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Category Archives: Health

Imported Jewelry Can Pose Danger

Foreign-made jewelry is a potential source of lead exposure, according to public health officials.

A 1-year-old boy living in New York City had a rapid increase in blood lead levels, and the likely source of the exposure was traced to a Cambodian amulet made from knotted string and metallic beads, according to researchers from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene and the CDC.

Testing revealed that the beads contained 45 percent lead, the researchers reported in Jan. 28 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The boy had worn the amulet — “something to protect him,” his father said — since he was 3 months old, and had been seen putting it in his mouth.

“Healthcare providers and public health workers should consider traditional customs when seeking sources of lead exposure in Southeast Asian populations,” the authors wrote.

Healthcare professionals should ask parents — particularly from Southeast Asian families — about the use of amulets, they added, noting that educational efforts about the risk of lead poisoning from jewelry are needed for immigrant families.

An accompanying editorial note pointed out that the CDC recommends blood lead testing for internationally adopted and refugee children and that the New York City health department recommends testing all children with recent travel to foreign countries.

Although the most common source of lead exposure in young children is paint, other sources have been increasingly identified.

That is particularly true in immigrant communities because of the use of lead-containing products from their country of origin, such as spices, food, candy, cosmetics, health remedies, ceramics or pottery, and jewelry.

For the case of the 1-year-old boy, routine lead testing showed an elevated blood lead level of 10 micrograms/dL.

According to the National Institutes of Health lead concentrations in blood should be less than 10 micrograms/dL in children and less than 20 micrograms/dL in adults.

Because he lived in a household with a cousin who had had lead poisoning, he had also been tested at 6 months. His blood lead level was just 1 microgram/dL then.

A risk assessor from the Environmental Protection Agency visited the home to look for potential sources of the lead exposure. The boy’s father denied using any imported products, and the assessor failed to find any potential sources of exposure.

Three months later, the boy’s blood level doubled to 20 micrograms/dL.

The boy’s father again denied that the child wore jewelry or charms, but eventually admitted that the child had worn an amulet acquired at a Cambodian market since he was 3 months old.

A second home inspection identified one area of paint with an elevated lead level, as well as imported spices and rice. Testing revealed that the food products did not have elevated lead content.

Within eight days of the amulet being removed from the home, the boy’s blood lead level decreased to 14 micrograms/dL.

About five weeks later — after the lead paint was reported to be removed — the boy’s blood lead level was 10 micrograms/dL, and five months after the amulet was removed, the level was down to 5 micrograms/dL.

“Although other factors might have contributed to the child’s overall lead burden,” the researchers wrote, “the most likely source identified was the amulet, based on its high lead content, statements that the child had been observed mouthing it, and the rapid decrease in the child’s blood lead level after its removal.”

Walking Can Helps Your Heart and Brain

Regular aerobic exercise such as walking may protect the memory center in the brain, while stretching exercise may cause the center — called the hippocampus — to shrink, researchers reported.

In a randomized study involving men and women in their mid-60s, walking three times a week for a year led to increases in the volume of the hippocampus, which plays an important role in memory, according to Dr. Arthur Kramer, of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Ill., and colleagues.

On the other hand, control participants who took stretching classes saw drops in the volume of the hippocampus, Kramer and colleagues reported online in theProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings suggest that it’s possible to overcome the age-related decline in hippocampal volume with only moderate exercise, Kramer told MedPage Today, leading to better fitness and perhaps to better spatial memory. “I don’t see a down side to it,” he said.

The volume of the hippocampus is known to fall with age by between 1 percent and 2 percent a year, the researchers noted, leading to impaired memory and increased risk for dementia.

But animal research suggests that exercise reduces the loss of volume and preserves memory, they added.

To test the effect on humans, they enrolled 120 men and women in their mid-sixties and randomly assigned 60 of them to a program of aerobic walking three times a week for a year. The remaining 60 were given stretch classes three times a week and served as a control group.

Their fitness and memory were tested before the intervention, again after six months, and for a last time after a year. Magnetic resonance images of their brains were taken at the same times in order to measure the effect on the hippocampal volume.

The study showed that overall the walkers had a 2 percent increase in the volume of the hippocampus, compared with an average loss of about 1.4% in the control participants.

The researchers also found, improvements in fitness, measured by exercise testing on a treadmill, were significantly associated with increases in the volume of the hippocampus.

