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Health Capsules: March 14

By: Lisa Russell


Many parents are not putting their infants to sleep safely, according to a recent report.

Some new parents still are not putting their infants to sleep safely

Many new mothers and fathers still have not gotten the message from health authorities about recommended safe infant sleep practices, according to officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC].  Failure to follow those practices currently contributes to roughly 3,500 sleep-related deaths among American infants each year.

According to a CDC Vital Signs report published in January, about 1 in 5 mothers still put their infants to sleep either on their sides or stomachs; more than half share a bed with their infants; and more than one-third still use soft bedding such as pillows, blankets, stuffed toys and bumper pads in their babies’ cribs. The report was based on data from the national Pregnancy Risk Assessment Monitoring System [PRAMS], which monitors self-reported behaviors and experiences among parents before, during, and 2 to 6 months after pregnancy.

“This new report shows unsafe sleep practices are common,” said CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D. “It is clear that we all have more work to do and everyone has a role to play.”

Since the agency launched its national “Back to Sleep” safe sleep campaign in the 1990s, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and accidental infant suffocation deaths have decreased significantly. However, “our progress has slowed [and] we need to reinvigorate this important work,” said Fitzgerald.

“We must do more to ensure every family knows the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations – babies should sleep on their backs, without any toys or soft bedding, and in their own crib. Parents are encouraged to share a room with the baby, but not the same bed. These strategies will help reduce the risk and protect our babies from harm,” she added.

National Kidney Month focuses on body’s ‘unsung heroes’

Most people probably don’t give much thought to their kidneys on a day-to-day basis. Yet these essential organs always are hard at work, filtering the body’s waste and helping to control basic functions like blood pressure and red blood cell production.

Statistics show that 1 in 3 American adults currently is at high risk for developing kidney disease. Because kidney damage can occur without physical symptoms, many people currently have some stage of kidney disease, but don’t know it. Risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, a family history of kidney failure and being over the age of 60.

During the month of March, designated as National Kidney Month, the National Kidney Foundation urges adults to “Take 5 for Your Kidneys,” and has provided a list of five simple steps Americans can take to protect their kidney health:

1. Get routine tests. Ask your doctor for an ACR urine test or a GFR blood test annually. These kidney function tests are especially important if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, are over age 60 or have a family history of kidney disease.

2. Minimize NSAID use. Regular use of over-the-counter pain medicines, such as aspirin, ibuprofen and other NSAIDs [nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs], can harm the kidneys, especially for those with existing kidney disease. Reduce use of NSAIDs if possible, and never exceed the recommended dosage.

3. Cut the processed foods. Processed meats, cheeses, snacks and other processed foods can be significant sources of sodium, nitrates and phosphates, all of which are linked to kidney disease.

4. Exercise regularly.  Consistent exercise benefits the entire body, including the kidneys. Getting active for at least 30 minutes a day also can help control blood pressure and lower blood sugar, both vital to kidney health.

5. Control blood pressure and diabetes. These two conditions are the leading causes of kidney disease and kidney failure. Managing high blood pressure and controlling blood sugar levels can slow the progression of kidney disease, so both are essential to maintaining good kidney health.

Pictures may influence behavior – in a flash

Ten milliseconds is a nearly imperceptible period of time … but it may be long enough to subtly impact emotions and behavior, according to recent research conducted at the University of California, San Diego.

For more than a decade, a team of scientists at the university has been studying the effects both words and pictures have on people exposed to them. For example, a previous study found that showing brief images of happy faces to thirsty people led them to drink more of a beverage immediately afterwards, whereas images of scowling faces led them to drink less. In their new study, which was published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology, the researchers expanded the scope of their tests beyond faces to other types of images and words.

“We wanted to compare two major kinds of emotional stimuli that people encounter in their life: words and pictures, including those of emotional faces and evocative images of objects,” said Piotr Winkielman, Ph.D., a professor of psychology who leads the research. “We also tested if it matters whether these stimuli are presented very briefly or for a longer period of time.”

While viewing a series of emotionally neutral images on a computer screen, study participants also saw brief flashes of faces, pictures or words that were either positive or negative. After the task, the researchers provided a soft drink and allowed the participants to drink as much as they liked. The experiments compared the effect of emotive words, such as “panda” [positive] and “knife” [negative], with that of positive and negative visual images, including happy or angry facial expressions or images of emotionally charged objects, such as a gun or a cute dog.

As in previous studies, participants drank more after seeing happy faces than after seeing angry faces. They also drank more after seeing positive objects than after seeing negative objects. In contrast, positive or negative words did not impact consumption either way.

Surprisingly though, nearly invisible images – shown for only 10 milliseconds – had the same effect on behavior as clearly noticeable images shown for 200 milliseconds [0.2 seconds]. Participants also did not notice any changes in their mood after seeing the images, even while their behavior did change.

“In our experiment, the duration of the emotional cue did not matter for its ability to influence consumption,” Winkielman said. “This echoes some previous studies; however, we need stronger evidence to confidently claim that fleeting images work as well as more noticeable images in altering behavior.”

Beyond giving love and affection to their owners, dogs may provide them with health benefits as well.

In more ways than one, dogs are good for the heart 

Results of the largest study ever conducted on the relationship between dog ownership and human health suggest that, beyond the unconditional love canine pets provide, they actually are beneficial to heart health. The 12-year study included more than 3.4 million Swedish adults ages 40 to 80. By comparing data on the health conditions of those adults with dog ownership registries, researchers found that dog owners had a lower risk of death due to heart disease, as well as from other causes.

This benefit especially was evident in single dog owners. People who lived alone with their dogs had an 11 percent lower risk of having a heart attack and a 33 percent lower overall risk of dying during the study, compared with single people who didn’t own dogs. The study authors noted that dogs may ease stress, loneliness and depression, all factors that can contribute to heart disease.  Caring for a dog also may require people to be more physically active and socially connected, which can positively impact their overall health. The study was published online in Scientific Reports.

On the calendar

An American Red Cross blood drive is on Sunday, March 18 at St. Alban Roe Catholic Church, 2001 Shepard Road in Wildwood. To register for an appointment time, visit redcrossblood.org

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St. Luke’s Hospital offers cholesterol and glucose wellness screenings from 7:30-9 a.m. on Friday, March 23 at St. Luke’s Convenient Care [inside Dierbergs Des Peres], 1080 Lindemann Road in Des Peres. Receive cholesterol and glucose numbers, along with a one-on-one consultation with a registered nurse/health coach, which includes blood pressure and body composition measurement. A 10-12 hour fast and advance appointments are required. The cost for all screenings is $20. To register, visit stlukes-stl.com.

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A Babysitting 101 course, sponsored by St. Louis Children’s Hospital, is offered from 9 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday, March 24 at Missouri Baptist Medical Center’s Clinical Learning Institute, 3005 N. Ballas Road. Topics covered include the business of babysitting, child development, safety and first aid, and fun and games. A workbook and light snack are provided. There is no minimum age requirement; the course fee is $30. To register, visit stlchildrens.org/registration or call (314) 454-KIDS.

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