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Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that more than half of children in the U.S. do not drink an adequate amount of water to enjoy an optimal quality of life.

Harvard School of Public Health researchers found that more than half of children in the U.S. do not drink an adequate amount of water to enjoy an optimal quality of life.


More than half of the nation’s young people are under-hydrated, according to a first-of-its-kind study from Harvard School of Public Health.

Researchers analyzed data on more than 4,000 6-19-year-olds who took part in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Upon measuring the concentration of participants’ urine, they discovered slightly more than half of participants were under-hydrated, with boys 76 percent more likely than girls to have low hydration levels.

Nearly one in four children in the study said they drank no plain water at all.

Lead study author Erica Kenney explained the significance of the findings.

“Even though for most of these kids this is not an immediate, dramatic health threat, this is an issue that could really be reducing quality of life and well-being for many, many children and youth,” she said.

Adequate water intake is needed for basic bodily processes, and even mild dehydration can cause headaches, irritability, reduced physical performance and reduced cognitive function.

But as researcher Steven Gortmaker noted, there is an easy solution to the problem.

“If we can focus on helping children drink more water – a low-cost, no-calorie beverage – we can improve their hydration status, which may allow many children to feel better throughout the day and do better in school,” he said.

The study was posted online in the American Journal of Public Health.


Teen health survey

More than eight in 10 teenagers turn to the Internet for health information, a national survey revealed.

Northwestern University researchers surveyed more than 1,100 American teens aged 13-18 about their health concerns, trusted health sources, how much information they receive and whether their health findings have prompted them to change their behaviors.

Ellen Wartella, lead author of the study, said results brought to light some real surprises.

“We often hear about all the negative things kids are doing online, but teens are using the Internet to take care of themselves and others around them,” Wartella said. “The new study underscores how important it is to make sure there is accurate, appropriate and easily accessible information available to teens, because it’s used and acted upon.”

Besides revealing that 84 percent of teens use the Internet for information about health concerns, the study found:

• While the Internet is the No. 1 media source teens use for health information, parents remain their primary resource for health information. When it comes to getting “a lot” of health information, 55 percent of teens said they relied on parents, 32 percent cited health classes at school, and 29 percent cited healthcare professionals. The Internet came in fourth, with 25 percent of teens reporting they used it for a lot of health information.

• The main reasons teens cited for using the Internet for health information were school assignments (53 percent), to better care for themselves (45 percent), to check symptoms or diagnose a condition (33 percent) and to obtain information for family members or friends (27 percent).

• The top issues teens reported researching were fitness/exercise (42 percent), diet/nutrition (36 percent), stress and anxiety (19 percent), sexually transmitted diseases (18 percent), puberty (18 percent), depression (16 percent) and sleep (16 percent).

• Among teens who research health online, 31 percent said they use medical websites, 20 percent said they visit YouTube, 11 percent reported turning to Yahoo and 9 percent reported using Facebook.

• Nearly one in three teens reported having changed their behavior as a result of digital health information or tools.

• Half of teens said they tended to click on the first site that comes up following an online search. Overall, they reported trusting “dot.edu” domains more than “dot.com” domains. A mere 8 percent said they turn to websites designed specifically for people their age.

Study co-author Vicky Rideout noted that while the Internet is empowering teens to protect their health, it is important to ensure they are “equipped with the digital literacy skills” to successfully navigate their online searches.


Keep calm and carry on

Studies have shown that stress affects health, but a new study suggests that how people handle life’s stressors may be what matters most.

Penn State researchers measured nearly 900 adults’ reactions to stress and analyzed their blood for inflammatory markers. They found that compared to those who were able to remain positive – calm and cheerful, for example – those who reacted negatively experienced higher levels of inflammation. Long-term inflammation seems to be linked to obesity, cancer and heart disease.

“A person’s frequency of stress may be less related to inflammation than responses to stress,” researcher Nancy Sin said. “It is how a person reacts to stress that is important.”

Study findings were published in Health Psychology.


Health woes worldwide

More than 95 percent of the world’s population has at least one health problem, according to a major analysis from the Global Burden of Disease Study (GBD) 2013.

