Roundup: U.S. Flu-Related Deaths, Diet's Link to Mental Health, and Kids' 'Screen Time' Study

CDC Chief: 80,000 Died From Flu Complications Last Winter, Highest U.S. Toll in Four Decades

The director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 80,000 Americans died of flu and its complications last winter — and that’s highest death toll tied to the flu in at least four decades.

The CDC director, Robert Redfield, M.D., released the estimate during an interview this week with The Associated Press. Although preliminary, the estimate of 80,000 was higher than expected. Flu-related deaths have ranged from about 12,000 to 56,000 over recent years, the CDC has said. The number provided by Dr. Redfield would mark the highest death toll from the flu since the winter of 1976-1977.

CDC officials do not have the precise number of flu-related deaths, which can be hard to ascertain because the disease is so common and not all flu cases are reported or listed on death certificates.

“I’d like to see more people get vaccinated,” Dr. Redfield told the AP at an event in New York. “We lost 80,000 people last year to the flu.”

Last winter’s flu season was largely fueled by a type of influenza that can send more people to hospital emergency departments and cause more deaths, particularly among the more vulnerable — young children and the elderly. The season peaked in early February and was mostly over by the end of March.

The CDC recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October. Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every year before flu activity begins in their community. The vaccine is far from 100 percent effective, but it provides the best protection against serious illness, the CDC said.

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Mediterranean Diet, Rich in Fruits, Vegetables, May Lower Risk of Depression, Study Says

The Mediterranean diet has won much praise for overall health, focusing on meals low in red meat, sugar and saturated fat, while recommending significant portions of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

New research released this week analyzed 41 studies, focusing on the link between diet and the risk of developing depression. Those who followed a strict Mediterranean diet had a 33 percent lower risk of being diagnosed with depression — compared to people who were least likely to follow these eating habits.

Those who had diets considered high in unhealthy and inflammatory products, such as processed meats, trans fats and alcohol, were more likely to develop depressive conditions, researchers found. Previous studies have linked diet-induced insulin resistance and inflammation to damage to brain cells, the study’s authors noted. But these factors can be controlled by changes in the diet, they added.

“There is compelling evidence to show that there is a relationship between the quality of your diet and your mental health,” said Camille Lassale, research associate at University College London’s department of epidemiology and public health in the UK, and a co-author of the study. “This relationship goes beyond the effect of diet on your body size or other aspects of health that can in turn affect your mood.”

Despite the strong link found between a healthy diet and preventing depression, “further well-powered clinical trials are required to assess the role of dietary patterns” in the prevention of “depressive episodes,” the study said.

The U.S. government’s dietary guidelines, also known as My Plate, focus on plant-based options that is a key part of the Mediterranean diet.

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Limiting ‘Screen Time’ Helps Children’s Cognitive Skills, New Study Finds

Only one in 20 kids in the United States meets guidelines on sleep, exercise and “screen time” on digital devices, according to a new study.

Additionally, nearly a third of these kids fail to meed the recommendations in all three categories, says the research published this week. Children aged 8 to 11 spent 3.6 hours, on average, per day on a TV, mobile phone, tablet or desktop computer, according to the study published in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. That’s nearly double the suggest limit of two hours.

Too much time in front of the screen has been linked to higher obesity rates in children who spend five hours or more in front of a screen, as compared to those who spend two hours or less, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

The study released this week found that too little sleep and too much screen time were linked to a drop off in cognitive skills, such as language ability, memory, and task completion.

“We found that more than two hours of recreational screen time in children was associated with poorer cognitive development,” said lead author Jeremy Walsh, a researcher at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute.

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