Smart Advertising May Mean Healthier Food Choices for Kids

If your child is an unhealthy eater – the key to getting him or her to eat more fruits and veggies may lie in a little bit of strategic marketing.

According to a study that was recently published in the journal Pediatrics, advertising methods such as television commercials and banners can triple the chances of a child choosing healthier options during lunchtime.

The study, which took place in New York, experimented with 3 different advertising approaches in public elementary schools over the course of six weeks. A control group was first established (this group was not exposed to any marketing tactics). The first approach utilized vinyl banners, displaying animated characters in the form of vegetables with super powers. Brian Broccoli, one of the characters, is shown flexing his arms, while Colby Carrot shoots laser beams out of his eyes.

The second marketing approach involved quick video segments narrated by the characters regarding health-related topics, and the third combined both the video and the banners.

Results concluded that, when exposed to the banners alone, almost 100% more students chose vegetables from the salad bar during lunchtime. Before seeing the banners, 12% of students put veggies on their plates; after seeing the banners this number jumped up to 24%.

The third approach proved to be the most successful – by combining both the banners and the videos, there was a 239% increase in students who visited the salad bar. (The number of students who took vegetables jumped from 10% to 34%)!

Surprisingly, the video clips did not affect students’ choices. Andrew Hanks, an assistant professor of human sciences at Ohio State University and the study’s lead author, believes the banners were most successful as they were front-and-center at the salad bar and served as an easy reminder for students to make wise choices.

A similar and separate study conducted by Canadian researchers analyzed 26 previous studies regarding the link between advertising and children’s food intake. The study concluded that children who were exposed to marketing of unhealthy foods consumed more; they ate about 30 calories more of junk food than children who were not exposed.

Children under the age of 8 are very impressionable when it comes to marketing, and advertisements for low-nutrition, sugar-filled foods and beverages are essentially putting them in danger for obesity and diseases later in life. While it’s suggested that parents lead by example through eating and cooking healthy foods with their children, researchers would love to see what would happen if marketing focused on healthy foods instead of low-quality treats. 

Stem Cell Treatment May be the Future for ALS Patients

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or ALS is an incurable disease. Currently, 5,000 Americans are diagnosed with what is also called Lou Gehrig’s disease each year. Every step towards a possible therapeutic solution is a huge step, no matter how small.

The causes of ALS are still unknown. The disease breaks down the nerves in the spinal cord and brain that control muscle function in the body. As the muscles weaken, they eventually stop working properly. Once this effect hits the diaphragm and chest area, patients lose the ability to breathe without assistance. According to the U.S. National Institutes of Health, most patients die of respiratory breakdown caused by Lou Gehrig’s within the first three to five years.

Recently, a team from Emory University reported that stem cell therapy is safe for ALS patients.
In a small, early stage study on only 15 patients, data showed that the majority of them reacted well to high doses of stem cells injected into the spine, which is damaged by the disease. Only two of the ALS patients showed negative complications after the injections.

Although this is an important step towards a helpful treatment for ALS patients, it is only a start. Researchers are still unclear as to whether the injections provide any benefits to patients, they only can report that it is a safe procedure.

Several questions about the procedure remain, including whether it is safe as a long term treatment because stem cells can grow uncontrollably fast, sometimes causing cancer. Researchers are also hoping to discover the ways in which the therapy can help to slow the effects of ALS or even cure it.

If stem cells can actually infuse into the spine, they could release the type of chemicals that can shield nerve cells and the connections they have to muscles, slowing the degenerative process of ALS. The healthy nerve cells would be able to stay healthy longer, which would be a big win for ALS patients.

So far, the 15 patients responded fairly well to the stem cell injections of from 2 million to 16 million cells. Most patients experienced slight side effects of pain and reactions to the immune-suppressing drugs they had to take after each injection.

However, two patients developed serious reactions, including a swelling of the spinal cord and experiencing chronic pain. Doctors feel that these symptoms may be side effects that patients with a fatal diagnosis may be willing to accept, especially if it is proven that stem cell therapy has long term benefits. Time will tell. 

