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Am Fam Physician. 2006;74(2):223

Canadians are healthier than their American neighbors, according to a study published in the American Journal of Public Health. Even though Americans spend almost twice as much per capita on health care as Canada, Canadians have fewer unmet health needs, better access to medical care, and enjoy better health overall. The study reviewed results of a telephone survey conducted between 2002 and 2003 that included more than 3,500 Canadian and nearly 5,200 American adults. Researchers found that Americans were more likely than Canadians to be obese and had higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, and lung disease. Americans also are one third less likely to have a primary care physician and two times less likely to take necessary medications. In spite of all this, Americans reported being happier with the quality of health care they received compared with their neighbors to the north. (Am J Public Health, July 2006)

Does a man’s level of education reflect his actions as a parent? A report released by the National Center for Health Statistics says that fathers with a college degree are more attentive parents than those with less education. According to the report, men with higher education levels were more likely to bathe and play with their children than those without a high school diploma, and 74 percent fed or ate meals with their children each day. Forty-seven percent of men 22 to 44 years of age with less than a high school education had a child outside of marriage, compared with 6 percent of college graduates. Although college graduates fussed over their children more, the study showed that most fathers were active in their children’s lives, even if they did not live with them, and 98 percent of all fathers reported the rewards of fatherhood were worth the cost and effort involved. (NCHS, May 31, 2006)

The idea that sex in the final weeks of pregnancy will encourage labor is not only an old wives’ tale—the act might even delay labor. A study published in Obstetrics & Gynecology focused on 95 women who were beyond their 37th week of pregnancy between July 2004 and July 2005. About one half of the women reported having sex during the last few weeks of their pregnancy. Women who abstained from sex delivered at an average gestational age of 39.3 weeks, whereas the sexually active women reached an average of 39.9 weeks, a difference of about four days. Although the study results do not indicate any danger in having sex during pregnancy, researchers say their data do not suggest that physicians recommend intercourse as a means of encouraging labor. (Obstet Gynecol, June 2006)

The liberalization of the drug policy in Switzerland, once criticized for being potentially counterproductive, has actually resulted in fewer new heroin users. A study published in The Lancet analyzed data on more than 7,250 heroin addicts in Zurich over a 13-year period who had enrolled in a treatment program substituting methadone or buprenorphine for heroin. In 1990, the year before the programs were instituted, the city reported 850 new heroin users. By 2002, the number had declined to 150. Switzerland’s harm-reduction policy, which uses methods such as methadone- and heroin-assisted treatment and needle exchange programs, has emphasized heroin use as a medical issue. Researchers say this has given the drug less of a rebellious image, which appears to be making it less attractive to young people, causing fewer new users. (The Lancet, June 3, 2006)

Strict parents are more likely to have overweight children. According to a study published in Pediatrics, parents who use an authoritarian parenting approach had children at the highest risk of becoming over-weight compared with those whose parents use other parenting styles. The study followed 872 children who were enrolled at their time of birth in 1991 and divided into groups according to their parents’ style (i.e., authoritative, authoritarian, permissive, or neglectful). The fewest weight problems occurred in children whose parents were authoritative (i.e., with high expectations for self-control but sensitive to the child’s feelings). Parents who were permissive (indulgent with no discipline) or neglectful (no emotional involvement or rule structure) had children twice as likely to be over-weight. Children with authoritarian parents (strict with low levels of sensitivity) had five times the risk of being overweight by age six, probably because their strict environment causes them to overeat in response to stress. (Pediatrics, June 2006)

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