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Health Capsules: Dec. 12

Politics and the holidays don’t mix – tips for avoiding arguments 

Politically based stress is increasing among Americans and is likely to cause arguments between family members this holiday season.

According to the 2018 Stress in America survey conducted by the American Psychological Association [APA], more than 60 percent of U.S. adults now feel that the current polarized political climate causes significant stress for them personally. The annual survey also shows that more than a quarter of adults agree this polarization has caused strain between themselves and members of their own families.

High levels of stress all around will no doubt lead to some tense and uncomfortable conversations around holiday tables, especially for family members or friends who are on opposite sides of the political spectrum. Following are some suggestions, courtesy of the APA, to help prevent arguments and guide those touchy conversations in a more positive direction:

Prepare to remain calm. Preparing in advance for how you might handle a disagreement may give you more control over the situation when it arises. If you often find yourself quick to react in a heated conversation, take a step back and remind yourself to be calm. Try taking deep breaths when you find yourself getting worked up, or politely steer the conversation to a new topic before it escalates. 

Focus on areas of agreement. Instead of strongly reacting when you disagree with someone, actively listen to the other person about what is important to them and look for viewpoints you do have in common. For example, you might have different ideas about gun control, but share the same concern for keeping your kids safe. By focusing on these shared viewpoints, areas of conflict will feel less intense.

Be kind. When having conversations about areas of disagreement, avoid polarizing language and personal attacks. Remember that you are talking with someone who is important to you. Be mindful of your words and tone, and don’t let the conversation become hostile or combative, as that could have potential to damage your future relationship.

Accept that ‘agreeing to disagree’ is ok.  Recognize that your words will not change the other person’s mind. Remind yourself that the conversation is an opportunity to share your viewpoint, not to convince anyone that your view is best – and that your loved one or friend is entitled to his or her viewpoint as well.

Know when to end the conversation. If the conversation won’t resolve smoothly, find a way to end it peacefully. It may be that you have to change the topic of conversation or suggest another activity, while reinforcing your relationship with the other person. Move on to activities that will lighten the mood, such as playing a family game.  

Research connects asthma, obesity in children

Kids who are overweight or obese are at higher risk for asthma, although the reasons why are still unclear.

Obesity might be the cause of asthma for about a quarter of American children who have the disease, according to new research. The findings mean that about 10 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 17 – almost a million nationwide – could have avoided asthma by maintaining a healthy weight.

Researchers at Duke University analyzed data for more than 500,000 children who visited six major children’s health centers between 2009 and 2015. They found that children classified as obese – those with a body-mass index [BMI] in the 95th percentile or above for their age and sex – had a 30-percent higher risk of developing asthma than peers of a healthy weight. Kids who were classified as overweight, but not obese [with a BMI in the 85th to 94th percentile] had a 17 percent higher asthma risk.

“Asthma is the No. 1 chronic disease in children and some of the causes such as genetics and viral infections during childhood are things we can’t prevent,” said Jason E. Lang, M.D., associate professor of pediatrics at Duke and the study’s lead author. “Obesity may be the only risk factor for childhood asthma that could be preventable. This is another piece of evidence that keeping kids active and at a healthy weight is important.”

Lang added that because scientists don’t completely understand how being overweight or obese causes changes that lead directly to childhood asthma, more research is needed. Still, these findings and other research showing that asthma often improves with weight loss, suggest that obesity plays a key role or is directly to blame, he said.

The current study’s findings were published in the journal Pediatrics.

At the office, messes send a message 

The condition of your office – especially it it’s very messy – may send negative messages about your personality to your co-workers.

People whose office spaces are messy or cluttered are sending negative messages to their co-workers about their own character and personality, say scientists at the University of Michigan.  

Psychology teams from the university’s Flint and Ann Arbor campuses set up three experiments in which participants were randomly assigned to wait for researchers in their offices. Some of the offices were clean and uncluttered, while others were either “somewhat” or “very” messy. The offices were otherwise decorated identically.

