Entries in health (55)


9/11 First Responders Plagued by Health Problems from Toxic Dust and Debris

DOUG KANTER/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- For many of the nearly 50,000 9/11 first responders, the wounds of the Twin Tower attacks are far from healing. According to two studies published Thursday in the British journal Lancet, these rescue workers continue to struggle with respiratory illness, depression and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and many of them may be at increased risk for developing a number of cancers.

In the months following 9/11, firefighter Kenny Specht, 43, spent every day at the site, navigating the rubble in hopes of at first rescuing people, and later recovering the bodies of those crushed when the towers fell. Though he and his fellow rescue workers were picking through rubble littered with asbestos, mercury, crushed florescent light bulbs and other known toxins, they were outfitted with only their normal uniform to protect them from potential contaminants.

"They gave us paper masks and overalls, like you'd see in home improvement shows. They let us go back to our homes every day with our contaminated gear," Specht says.

It wasn't until 2006 that he started to experience health problems. At first it was gastrointestinal issues that required him to have his gallbladder removed, but in 2007 a CAT scan following an injury on the job revealed thyroid cancer.

Though the string of cancer cases among New York firefighters who worked at 9/11 seemed like a sad coincidence when Specht was diagnosed, this Levittown, N.Y., man is now part of a trend that researchers are just beginning to understand: Those who worked at the WTC site seem to be at increased risk of cancer, especially thyroid cancer, melanoma and lymphoma. According to a study released of nearly 10,000 New York firefighters (half of whom worked at the WTC site), those from the site are 32 percent more likely to have cancer.

"I've been to 54 funerals of firefighters since 9/11 and 52 of them are cancer-related," says John Feal, a former firefighter and founder of the FealGood Foundation, an advocacy group seeking medical coverage and compensation for first responders of 9/11.

The collapse of the Twin Towers contaminated the nearby air with particles of glass, asbestos, cement, lead and other toxins. It is thought that exposure to this dust through the lungs and skin has contributed to the asthma, gastrointestinal problems, and possibly the increased cancer risk experienced by rescue workers, especially those who were on the site immediately after the attack, when the cloud of debris dust was its thickest.

"Because those responding in the first hours were stuck in the dust cloud, these were the people with the highest rate of every disease we tracked," says Dr. Philip Landrigan, dean of Global Health at Mount Sinai School of medicine and senior researcher of one of Thursday's studies. The study, which looked at medical and mental health outcomes for about 30,000 rescue workers involved in 9/11 aid work, found that nearly a third of these workers have developed asthma and between 10 and 30 percent still suffer from persistent medical disorders, including gastro-esophageal reflux, depression and PTSD, even nine years after they were exposed to the WTC site.

Though researchers expected to see some persistence in medical and mental health symptoms for these workers, Landrigan says the extent to which they are still suffering was an "unwelcome surprise."

"We're still seeing 75 to 100 new patients each month, even after all these years," he says. Landrigan urges those who worked at the WTC to seek examination at one of New York City's WTC Centers for Excellence -- hospitals that provide specialized testing and treatment for those with physical and mental health conditions associated with 9/11.

Thanks to the Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, signed into law by President Obama in January, rescue workers can receive financial assistance for health problems such as those identified in Landrigan's study. At this time, however, the act does not cover cancer, as a federal analysis decided there was not enough evidence to say that 9/11 work contributed to cancer risk at that time.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Health Reminders Before Sending Your Kids Back to School

Creatas Images/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Summer vacation is coming to an end, and many students will be headed back into the classroom.  But before sending children off to school, ABC News has some last-minute reminders for parents, particularly about the right vaccinations.
Experts say to make sure your child gets the correct immunizations before going back to school.  It's important to be aware of the proper immunizations necessary at different grade levels.

For pre-school, youngsters should receive DTaP for diptheria, tetanus and pertussis; polio; a booster for measles, mumps and rubella; and a final chicken pox vaccine.

The meningococcal vaccine and a tetanus booster should be administered to pupils at the middle school level.

