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Am Fam Physician. 2004;70(9):1630

The nation is on its way toward meeting a national health objective. A study published in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report showed that between 1999 and 2003, lifetime cigarette use (anyone who has ever tried smoking) declined from 70.4 percent to 58.4 percent. Current cigarette use (smoking more than one cigarette during a 30-day period) decreased to 21.9 percent in 2003. The national objective is to reduce cigarette smoking among high school students to less than 16 percent by 2010.

Pregnant women may be able to shorten their labor and delivery times and risk of episiotomy by strengthening their pelvic-floor muscles in advance. Women in Norway who took 12 weekly one-hour classes to exercise these muscles between the 20th and 36th weeks of pregnancy were less likely to spend more than one hour in the pushing stage of labor, showed a study published in The New York Times. The women also were encouraged to practice eight to 12 intensive contractions of the pelvic floor twice a day at home.

Good news: only about 1 percent of the U.S. population has schizophrenia. Bad news: a new study suggests that women who have the flu during the first half of pregnancy are three times more likely than noninfected women to have children who develop schizophrenia later in life. The study, published in the August issue of Archives of General Psychiatry, suggests that when antibodies or proteins (cytokines) are produced by the mother’s immune system in response to the infection, they are transferred to the fetus and disrupt fetal brain development.

High consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (e.g., soft drinks and sweetened fruit juices) can lead to weight gain and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes in women. Published in JAMA, the prospective cohort study analyzed data among women in the Nurses’ Health Study II from 1991 to 1999. Eating habits, weight, and physical activity were tracked for 91,249 women free of diabetes and other chronic diseases. During this period, there were 741 confirmed incident cases of type 2 diabetes. Researchers found that women who consumed one or more sugar-sweetened beverages a day were twice as likely to develop diabetes as those who drank fewer than one such beverage a month.

The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists warns that the placement of tattoos and body piercings may cause certain health risks if the person needs anesthesia or emergency care in the future. Popular low-back tattoos could delay a woman’s epidural if the anesthesia provider is not able to locate a proper lumbar interspace without inserting the needle through a tattoo. Researchers are not certain of the risk of infection or neurologic complications when a needle passes through a tattoo. In an emergency situation, a tongue piercing may catch on the instrument used to insert a breathing tube and tear the tongue.

More Americans are visiting doctors, showed a survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and reported on During 2002, Americans made an estimated 890 million visits to the doctor, a 1 percent increase from 2001. Sixty percent of those visits were to family physicians and other primary care specialists. Researchers think that the increase reflects the growing elderly population.

Using a food thermometer is the safest way to determine if food has been cooked to a temperature high enough to destroy harmful bacteria. A report published in FDA Consumer showed that color is a misleading cue when it comes to determining if food is safe to eat. According to research conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), one of every four burgers is not sufficiently cooked even though it looks brown in the center. To promote the importance of measuring food temperatures to determine safety, the USDA has created a Web site ( centered around a cartoon character named “Thermy.”

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