On the other hand, the study fell short of demonstrating a group effect on memory – both groups showed significant improvements both in accuracy and speed on a standard test. The apparent lack of effect, Kramer told MedPage Today, is probably a statistical artifact that results from large individual differences within the groups.

Analyses showed that that higher aerobic fitness levels at baseline and after the one-year intervention were associated with better spatial memory performance, the researchers reported.

But change in aerobic fitness was not related to improvements in memory for either the entire sample or either group separately, they found.

On the other hand, larger hippocampi at baseline and after the intervention were associated with better memory performance, they reported.

The results “clearly indicate that aerobic exercise is neuroprotective and that starting an exercise regimen later in life is not futile for either enhancing cognition or augmenting brain volume,” the researchers argued.

The study was supported by the National Institute on Aging, the Pittsburgh Claude D. Pepper Older Americans Independence Center, and the University of Pittsburgh Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center. The authors said they had no conflicts.

Common Complication Delays Giffords’ Recovery

An accumulation of fluid in the brain, a condition called posttraumatic hydrocephalus, has delayed U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ transfer to an inpatient rehabilitation facility.

Although the Arizona congresswoman was transferred last Friday to Memorial Hermann healthcare system in Houston, where she was scheduled to enter The Institute for Rehabilitation and Research (TIRR), she was admitted instead to the hospital’s neurological intensive care unit.

One of the doctors involved in her care in Houston, trauma surgeon John Holcomb, MD, said that a drain had been inserted to release a buildup of fluid. Until that drain is removed or a permanent shunt is implanted, Giffords must remain in the neuro ICU.

Reid Thompson, MD, chairman of neurological surgery at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, said in an e-mail to ABC News and MedPage Today that fluid buildup is a very common problem in neurosurgery.

“In the setting of a gunshot wound, and recent surgery, it would not be unusual to build up fluid and possibly have fluid leak out — raising the risk for an infection (meningitis),” wrote Thompson, who is not involved in Giffords’ care.

The timing of the drain placement, he said, suggests that Giffords has developed a fluid leak either from inflammation in the brain or an infection.

“This creates a plumbing problem as fluid can no longer circulate out,” he wrote.

According to a Houston Chronicle story, Holcomb said over the weekend that the fluid does not appear to be infected.

If the fluid buildup does not resolve within about two weeks, Thompson explained, the drain — a potential source of infection — would have to be replaced with a permanent shunt, which would divert spinal fluid from the ventricles of the brain to the abdomen, where it is absorbed.

“I don’t see it as a setback,” Thompson wrote in his e-mail. “Rather it is part of the process from her original injury. It will, however, keep her from progressing to a rehab environment quickly.”

Although Giffords’ transfer to the dedicated rehabilitation hospital has been delayed for an indeterminate amount of time, she will continue rehab in the ICU.

Another member of the medical team responsible for her care, neurosurgeon Dong Kim, MD, said the congresswoman “looked spectacular” when she arrived in Houston from University Medical Center in Tucson, Ariz., where she’d been cared for since being shot in the head at a public event on Jan. 8.

Kim said Giffords was alert, interactive, awake, calm, and comfortable.

He added that she had very good movement on the left side of her body and did not like it when doctors shined light in her eyes, both of which are considered good signs.

Kim noted that Giffords did not have much tone in her right arm and that over a period of about 30 minutes, she did not move it. The medical team in Tucson had reported seeing her move her right arm.

Overall, Kim said he expects Giffords to do “remarkably well,” adding that the entire process, including ICU care and inpatient and outpatient rehabilitation, will probably last four to six months, regardless of how quickly she recovers.

Although her doctors are optimistic, several physicians contacted by ABC News andMedPage Today cautioned that Giffords’ future function remains uncertain.

“Sadly, this is where the long-term reality of brain injury starts to hit home,” Gregory O’Shanick, MD, medical director of the Center for Neurorehabilitation Services in Richmond, Va., wrote in an e-mail.

“As she increases her efforts towards becoming more independent with rehabilitation,” he wrote, “the deficits will become ever more apparent and frustrating since there is no surgery, no single medication, and no artificial prosthesis to reverse the injury she sustained.”

Other physicians thought it unlikely that Giffords would recover without some physical or cognitive deficits.

“I think it would be too early to ask such a question without further testing, but the reality is, most people with this type of injury usually cannot return to their previous level of functioning, especially if it was at a high level,” wrote Inam Kureshi, MD, director of the head injury program at Hartford Hospital in Connecticut.

