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Employee Wellness Info & Tips

Prevent Tick Bites While Enjoying the Outdoors

With spring's arrival, many Americans will begin enjoying outdoor activities such as hiking, camping and gardening -- and they need to protect themselves from tick bites, an expert says.

"There aren't any vaccines for tick-borne diseases like Lyme, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, ehrlichiosis and anaplasmosis, so the only way to prevent infection is to not get bitten in the first place," Dr. Christopher Ohl, a professor of infectious diseases at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, said in a Wake Forest news release.

Ohl, who is also the medical director of communicable diseases for the Forsyth County, N.C. Health Department, offered the following tips:

  • Use an insect repellant containing DEET on exposed skin, and treat clothing and footwear with a permethrin-based repellant that provides weeks of protection and remains through several washings.
  • Tuck your pants into socks to reduce the amount of exposed skin. When hiking, stay on well-worn paths and out of tall grass or bushy areas.
  • Check for ticks immediately after being outdoors. The longer a tick is attached, the greater your risk of infection.
  • If you discover a tick, use tweezers to remove it as close to the skin as possible. Don't grab it with your fingers and squeeze it. That injects the tick fluids into you and increases the risk of infection, Ohl warned.
  • If you suffer a tick bite and develop a fever one to two weeks later, see a doctor. The incubation period for tick-borne diseases is eight to 14 days, he said.
  • Protect your dog with tick collars or monthly treatments. This will prevent ticks from being brought into your home by the dog.

SOURCE: Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center, news release, April 1, 2014

A Little Planning Helps Your Heart - and Your Budget

Convinced that eating a healthy diet will take a big bite out of your budget? Put the brakes on your next fast food trip, because food that comes through a window may be low in cost but high in fat and calories. And your health will pay the price!

“Many unhealthy foods are high in calories, saturated fat and sodium, and low in important nutrients, whether you get them from a drive-through or a grocery store,” said Penny Kris-Etherton, Ph.D., R.D., distinguished professor of nutrition at Penn State University.

In fact, many ready-made and processed foods cost more than homemade foods. They can also hurt your heart and cause the pounds to pile on. A poor diet can lead to serious long-term health problems, and being overweight is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease.

But you might say that your to-do list is already full, and eating healthier didn’t make the cut. News flash: Getting the nutrient-dense, fiber-rich foods your body needs may be easier — and cheaper — than you think. Planning is key.
“Preparing menus and meals ahead of time decreases spontaneous food choices, which often aren’t healthy,” Kris-Etherton said. “With a little planning, you can make healthy, easy-to-prepare meals.”

Try these time-saving tips to make eating healthier simpler for you and your family:

Plan out two to four weeks of healthy meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sit down and map out meals that include your family’s heart-healthy favorites. Update your list as you come across new recipe ideas.

Use the weekend to make menus. Start by using the list from the first tip and make sure you grab the ingredients you need when you go grocery shopping. Keep an eye out for fresh, seasonal items that are on sale.

If you work during the week, cook over the weekend and store leftovers in the fridge or freezer. Meals can be hassle-free when you’re just thawing and reheating for quick lunches and dinners.

Cut up vegetables and keep them handy in the fridge. You’ll have ready-made nutritious snacks and ingredients.

Developing new heart-healthy routines takes practice, so don’t expect perfection — and don’t give up! Your health and the health of your family depend on it.

Stock up on ideas for practicing healthy habits in your kitchen and at the grocery store:

Shop sales, clip coupons and buy fruits and vegetables in season. Look for less-expensive items. For example, blueberries cost less in spring and summer, when they’re in season in the U.S. You’ll pay more in the fall and winter when they’re shipped from warmer continents.

Skip the ready-made foods. They can be higher in sodium and often cost more than homemade foods.

Replace high-calorie or high-fat favorites with nutrition-rich ones one at a time. Your family won’t feel shocked or deprived of their favorites if the changes to their diets are not all-of-the-sudden. Try one change per week as a starting point.

Remember that there is more than one way to shop for healthy produce. Buying local at a farmer’s market is one option that can help you know where your food is coming from. It’s also fresher because it wasn’t picked before ripening to travel on a truck long-distance to get to you. Buying from a farmer’s market also helps your local economy. You can save money by buying in bulk and splitting the cost with friends or extended family.