Relationship Success Determined the ‘Love Hormone’

It may no longer be a scientific mystery why some people fall in love, while others live the life of a bachelor, or why some make friends easily, while others struggle to fit in. According to a recent study, the answer may lie in our genetic make-up. If other brain disorders and chemical imbalances can be passed down genetically, maybe the trait of being ‘un-lucky in love’ can be inherited as well.

The new research shows that having low levels of oxytocin-linked DNA can affect the quality of our relationships – socially and romantically.

Some people have high levels of the ‘love hormone’ and some people do not. The OXT gene produces oxytocin, which can assist with several social behavioral skills like picking up on emotional and social cues in the face, and thinking of others.  The gene literally produces the oxytocin that sends these social cues to the brain. Without it, the cues do not compute.

In a study at The University of Georgia, 120 people were genetically tested for social skills, brain function and brain structure. This early research trial showed that people with a lower level of OXT often struggled to recognize emotions in the faces of others and tended to have more anxiety about their social and love relationships in general. Low level OXT participants also had less brain activity linked to social thinking, and less gray matter in the region of the brain that processes facial expression and social behavior. In other words, they did not experience ease and comfort when it came to social life and relationships.

Conversely, people with a higher level of the ‘love hormone’ showed less relationship issues and social anxiety.

So is the success of our social life and romantic relationships determined by a single gene? The data collection was too small and the findings too early to make any concrete determinations, but researchers, led by author Brian Haas, a professor of psychology, hope that this discovery could lead to more effective treatment and medication for social disorders like anxiety and depression. They may not be able to know how important of a role OXT plays yet in social behavior and brain function, but it most definitely plays a part.

Future studies will indicate if our ability to love is ‘written in the stars,’ or more literally in our genes, or if it is merely a factor in how we process social cues and relationships. 

Quality of Life is Increasing for Seniors with Diabetes

It is no surprise that with improvements in medical treatment for the elderly, lifespans are on the rise. Our senior population is growing fast, but we often wonder is it quality over quantity? If we are going to live longer, don’t we want to have more years of comfort, rather than disability and illness? A recent study shows that those in search of physical health and rejuvenation later and longer in life are in luck.  These medical advancements are bolstering the quality of life for seniors and lessoning the inevitability of disabilities earlier on, especially in those suffering from type 1 or type 2 diabetes.

Research shows that diabetic seniors born in the 1940s have many more disability-free years than those born in the 30s. On an average, American seniors between the ages of 50 and 70 are enjoying more years without disabilities, with our without chronic illness.

Thanks to hip and knee replacements, promotion of healthy lifestyles and improvements to diabetes and heart disease management, quality of life is sustained until later and disabilities are being postponed until after age 70 on an average. In essence, over the past two decades, the medical world has learned how to compress disability, or lessen the amount of time a patient will suffer physical ailments, pushing the occurrence of disability further into the future.

Co-author of the study, which was published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, Dr. Edward Gregg, stressed the importance of diabetes prevention when looking towards more years of disability-free senior living. Focusing on a healthy diet and exercise, and staying away from smoking and alcohol can greatly improve one’s chances at being healthy and disability-free later in life. Although so much more is known today about living with type 1 and type 2 diabetes in the senior years, maintenance and management can be costly and time consuming. Reducing the risk of developing these diseases at all in life is still the best bet.

A colleague who published a related study, Dr. Evelyn Wong of Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, suggested that the success of this study is showing how management of chronic conditions is really improving and pushing the inevitability of disability much later in life. Unfortunately, more people than ever are developing diabetes, so prevention is still the key, even though management is moving forward. Further research is needed in this area to accurately assess the cost of disability postponement. 

Smaller Wine Glasses Could Help You Drink a Bit Less

If you’re trying to cut back on the amount of wine you drink, the solution may be as simple as using a smaller glass.

A study was conducted by the University of Cambridge at a British restaurant/bar over a 16-week period. During that time, researchers tracked customers’ wine orders, while changing the size of the restaurant’s wine glasses every two weeks. Sizes alternated between a 10-ounce size (which is standard at most restaurants), 12-ounce size (a bit bigger) and 8-ounce size (a bit smaller).

