Why Is Childhood Obesity Down Among Poor Kids?

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The obesity rate among young, poor children -- which for years has remained stubbornly high -- shows consistent declines for the first time since it's been recorded.

Impoverished preschoolers' obesity rates dropped in 19 states and territories between 2008 and 2011, according to data released this week by federal health officials.  Just three states showed increases.  The last time the data was analyzed, in 2009, obesity had risen in 24 states and territories, and declined in just nine.

Obesity in children is no minor issue.  Kids who are significantly overweight between the ages of 3 and 5 are far more likely to be overweight as adults, which puts them at higher risk for killers like heart disease and diabetes.

The researchers aren't quite sure what has caused the drop-off, but they're exploring several explanations:

1. More women are breastfeeding.  Health officials have long touted the benefits of breastfeeding.  Studies indicate that babies who nurse are less likely to be overweight children.  And the percentage of women breastfeeding their infants increased from 71 percent in 2000 to 77 percent in 2010.  Women are also breastfeeding their babies longer, with about half of all babies still breastfeeding at six months and slightly more than a quarter nursing at a year.

2. Fewer sugary drinks.  The number of calories kids take in from sugary drinks has dropped since 1999.  So have overall calories, but only by a little bit.  One reason is that parents say they are more educated about what to feed their kids and are encouraging children to drink water and milk.

3. Nutrition programs have changed.  Changes in federal nutrition programs may have contributed partially to increased education levels among parents, especially low-income parents.  The guidelines have been updated to encourage parents to breastfeed and serve things like water and low-fat milk instead of juice.  School lunches have also improved in recent years, with more emphasis on fruits, veggies and whole grains, and cutbacks on sodium levels and calories.  That's especially beneficial for kids in free and reduced lunch programs who eat school meals on a regular basis.

4. Michelle Obama's Let's Move! campaign.  The first lady has pushed kids to eat healthy and exercise more, and thousands of child care centers have adopted the message.  She's held nationwide healthy cooking contests for kids and agencies like the Department of Education have incorporated her message into their programs.  And the date of her tenure in the White House corresponds roughly with the scope of the federal study.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Activist's Story Highlights Importance of End-of-Life Conversations

Courtesy Alexandra Drane/Engage with Grace(NEW YORK) -- When Alexandra Drane was just 32, her beloved sister-in-law, Rosaria "Za" Vandenberg, a vivacious 32-year-old wife and mother of a 2-year-old girl, was diagnosed with Stage 4 brain cancer.

The family had never spoken with her about her end-of-life wishes.

"We had no idea what she wanted because we never had the conversation with her about what her preferences would be, and we didn't because we never thought we would need to," said Drane.

While 70 percent of people say they would like to die at home, only 30 percent do, according to The Conversation Project. So crusaders such as Drane, an advocate for having a conversation about what our loved ones would want at the end of their lives and co-founder of the group Engage with Grace, are coming forward to share their own stories. They hope to make clear why it is so important for people to discuss their end-of-life options in advance with the people they love.

Just seven months after she was diagnosed, Za was clinging to life in a hospital bed, not having touched or held her daughter in two months, not opening her eyes in weeks. Drane and Za's other family members wanted to take her home, but the oncologists resisted.

"The head oncologist said, 'No, her case is too complicated,'" Drane said. "I said, 'OK,' and I will forever be grateful to my man, her brother, who stood at that moment and said, 'No, we are taking her home.' And so we did."

When Za was surrounded by the familiar comforts of her own home, her daughter Alessia -- who had been afraid to come near her mother in the midst of the hospital tubes -- climbed up in bed next to her.

"I will never forget, she tucked her head right there under the crook of her mommy's neck, that special spot, and she gave her mom her medicine -- something she hadn't done in well over two months," Drane said. "And Za, my sister-in-law who had not opened her eyes in at least a week, woke up fully and looked her daughter straight in the eyes and loved her in that ferociously intense way that only a mommy can."

The next day, Za died.