Federal Judge Strikes Down Health Reform Law

A federal judge ruled Monday that the new U.S. health-care reform law is unconstitutional, saying the federal government has no authority to require citizens to buy health insurance.

That provision is a cornerstone of the new legislation, signed into law in March by President Barack Obama.

The judge’s decision was not unexpected, and both supports and opponents of the legislation anticipate the validity of the new health law ultimately will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The ruling was handed down by U.S. District Judge Henry E. Hudson, a Republican appointed by President George W. Bush who had seemed sympathetic to the state of Virginia’s case when oral arguments were heard in October, the Associated Press reported.

Last week, White House officials said a negative ruling would not affect the implementation of the law because its major provisions don’t take effect until 2014, the AP reported.

Virginia Attorney General Kenneth Cuccinelli, a Republican, had filed a lawsuit in defense of a new Virginia law barring the federal government from requiring state residents to buy health insurance. He argued that it is unconstitutional for the federal law to force citizens to buy health insurance and to assess a penalty if they don’t.

The U.S. Justice Department said the insurance mandate falls within the scope of the federal government’s authority under the Commerce Clause. But Cuccinelli said deciding not to buy insurance is an economic matter outside the government’s domain.

By 2019, the law will expand health insurance access to 94 percent of non-elderly Americans. Advocates say that between now and then, it will also provide Americans with many new rights and protections.

Key provisions include:

  • Health plans may no longer deny coverage to people based on pre-existing health conditions.
  • Health plans that cover dependents must permit children to stay on a parent’s family policy until age 26.
  • Insurers may no longer place lifetime dollar limits on essential benefits.
  • New health plans must offer preventive services such as mammogramsand colon cancer screenings without charging a deductible, co-payment or coinsurance. (This provision does not apply to existing plans that are “grandfathered.”)

Tips to Protect Yourself From Medical Identity Theft

What is medical identity theft? In this serious and growing problem, someone else uses your personal information to obtain medical goods or services. Medical identity theft affects consumers, health care providers, and insurance organization. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), medical identity theft accounts for about 3 percent of all identity theft, and the World Privacy Forum claims it’s the most difficult form of identity theft to correct.

When you are the victim of medical identity theft, incorrect information about diagnoses and treatments may appear on your medical records, potentially affecting your health care providers’ decisions about your care and treatment. Also, in addition to paying for treatment you didn’t receive, in some cases you might be denied treatment or coverage because of fraudulent medical or insurance information.

But there is some good news: HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations and the Identity Theft Protection Act, already in place, give you many of the tools you need to get errors corrected at your doctor’s office and with your insurance provider. Of course, like any crime, you’re better off preventing it from happening in the first place.

Spotting Medical Identity Theft

Among other signs, the FTC states that you may be a target of a potential medical identity theft or fraud if you are charged for medical services you didn’t receive. Keep a calendar to track your appointments, treatment dates, and any hospital admission and discharge dates. If the explanation of benefits from your insurance provider or Medicare isn’t exactly right, clear up the error as soon as possible.

Medical receipts, prescription drug information, health insurance forms, and any documents bearing your health care providers’ names might be all a clever thief needs to begin off-loading other medical claims to you. If you don’t need to keep medical documents, shred or burn them, and peel off labels from your prescription medications before recycling the containers.

Legal Protection to Combat Medical Identity Theft

The Identity Theft Protection Act of 2005 requires any commercial, charitable, educational, or non-profit organization that acquires or uses sensitive personal data to provide significant administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to prevent that data from being mishandled.

The same act that allows consumers to place a freeze on their credit reports also requires any covered entity to investigate suspected misappropriation of personal medical data and to do everything possible to correct resulting inaccurate medical information and billing problems.

