Health News Updates 21 September 2012

  • Despite the risks, NFL leaves helmet choices in players’ hands: “In the National Football League, there are rules and restrictions on everything from how much white can show on a player’s socks to what sorts of sweat bands can be worn on the wrists.  Yet when it comes to the most critical piece of equipment — the helmet — the league provides little guidance and essentially leaves the decision up to each player.  Even as head injuries have become a major concern, the NFL has neither mandated nor officially recommended the helmet models that have tested as the top performers in protecting against collisions believed to be linked to concussions.  Some players choose a helmet based on how it looks on television, or they simply wear the brand they have been using their whole career, even it is technology is antiquated.  As a consequence, despite lawsuits related to head injuries and the sport’s ever-increasing speed and violence, some players are using helmets that appear to place them at greater risk.  ‘Frankly, the league has been far more aggressive about thigh and hip pads than they have about ensuring that every player has access and information regarding helmets,’ said DeMaurice Smith, executive director of the NFL Players Association.  The rules governing helmets are not complex.  The league stipulates only that any helmet certified by the National Operating committee on Standards for Athletic Equipment, or Nocsae, may be worn.  That broad standard allows players to use models that may be archaic or did not score well on specific impact tests.  Perhaps most  important, while Nocsae’s standards are based on preventing so-called catastrophic injuries like skull fractures, those standards do not necessarily align with testing designed to simulate the collisions associated with concussions.  This discrepancy, some observers said, could be likened to someone judging a modern car’s safety based on its seat belts, with no extra credit given for models that also have air bags.” (NY Times)
  • Can’t stop eating M&Ms? “Scientists served M&Ms to rats in an experiment that showed the brain can’t resist sweet and fatty foods.  The University of Michigan researchers said the urge to overeat tasty treats comes from an unexpected area of the brain called the neostriatum, which produces an opium-like chemical that enhances such desire and may be partly responsible for overeating among people.  ‘Previously, people thought this area of the brain was only involved in motor function and learning, but we found it’s involved in motivation and generating instant consumption,’ said lead researcher Alexandra DiFeliceantonio, a graduate student in biopsychology at the university.  This finding might have implications for people, she added, noting it may be possible in the future to target the area with a drug that could block the impulse to overeat and thus may help people lose weight.  Experts note, however, that results in animal studies often don’t translate to humans.  The new report was published Sept. 20 in the journal Current Biology.  For the study, DiFeliceantonio and her colleagues gave lab rats a drug to artificially boost the action of the neostriatum.  The animals were then given M&Ms, and proceeded to eat twice as many as they normally would, she said.  ‘That’s the same as a 150-pound human being eating seven pounds of M&Ms in an hour,’ DiFeliceantonio said.  In addition, the researchers noted that the amount of a chemical called enkephalin, produced in the neostriatum, increased when the animals ate the chocolate treats.  It is the increased production of this chemical that increases the desire to overeat sweets and fatty foods, DeFeliceantonio said.  When presented with a choice of usual food or M&Ms, the rats with high levels of the chemical consistently ignored their regular food and gorged on chocolates.  Preferring sweet and fatty foods is probably one of the things that helped humans to thrive, said Dr. David Katz, director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center in New Haven, Conn.  ‘We tend to like flavors, such as sweet, that in nature are associated with life-sustaining foods, and tend to dislike flavors, such as bitter, more often associated with toxins,’ he said.  The impulses that once helped keep our ancestors from starving, however, may now contribute to eating disorders and epidemic obesity, Katz added.  ‘But the fault here is not with the world within us, which is the same as it ever was,’ he said.  It is with what and how much people eat, which has made the brain’s natural functioning ‘backfire rather badly’. (HealthDay)
  • 20 states see drop in number of uninsured: “The percentage of people without health insurance fell in 20 states last year, with Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont seeing the biggest declines, according to an analysis of data released Thursday by the Census Bureau.  Two states had a statistically significant increase in the uninsured rate, Missouri and Montana….The latest data come a week after the Census Bureau reported that, nationally, the percentage of uninsured dropped in 2011, its first drop since 2007 and largest decline since 1999.  That closely watched report found that 48.6 million Americans were uninsured for all of 2011 compared with 49.9 million in 2010.  Health policy experts attributed the decline to more people enrolled in government programs such as Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for the poor, and the percentage of people with private coverage did not decline for the first time in a decade.  The biggest drop in the uninsured was among people ages 19 to 25, which is attributed to President Barak Obama’s health law provision that allows families to keep adult children on their health plans until age 26.  The Obama administration said about 3 million people have gained coverage from this provision….California, the state with the highest number of uninsured, saw its rate drop from 18.5% to 18.1%.    The other states that had a statistically significant drop in uninsured last year were Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Virginia and Wisconsin.” (Phil Galewitz, Kaiser Health News/MedPage Today)
  • Health Tips: Make your recipes healthier “Your favorite dishes may be laden with fat, salt and sugar, but that doesn’t mean than you have to ban them from your rotation.  Just make healthier substitutions.  The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics offers these suggestions:
    • Season with herbs and seasonings, instead of salt, butter or oil.
    • Sauté dishes using a bit of wine, mild-flavored juice or low-sodium broth, instead of oil or butter.
    • Poach fish and skinless poultry in water, herbs or low-sodium broth, instead of frying them.
    • Use lean cuts of beef and pork, trimming any fat.
    • Swap high-fat cheeses for low-fat versions.
    • Use evaporated nonfat milk, instead of whole milk.
    • Swap low-fat protein sources, such as lentils or beans, for meat.
    • Use canola or olive oil to make salad dressings.” (

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