"The most incredible thing for me as more time has passed and I can look back on it and really think without dissolving is I'm so grateful that we got Za home ... because we know now when we look back that her last moments were peaceful, they were beautiful. They were with her daughter. That Alessia will know for the rest of her life that she was the last thing her mom saw. And we almost weren't able to give her that gift and that tortures me."

Drane co-founded Engage with Grace to help other families have conversations about end-of-life care before their loved ones get sick -- so they can avoid gut wrenching decisions that she and her family had to face when Za fell ill.

"This is a conversation that you can have with friends at a dinner table, you can have on a walk with a family member, you can go on a date with expressly this purpose," said Drane. "There is no greater gift you can give the people that you love than caring for them in the way that they would want at the end of their lives."

According to Drane, the moment to have the conversation is now.

"You only die once, die the way you want," Drane said. "You are never too young to have the conversation, and now is a good a moment as any other."


Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Detection Kit Warns Users of High Caffeine Levels

Gerald Zanetti/FoodPix(NEW YORK) -- What if each time you got your coffee, a little light went off telling you just how much caffeine was in each cup?

A new kit might be able to do just that. Caffeine Orange, developed by Young-Tae Chang from the National University of Singapore and Yoon-Kyoung Cho from the Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea, takes a sample of your beverage and detects how much caffeine is in your coffee.

Users place a sample of their drink onto the kit. "You just take a green laser pointer and shine it on the kit," Chang told ABC News. An indicator molecule in the kit binds to the caffeine molecules and becomes fluorescent. "If there's a certain amount of caffeine, then the laser will shine orange in the drink." Drinks with no caffeine do not affect the green laser, while drinks with a moderate amount will shine yellow and those with a high amount will shine red-orange.

From start to finish, the detection only takes about a minute. "You can test it and then decide whether or not to drink it before it gets cold," said Chang. In addition to being quick, he says that the kit should only cost a couple of dollars to make, though it is currently still only a prototype.

Dr. Christopher Holstege, the director of medical toxicology at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, thinks that the science behind the kit is neat, but doesn't see it succeeding commercially. "Beverages already say how many milligrams of caffeine are in them," he said. "It's an interesting concept, but I'm not sure where it would have use to the public."

However, the technology could be useful if modified. Robert Kennedy, an analytical chemist at the University of Michigan, says that the kit's simple design and easy-to-read display means that it could be tinkered with to detect other contaminants, like arsenic.

"This sort of thing could be pitched towards developing countries as a diagnostic tool," he said. "As long as you're not color blind."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta Reverses Stance on Weed

Imeh Akpanudosen/Getty Images(ATLANTA) -- "I apologize." That's what CNN's chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta said about marijuana on Thursday.

For years, he spoke out against the drug, which the U.S. government classifies as one of the most dangerous illicit substances that have "no accepted medicinal use and a high potential for abuse."

Now, after investigating the plant for his upcoming documentary Weed, he's come to the conclusion that he may have been wrong.

"We have been terribly and systematically misled for nearly 70 years in the United States," he wrote.

Gupta decided to take a scientific approach to evaluating the drug, going back to the original research that led to it being classified as a "schedule 1" substance, on par with heroin.

Pot was originally classified as a dangerous drug in 1970, after the recommendation of Roger O. Egeberg, a doctor who was the assistant secretary of health at the time.

"Since there is still a considerable void in our knowledge of the plant and effects of the active drug contained in it, our recommendation is that marijuana be retained within schedule 1 at least until the completion of certain studies now underway to resolve the issue," Egeberg wrote.

In an article about his own investigation, Gupta cites research from before marijuana prohibition, from 1840 to 1930, an era when scientists looked at the medicinal value of the drug.

Nearly all studies on illegal drugs today look at the harm they might cause, not the potential medicinal purposes. According to Gupta, about 6 percent of marijuana studies look at the benefits of the drug. The rest focus on the potential negatives.

He makes a case for medicinal marijuana, pointing out that someone dies from an overdose of a prescription drug every 19 minutes. Meanwhile, he couldn't find evidence of a single marijuana overdose.