Make your own healthy snacks — it’s healthier and cheaper! Cut up fruits and vegetables into individual servings. Buy a large container of raisins or unsalted nuts and separate them into small portions. Check the nutrition facts to learn how much fat, salt and sugar are in a serving.

Involve the whole family in mealtime. Let your kids be chef for a day, and assign each family member to a particular meal. Encourage older kids to make a game of reading food labels at the grocery store. Let younger kids wash the fruit or toss the salad.

Get more budget-friendly healthy tips online. American Heart Association resources can help you in the grocery store and the kitchen. Learn How to Eat Healthy on a Budget, review the 5 Goals to Eating Healthy and check out this list of Healthy Foods Under $1.

You can also visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Steps to a Healthier You. And learn more about when it makes sense to go organic with The dirty dozen and clean 15 of produce.

Skipping Breakfast a Recipe for Heart Disease, Study Finds

Men who miss morning meal much more likely to suffer heart attack, research shows

MONDAY, July 22 (HealthDay News) -- Men who skip breakfast have a 27 percent higher risk of suffering a heart attack or developing heart disease than those who start the day with something in their stomach, according to a new study.

The study confirms earlier findings that have linked eating habits to elevated risk factors for heart disease, the Harvard researchers said. 

"Men who skip breakfast are more likely to gain weight, to develop diabetes, to have hypertension and to have high cholesterol," said Eric Rimm, senior author and associate professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard School of Public Health and associate professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School. 

For example, breakfast skippers are 15 percent more likely to gain a substantial amount of weight and 21 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, earlier studies have reported. 

The new study, published July 22 in the journal Circulation, found that these men also indulged more heavily in other unhealthy lifestyle choices. They were more likely to smoke, engage in less exercise and drink alcohol. 

"We've focused so much on the quality of food and what kind of diet everyone should be eating, and we don't talk as often on the manner of eating," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "This study is not even discussing the type of food. It's just talking about behavior and lifestyle choice. Part of heart-healthy living is eating breakfast because that prevents you from doing a lot of other unhealthy things." 

For the new report, researchers analyzed data culled from a 16-year study of nearly 27,000 male health professionals that tracked their eating habits and overall health from 1992 to 2008. During the study period, 1,572 of the men developed heart disease. 

The study also found a 55 percent increased risk of heart disease in men who regularly indulge in late-night snacking. However, the researchers did not consider this a public health risk because few men reported eating after they'd gone to bed. 

Rimm said there are several possible explanations why skipping breakfast can have such a drastic effect on heart health. 

The Harvard study found that men who skip breakfast do not pick up another meal later in the day, which Rimm said indicates that they tend to "feast" on higher-calorie meals when they do eat. Previous studies have found that feasting can result in high cholesterol and elevated blood pressure, compared with nibbling smaller meals. 

"It's the extra strain on the body of eating more calories during the few times in a day they do eat," he said. 

The type of food that a person consumes during breakfast also might be a factor. "Breakfast is typically a time when people tend to eat a healthy meal," Rimm said. "By skipping a meal that usually features fiber or fruit or yogurt, you're missing out on an occasion where people can get healthy nutrients." 

Younger men tend to skip breakfast more frequently than older men, the investigators found, which leads to another possible explanation. "It may be in line with the fact that these are men who are rushing out to stressful jobs and not eating along the way," Rimm said, noting that stress is bad for heart health and is associated with negative lifestyle choices such as drinking or smoking. 

The study did not include women, but Steinbaum believes the same pattern likely occurs in women who skip breakfast. "There haven't been any studies independently on women, but I would suspect we would find the same outcomes," she said.

Rimm said the study reinforces the age-old emphasis on breakfast as a key to good health. 

"There is so much we know about reducing risk of heart disease, and some things like exercise or quitting smoking take quite a bit of effort," Rimm said. "But it is easy without a big huge financial or time commitment to have breakfast, even if it is a bowl of oatmeal or a bit of cereal before you start the day." 

