Health

Morbidly obese could get free flu jab

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18 March 2015Last updated at 08:21

By Michelle RobertsHealth editor, BBC News online

flu jab

Morbidly obese people in England should be given a free flu jab on the NHS each year, say government advisers.

Public Health England and the government’s vaccine advisory committee are in agreement that obesity poses enough of a health threat to consider including it as one of the “at risk” groups routinely offered the vaccine.

It would put obesity in the same league as asthma, diabetes and heart disease.

The government is yet to announce whether it will act on the advice.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Health said this coming year’s flu plan was still being developed.

Nearly a million people in the UK are morbidly obese.

Morbid obesity is defined as a Body Mass Index (a measure of weight in relation to height) of 40 or more.

In the UK, about three women in every 100 and one man in every 100 fit in this category.

And experts say lessons from the 2009 outbreak of pandemic swine flu, which spread from country to country and infected a fifth of the world’s population, suggest that people who are morbidly obese are particularly vulnerable to severe flu.

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Free flu jabs

flu

The seasonal flu vaccine is currently available for free on the NHS for “at risk” groups which include:

  • young children
  • anyone over the age of 65
  • pregnant women
  • people with asthma, diabetes, heart disease or a weakened immune system
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‘Respond well’

A number of studies have suggested that many of the patients around the globe who died or ended up in hospital with H1N1 swine flu were morbidly obese.

While some very obese people might already be eligible for the flu jab because of co-existing health problems, the majority will not be, experts estimate.

By their calculations, about 800,000 extra people in the UK could then qualify for the vaccine if morbid obesity is added to the “at risk” list.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation said, based on the evidence available to them, it was “clear” that morbid obesity should be considered a risk factor for having the seasonal flu jab.

A spokesman said: “JCVI considered a summary of evidence, provided by Public Health England, which indicated that morbidly obese people are at an increased risk of complications and mortality from influenza, relative to healthy individuals, and additional evidence suggesting that such individuals respond well to vaccine.

“The committee confirmed its advice that morbid obesity should be considered a risk factor for seasonal influenza vaccination.”

Jonathan Ball, professor of virology at the University of Nottingham, agreed that morbidly obese people should be given a free flu jab because they were an at risk group.

“People who were obese were turning up [to hospital] with serious complications [of influenza infection] and therefore it makes perfect sense to give them the vaccine because there is no reason why they wouldn’t respond well to it,” he told the BBC.

Mr Ball said there would be both a health benefit and cost benefit for the NHS in the long run if the group were given the vaccine.

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Breastfeeding ‘linked to higher IQ’

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18 March 2015Last updated at 02:39

A woman breastfeeding

A long-term study has pointed to a link between breastfeeding and intelligence.

The research in Brazil traced nearly 3,500 babies, from all walks of life, and found those who had been breastfed for longer went on to score higher on IQ tests as adults.

Experts say the results, while not conclusive, appear to back current advice that babies should be exclusively breastfed for six months.

But they say mothers should still have a choice about whether or not to do it.

Continue reading the main story

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Advice remains that exclusive breastfeeding for around the first six months of life provides health benefits to babies”

End QuotePublic Health England

Regarding the findings – published in The Lancet Global Health – they stress there are many different factors other than breastfeeding that could have an impact on intelligence, although the researchers did try to rule out the main confounders, such as mother’s education, family income and birth weight.

Dr Bernardo Lessa Horta, from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil, said his study offers a unique insight because in the population he studied, breastfeeding was evenly distributed across social class – not something just practised by the rich and educated.

Most of the babies, irrespective of social class, were breastfed – some for less than a month and others for more than a year.

Those who were breastfed for longer scored higher on measures of intelligence as adults.

They were also more likely to earn a higher wage and to have completed more schooling.

Long-term impact

Dr Horta believes breast milk may offer an advantage because it is a good source of long-chain saturated fatty acids which are essential for brain development.

But experts say the study findings cannot confirm this and that much more research is needed to explore any possible link between breastfeeding and intelligence.

Two babies

Kevin Fenton, national director of health and wellbeing, Public Health England, said there was strong evidence that breastfeeding provides some health benefits for babies – reduced respiratory and gastrointestinal infections in infancy, for example.