His look at pot could carry a good deal of weight. Many doctors have touted the benefits of medicinal marijuana for years, as well as its relative harm when compared to legal drugs like alcohol and tobacco.

More than half of Americans already support marijuana’s full legalization.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Girl Celebrates 11th Birthday After Double-Lung Transplant

Murnaghan Family(PHILADELPHIA) -- Sarah Murnaghan celebrated her 11th birthday Wednesday in a Children's Hospital of Philadelphia playroom, where she saw her siblings and cousins for the first time since she underwent two double-lung transplants in June.

"Sarah had a fabulous 11th birthday with her family," her mother, Janet Murnaghan, wrote on her Facebook page Wednesday evening after the party. "She is exhausted and off to sleep already, but I was so pleased she was really able to last a good long while energy wise."

Sarah, who was dying of cystic fibrosis in June, was able to undergo the transplants because her parents successfully fought a rule that prevented her from qualifying for adult lungs, but the road to recovery has been rocky.

Sarah has, however, moved out of the intensive care unit and is working on physical therapy.

Sarah and her adopted sister, Ella, told their mother they wanted to share a bedroom when Sarah gets home, Murnaghan wrote on her Facebook page. She also posted dozens of photos of Sarah wearing various party hats, blowing into a noise-maker (with new lungs!) and cuddling her siblings.

Janet Murnaghan started a Change.org petition around Memorial Day, calling attention to what would become known as the Under 12 Rule, which said that even though Sarah would be given priority when pediatric lungs became available, adult lungs would have to be offered to adult matches in her region before they could be offered to her.

On June 5, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order to prevent U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius from enforcing the rule for Sarah. By June 10, the Organ Transplantation and Procurement Network re-evaluated the Under 12 Rule and decided to keep it but created a mechanism for exceptions, depending on the case.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Why Drug Tests Can't Catch Doping Athletes

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- What does embattled Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez have in common with Barry Bonds and Lance Armstrong?

All three star athletes have used steroids at one time or another (although Bonds has said he didn't know what he was taking), but none of them were exposed by testing positive on routine drug tests.

Proponents of drug testing maintain that testing has identified enough cheaters to justify the practice, not to mention its value as a deterrent because athletes fear being tested for drugs at any time. Skeptics are less convinced, however, noting that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency can't test for the so-called designer drugs that it doesn't know about.

"Drug testing is still impotent, has been impotent since it started," said Charles Yesalis, a professor of health policy administration, exercise and sports science at Pennsylvania State University. "Frankly, many of these drugs work way too well and there's way too much money involved to ever see a light at the end of the tunnel."

While pleased with the progress of its mission to stamp out performance-enhancing drugs in sport, even the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency agreed that testing doesn't always work.

"The BALCO [Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative] case, our investigation into cycling, and the recent MLB cases all serve as examples that athletes with money and abundant resources can find ways to avoid detection," agency spokeswoman Annie Skinner said.

Professor Yesalis said he was happy with the way the Major League Baseball seemed to be taking the latest doping scandal seriously by suspending Rodriguez and disciplining 12 other players associated with Biogenesis of America, the Florida anti-aging clinic accused of supplying the players with banned drugs.

But he noted that it was a "one-time deal" because someone -- former Biogenesis employee Porter Fischer -- "ratted out" Biogenesis, leading to the MLB doping revelations. Similarly, the BALCO scandal in 2003 started when Trevor Graham, who coached track and field athletes for the Olympics, anonymously turned in a dirty syringe to the USADA, revealing that athletes were getting a then-unknown drug from the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative.

"It's still going on," Yesalis said. "The only way baseball or any other sports federation will be able to get power is to do almost police sting operations because drug testing has been a flop."

Before Rodriguez, who in 2009 admitted to steroid use between 2001 and 2003 but is currently denying later use, there was San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds, whose involvement in the BALCO scandal resulted in a felony conviction for obstruction of justice and -- at least temporarily -- cost him membership in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

BALCO reportedly supplied athletes with "the clear," an anabolic steroid, and other drugs. Barry Bonds' name was in the lab's documents, and he became associated with the scandal in 2003, but he and other athletes said they thought they were only taking nutritional substances.

