New Under the Sun:
Volume 2, Issue 2
Greetings!! With hearts and valentines on display in stores and thoughts of love in the air, this is a good month to take stock of whether or not we are striving for and/or maintaining good health for the loved ones in our lives. It is not enough to care for those we love. We also must care for ourselves if we are to be at our best and be there for them over the long term. Letting our health slide because we are too busy working and/or taking care of others does not demonstrate true loving and caring. To be at our best for others means that we must achieve and maintain mental and physical health. By doing so we are more fully available for our loved ones and also serve as good role models for them. This month, equate good mental and physical health with true loving.
Head Flattening among Infants: In 1992, pediatricians in the US began a concerted effort to ensure that parents put their infants to sleep on their backs as this was shown to aid in the prevention of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Since then the incidence of SIDS has indeed decreased. However, the incidence of infants with flattened heads has skyrocketed. The cranial bones of infants are soft and unfused. This means that they can be easily misshapen by prolonged placement in one position. Infants who are only placed on their backs to sleep, or who spend a great deal of time in a car or baby seat, will develop flattening at the back of the head. If placed primarily on one side, that side of the head will become flattened relative to the other side. In order to prevent head flattening, the infant must be placed in a variety of positions, including on his/her stomach when awake. Peitsch WK, Keefer CH, LaBrie RA, Mulliken JB. Incidence of cranial asymmetry in healthy newborns. Pediatrics 2002 Dec;110(6):e72.
Comment: SIDS is extremely rare in non-Western countries. One of the major differences between how infants in those countries sleep compared to US infants is not sleep position per se. In other countries, infants do not sleep alone; they sleep with their mothers so that they can easily breastfeed throughout the night. This means that infant positioning is frequently adjusted and that they never sleep through the night entirely on their backs or their stomachs. These frequent adjustments have been shown to play a role in the prevention of SIDS as they inhibit sleep apnea, one of the causes of SIDS. Despite some concerns occasionally raised by some health care professionals, the facts that the vast majority of infants throughout the world sleep with their mothers without harm, and that co-sleeping aids in preventing both SIDS and head flattening, should be reasons enough for the practice of mother/infant co-sleeping to be revived in the US.
Moderate Altitude and Pulmonary Stress: This is the season when skiers are flocking to the slopes. Although some skiing is done above 8,000 feet, most skiing in the US is probably at lower altitudes. It was thought that pulmonary stress at moderate altitudes (about 4500 – 7800 feet) was rare. However, French researchers have found that it is much more common, particularly among young, healthy adults, than was previously believed. High-altitude pulmonary edema (HAPE) results in fluid buildup in the lungs due to increased lung pressure caused by inadequate oxygen levels and leads to difficulties in breathing that can require hospitalization. Severe cases can result in death. Curing the condition requires bed rest and supplemental oxygen. It appears that the main factor in the onset of HAPE is failure to adequately acclimate to the increased altitude. Instead of immediately hitting the slopes, one needs to spend a day or two in quiet activity while the body adjusts to the reduced oxygen levels. Even then, activity may need to be minimized for several more days if hypoxic stress is to be prevented. Gabry AL, Ledoux X, Mozziconacci M, Martin C. High-Altitude Pulmonary Edema at Moderate Altitude (< 2,400 m; 7,870 feet): A Series of 52 Patients. Chest 2003 Jan;123(1):49-53.
Comment: Only individuals from such populations as the Himalayan Sherpa or Andean natives have genetic adaptations for living and working at high altitudes. Individuals from other populations who are born and raised at moderate-to-high altitudes become adapted to the environment through developmental acclimatization as they grow up. Those who were born and raised at low altitudes but travel to or move to higher altitudes must spend varying amounts of time acclimating to higher altitudes. If they do not give themselves time to adequately acclimate, they will suffer from varying degrees of hypoxic stress from feeling faint and easily exhausted to the more severe forms of HAPE. Each individual interacts with the environment in a unique manner which must be taken into consideration if one is to maximize health and well being.
