Monthly Archives: March 2011

Study: Domestic violence rises after NFL teams lose unexpectedly

Reports of domestic violence rise an average of 10 percent in areas where local National Football League teams lose games they were expected to win, a new study said.

But the analysis of 900 regular-season NFL games found no decrease in police reports of male violence against wives or intimate partners after an unexpected win by a local team or when a local team lost a game that was expected to be close, said the researchers at the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

They said their findings, published March 22 in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, suggest that unexpected disappointment may underlie men’s loss of control and violent behavior.

“This is not limited to football. Someone who gets a speeding ticket on the way home, for example, might also be more likely to act out in a way he would later regret,” co-author David Card said in a journal news release.

He and colleague Gordon Dahl compared the pre-game betting odds to the game results of regular-season games for six teams — Carolina Panthers, Detroit Lions, New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans — between 1995 and 2006.

When they matched this data to police records, they found that reports of male violence against a female partner spiked in areas where a local team lost a game it was favored to win.

This increase was most pronounced in games considered to be more emotionally charged, said the researchers. For example, reports of domestic violence rose 20 percent after upset losses to a traditional rival, compared to 8 percent after an upset loss to a non-rival team.

The incidents occurred within a three-hour time frame, roughly equivalent to the last hour of the game and the two hours after it, the researchers found.

South Dakota passes law requiring women seeking abortions to first get consultation

 The sign out front advertises free pregnancy tests, information about abortion and testing for sexually transmitted diseases. But it is not an abortion clinic — it is home to the Alpha Center, an organization in Sioux Falls, S.D., dedicated to encouraging women to bring their babies to term, according to a story in the New York Times.

A law signed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard on Tuesday makes the state the first to require women who are seeking abortions to first attend a consultation at such “pregnancy help centers,” to learn what assistance is available “to help the mother keep and care for her child.”

The legislation, which passed easily in a state Legislature where Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 3 to 1, also establishes the nation’s longest waiting period — three days — after an initial visit with an abortion provider before the procedure can be done. It makes exceptions for medical emergencies, but not for rape or incest.

Many states require counseling from doctors or other clinic staff members before an abortion to cover topics like health risks. What makes the new South Dakota law different is that the mandated counseling will come from people whose central qualification is that they are opposed to abortion.

“I think everyone agrees with the goal of reducing abortion by encouraging consideration of other alternatives,” Mr. Daugaard, a Republican, said in a statement Tuesday.

The law has provoked vehement opposition from supporters of abortion rights, both locally and nationally, who describe the requirements as unconstitutional obstacles for women seeking to have an abortion. Planned Parenthood said it would challenge the law in court; it is scheduled to take effect July 1.

Peggy Gibson, a Democratic state representative who voted against the measure, said the law amounted to “government intrusion into people’s medical decisions.”

“South Dakota women should not need to submit to an in-person lecture from an unqualified, noncertified, faith-based counselor or volunteer at an anti-choice crisis pregnancy center,” Gibson said.

In statehouses around the country, Republicans have used their success in the midterm elections in November to push bills aimed at reducing abortions.

More than half the states have introduced such legislation, including bills restricting health insurance coverage for abortion, requiring women to receive an ultrasound before an abortion, and banning abortion after 20 weeks, said Elizabeth Nash, who tracks abortion legislation for the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization.

South Dakota’s is the most far-reaching of the bills to become law, Nash said. Despite an abortion rate that is among the lowest in the nation, the state has become a battleground over the issue in recent years, with the Legislature passing a number of laws aimed at curbing abortions, some of which have been overturned by the courts and by voters in two referendums.

Those laws that remain are already restrictive by national standards. The state, for example, requires a one-day waiting period and some counseling, mandating that women be told that an abortion “will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being.”

Requiring visits to pregnancy help centers, which have been growing nationwide in recent years, is a significant tactical shift by opponents of abortion.

Such centers — both secular and religiously affiliated — can provide counseling under the law as long as their main mission is to “educate, counsel and otherwise assist women to help them maintain their relationship with their unborn children.”

“There’s greater assurance that a woman considering an abortion is going to be fully informed about all the risks and about all the options,” said Roger Hunt, a Republican legislator who wrote the bill. “That’s not being done at the current time.”

