Health in a Heartbeat Health in a Heartbeat is a daily radio series that features two-minute segments providing consumer-health information and the latest news on medical research, patient-care breakthroughs and health-care industry trends. A production of our staff and WUFT-FM in Gainesville, Health in a Heartbeat airs on public radio stations in more than 55 markets nationwide.

Health in a Heartbeat

From WUFT 89.1

Health in a Heartbeat is a daily radio series that features two-minute segments providing consumer-health information and the latest news on medical research, patient-care breakthroughs and health-care industry trends. A production of our staff and WUFT-FM in Gainesville, Health in a Heartbeat airs on public radio stations in more than 55 markets nationwide.More from Health in a Heartbeat »

Most Recent Episodes

Gender gaps in reading, writing skills not fully explained by learning disabilities

Boys fall behind girls in reading and writing achievement starting in fourth grade, according to a study that suggests the difference may relate to rates of learning disorders and similar challenges, by gender. The study, by researchers in Australia, drew on national educational assessment data measuring reading and writing competency for three decades. The results, published in the journal American Psychologist, found that for both skills, girls performed higher as the children aged. By the end of high school, for example, a female student had a 58 percent chance of scoring average or better in reading ability. For a male student, the chance was significantly lower: just 42 percent. In younger kids and lower achievement levels, girls outdid boys in reading, and the writing variance was even greater. The authors said the reading accomplishment gap was greater than those for math and science ability, according to the same dataset. Boys are more likely to have reading or learning disabilities, as well as attention disorders, but the authors said this may play a role in the gender gaps they found. The disparity highlights, especially, a need to focus more on writing in the classroom, which would benefit low-performing students of both genders. Further research on differences in areas such as learning styles and rates of intellectual development may hint at causes of the gender gaps in reading and writing. Meanwhile, teachers, pediatricians and parents should pay attention especially to boys' achievement in these academic areas. They are, after all, the foundation to a well-rounded education.

Gender gaps in reading, writing skills not fully explained by learning disabilities

Is fast food taking over the country?

How often do you eat fast food? A new study published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that between 2013 and 2015, over one-third of adults in the U.S. ate fast food on any given day. That means each day, around 80 million adults will eat something from a fast-food restaurant. This is raising health concerns because high-caloric fast food has been linked to rising rates of obesity in the United States. While pricing, availability and time have been cited as factors in the popularity of fast food, the CDC research found that as family incomes have risen, the amount of fast food eaten by adults has actually grown. Fast-food addiction seems to be a bigger problem for younger generations, pointing to a potential health crisis in the future. Nearly 45 percent of adults in America between the ages of 20 and 39 will eat fast food on any given day, compared with just 24 percent of adults over the age of 60. Men and women eat fast food at about the same rate, the study found. Men reported typically eating fast food for lunch, while women said they were more likely to eat fast food as a snack or on impulse. When broken down by race and ethnicity, non-Latino black adults were the most likely to eat fast food, followed by non-Latino whites and then Latino adults. However, despite some ethnic groups having significantly lower rates of fast food consumption, every demographic polled had at least 30 percent of adults eating fast food on any given day. Unless fast food becomes healthier or healthier alternatives become more popular, a fast food health crisis might be just around the corner ... or on every corner.

More teens using marijuana in e-cigarettes

It's a pretty clear choice for parents to ban their teens from smoking cigarettes. But some parents may be less decided on the use of e-cigarettes. These electronic alternatives to the real thing provide a smoke-free way to inhale nicotine and other chemicals, and offer the "cool kid" look some teens crave. While it's illegal for minors to buy e-cigarettes, the Food and Drug Administration says plenty of teens around the country are using them. The administration recently announced sweeping measures to compel e-cigarette manufacturers and retailers to address the problem of underage use. But the FDA has also noted another disturbing trend in e-cigs: teens who are inhaling marijuana products through the devices. The 2016 National Youth Tobacco Survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, showed one in 11 of the middle and high school students surveyed reported using marijuana in an e-cigarette device. Here's the really tricky part for parents: Vaping produces very little odor and no smoke. So, kids can hide vaping easier than if they were smoking. Parents who know kids are vaping may not realize the device contains a marijuana product. Oils derived from marijuana may look similar to those used for regular vaping. As always, it's crucial for concerned parents to be aware of what their teens are doing. Discussing e-cigarette use and vaping of marijuana, even absent any suspicions, is key. Encourage kids to ask questions and come to you if their friends start these activities. Showing teens you are aware and that you care is a huge step toward having a constructive talk about this issue.

Is Dry January a remedy after overindulging?