Tips to Prevent Medical Identity Theft

  • Take your photo ID to all doctor appointments. Bring an ID along with your insurance information and any other documents, such as a Medicare card, so you can provide it. An FTC law known as the “red flags rule” encourages doctors and other health care providers to require proof of identity before providing services. You can write “See ID” on the signature line of your Medicare card, just as you can on a credit card, so your health care provider will be prompted to verify your identity. Also, when you’re asked to sign any paper at your doctor’s office, review the document first and be sure any erroneous information is corrected immediately.
  • Don’t divulge medical or insurance information too freely. Sometimes you’re smart to be suspicious, especially of someone contacting you by phone. If you get a caller asking you to take a health care survey and requesting your health care provider’s name or your insurance information, hang up, and then call to alert your insurance provider. Also, be suspicious of health care providers and equipment suppliers who use telemarketing or door-to-door sales tactics, put the wrong diagnosis on a claim “so Medicare will pay,” or advertise free medical consultations for people with Medicare.
  • Report any ID card loss immediately. If you lose your Medicare card or suspect it may have been stolen, call Social Security to get a replacement. Likewise, if you lose your insurance card, let your provider know right away.
  • Review all of your insurance documents. Insurance information and statements of benefits can be confusing, and medical identity thieves know that many people don’t read them carefully. However, these documents are one of the first alerts that you may be a victim of medical identity theft. Read your statements and if they don’t seem right, call your insurer’s office. Before you call, verify that the phone number on the documents you have matches the one on your insurance card.

Monitor Your Privacy and Your Health

Most people realize that maintaining good health — managing weight and keeping the body strong and mind active — means making an effort every day. Avoiding medical identity theft doesn’t require daily vigilance, but in order to avoid problems, you should perform regular “check-ups” to be sure no one is posing as you. Be sure to monitor your insurance provider’s regular statements. Although you can also request a complete copy of your medical records from your health care provider, it can be expensive — ask about the cost before you formally request it.

6 Ways to Boost Women’s Health

To look and feel your best at every age, it’s important to make smart lifestyle and health choices. Here are six simple things that women can do every day (or with regularity) to ensure good health:

Health Tip #1: Eat a healthy diet. “You want to eat as close to a natural foods diet as you can,” says Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. That means a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods. Eat whole grains and high-fiber foods and choose leaner cuts of meat, fish, and poultry. Include low-fat dairy products in your diet as well — depending on your age, you need between 800 and 1,500 milligrams of calcium daily to help avoid osteoporosis, Dr. Novey says. Avoid foods and beverages that are high in calories, sugar, salt, and fat.

Healthy eating will help you maintain a proper weight for your height, which is important because being overweight can lead to a number of illnesses. Looking for a healthy snack? Try some raw vegetables, such as celery, carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, or zucchini with dip made from low-fat yogurt.

If you’re not getting enough vitamins and nutrients in your diet, you might want to take a multivitamin and a calcium supplement to make sure you’re maintaining good health.

Health Tip #2: Exercise. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in America, but plenty of exercise can help keep your heart healthy. You want to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, if not every day. Aerobic exercises (walking, swimming, jogging, bicycling, dancing) are good for women’s health in general and especially for your heart, says Sabrena Merrill, MS, of Lawrence, Kan., a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor and a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise.

Health Tip #3: Avoid risky habits. Stay away from cigarettes and people who smoke. Don’t use drugs. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Most women’s health studies show that women can safely consume one drink a day. A drink is considered to be about 12 to 14 grams of alcohol, which is equal to 12 ounces of beer (4.5 percent alcohol); 5 ounces of wine (12.9 percent alcohol); or 1.5 ounces of spirits (hard liquor such as gin or whiskey, 80-proof).

Health Tip #4: Manage stress. No matter what stage of her life — daughter, mother, grandmother — a woman often wears many hats and deals with a lot of pressure and stress. “Take a few minutes every day just to relax and get your perspective back again,” Novey says. “It doesn’t take long, and mental health is important to your physical well-being.” You also can manage stress with exercise, relaxation techniques, or meditation.

Health Tip #5: Sun safely. Excessive exposure to the sun’s harmful rays can cause skincancer, which can be deadly. To protect against skin cancer, wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 if you are going to be outdoors for more than a few minutes. Even if you wear sunscreen faithfully, you should check regularly for signs of skin cancer. Warning signs include any changes in the size, shape, color, or feel of birthmarks, moles, or freckles, or new, enlarging, pigmented, or red skin areas. If you spot any changes or you find you have sores that are not healing, consult your doctor.

Health Tip #6: Check for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society no longer recommends monthly breast self-exams for women. However, it still suggests them as “an option” for women, starting in their 20s. You should be on the lookout for any changes in your breasts and report any concerns to your doctor. All women 40 and older should get a yearly mammogram as a mammogram is the most effective way of detecting cancer in its earliest stages, when it is most treatable.

