Tuesday, October 27, 2009


Driving while texting is a deadly combination

Drinking and speeding are two well known causes of serious car crashes.

Now it’s time to add distracted driving to the list.

Locally and nationally, the number of crashes involving distracted driving – which can be anything from programming your GPS to reading or text messaging – is rising.

The federal government estimates that 30 percent of all crashes in the United States involve driver distraction.

As manager of the Backus Hospital Trauma Center, I think that number might be higher. Just in the last few weeks we have seen several crashes that involved distracted driving.

And over the longer term, we are seeing an uptick in crashes due to distracted driving. A growing culprit these days is text messaging. A growing amount of evidence suggests that driving while texting is even riskier than driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

Driving while texting is extremely dangerous – we have seen many serious and fatal crashes on our local roadways to prove it. Because texting is so popular among teens, they are also major offenders when it comes to texting and driving.

This is a dangerous combination – inexperienced drivers taking their eyes off the road to read or send text messages. If you add alcohol to the mix it’s even worse.

What can we do? Here at Backus Hospital, we have included distracted driving deterrence into the curriculum of our Be Aware Program, which reaches hundreds of local teens ever year.

Parents should amend their warnings about drinking and driving and speeding to include talk of distracted driving, and remind their children that using a cell phone while driving – whether to talk or text – is against the law.

Gillian Mosier is a registered nurse and manager of the Backus Trauma Program. This column should not replace the advice of your physician. To comment on this or other Healthy Living columns, go to the Healthy Living blog at backushospital.org or e-mail the columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Monday, October 19, 2009


How to manage the treats after Halloween

Halloween is a favorite holiday for many kids. Why? When else do you get to dress up in a cool costume, walk around the neighborhood pretending to be someone or something else, and ring your neighbor’s doorbell in anticipation of a special treat?

As a kid I remember excitedly dumping my bag or plastic pumpkin on the dining room table and surmising all the treasures I had collected.

The bite-size candy bars, bubble gum, Tootsie Roll pops and Twizzlers were among the treats. It seemed like an eternity waiting for Mom or Dad to inspect everything before I could indulge in a few.

To this day I still have a sweet tooth, but know I must limit my candy consumption.
With the epidemic of obesity sweeping the nation, adults and kids need to be sensible with their intake of candy to avoid undesirable weight gain.

In addition, too much sugar can promote tooth decay, leading to more cavities and time spent in the dentist’s chair.

Most importantly, candy is often high in calories and/or fat, (depending on the type), and low in other nutrients. Recently I polled some Facebook moms and dads to ask how they handle the influx of candy their trick or treaters bring home. Here is a summary of what they said:

- Allow kids to have 2-5 pieces or “indulge” a little Halloween night.
- Keep remaining candy in a child’s designated “treat bag” in a place out of their reach (such as a high cupboard).
- Each day allow a designated amount of candy (about 1-2 pieces) after lunch or dinner. Continue this practice anywhere from a few days to a couple months.
- Offer to buy candy from children -- after a price is negotiated one parent “buys” back some of the candy collected. The parent then brings the candy into the workplace to share.
- Separate candy into zip-lock bags; one bag containing candy to be used in future (i.e. Christmas cookies)
- Freeze the candy (note some candies may freeze better than others).
- Toss extra candy or give away.
- Parents eat it themselves.

I also asked a friend (who is also a dietitian) how she limits her kids’ candy consumption. She (like one of the moms that responded to the Facebook poll) sets aside any good candy (namely chocolate bars) and chops it up to make cookies.

She also said that she is lucky that her kids get more excited about dressing up and the act of trick or treating but not necessarily eating the candy.

A good friend of mine mentioned she allows each of her kids three pieces of candy corn per day and that they can choose how they eat it (i.e., a piece after each meal, three before bedtime, etc).

A favorite author of mine is Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian who has written books on feeding children healthfully. She recommends relegating candy consumption to meal and snack times and that structure is a key component.

Parents take leadership in what other foods are offered at the table. She suggests that children that are able to follow rules should be allowed to keep their stash of candy, and that the parents control the stash for those that cannot.

Satter also advises that once the child shows the ability to control his candy consumption, he should be allowed to keep his stash.

I agree with Satter’s advice that candy should be treated the same way other sweets are and that children need to manage sweets and keep sweets in proportion to other foods they eat.