He said: “PHE’s advice remains that exclusive breastfeeding for around the first six months of life provides health benefits to babies.

“We recognise however, that not all mothers choose, or are able, to breastfeed and infant formula is the only alternative to breast milk for babies under 12 months old.”

Janet Fyle of the Royal College of Midwives said new mothers needed breastfeeding support.

Dr Colin Michie, chairman of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health’s nutrition committee, said: “There have been many studies on the link between breastfeeding and IQ over the years with many having had their validity challenged.

“This study however, looks at a number of other factors including education achievement and income at age 30 which, along with the high sample size, makes this study a very powerful one.

“It is important to note that breastfeeding is one of many factors that can contribute to a child’s outcomes, however this study emphasises the need for continued and enhanced breastfeeding promotion so expectant mothers are aware of the benefits of breastfeeding.”

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Privately-run hospital scheme ‘poor’

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18 March 2015Last updated at 01:43

Hinchingbrooke Hospital main entranceCircle became the first private firm to manage an NHS hospital three years ago

Oversight of the contract to run the first privately-managed NHS hospital was “poor and inadequate”, a House of Commons committee’s chairwoman said.

MP Margaret Hodge said taxpayers were left “exposed” by the decision to allow Circle to run Hinchingbrooke Hospital in Cambridgeshire.

The Public Accounts Committee leader spoke after Circle pulled out of running the hospital, in January.

The firm said taxpayers still saved £23m through the deal.

In February 2012, Circle took operational control of Hinchingbrooke Health Care NHS Trust, but in January it gave up its contract, citing “unprecedented” increases in A&E attendances and funding cuts.

Internal view at Hinchingbrooke HospitalWhen the scheme was first announced the Department of Health said “patient care would not be affected”

The Care Quality Commission inspected the trust in September 2014 and gave it an overall rating of “inadequate”, although this is disputed by Circle.

The Public Accounts Committee said in a report that in January 2013 the committee “expressed concerns that Circle’s bid to run Hinchingbrooke had not been properly risk assessed and was based on overly optimistic… savings projections”.

The report said: “The Department of Health responded that the NHS Trust Development Authority (TDA) would monitor progress and take action if the trust was failing to deliver on its plans.

“In the event, Circle was not able to make the trust sustainable and the TDA did not take effective action to protect the taxpayer.”

‘Intervention package’

Mrs Hodge said: “Despite our warnings about the risks, oversight of the contract by the various parties who had a role was poor and inadequate and no-one has been held accountable for the consequences.

“As we warned in 2013, the taxpayer has been left exposed by the failure of the Hinchingbrooke franchise.”

A Circle spokesman said: “We made the savings we planned – and the taxpayer has still saved £23m thanks to the deal with Circle.”

A TDA spokesman said: “We will consider the Public Accounts Committee’s report and recommendations to take forward the learning from the Hinchingbrooke management franchise to improve our oversight and intervention mechanisms.

“The Trust is currently receiving intensive support for quality improvements through our special measures intervention package.”

A Department of Health spokesman said Hinchingbrooke Hospital had severe problems and Circle “had the most comprehensive turnaround plans, which included taking on £5m of risk to the taxpayer”.

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Has the war on drugs been lost?

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18 March 2015Last updated at 01:42

A person rolling a joint of cannabis

Forty-four years after President Nixon declared “war on drugs”, four US states have now agreed to legalise the sale of marijuana and most Americans support legalisation.

Across the world, drug laws are being relaxed, from Uruguay to Portugal, Jamaica and the Czech Republic.

Does this mean the war on drugs has been lost?

The BBC World Service’s The Inquiry hears from four expert witnesses, including a former Colombian president and a drugs prosecutor turned defence lawyer.

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Bonny Klapper: The legal approach must change dramatically

After many years prosecuting drugs offences as an Assistant US Attorney, growing frustration with the approach inspired Bonny Klapper to become a defence attorney.

Bonnie KlapperLawyer Bonnie Klapper argues that drugs offer the only route out of poverty for some

“About 10 years into my career, it really hit me that the people I was prosecuting were not just drug traffickers. They were mothers, they were fathers, and I really began to take an interest in why these individuals got involved in drug trafficking.”

