June 3, 2011
NIH Podcast Episode #0135
Balintfy: Welcome to the 135th episode of NIH Research Radio with news about the ongoing medical research at the National Institutes of Health – the nation's medical research agency. I'm your host Joe Balintfy, and coming up in this episode: researchers help plan the future for the large, long-term National Children’s Study, which will examine the effects of the environment on the growth, development, and health of children, a new playground for seriously ill children, and details for dads to improve their health for this Father’s Day.
“Dads are special people, not just on Father’s Day but every day.”
But first, this news update. Here’s Craig Fritz.
Fritz: An NIH study has found an increased risk of death for early term births. Infants born in the 37th or 38th week of pregnancy have a higher risk of dying before age 1 than do infants born between 39 and 40 weeks, according to researchers. Traditionally, any pregnancy lasting over 36 weeks was considered full term. The study examined more than 46 million infants born in the United States between 1995 and 2006. The researchers found that during that time, the proportion of infants born at 37 or 38 weeks increased from 22 to 29 percent. During the same time, the percentage of full term births fell from 60 to 54 percent. Death rates for early term births were higher than full term births among all racial and ethnic groups in the study. Common causes of death included birth defects, sudden infant death syndrome; lack of oxygen in the womb or during birth; and accidents. Researchers note that future studies on the circumstances surrounding early term births—such as the reasons for the early delivery, medical information on the pregnancy, and the health status of mother and baby—may provide information on the reasons for the higher death rates seen in early term infants when compared to full-term infants.
An NIH-funded study shows 19 percent of young adults have high blood pressure, indicating a higher risk for the group than previously believed. High blood pressure is a serious condition that can lead to coronary heart disease, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure, and other health problems. The researchers took blood pressure readings of more than 14,000 men and women between ages 24 and 32 who were enrolled in a long-running study. The findings differ from a previous study, which reported high blood pressure in just 4 percent of adults ages 20 to 39. Scientists were unable to explain the difference in their findings.
The National Institutes of Health has stopped a clinical trial studying a cholesterol treatment 18 months earlier than planned. The trial found that adding high dose, extended-release niacin to statin treatment in people with heart and vascular disease, did not reduce the risk of cardiovascular events, including heart attacks and stroke. Participants were selected for the trial because they were at risk for cardiovascular events despite well-controlled LDL or bad cholesterol. Their increased risk was due to a history of cardiovascular disease and a combination of low HDL or good cholesterol and high triglycerides, another form of fat in the blood. While lowering LDL decreases the risk of cardiovascular events, it has not been shown that raising HDL similarly reduces the risk of cardiovascular events. During the study’s 32 months of follow-up, participants who took high dose, extended-release niacin and statin treatment had increased HDL cholesterol and lowered triglyceride levels compared to participants who took a statin alone. However, the combination treatment did not reduce fatal or non-fatal heart attacks, strokes, hospitalizations for acute coronary syndrome, or procedures to improve blood flow in the arteries of the heart and brain.
For this NIH news update – I’m Craig Fritz
Balintfy: News updates are compiled from information at www.nih.gov/news. Coming up health tips for fathers, a playground for the Children’s Inn, and the launch of the Children’s Study; that’s next.
(BREAK FOR PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT)
National Children’s Study Environmental Summit
Balintfy: The National Children's Study is the largest long-term examination of children's health ever conducted in the United States. It will follow 100,000 children from before birth to age 21 to learn how the environment influences children's health, development, and quality of life.
Hirschfeld: We have a pilot study underway which we're calling the Vanguard Study; that's active in 37 locations now around the country.
Balintfy: Dr. Steven Hirschfeld is the acting director of the National Children’s Study at the National Institutes of Health. He says the Main Study will get underway sometime in 2012.
Hirschfeld: The Main Study is the exposure-response study.
Balintfy: Researchers want to understand how being exposed to environmental factors such as the foods people eat, the chemicals they may be exposed to, and other aspects of daily life might interact with genes – a person’s DNA – to affect health and development. Dr. Hirschfeld explains that the study will cover many levels of public health, including how to get health information out.
Hirschfeld: How do you and your family learn about some of the best practices supported by evidence that you can implement in your life?