The amount of wine served in each glass remained the same – about 5.9 ounces or 175 milliliters. Results showed that when the wine was sold in the larger 12-ounce size, the restaurant sold 9.4% more wine than when it was sold in the standard 10-ounce glasses. Unfortunately, findings related to the 8-ounce glass size were inconclusive, according to researchers.

However, the study’s lead researcher, Rachel Pechey, who works in the University of Cambridge’s Behavior and Health Research unit, said a conclusion could be made. By increasing the size of wine glasses, people drink more – even though the amount of wine in the glasses remained the same. While the reasoning behind this is certainly not obvious, it could be that larger glasses change peoples’ perceptions about the amount of wine in front of them – causing them to drink quickly, and then go for another glass.

Similar, separate studies suggest that other environmental factors can affect the amount of alcohol consumed. For someone pouring his or her own glass, a wider glass was linked with more wine being poured. If someone holds his or her own glass vs. pouring the wine into a glass on the table, he or she is more likely to pour a larger amount.

Theresa Marteau, who directs the research unit at the University, suggests that people can limit the amount of wine they are drinking by using smaller glasses. She said that more research is needed in order to substantiate this idea, however.

If further research validates the study, there could be interesting ways to implement changes in restaurants – such as making it a requirement for wine glasses to be within a certain size.

The study’s findings revealed similar results by the same group of researchers who analyzed the size of plates and utensils in regards to the amount of food people consume (the size of plate can indeed affect how much someone eats). Even the color of a plate can affect the taste of food, other studies suggest.

Survey Reveals Substantial Support to Raise Smoking Age in U.S.

A recent survey shows significant support behind raising the minimum age for tobacco purchases across the nation. An increased legal age could lead to a significant drop in the smoking rate, according to a National Academy of Medicine report conducted in 2015. If the legal age is upped only a few years, to 21, the nation could experience a 12% decrease in smoking.

By increasing the age and essentially restricting tobacco usage, it’s inevitable that fewer Americans will take up smoking altogether – by not starting. If fewer adolescents start smoking, they’ll be much less likely to smoke as adults, preventing common tobacco-related side effects like cancer and heart disease.

The survey, which polled 4,800 adult Americans across all regions of the United States, asked participants if they were in support of raising the legal age to 19, 20, or 21. The majority of participants said yes – they were in favor of the change – and support even spanned across political parties. Dr. Adam Goldstein, lead researcher from the University of North Carolina’s Lineberger Comprehensive Center, said most Americans can agree to the age change, regardless of their political stance.

When pollsters further analyzed the results, they noticed that women, Hispanics, non-whites, non-smokers, and participants older than 21 were more likely to support the age increase.

Responses varied in different parts of the country, but overall, the majority of states support raising the minimum legal age. 73% of people surveyed in 4 states in the south (including Texas and Louisiana) were in favor of the change, while 59% of participants in the Midwestern region (including Iowa and Kansas) were supporters. Dr. Goldstein is encouraged by the findings. He believes that policy makers can use the data to make advancements in their states – now that they know the public is in support of the change.

The increased legal age is already active in some states, like Hawaii, which upped the tobacco sales age to 21 on January 1st. New York City has increased their age as well, while many other cities are beginning to follow suit. Goldstein believes the survey data will increase momentum and help to motivate lawmakers. And, already, smoking rates are dropping. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported a 2% decrease in smoking rate from 2014 to 2015. This may not sound like a big change, but it’s the largest decline the nation has seen in over 20 years. 

Drawing Blood Without Needles Could Become Standard for Care

A small San Francisco start up called Velano Vascular is garnering attention lately for its fully FDA-approved device called a PIVO, which draws blood through IVs already inserted in patients.

The PIVO, derived from “peripheral intravenous catheter,” would mean relief for inpatients who need daily blood draws – oftentimes requiring more than one poke if veins are problematic. Chief innovation officer of Intermountain Healthcare Todd Dunn said the device offers compassion for patients, and he recommends it become the new standard of care. Intermountain Healthcare, a hospital system in Utah that contains 22 centers, is studying the device.

