Beyond Carb-Cutting: Resolutions After A Trauma — Sleep, Play, Love



By Rachel Zimmerman

A friend, trying to cheer me up over the holidays, suggested I find comfort in this fact: “The worst year of your life is coming to an end.”

In 2014 I became a widow, and my two young children lost their father. Needless to say our perspective and priorities have shifted radically.

Last year at this time, my New Year’s resolutions revolved around carbs, and eating fewer of them. This year, carbs are the least of my worries. My resolutions for 2015 are all about trying to let go of any notion of perfection and seek what my mother calls “crumbs of pleasure” — connection, peace and actual joy on the heels of a life-altering tragedy that could easily have pushed me into bed (with lots of comforting carbs) for a long time.

As a mom I know with stage 4 cancer put it, when your world is shaken to its core, your goals shift from things you want to “do” —  spend more time exercising, learn Italian, make your own clothes — to ways you want to “be,” knowing that your life can shift in an instant.

So, with that in mind, here are my five, research-backed, heal-the-trauma resolutions for 2015:

A Restful Sleep

Yes, at the top of my list of lofty life goals is a very pedestrian one: sleep. Lack of sleep can devastate a person’s mental health and without consistent rest, the line between emotional stability and craziness can be slim. (See postpartum depression, for one example.) In my family at least, to ward off depression and anxiety, we need good sleep and lots of it; more Arianna Huffington and less Bill Clinton.

Play, Sing, Dance

The beautiful thing about children is that despite tragedy and loss, they remain kids; they are compelled to play, climb, run and be active. Resilience, as the literature says. In their grief, they can still cartwheel on the beach, play tag or touch football in the park. Shortly after my husband died, I tried very hard to play the games my kids liked, which often felt like that scene in the “Sound of Music” where the baroness pretends to enjoy a game of catch with the children. Soon I learned to broaden my definition of play — really anything, physical, or not — that serves no other purpose other than to elicit pure joy. Continue reading

Study: Could Bro Or Sis Affect Weight More Than Mom Or Dad?


Veronica Thomas
CommonHealth Intern

My adolescence was a blur of rushing from school to dance classes with my older sister. After hours of practice, we couldn’t wait to get home and make berry smoothies that we’d slurp from the blender. My sister and I did almost everything together.

A new study suggests this relationship may have played a key role in keeping me healthy and fit.

The study, released online by the Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that siblings may have a greater influence on a child’s risk of obesity than parents do. Specifically, having an obese older sibling is associated with more than double the risk of being obese compared to having an obese parent. The association is even greater among siblings of the same gender.

It may seem obvious that family members influence a child’s chances of being obese, but the importance of the type of family relationship has been less clear. This new study, led by Dr. Mark Pachucki at the Mongan Institute for Health Policy at Massachusetts General Hospital, is the first to compare the influence of sibling obesity and parent obesity on a child’s obesity risk.

Dr. Pachucki and his team surveyed almost 2,000 only-child and two-child families from the larger Family Health Habits Survey. One parent from each family reported on the food environment, physical activity, weight and height for themselves and their children. The researchers also considered and analyzed the parents’ socioeconomic status, demographic background and overall health. Continue reading

Why Your Kids Should Exercise Today: Lower Cortisol And Stress

God knows kids these days are under enormous pressure, but a new study finds that exercise may help alleviate their stress by better regulating surges of the stress-related hormone cortisol.

It’s one of those studies that infuses a little science into what we already know but is reassuring nonetheless.

From the news release:

Exercise may play a key role in helping children cope with stressful situations, according to a recent study accepted for publication in The Endocrine Society’s Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism (JCEM).

kidweight500When they are exposed to everyday stressors, the study found sedentary children had surges of cortisol – a hormone linked to stress. The most active children had little or no increase in their cortisol levels in similar situations.

“The findings suggest physical activity plays a role in mental health by buffering children from the effects of daily stressors, such as public speaking,” said the study’s lead author, Silja Martikainen, MA, of the University of Helsinki, Finland.

The cross-sectional study monitored physical activity and cortisol levels in a birth cohort of eight-year-old children. Continue reading

Bulletin: Feds Ban Drop-Sided Cribs

The Associated Press reports:

WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s the end of the traditional crib that has cradled millions of babies for generations.

The government outlawed drop-side cribs on Wednesday after the deaths of more than 30 infants and toddlers in the past decade and millions of recalls.

It was a unanimous vote by the Consumer Product Safety Commission to ban the manufacture, sale and resale of the cribs, which have a side rail that moves up and down, allowing parents to more easily lift their child from the crib.

The new standard requiring cribs to have fixed sides would take effect in June. The move by CPSC would also prohibit hotels and childcare centers from using drop-sides, though those facilities would have a year to purchase new cribs.

The full AP story is here.

NYT: ‘Save The Children’ Drops Soda Tax Work, Seeks Coke Donations

Hmmmm. The New York Times reports today that the advocacy group Save The Children had been leading anti-obesity efforts around the country to tax soft drinks — but now has stopped. And by the way, it is seeking a big grant from Coca-Cola, and has already received $5 million from PepsiCo.

