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Some Like It Hot – Very Hot! October 30, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Easy As Pie, Human Body, Nutrition and Health.
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Bhut Jolokia

Photo Credit: Paul Bosland.

Just how hot do you like it? It’s not the weather I’m talking about! I’m talking about your food. Lots of stuff can add a little – or a lot – of bite to your food but chile peppers are one of the most well known plants for giving food that extra something. For many of us, that extra something is a well tolerated pinch of heat but for others, it’s an intensely enjoyable, spicy burn that we relish in many of our favorite cuisines – from Mexican to Indian food, among others.

We Have A Winner

Researchers at New Mexico State University have discovered the world’s hottest chile pepper. Named Bhut Jolokia, it originates in Assam, India and has received the title of the world’s hottest chile pepper by the Guinness Book of World Records.

Dr. Paul Bosland of the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences collected seeds of Bhut Jolokia when he visited India in 2001. For three years, he grew Bhut Jolokia plants so that he could sample enough seed to do the necessary field tests to check out the heat rating of the chile pepper.

You might be wondering how researchers figure out which chile pepper is the hottest? Well, check this out – they use something called Scoville heat units (SHUs). Bhut Jolokia got a score of one million SHUs while the Red Savina, which is the previous holder of the world’s hottest chile pepper title, only scored a measly 577,000 SHUs. Mind you, the Red Savina is still very hot!

Be Careful!

Discovering hotter chile peppers means that food manufacturers and others involved in the industry can use less chile peppers to give foods a kick. So, a hotter chile pepper can be much more cost effective.

If you’re anything like me, you enjoy spice and heat in your food – perhaps just enough kick to give a bit of sting to your throat and a glimmer of sweat on your face. Still, I’m quite certain that Bhut Jolokia is capable of a lot more heat than my throat, taste buds and entire body could ever handle! Lets hope the food industry uses this chile pepper wisely!

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Size Doesn’t Matter October 2, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Human Body, Nutrition and Health, Obesity, Psychology and Behavior, Think About It.
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When it comes to teen issues with weight – heavy or thin – size doesn’t matter. At least, it doesn’t matter as much as you might think. Whether teens are overweight or not, they are struggling with unhealthy ideas and behaviors around their size. While it was once thought that skinnier teens were more likely to have these issues, it seems that weight issues are affecting a broader range of teens today.

Worrying Results

An interesting new study was led by Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, who is a professor at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. The study can be seen in the Journal of Preventative Medicine; it looked at 2500 teens over the course of five years. What did the study show? It found that 44 percent of girls and 29 percent of boys were overweight, regular binge eaters or had utilized unhealthy measures to lose weight. These unhealthy tactics included laxative use, vomiting or taking diet pills.

Making It Worse

One really upsetting result that I read about in the study was that girls who were teased about their weight by a family member were twice as likely to be overweight five years later – toward the end of the study. They were also 41 percent more likely to engage in unhealthy weight loss strategies. Other stuff that put girls at risk for these behaviors around their weight included having a mother who dieted or reading magazine articles that advise on how to lose weight.

The Good Stuff

One study finding that I found really cool was that girls who ate meals with their families and did so regularly, were less likely to have weight issues. They also described the mealtimes as an overall positive and enjoyable experience.

What About The Boys?

Behaviors such as binge eating and dieting were less common among the boys, but there were still as many overweight boys as girls. When weight problems do occur, they tend to result from similar factors that influence the girls. Things like being teased about weight – especially by family members – really affected both boys and girls.

Family Teasing

One area that the study stressed was how family teasing has such a detrimental effect on self image for teens. I guess it’s maybe more hurtful when a family member does the teasing because your family is meant to love and support you as well as unconditionally accept you as a person. It’s not that the teasing itself had malicious intent. Neumark-Sztainer actually addressed this point, saying that family members:

just don’t realize how hurtful it is.

A better alternative is for parents and other family members to set a good example by engaging in healthy eating habits along with positive lifestyle changes such as getting more exercise. You might even have a sibling who looks up to you and can benefit from you showing them how to eat healthy. This means that instead of talking about weight loss, the best example is one that involves action! So get to it!

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Checking Out Kids’ Blood Pressure August 21, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Diseases, Human Body, Nutrition and Health, Obesity, Think About It.
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When most of us think about high blood pressure – hypertension – we think of it as being a problem found in adults. Not so! Hypertension is also a problem for youth and it’s mostly related to the growing number of kids and teens who are obese.

Tell Me More

Blood Pressure Home Kit Your blood pressure is the pressure exerted by your blood against vessel walls as your heart pumps. When your heart contracts, it moves blood into vessels – increasing pressure – and when your heart relaxes, blood pressure lowers. Your blood pressure also fluctuates from minute to minute. It’s affected by lots of stuff such as exercise, rest, diet, and posture.

Undiagnosed Hypertension

A study performed by Dr. Matthew Hansen and other researchers at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland looked at over 14,000 young people aged 3 to 18. The results, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, showed a total of 507 cases of hypertension. One really worrying feature of the study was that 376 of those 507 cases were previously undiagnosed, even though patients had received at least three medical check-ups.