One Colombian drug runner had a big impact:

“At 14 he had a choice: go work in the emerald mines, or do something else. So he started in the emerald mines, and it was a horrible experience. And then he was offered the chance to work as a driver for one of the leaders of the Norte Valle Cartel. He started as a driver, and ultimately rose up through the ranks.

“In countries like Colombia, sometimes if you want to support your family – and you don’t come from a wealthy family or you’re not highly educated – drugs is the only path that you have to get yourself out of poverty.”

She noticed other problems back in the US at the other end of the chain:

“[We] would prosecute money remitter houses in Queens that were sending drug money to Colombia. We prosecuted one, we shut it down, and the next day another one opened up in the same location. Or we prosecuted very high level traffickers, either in the US or in Colombia, and once they were extradited, someone else came in to take their place.

“We’ve shifted the problem from Colombia to Mexico. Now all of Central America is inundated because the traffickers got sophisticated, and they’re moving through Guatemala and Honduras, and those countries are turning into narco states.”

She argues the approach to drugs users is equally flawed:

“The prison system is a disaster. There’s virtually no rehabilitation. Locking up low level individuals who have drug problems or who have limited other options is not effective, because they go to jail, they come out, they get involved with drugs again, and they go right back to it.

“I have nothing but praise for the law enforcement agents I’ve worked with [but] so many of them have said to me ‘we’re fighting a war that can’t be won the way we’re fighting it’.

“The war itself is at a draw. And I believe that draw will be maintained indefinitely unless there’s a dramatic change in our approach to drugs and drug trafficking.”

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Cesar Gaviria: Legalisation taboo is now broken

Former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria worked on the Global Commission on Drug Policy report in 2011 which called on states to decriminalise drugs.

Former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria Former Colombian President Cesar Gaviria has been a powerful advocate for decriminalisation

“Our recommendation is regulation for everything. That’s what Portugal did.

“If you look at the last 50 years, what has been done? In the US, 600,000 people in jail, $40bn (£27bn) of spending a year. The highest rates of consumption of the whole world. You have to say that it doesn’t work. It’s a failed policy, and public opinion knows that.

“Ten years ago it was unthinkable that the US would move massively to the legalisation of cannabis.

“That taboo has been broken. In the US, a majority of people are talking about approving legalisation of marijuana.”

He cites the example of Uruguay, the first country to legalise the marijuana trade.

“All Latin America’s looking at Uruguay. It’s a country that also looks how to deal with the production, with the supply of the marijuana that is in the state hands.

“I don’t expect any major set back of the policy that the Uruguayans have put in place.

“From the beginning in 1961, the objective of the UN Conventions has been to live in a world free of drugs, but it’s a utopia. It’s something unreachable. It’s not to recognise human nature.”

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David Murray: Real progress has been made

Former chief scientist in the White House Office of National Drug Policy Control David Murray insists the billions of dollars spent tackling drug traffickers and destroying coca crops were well spent:

David MurrayDavid Murray insists the billions spent tackling drugs trafficking have not been wasted

“A 75% reduction in the productive capacity of Colombian cocaine was achieved by strategic initiatives of supply reduction in partnership with the leadership and political will of the Colombians themselves.

“That’s been a sustained achievement that then resulted in a more than 45% drop in the prevalence rate of cocaine use in the United States on the streets

“This is a global business. As a global business they have their preferred mode of operation where they would like to be with regard to supply routes – ungoverned safe havens where they would like to be to carry out their business with maximum efficiency.

“When you push them off of that spot they will adapt but they are diminished.

“We may have an idealised world where prevention and treatment and recovery happen in a certain way and we don’t have to do the hard and dirty work, but that’s not the reality on the ground.

“The reality is it’s a tough slog, it is a cancer and it is worth fighting. Sure it’s discouraging to see drug use continue but it actually is diminished if you take a long perspective over time and we actually are making progress with regard to it.”

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Peter Reuter: Better management is the only solution

Professor Peter Reuter from the school of public policy at the University of Maryland has been a leading academic in the field of drugs policy for decades.

“The war on drugs was partly defined by its rhetoric.

