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Poll finds surge in loneliness among older adults during pandemic

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The constraints of the coronavirus pandemic have many more older adults feeling lonely this summer than in years past.

According to a new poll, many older adults are feeling isolated while they protect themselves from the virus.

In June, the National Poll on Healthy Aging surveyed more than 2,000 U.S. adults ages 50 to 80.

More than half said they sometimes or often felt isolated from others, which is more than double the 27% who reported the same feeling in a 2018 poll.

And the share of older adults who said they infrequently interacted with friends, neighbors or family outside their household also grew from the prior poll.

Nearly half of those polled in June of this year said they only interacted with these groups once a week or less, compared with the 28% who said this in 2018.

And while technology such as video chat and social media can be a great way to connect during the pandemic, those who used these tools were more likely to say they felt isolated.

A majority of the sample reported that they maintained a healthy lifestyle, with eight out of 10 saying that they were getting enough sleep and eating a healthy diet. But those experiencing loneliness were less likely to report engaging in healthy behaviors such as getting outside and exercising.

Similarly, those who said they lacked companionship were more likely to report that their mental and physical health was fair or poor.

These results could point to an intersection between loneliness and health, which is an area that “needs much study,” John Piette said in a University of Michigan news release. He’s a professor at the University of Michigan School of Public Health who worked with the poll team.

“Past studies have shown that prolonged isolation has a profound negative effect on health and well-being as much as smoking 15 cigarettes a day,” added Alison Bryant, senior vice president of research for AARP, which helped support the poll.

“All of us can take time to reach out to older neighbors, friends and relatives in safe ways as they try to avoid the coronavirus,” Piette added.

More information

AARP has tips for older adults who are feeling lonely during the pandemic.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Study: Restricting promotions of sweet foods cuts sugar, not profits

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Limiting marketing of high-sugar foods in supermarkets doesn’t cut into store profits, but it may improve public health, Australian researchers report.

Price promotions, end-of-aisle displays and putting products at eye level can stimulate sales. Ending these practices reduced purchase of sugar-sweetened drinks and candy in participating stores by the equivalent to nearly two tons of sugar, the researchers said. These included foods and drinks with added sugars, as well as natural sugar in honey, syrups and fruit juices.

The reductions in soft drink and candy purchases were particularly large, researchers said. Even so, profits were not affected, they added.

The study, published Oct. 7 in The Lancet Planetary Health, ran for 12 weeks and focused on 20 randomly selected stores in rural Australia. Some stores restricted promotion of sugary foods, others did not.

“Our novel study is the first to show that limiting [promotional] activities can also have an effect on sales, in particular, of unhealthy food and drinks,” said researcher Julie Brimblecombe, an associate professor of nutrition, dietetics and food at Monash University in Melbourne.

“This strategy has important health implications and is an opportunity to improve diets and reduce associated non-communicable diseases. It also offers a way for supermarkets to position themselves as responsible retailers, which could potentially strengthen customers’ loyalty without damaging business performance,” she said in a journal news release.

The changes affected sugar-sweetened drinks, candy and other sweets, table sugar and sweet biscuits or cookies. Among other things, these restricted price promotions, removed end-of-aisle and counter displays, and reduced refrigerator space for sugary drinks while placing large-size soft drinks elsewhere. Stores also promoted water and listed the amount of sugar in soft drinks.

As a result, added sugars purchased in foods and drinks fell 3%. Sugars in purchased sugar-sweetened drinks were cut by 7%, and from soda purchases it dropped 13%. Sugars from candy sales fell 7.5%, the researchers found.

Co-author Emma McMahon, a research fellow at Menzies School of Health Research in Casuarina, Australia, said researchers expected the strategy would work best on impulse items like sweet biscuits rather than on staples like table sugar.

“A different strategy for biscuits and items like table sugar should be explored to stimulate change in those buying behaviors,” she said in the release.

More information

To learn more about sugar and your health, see Harvard University.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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COVID-19 may have prolonged effect for pregnant women

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COVID-19 symptoms can last a long time in pregnant women, researchers say.

