Infection Protection, Evils of Sugar Top 2014's Major Health Stories

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December 31, 2014


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The year 2014 was full of eye-opening research and alarming health alerts, with headlines including threats from potentially harmful viruses, too much sugar and expanding waistlines.

But there were also positive outcomes on a few fronts, including noteworthy progress in the battle against cancer and improved heart-health guidelines, which should benefit more people.

The news staff of Health, Life and Community chose the following as the top five health-related stories of the year:

5. Waistlines Expanding

One study after another heralds the health benefits of exercise and proper nutrition, but most Americans don’t seem to be getting the message, experts say.

The evidence: Average waistlines have expanded significantly from 1999 to 2012, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported this September.

The average man’s waist grew from 38.9 inches to 39.7 inches; the average woman’s waist expanded more, from 36.3 inches to 37.8 inches, according to the research published in the medical journal, JAMA.

Even more troubling is the news about “abdominal obesity” —  a condition that increases the risks of diabetes, heart disease and premature death, according to previous studies.  A new study shows 43 percent of men and 64 percent of women are in the more risk-prone abdominal-obesity zone. That’s up from 37 percent of men and 55 percent of women in 1999.

A study released in December found that being overweight or obese can steal up to eight years from a person’s life.

The good news? “Losing as little as 10 percent of excess body weight seems to have health benefits,” Cathy Clark-Reyes, a registered dietitian with Baptist Health Primary Care.  “That’s a realistic start.”

Here are more articles on weight and health:

  • Watch Now: “The Obesity Epidemic in America: Corporate Wealth vs. Public Health
  • Excess Weight, Shorter Life?
  • Myths About Metabolism
  • Top 5 Exercise Excuses (Plus Solutions)
    4. New Heart, Stroke Guidelines

    Preventing heart disease and stroke is a crucial component of healthy living. So it was big news when the nation’s leading experts further modified health guidelines this year to place more focus on obesity, diabetes and other risk factors. They did so while relying less on cholesterol levels.

    The updated guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology now include treating obesity as a disease, and expanding resources for treating risk factors, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. The four areas of focus are cholesterol levels, lifestyle (diet and exercise), obesity and risk assessment.

    Measuring cholesterol is still a key component of the guidelines, but the method for determining who needs to take cholesterol-lowering drugs, also referred to as statins, is broader. The goal is to have more people who actually need  statins to get them and to avoid prescribing the statins to people who can benefit from lifestyle changes.

    Meanwhile, guidelines have been  created specifically for the first time to improve stroke treatment for women. Strokes are deadlier for women, with about 60 percent of stroke deaths happening in women, says the American Stroke Association.

    “The guidelines present a good opportunity to focus on women-centered needs,” says Paul Damski, M.D., a neurologist and Stroke Program Medical Director for Baptist Hospital and West Kendall Baptist Hospital. “Women’s issues that affect stroke risk include pregnancy, childbirth, hormonal imbalances and menopause.”

    For more details, read these blog posts on heart disease and stroke:

  • New Guidelines for Heart Disease, Stroke Prevention
  • New Stroke Guidelines for Women
  • 10 Tips for Preventing Heart Disease Every Day
    3. Cancer Rates Declining

    Over the past 20 years, cancer death rates in the United States have steadily declined.  According to the American Cancer Society’s (ACS)  Cancer Facts & Figures 2014, there has been a 20 percent decrease in the overall risk of dying from cancer.

    This means that more than 1.3 million cancer deaths have been prevented during the past 20 years.

    Medical advances, more frequent early detections and behavorial changes that contribute to healthier living are the primary factors behind the falling cancer rates.

    “The improvement in these rates is primarily due to both prevention and advances in early detection of some of the major cancers, such as lung, colorectal, breast and prostate cancers,” said Leonard Kalman, M.D., a medical oncologist on staff at Baptist Health hospitals. “In most cases, survival rates increase when the cancer is detected early.”

