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Am Fam Physician. 2007;75(5):613


Patients and their families who buy a fast-food meal at the hospital might think it is healthier than the same meal eaten outside of the facility. A study conducted by Pennsylvania researchers revealed that 59 of the 200 children's hospitals surveyed hosted on-site fast-food restaurants (e.g., McDonald's). Fifty-six percent of the adult survey participants and their children who were outpatients at a hospital with an on-site fast-food restaurant ate fast food the day of the survey; only 33 percent of those at a hospital without a fast-food restaurant ate a fast-food meal. Interestingly, the authors found that 95 percent of the fast-food meals consumed by survey participants were purchased at an on-site McDonald's fast-food restaurant. They also note that the availability of fast food at a children's hospital may give some people the illusion that the food is healthier than it really is. (HealthDay, December 4, 2006)


Can jet lag be harmful to older people? Possibly, say scientists from the University of Virginia, whose research with mice suggests that it might even be deadly. To simulate jet-lag conditions, the researchers delayed and advanced the amount of light exposure the mice received. Most of the older mice that were exposed to the equivalent of a flight from the United States to Europe once a week for eight weeks died; more intense forms of jet lag quickened the rate of death. However, younger mice recovered faster and were not immediately harmed. (The Australian, December 27, 2006)


Attending hockey games may be hard on your ears, suggests research published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Sound exposure was measured during three games of the Stanley Cup finals. Although noise levels increased during game play, intermissions did provide some temporary relief from the high noise levels. The average exposure levels for the three games, each lasting more than three hours, ranged from 100.7 to 104.1 decibels. The maximal recommended daily allowable noise level is 85 decibels for eight hours; it would take only six minutes to reach that limit at a hockey game. The authors calculated that each person at the event who was not wearing hearing protection received 8,100 percent of his or her daily allowable noise level. Even the most inexpensive earplugs, which attenuate sounds by 25 to 30 decibels, could drop sound exposure to fewer than 80 decibels. In other words, even if the game went into quadruple overtime, a person's hearing would still be protected. (CMAJ, December 5, 2006)


Feeling a little stressed? Holding your partner's hand could help. Study results published in Psychological Science suggest that married women who are stressed find instant relief when they hold their husband's hand. Sixteen heterosexual couples in marriages deemed to be strong participated in a brain scan study. When faced with the threat of electric shock while holding the hand of their husband, that of a stranger, or no hand at all, the women tended to exhibit less stress when holding their husband's hand. The researchers also discovered that the effects of hand-holding between happily married spouses predicted less stress compared with couples whose marriage was not as strong. Although this effect initially was studied only on women, the authors intend to research the effect on men. (Psychol Sci, December 2006)


Cartoons that are specifically designed for children with autism may help them understand and identify emotions. A DVD series called “The Transporters” puts human faces on animated vehicles such as trains and cars to help children with autism overcome their fear of looking at people's faces. Vehicles have very predictable motion, whereas people are much less predictable. The cartoons teach these children about facial expressions and emotions such as happiness, fear, pride, anger, and kindness. Each show is five minutes long, and an interactive quiz also helps the children learn more about the emotions. Although the cartoons have not been launched outside of the United Kingdom, they have been given to 30,000 British families with autistic children between two and eight years of age. (BBC News, January 9, 2007)

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