Velano Vascular’s co-founder, 39-year-old Pitou Devgon, M.D., first considered the invention while hearing complaints from an elderly patient who was upset at the constant poking of needles for blood draws. After a full week in the hospital, bruises on her arms revealed her discomfort. When she already had an IV, she asked, what was the point of more needles?

Devgon slowly realized an idea the elderly patient helped bring to light – a tube that inserts into the existing, larger IV tube that is specifically for drawing blood. While the IV catheter is unable to draw fluids out of a patient, it works well to inject fluids into a patient. The PIVO allows for a clean blood draw, and is thrown away afterwards. Devgon was eventually introduced to Eric Stone, fellow co-founder of Velano and a health-care entrepreneur, who helped bring his idea to life.

Many children’s hospitals are attracted to the device, as children tend to have an extreme fear of needles, and PIVO could give them a more pain-free hospital experience. PIVO was granted funding from the Sheikh Zayed Institute for Pediatric Surgical Innovation, a unit of the Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Griffin Hospital in Connecticut are also supporting Velano financially.

With the additional support of institutional investors such as Safeguard Scientifics, along with the support of individuals like Becton Dickenson (one of the largest needle manufacturers in the world), Velano has received $8.5 million in funding.

For Stone, developing the PIVO was personal. He was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease 25 years ago, and spent many days and nights having blood drawn in hospitals. He believes that the PIVO will become a new standard of care, and will come in contact with every patient who exists at some point in their lives. 

The Best Techniques for Getting Babies to Sleep

Researchers recently tested common techniques for improving babies’ sleep, and found that both are effective and lead to no long-term risks or developmental complications.

The researchers focused on two common sleep methods: “graduated extinction” and “bedtime fading.” Graduated extinction is also called “controlled crying,” and involves letting babies soothe themselves to sleep without intervening every time they cry. Bedtime fading involves pushing back a baby’s bedtime so that they fall asleep more quickly.

Results show that both techniques helped babies fall asleep more quickly, and controlled crying helped babies sleep more soundly with fewer disruptions throughout the night.

Even more significantly, the researchers discovered that neither sleep technique negatively affected the babies’ emotional development or their ability to socially and emotionally bond with their parents. These results are important, because many parents hesitate to use sleep techniques for fear of upsetting their child or damaging the child’s development.

Controlled crying in particular worries parents, because it requires parents to ignore their baby’s cries so the child can learn to self-soothe. Many parents express concern that this technique will cause emotional damage or cause their child to have attachment issues. However, the research team in this recent sleep study suggest that these worries are unfounded.

The study included 43 babies aged 6-16 months and their parents. According to the parents, all of the babies had problems sleeping. Researchers divided the parents into three groups: one group was told to practice controlled crying, one group practiced bedtime fading, and the third acted as a control and changed nothing about their babies’ sleep habits.

Parents in the controlled crying group were instructed to wait a few minutes before responding to their baby’s nighttime cries. After waiting, parents could comfort their baby but not pick up or hold the child. The parents gradually increased the wait time between hearing their child’s cries and responding.

Parents in the bedtime fading group were told to push back their baby’s bedtime by 15 minutes for a few nights. If the baby continued to have trouble falling asleep, the parents could push the bedtime back an additional 15 minutes.

After three months, researchers found that the babies in the training groups fell asleep an average of 10 to 13 minutes faster than the babies in the control group. The control group babies experienced little to no change in their sleep habits.

The researchers also found that babies in the controlled crying group woke up only once or twice per night by the end of the study. When the study began, the babies in this group were waking up an average of three times per night.

The sleep training also had positive effects on stress levels for the babies and their mothers. Moms in the study experienced a decline in their stress levels after one month. Babies in the sleep training groups also had lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol compared to the control group, according to saliva samples taken by the researchers.

The study also tested for the possibility of any long-term negative effects of the sleep training techniques. A year after the study began, children from all three groups showed similar emotional and behavioral development, as well as attachment to their parents.  The researchers are confident that sleep training is a healthy and effective way to treat babies’ sleep problems. 