And for high schoolers, the checklist includes screening for substance abuse, screening for depression and a yearly physical. Some experts say teens should have the chance to speak to their doctors alone.

Also, fall means flu season, so experts also say to make a flu shot part of your child's back-to-school routine.

Some young people may be embarrassed to admit they can't see the blackboard when in school.  This is why parents should not overlook eye exams.  

Lasty, parents should remind kids about classroom hygiene -- they need to wash their hands and cover up their coughs.  A recent Danish study published in the American Journal of Infection Control found that frequent hand washing can help students cut down on days missed from school.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Five Simple Ways to Stay Healthier at Work

Siri Stafford/Thinkstock(PARK CITY, Utah) -- Spending an average of 40 hours per week at work can be physically and mentally draining, but the workplace can also be unhealthy in other ways as well.

Sitting or standing for long periods of time can cause pain and other adverse effects, and there can also be nutritional traps, such as vending machines, that could contribute to weight gain.

But fitness and nutrition experts say there are numerous things people can do to make their workplaces healthier. The following pages feature simple tips for keeping healthy at work.

Make Desk Area a Mini-Gym

If there's available space, desks and other office furniture can double as exercise equipment.

"Utilize your office furniture," said Leah Britt, a personal trainer and clinical nutritionist at Premier Fitness Camp, a fitness resort in Park City, Utah. "You can do dips using the chair or the edge of the desk. Place your hands on the edge and bend arms to slowly lower yourself about six inches lower than the seat. Then, raise yourself by straightening your arms. Repeat this three times a day for 10 repetitions."

Britt also suggests doing push-ups on the floor or using the desk by leaning against it and pushing yourself away. You can also perform a set of 10 squats about three times a day.

Other ways to turn your workspace into a workout space?

"Keep a small set of dumbbells or resistance bands under your desk," Britt said. "You can use them while you're on the phone."

She also suggests sitting on an exercise ball instead of a chair, which will help posture and keep the abdominal muscles tight.

Keep Moving

While sitting at a desk for long periods of time may seem like a good way to stay productive, experts say it's very unhealthy.

"You need to take breaks every hour or two to get up and move," said Luis Feigenbaum, chief of service and director of sports physical therapy at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine. " A lot of low back conditons happen from just sitting for a long period of time. The muscles get weak."

Email and other office technologies are undoubtedly convenient, but delivering messages the old-fashioned way, while it may be more time-consuming, is a much healthier option.

"Delivering messages or packages to people in person is a great way to get in extra steps," said Britt. "It also helps to walk to the furthest bathroom and take the steps more often."

Setting an alarm to remind yourself to get up and walk around is also a simple and effective strategy.

Watch Your Posture

"The number one thing that gets people into trouble as far as a downgrade in their health is their posture," said Feigenbaum.

He noted that certain ergonomic changes can really make a difference:

Sit close to the work station.

Keep monitors at eye level.

Keep the keyboard (or the steering wheel, if the job involves driving) at a level that doesn't require too much reaching and isn't too high or low.

Sit with legs flexed at a 90-degree angle with feet resting comfortably on the floor.

Lift objects with the legs and keep the object close to the body and toward the middle of the trunk.

He also recommends strengthening muscles involved in posture -- including the abdominals, the muscles attached to the back of the spine and the gluteals -- to avoid injury to the muscles of the neck, lower back, arms and legs.

It's important, he said, to maintain a balance between stretching and strengthening muscles.

"When muscles are weakened because of poor posture, what typically occurs is that the opposing or opposite muscle group becomes tight. So the balance comes in making sure that the tight muscles are stretched and the weak muscles become strengthened."

Helpful exercises include shoulder squeezes, back bends, walking, and tightening and contracting the buttocks.

Plan Ahead

The workplace is often full of tasty temptations, such as vending machines and celebratory desserts. While responsibilities at work and at home make it difficult to find time to plan meals and snacks for work, experts strongly recommend it.

It's difficult to avoid hitting the vending machines or indulging in a tasty treat in the office, but it helps to have pre-portioned snacks on hand.