Balintfy: He adds that information gathered through the study will also help answer policy questions.
Hirschfeld: And we are best served by having data to allow policy makers to make those decisions. And then on the third level, there are question that we can’t even anticipate now. We don’t know what the key questions will be.
Balintfy: To help set up a framework so those future questions can be asked and answered, experts recently gathered at the National Children’s Study Environmental Summit. Dr. Michael Dellarco, a senior scientist with the National Children’s Study says there were several take-homes from the meeting including the idea of defining the environment very broadly.
Dellarco: There's a growing recognition that the environment that a child grows up in is not just merely particular chemicals that they come into contact with. There's a variety of factors which can influence growth and development.
Balintfy: Dr. Dellarco adds that because of the large size and length of the study, how scientists record and measure those factors they gather has to be optimized.
Dellarco: There are technologies on the horizon many very close at hand which with a bit of additional investigation can be further developed and tested and introduced into a study of the scale and scope of the National Children's Study. And that's where a great deal of the excitement came in at the meeting.
Balintfy: Dr. Hirschfeld points out that experts from many different fields were invited.
Hirschfeld: Essentially to connect the dots.
Balintfy: He says researchers are embarking upon one of the richest data collection efforts ever conducted, and the wealth of information expected could have a major impact on the health of future generations.
Hirschfeld: If we view the National Children's Study as an important living archive to allow us to systematically generate high quality data across a broad range of different domains then that will continue to serve us because we know where to turn to when we want to ask the questions that thus far no one has had the foresight or the knowledge to pose.
Balintfy: For details on the National Children’s Study, or for information on how to participate, visit the website www.nationalchildrensstudy.gov.
A New Playground at a Place Like Home
Balintfy: On part of the National Institutes of Health campus here in Bethesda, Maryland, there is a place nothing like a lab or hospital; a place that is actually very homey.
Wiener: The Children’s Inn is a place like home.
Balintfy: That’s Dr. Lori Wiener a staff scientist at NIH, and a founding member of the Children’s Inn at NIH. Dr. Weiner explains the Inn is much more than a place with a bed for the children being treated at NIH.
Wiener: But in addition to being able to have a bed to sleep in, a kitchen to be able to eat in, they have friends. They have places to play. They have a school they could attend. They’ve got a dog who’s here to greet them. They’ve got staff who’s always welcoming them.
Balintfy: And she adds, they are very near the NIH Clinical Center where they can get help if they need it.
Wiener: The Children’s Inn opened in 1990 as a home for children who are undergoing treatment at the NIH from, whatever, Institute they were in; and the Children’s Inn became an immediate success. Children were less resistant to coming back for their medical treatment. They said they needed to come back to the Children’s Inn and to see their friends and to have a good time. And this not only reduced stress for parents whose children were sick but also helped research investigators because they were able to enroll increasing numbers of children on their protocols. In fact, it was such a success that we ended up having to bump families back into the community to hotels within a few years.
Balintfy: The Children’s Inn at NIH, originally designed for 37 families, now houses 59 since adding a new wing in May of 2004. Since opening, ten-thousand seriously ill children and their families have made forty-thousand visits. And Dr. Wiener says those visits can really be for any health condition.
Wiener: Children who are here are here because they're participating in a clinical study at the NIH, so it could be for, as a normal volunteer, though we don’t see very many, it could be for a growth disorder, it could be for cancer, it could be for HIV. We have so many different conditions. We have a good portion of our children are here on NIMH [National Institute of Mental Health] protocols, and there really is no difference.
Kids are kids, and they want to be able to interact with other kids. It’s not like, “And what are you taking? And what is your condition?” That’s not a part of why they are here. “Do you want to play pool? You know, you want to go out and play? What cards are you doing? What game are you playing? Who are you texting?” That’s more where they’re at, where the families can be able to sit back and watch their child smile or play or explore, meet other people, and not be asked, “Why do you look the way that you do?” or, you know, “Why are you so tired?” or -- they’re not called out for differences. Everyone is really accepted for who they are. So it’s no surprise they can’t wait to come back and be in this environment. What we’re missing is the outdoor environment. We’re doing great on the inside. We need to be able to match that on the outside.