Although participants had not actually met the researchers, they were asked to describe their personalities based on the offices’ appearance, rating established character traits such as agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism, and extraversion. In each experiment, the messier the office, the more negative traits participants attached to the researchers. Those with the messiest offices were most often perceived as being less conscientious, less agreeable and more neurotic than those with the cleanest and most orderly.

The researchers claimed that from the viewpoint of those making judgments about the personal spaces of others in the workplace, traits like high neuroticism, low conscientiousness and low agreeableness could signal potentially undesirable qualities in an employee. The significance of this, they said, is that these impressions matter in terms of how employees are generally perceived and treated.

The findings appeared in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Male contraceptive enters clinical testing phase

There may soon be a completely new option for couples wishing to prevent pregnancy: Clinical trials are set to begin on a daily contraceptive medication for men. 

The gel formulation, called NES/T, includes a progestin compound in combination with testosterone. It is applied to the back and shoulders and absorbed through the skin. The progestin blocks natural testosterone production, reducing sperm production to low or nonexistent levels, while the replacement testosterone maintains normal sex drive and other functions which are dependent on the hormone. The effects are reversible once its use is stopped.

Researchers from the National Institutes of Health plan to enroll approximately 420 couples in the trial, which will last nearly two years. Previous surveys, conducted in the U.S. and worldwide, have shown that more than half of men say they would use a male contraceptive as long as it is reversible and uncomplicated.

Are “no selfie zones” necessary?

In their quest for the perfect “selfie,” nearly 260 people have died over the last six years worldwide, according to a new study by medical researchers in India. Of the 259 deaths, which the researchers have termed “selficides,” they found the leading cause to be drowning, followed by incidents involving transportation – for example, taking a selfie in front of an oncoming train – and falling from heights. Other causes of selfie-related deaths have included animal attacks, firearms and electrocution.

In the U.S., four people have died while taking selfies in the last few months of 2018 alone. All four were killed in falls from cliffs or high ledges, three of those in Yosemite National Park and one in northern Michigan. 

Agam Bansal, the study’s lead author, said he was concerned by how many of the selfie-related fatalities involved young people – more than 85 percent of the victims were between the ages of 10 and 30 – and the needlessness of cutting their lives short in this way. “What worries me the most is that it is a preventable cause of death … Just because you want a perfect selfie because you want a lot of likes, shares on Facebook, Twitter or other social media, I don’t think this is worth compromising a life for such a thing,” he added.

One possible way to prevent selfie deaths would be to establish “no selfie zones,” Bansal suggested, banning them in certain areas such as bodies of water, mountain peaks and at the top of tall buildings. Efforts to dissuade people from taking selfies in dangerous locations have already been attempted in multiple countries, including India, Russia and Indonesia, he noted.

“It’s like a man-made disaster,” he said. “It’s not a natural disaster.”

On the calendar

The O’Fallon Fire Protection District offers a Community CPR Class on Wednesday, Dec. 19 from 6-8:30 p.m. at Fire Station 3, 600 Laura Hill Road in O’Fallon. Registrants who successfully pass this class will be issued a Heartsaver CPR-AED card through the American Heart Association that is valid for two years; however, the class does not include first aid instruction. Class size is limited to 18 students, with fire district residents receiving preference. Attendance is free for district residents and $25 for non-residents. Children ages 12- 17 must be accompanied by a parent or guardian. To sign up, complete and return the registration form available online at ofallonfire.org/forms; call (636) 272-3493 with questions.

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An American Red Cross Community Blood Drive is on Friday, Dec. 21 from 1-5 p.m. at McClay Branch Library, 2760 McClay Road in St. Charles. Register online at redcrossblood.org or by phone at 1-800-733-2767.

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St. Charles City-County Library hosts Losing Weight the Right Way on Tuesday, Jan. 8 from 2-3:30 p.m. at the library’s Middendorf-Kredell Branch, 2750 Hwy. K in O’Fallon. In this course, participants will develop a weight loss plan by using the weight loss triad of diet, exercise and mentality. You will be able to review example diet plans and strategies to stay motivated, as well as exercise options that suit your needs and lifestyle. To register, visit bjcstcharlescounty.org or call (636) 928-9355. 

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