Monthly Archives: April 2010

SpongeBob to the rescue

A 12-year-old Long Island girl credited ”SpongeBob SquarePants” for teaching her how to help her choking friend.

According to a story in the New York Times, Miriam Starobin and her best friend, Allyson Golden, were in music class Tuesday when Allyson began choking on her gum. Allyson turned red and started kicking her legs.

Miriam says she remembered an episode from the Nickelodeon animated series in which Squidward got a clarinet lodged in his throat and SpongeBob did the Heimlich maneuver.

She tried it on Allyson. The gum flew out, and Allyson caught her breath.

Miriam says she is also a fan of medical shows like ”Grey’s Anatomy,” but never had any formal training in the technique.

Drug companies raised prices last year

According to a story in the Wall Street Journal, drug companies sharply raised prices last year, ahead of increased rebates they must pay to Medicaid and other expenses tied to the federal health overhaul passed last month.

Prices for brand-name pharmaceuticals rose 9.1percent last year, the biggest increase in at least a decade, according to pharmacy-benefit manager Express Scripts Inc., which included the recent number in its annual drug-trend report. The boost for specialty drugs, a category that is largely biotech products, was even sharper at 11.5 percent.

In 2008, the price rise had been 7.4 percent for traditional pharmaceuticals, and 9.4 percent for specialty drugs.

Teen developoment: Alcohol interferes with decision-making

Teens and parents alike should be aware of the harmful effects of alcohol abuse, said Sharonda Taylor, assistant professor of pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine.

Alcohol is a neurotoxin, meaning it has a toxic affect on the brain, and during adolescence the brain is still developing. Teens at this point shift from responding from the emotional center of the brain to what is called executive functioning, which includes good decision making, understanding consequences of behavior and better control over emotions, according to a BCM report.

“There is important neurodevelopment going on and you certainly don’t want alcohol to interfere with that,” Taylor said.

Alcohol also impairs the ability to recognize visuospatial relationships, she said. This can lead to serious injury when a teen driver doesn’t recognize how close the car in front of them is and an accident occurs.

If parents suspect their child is abusing alcohol, they should make an appointment with their pediatrician or adolescent medicine physician. Teens should have the opportunity to talk privately with their doctor, since they may be more likely to talk about things they may be afraid of or embarrassed to tell their parents.

If necessary, the pediatrician can make a referral to a counselor or alcohol abuse agency. School counselors are another good resource, Taylor said.

Fast food can mean fast profit for health insurers

Should life and health insurers be investing in the stocks of fast-food companies?

Researchers at the Cambridge Health Alliance, which is associated with Harvard Medical School, say no, citing the downside of fast food — associations with obesity and other health problems, heavy marketing to kids and the chains’ environmental impact.

Insurers, however, have a responsibility to share- or policyholders to maximize returns, and that may include investments in companies that don’t share their health-promoting mission, they say, according to a story in the Wall Street Journal.

Sensing that potential disconnect, the Cambridge researchers set out to find out the value of major insurers’ investments in the five leading fast-food companies: Jack in the Box, McDonald’s, Burger King, Yum Brands and Wendy’s/Arby’s.

Based on shareholder data from the Icarus database, they calculated the insurers’ combined fast-food holdings totaled $1.88 billion as of last June.

Their findings, including a breakdown by company, are published today in the American Journal of Public Health. However, as with a similar analysis last year of tobacco stock holdings by insurers, companies disputed the numbers.

New York hospitals in weak financial shape

New York state’s money for health care is spread so thin among its “too many hospitals” that its medical facilities are financially among the weakest in the nation, the health commissioner said in a New York Times story.

Dr. Richard Daines spoke to The Associated Press on Friday as health officials fielded proposals for St. Vincent’s Hospital, a 160-year-old Greenwich Village facility with a debt of about $2 million per bed. That’s four times the state’s average debt of $500,000 per hospital bed, Daines said.

St. Vincent Catholic Medical Centers, which operates the hospital, filed for bankruptcy protection owing at least $1 billion, making it economically unfeasible to operate the full-service hospital in a cash-strapped state, the commissioner said.

“New York has too many hospitals, and we’re just about the weakest financial picture of hospitals in the country,” Daines told the AP in his Manhattan office.

Buttered popcorn and soda — two thumbs down?

A movie and a tub of buttery popcorn could make for a relaxing afternoon at the theater. And an artery-clogging one, too.

According to a story in the New York Times, a study by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest reports the calorie counts at movie theater chains Regal, AMC and Cinemark. 

A medium popcorn with butter and soda combo at Regal, the country’s biggest movie theater chain, is a total 1,610 calories and three days’ worth — 60 grams — of  saturated fat. (Nutrition aside, that combo costs $12 — for raw ingredients that must cost Regal pennies.)

The findings may surprise those who choose popcorn at the concession stand because they believe it is a relatively healthy snack. In fact, plain air-popped popcorn is low in calories and free of saturated fat.

On the other hand, movie theater popcorn is typically popped in oil, often coconut oil, which is 90 percent saturated fat. Add salt to the enormous portions, and your once-healthy snack turns into a health offender.

“The issue here is quantity,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of nutrition at New York University. “One of those large tubs is three-fourths of a day’s calories.”