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Medical News Notes – October 26, 2009

medicalnews1.JPGA state-by-state health care report.

Why many people get healthier during recessions.

Healthy foods that can kill you.

That and more in this week’s news from the world of health and medicine:

* Health care Varies Wildly from State to State, Study Finds. Live in Vermont or Maine? You’re more likely to live longer than if you live in Mississippi, Florida or Texas. This is according to a study of health care on a state-by-state basis recently released by the Commonwealth Fund, an independent health policy research group. The Fund’s study showed that health care in New England and the Upper Midwest was significantly more accessible, affordable and effective than similar services in the South (Georgia and South Carolina excepted), Nevada and Illinois. “Where you live in the U.S. matters in terms of your health care,” said study co-author Cathy Schoen, “and it shouldn’t.”

* Can a Recession be Good for Your Health? During the Great Depression of the 1930s, life expectancy actually increased. Similar health improvements may be the result of the current recession as well, according to a study just published in the National Academy of Sciences. Although most people believe hard times should take their toll on people’s health, the researchers note that being out of work tends to make people sleep longer, reduce tobacco and alcohol spending, and avoid job stress, all of which have direct health benefits. While they certainly don’t advocate widespread unemployment as a national health policy, they do hope these surprising conclusions lead to the development of economic policies that foster these same positive lifestyle habits.

* Healthiest Foods Likeliest to Carry Disease. “Good-for-you” foods like leafy green vegetables, eggs, tomatoes, sprouts, berries and potatoes are among the Top 10 foods most likely to carry food-borne diseases like E. coli, norovirus and Salmonella. This is according to the consumer watchdog group Center of Science in the Public Interest. The group’s report was not intended to ward consumers off of these usually healthy products, but to call for more federal regulations on how these foods are grown, processed, shipped and handled, according to the report’s authors. Other foods on the list were oysters, ice cream and cheese. Surprisingly, meat products like hamburger and chicken, often linked to highly publicized E. coli and Salmonella outbreaks, did not make the group’s Top 10 list, probably due to the more stringent regulations already in place for these items.

* Exercise Improves Body Image
. Dissatisfied with how your body looks? An estimated 60 percent of Americans are. The fastest, easiest way to feel better about yourself is to exercise. This is according to a University of Florida study published in the September issue of the Journal of Health Psychology. The study’s surprising conclusions: Exercise—any exercise—if done regularly will make you feel better about yourself, even if there are no actual measurable health benefits. Apparently, since body image is basically illusionary, just believing you’re doing something positive can result in a more positive self-image. Which is certainly more productive than yo-yo dieting, taking steroids or having cosmetic surgery, according to the study’s authors.

* “Body Clock” Findings Could Lead to New Brain Treatments. For decades, brain researchers thought they had the brain’s “body clock”—often called circadian rhythm—all figured out. The brain cells that control when we sleep and when we wake fired rapidly during the day, then slowed down at night, making us tired and drowsy. Now, having better targeted the cells that actually control body rhythms, mathematicians at the University of Michigan and in Great Britain have learned that the “body clock” is actually controlled by two short and powerful bursts of brain energy, one just before dusk and one just before dawn. This discovery may help sleep specialists better treat conditions like insomnia and jet lag as well as other diseases linked to the body’s internal clock, such as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and depression.

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