Dangers Of Hypertension

High Blood Pressure One of the scary things about high blood pressure is that it often goes undiagnosed, especially in youth. When blood pressure is high, the heart and arteries have a much heavier workload. All of this extra pumping by the heart as well as the strain on the arteries can be exhausting! Over time, the heart and arteries won’t work as well as they should, which can lead to organ damage – particularly the kidneys. There often aren’t any noticeable symptoms of hypertension, which can also make it tough to diagnose in the first place.

Better Diagnosis

Researchers suggested that changes needed to be made to electronic medical recording, so that doctors could identify the patients who were most at risk. This means doctors can perform regular check-ups and monitoring. If a patient is found to have hypertension, treatment can start right away to prevent problems down the road.

Good News

Is there really good news? Yep, there sure is! Despite the severe effects that can occur from untreated hypertension, those who do obtain early treatment can usually lead full and active lives. Also good news is that a healthy lifestyle can help to prevent future complications associated with hypertension. Lifestyle changes like adding in more fruits and vegetables, lowering salt intake and exercising regularly can really make a difference. In fact, these sorts of beneficial lifestyle choices can also work well in kids and teens who don’t have hypertension. By taking care of yourself, you can help to prevent ever getting hypertension. It’s not too early to start now!

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A School Full Of Drugs August 20, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Alcohol and Illegal Drugs, Easy As Pie, Human Body, Nutrition and Health, Psychology and Behavior.
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The presence of drugs in schools isn’t anything new, but the scope of the problem appears to be a lot bigger than initially suspected. A United States (U.S.) survey looked at attitudes on substance abuse. It was concluded that millions of teens across the country are students at ‘drug infested schools,’ where they regularly see drugs used, sold and stored on school grounds.

High School Students

The study was performed by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University. The survey involved 1,063 students aged 12 to 17 years and 550 parents. It found that 31 percent of high school students – more than 4 million – have seen illegal drug use, drug dealing and high or drunk students at least once a week at school. On top of that, the number of students who go to schools where drugs are used, kept or sold has gone up 39 percent since 2002. In fact, 20 percent of that jump happened from 2006 to 2007. That’s quite a scary leap!

Middle School Students

Marijuana The study also found that 9 percent – over 1 million – middle school students have seen their peers partake in drug-related activities at least once a week at school. Similar to high school students, there has also be an increase in the number of middle school students who go to schools where drugs are used, kept or stored. How much of an increase? It’s a huge one – 63 percent. As with the high school students, a big chunk of that jump happened between 2006 and 2007, where an increase of 35 percent was seen.

What Do Parents Think?

Ironically, only 11 percent of the parents surveyed think drugs are the biggest concern for their teens. On the other hand, twice as many teens said that drugs are their biggest worry. That’s a huge difference and I wonder to myself – what is it that parents are missing on this issue?

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Scared To Be At School August 12, 2007

Posted by Mrs Weird Scientist in Easy As Pie, Human Body, Nutrition and Health, Obesity, Psychology and Behavior.
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Sad Boy

For some kids, going to school is a scary thing. Not because the work is hard or they detest a certain subject, but because they are teased for being overweight. This dread and fear of going to school can cause absenteeism. Worse still, a new study is showing just how much school overweight kids are missing compared to kids within a normal weight range. The results were supported by the National Institutes of Health and were published in the journal Obesity.

Weight And School Attendance

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University wanted to find out how weight affected school attendance. They looked at more than one thousand 4th, 5th and 6th graders. You may have heard of the body mass index (BMI). It’s a simple and general way to measure body fat based on weight and height. You can find out your BMI on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. The website has a BMI calculator for kids and teens or adults. Researchers compared kids with a BMI in the overweight range to those in the normal range. The verdict? Overweight kids were absent approximately 20 percent more often than kids who were of normal weight.

Common Indicators

There are already four indicators of absenteeism in schools – age, gender, race and socioeconomic status. This new research, however, is now adding a fifth one to the mix – obesity. In fact, BMI was a stronger indicator of absenteeism compared to the traditional indicators.

Health Problems

Given all of the media attention to obesity, most of us are now familiar with the health problems that stem from obesity, such as heart disease and diabetes. But even though kids aren’t likely to be experiencing these kinds of health problems just yet, they are still dealing with other damaging aspects of bullying. The social stigma of being overweight can be brutal, which may then lead to fear and ultimately, absenteeism. Also worrying are the effects of so much missed school because absenteeism can impact grades as well as the potential for future education. Comments by Andrew Geier, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Psychology in the School of Arts and Sciences at Pennsylvania University, were provided in a press release:

At this young age, children are not necessarily experiencing the health problems that will likely confront them later in life unless serious intervention takes place. However, they are missing school at a greater rate than their peers, setting themselves up for the negative fallout that accompanies absenteeism. What’s keeping them from school, more than heath issues, is the stigma and the bullying that accompanies being overweight. Future research should explore this additional, very damaging side effect of being overweight.

I agree with that last part about future research. It’s important to investigate how being overweight not only affects school attendance, but also how it might impact future education, career and lifestyle. The more we learn and understand, the better we can find ways to address all of these factors related to obesity, particularly the social stigma. No child – including an overweight one – deserves to be bullied and sadly, the effects of bullying can harm many areas of a child’s life.

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