    Lung, colorectal, breast and prostate cancers are still responsible for the most cancer deaths. However, since their peak in 1991, death rates have decreased by more than 40 percent for prostate cancer and by more than 30 percent for colon cancer, breast cancer in women and lung cancer in men.

    Read more on cancer prevention:

  • Watch Now: Lung Cancer Screening Saved His Life
  • Detecting Endometrial Cancer
  • Obesity and Cancer – A Growing Connection
  • When to Get a Mammogram
  • Super-Heated Treatment for Ovarian Cancer
  • Breast Cancer: Know Your Family History
    2. Sugar

    Sugar has taken center stage in the ongoing battle to control the alarming rates of diabetes and obesity. This year saw the release of numerous studies that found “added sugars” in the diets of Americans contribute more than previously thought to weight gain, a higher propensity for type 2 diabetes and an increased risk of dying from cardiovascular disease.

    Added sugars are defined as sugars and syrups that are mixed in to foods or beverages when those items are  processed or prepared. Sugar-heavy sodas, juices, sports drinks and other liquids typically represent one-half of the daily calories Americans consume, fueling weight gain and contributing to heart health risk factors. Sugar can intensify cravings for more sweetened foods, propelling the obesity epidemic.

    According to one study, most U.S. adults consume about 22 teaspoons of added sugar a day, which is far more than recommended by the medical community. The American Heart Association recommends no more than six teaspoons or 100 calories a day of sugar for women,  and no more than nine teaspoons or 150 calories a day for men.

    “We are starting to see more and more of a trend in studies that find sugar is bad for you, and its properties help escalate weight and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease,” said Jonathan Fialkow, M.D., medical director of clinical cardiology at Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute. “It’s not just about how many calories you take in, but how different people handle different kinds of calories. For example, some can metabolize sugar better than others.”

    Here’s more from recent articles on the risks of too much sugar:

  • Sugar Shock: How Sweet Drinks Harm Health
  • Added Sugars Amount to More Heart Risks
  • Watch Now: “The Obesity Epidemic in America: Corporate Wealth vs. Public Health”
  • Artificial Sweeteners: Good or Bad?
  • 5 Ways to Control Your Child’s Sweet Tooth
    1. Infection Protection

    This year served as a stark reminder to Americans of the importance of infection protection. Over a span of a few weeks, media reports featured highly contagious viral infections known as enteroviruses, a tougher than expected flu system and a nationwide scare tied to an outrbreak of the deadly Ebola virus in West Africa.

    The Ebola scare has abated, but Baptist Health South Florida and hospitals across the state and nation are better prepared as a result of this year’s experience with the Ebola epidemic, the largest in history and affecting several countries in West Africa.

    All Baptist Health facilities follow the guidelines established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in preparing for and managing patients diagnosed with Ebola or other infectious diseases.  The broad media coverage of Ebola and enteroviruses has produced a positive: more people than ever are aware of the benefits of good hygiene, the best protection against common viruses.

    “It’s important now more than ever for adults and children to practice proper hygiene,” said Barbara Russell, R.N., director of Infection Prevention and Control Services for Baptist Hospital. “The most common way that the flu and enteroviruses are spread is by people coughing into their hands and then shaking hands, or by leaving germs on hard surfaces where someone else can get them on their hands.”

    Recently, the CDC announced that the 2014-2015 flu season could be “severe,”  and much of the influenza virus already in circulation has mutated, even affecting some who have already been vaccinated. However, the CDC maintains that everyone should get their flu shots. This alert only reinforces the need for infection protection.

    Here are some of our recent blog posts related to infections and necessary precautions:

  • Protection from Travel Infection
  • Watch Now: Germ-Zapping Robot at Doctors Hospital
  • Ebola Preparedness: Taking Necessary Precautions, Monitoring Developments
  • Good Hygiene is Best Protection Against ‘Enteroviruses’

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