The law appears likely to escalate the tensions between abortion providers and the pregnancy help centers, which often operate in close proximity and are listed alongside each other in the phone book under abortion (the Alpha Center even used to be in a space that was once a Planned Parenthood clinic). Each side regularly accuses the other of manipulating and coercing women.

Leslee Unruh, the founder of the Alpha Center and a leader of anti-abortion efforts, said that counseling sessions at her clinic would be carried out only by medical professionals and would ensure that women were not being pressured by a boyfriend, husband or parents. The center already provides counseling sessions to women who regret the decision to have an abortion.

She was dismissive of any opposition to the law, saying that women remained free to have an abortion if they chose to.

“What are they so afraid of?” Unruh asked. “That women might change their minds?”

The nearby Planned Parenthood clinic is the sole provider of nonemergency abortions in the state. It has no local doctors willing to perform them, so doctors fly in each week from Minnesota.

Health a factor in Los Angeles Lakers’ winning

Los Angeles Lakers forward Ron Artest has the body of an ox and in general has remained fairly healthy throughout his 12-year NBA career, according to a story online at ESPNLos Angeles.com.

But too many times Artest has experienced the toll that an injury to a teammate has caused to the hopes of his team.

“I had three incidents where we had chances to win championships and guys got hurt in the playoffs,” Artest said Saturday.

He rattled them off with precise detail, showing the scare his teammates’ wounds have left on him. In 2004, Artest was on the Indiana Pacers and playing the Detroit Pistons in the conference finals. Jermaine O’Neal hyperextended a knee, Jamaal Tinsley pulled a hamstring and the Pistons went on to win the championship.

In 2006, Artest was on the Sacramento Kings and playing the San Antonio Spurs in the first round of the playoffs. The series was tied 2-2 before Bonzi Wells pulled a hamstring and the Spurs advanced.

In 2009, Artest was on the Houston Rockets and Dikembe Mutombo went out in the first round against the Portland Trail Blazers while Yao Ming went out in the second round against the Lakers, who went on to win the championship.

Artest, of course, joined the Lakers a year later and went on to win a championship with a group that has remained remarkably healthy during its three straight trips to the Finals.

L.A. hosts Portland on Sunday night and will face a team at the polar opposite on the injury scale. The Trail Blazers’ title hopes have been decimated the last several seasons by key cogs in their lineup missing big chunks of the season.

The Lakers know that as much as their Hall of Fame coach Phil Jackson and their All-Stars Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are responsible for the success they’ve had, they wouldn’t have those banners hanging from the rafters if not for their bodies staying intact.

“Health is No. 1,” Lakers forward Lamar Odom said. “Health is right there as No. 1. That’s the one thing about the game and sports. Every team is one twist, break, sprain, strain away from not being the same team and going from contender to fighting for a spot.”

Just last week Bryant had one such twist to his left ankle he feared would be season-ending, but he ended up being diagnosed with a sprain.

 As much as Andrew Bynum has a reputation for being injury prone (he even conceded as much during the playoffs last year), he still has been able to have a significant impact on the Lakers’ championships as he suited up against Dwight Howard in the Finals in 2009 and dragged his bum right leg up and down the court for all 23 playoff games L.A. played last year.

The Blazers’ franchise big man, Greg Oden, meanwhile, missed his entire rookie season in 2007-08 after being selected with the overall No. 1 pick and all of this season because of microfracture surgery to his left knee.

In the two seasons in between when he did play, he missed an additional 82 games, meaning that at season’s end he’ll have played only one full season’s worth of games in the four seasons since being drafted.

Oden’s injury was compounded by the troubles of All-Star guard Brandon Roy, who underwent surgeries to both knees in January and is just making it back as a reserve after missing 34 games.

And that’s not even mentioning the laundry list of injuries that has hit other rotation players for the Blazers in the last several seasons, knocking names like Nicolas Batum, Travis Outlaw and Joel Przybilla out of commission.

“I feel bad for them,” Gasol said. “I don’t wish for anybody to get hurt. I know how bad I feel when I’m injured and I can’t contribute and help my team and do what I love to do. I’m definitely sympathetic.”

