Ho Ho Ho: health hazards for Santa

santa_claus obesityAfter weeks of harried holiday shopping, when the stores finally close on the evening of December 24, it will be a welcome reprieve from the madness. Families and friends gather together and enjoy a relaxing day or two of rest.

But for one man, the real work is just beginning. That’s right – Santa Claus is coming to town!

And while he spends most of the year enjoying a flexible work schedule, monitoring naughty-and-nice behaviors around the world and occasionally checking in on his elves and reindeer, things are about to get frantic for Old Nick.

And to be honest, this year we’re a little concerned about his health.  That belly fat!  The all-nighter he’s about to pull!  All those cookies!

He may know when you are sleeping, but the only way for Santa to get the job done is to stay up all night on December – and that can lead to some serious health concerns.
Studies have suggested that drowsy driving is as dangerous as drunk driving.  Even if he manages to get Rudolf and his friends safely parked on the rooftops, sleep deprivation could cause his judgment to become fuzzier, leading to the wrong presents traveling down the wrong chimneys.
What’s worse is that sleep loss has a cumulative effect. So while people in the Southern hemisphere might do OK, those of us in Northern climes, and especially those on the West Coast aren’t so lucky. Chronic sleep deprivation could mean he could fly over some houses altogether.

santa + sackBut even if we manage to keep him awake with coffee and Red Bull rather than the usual glass of milk, we’ve got to change Santa’s sack. By carrying something that weighs more than 10% of his body weight, one shoulder is going to end up taking on most of the burden, which could lead to back strains, sprains and spasms.
If you’re thinking of getting Santa a gift this season maybe you could consider a backpack, or better still, a rolling suitcase.

That’s not to say Santa doesn’t need the exercise of his Christmas Eve jaunt. Like 70% of adult men in the US, he is severely overweight. The health risks linked to obesity include Type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, hypertension, certain types of cancer and osteoarthritis.

With his giant waist comes the risk of belly fat associated problems such as insulin resistance, high triglycerides, heart disease and metabolic syndrome.

Santa beardThen there’s that beard to worry about. After a month or so of letting thousands upon thousands of kids sit on your lap at the mall, we wouldn’t be surprised if he’s harboring some germs in his whiskers.  So if Santa touches his beard followed by his eyes, ears or mouth, he’s pretty much bound to catch something, especially in the midst of this cold and flu season.

We suggest leaving some hand sanitizer next to the milk and cookies this year to give him a fighting chance.

And finally we’re worried about that thin Red Suit. While we’ll give Santa props for covering his head with a hat, traveling outside all night in December in a red velvet suit and a touch of faux fur seems ill advised. In addition to the hat, he should probably throw on a scarf or knit mask, mittens, thermals and a water-resistant coat to ward off hypothermia.

So whether you’ve been naughty or nice, there’s still time to give some thought to Santa’s Health, as well as your own this Christmas season.

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Dance Away Diabetes

As anybody who’s been following the news over the last year or so will know, there is a growing epidemic among American children – type 2 diabetes.

It’s a problem that is both confronting and confounding more doctors, families, and health care professionals every day.

Until 15 years ago, type 2 diabetes was never seen in young people. Now it’s occurring with alarming frequency. And, type 2 diabetes appears to be more aggressive in young people between the ages of 10 and 17, putting them at great risk for life-threatening illnesses typically associated with seniors. Doctors know that a major risk factor is obesity. Beyond that, they are mostly in the dark.

Worse still, the standard treatment for type 2 diabetes in children is ineffective because metaformin – a drug which is effective in adults, has a high failure rate among children.

When it comes to preventing type 2 diabetes, more exercise and a healthier diet are key but doctors know young peoples’ habits are tough to change.

Which is why SRxA’s Word on Health was interested to learn of the “Dance for Health” program being pioneered by Professor Terri Lipman, a nurse practitioner and professor of pediatric nursing at the University of Pennslvania.  Dance for Health encourages children and adults to ward off the disease and hip-hop their way to good health.

Penn Nursing has partnered with Philadelphia’s Sayre High School and the Bernett Johnson Sayre Health Center to assess and improve physical activity among school-aged children, with the goal of lowering the risk for obesity.

Busting cool moves across a wooden gym floor, the Sayre High School dance team led children through one hour of dancing weekly for one month. Using pedometers, the research team found that the students averaged twice as many steps on days they danced.

At the same time, researchers noted that the children had elevated resting heart rates after exercise, indicating that they were not physically fit. Dance for Health aims to change that.

Dancing is not only free, culturally relevant, and fun,” says Dr. Lipman, “it is also an easily accessible way for children to lead a more active lifestyle. Through this program, we aim to promote to schools and healthcare providers the benefits of incorporating dance into children’s lives to improve their overall health.”

The partnership between Penn Nursing and Sayre High School has yielded other benefits. Dr. Lipman now hosts weekly evening dance classes for children and adults ages 5 to 91!

At the same time, they are educating the neighboring community, demographically at high risk for diabetes, about prevention through good nutrition, exercise, and recognition of warning signs. In addition to taking basic measurements such as weight, height, and waist circumference, the students also check for acanthosis nigricans, a darkening of the skin associated with obesity and diabetes.

Our partnership with Sayre has opened the door to a strong relationship with residents of the community around Penn,” says Dr. Lipman. “It has allowed us to work with individuals, schools, and community groups to fight diabetes together.”

Do you know of any similar initiatives?  Ballroom Dance for bulimics?!? Samba for stroke?!? Share your stories with us.

Treating asthma leads to better diabetic control

At first glance asthma and diabetes would seem to have very little in common, other than they are both diseases that often appear in childhood.

However, a new study published in the journal Pediatrics shows a new link.  Researchers have found that kids with diabetes may have a higher-than-average rate of asthma, and those with both conditions seem to have a tougher time keeping their blood sugar under control.

Among 2,000 3- to 21-year-olds with diabetes, 11% had asthma – higher than the expected 9% rate among children and young adults in the U.S.

The difference was even bigger when the researchers looked at type 2 diabetes, the form associated with obesity, and usually diagnosed in adults. In that group, 16% had asthma.

Researchers also showed that kids with both type 1 diabetes and asthma were more likely to have poor blood sugar control than their peers who were asthma-free.

The reasons for the findings are not completely clear.  However, the higher rate of asthma among young people with type 2 diabetes suggests a role for obesity, according to lead researcher Mary Helen Black, of the department of research and evaluation at Kaiser Permanente Southern California.

Some past research has found that people with poorly controlled diabetes are more likely to show diminished lung function over time than those with well-controlled diabetes. But the reasons for that are also unknown.

Black suggests the reason may simply be that it’s tougher for kids with type 1 diabetes to control their blood sugar when they have another chronic health problem.

The good news is that when kids with both diseases were on asthma medication, their blood sugar control was better. In particular, poor blood sugar control was seen in less than 5% of those taking leukotriene modifiers such as Singulair, Accolate and Zyflo; compared with about 30% of type 1 diabetics who were not on medication for their asthma.

The researchers are not sure if that means there’s an effect of the asthma drugs themselves. It may just be that kids with better-controlled asthma are also more likely to have well-controlled diabetes.

The bottom line for doctors and parents is to be aware that kids with diabetes may have a somewhat higher rate of asthma – and that those with both may have more trouble with blood sugar control.

Do you or your child suffer from both conditions?  Does this research support your experience?  As always we’d love to hear from you.