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Am Fam Physician. 2003;67(5):929-930

How many apples a day does it take to keep the doctor away? The National Cancer Institute (NCI) recommends up to nine, reports Newsweek. Even though the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food pyramid has recommended five to nine servings of fruits and vegetables since 1991, the NCI has started a new campaign to remind everyone of its daily recommendations. While five servings of fruits and vegetables are sufficient for children, women need at least seven servings, and men need nine. Those numbers might seem high, but they are attainable: six spears of asparagus, eight medium strawberries, or one half cup of salsa equals a serving.

“Wash up!” Study results presented at the Interscience Conference on Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy suggest that automated voice reminders may increase hand-washing and reduce infection in hospitals, reports Internal Medicine News. In the study, voice reminders were activated when staff persons attempted to leave a room in a surgical step-down intensive care unit without washing. After six months, the reminders helped increase the likelihood of hand-washing by 40 percent. In addition, infections in patients who spent more than two days in the hospital unit were reduced by 22 percent.

The nightly glass of wine with dinner or beer while watching the evening news may do more than ease the tension of the day. According to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, drinking a little alcohol almost every day reduces the risk of a heart attack. The study followed 38,077 men 40 to 75 years of age for 12 years. Men who consumed alcohol had 35 to 40 percent fewer heart attacks during the study period. The best results came from drinking almost every day—not just on the weekends. The research also showed that the type of alcohol did not affect the risk factor. This information, however, should not be construed as a license to drink.

Neither the classes nor the participants at New York's CBGB punk club follow the norm when it comes to aerobics. Instead of doing the grapevine to J. Lo, they do the air guitar to the Ramones. For weights, they use bricks. And instead of spandex thongs, they sport mohawks and tattoos. According to an article published in Newsweek, Punk Rock Aerobics was started by two Boston women who wanted a class that “we would go to.” Punk Rock Aerobics participants might grab candy bars or head to a real bar after class, where their healthiest choice might be the tomato juice in a Bloody Mary.

Increasingly, Baby Boomers are seeking revitalization through cosmetic plastic surgery. Data compiled by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons and cited in American Demographics show that the number of patients who sought cosmetic improvements increased by 1,125 percent from 1996 to 2001, and many of those patients were members of the “Me Generation.” In fact, more than one half of persons who had Botox injections, tummy tucks, and buttock lifts in 2001 were 35 to 50 years of age.

It's no surprise that obesity and diabetes have become more common in this country. But it is alarming that Americans still don't seem to be heeding the warning to shape up. According to survey findings published in JAMA, the rates of obesity and diabetes continue to rise in adults of both sexes and all races, educational levels, and smoking levels. The telephone survey of more than 195,000 adults reveals that the prevalence of obesity rose to 20.9 percent in 2001, up from 19.8 percent in 2000. Diabetes was also more prevalent, increasing from 7.3 percent in 2000 to 7.9 percent in 2001.

“Attention acne victims! There is now a blue-light special just for you.” Known as ClearLight, this high-intensity, narrow-band blue light has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for treatment of moderate inflammatory acne. ClearLight produces blue light at 410 to 420 nm, the optimal wavelength to destroy Propionibacterium acnes, the bacteria that causes acne. According to study results published in Family Practice News, patients who had one side of their face exposed to the light for 15 minutes twice a week for one month saw a 50 percent reduction in the number of inflammatory lesions on the treated side.

Here's some good news for those who drink coffee regularly: coffee may not raise your blood pressure. But if you don't drink coffee every day, even decaffeinated coffee may affect your cardiovascular system. In a small study published in Circulation, 15 coffee drinkers (six habitual and nine nonhabitual) drank a triple shot of caffeinated or decaffeinated espresso. Although both groups had increased sympathetic nervous activity after drinking caffeinated coffee, only the nonhabitual drinkers had increased blood pressure. Even more surprising, blood pressure was increased in the nonhabitual drinkers who drank only decaffeinated coffee, suggesting that substances in coffee other than caffeine may have an effect on the heart.

More good news! A study published in The Lancet shows that long-term survival rates for many types of cancer have substantially improved in past decades. The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results database of the U.S. National Cancer Institute was analyzed for survival rates in patients diagnosed with cancer between 1978 and 1998. Five-year, 10-year, 15-year, and 20-year relative survival rates were calculated in 1998. The period estimates of relative survival rates were approximately 63 percent (five years), 57 percent (10 years), 53 percent (15 years), and 51 percent (20 years). Early detection and breakthroughs in treatment have been large contributors to the increase in long-term survival rates.

“Hav U taken Ur inhaler yet?” It may look strange, but reminders like these, relayed in text messages via mobile telephones, could help teenagers with asthma take their medication correctly. According to an article in Nature Science Update, 30 teenagers participating in a study in the United Kingdom reported that this kind of message helped them remember to use their inhalers and, by the end of a month, all asked to receive more tidbits of advice on managing asthma. The article states that several Web sites already provide daily mobile telephone messages for general health information, facts on pregnancy, or reminders for taking oral contraceptives.

These days, even home-cooked meals are “supersized.” A University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study of 63,380 persons, published in JAMA, shows that portion sizes of foods prepared in restaurants and at home have grown larger over the past decades. From 1977 to 1996, Americans consumed an increasing number of calories (and larger portions) from foods such as salty snacks, soft drinks, and hamburgers. Oddly, the only food that was served in the same size portions by the end of the study period was—pizza.

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