Peter Reuter Professor Peter Reuter says it is simplistic to think the drugs problem can be “solved”

“The need for national leaders to stand up and talk about the scourge of drugs, and signal to the population that [being tough on drugs] was a priority was an important part of the war itself.

“There’s going to be less and less of that. I think there’s going to be a change both in tone and substance, so the ‘war on drugs’ will become a less and less plausible metaphor for describing policy. I think it’s going to be a public health rhetoric for the foreseeable future.

“I do believe that we have in a sense had an experiment with trying to be very aggressive about controlling drugs through use of prohibition. And we have a sense that that did not work well. And so we’re now trying to find better ways of managing the problem, and I think that’s welcome.

“If you look at the number of people who are in prison for drug offences, at least in the US, that’s an important indicator of the change in real policy, and those numbers are starting to go down. Not dramatically, but they are definitely going down, and many states are making changes that are likely to accelerate that decline.”

As drug laws soften he argues the question of regulation becomes key, as happened when gambling was legalised:

“Lottery play was always seen as a bad thing, you legalised it because you wanted to take money away from organised crime, but the result was that the state lotteries became the most aggressive promoters.

Continue reading the main story

Find out more

The Inquiry programme logo

The Inquiry is broadcast on the BBC World Service, Tuesdays from 13:05 GMT

“You have slogans like ‘Why be a mug and work when you can play the lottery and win easily?’, just the kind of slogan you’d associate with the worst commercial promotion, but done by the state.

“Alcohol is still heavily promoted, and it’s promoted in states that have state liquor monopolies, and we’ve only recently really been able to restrict smoking promotions.

“So I think there’s considerable risk that even if there was a monopoly there would be promotion of marijuana, and clearly what we see in the state of Colorado where it is commercially available, it’s regulated, like alcohol, what we see is very aggressive promotion, advertising.

“You cannot with a straight face say that marijuana legalisation won’t lead to more marijuana dependence.

“Choose your problem. There is no solution. Use of psychoactive drugs is a social problem like a whole lot of other social problems. We manage it. And we may manage it better or worse, but the notion that we solve a problem is simplistic. We’re simply managing a problem.”

The Inquiry is broadcast on the BBC World Service on Tuesdays from 13:05 GMT. Listen online or download the podcast.

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Breast-Fed Babies May Be Smarter, Richer Adults

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TUESDAY, March 17, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Breast-fed babies may be smarter, better educated and richer as adults, a new study by Brazilian researchers suggests.

“Breast-feeding is associated with improved performance in intelligence tests at age 30 and also has an important effect on a societal level by increasing educational attainment and income in adulthood,” said lead researcher Dr. Bernardo Horta, of the Federal University of Pelotas.

“Taking into consideration these long-term benefits of breast-feeding as well as its short-term consequences, it is important to get more women to breast-feed their infants,” he added.

The study was published March 17 in The Lancet Global Health.

However, one baby doctor not involved with the study said it’s impossible to prove that breast-fed babies grow up to be smarter, more successful adults.

And Erik Mortensen, author of an accompanying journal editorial who’s with the department of public health at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, said the study only shows an association between breast-feeding and IQ, not proof of cause and effect.

But the link is very strong, Mortensen said. “It may not be a causal effect, but in my judgment, the overall evidence from other studies and the Brazilian study suggests that the effects are causal,” he said.

Still, it’s important for women to know that breast-feeding does not determine destiny, Mortensen added.

“Breast-feeding is only one of many factors which influence the development of intelligence. And it actually appears that factors such as parental intelligence, parental education and social class have a stronger influence on the development of offspring intelligence,” he said.

For the study, Horta’s team collected decades of data on nearly 3,500 infants born in 1982 in Pelotas, Brazil. The data included information on breast-feeding, as well as education, income and standard IQ test results at age 30.

The researchers found that infants who were breast-fed had higher IQs, more years of school and higher incomes as adults than those who weren’t breast-fed. Moreover, the longer a baby was breast-fed — up to a year — the greater these benefits, the researchers said.