She cites research studies in which treat-deprived girls were more likely to load up on forbidden foods even when not hungry and that girls who were allowed to eat sweets ate them in moderation (if at all) and were thinner.

Remember too, that “treats” do not have to mean “candy.” Nuts, raisins, sunflower or pumpkin seeds, microwave popcorn or whole grain crackers are other options.

Candy alternatives may include pencils, stickers, scented erasers, party favors or trading cards.

However you and your children spend Halloween, choosing healthier foods more often, limiting sweets and exercising regularly are all steps you can take to limit undesirable weight gain. Trick or Treat!

Catherine Schneider is a Registered Dietitian in the Food and Nutrition Department at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Ms. Schneider and all of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org or comment on their blog at healthydocs.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Remembrance Day: A time to remember precious lives lost

Until it happens to you, you don’t realize how common it is.

One in every three pregnancies ends in a loss, whether it’s miscarriage, stillborn or death shortly after birth.

To bring attention to how common this is, to highlight the help and resources available for those who find themselves in this gut-wrenching situation and to remember babies who have been lost, Remembrance Day is held each year on Oct. 15.

I am a firm believer that being around others who have experienced this kind of emotional loss, and talking about your feelings, helps.

That’s why at Backus Hospital we offer a Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Group, held the second Tuesday every month from 7-8:30 p.m. in the Backus Medical Office building conference room. As a Backus social worker, I moderate the group and see firsthand how it helps.

But make no mistake about it: The grief associated with the loss of a child during pregnancy or in infancy can linger and cause long-term mental health issues if not dealt with properly.

Remembrance Day, which includes a nationwide candlelight vigil at 7 p.m., and our support group are two ways to properly grieve and heal.

For some, healing involves knowing there are others out there like them. For others, it’s knowing that just because you have one miscarriage doesn’t mean you will have another. Or, just remembering the lives lost can help.

Please join me this Remembrance Day in celebrating these precious lives, and in helping our friends and neighbors make it through these difficult times.

Elynor Carey is a social worker in the Backus Hospital Care Management Department. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Carey and all of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org or comment on their blog at healthydocs.blogspot.com.

Monday, October 12, 2009


Seniors may have immunity to H1N1

Seniors have always been reminded to get a seasonal flu shot, and the advice is still sound this flu season.

Many seniors, however, may wonder why they are not in the priority groups for the H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available.

Federal guidelines call for the new H1N1 vaccine to be given first to pregnant women, those who live with or care for children 6 months or younger, healthcare workers, people ages 6 months through 24 years old, and people with chronic health problems or compromised immune systems.

Only after shots are offered to those groups will the vaccine be available to healthy adults 64 and younger. After that, seniors’ ages 65 and older would be eligible.

The answer to why seniors are being delayed in their receipt of vaccine is twofold: there is a limited supply being made available – some vaccine even being limited further by the vaccine’s contra-indications and usage – and seniors are believed to have a preexisting immunity.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) supports its assertion that immunity exists by reasoning that seniors, especially those over the age of 60, might have been exposed to the Spanish influenza in 1918, and Asian influenza in 1957. CDC also points out that from all current H1N1 virus cases in the United States, 64 percent of them were found in people within the ages of 5-24 and only one percent of virus cases were found in people over 65 years old.

So, what can seniors do to stay healthy in the season of influenza – be it seasonal or H1N1? First, get your seasonal flu shot. As much as 20 percent of people nationwide get the (seasonal) flu each year. About 200,000 people experience complications from the flu and have to be hospitalized, and about 36,000 die each year.

Flu symptoms include fever (usually high), headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. The flu is spread through coughing or sneezing.

Second, you should maintain a sanitary environment by covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, washing hands, and staying home when you are sick.

Finally, you can protect yourself by helping others. Encourage friends and relatives to get flu shots. Remind them that it is okay to stay home when you are sick. And, seek out information from legitimate resources such as your healthcare provider or the local health department. You are certain to feel less anxiety if you feel in control of your own health, and a healthy mind will lead to a healthy body.

For updates on the flu season, visit www.backushospital.org/flu.

Patrick R. McCormack is Director of Health for the Uncas Health District. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail McCormack and all of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org or comment on their blog at healthydocs.blogspot.com.

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