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Fixin' Healthcare

Friday, July 14, 2006

The Lifestyle Chronicles - You And Me, Babe

The last half of the 20th century brought more changes to the culture and lifestyles of more people in a shorter period of time than at any point in the history of America. Associated with these changes is an accelerating incidence of chronic health problems and chronic diseases. There is no question these trends are related but sorting out the basic factors and determinig what to do about them has been difficult.

For example, it is a simple matter to identify overeating highly processed food and inactivity as causes of obesity. The fact this is happening throughout American society to double the incidence over the past 25 years and involve 60 million people creates a problem unlike any previously encountered. And, the association of type 2 diabetes, systemic hypertension and other chronic diseases with obesity makes this a serious problem that cannot be ignored.

To go a step further and explore one aspect of this situation might serve to indicate its complexity. Could it be possible the increased attention to the issue of privacy is related to a recent study indicating the number of close confidants for Americans is decreasing? And, what impact might either one of these matters have upon the number of people living alone? There are those who propose the result is more attention devoted to fewer people, but it is a small step from there to being alone. Further, the traditional social organizations that previously served as backup no longer function as they once did.

Evidence indicates that being alone is associated with increased health risk. A Danish study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health reported that age (women over 60 years and men over 50 years) and living alone were the strongest factors for predicting someone would suffer an acute episode of heart disease. Smoking, obesity and high cholesterol were more common among those who live alone. Factors associated with the lowest risks included living with a partner, a high level of education and having a job.

Interestingly, divorced women in the Danish study had a lower heart disease risk. Relief from stress has to be a factor but women who live alone tend to have better health than men who live alone. One explanation proposed for this difference is that women have better social networks.

A study reported in the November issue of the American Sociological Review found that teens with less parental supervision were more likely to delay having sex if they lived in neighborhoods where the adults kept a close watch on area children.

Gary Ladd at Arizona State University published a book entitled "Children's Peer Realtionships and Social Competence: A Century of Progress" that examines a century of research on peers and the influence of these relationships on children's health and development. The conclusion is that peer relationships have an enormous influence on health and development.

Clinical studies show social support increases weight loss success by encouraging dieters to adhere to their diet and lifestyle improvement plans. Randomised controlled trials of four commercial weight loss programs sponsored by the BBC and published in the British Medical Journal, Volume 332, p 1309 found that each were effective for losing weight but those with group support were best for keeping weight off for the longer term.

UCLA evaluated a study of a demonstration project led by Community Health Councils, Inc. in Los Angeles that shows how incorporating physical activity and healthy eating into an office or organizational culture is effective for the participants. Published in the July issue of Health Promotion Practice, the study found that a six week wellness training program significantly increases vigorous physical activity among participants. A 12 week curriculum boosts fruit and vegetable consumption while reducing feelings of saddness and depression, as well as reducing waistlines.

Humans are social creatures and need others to be healthy. Achieving and maintaining optimal health status is a social activity that takes place at the level of the community. The women are better at it and the men need to learn.

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