Roundup: Flu Rates Decline; Fitness Apps Surge; and Tobacco Use Down Among Teens

CDC: Flu Cases Down as Precautions Against COVID-19 Help Prevent ‘Twindemic’

Higher flu vaccination rates, combined with the social distancing, below normal travel, and the widespread use of face masks, has led to a record low number of influenza cases this year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

There are more doses of flu vaccine available this season than ever before, the CDC said. For the 2020-2021 season, manufacturers have as already distributed nearly 200 million doses of flu vaccine, a record number for a single flu season. Higher than normal flu vaccination rates has helped prevent a “twindemic,” the CDC says, referring to a flu pandemic combined with the existing COVID-19 pandemic.

Flu vaccination among adults rose 46 percent, from 31.1 million in 2019 to 45.3 million, as of November 28, the CDC reported this month.

“The unprecedented demand we’ve seen for flu shots this season, along with safety precautions everyone is taking to limit the spread of COVID-19, such as social distancing, wearing facemasks and frequently washing their hands, may be contributing to lower flu activity this season,” said Dr. Kevin Ban, chief medical officer at Walgreens, one of the largest U.S. providers of flu shots, in a news release.

A flu vaccine this season can help “reduce the burden on our healthcare systems responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and save medical resources for care of COVID-19 patients,” states the CDC.

Fitness Apps See Jump in New Users, Overall Activity This Year

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, some fitness tracking applications have seen increases in physical activity among those that have logged on and registered their workouts, with running and cycling proving most popular.

Strava, an online service for tracking exercises, reviewed its data from more than 73 million users in 2020 as part of the application’s year-end-report. Strava found that those already using the app increased their workouts by 13 percent this year. More than 1 million users joined Strava’s monthly 5K challenge in May, a record high for a single event on the app. Overall, more than 2 million new users joined the free app every month this year, Strava said.

The app, like most others used on smartphones or other wearable devices, uses global-positioning system (GPS) technology to record exercise, allowing users to compare performances.

Women played a bigger role in fueling Strava’s increase in fitness activities. Between April and September, women aged 18-29 registered a 45 percent increase in the median number of activities uploaded, compared to a 27 percent increase by male participants, the Strava data shows.

The overall market for fitness-app wearables has seen fast growth during the pandemic, as more adults are committing themselves to stay fit or shedding the so-called “quarantine 15” weight gain associated with the widespread working-from-home or sheltering-in-place policies.

Germany-based Freeletics is on track to more than double it’s new customer base this year and is establishing a stronger presence in the U.S. market. This month, Apple launched Apple Fitness+, a subscription-based tracking app that combines exercise metrics from Apple Watch with “studio-style workouts” on computer or TV devices.

CDC & FDA: Use of Tobacco Products Among Middle, High School Students Declines in 2020

The use of tobacco products declined among U.S. middle and high school students from 2019 to 2020, driven primarily by decreases in the use of e-cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in collaboration with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

However, about 1 in 6 (nearly 4.5 million) students were current users of some type of tobacco product in 2020, researchers found after an analysis of the National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS).

The study by the CDC and FDA assessed current (past 30-day) use of tobacco products, including e-cigarettes, cigarettes, cigars, smokeless tobacco, hookah, pipe tobacco, and heated tobacco products. The U.S. agencies said this is the first study “to present NYTS data on the use of heated tobacco products (products that heat processed tobacco leaf to produce an emission, which the user inhales into their lungs), and tobacco product use by sexual identity.”

The study found that nearly 1 in 4 high school students (3.65 million) were current users of any tobacco product in 2020, down about 25 percent from about 1 in 3 (4.7 million) in 2019.

About 1 in 15 middle school students (800,000) were current users of any tobacco product in 2020, down nearly 50 percent from about 1 in 8 (1.5 million) in 2019.

From 2019 to 2020, decreases among both middle and high school students also occurred in use of any combustible tobacco product, the use of 2 or more tobacco products, e-cigarettes, cigars, and smokeless tobacco. In contrast, no change occurred in the current use of cigarettes, heated tobacco products, hookah, or pipe tobacco during 2019–2020, said the CDC and FDA.

For the seventh year in a row, e-cigarettes were the most commonly used tobacco product among both middle and high school students.

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