Balintfy: The Inn has long wanted to update its playground and outdoor play area.
Wiener: That’s a very important expansion and a very important plan. When we built the Inn, we did build along a lovely playground.
Balintfy: But Dr. Weiner explains that the location has made it difficult for physically challenged children and older caregivers to easily access the playground.
Wiener: And increasingly we see the need for children and their families to get out of an indoor building, especially when they’re spending days hooked up to IVs in a clinic going through tests. By the time that they get home, they just want to be able to be free.
Similarly, when kids want to come home from school, they want to go outside and play. At the current time, our playground doesn’t really meet those needs, so the board decided on and voted upon an initiative to raise funds to build a state-of-the-art playground on our campus, which would be more of an outdoor experience that children and families of all abilities would be able to go outside, to explore, to network, to play, to imagine, to enjoy, and to be able to be active if they wish.
Balintfy: The Inn’s new, modern playground will be created in a way to appeal to all children, regardless of age, physical strength or abilities. Planned to sit next to a wildlife conservation area, the playground design will have a natural feel and will include the use of recycled materials. And work is getting started, says Juli Anne Callis, president and CEO of the NIH Federal Credit Union.
Callis: A playground is being built for children that have access issues as well as elder caregivers. The place has been regraded to make it more readily accessible. And the creative appropriate play place is being designed and will be executed over the next few years.
Balintfy: Callis says she has a personal connection to the research being done here at NIH.
Callis: We lost our first born, our son, at the age of 10 to a very rare heart disease. At the age of 42, my husband also suffered from that and had a heart transplant. And now our daughter at the age of 28 is also challenged by that and is headed for a replacement of heart.
So what it is for me is a personal opportunity to support those families that are going through challenging times and the men and women here. The research is going on. The cures are going to be developed. So again, yes, it is personal and it's a great joy to be a part of helping those that can still be helped here at NIH.
Balintfy: Dr. Wiener points out that more help is needed to fully fund the new playground.
Wiener: We did receive wonderful support from the NIH Federal Credit Union, whose gift will provide decorative wind poles as well as several paths, bridges, and elevated walkways connected to the playground. And we’re so appreciative for their support, but we need a lot more support in order to make this a reality.
Balintfy: Though the Inn is on the campus of the federally funded NIH, the Inn is a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation which relies on private contributions to fund its operations – there is no charge for a family to stay at the Children’s Inn at NIH. For more information on the Children’s Inn at NIH and the new playground being built, visit www.childrensinn.org.
When NIH Research Radio continues: healthy tips for fathers this dad’s day. That’s next.
(BREAK FOR PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT)
Encouraging dads to get on track to better health
Balintfy: Father’s Day is June 19, this year and NIH’s National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has picked Father’s Day to encourage dads to improve their health. We’re talking with institute director, Dr. Griffin Rodgers about that. But first Dr. Rodgers, what is the prevalence of obesity and how serious is it?
Rodgers: Obesity is a complex and serious public health problem. More than one-third of adults in the United States are considered obese. About 32.2 percent of men are considered obese and nearly 17 percent of children and teens ages 2 through 19 are also considered obese.
Men who are considered obese are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high-blood pressure, stroke and some cancers. Men who are obese also develop sleep apnea, that is breathing that stops during sleep; and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH, which is excessive fat in the liver.
Balintfy: And what are some of the causes of obesity?
Rodgers: We know that obesity tends to run in families. In addition to genes, families also share eating and exercise habits that may promote or prevent obesity. The world in which dads and their families live and work and play may contribute to obesity. For example, not having safe places to walk or affordable access to fruits and vegetables may contribute to obesity.
Research funded by the NIH has identified the link between inactivity, such as time spent viewing television, and excess weight gain in adults and children, separate from the link with low levels of physical activity.
Balintfy: So why Father’s Day to encourage dad’s to improve their health?
Rodgers: Well, dads are special people, not just on Father’s Day but every day. They do so much for their loved ones. But oftentimes they do very little for themselves. Father’s Day is the perfect opportunity to celebrate Dads and encourage them to make improving their health a priority.
