Check in with us as we feature the latest trends, research and news in medicine, health and science. A team of Star Tribune staffers will aggregate updates from news wires, websites, magazines and medical journals.

Many children still breathe secondhand smoke

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: February 3, 2015 - 4:52 PM

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that even though smoke exposure is down, 58 million Americans still breathe secondhand smoke. It said two of every five children, including seven in 10 black children, are still exposed.

Secondhand smoke causes early death and disease in nonsmokers. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke; even brief exposure can be harmful.

The findings on secondhand smoke:

• About 58 million Americans—1 in 4 nonsmokers—are still exposed to secondhand smoke. Some population groups are exposed at much higher rates than the population as a whole.

• Nearly half of black nonsmokers are exposed, including 7 in 10 black children.

• About 2 in 5 children (about 15 million) ages 3 to 11 years old are exposed.

• More than 2 in 5 nonsmokers who live below the poverty level are exposed.

• More than 1 in 3 nonsmokers who live in rental housing are exposed. About 80 million Americans live in multi-unit housing, many of whom rent.

For more details, visit the Vital Signs webpage at

Alcohol poisoning kills thousands in U.S.

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: January 6, 2015 - 2:54 PM

Six Americans die from alcohol poisoning daily on average, and mortality rates are highest among middle-aged men, federal health authorities reported Tuesday.

The report is the first in a decade by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to tally alcohol poisonings for the entire U.S. population. Most previous analyses looked at certain groups, in particular young people.

The agency found that an average of 2,221 people died of alcohol poisoning each year between 2010 and 2012. Three-quarters of the deaths occurred among 35- to 64-year-olds, the report found, and about three-quarters were men. The death rate was highest among men aged 45 to 54.

“Most previous studies have looked at college kids and young people, but the problem is bigger than that,” said Dr. Robert Brewer, who heads the alcohol program at the CDC. “It was surprising that the number of deaths was so concentrated among middle-age adults.”

The report described death from alcohol poisoning as “a bigger problem than previously thought” but said it was impossible to tell whether the death rate had risen because researchers have changed how they track the data in recent years.

When large amounts of alcohol are consumed in a short period of time, blood alcohol levels rise sharply, overwhelming the body’s ability to respond. Excessive alcohol intake can shut down parts of the brain that control breathing, body temperature and heart rate.

Such deaths are typically the result of binge drinking at high intensity, the report said. It defined binge drinking as four or more drinks in one “occasion” for women, and five or more drinks for men.

About 38 million adults report binge drinking an average of four times a month, according to the report, but the vast majority of binge drinkers — about 90 percent — are not alcoholics.

Alcohol dependence was a contributing cause in just one-third of the deaths, the report found.

The highest rate of deaths from alcohol poisoning occurred among Native Americans and Native Alaskans, with 49 deaths per 1 million people — far above the approximately nine deaths per 1 million people that is the average for the country. The bulk of deaths were among non-Hispanic whites, who made up 67 percent of all deaths.

The report also provided a breakdown by state. The lowest death rate was in Alabama, followed by Texas, Illinois and Virginia. The highest rate was in Alaska, driven by the native population there, followed by New Mexico, Rhode Island and Arizona.

--New York Times News Service

Four Minnesota hospitals designated for Ebola treatment

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: December 2, 2014 - 2:06 PM

State health officials throughout the U.S. have identified and designated 35 hospitals with Ebola treatment centers, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More are expected to be designated.

The hospitals were chosen as treatment facilities for Ebola patients based on a collaborative decision with local health authorities and the hospital administration.

“As long as Ebola is spreading in West Africa, we must prepare for the possibility of additional cases in the United States,” said Dr. Tom Frieden, CDC director.

The hospitals in Minnesota are:

  • Allina Health’s Unity Hospital; Fridley
  • Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota – St. Paul Campus, St. Paul
  • Mayo Clinic Hospital – Rochester, Saint Mary's Campus; Rochester
  • University of Minnesota Medical Center, West Bank Campus; Minneapolis

Click here to see the full list.

Calorie counts coming to more menus

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: November 25, 2014 - 11:06 AM

The Food and Drug Administration is announcing new rules requiring chain restaurants, movie theaters and other retailers that sell prepared foods to put calorie labels on menus and menu boards. The rules will only apply to establishments that have 20 or more locations.

Here's what will be labeled with calorie information -- and what won't -- under the new rules.

What will be labeled:

  •  Menu items at chain restaurants, including drive-through and takeout boards.
  •  Drinks on menus, and soda dispensers.
  •  Some alcoholic beverages on menus.
  •  Most prepared foods in supermarkets, convenience stores.
  •  Concessions at movie theaters, amusement parks that are part of larger chains.
  •  Displays of food, such as pastries, at coffee chains like Starbucks.
  •  Food prepared on site at large retail outlets, such as Target and Costco.

Foods that won't be labeled with calorie information:

  •  Menu items at independent restaurants with fewer than 20 outlets.
  •  Seasonal or daily specials at chain restaurants.
  •  Items not on a menu at a chain restaurant, such as a bread basket or drinks at the bar.
  •  Food on airplanes, trains.
  •  Food on food trucks.
  •  Deli meats, cheeses and bulk salads at grocery stores.


Fewer high school students smoking

Posted by: Colleen Stoxen Updated: November 10, 2014 - 10:56 AM

In the steepest decline ever found in Minnesota, the percent of high school students who smoked cigarettes in the past 30 days dropped from 18.1 percent in 2011 to 10.6 percent in 2014.

The 2014 Minnesota Youth Tobacco Survey also found fewer young people used used chewing tobacco and cigars between 2011 and 2014.  

Efforts to curb cigarette smoking appear to be helping. They include a 2013 tobacco tax, bans on indoor smoking, and tighter restrictions on youth access to tobacco products.

For the first time, the survey also asked about e-cigarette use and found that 12.9 percent of high school students used or tried an electronic cigarette in the past 30 days. The survey found that 28 percent of high school students reported ever having tried an e-cigarette.

"These new findings indicate that our statewide efforts to reduce and prevent conventional tobacco use among Minnesota children are working," said Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Ed Ehlinger. "At the same time, we are seeing a wild-west approach toward e-cigarettes, which allows tobacco companies unlimited marketing access to young men and women. This has led to increasing numbers of Minnesota high school and middle school students using e-cigarettes."

An estimated 85,900 Minnesota public school students in grades 6-12 have tried e-cigarettes, and 38,400 reported using them in the past 30 days. Nicotine is known to harm adolescent brain development. Nearly one-fourth of high school students who have tried an e-cigarette have never tried another tobacco product.

Read more from the Minnesota Department of Health.


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