Health and Happiness

Are Kids Oversnacked?

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Kids aren't the only ones who smile when the words "snack time" are heard. We are obsessed with snacking. Aisle after aisle in the grocery store is filled with sweet, salty, savory and, yes, even healthy snacks. Do we live in an oversnacked society? Is this fixation adding to the dangerous level of childhood obesity and playing a role in the growing number of poorly nourished kids in our country?

"Despite the increase in weight of our children, there are still critical nutrient gaps," said Gina Bucciferro, registered dietician and pediatric nutrition expert at Loyola University Medical Center. "Snacks can either make or break the nutritional quality of a kid's daily intake."

Research has shown that 88 percent of U.S. children do not meet the recommended daily intake for fruit and 92 percent do not meet the same for vegetables. Though obesity is a major concern for kids with poor nutrition, there are other health risks as well. These include heart disease, depression, high blood pressure, tooth decay, anemia, osteoporosis and diabetes.

According to Bucciferro, snacks are a great way to bridge the nutritional gap. Parents need to be aware of what is being served and when it takes place to help keep snack time a good time.

When to snack:

1. After physical activity. In addition to needing high-quality energy for growth and development, children involved in sports and other physical activities need to replace the extra energy they are burning. Whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy can provide the carbohydrates needed to replenish little athletes without added sugar and fat. Fluids also are important in making sure active kids stay hydrated. According to the American Dietetic Association, school-age children need to drink six 8 ounce cups of water per day and another 8 ounces for every half-hour of strenuous activity. A sports drink is only necessary for activities lasting longer than 60 minutes.

2. Scheduled between meal times. Children do have increased nutrition needs, so providing snacks between meals can help them stay focused and healthy. The goal should be to offer as much nutrition as possible without providing excessive sugar, fat and calories. Fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy are an easy way to meet this goal. These types of foods, eaten two to three hours before a meal will not spoil an appetite, whereas high-fat foods might.

When not to snack:

1. As a reward. Our relationship with food is formed at a very young age. When food is provided as a reward an unhealthy relationship with food can be formed. Rewarding children with playtime or fun, educational activities can form much better habits than indulging in high-fat, high-sugar fare. Also, providing these types of foods after an accomplishment can lead the child to place a higher value on low-nutrition food items. Also, don't treat these foods as forbidden. Encourage everything in moderation.

2. To cure boredom. Starting a habit of eating when bored can become a slippery slope. If you notice your child requesting snacks at off-times, make sure to assess the situation. If your child's normal meal times have been thrown off due to a hectic schedule or if they've had increased activity, provide them with a small, low-calorie snack such as fruit and low-fat yogurt or veggies and light ranch dip. However, if it's been a typical day and you notice your child is just antsy, provide a fun activity instead. Depending on your child's age coloring and other activity books can be a good option for minimal supervision while not encouraging increased television time.

"Snack time can be beneficial for kids. Just make sure kids are snacking at the right time and that snack items are closing the nutrient gaps, not worsening a child's nutrient deficit which be detrimental to a child's health," said Bucciferro.

Loyola University Health System


Top Ten Tips for Caring for an Old Dog

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Dog owners know to put a coat on their dog when they take her out in cold weather, but what about at night, when thermostats are lowered to save money? The issue becomes especially important for older dogs who, just like older people, do not adapt easily to abrupt changes in temperature. Make sure the canine remains comfortable by putting her in a fuzzy dog bed, perhaps with a blanket over her. Hot air rises toward the ceiling while cold air sinks to the floor where the dog sleeps.

That's just one of the many tips found in GOOD OLD DOG: Expert Advice for Keeping Your Aging Dog Happy, Healthy, and Comfortable, just out from the Faculty of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University and edited by world-renowned animal behaviorist Nicholas Dodman, BVMS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt). Ten other tips for dog owners from GOOD OLD DOG:

1. If you fly with Fido, consider buying a climate-controlled pet carrier. The belly of the plane might be temperature-controlled, but not the tarmac in frigid or blazing hot weather.

