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Am Fam Physician. 2003;68(12):2317

Extra weight around your middle puts a burden on your wallet as well as your health. According to a report published in Time, overweight and obese Americans spend $700 more a year on medical bills than those who are not overweight. Furthermore, life insurance premiums often rise in proportion to girth, even if the policyholder is in otherwise perfect health. For a 45-year-old man weighing 188 lb or less, the average annual premium for a $500,000 term life insurance policy is about $375. The premium almost doubles, to $740 per year, if the policyholder weighs 252 lb, and increases to $1,500 a year if the policyholder weighs more than 265 lb.

From artificial silk to who knows what high-strength products! Researchers at Tufts University have replicated the process that spiders and silkworms use to make strong silk fibers, a discovery that could lead to advances in tissue engineering and other fields. The process, described in a study published in Nature, involves controlling the interaction between water and silk protein. Already the researchers are creating the flexible and strong artificial silk for use in repairing damaged knee ligaments. Possible future applications include hiking gear, sporting equipment, and protective apparel for police and military personnel.

For most of us, “Sleep tight, and don't let the bedbugs bite” is just a teasing bedtime expression. But maybe not for long. According to the Chicago Tribune, at least 28 states reported increased bedbug activity in 2002. Experts think the bugs could be hitching a ride in the clothes and luggage of international travelers. The bugs may be sticking around because many pesticides once used to kill them are now considered unsafe for humans. Bedbugs usually hide in mattresses during the day and come out at night to feed. Signs that the parasites have been around are easy to notice—blood-infused feces on bedsheets, a sickly-sweet odor, and some extremely unhappy, itchy people.

Can diabetes make a person a dangerous driver? According to the findings of a cross-sectional, multicenter study published in Diabetes Care, patients with type 1 diabetes are at increased risk for car crashes, traffic violations, and other “mishaps” while driving. Researchers studied questionnaires completed by 341 adults with type 1 diabetes, 332 adults with type 2 diabetes, and 363 adults without diabetes. Car crashes in the patients with type 1 diabetes were associated with less frequent blood glucose testing before driving, more frequent episodes of hypoglycemic stupor while driving, and the use of injections, instead of a pump, to deliver insulin.

Could a robot be a stand-in for the doctor? Could be. As reported in a press release from Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, a physician at Johns Hopkins Hospital is testing a robot that can walk, talk, and even listen. A high-tech combination of a video camera, computer, and speaker, the robot “stands” on a base that resembles an industrial floor cleaner. From a computer terminal, the physician controls the robot with a joystick and “sees” through the robot's video camera “eye.” In turn, the patient sees the physician on a computer screen attached to the robot's “shoulders.” Thus far, Dr. Robot has been used to check up on hospital patients between usual bedside visits. The physician who is testing the machine suggests that the robot may have applications in reaching patients in isolated or underserved areas, and in communicating with patients in dangerous situations, such as military operations and natural disasters.

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