It's also important to drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and to keep muscles healthy.

Practice Good Hygiene and Food Safety Techniques

A new survey by the American Dietetic Association found that 62 percent of Americans eat lunch at their desks, 50 percent snack at their desks, and 27 percent eat breakfast at their desks.

Multitasking during lunch is very common, but it can also be dangerous. Experts say lots of hidden bacteria lurk on desktops.

Another way that foodborne illnesses can infiltrate a workplace is by not properly storing food at the proper temperatures.

The American Dietetic Association recommends food be reheated to a temperature of 165 degrees. Thayer suggests having a thermometer on hand to be safe.

If the work area can be kept clean, Britt, the personal trainer and nutritionist, says it's a good idea to eat lunch there.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Research Shows Damage Caused by Hunger in Children

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- New research has shown that children are much more aware of food insecurity and its effects on the family unit, according to John Cook, an associate professor of Pediatrics at Boston University's School of Medicine.

"They recognize very clearly that their parents are reducing their food intake to save them from experiencing hunger," Cook said. "It's distressing to them."

Children may come up with their own coping mechanisms.

"They express concern for their parents," Cook said. "They will even reduce their own food intake. They will undertake their own processes to contribute to the family's resources."

Food insecurity is a health risk, Dr. Megan Sandel, an associate professor of pediatrics and public health at Boston Medical Center, a colleague of Cook's, told ABC News.

"Not having enough food places children and parents at risk of malnourishment," Sandel said. "When you are underweight, you have a hard time fighting illness."

Having the proper nutrition through age 3 is crucial for brain development and social development, Sandel said. She added that there is a tendency for under fed children to become obese later in life.

Child hunger is not only a health problem, but an educational problem, as well, according to Feeding America, which provides food and groceries to people at risk of hunger across the nation.

In the classroom, children who are hungry through age 3 cannot learn as much as fast or as well because Feeding America says chronic under nutrition and toxic stress harm their cognitive development during a critical period of rapid growth.

Also, hungry children do not perform as well academically in school because they are not well prepared and have difficulties concentrating. They also have more social and behavioral problems.

Feeding America has a BackPack Program that provides children with nutritious and easy-to-prepare food when other resources are not available. The program provides backpacks filled with food that is "child-friendly," non-perishable and easily consumed. They are discreetly distributed to children on the last day before the weekend or holiday vacation. In 2010, 5.8 million packs were given to children in close to 5,000 locations, the organizations said.

Hunger relief agencies say the problem is no longer confined to the urban poor.

"More and more people are coming in" said Maria Delsordo, communications director for Philabundance, a Philadelphia-based hunger-relief agency. "We are seeing people coming in that never had to get food assistance before -- the newly unemployed, the underemployed, families that have at least one parent working."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Five Slimdown Strategies from 'Extreme Makeover' Master

ABC/KATHERINE BOMBOY(NEW YORK) -- This summer on ABC's new reality TV show, Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition, viewers have watched amazing transformations in which contestants have shed hundreds of pounds and changed their bodies and their lives.

Personal trainer Chris Powell, the man who has whipped the contestants into shape and motivated them to reclaim their lives, shares his tips and strategies for your fitness journey.

1. Make Fitness a Labor of Love

The key to making fitness a lifestyle is to find something you LOVE. Explore all modalities of fitness from weightlifting to cycling, basketball to badminton. Think about it like dating. There is some form of fitness out there that will be a match made in heaven for you.

2. To Avoid the Plateau, Follow the "Rule of 6"

Did you know that your body adapts to everything, even working out? It actually takes about six exposures to a specific workout for your body to experience all of its benefits. To experience increased fitness and weight loss benefits you need to change things up after every six workouts.

3. Use the FITT Principle

If you plateau, change ONE of the following variables to get your body losing again:

F - FREQUENCY - Increase the frequency (instead of swimming for 3 days per week, increase to 4 days per week).

I - INTENSITY - Increase the intensity (instead of jogging at 4.5 on the treadmill, jog at 5.0).