SOURCES: Eric Rimm, Sc.D., senior author and associate professor, epidemiology and nutrition, Harvard School of Public Health, and associate professor, medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston; Suzanne Steinbaum, M.D., preventive cardiologist, Lenox Hill Hospital, New York City; July 22, 2013, Circulation


Skipping Breakfast May Raise Diabetes Risk

Overweight women who ate morning meal had lower blood sugar, better insulin response in small study

SUNDAY, June 16 (HealthDay News) -- Eating breakfast every day may help overweight women reduce their risk of diabetes, a small new study suggests.
When women skipped the morning meal, they experienced insulin resistance, a condition in which a person requires more insulin to bring their blood sugar into a normal range, explained lead researcher Dr. Elizabeth Thomas, an instructor of medicine at the University of Colorado.

This insulin resistance was short-term in the study, but when the condition is chronic, it is a risk factor for diabetes, Thomas said. She is due to present her findings this weekend at the Endocrine Society's annual meeting in San Francisco.

"Eating a healthy breakfast is probably beneficial," Thomas said. "It may not only help you control your weight but avoid diabetes."

Diabetes has been diagnosed in more than 18 million Americans, according to the American Diabetes Association. Most have type 2 diabetes, in which the body does not make enough insulin or does not use it effectively.

Excess weight is a risk factor for diabetes.

The new study included only nine women. Their average age was 29, and all were overweight or obese.

Thomas measured their levels of insulin and blood sugar on two different days after the women ate lunch. On one day, they had eaten breakfast; on the other day, they had skipped it.

Glucose levels normally rise after eating a meal, and that in turn triggers insulin production, which helps the cells take in the glucose and convert it to energy.

However, the women's insulin and glucose levels after lunch were much higher on the day they skipped breakfast than on the day they ate it. 

On the day they did not eat breakfast, Thomas explained, "they required a higher level of insulin to handle the same meal."

"There was a 28 percent increase in the insulin response and a 12 percent increase in the glucose response after skipping breakfast," she said. That's a mild rise in glucose and a moderate rise in insulin, she noted.

Because this study was presented at a medical meeting, the data and conclusions should be viewed as preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

"Their study doesn't prove causation," said Dr. Joel Zonszein, a professor of clinical medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and director of the Clinical Diabetes Center at Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City.

The study found only a link or association between breakfast skipping and higher insulin levels. More research is needed for confirmation, another expert said.

"This is a small, but very interesting, study," said Dr. Ping Wang, director of the University of California, Irvine, Health Diabetes Center. "The findings will have to be verified with larger studies."

Whether the effect is short-term or long-term is not known, Wang said.

Zonszein recommends against either skipping meals or eating very frequent meals, the so-called nibbling diet. "Studies done in Europe have shown that a large meal in the middle of the day is better than a large meal at dinner," he said.

However, he acknowledged that pattern is more of a habit in Europe than in the United States. Even so, he advises his patients to eat a good breakfast, a good lunch and a lighter dinner.

Other ways to reduce diabetes risk, according to the American Diabetes Association, are to control weight, blood pressure and cholesterol and to be physically active.

SOURCES: Elizabeth Thomas, M.D., instructor, medicine, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora; Joel Zonszein, M.D, professor, clinical medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and director, Clinical Diabetes Center, Montefiore Medical Center, New York City; Ping Wang, M.D., professor, medicine, and director, University of California Irvine Health Diabetes Center; June 16, 2013, presentation, Endocrine Society annual meeting, San Francisco
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How Many Calories In Your Fast Food Meal?

People who eat at fast-food restaurants are consuming significantly more calories than they realize -- and teens are the worst offenders, a new study found.
"Teens underestimate the number of calories in their meals by as much as 34 percent, parents of school-age children by as much as 23 percent, and adults by as much as 20 percent," study lead researcher, Dr. Jason Block, said in a news release from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, which helped fund the study. 

Block, of the Harvard Medical School/Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, and his colleagues surveyed nearly 3,400 adults, teens and children who ate at 89 fast-food restaurants in four New England cities.

The investigators compared the difference between the number of calories the participants thought was in the fast food they ordered with the actual number of calories in their meal.

The study, published May 24 in BMJ, found the meals ordered by adults contained an average of 836 calories. However, adults thought the food they ordered had 175 fewer calories.

Meanwhile, teens on average underestimated the number of calories in their 756-calorie meal by 259 calories. The study also showed that 25 percent of all participants underestimated the caloric content of their meals by at least 500 calories.