Rather than feel sorry for themselves, the Blazers have done an admirable job of plugging in the holes and keep forging ahead. LaMarcus Aldridge (22.3 points, 8.8 rebounds) is having a career year and Portland is currently the No. 6 seed in the West and a potential first-round playoff matchup for L.A. if the No. 2-seeded Lakers fall to No. 3 or the Blazers slip to No. 7.

“I think they’ve done a fairly good job at dealing with those injuries and losing players and adding players, whether it be in the offseason or the middle of the season, I think they’ve done a heck of a job with dealing with it,” Odom said.

Portland added Marcus Camby last season and shook up its roster at the trade deadline by sending Przybilla to Charlotte to obtain former All-Star Gerald Wallace.

Jackson said he can remember a time with the Lakers several seasons ago when injuries became so overbearing that he had to start Aaron McKie, a 6-foot4 guard by Jackson’s measurements, at power forward. But Portland has been able to avoid anything drastic like starting rookies Luke Babbitt or Armon Johnson.

“Health is always the most important,” Gasol said. “If you get key players hurt or out of the loop, obviously the team is going to be affected by it and I think we’ve been fortunate enough to stay healthy for the most part and especially at key times of the year. I think you can always account our success to staying healthy.”

FDA revisits risks of electric shock treatment

They used to call it “Edison’s medicine,” the practice of hooking mentally troubled patients up to an electrical current and jolting them until they went into convulsions, according to a story in the Los Angeles Times.

Pioneered in the late 1930s, electroshock therapy, as it was more commonly known, was a scientifically crude practice that often left patients dazed and disoriented, sometimes with broken bones. For many it became a symbol of the callousness that often characterized the treatment of the mentally ill.

But that was then. Though its use waned as a result of reformers’ attacks and the development of powerful drugs that offered an alternative treatment, electric shock therapy never entirely disappeared. The controversy over its use resurfaced in January when an advisory panel of the Food and Drug Administration met to consider a proposal for changing the official risk classification of today’s electroshock devices.

Influential voices in the mental health establishment, including the American Psychiatric Assn. and the National Alliance on Mental Illness, urged the FDA to drop such devices into a medium-risk category, arguing that modern electroconvulsive therapy, or ECT, as it’s now known, has proved safe and effective over many years of use.

Although medical science still doesn’t understand exactly how it works, modern versions of the treatment offer the last, best hope of patients suffering from extreme depression and several other intractable psychiatric disorders, proponents say.

About 100,000 people, two-thirds of them women, are thought to receive such treatment annually.

“For a very small population of severely depressed people, there’s no other form of treatment like ECT,” said Roberto Estrada, chief of electroconvulsive therapy services at New York’s Lenox Hill Hospital. “It’s for patients who are beyond the reach of conventional psychotherapy and who don’t respond to drugs.”

Others remain sharply critical of the treatment, calling it dangerous, ineffective and often harmful.

“The classification should not be downgraded, and there should be a suspension of its use until it’s proven safe,” said Daniel Fisher, a Boston psychiatrist who argues that the jolts of current cause permanent brain damage. “To me, it’s unbelievable that they’re considering downgrading it. It would be putting it in the same classification as a wheelchair or a syringe.”

Study: Eyes benefit from eating fish

A new study reported yet another good reason to eat fish: Women whose diet was rich in omega-3 fatty acids found in fish were at significantly lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration, according to a story in the New York Times.

The Harvard Women’s Health Study, which followed 39,876 women in midlife, had participants fill out detailed food-frequency questionnaires at the start of the study in 1993. After an average 10 years of follow-up, 235 of the women had developed macular degeneration, a progressive eye disease that is the leading cause of irreversible vision loss in the elderly.

But the analysis, in Archives of Ophthalmology, found that women who had reported eating one or more servings of fish per week were 42 percent less likely to develop age-related macular degeneration than those who ate less than a serving each month. (Researchers adjusted the data to control for other factors linked to the disease, including smoking.)

Eating canned tuna and dark-meat fish like mackerel, salmon, sardines, bluefish and swordfish appeared to have the most benefit.

“We know that inflammatory processes are involved in A.M.D., and the omega-3 long-chain fatty acids do have an anti-inflammatory effect,” said the lead author, Dr. William G. Christen, an associate professor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

Fears raised by radiation exposure

Worsening conditions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in Japan have raised fears that people will be harmed by radiation.