T - TIME - Increase the time (instead of playing soccer for 45 minutes, play for 60 minutes).

T - TYPE - Change to a different type of activity (instead of rowing, try jumping rope or boxing).

4. Be Prepared

Invest in a cooler and plastic containers for food. When we leave the house some of our only food options come from convenience stores, fast food restaurants, and vending machines. Prepare your food at home and bring it with you. It will save you a ton of money, and we must have the right food at the right time to get the results we want.

5. Intervals, Intervals, Intervals

To maximize your calorie burn, use intervals. Basically, alternate between low and high intensity movements during your training sessions. This keeps the heart rate elevated, burns through stored carbohydrate in the muscles and increases the post exercise metabolic afterburn (so you'll be burning calories for hours after exercise).

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Single Moms Face Poorer Health at Midlife

David Woolley/Thinkstock(COLUMBUS, Ohio) -- About 40 percent of births in the U.S. now occur to unmarried women, compared to less than 10 percent in 1960.  Also, women who had their first child outside of marriage reported having poorer health at age 40 than did other moms. 

So what does that mean?  According to a new study, it means that there could soon be a “boom” in the U.S. of single moms suffering middle-aged health problems.
The authors analyzed data from over 4,000 women who were followed for a 29-year period starting in 1979.  They found that women who had their first child out of wedlock reported their health at age 40 to be worse than women who became moms while married. 

Although the study couldn’t determine why the health for those single moms was reportedly worse, the authors speculate that it may be related to the high levels of stress and the poor economic conditions that single moms face.  Interestingly, poorer health was not improved by subsequent marriage, unless that marriage was to the baby’s father, thus placing in doubt the benefits of government efforts to promote marriage for the health of women. 

According to one of the study authors, “Studies have shown the average benefits of marriage to women in the general population…but this study shows that these benefits don’t apply equally to single mothers, at least when it comes to health.”
One concern is that the health measured in the study was assessed through self-reports on surveys, so what the authors measure here may not be actual health, but rather the perception of health -- a very different social issue.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


One in Four Tracks Health Data Online, Survey Finds

Comstock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, of the 74 percent of us who use the Internet, 80 percent have looked online for health information about any of 15 health topics such as a specific disease or treatment.  That translates to 59 percent of all adults.

"People often go on line first to prepare for doctor appointments and then go online after to recover from a doctors appointment," says Susannah Fox, associate director at the Pew Internet Project.

Fox also describes the kind of information for which people are searching. People with chronic illnesses or those caring for an older adult are "most likely looking a user-generated content like hospital comparison tools or online drug reviews," Fox says.

But, Fox adds, "Looking for symptoms in treatments continues to be the most popular activity."

The Internet Project also found that increasing numbers are using mobile devices and social networking sites as well to search for health information. One in four tracks their own health data, such as weight and exercise routines, Fox says.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Test to Help Speed-Up Distinguishing Between MRSA and MSSA

Siri Stafford/Photodisc/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Health experts will now be able to save time when trying to determine whether Staphylococcus aureus infections in patients are methicillin resistant (MRSA) or methicillin susceptible (MSSA), as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced on Friday that it has cleared a test that will allow a speed-up in the process.

There are various types of Staphylococci bacteria, some of which are easily treated with antibiotics and some that are resistant to this treatment, such as MRSA.

The FDA has cleared the KeyPath MRSA/MSSA Blood Culture Test for use by doctors, with officials saying that the test makes it possible to determine whether bacteria in a patient’s positive blood culture sample are MRSA or MSSA within about five hours.

“This not only saves time in diagnosing potentially life-threatening infections but also allows health care professionals to optimize treatment and start appropriate contact precautions to prevent the spread of the organism,” said Alberto Gutierrez, Ph.D., director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics Device Evaluation and Safety in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


What's Your Health IQ? Experts Seek Better Communication with Patients

Keith Brofsky/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- For more than a decade, Helen Osborne drafted health education material, but when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006 and her doctor gave her a printout that was supposed to help her understand her condition, she said she couldn't make heads or tails of it.

