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Sugary drinks biggest source of empty calories for kids

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U.S. children and teenagers are still downing too many “empty calories” — primarily from sugary beverages, sweets and pizza, a new government study finds.

The study, based on a long-running federal health survey, did turn up some good news: In recent years, kids have been eating fewer empty calories, versus a decade before.

The bad news is, by 2016, those sources still accounted for more than one-quarter of kids’ total calories.

The term “empty” generally refers to food and drinks that provide a lot of calories but little to no nutrition. In this study, empty calories were defined as those coming from added sugars or “solid” fats, like butter and shortening.

Sugary drinks, the study found, have consistently been a top source of U.S. kids’ empty-calorie intake. That’s not surprising, since added sugar lurks not only in sodas, but also sweetened juices, sports drinks, teas and milk, said lead researcher Edwina Wambogo, of the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

And that, said Wambogo, points to a straightforward way to cut down on empty calories: Watch the liquid sugar.

When it comes to preschoolers, in particular, she said, simply limiting sweetened juices and milks would go a long way.

As kids get a little older, the study found, soda becomes a prime sugar source, while foods like cookies, brownies and pizza provide a large share of total sugar, as well as solid fats.

That’s not to say there’s no value in any of those foods, Wambogo pointed out. Even sweetened milk contains nutrients like protein and calcium. And pizza provides protein, dairy and vegetables.

So context matters, Wambogo said. If parents make a pizza topped with vegetables — and get their kids to actually eat vegetables — that’s different from feeding the family a diet full of take-out.

Wambogo was scheduled to present the findings Monday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Nutrition, being held online. Data and conclusions presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary because they haven’t yet been peer-reviewed for journal publication.

Connie Diekman, a registered dietitian who was not involved in the study, agreed that kids’ overall diet is what’s critical. And there can be room for pizza and chocolate milk.

“Pizza is not the problem,” said Diekman, a former president of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “The issue is — what is on it, and what does the rest of your family’s eating plan look like?”

She suggested that parents focus on offering kids plenty of vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean meats and low-fat dairy. “Find foods within those groups that your kids enjoy and then build meals around those options,” Diekman said.

“If your kids love pizza,” she added, “then try either making it at home with all the veggies they love, a leaner meat and a bit less cheese — or ordering a cheese pizza and adding steamed veggies.”

Of course, Wambogo noted, kids eat outside of the home, too. “There’s a lot that policymakers can do, too,” she said.

In fact, Wambogo added, the recent decline in empty calories may be partly related to school policies that removed sugary drinks from cafeterias and vending machines.

Diekman agreed, saying the general advice to parents applies to schools as well: Offer kids nutritious whole foods and limit the added sugar.

No one is saying, however, that parents should deny their kids all sweet treats. “You can reduce the amount of sugar without eliminating it,” Wambogo said.

Everyone, she noted, likes a brownie now and then.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has nutrition tips for parents.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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People who don’t believe in God may get better sleep, study says

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Atheists and agnostics are much more likely to sleep like an angel than Catholics and Baptists, a new study finds.

It included more than 1,500 participants in the Baylor University Religion Survey who were asked about their religious affiliation, behaviors and beliefs, as well as their average nightly sleep time and difficulty getting to sleep.

While 73% of atheists and agnostics said they got seven or more hours of nightly sleep, only 63% of Catholics and only 55% of Baptists said they got at least seven hours of sleep a night, preliminary data show.

Seven or more hours of sleep a night is recommended by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, or AASM, for good health.

Catholics and Baptists were also more likely to report having difficulty falling asleep than atheists and agnostics.

Study participants who said they slept seven or more hours per night were much more likely to believe that they would get into heaven, compared to those who got less sleep.

However, beliefs about getting into heaven weren’t linked with difficulty falling asleep at night.

The researchers said that better sleep results in a more optimistic outlook and that in this study, that manifested as people believing they’d get into heaven.

“Mental health is increasingly discussed in church settings — as it should be — but sleep health is not discussed,” said study author Kyla Fergason, a student at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.

“Yet we know that sleep loss undercuts many human abilities that are considered to be core values of the church: being a positive member of a social community, expressing love and compassion rather than anger or judgment, and displaying integrity in moral reasoning and behavior,” Fergason said in AASM news release.

“Could getting better sleep help some people grow in their faith or become better Christians? We don’t know the answer to that question yet, but we do know that mental, physical and cognitive health are intertwined with sleep health in the general population,” she noted.

The findings were recently published in an online supplement of the journal Sleep, and were presented last week at the virtual annual meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies.

More information

The National Sleep Foundation has more on sleep.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Some COVID-19 survivors may have permanent nerve damage

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Placing a hospitalized COVID-19 patient in a face down position to ease breathing — or “proning” — has steadily gained traction as a pandemic lifesaver. But a small new study warns that it may lead to permanent nerve damage.

The concern is based on the experience of 83 COVID-19 patients who were placed face down while attached to a ventilator. Once they improved, all began post-COVID-19 rehabilitation at a single health care facility.