Balintfy: Dr. Rodgers, you mentioned a link between low levels of physical activity and excess weight gain. How can dads improve their physical activity habits?
Rodgers: Well, dads can improve their physical activity habits by making small changes to their lifestyle. Dads should pick an activity that they enjoy and be willing stick with. Consider a brisk walk after dinner with your family, weight training with a buddy or playing basketball with co-workers or on a local team.
Dads should start with a level of activity that they feel is doable and slowly increase the frequency, time and intensity of their exercise. Remember, you do not have to do 30 minutes in one setting. You can try to get some physical activity throughout the day; let’s say 10 minute intervals, 3 times a day.
Balintfy: Is physical activity alone going to help or should dads also improve their eating habits?
Rodgers: Absolutely. Dads can improve their eating habits by adjusting portion sizes. You can still enjoy delicious foods and an occasional treat. But dads should sneak in fruits and vegetables. Add berries to your cereal or crunchy vegetables to your sandwich.
Eating smaller portions may help dads control their weight. Make half your plate vegetables and/or fruits; one-fourth a whole grain, such as brown rice; and one-fourth a protein food, such as lean meat, poultry or fish or dried beans
Dads should also be aware of what they drink is as important as what they eat. Sodas, sports drinks, and juices may be high in calories, especially from sugar.
Balintfy: And what about alcohol?
Rodgers: Alcohol can be a major source of hidden calories. A single shot of liquor, for example is about 2 ounces, but it contains 125 calories. A 5-ounce glass of wine or a 12-ounce glass of beer has about 160 calories. So before you reach for that second beverage as you celebrate Father’s Day, remember that what you drink can expand your waistline just as much as what you eat.
Balintfy: Dads can face a lot of different challenges. So Dr. Rodgers, what can they do to help meet this challenge and reach their exercise and diet goals?
Rodgers: Well dads are encouraged to focus on what they want to do in the short-term and over the long run. An example of a short-term goal might be to replace soda with water for a week. A doable long-term goal might be to walk or jog at least three times a week in preparation for an upcoming charity walk or fun run.
Track your progress, dads should write down all the foods they eat and drink and the number of minutes they are active. Reward yourself, but not with high-calorie, unhealthy foods or snacks.
Dads will run into roadblocks sometimes, and we all understand that, so expect them, think of ways to overcome them, and get back on track if you are set back. Some common roadblocks include loss of motivation, lack of time, family emergency, or upcoming vacation or other event.
To manage or overcome these types of setbacks, dads should try to find a workout partner or buddy to boost their motivation. In fact you can boost each other’s motivation. If your schedule permits, try to exercise at lunch. But if not, try to exercise in the morning, before heading to work. This will jumpstart your day and help you stay on track to better health.
Balintfy: Loved ones can help dads improve their health, is that right?
Rodgers: Well loved ones can help dads by encouraging them to stick with their efforts to improve their health. Family members can cheer for dad as he walks or runs for a charity event. Family members or friends can also join dad in his efforts to get healthier and get more exercise. Making healthy choices becomes easier when everyone is working toward a similar goal.
Balintfy: Are there any other factors in the overall health equation dads can use to improve health?
Rodgers: Well being more active and eating better are two very important ways dads can improve their health. Dads can also improve their physical and mental health by getting adequate sleep, quitting smoking, and reducing how much alcohol they drink; it’s the whole package.
Balintfy: Dr. Rodgers, what is research telling us about weight loss and health?
Rodgers: You know, research tells us that modest weight loss that is 5 to 7 percent reduction in body weight through healthy eating and regular physical activity, over a several month period can produce tremendous health benefits.
Balintfy: Thank you very much Dr. Griffin Rodgers. For more information on how dads can get on track to better health, visit the website win.niddk.nih.gov. Look for the publication: Getting on Track: Physical Activity and Healthy Eating for Men. You can also get that publication free by calling 1-877-946-4627.
Balintfy: And that’s it for this episode of NIH Research Radio. Please join us again on Friday, June 17 when our next edition will be available. If you have any questions or comments about this program, or have story suggestions for a future episode, please let me know. Best to reach me by email—my address is email@example.com. I'm your host, Joe Balintfy. Thanks for listening.
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