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Am Fam Physician. 2006;73(1):25

Heart attack death rates peak in December, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers analyzed approximately 128,000 Medicare patients who were hospitalized with heart attacks over a two-year period. Almost 14,500 of those heart attacks occurred during the month of December. Although treatment was the same throughout the year, the mortality rate for patients hospitalized in December was higher. Approximately 21.7 percent of patients who were hospitalized in the month of December died, whereas an average of 20.1 percent of patients who were admitted in the other months died. Researchers believe that further investigation is needed to determine the reason for increased death rates during the winter months. (Ann Intern Med, October 4, 2005)

Weight gain in children may be linked to the cost of fresh produce. Rand Corporation released a study that says children are more likely to gain excess weight if they live in areas where fruits and vegetables are pricier than if they live in areas where produce costs less. Researchers analyzed the weight gain of 6,918 children in 59 urban areas from the time they were in kindergarten until third grade. The amount of weight gain was then compared to the cost of produce in their community. Researchers found that, on average, the children gained 29.0 lb. (13.2 kg). However, children in Mobile, Ala., where produce costs were the highest, gained approximately 50 percent more weight as measured by body mass index than the national average. Children in Visalia, Calif., where produce was cheapest, had a weight gain of about one half the national average. One of the study authors suggests that providing free fruits and vegetables to schoolchildren could help improve their diets. (Rand Corp. News Release, October 5, 2005)

Driving simulators, similar to flight simulators, may help stroke patients get back behind the wheel. Scientists tested the success of a simulated driving program and reported their findings in Neurology. Eighty-three stroke survivors were retrained to drive on the simulator or through a standard program. The standard program consisted of pencil and paper testing and some with actual road testing. All of the training was done over five weeks and lasted a total of 15 hours. Once training was completed, the participants were tested on their driving skills through on-road testing and written examinations. In the end, only 42 percent of participants in the standard program could pass a follow-up driving test to get back on the road. However, of those who trained on the simulator, 73 percent were able to pass the driving test. (Neurology, October 2005)

Can country living be easier on the lungs? The authors of a recent study in Chest collected almost 2,600 lung health surveys from people living in rural and urban areas of Scotland. Participants living in the city and those living in the country were similar in age and education level and had comparable smoking habits. After analyzing the questionnaire responses, the authors found that people living in the country were less likely to have asthma and other respiratory problems and more likely to report a better quality of life if they were already living with lung problems. The authors of the study believe that if a person’s immune system is consistently exposed to high levels of allergens, as is likely in more rural areas, a form of tolerance that would protect them from allergic disease may develop. (Chest, October 2005)

Researchers in the Journal of Clinical Investigation released a preliminary study suggesting that marijuana can stimulate brain development while alleviating mood disorders. The effect of a synthetic, laboratory-created cannabinoid that would naturally be found in marijuana was tested in rats. Researchers gave the rats one injection of the cannabinoid to study the short-term outcomes, and they gave the rats injections two times a day for two weeks to study the long-term effects. Results of behavior tests showed that the substance improved the mood of the rats through a reduction in anxiety and depressive behaviors. The researchers also found through autopsies that the rats lost no neurons after receiving injections and actually developed new neurons that had been incorporated into the hippocampus. According to the researchers, it is unclear whether the results can be applied to humans. (J Clin Invest, November 1, 2005).

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