Bonds played with the San Francisco Giants through 2007, but was found guilty on obstruction of justice charges related to the case in 2011.

Lance Armstrong admitted earlier this year to Oprah Winfrey that he used performance-enhancing drugs during all seven of his Tour de France wins. But he, too, was exposed by a former teammate's wife, Betsy Andreu, who is thought to have put the whole USADA investigation in motion.

"Unfortunately, we always tend to be behind people who are creating these things and using them," said Dr. Alex Diamond, a sports medicine doctor at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. "There's so much money involved in it, they're always able to get a step ahead and we're always trying to play catch up."

The elite athletes often have a cushion of people around them who know about the doping, but keep the secret because they're profiting, he said. A disgruntled employee of the company reportedly exposed Biogensis, leading investigators to Rodriguez.

"That's a lot of the time what happens. One of these buffer people becomes disgruntled and they have the goods," Diamond said.

He said even non-star athletes aren't deterred by testing.

Testing is conducted to "maintain a fair sport and a healthy sport, but it's never been proven to be a great deterrent to people using," he said. "For them, the benefits [ of using performance-enhancing drugs] still outweigh the risk."

But other experts say that testing isn't a deterrent because USADA can't test for the so-called "designer drugs" it doesn't know about.

Even though star sprinters Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell and Sherone Simpson tested positive for a stimulant July 14, Yesalis said testing still doesn't work because doping athletes usually are taking "designer-drugs" for which the USADA doesn't test. Powell and Simpson reportedly said they did not intentionally take a banned substance. Gay said, "I basically put my trust in someone and I was let down.''

"Unless you can hire literally a legion of police officers or undercover agents to watch everyone in the sport to make sure they don't get these drugs," Yesalis said, sporting associations seem powerless to stop the cheating. "Given the financial wherewithal, especially with star baseball players, I don't know how they can do that."

In the first quarter of 2013, the USADA conducted 542 tests at competitions, and another 1,377 outside of competitions, according to its latest testing data. Over that same time frame, it has recorded 4 doping violations.

Skinner said clean athletes deserve a fair game, so her United States Anti-Doping Agency relies on more than testing to do its job.

"It must also include investigative efforts, education, and a continuing investment in scientific advancements," she said. "Clean athletes expect and deserve a robust and effective program that employs all of these strategies so that their rights and the integrity of the game are protected."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


New Fertility App Pays You If You Don't Get Pregnant

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Two male tech entrepreneurs want to help women get pregnant.  And not in the way you think.

PayPal co-founder Max Levchin and former Google executive Mike Huang launched Glow on Thursday, an iPhone fertility app that's different from the other popular options in the App Store.  Instead of just tracking menstrual cycles, the app uses big data to give women more information about their reproductive health and provides information about the best times to conceive.

But if that doesn't help, the app also offers a premium service called Glow First, which will actually help pay for fertility treatments.  Levchin, whose net worth is valued at $1 billion, is kicking off that program with a $1 million donation to the fund.

Within the free app, women can track their ovulation data and menstruation cycle.  That data is then fed to Glow's data scientists and physicians, who crunch it to better inform women on their optimal fertility window.

"With the app, we track a lot of data and we will do our best to mine the data and give personalized information," co-founder and CEO of Glow Mike Huang told ABC News.  "As you enter more and more data it changes the data.  For instance, it will say you have a 37 percent chance of getting pregnant today."

Huang, whose wife struggled with reproductive issues four years ago, explained that all the information collected by the company is anonymized, but that the more data that is shared, the more helpful and precise Glow will become.  Yet for all that data that is collected it still personalizes.

"Women's cycles vary quite a bit, we take a look at your data and make a calculation a lot more precise," Huang said.

But the app isn't just for women.  Glow has created a partner version too so the woman looking to give birth doesn't have to go through the process all on her own.  Huang also stresses that the app has been designed specifically to give users a warm and personalized experience.