For example, an infant breast-fed for at least a year had an almost 4-point increase above the average IQ as an adult. Those breast-fed for a year achieved almost an extra year of schooling, compared to participants breast-fed less than one month, according to the study. The researchers also found that income was about one-third higher than the median in participants who had been breast-fed for at least a year.

Horta speculated that breast-feeding’s impact on intelligence might be caused by the saturated fatty acids in breast milk that are necessary for brain development. He also suggested that the amount of breast milk an infant consumes may play a role in increasing IQ.

Breast-feeding was not more common among highly educated, high-income women, but was evenly distributed by social class in this study, according to Horta.

In addition, the researchers compensated for social and biological variables that might have contributed to increases in IQ. Those variables included family income, parental schooling, genes, a mother’s smoking during pregnancy, the mother’s age, birth weight and type of delivery.

Dr. David Mendez, a neonatologist at Miami Children’s Hospital, said parents should not take the message from this study that “if you do not breast-feed, your child will not be a successful adult.”

“Clearly, to tie a singular event such as breast-feeding to the future potential of an adult is problematic,” Mendez said. “This study really points out the benefits of a nurturing environment, the energy and effort that parents put into successfully breast-feeding their children, which is indicative of parents who are loving and caring. That environment will help a child to reach their full potential as an adult.”

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Kids’ Bad Diets May Mean Worse Health as Adults

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TUESDAY, March 17, 2015 (HealthDay News) — The overall heart health of U.S. children falls short, a new analysis suggests.

Northwestern University researchers found that while most of the nearly 9,000 children they studied had healthy blood pressure levels, 40 percent did not have good cholesterol levels, almost none ate a healthy diet regularly and 30 percent were overweight or obese.

These findings may mean more children will face a future that will include heart disease if nothing changes, said Dr. Sarah Samaan, a cardiologist at Legacy Heart Center in Plano, Texas.

“Childhood sets the stage for life. If a child starts off with a healthy diet and active lifestyle, he or she is far less likely to develop chronic, expensive diseases that can take years off of a productive life,” said Samaan, who was not involved with the study.

“Obese kids and adults are far more likely to develop high blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis and heart disease, so we should not accept this as the ‘new normal,'” she added.

The healthy diet score was one of four items used to assess the heart health of American children, aged 2 to 11, from national surveys conducted between 2003 and 2010. The other measures included blood pressure, total cholesterol and body mass index (BMI), a ratio of a person’s height to weight used to measure body fat.

According to the American Heart Association, a healthy diet meant at least four of the following five components: at least 4.5 cups of fruits and vegetables daily; at least two 3.5-ounce servings of fish a week; at least three 1-ounce servings of fiber-rich whole grains daily; less than 1,500 milligrams of daily sodium; and no more than 450 calories from sugar-sweetened beverages per week.

Fewer than 1 percent of the children over age 5 ate a healthy diet, and less than 20 percent met two or three of the components. Children were least likely to get the whole grain requirement, the study authors said.

More than 90 percent of children got too much daily sodium and too little fish or fruits and vegetables, according to the report. More than half drank too many sugary beverages.

About 90 percent of the children had a healthy blood pressure, but only 60 percent of children had good total cholesterol levels, the investigators found.

Healthy BMIs were more common: 67 percent of the 2- to 5-year-olds and 77 percent of the 6- to 11-year-olds had a healthy BMI. But 15 percent of all the children were overweight, and about the same percentage were obese.

The findings were published March 17 in the journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

“Parents need to set better examples with their own diet and exercise habits to demonstrate healthy behaviors to their children,” said Dr. Danelle Fisher, a pediatrician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif.

“Discussions about food, cooking at home, limiting sugary beverages, and including children in food shopping and meal preparation are some things parents can do to introduce these concepts to children from a young age,” Fisher suggested.

Dr. Carlo Reyes, a pediatrician at Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks, Calif., pointed out that the biggest concern about these findings is that children’s eating habits may be setting in by age 12.

“This is a difficult problem, probably having its roots in both societal and cultural constructs,” Reyes said. “Educating parents on healthy options is a start, but not nearly enough to turn this trend. Helping parents will likely involve the effort of a community of leaders composed of pediatricians, family practitioners and educators.”

