1988, before falling to 30.6 in 1995.

 Reducing the rate of unintended births is important because these births bring social, economic and health consequences for the mother and child, the researchers said. Women who become pregnant unintentionally have higher rates of delaying prenatal care, smoking during pregnancy and not breast-feeding. Studies show these births are also associated with poorer health during childhood, and poorer outcomes for the mother and the mother-child relationship, according to the report.

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Monday, July 23, 2012

Inactivity 'killing as many as smoking'

A lack of exercise is now causing as many deaths as smoking across the world, a study suggests.

 The report, published in the Lancet to coincide with the build-up to the Olympics, estimates that about a third of adults are not doing enough physical activity, causing 5.3m deaths a year.

 That equates to about one in 10 deaths from diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and breast and colon cancer. Researchers said the problem was now so bad it should be treated as a pandemic.

 And they said tackling it required a new way of thinking, suggesting the public needed to be warned about the dangers of inactivity rather than just reminded of the benefits of being active.

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Saturday, July 21, 2012

Stressful Jobs Put Strain on Women's Hearts, Study Says

A new study found that women who rate their jobs as highly demanding and stressful were at an increased risk of heart attack, stroke or dying from heart disease.

 Heart disease is one of the leading killers of both men and women, and scientists have identified stress as one major risk factor that can damage the heart.

But Dr. Michelle Albert, one of the study's authors, said most of the previous research on stress and strain at work has focused on how they affect men's hearts. "We're all stressed out, but we're talking about strain or stress that's above and beyond the body's ability to handle it," Albert said.

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A Fresh Look at What School Menus Can Be

With the authority of a celebrity chef, Adam Fisher gestured toward the bushels of fresh basil, oregano and parsley sitting on the counter in front of him, as the crowd leaned forward.

 “We almost want to treat fresh herbs like we treat fresh flowers,” he commanded, speaking into a microphone clipped to his apron. “You want to snip off the ends, and ideally you want to store them in some water.”

 Mr. Fisher may not be some fast-talking TV personality, but he is a chef, a food supervisor for the Denver Public Schools, and he was giving a demonstration on how to whip up cafeteria food — in this case, cucumber and pasta salads — from scratch.

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Friday, July 20, 2012

Hot Or Not? Potato Board Tries To Un-Dud The Spud

It may not be obvious to the average shopper or diner, but the potato is an embattled vegetable. Yes, the simple spud, so ubiquitous, so unassuming, may be in need of a makeover.

 That's at least the view of the U.S. Potato Board, the organization responsible for marketing American potatoes here at home and abroad.

"The potato has been in a rut," Meredith Myers, spokeswoman for the U.S. Potato Board, tells The Salt.

 This week, the board gave the spud a star turn with a seven-course dinner in Washington, D.C., at an upscale restaurant in the tony Cleveland Park neighborhood.

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

F.D.A. Makes It Official: BPA Can’t Be Used in Baby Bottles and Cups

WASHINGTON — The Food and Drug Administration said Tuesday that baby bottles and children’s drinking cups could no longer contain bisphenol A, or BPA, an estrogen-mimicking industrial chemical used in some plastic bottles and food packaging.

 Manufacturers have already stopped using the chemical in baby bottles and sippy cups, and the F.D.A. said that its decision was a response to a request by the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry’s main trade association, that rules allowing BPA in those products be phased out, in part to boost consumer confidence.

 But the new prohibition does not apply more broadly to the use of BPA in other containers, said an F.D.A. spokesman, Steven Immergut. He said the decision did not amount to a reversal of the agency’s position on the chemical. The F.D.A. declared BPA safe in 2008, but began expressing concerns about possible health risks in 2010.

 Michael Taylor, deputy commissioner for foods at the agency, said the decision simply codified what the industry was already doing based on the preference of consumers and did not reflect concerns about the safety of BPA in baby bottles or toddler’s cups.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Couch Potato Goes Global

Last month, researchers affiliated with the World Health Organization and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reported that, worldwide, people’s waistlines are expanding, with the total combined weight of human beings on Earth now exceeding 287 million tons. About 3.5 million tons of that global human biomass is due to obesity, a third of which exists in North America, although we account for only 6 percent of the world’s population.

 The study was widely publicized, especially after the BBC used its findings to develop a diverting online tool that lets users compare their biomass to that of people in other nations. (I learned that I have the B.M.I. of your average, middle-aged Eritrean.)

 The study, however, did not address possible underlying causes of the ever-growing weight of nations.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Some Athletes Reject High-Tech Sports Fuel In Favor Of Real Food

As the world's greatest athletes gear up for the 2012 Olympic Games in London this month, viewers like us are likely to see a spike in televised ads for sports drinks, nutritional bars, and energy gel — that goop that so many runners and cyclists suck from foil pouches.