Taking Aspirin After a Mini-Stroke Could Reduce Further Symptoms

A new study suggests that people who take aspirin after experiencing a mini-stroke have a significantly lower risk of experiencing a major stroke than people who don’t take aspirin.

A mini-stroke is also called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), and people who experience them are 1,000 times more likely to experience a major stroke than people who didn’t have a mini-stroke. 

After analyzing data from 56,000 people, the researchers found that taking aspirin immediately after a mini-stroke decreased the risk of a subsequent major stroke by 70 percent.

The study was led by Peter Rothwell, a stroke expert at the University of Oxford. Rothwell said that his research team discovered that immediately treating a minor stroke can decrease both the risk and the severity of a future major stroke.

These findings are significant mainly due to the lack of knowledge about mini-strokes. Rothwell said that most public health campaigns that seek to educate people about stroke risk only focus on major strokes. Because of these campaigns, people are more likely to get medical help after a major stroke, but are far less likely to seek treatment after having a mini-stroke.

Some people don’t seek help at all after a stroke or mini-stroke, or they delay seeing a doctor for several days. Delaying or never getting treatment dramatically increases a person’s risk of experiencing another stroke.

Based on the results, Rothwell suggests that doctors immediately provide aspirin to mini-stroke patients rather than waiting for further tests or evaluations.
Aspirin is also a helpful option for people who cannot immediately access medical care. If they can at least take aspirin, they can improve their chances of making a healthy recovery.

The study suggests taking one 300 milligram dose of aspirin after experiencing mini-stroke symptoms, even if the symptoms seem to be improving.

Mini-strokes and major strokes share many of the same symptoms, including:
  •        Numbness or weakness in the muscles, particularly on one side of the body
  •        Difficulty speaking
  •        Difficulty understanding speech
  •        Dizziness
  •       Double vision
  •       Difficulty seeing in one or both eyes

Mini-stroke symptoms generally last only a few minutes, but could last as long as 24 hours. If you experience any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical care and take aspirin if available.

Worries About Water Intake May Be Unfounded

If you are concerned about your daily water intake, your worries may be unwarranted. A new study has found that most Americans are taking in a healthy amount of water every day.

Data collected between 2009 and 2012 for the U.S. National Health Nutrition Examination Survey showed that the average adult man consumes approximately 117 ounces of water each day, or just over 14 cups. The average adult woman takes in about 93 ounces each day, or about 12 cups.

Kirsten Herrick and Asher Rosinger from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention led the study. Herrick and Rosinger stated that in 2004, the recommended daily water intake was 125 ounces for adult men and 91 ounces. Their study’s findings prove that the average American adult more than meets these standards on a daily basis.

The study did note that not all of the water intake came from plain drinking water. The study’s data showed that about 30 percent of men’s daily water intake came from plain water, and 34 percent of women’s intake came from plain water. The remaining fluid intake is a result of other liquids, like coffee, sodas, and juices, and some comes from food.

Antonella Apicella, a nutritionist from New York City’s Lenox Hill Hospital cautioned that while drinks like soda and juice can provide some of the body’s required water intake, these beverages contain considerably more calories than plain drinking water. Reliance on these drinks as the main form of hydration can lead to weight gain and other health complications. The best and healthiest way to hydrate is through plain water.

The study noted differences in water intake across various demographic groups. Adults over the age of 60 generally consume less water than their younger counterparts. The study also found that white adults showed greater water intake than black or Hispanic adults. Physical activity was also a factor: as a person’s activity levels increased, so did their water intake.

Dana Angelo White, a sports dietitian and professor at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, stated that hydration needs are different for each person. She says her usual baseline recommendation for water intake is to consume half your weight in ounces. This number should increase if you regularly exercise.

However, just as not drinking enough water can be a problem, over-hydrating can also be dangerous, Apicella warned. Over-hydration can result in hyponatremia, or low blood sodium concentration. 
When hydrating, do your best to keep track of how much plain water you drink and supply your body with plenty of electrolytes.