"We also saw differences by food chain," Block said. Adults who ate at Subway were 20 percent less accurate in assessing the calories in the food they ordered than those who went to McDonald's, Burger King, KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken), Wendy's and Dunkin' Donuts. Teens who ate at Subway were 25 percent less accurate, the researchers added.

"These findings tell us that many people who eat at fast-food restaurants may not be making informed choices because they don't know how many calories they're consuming," Block said. "Having the information is an important first step for anyone wanting to make changes."

None of the chains involved in the study included nutritional information on their menus, the researchers pointed out.

Meanwhile, a second study suggests that calorie labels on menus or on restaurant menu boards are effective in prompting people to buy meals with fewer calories.

That study, published in the June American Journal of Preventive Medicine, examined the impact of menu-labeling regulation in King County, Wash.
The researchers surveyed more than 7,300 people aged 14 and older who dined at 10 restaurant chains, including Subway, McDonald's, Taco Bell and Starbucks, before the law took effect, and again six and 18 months after the law was implemented.

Although no change in purchases was seen six months after the menu labeling law took effect, the study revealed that after 18 months, the average calories per purchase at chain restaurants fell by 38 calories, from 908 calories to 870 calories.

"Menu labeling is critical because Americans spend nearly half of their food dollars on foods prepared outside the home, which tend to be higher in calories and less healthy than what we eat at home," said researcher Dr. James Krieger, with Public Health--Seattle & King County, in the news release. "Over time, people seem to respond to the availability of information and use it to inform their purchases."

SOURCE: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, news release, May 23, 2013
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Typical Restaurant Meal Loaded With Fats, Salt, Calories

(HealthDay News) -- The next time you sit down at your favorite local eatery, ponder this: Two new studies find that the average restaurant meal provides diners with most of the calories, fats and salt they require for the entire day.

The authors of both reports said these excesses can make restaurants unhealthy places to eat, adding to the obesity epidemic and increasing diners' risk for heart disease.

"In all of the meal categories there are huge ranges in calories, sodium and fats," said Mary Scourboutakos of the University of Toronto, and lead author of one of the studies. "You really don't know [what menu choice is healthiest] unless there is calories labeling or sodium labeling. There is no way to predict which meals are going to be the worst."

Both reports were published May 13 online in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The first report was conducted by researchers from the Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University in Medford, Mass. They found that most typically ordered restaurant meals contain more than half the calories the person would need per day.
"Your average serving -- just an entree, no drinks, no appetizers, no desserts -- is virtually a whole day's calories on one plate," said lead researcher Susan Roberts, director of the center's Energy Metabolism Laboratory.

For the study, Roberts' team analyzed 157 full meals from 33 restaurants in the Boston area.

They found 73 percent of the meals ordered had over half of the 2,000 daily calories recommended for adults by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and 12 meals contained more than the full daily recommendation.

Large portion sizes seemed key, the Boston study found, because prior research has shown that people tend to eat what is placed in front of them.
"When restaurants provide these [large] portions -- which are far more than the human body can process -- they are very directly contributing to the terrible epidemic of obesity we have today," Roberts said.

Meals with the highest average number of calories included those from restaurants specializing in Italian (1,755 calories), American (1,494 calories) and Chinese (1,474 calories) fare. Meals with the fewest average number of calories were from Vietnamese (922 calories) and Japanese (1,027 calories) restaurants, the researchers said.

A person's local diner or family-run restaurant was just as likely to pile on the calories as a big chain, the Boston study found. In fact, local, small-chain restaurants tended to have slightly higher calorie counts per meal (an average of 1,437) than national chains (1,359), although the difference wasn't statistically significant.

"Many of these [local] restaurants make fast food look healthy," Roberts said.

However, without the aid of calorie counts on menus, figuring out which meal is better for you can be tough.

Without posted calorie counts, there was "no way to identify the meals that had appropriate calories for a normal human being," Roberts said. "Portions and calories per ounce were very variable between restaurants even for the same dishes -- often by a factor of two."

Therefore, "restaurants that do not provide nutrition information are very unhealthy places to eat, from the calorie perspective," she said. Roberts would like to see many more restaurants posting calorie and nutrition information, "so consumers can choose whether to overeat or not."

In the second study, Canadian researchers led by graduate student Scourboutakos analyzed 685 meals and 156 desserts from 19 sit-down, chain restaurants.
They found the average breakfast, lunch and dinner contained 1,128 calories, again a majority of the daily number of calories recommended for adults.