But experts say that in terms of public health, the Japanese have already taken precautions that should prevent the accident from becoming another Chernobyl, even if additional radiation is released, according to a story in the New York Times.

The Japanese government has evacuated people closest to the plant, told others to stay indoors and distributed the drug potassium iodide to protect the thyroid gland from radioactive iodine.

The great tragedy of Chernobyl was an epidemic of thyroid cancer among people exposed to the radiation as children — more than 6,000 cases so far, with more expected for many years to come. There is no reason for it to be repeated in Japan.

The epidemic in Chernobyl was preventable and would probably not have happened if people had been told to stop drinking locally produced milk, which was by far the most important source of radiation. Cows ate grass contaminated by fallout from the reactors and secreted radioactive iodine in their milk.

The thyroid gland needs iodine and readily takes in the radioactive form, which can cause cancer. Children are especially vulnerable.

Potassium iodide pills are meant to flood the thyroid with ordinary iodine in the hope that it will prevent the gland from taking in the radioactive type. The drug may be unnecessary if people avoid drinking the milk, but for most people, there is no harm in taking it.

And if radioactive iodine has already started building up in the thyroid, the pills can help get rid of it, said Dr. Richard J. Vetter, a professor emeritus of biophysics at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

“It will always help if you’re within a month or so of the exposure,” Dr. Vetter said. “The later it is, the less it helps.”

If the pills are in short supply and have to be rationed, he said, they should go first to children and pregnant women. But taking the drug does not make it safe to stay near a reactor that is emitting radiation, he said. People still must evacuate.

Apart from the increase in thyroid cancer, “there is no evidence of a major public health impact attributable to radiation exposure two decades after the accident” at Chernobyl, in part because of the evacuation efforts, according to a recent United Nations report.

There are several ways to tell if someone has been exposed to radiation. A Geiger counter will detect radioactivity outside the body, on clothing, hair and skin. People found to be contaminated should be advised to undress and take a shower, and their clothing should be discarded as hazardous waste, Dr. Vetter said.

Another device, a sodium iodide detector, can be held an inch or so from the neck to check for radioactive iodine in the thyroid gland; if it detects any, the person may be given iodide pills.

If there is a suspicion that someone has been exposed to a large dose of radiation, the first test that doctors are likely to perform is a complete blood count, Dr. Vetter said. Abnormalities in the count — fewer white cells than would be expected, for example — can show up within a day or so, and give a ballpark estimate of how bad the exposure was.

People with significantly lowered blood counts from radiation can be given drugs to stimulate their bone marrow to make more blood cells. Those drugs were not available in 1986, when a nuclear power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine, blew up.

Crops can be contaminated by fallout, which can cling to surface of plants at first and later be taken up by their roots.

Radioactive iodine has a half-life of only eight days — the time it takes for half of it to decay or disappear — so most of it is gone within about two months. But radioactive forms of the particulate cesium persist much longer, and in the regions affected by Chernobyl, they are still the main threats to human health and will be for decades.

Wild mushrooms, berries and animals have been found to be contaminated with cesium in areas contaminated by Chernobyl, and that is expected to last for decades. Lakes and freshwater fish may also be contaminated, but experts say ocean fish are less of a worry because the contaminants are more dispersed and diluted in the ocean than in lakes.

Meltdown in Japan could produce multiple health problems

Even as the situation worsened at a Japanese nuclear-power complex, levels of radiation in the area eased off from their weekend highs, the Wall Strett Journal reported.

But the situation is volatile, and a full meltdown could produce a range of health problems, including birth defects, thyroid and other cancers and immune-system damage.

The danger stems particularly from inhaling, ingesting or absorbing through the skin radioactive chemical elements including iodine-131, strontium-90 and cesium-137.

One precaution: iodine pills, which prevent the thyroid from taking up the radioactive iodine that’s in the air.

In the meantime, the New York Times reported that crew members on the deck of an aircraft carrier in the Pacific were exposed to “a month’s worth of radiation in about an hour,” as winds carried material from the troubled reactors out to sea.

No health problems were associated with the exposure, the paper said.

Other military personnel who were helping to rescue earthquake survivors were also exposed to low levels of radioactivity. They were decontaminated and again, aren’t expected to suffer any health problems.