A woman’s health needs change as she ages, but the basics of women’s health remain the same. If you follow these six simple healthy living tips, you will improve your quality of life for years to come.

Tips to Eat a Healthy Diet

If you are what you eat, it follows that you want to stick to a healthy diet that’s well balanced. “You want to eat a variety of foods,” says Stephen Bickston, MD, AGAF, professor of internal medicine and director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at Virginia Commonwealth University Health Center in Richmond. “You don’t want to be overly restrictive of any one food group or eat too much of another.”

Healthy Diet: The Building Blocks

The best source of meal planning for most Americans is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Food Pyramid. The pyramid, updated in 2005, suggests that for a healthy diet each day you should eat:

  • 6 to 8 servings of grains. These include bread, cereal, rice, and pasta, and at least 3 servings should be from whole grains. A serving of bread is one slice while a serving of cereal is 1/2 (cooked) to 1 cup (ready-to-eat). A serving of rice or pasta is 1/2 cup cooked (1 ounce dry). Save fat-laden baked goods such as croissants, muffins, and donuts for an occasional treat.
  • 2 to 4 servings of fruits and 4 to 6 servings of vegetables. Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat, making them a great addition to your healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables also provide the fiber, vitamins, and minerals you need for your body’s systems to function at peak performance. Fruits and vegetables also will add flavor to a healthy diet. It’s best to serve them fresh, steamed, or cut up in salads. Be sure to skip the calorie-laden toppings, butter, and mayonnaise, except on occasion. A serving of raw or cooked vegetables is equal to 1/2 cup (1 cup for leafy greens); a serving of a fruit is 1/2 cup or a fresh fruit the size of a tennis ball.
  • 2 to 3 servings of milk, yogurt, and cheese. Choose dairy products wisely. Go for fat-free or reduced-fat milk or cheeses. Substitute yogurt for sour cream in many recipes and no one will notice the difference. A serving of dairy is equal to 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1.5 to 2 ounces of cheese.
  • 2 to 3 servings of meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts. For a healthy diet, the best ways to prepare beef, pork, veal, lamb, poultry, and fish is to bake or broil them. Look for the words “loin” or “round” in cuts of meats because they’re the leanest. Remove all visible fat or skin before cooking, and season with herbs, spices, and fat-free marinades. A serving of meat, fish, or poultry is 2 to 3 ounces. Some crossover foods such as dried beans, lentils, and peanut butter can provide protein without the animal fat and cholesterol you get from meats. A ¼ cup cooked beans or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter is equal to 1 ounce of lean meat.
  • Use fats, oils, and sweets sparingly. No diet should totally eliminate any one food group, even fats, oils, and sweets. It’s fine to include them in your diet as long as it’s on occasion and in moderation, Bickston says.

Healthy Diet: Eat Right and the Right Amount

How many calories you need in a day depends on your sex, age, body type, and how active you are. Generally, active children ages 2 to 8 need between 1,400 and 2,000 calories a day. Active teenage girls and women can consume about 2,200 calories a day without gaining weight. Teenage boys and men who are very active should consume about 3,000 calories a day to maintain their weight. If you’re not active, you calorie needs drop by 400 to 600 calories a day.

The best way to know how much to eat is to listen to your body, says Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. “Pull away from the table when you’re comfortable but not yet full. Wait about 20 minutes,” he says. “Usually your body says, ‘That’s good.’ If you’re still hungry after that, you might want to eat a little more.”

Healthy Diet: Exercise Is Part of the Plan

At the bottom of the new USDA food pyramid is a space for exercise. Exercise is an important component of a well-balanced diet and good nutrition. You can reap “fabulous rewards,” says Dr Novey, just by exercising and eating “a healthy diet of foods that nature provides.”

Dangerous Bacteria in Outside Hospitals

 The dangerous bacteria Clostridium difficile spreads not only in hospitals but also in other health-care settings, causing infections and death rates to hit “historic highs,” U.S. health officials reported Tuesday.

C. difficile is a deadly diarrheal infection that poses a significant threat to U.S. health care patients,” Ileana Arias, principal deputy director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a morning news conference. “C. difficile is causing many Americans to suffer and die.”

The germ is linked to about 14,000 deaths in the United States every year. People most at risk from C. difficile are those who take antibiotics and also receive care in any medical facility.