The holiday season can be a time of exuberant excesses. Many of us stay up too late, eat way too much good food and drink more alcohol than normal. But the calendar page eventually flips and we're faced with a new year to pay for the good times we had. Along with trying to get your credit card bill under control, you might want to consider giving your body a break from excessive alcohol consumption. The notion of a Dry January is gaining traction among those seeking to start the new year healthier by abstaining from drinking — yes, even wine — for an entire month. But does it do any lasting good? Experts say it helps to hit the reset button and get your health system back on track, but it may not be an effective long-term strategy. Excessive drinking, defined as five or more drinks on one occasion for men and four or more for women, can have negative health effects, including high blood pressure, weight gain, high cholesterol and liver problems. Over time, it can affect your sleep and memory and lead to dementia, depression and anxiety. Even so, millions of people are going to drink. But would putting down the bottle for a month do any good? Anything that helps your liver, a truly underappreciated organ, is good. Give your liver a rest and some love by eating more nutrient-dense plant-based foods, good fats and high-quality animal protein. You could feel more clear-headed and energetic, get better sleep and have better digestion. But going back to an excessive routine after abstaining all month isn't good either. Instead, take the time to rethink your alcohol consumption and become a moderate drinker, rather than going from one extreme to the other.

Eat chocolate, live longer

Let's get something out of the way right away: You should do all things in life in moderation, including drinking alcohol and eating your favorite chocolaty snacks. Now, onto the news. A recent study found that people who adhere to an anti-inflammatory diet live longer than those who forgo such foods. The study said these foods include fruits and vegetables, tea, coffee, whole grain bread, breakfast cereal, low-fat cheese, olive oil and nuts, in addition to chocolate and, yes, even some wine and beer — consumed in moderation. Foods that are pro-inflammatory include unprocessed and processed red meat, organ meats, chips and sugary soft drinks. The study, published in the Journal of Internal Medicine, followed more than 68,000 Swedes of both sexes between the ages of 45 and 83 for 16 years. All were quizzed about their normal diets. Over the course of the study, about 16,000 participants passed away. The anti-inflammatory diet lowered the risk of death from all causes by 18 percent compared with the pro-inflammatory group. Their risk of death by cardiovascular disease was 20 percent lower, and death from cancer was reduced by 13 percent. Smokers who adhered to an anti-inflammatory diet particularly benefited when compared with smokers who didn't. They were a third less likely to die during the study. Anti-inflammatory foods are rich in antioxidants, molecules mostly found in plants that can prevent cell damage. So as Hippocrates, the father of western medicine, said many moons ago, "Let food be thy medicine, thy medicine shall be thy food." And chocolate is good medicine any day of the week. Just don't tell your dentist.

Cosmetics may affect women's hormones

Sorry, men, but today's report is mostly for our women listeners: Cosmetics and personal care products could be altering your hormones in a way that affects your health, a study has found. The research is the first to examine the relationship between the chemicals found in those products and hormonal changes in reproductive-age women. Researchers from George Mason University tested 509 urine samples from 143 women for chemicals such as benzophenones [benz-o-PHEEN-ones], which provide ultraviolet radiation protection, and parabens [par-uh-bens], which are used as preservatives. The study is unique in that it used multiple measures of exposure to 13 commonly used chemicals. Fluctuating hormone levels matter because those changes have been linked to cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and other health problems. The analysis is significant because it more closely represents "real world" chemical exposure among women who typically use multiple products. Two classes of chemicals, phenols [fē-nōls] and parabens, were associated with ovarian and pituitary hormone levels. Even low-level exposure to various chemicals may affect levels of reproductive hormones, they found. The research also demonstrated how various combinations of the chemicals found can have vastly different effects — lowering hormone levels in some cases and raising them in others. The main message is that there needs to be more vigilance and awareness about the chemicals used in personal care products, the researchers noted. There are early indications that parabens can boost estrogens levels. That, in turn, could have implications for estrogen-related diseases such as breast cancer.

Cleaning products may contribute to obesity in children

If your child is overweight, take a closer look inside your kitchen cabinets. Common household cleaners may be making kids heavier by changing the environment in their gut. That what Canadian researchers found after analyzing the gut flora of more than 750 infants and tracking their weight over time. They found the strongest association between altered gut flora and frequent use of multisurface household cleaners. In homes where those disinfectants were used at least twice a week, infants were twice as likely to have higher levels of the gut microbe Lachnospiraceae (Lach‐no‐SPI‐ra-ce-a). At age 3, their body mass was higher than children not exposed to heavy disinfectant use as infants. Infants from homes where environmentally friendly cleaning products were used had a different gut microbe profile than those where traditional cleaners were used, including lower levels of a particular bacteria. Researchers believe that eco-friendly cleaning products may be associated with a mother's overall healthy lifestyle — something that might contribute to her child's healthy gut composition and weight. The findings shed new light on how cleaning products have the ability to change a child's gut microbes, thus affecting their risk of becoming overweight, the researchers noted. Because the relationship between gut microbes and obesity is complex, more studies are needed, Johns Hopkins University researchers said in a commentary that accompanied the Canadian scientists' published findings. Ultimately, the Canadian researchers said, further study could someday lead to probiotic supplements that help ward off obesity by optimally balancing infants' gut microbes.