Schools can also help support children’s heart health, said study co-author Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, a professor of cardiology and epidemiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

“From providing healthy meals as the default to assuring students have physical education every day, they can play a key role in the health of children and are an important link to families as well,” Lloyd-Jones said. “The takeaway for parents, and for our society as a whole, is that we must make every effort to preserve heart health by establishing healthy habits in our kids right from the start.”

These habits should include regular physical activity and a healthy diet high in fruits, vegetables and lean proteins, and with limited processed foods and starches, he and Samaan said.

“Many adults grew up in households where healthy, fresh food was not part of the everyday routine, so it may take a little effort and education to learn how to help a child thrive,” Samaan said. “The effort is worth it. When a child is not given a healthy start in life, a healthy adulthood is far more difficult to attain.”

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VIDEO: Child mental health ‘needs overhaul’

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Mental health services for children and young people in England need a “complete overhaul”, according to a government taskforce.

17-year-old Nikki, who has suffered from mental health issues, said she was “surprised” the options for teenagers like her were so limited.

Ministers have announced new measures and funding to improve mental health service for young people.

The BBC’s Health Editor, Hugh Pym reports.

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Could Loneliness Shorten a Life?

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TUESDAY, March 17, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Loneliness has long been associated with poor mental health, including depression. But a new study suggests social isolation may harm physical health, too, and even hasten death.

The findings are based on a review of data from dozens of studies involving more than 3 million people.

“People don’t commonly think of social factors when they think of health,” said study co-author Timothy B. Smith, a professor in the department of psychology at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. “We think of things like exercise, blood pressure and taking cholesterol medication. But it turns out that social isolation is actually more predictive of death than any of those three things.”

Smith and his colleagues published their findings this month in Perspectives on Psychological Science.

One expert noted that loneliness is an emotional state, first and foremost.

“Loneliness is about the perception of being lonely, not the act of being alone,” said Lisa Jaremka, assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences at the University of Delaware in Newark. “So, all of the research in this area is about people who feel lonely, regardless of their actual social network.”

“There are people who are regularly in contact with other people who are really lonely, and there are also people who don’t physically see other people very often, but don’t feel lonely at all,” Jaremka said.

The new research focused on 70 studies completed between 1980 and 2014, all of which explored how loneliness, social isolation and/or living alone affects longevity. Study participants averaged 66 years of age, and about a third struggled with some type of chronic illness.

While the data review couldn’t prove cause and effect, it did find a strong association between loneliness and the risk for dying sooner rather than later.

Specifically, Smith’s team calculated that social isolation — having few or no social contacts or activities — upped the risk for dying sooner by 29 percent.

The feeling of being lonely — whether or not a person did have social contacts — was also linked to a 26 percent higher risk for an earlier death.

The effect was similar for men and women, and the link between loneliness and earlier death was actually stronger for those under the age of 65 compared to older people. Having to cope with a physical health problem also magnified the effect, the study found.

What is it about loneliness that could shorten lives?

“It will take a decade of more research to ferret that out,” said Smith. Still, he offered a few theories, including poorer immune function, a drop in healthy-oriented behaviors, and a simultaneous rise in risky behaviors such as drug or alcohol abuse, driving aggressively or not wearing a seat belt.

Smith agreed with Jaremka that “living alone and loneliness are actually only moderately correlated. Which means you can be around people all the time but still feel very, very lonely.”

That doesn’t mean that folks who happily live alone are completely off the hook, however. In fact, the study found that people who lived alone had a 32 percent higher risk of an earlier death than those who lived with another person.

“Even if you live alone but don’t feel lonely, you may still experience a negative impact on your health,” Smith said. “Because it turns out that we are literally wired to be social beings, and our immune system and our stress response just function better when we are in a collective. It turns out that we are basically healthier when we are social.”

Jaremka agreed. “People have a very basic and fundamental need to feel connected to and cared for by other people,” she said. “Lonely people are lacking in this area. They aren’t fulfilling this basic need, and thus, negative things happen as a result.”

Her advice: “Reach out to any existing friends or family members and try to deepen those relationships, even if it feels a little uncomfortable or awkward. Friends and family members should also make sure to try and have meaningful contact with anyone they know who is lonely.”