“This failure is more difficult to accept because these are treatable, often preventable deaths,” Arias said. “We know what can be done to do a better job of protecting our patients.”

Much of the growth of this bacterial epidemic has been due to the overuse of antibiotics, the CDC noted in its March 6 report. Unlike healthy people, people in poor health are at high risk for C. difficile infection.

Almost 50 percent of infections are among people under 65, but more than 90 percent of deaths are among those aged 65 and older, according to the report.

Previous estimates found that about 337,000 people are hospitalized each year because of C. difficile infections. Those are historically high levels and add at least $1 billion in extra costs to the health care system, the CDC said.

However, these estimates might not completely reflect C. difficile’s overall impact.

According to the new report, 94 percent of C. difficile infections are related to medical care, with 25 percent among hospital patients and 75 percent among nursing home patients or people recently seen in doctors’ offices and clinics.

Although the proportion of infection is lowest in hospitals, they are at the core of prevention because many infected patients are transferred to hospitals for care, raising the risk of spreading the infection there, the CDC said.

Half of those with C. difficile infections were already infected when they were admitted to the hospital, often after getting care at another facility, the agency noted.

The other 50 percent of infections were related to care at the hospital where the infection was diagnosed.

The CDC said that these infections could be reduced if health care workers follow simple infection control precautions, such as prescribing fewer antibiotics, washing their hands more often and isolating infected patients.

These and other measures have reduced C. difficile infections by 20 percent in hospitals in Illinois, Massachusetts and New York, the CDC said.

In England, infections have been cut 50 percent in three years, the agency said.

Patients get C. difficile infections mostly after taking antibiotics, which can diminish the body’s “good” bacteria for several months.

That’s when patients can get sick from C. difficile, which can be picked up from contaminated surfaces or spread by health care providers.

The predominant sign of C. difficile infection is diarrhea, which can cause dehydration. If serious, the infection can become deadly. Other symptoms include fever, nausea and loss of appetite.

The CDC advises that if diarrhea occurs after a patient starts antibiotics, C. difficileshould be suspected and treatment continued with another antibiotic.

Commenting on the report, infectious disease expert Dr. Marc Siegel, an associate professor of medicine at New York University, said, “All these recommendations are fine; the problem is they are not going to work, you can’t stop these practices. This bug exists in a climate of overuse of antibiotics.”

It is hard to eradicate C. difficile because it buries itself in the colon, then recurs and testing isn’t always accurate, Siegel said. “It’s a pervasive problem in hospitals, and even in communities,” he said.

How seat Belts Save Lives

 It’s been proven time and again, on back roads and superhighways: A seat belt can save a life in a car accident. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), more than 15,000 lives are saved each year in the United States because drivers and their passengers were wearing seat belts when they were in accidents.

Seat Belt Safety: 5-Way Protection

“Seat belts prevent occupants of the vehicle from serious injury in five ways,” says Angela Osterhuber, director of the Pennsylvania Traffic Injury Prevention Project in Media, Pa. A seat belt:

  • Keeps the occupants of the vehicle inside. “It’s clearly a myth that people are better off being thrown clear from the crash,” Osterhuber says. “People thrown from a vehicle are four times more likely to be killed than those who remain inside.”
  • Restrains the strongest parts of the body. “Restraints are designed to contact your body at its strongest parts. For an older child and adult, these parts are the hips and shoulders, which is where the seat belt should be strapped,” Osterhuber says.
  • Spreads out any force from the collision. “Lap-and-shoulder belts spread the force of the crash over a wide area of the body. By putting less stress on any one area, they can help you avoid serious injury,” Osterhuber says. A shoulder strap also helps keep your head and upper body away from the dashboard, steering wheel, and other hard interior parts of the automobile should you stop suddenly or be hit by another vehicle.
  • Helps the body to slow down. “What is it that causes injury? A quick change in speed,” Osterhuber says. “Seat belts help extend the time it takes for you to slow down in a crash.”
  • Protects your brain and spinal cord. A seat belt is designed to protect these two critical areas. “Head injuries may be hard to see immediately, but they can be deadly,” Osterhuber says. Likewise, spinal cord injuries can have serious consequences.

Seat Belt Safety: Buckle Up Correctly

Adjusting your seat belt properly is a must: Getting the right fit is as important as wearing it. The strap that goes across your lap should fit snugly over your hips and upper thigh area. “If the belt rides up on the stomach, it could cause serious injuries in a crash,” Osterhuber says.