The new study included 594 pregnant women, with average age 31, across the United States who tested positive for the new coronavirus but were not hospitalized. Nearly one-third were health care workers.

On average, the women were about 24 weeks’ pregnant when they joined the study.

The most common early symptoms were cough, at 20%, sore throat, at 16%, body aches, at 12%, and fever, at 12%. By comparison, fever occurs in 43% of hospital patients who are not pregnant.

For 6%, loss of taste or smell was the first symptom. Other symptoms included shortness of breath, runny nose, sneezing, nausea, sore throat, vomiting, diarrhea or dizziness.

While six out of 10 women had no symptoms after four weeks, symptoms lasted eight or more weeks for 25%, the study found.

Thirty-seven days was the median time for symptoms to resolve, meaning half took longer, half took less time. The findings were published this month in the journal Obstetrics and Gynecology.

“COVID-19 symptoms during pregnancy can last a long time, and have a significant impact on health and well-being,” said senior author Dr. Vanessa Jacoby. She is vice chairwoman of research in the department of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of California, San Francisco.

Jacoby’s team also found that COVID-related symptoms were complicated by overlapping signs of normal pregnancy, including nausea, fatigue and congestion.

The majority of participants had mild disease and were not hospitalized, said first author Dr. Yalda Afshar, assistant professor in the division of maternal fetal medicine, department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Despite the potential risks of COVID-19 for pregnant women and their newborns, large gaps in knowledge about the disease’s course and prognosis remain, Afshar noted in a UCSF news release.

“Our results can help pregnant people and their clinicians better understand what to expect with COVID-19 infection,” Afshar said.

More information

There’s more on COVID-19 and pregnancy at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Pregnant women with COVID-19 don’t pass the virus to their newborns, study finds

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Oct. 12 (UPI) — New mothers infected with COVID-19 during pregnancy didn’t pass the virus to their babies, even if they breastfed and shared the same hospital room, according to a study published Monday by JAMA Pediatrics.

Mothers with severe COVID-19, however, delivered their babies, on average, one week earlier than healthy mothers, and their babies were four times as likely to need phototherapy to treat jaundice, the data showed.

“Between our findings and other studies, it is now known that there is a relatively low likelihood of vertical transmission from [COVID-19]-positive mothers to their newborns,” study co-author and pediatrician Melissa Stockwell told UPI.

“We also show that the risk remains low even with newborns rooming-in and direct breastfeeding practices, both of which had been concerns early in the pandemic,” said Stockwell, division chief of child and adolescent health at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

Pregnant women may be at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, and reports have appeared that the risk for preterm delivery is higher among women infected with the virus, according to data released in June by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There remains a concern for the effect of this virus on pregnant women,” study co-author Dr. Cynthia Gyamfi-Bannerman, a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at NewYork Presbyterian, told UPI.

However, no indication exists — at least to date — that their newborns are at any risk from the virus.

To explore the issue further, the Columbia University researchers tested 101 babies born to infected mothers in New York City between March 13 and April 24 — the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in the region.

Two of the babes had low levels of the virus in their nasal and throat samples initially, but neither developed symptoms, and they later tested negative, the researchers said.

The remainder all tested negative at birth and, and the 31 infants who were retested several days later remained negative. All 101 babies “roomed in” — or shared the same hospital rooms as their mothers — and bathing was delayed, the researchers said.

Some studies have recommended early bathing of babies born to mothers with COVID-19 as a way to reduce risk for virus spread, but early bathing has other health risks, including hypothermia, they said.

Three of the 10 babies born to mothers with severe COVID-19, however, required phototherapy, while six of 91 born to mothers with mild to moderate disease required the treatment, the data showed.

“Treating babies as babies seems safe during the COVID-19 pandemic,” study co-author Dr. Dani Dumitriu told UPI.

“This is particularly important given the continued spread of COVID-19 throughout the country and around the world,” said Dumitriu, a neonatologist at New York-Presbyterian.



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