Smokers Tend to Quit in Droves
Quitting smoking may be contagious, suggests a new study published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine. Smokers tend to "quit in droves," says Nicholas Christakis, a physician in the department of healthcare policy at Harvard Medical School and coauthor of the new research. It's not surprising that having a friend quit smoking cuts a person's chance of smoking—by 36 percent, as it happens, Katherine Hobson reports. What's interesting, says Christakis, is that a person is less likely to smoke even if it's a friend's friend, or a friend's friend's friend, who quits, even if the original friend does not. Somehow (and it's not known exactly how), the behavioral change gets transmitted through the community.
Group norms may play a part. When it comes to binge drinking, for example, collective attitudes will influence whether a person drinks heavily, independent of his or her personal beliefs. (Think of a college campus, where a culture of heavy drinking may influence even kids who come to school with good intentions regarding alcohol use.)
Passage of Genetic Bill Doesn't Guarantee Insurance Coverage
Yesterday, President Bush signed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which bars insurers and employers from discriminating against people based on genetic test results. But will health insurance companies now pay for the tests? Michelle Andrews explores the ins and outs of insurance coverage in the On Health & Money blog. There are more than 1,200 genetic tests on the market, and some of them cost thousands of dollars. Unless a test meets certain standards and it's pretty clear that you'll benefit from taking it, your insurer may well decide not to pay.
Health Editor Bernadine Healy recently wrote about GINA and privacy concerns related to genomic medicine, and Deborah Kotz explained how the bill would stop genetic discrimination. Nancy Shute described do-it-yourself genetic tests, and she reported on how genetic advances have improved paternity tests.
Sleep Apnea Tied to Heart Risks in Children
Young children with obstructive sleep apnea may suffer some of the same cardiovascular problems seen in older children and adults with the condition, according to a new study. The study was the first to examine the relationship between systemic inflammation and cardiovascular problems in children with obstructive sleep apnea. The researchers plan another study to see if abnormal cardiovascular function in children with sleep apnea increases their risk for cardiovascular problems as adults.
Postpartum Depression Affects New Fathers, Too
Ten percent of new fathers and 14 percent of new mothers are affected by depression, U.S. News reports. Yet for men, both they and their partners often fail to recognize the condition when it arises. The symptoms are similar in both sexes, but the causes may be different. Hormonal changes can contribute to a mother's depression, experts suspect, whereas sudden and unexpected lifestyle changes are thought to trigger a father's depression. "After the baby is born, there's a change in family structure," says Thomas Newmark, chief of psychiatry at Cooper University Hospital in Camden, N.J. "There might be pressure to take care of the child economically. The man may not get the attention from his wife that he was used to. And, of course, his sleep is affected."
—January W. Payne