Obesity and Reduced Lifespan: Using national databases, researchers compared the body mass index (BMI) with mortality data for adults aged 18 – 85. They found that as BMI increased, lifespan decreased. Severely obese (BMI > 45) young men (ages 20 – 30) of European ancestry had a reduction in their expected lifespan of 13 years while women in the same group lost 8 years. The optimal BMI for this group is 23 – 25. The situation was somewhat different for those with West/Central African ancestry. The researchers seemed to suggest that individuals in this group can have a larger optimum BMI range (23 – 30) than individuals in the first group. However, the researchers also used different lifespan data. Other research has shown that males with West/Central African ancestry have a significantly reduced lifespan compared to males with European ancestry; the same applies for females. If those differences were taken into account, the larger BMI range would probably be negated. In fact, for the younger age group (20 – 30), males of West/Central African ancestry who were severely obese (BMI > 45) had a reduced lifespan of 20 years, while for females the reduction was 5 years. But, again, this reduction is based on an already shorter lifespan when compared to males and females of European ancestry; therefore, the “true” reduction in lifespan is probably even larger. Obesity can be deadly. Fontaine KR, Redden DT, Wang C, Westfall AO, Allison DB. Years of life lost due to obesity. JAMA 2003 Jan 8;289(2):187-93.
Preventing Obesity the AnthroHealth way: Walk 2 – 3 miles each day. Take the stairs when possible and park the car at the end of the parking lot instead of near the door. Eliminate all baked goods, breads, cereals, dairy products, and fatty meats from the diet. Eat 8 – 10 servings of fruits and vegetables each day. Eat several servings of fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, and mackerel each week. The fats in these fish are necessary for good health. See prior issues of AnthroHealth News. Other good protein sources include eggs and lean poultry. Substitute tree nuts such as almonds and walnuts for fatty snack foods. Read the book discussed below.
Book Review: As discussed above and in previous issues of AnthroHealth News, obesity has become epidemic in the United States. Fat Land: How Americans Became the Fattest People in the World by Greg Critser is a slim volume on the topic of excess weight. One only needs to visit a shopping mall to see that obesity, in all age brackets from preschoolers to seniors, is rampant. Critser’s carefully researched book focuses on the causes of the obesity epidemic and possible solutions. Critser notes that the agricultural policies of the Nixon and Ford administrations were the initial culprits in the onslaught of obesity.
Farmers were encouraged to grow as much corn as they could at the same time that trade agreements with countries such as Malaysia encouraged major imports of palm oil. Much of the corn was turned into high fructose corn syrup, a commodity that was cheaper and sweeter than cane sugar, and increased the shelf life of products which included it. Palm oil was also cheap and had the benefit of being able to be “sold” to consumers as a vegetable oil while it actually had the consistency and flavor of lard/beef tallow. Its inclusion also increased shelf life of products. In addition, cattle feed made from cheap corn and soybean byproducts slashed the price of beef. The basis for the rapid expansion of fast food convenience was now in place.
In the 1980s, busy, dual-career couples with a family to feed found a solution in relatively cheap fast food in supersized quantities. A McDonald’s meal that had originally (in the 1970s) totaled 590 calories, has now been supersized to 1550 calories. At the same time that cheap, fattening food was beginning to dominate the diet, exercise was on a steep decline. Due to budget cuts, schools began reducing and then eliminating PE classes at the same time that video games and PCs were becoming widely available. In addition, neighborhoods were becoming increasingly unsafe, particularly for the poor and lower middle classes, the groups most at risk for obesity. A sedentary lifestyle was not just easier, it was perceived as safer. Interestingly, fundamentalist religion is associated with obesity, perhaps because both religion and food are used as coping mechanisms to deal with life stressors.
A factor that Critser doesn’t mention that may also play a role in the obesity epidemic is the rapid spread of air conditioning in public buildings and later in most homes and vehicles. In the 1960s, few places were air-conditioned. By the 1980s, AC was common. It is much easier to be overweight in an air-conditioned environment than in one which is not. Critser also notes that attitudes of self-acceptance and exaggerated fears of anorexia have prevented parents and educators from grappling with the real health issues associated with obesity. Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and arthritic joints are increasingly common among obese children and adolescents. Obesity is costly not just to the individual but to the community at large which must deal with lost work days and higher insurance rates, among other factors. Critser offers a variety of solutions but they boil down to this: eat less junk and exercise more. Or, as he also states: avoid gluttony and sloth. In effect, we should live the AnthroHealth way.
AnthroHealth Tip of the Month: This month, take some time to let those you care about know that you care by sending them a little note, or e-mail, or calling for a chat. When the weather outside is dreary, a positive contact can brighten the day.
© 2001-2009 Kathleen E. Fuller, PhD. All rights reserved.