How do you think Coke and Pepsi feel about soda taxes? Yep, they oppose them. The head of Save The Children, Carolyn Miles, told the Times there was no connection between soft-drink donations and the decision to stop the soda tax campaigns. Do you believe her?

Political signals are strong that Massachusetts will soon address the soda tax issue: A broad new health coalition led by The Boston Foundation and the New England Healthcare Institute, with legislative leaders among its members, says it aims to push to get the state sales tax exemption on candy and soda repealed. The Times story would seem to suggest that if any state children’s advocates turn strangely silent on the issue, it might be worth looking into who their funders are…

Secondhand Smoke Spreads To Kids In Other Apartments, Study Finds

Dr. Jonathan Winickoff of Mass. General

By Marielle Segarra, WBUR intern

Often, parents do everything they can to protect their children from secondhand smoke inhalation. But smoking outside – or not smoking at all – may not be enough if you live in an apartment.

A new Massachusetts General Hospital study finds that children who live in apartments and attached homes feel the effects of their neighbors’ smoking habits.

The study measured cotinine, a chemical byproduct of nicotine exposure, in the blood of 5000 children across the country. None of the children lived with someone who smoked.

73 percent of the children studied tested positive for cotinine at some level.

But children who lived in attached apartments or homes had cotinine levels 45 percent higher than children who lived in detached houses. The highest exposure rates occurred in large multi-unit buildings.

Dr. Jonathan Winickoff of Mass. General, the paper’s senior author, says tobacco smoke may seep through walls and shared ventilation systems, exposing children who live in apartments next door. Continue reading

Lessons of Lead in Local Urban Gardens: Raised Beds Not Enough

An urban garden in Fort Meyers, FL

Michelle Obama has got us all seeding our little urban vegetable gardens. But if you live in an older city — say, Boston and its environs — there’s a significant danger of lead in the soil, and lead carries particular risks for children’s brains. Feeding lead-tainted kale to the kids is not the locavore idea.

So what to do? Widespread wisdom holds that it’s enough to build a raised bed, with pristine topsoil. But researchers from Wellesley college are reporting at a meeting of the Geological Society of America in Denver that judging by some mysterious contamination found in Dorchester and Roxbury, raising beds may not be good enough, because the soil in them soon measures high in lead again. (The abstract is here.)

Let me jump ahead to the solution: clear away the top couple of inches of soil every year.

Now more on the problem, as described by the Geological Society: Continue reading

Graco Stroller Recall: Quattro and MetroLite, After 4 Deaths

About 2 million Graco strollers are being recalled because of risks that unharnessed babies will become trapped and unable to breathe. Four such deaths have been reported. The official recall notice is here, including a list of recalled models.

The recall involves older versions of the Graco Quattro Tour™ and MetroLite™ strollers and travel systems manufactured prior to the existence of the January 2008 voluntary industry standard which addresses the height of the opening between the stroller’s tray and the seat bottom. This voluntary standard requires larger stroller openings that prevent infant entrapment and strangulation hazards.

Continue reading

Daily Rounds: Harvard Stem Cell Study Retracted; ‘Pinkwashing’; Outrageous Medicare Fraud; Insurance For Sick Kids

Harvard stem cell paper retracted – White Coat Notes – “A scientific study co-authored by a Harvard scientist who is a rising star in the field of stem cell biology has been retracted from a top journal because of doubts about the reliability of the research.”(Boston Globe)

Bloggers vent their feelings about Breast Cancer Awareness Month – “On her blog Meghan Casserly writes, ‘Breast cancer awareness month has bugged me for years’ “- (Los Angeles Times)

Arrests in Ambitious Medicare Fraud – “By inventing 118 bogus health clinics in 25 states, prosecutors said, a band of Armenian-American gangsters billed Medicare for more than $100 million, and managed to collect $35 million over at least four years.” (The New York Times)

HHS says insurers can’t make it harder to enroll sick kids – The Hill’s Healthwatch “Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday that health insurers can’t make it harder to enroll sick children. The plans can, however, charge higher premiums for children with pre-existing conditions in states where that’s permitted.”(The Hill)

Trying To Insure The Last 20,000 Kids

Even here in Massachusetts, in the state with the most insured people bar none, there are still at least 20,000 children who are not covered. Why, oh, why, with all the help available, are there still children without health insurance?

“We ask ourselves this question every day,” said Dayanne Leal of the advocacy group Health Care For All. Today, Leal and a team of 13 volunteers are trying a new tactic to get children signed up: A “got coverage?” phone-a-thon, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., inviting anyone who still has uninsured children or teens to call 1-800-272-4232 and get help signing up. More than 40 children have already been enrolled, Leal said at noonish today, and about a hundred messages are still pending.

“It’s going crazy, which is good,” she said.

So why is it? Why haven’t these children been signed up already? Continue reading