By that point, roughly 14% had developed a “peripheral nerve injury” (PNI) involving one or more major joints, such as the wrist, hand, foot or shoulder.

Despite that damage, study author Dr. Colin Franz said proning “is a lifesaving intervention, and we think it is saving lives during the COVID pandemic.”

And although placing patients face down has been known to cause skin pressure injuries in non-COVID-19 patients, he said nerve compression injuries are typically uncommon with regular repositioning and careful padding.

“So we were very surprised to find 12 out of 83 patients with nerve injuries,” said Franz, neurology director of the Regenerative Neurorehabilitation Laboratory at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, in Chicago.

He characterized the nature of the nerve damage as so severe that affected patients were “unlikely to fully recover.”

The damage included loss of hand function, frozen shoulder and foot dragging that may lead to a need for a brace, cane or wheelchair.
“Full recovery for nerve damage is estimated to occur in only about 10% of patients under the best of circumstances,” Franz explained. “And the recovery that does take place will happen over 12 to 24 months.”

In other words, the nerve damage might be the longest-lasting effect of COVID-19 for most of these patients, he suggested. And if the risk seen among the study group is any indication, thousands of patients worldwide could have the same damage, Franz said.

Franz noted that some, but not all, of the patients had pre-existing conditions such as diabetes that made them more likely to have nerve injuries from compression. Many of the patients were also old or obese.

But he and his colleagues suspect something about COVID-19 infection itself makes nerves more vulnerable to damage. Among the possible triggers: the increased inflammatory state brought on by SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as well as poor blood circulation and blood clotting.

Prone-triggered PNI may also result from “the way patients are positioned and the weight it may put on certain nerves for prolonged periods of time,” said Dr. Armeen Poor, an attending physician of pulmonary critical care medicine at Metropolitan Hospital Center in New York City, who reviewed the findings.

Another possible contributor: overworked hospital staff.

During the height of the pandemic, said Poor, “many hospitals were proning more patients at a time than usual. This excess strain on staff could have compromised the frequency of careful patient repositioning while prone, and potentially increased the risk of nerve injury.”

Dr. Nicholas Caputo, an associate chief and attending emergency physician at Lincoln Medical and Mental Health Center, Bronx, N.Y., also reviewed the findings. He said it’s important to recognize that this study focused only on patients proned while on a ventilator.

But, he noted, proning has been successfully deployed among non-ventilated patients, often in hopes of staving off ventilation. Such “self-proning” patients are awake and “instructed to change positions if they become uncomfortable.”

In the intensive care unit, however, ventilated patients are generally proned for eight to 12 hours before being turned, Caputo said. “This puts much more pressure on certain areas of the body, and places the patients at risk for complications such as peripheral neuropathies,” he added.

Hoping to reduce prone-linked PNI risk among intubated patients, Franz’s team has been “mapping” regions most vulnerable to nerve damage. That information could help doctors, nurses and physical therapists deploy modified positioning, extra padding and protection of vulnerable areas. Wearable sensors could be used to “measure and monitor [the] loading of nerves,” he said.

“In medicine we focus on ‘ABCs’ — airway, breathing and circulation — when there is an emergency,” Franz said. “Intubation and proning positioning fall within these categories and save lives. This is always the first priority. We do think these added measures will help prevent these nerve injuries, however.”

The findings have not yet been peer-reviewed but were reported online recently in medRxiv in advance of publication in The British Journal of Anaesthesia.

More information

Learn more about COVID-19 and proning at the University of Pennsylvania.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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Blood pressure meds don’t increase cancer risk, study finds

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Blood pressure drugs don’t increase the risk of cancer, according to the largest study to examine the issue.

A possible link between blood pressure drugs and cancer has been the subject of debate for decades, but evidence has been inconsistent and conflicting.

For this study, researchers analyzed data from 31 clinical trials of blood pressure drugs that involved 260,000 people. Investigators of all the trials provided information on which participants developed cancer. Much of this information hasn’t been published before, so the new study is the most detailed to date.

It looked at five blood pressure drugs separately: angiotensin-converting enzyme, inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, and diuretics.

The researchers estimated the effect of each drug class on the risk of developing any type of cancer, of dying from cancer, and of developing breast, colon, lung, prostate and skin cancers.

The study found no evidence that any of the drug classes increased cancer risk. That was true regardless of participants’ age, gender, body size, smoking status and previous use of blood pressure medication, according to findings presented recently at an online meeting of the European Society of Cardiology.

Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

There was no indication that cancer risk rose with longer use of blood pressure drugs.

“Our results should reassure the public about the safety of antihypertensive drugs with respect to cancer, which is of paramount importance given their proven benefit for protecting against heart attacks and strokes,” said study author Emma Copland, an epidemiologist at the University of Oxford in the U.K.

More information

The American Heart Association has more on blood pressure medications.

Copyright 2020 HealthDay. All rights reserved.



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