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Leg fat linked to lower risk for high blood pressure



People with fatter legs appear less likely to have high blood pressure, new research suggests.

The researchers suspect that measuring leg fat could help guide blood pressure prevention efforts. Those with bigger legs may not need to worry as much about high blood pressure — a contributor to heart attack and stroke.

“Distribution of fat matters. Even though we think that fat is bad in all cases, it might be that leg fat is not as bad as we think,” said the study’s lead author, Aayush Visaria. He’s a fourth year medical student at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

Previous research has found that excess weight around the middle can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes. “Middle fat is really important because that’s where all the organs are — liver, pancreas, intestines — and they’re all affected by fat. Too much fat messes up the function of those organs,” Visaria said.

But that doesn’t mean folks who gain more weight in their lower limbs don’t need to maintain a healthy weight, too. “Regardless of where the fat is, a lot of fat isn’t good. Having muscle is better than having fat. Our study says, if you have fat, more fat in legs is better than having it in the abdomen,” Visaria said.

Dr. Vivek Bhalla is director of the Hypertension Center at Stanford University in California. “This study should not be interpreted to say that if a patient has higher leg fat that they will not develop high blood pressure. It is an important study to motivate further research into the factors as to why blood pressure would be lower,” he explained.

Bhalla said it’s not yet clear how fat distribution might affect your high blood pressure risk. He said it’s possible that fat stored in different areas of the body may act in different ways.

Visaria suggested that the difference may have something to do with triglyceride (a type of blood fat) levels. People in the study with more leg fat had decreased triglyceride levels, he noted.

The new study included almost 6,000 adults participating in national health surveys between 2011 and 2016. Their average age was 37. About half were female. Nearly one-quarter of the group had high blood pressure — defined in this study as blood pressure above 130/80 mm Hg.

The researchers used special X-ray imaging to measure fat in the legs. These measurements were compared to overall body fat measurements. Men who had 34% fat in their legs were defined as having high leg fat. For women, the cutoff was 39%.

Those with higher leg fat were 61% less likely to have high blood pressure than their slim-legged counterparts. The findings held even after the researchers adjusted for factors such as age, sex, race/ethnicity, smoking, alcohol use, cholesterol levels and levels of waist fat.

The researchers noted that this study wasn’t designed to prove a cause-and-effect relationship. It could only show an association between higher leg fat and lower blood pressure. Visaria said more research is necessary, particularly in older people. He said the people in this study were between 20 and 59, so these findings may not be generalizable to people over 60.

Bhalla pointed out that “obesity is a major epidemic in the United States and around the world, and like many things in medicine, it’s not black or white, but rather there are shades of gray.”

In addition, Bhalla advised, “As we learn more about different types of fat, the distribution of fat, what factors are secreted by different types of fat and how that affects risk of common conditions — [including] high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes — we need to keep in mind that we have to treat patients as individuals, measure their individual risk, and counsel patients appropriately.”

He also said it’s important to remember the things people can do right now to lower their blood pressure, including:

  • Cut down on salt (sodium)
  • Exercise regularly
  • Get enough sleep
  • Reduce stress
  • Drink less alcohol

The findings were scheduled for presentation Thursday at a virtual meeting of the American Heart Association. Findings presented at meetings should be viewed as preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

Learn more about how body shape affects health risks at Penn Medicine.

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Survey reinforces Americans’ apprehension about rushed COVID-19 vaccine



Oct. 9 (UPI) — Nearly 40% of Americans say they won’t get vaccinated against COVID-19 even if a shot becomes available, according to a survey released Friday by consulting firm Children’s Health Defense.

In the survey of more than 1,000 “likely voters,” just over half said they planned to receive the vaccine, while the rest remain undecided.

Just under 30% of respondents said they had concerns regarding the safety of any new vaccine against the coronavirus, with most suggesting the research and development process may have been “rushed” or that the vaccine “needs more testing,” the organization said.

“The growing skepticism about the COVID vaccine is the rational response of a public now paying more attention to how this sausage is getting made,” Robert F. Kennedy Jr., founder and chairman of Children’s Health Defense, said in a statement.

Children’s Health Defense, which is known for it’s anti-vaccine activism, commissioned John Zogby Strategies to conduct the survey. The firm specializes in research for private companies, as well as U.S. government agencies.

Trials of several potential vaccines against COVID-19 are ongoing, and Trump administration officials have said they expect initial doses to be available before the end of the year.

However, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said earlier this week that it won’t approve a vaccine until sufficient safety data exists, which may impact that timeline.

The Children’s Health Defense survey included 1,006 respondents, all age 18 years and older and registered voters, the organization said.

The survey was launched hours after President Donald Trump was admitted to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for COVID-19 treatment, Kennedy said.

Although 51% of respondents said they planned to get the vaccine after it’s introduced, 36% said they wouldn’t, while the rest were undecided, the data showed.

Although Children’s Health Defense is known primarily for its anti-vaccine stance, other surveys of Americans’ interest in receiving inoculations against COVID-19 have had similar findings.

In August, a Gallup poll found that 35% of Americans would refuse the vaccine, with those who identify as Republicans most skeptical.

Still, more than 65% of respondents in that survey said they would obtain the vaccine, the data showed.

