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Am Fam Physician. 2006;74(4):549-550

Supersizing a fast-food combo meal can add inches to your waistline and make your wallet a whole lot leaner, according to a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. The average cost to upgrade a combo meal is $0.67, but each meal also comes with a possible 36-g weight gain. With the increased weight come average annual increases of $0.35 in grocery bills (to maintain the extra weight), health care costs ($0.82 to $6.64), and gasoline expenses ($0.05) because heavier passengers reduce a vehicle’s fuel efficiency. This adds an extra $3.10 to $4.53 for women or $4.06 to $7.72 for men to the price of the meal. Although consumers may receive 73 percent more calories for only a 17 percent additional cost per meal, researchers suggest that hidden costs may increase the price by 123 to 191 percent. (J Am Coll Nutr, June 2006)

Handing over the car keys may put older adults at higher risk of entering long-term care facilities, suggests a study in the American Journal of Public Health, especially if there are no other drivers in the household. Older adults are expected to know when to “give up the keys,” but getting to doctor appointments or running day-today errands can be difficult for those without reliable transportation. In a study of adults 65 to 84 years of age who lived in a small city with no public transportation, those who no longer drove were 4.9 times more likely to live in an assisted-living community or other long-term care facility compared with persons who continued to drive. Those who had never driven were 3.5 times more likely to need long-term care, and those who lived in homes with no other drivers were only 1.7 times more likely to need long-term care compared with patients who were still driving. The authors stress that if an older patient does not drive, regular checkups and other medical care may be inaccessible. (Am J Pub Health, July 2006)

Raise a glass of hot chocolate to your health—your skin will thank you! A study in the Journal of Nutrition suggests that drinking hot cocoa rich in antioxidants can improve the health of women’s skin. Twenty-four women were randomized to have a daily cup of cocoa containing either high or low levels of flavonol, an antioxidant. After 12 weeks, those who drank cocoa with high levels of flavonol had smoother, more hydrated skin that was less vulnerable to ultraviolet rays compared with women who drank cocoa with low levels of antioxidants. The authors note, however, that the high-flavonol cocoa contained more than 200 calories per cup. (J Nutr, June 2006)

One puff and you may be hooked! According to a study published in Tobacco Control, preteens who have tried smoking are more likely to become regular smokers by 14 years of age than those who have never tried it. More than 2,000 adolescents from 11 to 16 years of age were surveyed annually. Researchers found that preteens who had tried smoking were 2.1 times more likely to become regular smokers by the age of 14—even if they only smoked one cigarette—compared with preteens who had never lit up. Fourteen percent of those surveyed reported smoking at 11 years of age, and the next year these children were six times more likely to become regular smokers compared with those who hadn’t smoked. The researchers think that a first cigarette may change reward pathways in the brain, making a person more vulnerable to nicotine later on. (Tob Control, June 6, 2006)

Drinking a cup of coffee will not make you change your mind—wait, yes, it will! A study in the European Journal of Social Psychology reports that consuming caffeine can change a person’s attitude, making it easier to alter his or her point of view. The researchers asked 140 study participants how they felt about a variety of controversial subjects, including euthanasia and abortion. The participants were then given orange juice with or without added caffeine. After drinking the orange juice, they were asked to read statements opposed to their initial opinion. Those who drank the caffeinated orange juice were more likely to be persuaded by the opposing statement compared with persons in the placebo group. However, when they were distracted, the patients in the caffeinated group were less likely to change their minds. Researchers noted that caffeine affects a person’s attitude only when he or she is forced to focus on the persuasive argument. (Eur J Soc Psychol, June 2006)

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Copyright © 2006 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.

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