Idea #323 for January 7th, 2010: Changing Labels or Inaccuracies in Calorie Counts

Don’t always believe labels. That’s the message coming from a study of the accuracy of caloric labels on packaged foods and restaurant meals. The study analyzed ten frozen meals and about 30 restaurant meals to find their true calorie counts. In both types of meals, the actual numbers did not agree with what the labels purported; the true calorie amounts were significantly higher.

While this was not a very comprehensive study, there a couple of interesting points to consider here. First, consumers should be skeptical of calorie counts on prepared foods. Food producers might be skewing the data to make their products more attractive to weight-conscious consumers. Another issue here is the FDA’s role in policing nutrition data. Apparently food producers are punished more for under-providing than over-providing. In other words, giving the consumer less than what they paid for — even calories — is a greater concern to the FDA than the opposite. That policy should be reconsidered in light of the misrepresentation that is currently occurring.

Read more about this issue here.

Idea #322 for January 6th, 2010: Sugar Is Still Sugar or Replacing HFCS With Sucrose Not Necessarily Healthful

Public opinion is beginning to turn on high fructose corn syrup, the ubiquitous corn-based sweetener that is partly blamed for the nation’s obesity epidemic. Because of mounting consumer pressure, some manufacturers are starting to offer products with traditional sucrose sugar in place of corn syrup. Even Pepsi is going to sell a version of their soft drink with sucrose. But consumers shouldn’t assume that soft drinks and other sugary snacks are suddenly healthful when corn syrup is replaced with an equal amount of sugar.

Sucrose is a disaccharide consisting of both fructose and glucose, while corn syrup is a mixture of free glucose and fructose molecules. Fructose has been singled out in some research as the compound responsible for many of the health effects related to corn syrup consumption. If that is the case, then consuming sucrose, which has as much fructose per unit as corn syrup, will not offer any additional health benefits. On top of that, drinking large quantities of sugary drinks and all the calories that go with them is a bad idea anyway. So don’t be duped by products boasting about their switch from corn syrup to other sweeteners, they will still likely remain junk food.

Read more about this here.

Idea #321 for January 5th, 2010: Getting Through or Texting in Teen Healthcare Holds Promise

If you want a teen to get a message, the best way is probably through texting. Healthcare workers are finding that to be the case, and have used texts to deliver potentially life-saving information to teens who may otherwise be difficult to reach. Johns Hopkins doctors have found that text messages can effectively transmit information to patients with HIV, diabetes, asthma, and other conditions that require close monitoring. Texts can remind them to take life-saving medications on schedule.

A 2008 study on diabetic patients found that text messages increased medication adherence rates significantly. Text reminders hold a lot of promise in this context, but there are still issues to be worked out. For one, the patient must agree to some privacy waivers before beginning the program. Also, the costs of texts in some mobile plans can be prohibitively expensive. But if these hurdles can be overcome, texting could become a vital component of teen healthcare in the future.

Read more about this story here.

Idea #320 for January 4th, 2010: Measuring Up or The Importance of Properly Measuring Liquid Medications

When measuring out a dose of liquid medication, is a kitchen spoon a good enough utensil? Pouring a spoonful of cough medicine may seem like a harmless estimation, but research shows that this practice is unnecessarily dangerous. Not all spoons are created equal, so a teaspoon of medicine may fill each kitchen spoon differently. A study showed that people attempting to measure out a certain volume of liquid medicine in kitchen spoons of various sizes were off by an average of about 10%.

Administering a mis-measured dose of medicine to a child could have dire consequences. The best way to avoid mistakes is to use measuring caps or dosing spoons that were provided along with the medication. The few seconds you might save by eyeballing the liquid in a kitchen spoon is not worth the potential risk of over-medicating a child.

Read more about this issue here.

Idea #319 for January 3rd, 2010: App Appetite or Smartphones and Eating Disorders

Smartphone applications are providing people with easier ways to keep track of nutrition and caloric intake. While technology like that can be a great tool for people looking to lose weight, there is also potential down side. Some health professionals are worried about people with eating disorders possibly taking advantage of the apps. The danger is that having easy access to information like this could steer some teens towards obsession with their weight and caloric intake. This potential for abuse doesn’t mean we should try to restrict the use of dieting apps in general, but parents should at least be aware of the issue if they suspect their teenage kids are having food issues.

Read more about this story here.

Idea #318 for January 2nd, 2010: Pill Police or Fighting Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription drug abuse remains a major issue in the US, and the problem is growing more widespread. Between the years 2006 and 2007, prescription drug abuse jumped by more than 10% while use of street drugs declined. Meanwhile, in the decade preceding 2007, the number of prescriptions filled jumped 72%. This greater availability of prescription meds may be related to the rise in abuse.

People are able to obtain these drugs in a few ways. More than half are able to get them from a friend or relative who may have leftover drugs that were legitimately prescribed to them. Some are able to order drugs from the internet without a valid prescription. And others are able to convince a provider to prescribe them drugs for a faked medical condition. Cracking down on the illegal sale of prescription drugs online may curb the abuse to some extent. But the biggest challenge will be to curb the sharing of medications that are legitimately prescribed.

Read more about this story here.

Idea #317 for January 1st, 2010: Smoke Free 2010 or New Year’s Resolution For Health

With the new year upon us, there may be no better time to begin a smoking cessation program. Quitting smoking is one of the most popular new year’s resolutions, and with good reason. To help ensure success, there are a few things smokers should keep in mind before starting the process. For starters, seeking the advice of a healthcare provider and considering medications to ease the withdrawal symptoms may prove beneficial. Also, exercising can help reduce stress and prevent weight gain associated with quitting. And joining a support group may make the process easier to deal with. No matter what method is used to get there, quitting smoking is one of the healthiest choices you can make in 2010.

Read more about quitting here.