2. Don't be seduced by the word "Senior" on packages of dog food. That's a marketing tool with no definition other than what the manufacturer wants it to mean. Instead, look for fine print that says the food went through animal feeding tests approved by the Association of American Feed Control Officials, or AAFCO.

3. Don't despair if your aging friend is experiencing urinary incontinence. There is now an arsenal of drugs - and even surgeries - to correct the problem.

4. Check to see if your dog waddles or shuffles when she walks. It could be a sign of arthritis. Limping is not the only clue.

5. Consider buying health care insurance for your older pet. For about $50 a month, and sometimes much less, you can considerably diminish the cost of an expensive surgery or other procedure your older friend may need.

6. If your canine companion stands at the hinge side of a door to go through or gets "stuck" in corners or behind furniture, take her to the vet for a workup. She may have the canine version of Alzheimer's, and the sooner you tend to it, the better your chances of slowing its progression.

7. Put runners down on smooth surfaces like highly polished floors. They may not look good, but aging dogs often have a harder time gaining traction on a smooth surface or getting up from a reclining position.

8. Think your dog may be sick? Take his temperature. Normal is a range - 100 to 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

9. Don't smoke. Second-hand smoke is thought to raise the cancer risk for dogs (and other animals), just like it does for people. Even third-hand smoke - the tobacco toxin leftovers that stick on skin, hair, drapes, and so on - can make its way to your dog's lungs.

10. Don't fret if your dog needs abdominal surgery. For people, it can take 6 weeks after an abdominal operation to walk without pain. But people have to use their abdominal muscles to keep themselves upright when they walk, since they only have two legs. Because a dog has four legs, however, all her abdominal muscles have to do is hold in her organs, not expand and contract every time she takes a step. She can generally walk the day of the surgery.

The Faculty of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University treat more than twenty-six thousand cases annually, and the school's emergency program is the largest residency program in the United States. They are the authors of Puppy's First Steps.

Nicholas Dodman is a world-renowned animal behaviorist and the best-selling author of the immensely popular The Dog Who Loved Too Much, The Cat Who Cried for Help, and The Well-Adjusted Dog. He has appeared on Oprah, the Today show, Good Morning America, 20/20, and CNN, among many other television and radio programs. He is available for interview about Good Old Dog.

Lawrence Lindner is a New York Times best-selling writer who has penned regular columns for the Washington Post and the Boston Globe and has written for numerous other publications.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt


What Do Fats Do in the Body?

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It's common knowledge that too much cholesterol and other fats can lead to disease, and that a healthy diet involves watching how much fatty food we eat. However, our bodies need a certain amount of fat to function-and we can't make it from scratch.

Triglycerides, cholesterol and other essential fatty acids-the scientific term for fats the body can't make on its own-store energy, insulate us and protect our vital organs. They act as messengers, helping proteins do their jobs. They also start chemical reactions that help control growth, immune function, reproduction and other aspects of basic metabolism.

The cycle of making, breaking, storing and mobilizing fats is at the core of how humans and all animals regulate their energy. An imbalance in any step can result in disease, including heart disease and diabetes. For instance, having too many triglycerides in our bloodstream raises our risk of clogged arteries, which can lead to heart attack and stroke.

Fats help the body stockpile certain nutrients as well. The so-called "fat-soluble" vitamins-A, D, E and K-are stored in the liver and in fatty tissues.

Knowing that fats play such an important role in many basic functions in the body, researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health study them in humans and other organisms to learn more about normal and abnormal biology.

Looking to Insects for Insight into Fat Regulation

Despite fat's importance, no one yet understands exactly how humans store it and call it into action. In search of insight, Oklahoma State University biochemist Estela Arrese studies triglyceride metabolism in unexpected places: silkworms, fruit flies and mosquitoes.

The main type of fat we consume, triglycerides are especially suited for energy storage because they pack more than twice as much energy as carbohydrates or proteins.

Once triglycerides have been broken down during digestion, they are shipped out to cells through the bloodstream. Some of the fat gets used for energy right away. The rest is stored inside cells in blobs called lipid droplets.

