Health Buzz: Kids in Apartments Exposed to More Secondhand Smoke

9 holiday health hazards to avoid; your doctor's role in helping change your health habits.

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Apartment Living Means More Secondhand Smoke Exposure

Children who live in apartments are more likely to be exposed to tobacco smoke than those living in stand-alone houses—even if no one in their family smokes. That's according to new research that found apartment-dwelling kids had 45 percent higher levels of a byproduct of nicotine in their blood than those in detached homes, according to a report published today in Pediatrics. More than 5,000 children ages 6 to 18 were involved in the research, and all lived in smoke-free apartments—meaning their exposure traced back to secondhand smoke that seeped in through walls or shared ventilation systems. Overall, more than 84 percent of children in apartment housing had been exposed to tobacco smoke, compared to nearly 80 percent of children in attached houses and 70 percent in stand-alone houses. Previous research indicates that even low levels of the nicotine byproduct cotinine can increase the risk of long-term cognitive problems, asthma and respiratory infections, and sudden infant death syndrome. "This is the last link in the chain demonstrating the need for smoke-free buildings," study author Jonathon Winickoff told ABC News. "People will shake their heads in disbelief that we ever allowed smoking in buildings where children live."

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  •  9 Holiday Health Hazards to Avoid

    The most wonderful time of the year—or the most hazardous? Depends how often you interact with ladders, fast-flying sleds, dusty decorations, overloaded shopping bags, and undercooked turkeys, U.S. News reports. To keep the holiday spirit more merry than frightful, watch out for these seasonal risks:

    Sledding recklessly. Whizzing down a snow-covered hill may be exhilarating, but roughly 33,000 people a year are treated in emergency rooms for sledding-related injuries. Collisions are typically the cause, reports the nonprofit National Safety Council. Fractures, cuts, and bruises are the most common injuries, though more serious damage is possible. "I've seen bleeds, organ injuries, and even some fatalities," says Ryan Stanton, an emergency-room physician in Lexington, Ky. "A sled doesn't provide you with any protection, so when that plastic hits a tree, a fence, or a pole, the acceleration carries you into it." That's why it's smart to wear a bicycle helmet while sledding (or skiing, snow tubing, or snowboarding). Avoid rocky hills and areas dotted with trees, fences, utility poles, or other obstacles. Never sled head-first, and sit up instead of lying on your back. And if the sled begins flying out of control, roll off, Stanton says. [Read more: 9 Holiday Health Hazards to Avoid.]

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    •  Your Doctor's Role in Helping You Change Your Health Habits

      In last week's issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine, Jennifer Lin and her colleagues at Kaiser Permanente's Center for Health Research in Portland, Oregon reviewed the latest scientific evidence on how effective medical counseling really is in terms of getting patients to improve their eating and exercise behaviors. Their analysis, which included data from 73 studies, found that counseling does, in fact, help patients make changes that lead to modest improvements in their health. They were able to lose excess weight, increase their activity, and improve their blood pressure and cholesterol levels. While few studies followed patients for more than a year, one long-term study indicated that those with mildly elevated blood pressure who were extensively counseled on switching to a low-sodium diet had a reduced risk of heart attacks and heart failure 10 to 15 years later.

      There is, though, a catch, family physician Kenny Lin writes for U.S. News. The researchers found that in order to achieve these changes, patients needed far more counseling time than doctors or nurses can offer in our current healthcare system. "Low-intensity" counseling—a total of 30 minutes or less which is typical for most patients—appeared in the study to have no beneficial effect. Only "medium" (totaling up to six hours) and "high" intensity (more than six hours) counseling made a significant difference, and these sessions were typically led by specially trained health educators rather than the patients' own physicians who may not be as well trained in dispensing specialized nutrition or fitness advice. While study participants got these services for free, those patients in the real world often find that their health insurance will only pay for counseling if they have diabetes or heart disease. [Read more: Your Doctor's Role in Helping You Change Your Health Habits.]