This month's postings, December 2008
Feeling fluish? There’s a new way to tell if there’s a flu outbreak coming your way, thanks to Google. Turns out, lots of people Google “flu symptoms” and other terms before calling their doctor. That simple act — by millions of Americans — is providing a powerful new early-warning system for flu outbreaks: Google Flu Trends. Created by Google’s philanthropic unit, the new Web tool may be able to detect outbreaks more than a week before they are reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, giving you an early heads-up — and one last chance to get obsessive about hand-washing!
Too many babies are born prematurely in the United States — and the problem is getting worse, according to a new report from the March of Dimes. The report gave our country a “D” grade after researchers found a 30 percent increase in premature births since 1981. Washington and Oregon did slightly better, scoring a “C,” but 18 states, including Texas, Florida and Nevada, were given an “F.” More than a half-million babies were born early (before 37 weeks gestation) in 2004. Many premature babies face developmental challenges, such as cerebral palsy, lung disease, and learning delays.
More icky news from China — this time, a crackdown on food imports that may contain melamine. The FDA is putting the brakes on scores of food products from China — including snacks, candies, pet food and more — until testing proves they’re not contaminated. This comes after the chemical sickened 53,000 babies in China after it was added to milk to boost protein levels. The United States doesn’t import milk or baby formula from China, but some Chinese products made with milk are imported and sold at Asian specialty markets.
No, not the ice cream! But if you went there, you might want to heed this new warning from scientists: Those love handles could be the death of you! An extensive new study finds that having a big waistline can seriously hike up your risk of dying early — even if you’re not overweight! The study, in the New England Journal of Medicine, looked at thousands of people with the same body mass index but different waist sizes. Turns out, packing a spare 2 inches raises the risk of death by 17 percent in men and 13 percent in women. What to do? Move it, move it! Boost your exercise — and watch that alcohol intake.
Parents of teens: There’s a scary new reason to crack down on TV viewing. A major new study by Rand Corp. finds that teens who watch sexual content on TV are more likely to wind up as teen parents. Again: Teens who watch the raciest shows are twice as likely to become pregnant than those with tamer tastes. The study, published in Pediatrics, looked at TV-viewing habits of teens over three years, starting in 2001. Teens were asked how often they watched more than 20 TV shows popular at that time, including Sex and the City, That ‘70s Show and Friends. Researchers found TV was strongly connected with teen pregnancy — even when factoring in grades, family structure and parents’ education level. And that ain’t gossip, girl.
— Kristen Dobson