When we need extra energy-for instance, when we run a marathon-our bodies use enzymes called lipases to break down the stored triglycerides. The cell's power plants, mitochondria, can then create more of the body's main energy source: adenosine triphosphate, or ATP.

Arrese works to identify, purify and determine the roles of individual proteins involved in triglyceride metabolism. Her lab was the first to purify the main fat regulation protein in insects, TGL, and now she is trying to learn what it does. She also discovered the function of a key lipid droplet protein called Lsd1, and she is investigating its sister, Lsd2.

Arrese's work could teach us more about disorders like diabetes, obesity and heart disease. Plus, by understanding how insects use fat when they metamorphose and lay eggs and by hypothesizing how to disrupt those processes, her discoveries could lead to new ways for farmers to protect their crops from pests and for health officials to combat mosquito-borne diseases like malaria and West Nile virus.

But before any of that can happen, says Arrese, "We need to study a lot and have information at the molecular level."

Cholesterol and Cell Membranes

One of Arrese's challenges is trying to get oily substances like fat to work in lab tests, which tend to be water-based. However, our cells couldn't function without fat and water's mutual dislike.

Cell membranes encase our cells and the organelles inside them. Fat-specifically, cholesterol-makes these membranes possible. The fatty ends of membrane molecules veer away from the water inside and outside cells, while the non-fatty ends gravitate toward it. The molecules spontaneously line up to form a semi-permeable membrane. The result: flexible protective barriers that, like bouncers at a club, only allow the appropriate molecules to cross into and out of cells.

Chew on that the next time you ponder the fate of the fat in a French fry.

NIH, National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS)


Do you Know What to Do in a Dental Emergency?

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Having to deal with a dental emergency is not something people think about. However, being prepared can make the difference between saving or losing a tooth. And in the case of a toothache, if it involves a bacterial infection, it can be a life-threatening situation.

Here are a couple of common dental emergencies and what to do about them.

A lost filling

Rinse out the cavity with warm water. Apply a temporary filling product such as Dentemp® which can be made into a ball and pressed firmly into the cavity. This can alleviate immediate pain, but it is important that you call your emergency dentist and arrange to have your filling replaced before the situation worsens.

Lost Crown / Cap

Even though a missing crown is not immediately painful, it can become painful in a short period of time as food and other debris gather in the cavity. Unless the cavity is sealed up again, decay and infection can cause the tooth to ache. It is important that you visit your emergency dentist within a few days of losing your crown or cap.

You're suffering with a toothache

Toothaches can be more dangerous than any physical trauma to a tooth. Rinse your mouth out with warm water and place some kind of cold compress against your cheek for twenty minutes to reduce the swelling. Then let it warm up for 20 minutes and then back to the cold compress.

Don't put any kind of pain medication against the gum. The pain medication could burn the gum and cause more problems. The greatest risk comes if the toothache is from a bacterial infection. If left untreated, this could become life threatening. See an emergency dentist ASAP.

Shamblott Family Dentistry


Being Optimistic Is Good For Your Health

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Being optimistic does make a difference in teen mental health and behavior, especially against the onset of depressive symptoms. In the study, "A Prospective Study of the Effects of Optimism on Adolescent Health Risks," published in the February 2011 issue of Pediatrics (published online Jan. 10), study authors assessed 5,634 students aged 12 to 14 years over three years on optimistic thinking style, emotional problems, substance use and antisocial behaviors. Levels of optimism in boys remained stable but in girls there were marked falls in optimism across the study. At any given time optimistic teens were doing much better in terms of health risks. Most importantly, risks for the later onset of depression in adolescents who reported high levels of optimism were almost half those of the least optimistic. Optimism was also protective against the onset of substance abuse and antisocial behaviors such as theft, interpersonal violence and property damage.

The authors found that although optimism is protective against adolescent health risks it is not a panacea. Preventive interventions will also need to address other aspects of psychological and interpersonal functioning as well as the social circumstances in which younger teens are growing up.

American Academy of Pediatrics

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