"I had no idea what I just read," said Osborne, who worked with a variety of medical centers and organizations, including the National Institutes of Health.

Osborne, 62, of Natick, Mass., reached out to her colleague at the National Cancer Institute to vent her frustration. She told her friend that she didn't understand why the printout recommended that she see numerous specialists, including a medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist.

"Who exactly are these folks anyway?" she recalled asking her colleague.

"Well, Helen," she recalled her colleague say, "you wrote a whole booklet about this topic already."

Although Helen is highly educated and considered extremely literate, she is one of many Americans who, regardless of their education level, at times struggle to understand health information.

Nearly half of American adults, including doctors themselves, have poor health literacy, according to a report by the Institute of Medicine. Many struggle to understand instructions on prescription drug bottles, doctors' notes, health insurance forms, and educational brochures.

And many studies suggest that understanding health information could mean the difference between life and death.

As ABC News Radio reported Tuesday, surveyed heart failure patients who had low health literacy were more likely to die outside of a hospital setting than those who were considered health literate, according to a study published in the Journal of American Medical Association.

But literacy and health literacy are not synonymous terms, said Osborne, who founded Health Literacy Consulting, LLC.

"If you're struggling to read, of course you'll have trouble with health information," she said

But health information is often hard to decipher on your own.

"The fact that I love Shakespeare does not mean I'll have good health," said Rima Rudd, senior lecturer on society, human development, and health at the Harvard School of Public Health. "The mistake in research has been to focus on skill level of patients rather than on the information presented to them."

The responsibility lies in large part with some health experts who don't effectively communicate health information with the patient, according to Rudd.

But it's also due in part to some patients who don't ask for clarification when they need it, Osborne said.

The hard-to-decipher medical information is also found on many pill bottles and medication boxes likely to be found in any medicine cabinet.

Words like "risk," "probability," "range," and "normal" are hardly ever defined -- even a simple line that asks you to take medication with "plenty" of water but doesn't specify what that means, or a line directing you to take a certain medication "four times daily" but doesn't specify when or how far to space out the dose can be a problem.

But many researchers, including Rudd, are implementing methods to help health experts better communicate with patients. One method, says Rudd, is to change the way experts ask questions. Simple questions like "Do you have any questions?" can turn to "How can I help answer your questions?"

"It's known as the teachback method -- actively creating an environment for questions and understanding," Rudd said.

Also, Rudd says health communicators should pilot test text material to see whether it's easily understandable among a test group.

"I think it's a criminal offense for anyone to write health information on managing your diabetes for example, not pilot test it and simply press the print button for all to have."

While researchers work to reform how health providers communicate, patients can take proactive steps to better understand medical information, Osborne said. It's a simple list of advice that she says she wish she'd known throughout her breast cancer diagnosis.

"Make sure you really understand what you're really supposed to do," she said. "Make sure you ask questions. Bring someone with you. Create a notebook."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Rado 


Is Your County Healthy? Report Gives US Counties Annual Checkup

Burke/Triolo Productions/Thinkstock(MADISON, Wis.) -- You may have an idea on how healthy your town or city is, but what about your county?

An annual set of reports is now available ranking the health of almost every U.S. county, and the results show many different factors play a role in shaping people's health.

"Although health care is really important, much of what influences health happens outside the doctor's office, including education, income, access to healthy foods, places to exercise and smoke-free air," said Bridget Booske, senior scientist at the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute in Madison.

Booske is also deputy director of County Health Rankings, a project done in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.  One purpose of the reports is to help counties understand what influences people's health as well as to determine how long they will live.

ABC News looked at the five most populous states and which counties ranked highest (healthiest) and lowest (unhealthiest):

-- Highest: Marin
-- Lowest: Trinity

-- Highest: Williamson
-- Lowest: Marion

New York:
-- Highest: Putnam
-- Lowest: Bronx

-- Highest: Collier
-- Lowest: Union

-- Highest: Kendall
-- Lowest: Alexander

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio