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Health Capsules: July 5

Summer is the deadliest time of year for teenage drivers, according to AAA statistics.

Summertime safety behind the wheel

For drivers in the St. Louis area and nationwide, particularly new teen drivers between the ages of 16 and 17, the summer travel season – often called the “100 deadliest days,” when teens are out of school – is the most hazardous time of year. Statistics from the American Automobile Association [AAA] Foundation for Traffic Safety show that teen drivers are three times more likely than adults to be involved in a deadly crash, and that risk climbs by 15 percent for them during the summer. Over the past five years, more than 1,600 people have been killed in crashes involving inexperienced teen drivers during the summer months.

According to AAA, the three factors that most commonly contribute to deadly crashes for teen drivers are:

• Distraction: Distracted driving plays a role in nearly six out of 10 teen crashes, four times as many as official estimates based on police reports. The top distractions for teens are interacting with a smartphone and talking to other passengers in the vehicle.

• Not buckling up: In 2015, the latest data available, 60 percent of teen drivers killed in a crash were not wearing a safety belt. Teens who buckle up significantly reduce their risk of dying or being seriously injured in a crash.

• Speeding: Excessive speed is a factor in nearly 30 percent of fatal crashes involving teen drivers. A recent AAA survey of driving instructors found that speeding is one of the top three mistakes teens make when learning to drive.

To help reverse this alarming trend, AAA urges parents to get more involved and talk to their teens about the dangers of risky behavior behind the wheel. One of the most important things parents can do is to teach by example, eliminating their own cell phone use and other distractions while on the road. Having a driving agreement with their kids about family driving rules, and talking to kids regularly about the risks of speeding, are other important steps.


Fruit juice no longer recommended for kids 

The American Academy of Pediatrics [AAP] recently issued an updated policy statement about fruit juice, saying that it offers no nutritional benefits over whole fruit and has no essential role in the healthy, balanced diets of infants and children. The statement, published in Pediatrics, is the first change in AAP recommendations on fruit juice since 2001.

While 100 percent fresh or reconstituted fruit juice can be healthy when consumed as part of a well-balanced diet for children over 1 year of age, it offers no nutritional benefit to babies younger than 1 and should not be included in their diets, according to Dr. Melvin B. Heyman of the AAP’s Committee on Nutrition.

“Parents may perceive fruit juice as healthy, but it is not a good substitute for fresh fruit and just packs in more sugar and calories. Small amounts in moderation are fine for older kids, but are absolutely unnecessary for children under 1,” Heyman said.

For children over 1 year old, the AAP policy statement recommends that daily intake of juice should be limited to:

• 4 ounces for toddlers ages 1-3;

• 4-6 ounces for children ages 4-6;

• 8 ounces [1 cup] of the recommended 2-2½ cups of fruit per day for children ages 7-18.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, a product must be 100 percent fruit juice in order to be labeled as such; juices that are reconstituted from concentrate must be labeled accordingly. Any beverage that is less than 100 percent fruit juice must list that percentage and include a descriptive term, such as “drink,” “beverage,” or “cocktail,” the academy statement noted.


Go ahead, have a little chocolate – it can prevent a type of irregular heartbeat, a recent study found.

Sweet news on lowering irregular heartbeat risk

People who eat small amounts of chocolate regularly have a significantly lower risk of developing atrial fibrillation [A-fib], a heart condition characterized by a rapid or irregular heartbeat, Harvard researchers recently announced. Analyzing data from more than 55,000 Danish adults whose health was monitored for more than 13 years, the researchers found that eating between 2 and 6 ounces of chocolate every week was associated with a hefty 20 percent reduced risk of A-fib, which currently affects more than 2.7 million Americans. A-fib is characterized by the rapid, irregular beating of the heart’s upper chambers, or atria. According to the American Heart Association, people with A-fib are five times more likely to have a stroke and are at double the risk of heart-related death.

Participants in the study were required to complete dietary, health and lifestyle questionnaires, which the researchers used to gather data on overall health and chocolate intake. Over its course, the researchers identified 3,346 study participants with A-fib over the 13-year period.

Compared with those who consumed just 1 ounce of chocolate less than once each month, those who consumed 1 to 3 ounces of chocolate per month had a 10 percent reduced risk of A-fib;

Participants who ate 1 ounce of chocolate per week had a 17 percent lower risk; and people who consumed 2 to 6 ounces each week were 20 percent less likely to develop A-fib.

For those who ate more than 6 ounces of chocolate per week, its effects on A-fib risk began to decrease; however, subjects who ate at least 1 ounce of chocolate daily still had a significant 16 percent lower risk of A-fib.

According to lead study author Dr. Elizabeth Mostofsky, these findings, which were reported in the journal Heart, suggest that consuming just small to moderate amounts of chocolate – especially dark chocolate, which is higher in antioxidants – can benefit the heart.

“Eating excessive amounts of chocolate is not recommended, however, because many chocolate products are high in calories from sugar and fat and could lead to weight gain and other metabolic problems. But moderate intake of chocolate with high cocoa content may be a healthy choice,” Mostofsky said.

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