Glow goes beyond the other fertility apps in another key way: it offers monetary assistance to those who ultimately do need fertility treatments.

Through Glow First, users can opt to pay $50 a month for 10 months -- the average time it takes most women to conceive.  Then at the end of that period if a Glow First member does not have luck conceiving with the help of the app, they will get money from the contribution pool of cash, which will go directly towards costly infertility treatments or procedures.

Glow says it is hard to say how much money will be divided at first since it depends on how many join the program and how many are successfully able to get pregnant, but Levchin's $1 million donation will give the program a nice cushion.  Still, the goal of the not-for-profit program is to severely reduce the cost of expensive treatments.  Glow will give the money straight to a fertility clinic of the women's choice.

The purpose of this part of the program is to address the issue that many healthcare and insurance organizations consider fertility treatments to be elective.  Despite the fact that 12 percent of women in the U.S. that are of childbearing age have received infertility assistance, many insurance companies won't cover in-vitro and other procedures.

"Statistically there will be women who need help and treatments, and they will have to pay out of pocket," Huang said.  "We are not an insurance company.  Instead, we tried to think of a creative way to help these women."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Flip Flops 101: Potential Danger of Summer Footwear

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- By now, most women have heard that wearing stiletto heels are not great for our feet, legs or back.  But if you think it’s safer to go with flats -- perhaps a natural-feeling flip-flop -- think again.

Podiatrists’ offices are seeing women with foot pain caused by a summer season spent in slides, also known as flip-flops.

Research from Auburn University has shown that wearing flip-flops for excessive amounts of time can cause temporary or even long-term damage to the musculoskeletal system.

For one thing, flip-flops lack proper arch support, causing your full body weight to exert pressure on the plantar surface of the foot.  With time, this may cause widening of the foot and arch collapse.

When the toes crunch up in an effort to grip the front sole of the shoe, this can disrupt the dynamics of the stride, resulting in a shortened stride, with consequences going up the body from the knees, to the hips, to the lower back.

So what does this mean for your summer foot wardrobe?  You can still wear this summer fashion staple -- but there are a few recommendations.

Firstly, limit time spent in flip-flops by wearing a variety of different types of shoes. Secondly, try to avoid walking long distances in flip-flops. And lastly, choose a flip-flop with good arch support and good cushioning for your sole.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Are C-Sections Tied to Allergy Risk?

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Deep in the bowels of our, well, bowels, lurk trillions of microscopic bacteria.  But don't be fooled by the big bad "B" word, intractably tied to infections and disease, as these bitty bugs can do us a world of good.

"There's a certain 'ick' factor associated with gut bacteria," said Lita Proctor, director of the Human Microbiome Project, a National Institutes of Health initiative to describe the bugs that colonize our every crevice -- outside and in.  "People tend to think of them as germs and disease-causing pathogens, but they're actually part of our bodies."

A pretty major part, actually.  Healthy adults carry up to 5 pounds of bacteria in their digestive tracts alone -- roughly the weight of a brain.

"They belong there," said Proctor, adding that without gut bacteria, our brains and the rest of our bodies would suffer.  "We need them to maintain our health."

But some people miss out on the full potential of the microbiome, according to a new study that found that C-sections can deprive babies of the healthy dose of gut bacteria that comes from the birth canal.  Without the bugs, the babies' immune systems appear underdeveloped -- a trait that could lead to allergies later in life.

"Microbial colonization of the infant gut gastrointestinal tract is important for the postnatal development of the immune system," the study authors wrote in their report, published Wednesday in the journal Gut.

One in three U.S. babies is born by C-section, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and allergies are on the rise.  So what are we to do?  And will there come a time when disease treatments target our bacterial buddies instead of our own ailing cells?  Proctor says yes.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


High-Intensity Workouts Carry Risks, Rewards

collegespun.com(NEW YORK) -- Web entrepreneur Matt Lombardi said he just wanted to get into shape -- but it took only one session of the popular P90X workout series to send the 29-year-old to the hospital with rhabdomyolysis, a relatively rare condition he said his doctors told him occurs when muscle tissue breaks down to such an extent that toxins released into the blood stream can damage the kidneys.