O' Christmas tree, how sneezy do you make me

The scent of an evergreen has been known to inspire even the most Scrooge-like among us to deck the halls and rock around the Christmas tree. But for some folks, the reaction to a live Christmas tree is less "Ahh!" and more "Achoo!" While the most common types of live Christmas trees don't produce allergy-inducing pollen in the winter, allergists say almost any live tree can bring on a sneezing fit for folks allergic to mold. So it doesn't matter if it's a Fraser fir or Virginia pine. Any live tree can give allergic folks fits. About 15 percent of people are allergic to mold, and according to a 2007 study, mold levels seem to spike in rooms where live Christmas trees are on display. Trees decay after they are chopped down and are often stored in moist locales before being sold. But mold may not be the only reason an allergy sufferer reaches for a hankie. During the rest of the year, ornaments and garlands collect dust and other indoor allergens, as do artificial trees. And although the most popular Christmas tree varieties — Douglas Fir and Scotch pine — should be pollen-free for the holidays, some evergreens release pollen during the winter months. So what's an allergy-prone guy or gal to do? If you want a tree to be part of your decked halls, experts advise taking both types of trees, live and artificial, outside for a good shake, or even using a blower to remove allergens from the needles before decorating them. Also, make sure your ornaments and garland are dust-free. You can use a dust wipe or vacuum to ensure your decorations are devoid of dust and dander. The next step? Breathe in and say "Ahh!"

Measuring blood pressure at home helps get it under control

Many people just don't like visiting the doctor. It might set their heart thumping the moment they walk through the door. By the time they're led into an examination room, their blood pressure might be many points higher than it was back in the comfortable confines of home. Doctors call this phenomenon white-coat hypertension. That is one reason why a study presented at a meeting of the American Heart Association says blood pressure monitoring at home can improve hypertension control and ultimately save money for patients. It's all about getting the most-accurate blood-pressure reading, not a blip caused by momentary anxiety. After all, if you are terrified of spiders, you wouldn't take your blood pressure with a tarantula on your knee. Researchers note that it isn't just white-coat hypertension that can skew results at the doctor's office. For some patients, their blood pressure is actually higher at home than when they're examined by a physician, leading the doctor to think all is well, when, in fact, it isn't. Scientists found when patients monitor their own blood pressure at home, physicians were able to more accurately adjust medications to better control hypertension. About 2,500 people with persistent uncontrolled hypertension took part in the study, receiving free home blood pressure monitors, online and print materials for tracking their readings and monitoring reminders. The researchers found that by the patients' third office visit, two-thirds had their blood pressure under control. After six months, about 80 percent of participants had controlled blood pressure. And that reduced their ER visits and medication costs. Home is most definitely where the heart is.

Daily baths for young kids may not be necessary

Parents: Do you find bath time for your youngsters to be a nightly struggle? What if you only had to fight that uphill battle a few times a week? According to members of the American Academy of Dermatology, a daily bath for children who have not yet reached puberty is not necessary for them to stay healthy. In fact, the experts say a few lingering germs in between showers actually can help keep kids healthier by building stronger immune systems. The number of baths per week should depend on a child's age and activity level. But in general, dermatologists seem to agree on this schedule: If your child is between 6 and 11 years old, they only need to bathe two to three times a week and wash their hair one to two times per week. Those with dry or curly hair may only need to wash their hair once every seven to 10 days. If the child's hair is dry, they should use a conditioner by itself between shampoos. Of course, children should bathe and wash their hair whenever they get dirty. Messy activities requiring bathing could include typical kid stuff, such as playing in the dirt, swimming in a pool or lake or whenever they have sweated a lot. Common sense should dictate this. However, once children hit puberty, it's recommended that they begin a daily bathing schedule and wash their hair every other day. At this age, it is also best to wash their faces in the morning and at night to remove dirt buildup that could lead to acne. Experts say that by this point, bath time starts to be less of a challenge. As kids hit their preteens, they begin seeing the importance of a daily shower — and some even start looking forward to it.

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