The largest and most detailed analysis of global health trends, the GBD covered the years 1990-2013.

The analysis found:

• The rates of disability are declining more slowly than death rates.

• In 2013, low back pain and major depression were among the top 10 contributors to disability in every country.

• Globally, the number of people with multiple health ailments rapidly increased with age from 1990 to 2013. In 2013, about 36 percent of those younger than age 5 living in developed countries had no disorder, and a mere 0.03 percent of those older than 80 were free of health problems.

• The number of people with more than 10 health problems increased by 52 percent between 1990 and 2013.

• During the 23-year study period, the number of years lived with a disability increased due to population growth and aging. The natures of those disabilities were primarily musculoskeletal, mental and substance abuse disorders; neurological disorders; and chronic respiratory conditions.

• Certain ailments were associated with huge increases in health loss: diabetes (136 percent increase), headache due to medication overuse (120 percent increase), Alzheimer’s disease (92 percent increase) and osteoarthritis (75 percent increase).

Commenting on the findings, Theo Voss, lead study author and professor of global health at the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, said: “Large, preventable causes of health loss, particularly serious musculoskeletal disorders and mental and behavioral disorders, have not received the attention they deserve. Addressing these issues will require a shift in health priorities around the world, not just to keep people alive into old age, but also to keep them healthy.”

The study was published in The Lancet.


Stand up and work

Office workers should get up from their desks and on their feet for at least two hours every day to avoid serious health risks, according to a panel of international health experts commissioned by Public Health England.

The authors of a report in the British Journal of Sports Medicine recommended that people with sedentary jobs start by spending a minimum of two of their daily work hours on their feet and eventually raising that quota to four hours a day. Noting a growing body of research linking prolonged periods of sitting with increased risk of serious illness and premature death, they offered the following recommendations:

• Office workers whose jobs are predominantly desk-based should stand and take part in light walking two hours per day during working hours, eventually progressing to a total of four hours per day.

• Office workers should regularly break up seated-based work with standing-based work, with the use of adjustable sit-stand desks/work stations.

• Workers should avoid prolonged static standing, which may be as harmful as prolonged sitting.

• Employers should warn their staff about the potential dangers of too much time sitting.

The authors acknowledged that more study is needed to confirm their recommendations.


Top hospitals for kids

The U.S. News & World Report Best Children’s Hospital rankings for 2015-16 include two area pediatric hospitals – St. Louis Children’s Hospital, and SSM Cardinal Glennon Children’s Medical Center.

To determine the rankings, U.S. News & World Report surveyed 184 pediatric centers nationwide and evaluated them in 10 specialties: cancer; cardiology and heart surgery; diabetes and endocrinology; gastroenterology and GI surgery; neonatology; nephrology; neurology and neurosurgery; orthopedics; pulmonology; and urology.

St. Louis Children’s Hospital was one of only 21 medical centers in the country to rank among the best hospitals in all 10 specialties. Cardinal Glennon ranked in two specialties: gastroenterology and GI surgery, and cardiology and heart surgery.


Sun safety for infants and children

The American Academy of Pediatrics has issued the following recommendations for protecting infants and children from the sun’s harmful rays.

For infants younger than 6 months of age:

• To prevent sunburn, avoid sun exposure and dress babies in lightweight, long pants; long-sleeved shirts and brimmed hats that shade the neck. When adequate clothing and shade or not available, a minimal amount of sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 may be applied to small areas, such as the face and backs of hands.

• To treat sunburn on an infant, apply cool compresses to the affected area.

For all other children:

• Cover up, stay in the shade whenever possible and limit sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

• Wear a hat with a three-inch brim or bill facing forward, sunglasses with 97-100 percent protection against UVA and UVB rays and tightly woven clothing.

• Use a sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or greater that protects against UVA and UVB rays, even on cloudy days.

• Apply enough sunscreen – about an ounce of per sitting for a young adult – and reapply every two hours, or after swimming or sweating.

• Be particularly cautious when around water and sand, which reflect the sun’s UV rays and may result in sunburn more quickly.

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