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Am Fam Physician. 1999;60(5):1309-1310

Did you know that education shapes your figure as well as your future? The Harris Poll, cited in USA Today, found that people who don't have a high school diploma are more likely to weigh 20 percent or more above the recommended weight for their height. And, those who possess postgraduate degrees are least likely to be overweight.

Who ya gonna call? The police, of course—if you're dealing with disruptive, mentally ill people. Mental health training seminars are part of the standard continuing education program for police officers in St. Louis. For 10 years, psychiatrists and other mental health professionals have been providing information on the symptoms of severe mental illnesses and medications, so recruits as well as experienced officers can more easily recognize mentally ill people. Psychiatric News reports that the health professionals also teach officers simple techniques for approaching and controlling disruptive people. This information helps keep both officers and mentally ill people safe, and facilitates treatment.

Someday you may be able to eat what you want and stay thin—a couch potato's dream. University of Florida scientists report that they have successfully used gene therapy to control appetite and weight in obese animals. The researchers injected obese mice with leptin-producing genes. The result? Weight loss in less than three weeks. While testing in humans is years away, the research holds promise that a single injection may someday be a viable option for treating obesity.

What took medical science several centuries to acknowledge, moms have always known—hugs can be powerful medicine. Volunteers at Texas Children's Hospital in Houston make soft, heart-shaped pillows for every pediatric patient having heart surgery. The kids, who must cough to expand their lungs, hug the pillow to their chest to soften the impact and reduce the pain of coughing. Why heart-shaped? Psychologically, kids know that hugs from the heart don't hurt. The pillows are also used to collect autographs from doctors and nurses.

A new use for an old medicine? Tylenol is good for aches, pains and fever, but it's toxic to Boiga irregularis. Otherwise known as the brown tree snake, this imported snake has eaten its way through too many exotic birds on the island of Guam, in the Pacific Ocean. Now, according to The Wall Street Journal, a research pharmacologist has accidentally discovered that frozen baby mice laced with Tylenol (otherwise known as “mousicles”) are fatal treats for the pesky snakes.

USA Today looks at nighttime noisemakers and finds that almost half of women who sleep with a partner claim that their partner keeps them awake by snoring. According to statistics from Dial-A-Mattress, nine percent of those women are willing to admit that they snore themselves, but only 5 percent of men confess to snoring.

Snorkeling, windsurfing and snowboarding are hot sports these days, but for easy access and low cost, plain old walking is hard to beat. Exercise walking only requires an investment in a good pair of shoes. It's growing in popularity as consumers shy away from sports requiring more expensive equipment, says The Wall Street Journal.

If you want to improve your chances of living to the age of 100, move to California or New York. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the number of centenarians nearly doubled during the 1990s, from about 37,000 at the start of the decade to more than an estimated 70,000 today. About 10 percent of the total number live in California and another 8 percent live in New York. Proportionately, Iowa has the highest percentage of centenarians among its own population, followed by South Dakota. Analysts predict that this per-decade doubling may continue, possibly reaching an average of 834,000 centenarians by the year 2050.

Taking it in the neck is no joke for our nation's female drivers—they're more likely than male drivers to suffer a neck injury in a rear-end collision. Women's smaller and thinner necks (in proportion to head size) make them more vulnerable to whiplash injury when hit from behind. A well-designed head restraint, however, can offer significant protection. According to a study cited in Internal Medicine News, the restraint should be high and positioned close to the back of the driver's head for maximum benefit.

Visual hallucinations occur in up to 15 percent of patients with schizophrenia, and as many as 75 percent of schizophrenic patients may have auditory hallucinations. New technology may help you appreciate the perceptions of these patients. Virtual Hallucinations technology has created a virtual reality simulation of schizophrenic hallucinations. The simulation is based on accounts from patients and professional consultants, and is a composite of a number of individual experiences.

Is this more than you want to know in the morning? More than 100 engineers at Matsushita, a Japanese electronics company, are working hard to create a fully wired house. Even the toilet will be wired. It will be able to weigh each seated user in the morning and use a small current of electricity to measure the proportion of body fat. It will even use a sensor to measure the sugar content of urine. It's reported in U.S. News & World Report that these data would be sent to the central house server, or even directly to your physician.

A new method of treating fibroids may cut hospital stays to a single night, rather than the several days expected with hysterectomy or traditional myomectomy. Physicians at Stanford University School of Medicine have used the new procedure, which employs a limber catheter about the size of a piece of uncooked spaghetti to embolize fibroids. The catheter is introduced into the femoral artery in the thigh and guides tiny plastic pellets (each about the size of a grain of sand) into the small blood vessels that nourish the fibroid, blocking the vessels, cutting off the blood supply and depriving the tumor of oxygen and nutrients. After a few weeks, the fibroid withers.

Putting things into perspective—this year the average American household will spend almost as much on fast food (about $884) as it does on health care (about $720). The average household in 1999 has a gross income of $53,400, according to the American Express Everyday Spending Index, cited in USA Today.

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Copyright © 1999 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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