Shoulder belts should rest securely across your chest and shoulders between your breasts. Don’t ever let the strap fall across your neck or face and never place the strap under your arms or behind your back. “Any one of these positions can cause serious injury,” Osterhuber says.

Seat Belt Safety: Rules for Infants and Children

Children are not small adults — they need specialized protection in a moving vehicle. “Their skeletal structure is different,” Osterhuber says. Age, height, and weight determine the safest way for a child to travel.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, here’s how to select the right option for your child:

  • Rear-facing child safety seat. Children under age 1 and those who weigh less than 20 pounds should sit in rear-facing, child safety seats approved by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The seats should be placed in the backseat of the car.
  • Forward-facing child safety seat. Children older than 1 who weigh more than 20 pounds should ride in forward-facing child safety seats. The seat should be placed in the rear of the vehicle until the child reaches the upper weight or height limit of the particular seat. Typically, a child will outgrow a safety seat around age 4 and once she reaches about 40 pounds.
  • Booster seat. Children age 4 and older who weigh more than 40 pounds should ride in booster seats. A child can safely progress to a seat belt when the belt fits properly across the upper thighs and chest. “This is usually at age 8 or when they are at least 4 feet 9 inches tall,” Osterhuber says.
  • Seat belt. When children outgrow their booster seats, they can use seat belts, but they still should sit in the back of the vehicle. “Really, all children should be riding in the backseat of the car until they are at least 13 years old,” Osterhuber says.

Seat Belt Safety: A Clear Message

The National Safety Council recently reported a drop in traffic fatalities for 2008, indicating a record low since the 1920s when it began publishing statistical reports. One reason given for the decline is the increased use of seat belts.

The Health Benefits of Water

 Did you know that your body weight is approximately 60 percent water? Your body uses water in all its cells, organs, and tissues to help regulate its temperature and maintain other bodily functions. Because your body loses water through breathing, sweating, and digestion, it’s important to rehydrate by drinking fluids and eating foods that contain water. The amount of water you need depends on a variety of factors, including the climate you live in, how physically active you are, and whether you’re experiencing an illness or have any other health problems.

Water Protects Your Tissues, Spinal Cord, and Joints

Water does more than just quench your thirst and regulate your body’s temperature; it also keeps the tissues in your body moist. You know how it feels when your eyes, nose, or mouth gets dry? Keeping your body hydrated helps it retain optimum levels of moisture in these sensitive areas, as well as in the blood, bones, and the brain. In addition, water helps protect the spinal cord, and it acts as a lubricant and cushion for your joints.

Water Helps Your Body Remove Waste

Adequate water intake enables your body to excrete waste through perspiration, urination, and defecation. The kidneys and liver use it to help flush out waste, as do your intestines. Water can also keep you from getting constipated by softening your stools and helping move the food you’ve eaten through your intestinal tract. However, it should be noted that there is no evidence to prove that increasing your fluid intake will cure constipation.

Water Aids in Digestion

Digestion starts with saliva, the basis of which is water. Digestion relies on enzymes that are found in saliva to help break down food and liquid and to dissolve minerals and other nutrients. Proper digestion makes minerals and nutrients more accessible to the body. Water is also necessary to help you digest soluble fiber. With the help of water, this fiber dissolves easily and benefits your bowel health by making well-formed, soft stools that are easy to pass.

Water Prevents You From Becoming Dehydrated

Your body loses fluids when you engage in vigorous exercise, sweat in high heat, or come down with a fever or contract an illness that causes vomiting or diarrhea. If you’re losing fluids for any of these reasons, it’s important to increase your fluid intake so that you can restore your body’s natural hydration levels. Your doctor may also recommend that you drink more fluids to help treat other health conditions, like bladder infections and urinary tract stones. If you’re pregnant or nursing, you may want to consult with your physician about your fluid intake because your body will be using more fluids than usual, especially if you’re breastfeeding.

How Much Water Do You Need?

There’s no hard and fast rule, and many individuals meet their daily hydration needs by simply drinking water when they’re thirsty, according to a report on nutrient recommendations from the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. In fact, most people who are in good physical health get enough fluids by drinking water and other beverages when they’re thirsty, and also by drinking a beverage with each of their meals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you’re not sure about your hydration level, look at your urine. If it’s clear, you’re in good shape. If it’s dark, you’re probably dehydrated.