 Powerade, in fact, is the official sports drink of the 2012 Olympics, and if it's true what these kinds of ads imply, processed sports foods and neon-colored drinks are the stuff that gold medalists are made of.

But sports nutritionists and pro athletes don't all think so. David Katz, physician and nutrition expert at the Yale University School of Medicine, says sports drinks generally aren't much better than sodas. "[Sports drink companies'] marketing is based on the gimmick that somehow this extra load of sugar and calories will turn you into an athlete," he says.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

More TV Linked to Larger Waists, Weaker Legs for Kids

The more television a child watches, even in the first years of life, the more likely he or she is to be thicker around the middle and less muscularly fit, according to a new study.

 Previous studies have linked lots of television with childhood obesity and other child health detriments, but this study's authors say their report is the first to relate how time in front of the boob tube affects a specific measure of physical fitness, their explosive leg strength, an important asset for sports like soccer, basketball and football.

 Caroline Fitzpatrick, the study's lead author, said the measure isn't just important for children who want to be athletes.

 "Explosive leg strength is an important measure of a child's overall physical fitness, their general muscular fitness," she said.

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Saturday, July 14, 2012

Anxiety over fears may speed up aging in women

You may have heard that worrying can give you wrinkles, but a new study shows anxiety may actually accelerate aging in people on a molecular level.

 Researchers at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston looked at blood samples collected from more than 5,000 women between the ages of 42 and 69, who were part of the data pool from the long-running Nurses' Health Study that examines aging and disease in women.

 They were looking for the length of the women's telomeres, DNA-protein molecules that protect the tips of chromosomes within cells, guarding genetic information and stopping them from deteriorating. Studies have shown telomeres may be a predictive marker for aging and longevity.

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Friday, July 13, 2012

Weight-Loss Keys: Food Journals, Eating In, Not Skipping Meals

If you are trying to lose weight, adopting three key strategies will boost your chances of success, new research suggests.

 Keep a food journal, avoid eating out often and don't skip meals.

 "Greater food-journal use predicted better weight-loss outcomes, whereas skipping meals and eating out more frequently were associated with less weight loss," writes Dr. Anne McTiernan, a research professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle. In the new study, she and her colleagues looked at a wide range of behaviors and meal patterns to evaluate what works and what doesn't.

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Newly Identified 'Beige Fat' Cells Could Help Fight Obesity

Looking to slim down? Then beige is your color, at least as far as fat is concerned. 

Scientists at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute have isolated a new type of energy-burning cell known as "beige fat," which they say may have therapeutic potential for aiding weight loss and treating obesity in adults.

 According to a new report published in the journal Cell, beige fat is scattered in pea-size deposits beneath the skin near the collarbone and along the spine. But rather than storing excess calories in the form of jiggly thighs and a jelly belly as blubbery-and-prolific white fat does, this type of fat is a calorie burner.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Quitting smoking adds even more pounds than thought: study

Quitting smoking leads to an average weight gain of four to five kilogrammes (nine to 11 pounds) in the first year -- "significantly" more than previously thought, a study said Wednesday.

Most of the pounds are piled on in the first three months, a team of medical researchers wrote in the online journal, as another group stressed that the health benefits of quitting far outweighed the risks of putting on weight.

For quitters who did not use nicotine replacement therapy, the average weight gain was 1.1 kilos at one month, 2.3 kilos at two, 2.9 kilos at three, 4.2 kilos at six months and 4.7 kilos after a year.

This was "substantially higher than the 2.9 kg often quoted in smoking cessation advice leaflets," wrote the team from universities and medical research facilities in France and Britain.

"Moreover, this mean weight gain is greater than the 2.3 kg gain that female smokers report being willing to tolerate, on average, before embarking on a quit attempt."

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Monday, July 9, 2012

For healthier kids, get a cat or dog, study suggests

Kids who grow up with cats or dogs tend to get fewer respiratory infections during their first year of life, according to a new study from Finland.

Researchers followed 397 children from pregnancy through their first year of life, and found that those living with dogs developed 31 percent fewer respiratory tract symptoms or infections, 44 percent fewer ear infections and received 29 percent fewer antibiotic prescriptions.

Contact with cats was also linked with fewer infections, but the effect was not as drastic as contact with dogs — for example, infants living with cats were 2 percent less likely to need antibiotics.

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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Bring back the tasty tomatoes

A new study in the journal Science reveals that when growers began breeding tomatoes for color, they were unwittingly breeding against flavor.

 When chicken farmers switched from using mostly corn feed to other grains, the chickens changed too. Their skin was white instead of yellow. For a while, poultry producers added color to the feed to make the chickens look the way they used to, but when skinless chicken breasts became a popular diet food, customers got used to the sight of white chicken and producers dropped the coloring.

 Food shoppers are finicky about the colors of their food, and the agriculture industry races to anticipate their desires. But sometimes the industry moves too fast. One example: tomatoes imbued with the deepest red color but, as a result, little flavor.

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