"I was so sore I couldn't lift my arms and then I noticed my pee was the color of cola," Lombardi recalled.  "After Googling P90X and my symptoms, I immediately made an appointment with a kidney specialist."

Fortunately, after a five-day hospital stay, the problem subsided and doctors told Lombardi there probably wouldn't be any lingering effects.  However, Lombardi's experience may underscore the hazards of high-intensity interval training, or HIITS, an exercise and weight-loss trend that involves alternating bouts of extremely vigorous exercise with brief rest periods.

HIITs programs have exploded in popularity in the past few years.  The P90X DVD series has sold more than 4.2 million copies, according to Beach Body, the company that distributes the program.  Insanity, also by Beach Body, has sold more than two million copies.  Cross Fit, another popular HIITs workout system, has, according to its website, more than 5,000 affiliate gyms in North America with thousands more on other continents.

Research suggests that HIITs may be a superior way to slim down and muscle up compared to the slow and steady "fat burning" workout style that has prevailed since the 1980s.  For example, a recent study out of Australia found women who followed a 20-minute HIITs program lost six times more body fat than women who followed a 40-minute moderate-intensity cardio program.

In another recent study, Michelle Olsen, a professor at Auburn University in Alabama, determined that a HIITs-style method known as Tabata blasted an average of 13.5 calories per minute compared to a mere 6 to 8 calories per minute burned in the typical cardio program.

This is only part of the reason high-intensity workouts are so effective for weight loss, she said.

"High-intensity exercise also has the advantage of elevating your metabolic rate post-exercise for a period of time after you stop working out so you continue to burn fat and calories at a higher rate for a long time afterwards," Olsen said.  "Overall, it would take five times the amount of typical cardio exercise to shed the same number of calories you can in a four-minute Tabata."

Olsen said that high-intensity training also does a better job strengthening the heart, increasing aerobic capacity and improving blood levels of fat, cholesterol and glucose.

However, Steve Edwards, the vice president of Beach Body, said that despite marketing that depicts models who go from fat to fit by doing the company's workouts, programs like P90X were never intended for beginning exercisers.

"These were always meant to be 'graduate programs' from some of our other workouts," he said.  "Our target audience may have been deconditioned when they started with us, but for P90X, we see them as someone who has been dedicated to another program for awhile and aspires to go further."

"This kind of workout was never intended for someone who is grossly overweight and who has been rooted to the couch for years," he added.

Edwards pointed out that Beach Body programs contain explicit statements warning exercisers to check with their doctors and not overdo it.  They are encouraged to take the fitness test that comes with their program that can help them evaluate whether or not they are ready.  If they're not, they can ask for a refund, he said.

He added that Beach Body instructors demonstrate several different versions of the exercises within the workouts to accommodate the less fit and those struggling with problems like bum knees and sore backs.

Experts said problems can arise when exercisers try to do too much, too soon.

Dr. Stephen Fealy, an orthopedic surgeon with the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, said he started seeing a spike in HIITs-related injuries two years ago.  Now, at least one patient a week who has overdone it limps into his office.

Rather than traumatic injuries like broken bones and stress fractures, he said, high-intensity exercisers tend to rack up muscle sprains and tendon strains, particularly of the calf, chest and shoulder -- the result of overusing explosive movements and heavy weights.

"I think these programs are quite good, but if someone goes from couch to full throttle without any preparation, there's a good chance they're going to get hurt," Fealy said.

As for reports of cases like Lombardi's rhabdomyolysis or other serious medical consequences, Cedric Bryant, the chief science officer for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego, noted that they have been few and far between.

"Most people naturally back off before they get to that point because they don't have the capacity to push themselves that far," he said.  "Because most people starting out are less than fit, they may perceive they are really going for it but, physiologically, they have to stop long before they can get into this kind of trouble."

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