In addition, the meals typically contained 151 percent of the daily amount of salt a person should ingest daily, 89 percent of the fat recommended per day, 83 percent of daily recommended saturated and trans fats, and 60 percent of the cholesterol one should have daily.

One expert agreed that restaurant meals often include unexpected amounts of calories, salt and fat.

"Eating out is fun," acknowledged Samantha Heller, a senior clinical nutritionist at New York University Medical Center in New York City. "For the homemaker, it is a break from nightly cooking and cleaning up." However, the problem is that many, if not most, restaurant foods, whether from chain or local eateries, contain far more saturated fat, calories and sodium than anyone would imagine, she said.

"Recently, I reviewed online menu choices from a chain restaurant with a patient. The grilled chicken salad he was eating regularly and believed was a healthy choice, wound up having over 2,000 milligrams of sodium and 41 grams of fat. He was stunned," she said.

Another problem is that many people eat out several times a week, putting them at risk for overeating, Heller said.

The good old family meal has advantages beyond a healthy diet, she noted. "Family meals at home keep kids healthier and support better relationships among family members, reduce disordered eating and substance abuse and improve well- being," Heller said. "If you eat out several times a week, try cutting back a few nights. Fresh, home-cooked meals can be simple, healthy and delicious."

Another study published in the same journal found that much-touted voluntary reductions in salt levels in foods by the restaurant and food industry has been "inconsistent and slow."

The research, led by Michael Jacobson from the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in Washington, D.C., found that salt in 402 processed foods dropped by only about 3.5 percent from 2005 to 2011.

Over the same period, the amount of salt in fare from 78 fast-food restaurants rose by 2.6 percent.

While some food products saw a 30 percent decrease in salt, more saw at least a 30 percent increase, the CSPI researchers found.

"Stronger action [for example, phased-in limits on salt levels set by the federal government] is needed to lower sodium levels and reduce the prevalence of hypertension and cardiovascular diseases," the researchers concluded.

SOURCES: Susan Roberts, Ph.D., director, Laboratory, Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging, Jean Mayer USDA Energy Metabolism, Tufts University, Boston; Mary Scourboutakos, B.S., University of Toronto, Canada; Samantha Heller, M.S., R.D., senior clinical nutritionist, New York University Medical Center, New York City; May 13, 2013, JAMA Internal Medicine, online

Keep food cravings at bay at work

The workplace can be full of temptations that can derail your healthy eating plan, but if you're prepared you don't have to give in to those temptations.

The American Council on Exercise lists these suggestions to help you stick to a healthy eating plan at work:
  • Create a meal plan for your meals at work, and decide what you'll eat for each meal and snack each day at the office; pay attention to your office cafeteria's menu so you know to bring something healthy on days when their offerings might tempt you.
  • Prepare your meals and snacks for the next day the night before so you're not rushed and tempted to skip it.
  • Eat a nutritious, balanced breakfast each morning; include a combination of fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains.
  • Avoid high-fat, processed foods for lunch and try to eat freshly prepared foods whenever you can.
  • Indulge in healthy treats or small portions of your favorite desserts; try satisfying your craving with berries or a single-size portion of candy or dessert. 

Getting a good night's sleep is good for your waitline!

Getting a good night's sleep is good for your waistline. Or so concludes a small study from the University of Colorado.

Researchers recruited 16 young, lean, healthy adults to live in a quiet sleep lab.

All participants were allowed 9 hours of sleep on the first three days, and ate meals that were controlled to give them only the calories they needed to maintain their weight.

Then for the next five days, the participants were split into two groups: one was allowed five hours of sleep per night and the other got 9 hours of shut-eye. In both groups, participants were offered larger meals and had access to snack options throughout the day.
On average, the people who slept for up to five hours burned 5 percent more energy than those who slept up to nine hours, but they also consumed 6 percent more calories when allowed to nosh at night.

Sleeping just five hours a night over a work week and having unlimited access to food caused both male and female participants to gain nearly two pounds.
The researchers say this study suggests two things: that sufficient sleep could help battle the obesity epidemic and that overeating at night likely contributes to weight gain.

I'm Doctor Cindy Haines for Healthday TV with health information for healthier living.

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