The Sandoval Signpost

An Independent Monthly Newspaper Serving the Community since 1988

Health

The Healthy Geezer

—FRED CICETTI

It’s time for a flu shot.

Flu season in the northern hemisphere can range from as early as November to as late as May. The peak month usually is February.

The vaccine can be administered anytime during flu season. However, the best time to get inoculated is October or November. The protection provided by the vaccine lasts about a year. Adults over age fifty are prime candidates for the vaccine because the flu can be fatal for people in this age group.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that up to twenty percent of the population gets the flu each year. More than two hundred thousand flu victims are hospitalized annually in the United States; about thirty-six thousand people die from complications of flu.

Flu is a contagious illness of the respiratory system caused by the influenza virus. Flu can lead to pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis, ear problems, and dehydration.

Droplets from coughing and sneezing spread the flu. An adult with flu can infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick. Children may spread flu for more than seven days.

The best way to combat the bug is to get the flu vaccine. You have to get inoculated annually because new vaccines are prepared every year to combat new versions of the virus. When you battle the flu, you develop antibodies to the invading virus, but those antibodies don’t work on new strains. The vaccine does not prevent flu in all people; it works better in younger recipients than older ones.

Contrary to rumor, you can’t catch the flu from the vaccine. The flu vaccine is not made from a live virus.

You can get the flu vaccine from your doctor, at public health centers, senior centers, pharmacies, and supermarkets. About 145 million doses of influenza vaccine—a record output—will be produced for use in the United States during the 2008-2009 influenza season.

The recovery time for the flu is about one to two weeks. However, in seniors, weakness may persist for a longer time.

The common scenario for flu is a sudden onset of symptoms, which include chills, fatigue, fever, cough, headache, sore throat, nasal congestion, muscle aches, and appetite loss.

While nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea can be related to the flu, these are rarely the primary flu symptoms. The flu is not a stomach or intestinal disease. The term “stomach flu” is inaccurate.

When symptoms strike, get to a doctor as soon as possible; the faster the better. There are prescription antiviral drugs to treat flu. Over-the-counter medicines can help relieve symptoms of the flu. You should also drink liquids to prevent dehydration, and sleep to bolster your immune system.

The CDC reports vaccination rates are better for those over sixty-five. Overall, seventy-two percent of seniors get their flu shots. The CDC’s 2010 goal is the vaccination of ninety percent of seniors.

For more than four decades, the flu vaccine has been strongly recommended for older people, but now some scientists say the vaccine probably doesn’t work well for those over seventy. About seventy-five percent of flu deaths happen to people in this age group.

A recent study found that people who were conscientious about maintaining their health were the most likely to get a flu shot. Those who are frail and more likely to die are less likely to get the vaccine, the study said.

The authors of the study contend that previous analyses had measured the difference between seniors who get vaccines and those who do not. Earlier studies did not measure the protection against the flu virus, the authors asserted.

The new study is not accepted by everyone in the health field, and the findings have not reversed the recommendation that older people get a flu shot.

If you have a question, please write to fred@healthygeezer.com


Making kids clean their plates may lead to weight issues

—JUSTIN BANNISTER

Parents who tell their children to clean their plates may be harming their children’s long-term health. That’s according to research done by Collin Payne, a marketing professor at New Mexico State University’s College of Business. He believes making children finish all of the food on their dinner plates is unhealthy.

“We tried to better understand why people eat what they do and in the amounts that they do,” Payne said about his work with Brian Wensink, a researcher at Cornell University. The research was recently published in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. “Cleaning your plate may have been a good idea during World War II because of food rationing, but now it’s just a recipe for becoming obese.”

Payne said for the past twenty-five years, there has been a steady increase in the amount of obesity in the U.S. He believes this trend can be tied to marketing, medicine, and psychology, among other factors.

“People want value. They want as much good-tasting food as possible for their money. If one place, usually a fast-food place, can say they deliver more food for the money, people will go there,” he said.

Years of this philosophy of increasing portion sizes has led to bowls and dinner plates that are larger today than in the past. That means it takes more food to make a dish look full and children who are made to eat everything on their plates today are actually eating more than their parents or grandparents ever did, without even realizing it, Payne said.

“It’s a simple solution: give appropriate-sized portions to your kids and let them decide when they are done,” he said.

Another issue is that today’s children have more choices than ever when it comes to things they can eat. Unfortunately, while many of these choices may taste good, most are loaded with sugar, fat, and other unhealthy ingredients, Payne said.

The solution is for parents to do a better job at selling or marketing healthy food to their kids, especially those foods with a bad reputation among young people.

“Taste is actually in the eye of the beholder. It’s amazing to see how flexible our tastes are,” Payne said. “If you tell your kids to eat their broccoli, they probably won’t like it. If you tell them that it’s not broccoli, but that it’s really a ‘dinosaur tree,’ they are more likely to enjoy its crunchiness and texture.”

Payne believes if a person has unhealthy eating habits as a child, he or she is more likely to have the same habits when older. Adults are so busy doing so many other things, they often do not realize what they are eating or how much they are eating. Payne said these characteristics may be unique to Americans.

“We asked people in the U.S. how they knew when to stop eating. Their answer was, when the TV show they are watching is over or when their plate was empty. When we asked the same number of people in Paris how they knew when to stop eating, they said they stop when they feel full,” he said.

Payne blames other factors in combination with poor eating habits for the increase in obesity, including increased time spent watching TV or working on computers. He says people are busier now, too, and have less time to exercise.

Payne has conducted similar research, studying behavior at Chinese buffet restaurants. It showed that people who eat with chopsticks tend to eat less. Payne attributes this to the fact that it is more difficult to use chopsticks, so it takes longer to eat.

He also found that those who eat facing the buffet tend to eat more. Additionally, those who “scout out” the entire buffet to see what is available tend to eat less than those who simply dig in with the first items they see.

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