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‘Selfie danger’ during solar eclipse

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17 March 2015Last updated at 17:00

By Smitha MundasadHealth reporter, BBC News

solar eclipse - partial

Taking pictures of Friday’s solar eclipse on a smartphone could put people at risk of blindness, eye experts warn.

The College of Optometrists says the danger comes should people look directly at the Sun as they position themselves for selfies or other shots.

Inadvertently glancing at the Sun – even briefly while setting up a shot – can lead to burns at the back of eye.

Experts advise indirect viewing, using pinholes and facing away from the Sun.

Continue reading the main story

Start Quote

This could potentially be very dangerous because people might be tempted to look at the Sun as they try to get the perfect shot or clip”

End QuoteDaniel Hardiman-Mc CartneyCollege of Optometrists

Sun safety

On Friday, the UK will experience a partial solar eclipse – the Moon will pass in front of the Sun, blotting out up to 98% of its disc and putting much of the UK into a morning twilight.

People in Scotland and Northern Ireland are expected to experience the darkest conditions.

For many, this will be the first time they have witnessed the phenomenon in 15 years, but eye specialists say people should not use their camera phones to capture the event.

Daniel Hardiman-McCartney, a clinical adviser at the College of Optometrists, said: “In 1999, when there was the last major eclipse, no-one really had smartphones or took selfies.

“This could potentially be very dangerous because people might be tempted to look at the Sun as they try to get the perfect shot or clip.

“And as the eclipse is a relatively slow process, people might end up accidentally looking at the Sun for minutes.”

He said though an image of an eclipse on a screen was not dangerous in itself, people might look around the edges of a phone when framing the photo.

“And when taking selfies, it would be easy to keep glancing back over your shoulder to make sure everything is aligned.”

He plans to view the event indirectly on a television screen.

Solar eclipse - pin hole cameraPinhole cameras should only be used with your back to the Sun

The Royal College of Ophthalmologists says there is no safe method for most of the public to look at an eclipse directly – even using dark filters such as sunglasses or through equipment such as cameras, binoculars or telescopes.

Astronomers use special solar telescopes or filters to protect them.

But eye doctors have seen patients with permanent and incurable solar burns to their eyes, the college’s guidance warns.

Pin holes and colanders

The Royal Astronomical Society has issued information on the safest ways to view the eclipse.

They include using a pinhole camera to project an image of the eclipse on to a piece of card.

Other options involve using colanders to make multiple pinholes or using specifically designed eclipse viewing glasses.

Experts warn the glasses must be checked for damage first and should be put on before looking up at the sky.

Map showing where you will be able to see partial eclipse
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FDA Investigates Listeria monocytogenes in Ice Cream Products from Blue Bell Creameries

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March 13, 2015

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The U.S. Food and Drug Administration along with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and state and local officials are investigating an outbreak of listeriosis potentially linked to certain Blue Bell Creameries single serving ice cream products. Listeriosis is caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes.

What is the Problem and What is Being Done About It?

According to the CDC and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, five patients who were treated in a single hospital in Kansas were infected with one of four rare strains of Listeria monocytogenes. Three of these strains, which are highly similar, have also been found in products manufactured at the Blue Bell Creameries production facility in Brenham, Texas. Illness onset dates range from January 2014 to January 2015.

FDA was notified that these three strains and four other rare strains of Listeria monocytogenes were found in samples of Blue Bell Creameries single serving Chocolate Chip Country Cookie Sandwich and the Great Divide Bar ice cream products collected by the South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control during routine product sampling at a South Carolina distribution center, on February 12, 2015. These products are manufactured at Blue Bell Creameries’ Brenham facility.

The Texas Department of State Health Services, subsequently, collected product samples from the Blue Bell Creameries Brenham facility. These samples yielded Listeria monocytogenes from the same products tested by South Carolina and a third single-serving ice cream product, Scoops, which is also made on the same production line.

According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, hospital records available for four patients show that all were served ice cream from Blue Bell Creameries’ prepackaged, single-serving products and milkshakes made from these products. The hospital receives ice cream manufactured by Blue Bell Creameries, although it is not confirmed that the hospital receives ice cream only from the Brenham facility.

