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Am Fam Physician. 1998;57(3):417-418

The Tobacco Institute was the subject of one of Science & Government Report's recent “Non-Profit Pay Checks” reports. The boring part was that in 1996, the Institute reported $46.5 million in revenues from its 12 “corporate sponsors” (companies that manufacture cigarettes). The interesting part was this list of the Institute's objectives: to discourage young people from smoking, to promote fire safety, to increase awareness of the “historic role of tobacco and its place in the national economy, and to foster understanding of issues relating to tobacco.” You'd think with all that money, they wouldn't be having so much trouble meeting their objectives!

The Justice Department plans to expand rules to help disabled workers. The Kiplinger Washington Letter predicts regulations mandating that paths to work areas be cleared and widened as soon as disabled people are hired, and that light switches, thermostats, pay phones, ATMs and elevator buttons be lowered.

Name that drug: in moderation, it can quicken your spirits and make you more friendly, fight drowsiness, fatigue and boredom, prolong your muscles' longterm ability to store energy—and make you dependent. In excess, it can produce anxiety, irritability, restlessness, trembling and sleep disturbances. You got it: caffeine, as profiled by Consumer Reports on Health.

The red hot in chili peppers is helping to ease pain in some cancer patients. A study reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology tested a 0.075 percent capsaicin cream on the incision sites of patients who had moderate to severe post-operative pain. After eight weeks, participants had a 53 percent reduction in pain, compared to a 17 percent reduction in patients who used a placebo. Experts believe that capsaicin relieves pain by triggering the release of the peptide that causes neuropathic pain, causing the peptide to eventually become depleted. However, the cream burns when first applied, and it causes some patients to cough while using it—so it may not be such a hot idea for every patient.

Ladies, take note of your mother's age at menopause; it may have implications for you, according to the European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology. A study of 551 women revealed that women aged 45 to 54 whose mothers had early menopause (before age 45) had a sixfold higher risk of reaching menopause between ages 40 and 45 than those whose mothers didn't.

Some food for thought, from a survey published in USA Today: starting with that first timid lunch in first grade and ending with the celebrated last lunch before leaving high school, the average public school student will spend 1,000 hours in the cafeteria. Some of what's served there every day in the U.S.: 1.9 million gallons of milk, 4.9 million pounds of fresh fruit, 65 million slices of bread and 375,000 pounds of vegetables.

Baby talk, or “child-directed speech,” is integral to early language acquisition, according to a study published in Science. The phenomenon of exaggerating vowel sounds and just sounding silly in general when speaking to babies is somewhat universal, according to the study, and it may actually help infants separate sounds into different categories and develop a vocabulary of sounds.

Prenatal alcohol exposure may be connected to middle-ear disease and hearing loss in children, according to a presentation summarized in Physician's Weekly. Six of 14 children with fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS) and nine of 48 children with fetal alcohol exposure (FAE) were found to have sensorineural hearing loss. Seventy-one percent of the children with FAS and 43 percent with FAE required treatment for chronic otitis media.

Nitric oxide and premature babies. Sound scary? Well, nitric oxide can actually be beneficial in preterm infants who suffer from respiratory distress syndrome. Inhaling nitric oxide raises blood oxygen levels and opens blood vessels in the lungs, allowing oxygen to flow to the brain and other organ tissues, according to researchers at the University of Florida Health Science Center.

An unplanned pregnancy may equal a reluctance to breast feed, according to a study reported in the American Journal of Public Health. In the study, 63 percent of the women who planned their pregnancies breast-fed their babies; accidental pregnancies resulted in about 50 percent of mothers breast-feeding. Too bad, especially since breast feeding helps strengthen the mother-baby bond.

Aerobic exercise—a combination of walking, jogging and stair climbing—is the best kind for promoting bone health in older women, according to a study published in the Journal of Bone and Mineral Research. Such exercise was shown to increase bone density in 60- to 74-year-old women, helping them prevent osteoporosis and fractures of the wrist, hip and spine.

The tendency to frequently change jobs could be related to genetics, according to a study in the Journal of Vocational Behavior. The study of 2,401 pairs of identical and fraternal twins revealed that genetics played a role in at least 20 percent of job changes and 15 percent of career changes.

Bored by your practice? Why not join a SWAT team? Residents in the emergency medicine program at the University of Louisville can opt for additional training as “tactical physicians,” meaning that they would accompany SWAT teams to crisis sites to treat any injuries and evaluate potential problems such as hazardous chemicals at illegal drug labs.

Bell peppers and carrots are pretty hip these days, as vegetables go. The Wall Street Journal reports that the average American will eat about seven pounds of bell peppers this year, mainly because of their role in pizza, pasta and salsa; consumption is up 67 percent from 10 years ago. Carrots are up 55 percent from 1986, partly because of good press about how healthy they are, and partly because smart packaging has eliminated the need for us to peel and cut them ourselves.

Serious medical mistakes are much more common than most people might imagine, says Business & Health. According to a Harris Poll, 42 percent of the 1,500 people polled were affected, either personally or through an incident involving a friend or relative, by a medical mistake; 40 percent by a misdiagnosis or wrong treatment; 28 percent by a medication error, and 22 percent by a mistake made during a medical procedure.

According to a survey by the Association of Surgical Technologists reported in USA Today, the health services sector is expected to grow twice as fast as the whole economy by 2005. Occupations expected to grow the most: home health aides, physical and occupational therapists and their assistants, medical assistants, medical records technicians, speech pathologists, surgical technologists, and dental hygienists.

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Copyright © 1998 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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