A separate survey conducted earlier this year by the University of Minnesota and Johns Hopkins University found that most Americans believe front-line health workers and other at-risk groups should be given priority when or if a vaccine is made available.

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Study: Kids’ hospitalizations accompany rising unemployment rates



COVID-19 has led to widespread job loss in the United States. And now a new study reports that when unemployment rates rise, so do hospitalizations of children.

For the study, researchers analyzed 12 years of data — 2002 to 2014 — from 14 states. They found that for every 1% increase in unemployment, there was a 2% increase in child hospitalizations for all causes, among them diabetes and poisonings.

Specifically, every 1% bump in unemployment was associated with a 5% increase in hospitalizations for substance abuse and a 4% jump for diabetes. The researchers also found a 2% increase for poisoning and burns, and a 2% rise for children with medical complexity — a high need for prescriptions, medical equipment or services.

For children with diabetes and other forms of medical complexity, reduced family income could mean they’re less likely to receive medical services. This could raise their risk of hospitalizations, the study authors suggested.

It’s also possible that poor housing conditions brought on by slimmer wallets could increase children’s risk of poisonings and burns. And higher household stress due to unemployment might increase alcohol and drug use.

Further research is needed to understand how to prevent declining health in children during economic downturns, said study author Dr. Jeffrey Colvin, of Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Mo., and his colleagues.

The U.S. National Institutes of Health-funded study was published in the October issue of the journal Health Affairs.

The study relied on data from Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah, Vermont and Washington.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on children’s health.

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Researchers confirm coronavirus can infect the eye



COVID-19 is primarily a respiratory infection, but experts have suspected the virus can also infiltrate the eyes. Now, scientists have more direct evidence of it.

The findings are based on a patient in China who developed an acute glaucoma attack soon after recovering from COVID-19. Her doctors had to perform surgery to treat the condition, and tests of her eye tissue showed evidence of the coronavirus.

The case offers proof that “[the coronavirus] can also infect ocular tissues in addition to the respiratory system,” the doctors reported in the Oct. 8 online edition of the journal JAMA Ophthalmology.

“It’s been suspected that the eyes can be a source of both ‘in’ and ‘out'” for the novel coronavirus, said Dr. Aaron Glatt, a spokesman for the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

That’s why health care workers protect their eyes with goggles or face shields, he noted.

It’s not possible to say whether the patient in this case contracted the coronavirus via her eyes, according to Glatt. But that is a possibility — whether through viral particles in the air or by touching her eyes with a virus-contaminated hand, he said.

Another big unknown is whether any lingering virus in patients’ eye tissue will cause problems.

According to Dr. Grace Richter, an ophthalmologist at the University of Southern California’s Roski Eye Institute in Los Angeles, “It’s too early to know what having this virus floating around in the eye means for ocular health.”

At this point, Richter said, limited eye problems have been seen with COVID-19: A small number of patients develop conjunctivitis, or “pink eye,” where the white part of the eye and inside of the eyelid become swollen, red and itchy.

The patient in this case suffered acute angle-closure glaucoma — a serious condition in which pressure in the eyes suddenly rises due to fluid buildup. It requires prompt treatment to relieve the pressure, sometimes with surgery to restore the eye’s normal fluid movement.

Richter was doubtful the coronavirus directly caused the eye complication. In general, certain anatomical features of the eye make some people vulnerable to acute angle-closure glaucoma, and it can be triggered by medications, she explained.

Richter speculated that since the patient was hospitalized and likely received various drugs, that might have been the cause.

That is possible, agreed Dr. Sonal Tuli, a clinical spokeswoman for the American Academy of Ophthalmology and chairwoman of ophthalmology at the University of Florida College of Medicine, in Gainesville.

Tuli said the patient’s case is “interesting,” but leaves open a number of questions. One is whether the virus present in the eye tissue is actually infectious.

The patient was a 64-year-old woman who was hospitalized for COVID-19 on Jan. 31. Eighteen days later, her symptoms had fully resolved, and throat swabs turned up negative for the coronavirus.

About a week later, though, she developed pain and vision loss in one eye, and then in her other eye a few days afterward, according to the report by Dr. Ying Yan and colleagues at the General Hospital of the Central Theater Command in Wuhan, China.

The patient landed in the hospital again, where she was diagnosed with acute angle-closure glaucoma and cataract. Medication failed to bring down her eye pressure, so her doctors performed surgery — taking tissue samples in the process.

Tests of those samples turned up evidence that the coronavirus had invaded the eye tissues, Yan’s team reported.

While it’s not clear how the virus got into the patient’s eyes, the experts agreed the case underscores the importance of eye protection. For health care providers, that means goggles and face shields for the average person, it’s regular hand-washing and keeping the hands away from the eyes.

“I think people don’t realize how often they touch their eyes,” Tuli said.

That advice will reduce the chance of any virus, including cold and flu bugs, from coming into contact with the eyes, she noted.

While that may be enough in most cases, people caring for someone with COVID-19 at home may want to be extra cautious, Tuli suggested. Wearing eye protection in addition to a mask is a “good idea,” she said.

More information

The American Academy of Ophthalmology has more on coronavirus and eye health.

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