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Am Fam Physician. 1999;59(7):1729-1730

Black physicians tend to die an average of eight years earlier than white physicians, according to information cited in Family Practice News. The main causes of death in black physicians are myocardial infarction, stroke, cancer, homicide, alcohol and drug abuse, accidents and suicide. Black physicians tend to work more hours, are less likely to have a personal physician, are more likely to self-treat and tend to have less support for treating problems such as alcoholism and depression. On the bright side, many of the premature deaths among black physicians are caused by health problems that can be prevented.

Are your patients drinking during their pregnancies? A survey of 138,000 women in Obstetrics and Gynecology found that the number of women who drink occasionally during pregnancy has increased from 10 percent in 1992 to 15.3 percent in 1995 and that frequent alcohol consumption during pregnancy increased from 0.9 percent in 1991 to 3.9 percent in 1995. Frequent drinking was defined as having more than five drinks per occasion or more than seven drinks per week. The study also found that women who are college-educated, unmarried, employed and with a household income of more than $50,000 are more likely than other women to drink during pregnancy.

Can owning a fish save your life? After studying 100 fish owners and non-fish owners, the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association made sweeping claims that they can. But is this fact or fish-tion? Without considering other factors, the study concluded that 60 percent of fish owners are not affected by heart disease, high blood pressure, depression, stress or headaches, and suggested that fish owners are more likely to exercise and to be teetotalers and less likely to be binge eaters. The survey, described in The Wall Street Journal, also reported that fish can save marriages. Non-fish owners are four times as likely to have “daily episodes of jealousy,” and they are also three times as likely to fight like “two savage beasts.”

Teenagers are keeping the fast food industry in business, according to a USA Today poll. Kids between the ages of 12 and 17 years spend $12.7 billion per year on fast food and eat 7 percent of their meals at fast food restaurants. The average teen makes 2.13 fast food visits per week and spends $5.72 at each visit. Forty-six percent of teens say their favorite food ordered is a hamburger, 38 percent say that they typically visit a fast food restaurant from 5 to 8 p.m., and 25 percent say that their most-visited store is McDonald's.

Most immigrants who come to America are looking for a better way of life, but some people get more than they bargain for. A study funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, reported in Archives of General Psychiatry, found that Mexican Americans who are born in the United States have a higher rate of mental illness than both recent Mexican immigrants and Mexicans who stay in their native country. The study of 3,000 people found that 48.1 percent of Mexican Americans were at risk for mental illness, a risk similar to that in white Americans, while newly arrived immigrants had a 24.9 percent rate of mental illness. Anxiety, depression and drug abuse were the most serious mental health problems for Mexican Americans, and substance abuse was four times more common in Mexican Americans than in recent Mexican immigrants.

Feeling a little stressed lately? In a random telephone survey of 436,000 U.S. adults, conducted by the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, almost 9 percent of respondents reported frequent mental distress. Mental distress was defined as significant stress, depression and emotional problems for 14 or more of the last 30 days. Frequent mental distress was most common in people who are unable to work, those with a separated marital status, those with a low education level and those who are Native American. Men and women between the ages of 18 and 24 years had the highest rate of frequent distress, says Internal Medicine News.

Can your patients meditate their way to better health? The answer hasn't been determined yet, but according to researchers from the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society, it may be possible. Meditation is a mental technique that focuses the patient's attention on a word, sound or repetitive process such as breathing. Results of a study of 37 patients with psoriasis showed that patients who listened to relaxation tapes during their treatment in a UV light booth healed 3.8 times faster than those who did not listen to the tapes. The tapes taught the patients breathing and the Buddhist practice of moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness, reports The Brain in the News.

It's old news that drivers who talk on a cellular phone have greater inattentiveness and an increased risk of accidents. Researchers at the University of Toronto set out to measure just how many accidents are attributable to cellular phones. A study of 699 drivers revealed that those who talked on cellular phones had a fourfold increase in the relative risk of a major collision (with no injuries), regardless of whether their phones were of the hand-free variety, reports Physician's Weekly. After the collision, 39 percent of the drivers used the cellular phone to call for help—but lucky for them, they had that phone handy.

Can the loss of a parent when a child is young affect his or her health later in life? A study by Duke University, reported in Psychosomatic News, examined how college students react to stressful situations. Thirty of the participants had lost a parent before reaching 16 years of age, while 31 had not yet lost a parent. All of the participants were asked to give a three-minute speech with only 30 seconds to prepare, while having their blood pressure monitored. All of the students had higher blood pressures while giving the speech, but those who had lost a parent during childhood had significantly higher blood pressures at all times.

The value of nurses in hospitals was evaluated recently in a study by the Agency for Health Care Policy and Research. According to Medicine & Health, more cases of hospital-acquired urinary tract infections, pneumonia, blood clot formations, pulmonary congestion and other lung-related problems occur in hospitals that have fewer registered nurses. If hospitals can provide one additional hour more of nursing care every day, they could see a 10 percent decrease in urinary tract infections and an 8 percent decrease in cases of pneumonia.

Introducing a new polymer that can remove unwanted things from inside of the stomach: the specially designed polymer, created by a Harvard University chemist, is indigestible and has little chemical arms that will allow it to latch on to a predetermined substance in the stomach. For patients whose kidneys cannot remove phosphate from their blood, this polymer can attach itself to phosphate in the stomach and remove it. The polymer can also be attached to cholesterol-raising bile in the stomach. Trials have shown a 20 percent drop in cholesterol for some participants. Farther down the line may be a polymer that can help remove fat, says Business Week.

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