All five case patients are adults. Three deaths have been reported.

Blue Bell Creameries reports that it has removed the affected ice cream products from the market (see section below “What Products are Involved?”) by picking it up directly from the retailers and hospital settings it serves. The company has also shut down the production line where the products were made.

The FDA has moved quickly to investigate this issue and learn as much as possible to prevent additional people from becoming ill. We recognize that people will be concerned about these illnesses, and we will continue to provide updates and advice.

What are the Symptoms of Listeriosis?

Listeriosis is a rare but serious illness caused by eating food contaminated with the bacteria called Listeria monocytogenes. Anyone who experiences fever and muscle aches, sometimes preceded by diarrhea or other gastrointestinal symptoms, or develops fever and chills after eating the ice cream should seek medical care and tell their health care provider about any history of eating the ice cream. Symptoms can appear from a few days up to a few weeks after consumption of the contaminated food.

Who is at Risk?

Listeriosis can be fatal, especially in certain high-risk groups. These groups include the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems and certain chronic medical conditions (such as cancer). In pregnant women, listeriosis can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature labor, and serious illness or death in newborn babies.

What Products Are Involved?

Blue Bell Creameries reports that the following products were removed from the market. This action includes only the products listed below and does not include Blue Bell cups, pints or half gallons.

Product Name Product Code
Chocolate Chip Country Cookie SKU # 196
Great Divide Bar SKU #108
Sour Pop Green Apple Bar SKU #221
Cotton Candy Bar SKU #216
Scoops SKU #117
Vanilla Stick Slices SKU #964
Almond Bars SKU #156
6 pack Cotton Candy Bars SKU #245
6 pack Sour Pop Green Apple Bars SKU #249
12 pack No Sugar Added Mooo Bars* SKU #343

*The regular Mooo Bars, available at grocery stores, are not subject to recall.

What Do Consumers Need To Do?

Consumers should not eat any of the products listed above. If these ice cream products are in your freezer, they should be thrown away, even if some of them have been eaten without anyone becoming ill.

Recommendations for preventing listeriosis are available at the CDC Listeria website: http://www.cdc.gov/listeria/prevention.html.

Listeriamonocytogenes can grow at refrigerator temperatures, as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees Celsius). The longer ready-to-eat refrigerated foods are stored in the refrigerator, the more opportunity Listeria has to grow.

For refrigerators and other food preparation surfaces and food cutting utensils that may have come in contact with the potentially contaminated ice cream, it is very important that the consumers thoroughly clean these areas

  • Wash the inside walls and shelves of the refrigerator, cutting boards and countertops; then sanitize them with a solution of one tablespoon of chlorine bleach to one gallon of hot water; dry with a clean cloth or paper towel that has not been previously used.

Consumers should follow these simple steps:

  • Wash hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds before and after handling food.
  • Wipe up spills in the refrigerator immediately and clean the refrigerator regularly.
  • Always wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitization process.

What Do Institutions and Retailers Need To Do?

Institutions and retailers should not sell or serve any products listed above. They should also take the following steps:

  • Wash and sanitize display cases and refrigerators where potentially contaminated products were stored.
  • Wash and sanitize cutting boards, surfaces, and utensils used to cut, serve, or store potentially contaminated products.
  • Wash hands with warm water and soap following the cleaning and sanitation process.
  • Retailers, restaurants, and other food service operators who have processed and packaged any potentially contaminated products need to be concerned about cross contamination of cutting surfaces and utensils through contact with the potentially contaminated products.
  • Regular frequent cleaning and sanitizing of cutting boards and utensils used in processing may help to minimize the likelihood of cross-contamination.

Listeria can grow at refrigeration temperatures. Retailers, restaurants, and other food service operators may wish to consider whether other foods available for sale could have been cross-contaminated from the potentially contaminated products, and should be discarded.

Who Should be Contacted?

The FDA encourages consumers with questions about food safety to call 1-888-SAFEFOOD Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern time, or to consult http://www.fda.gov.


The information in this posting reflects the FDA’s best efforts to communicate what it has learned from the manufacturer, the CDC, and the state and local public health agencies involved in the investigation. The agency will update this page as more information becomes available.

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