Summer health risks: are they for real?

July 20, 2009 by  
Filed under HEART AND STROKE

summerSummertime is really here. School vacation has already started. And though it’s nice and warm in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, it can be scorching hot in others. So you want to spend time outdoors and get a little exercise. But what to do in the unbearable heat of the summer? First of all, we are warned of the dangers that come with summer and these are:

  • Sunburns
  • Dehydration
  • Heat strokes
  • Summer infections
  • Insect bites
  • Burns from barbecue and bush fires
  • Lighting strikes

However, despite all the warnings we see, hear and read, people shouldn’t be scared of venturing out and be active in the summertime. According to WebMD, the chances of fatality due to these summer health risks are slim. In fact, the following figures from the National Safety Council give us an idea of the actual risks:

The Danger Lifetime Odds
Death by car accident 1 in 228
Drowning death 1 in 1,081
Bicycle accident death 1 in 4,857
Death by excessive natural heat 1 in 10,643
Death by lightning 1 in 56,439

 

Traffic accidents

You’d think that because of the favorable weather conditions in summer that there’d be less vehicular accidents. Well, actually it is the nice weather conditions that make more people venture out and travel with the car, that make people drive faster than usual, that make more people drive less carefully. Related to traffic accidents are bicycle accidents. Cycling is a popular summer sport and accidents can lead to head injuries that are fatal due to non-wearing of helmet.

Drowning

It is not surprising that the risk of drowning ranks second after traffic accidents. Swimming pools, lakes, rivers and the ocean are popular summer destinations.  It is estimated that at least 3,000 people drown in the US each year. Children under 5 drown more often in swimming pools, especially the family pool, rather than in the natural water bodies. More adults drown in the sea due to undertows, strong rip currents, and boating accidents. The U.S. Coast Guard recorded more than 5,700 boating accidents in 2002, causing 4,062 injuries and 750 deaths.

Excessive heat

Heat waves occur sporadically and excessive natural heat can only lead to death as a consequence of dehydration, heat strokes, and exacerbation of underlying chronic conditions such as heart disease and hypertension. This is, however, highly preventable. The key is drink, drink, and drink and stay out of the midday sun.

Summer infections and diseases

There are some infections associated with some, many of which are food-borne or insect-borne. In the US, the West Nile virus is spread by mosquitoes, whereas spoiled meat at the grill leads to food poisoning.

Rare but well-publicized risks

Lightning strikes and shark attacks are summer risks that are very unlikely to happen. However, when they do, they tend to get publicized and cause unnecessary alarm to the public.
According to National Safety Council spokesman John Ulczycki

“The topical rather than the important hazards tend to get the most attention. People may misinterpret or misunderstand where the real risk is.”

So let’s not use all the summer health risks we hear to refrain from being active this summer. We have to take care but we don’t have to be scared.

To put things into perspective….

“… for every one unfortunate who met his end in the jaws of a shark, at least 1,000 drowned; and while 201 people nationwide died of West Nile infection in 2002, car crashes killed nearly 43,000.

Coming next: ways of staying active despite the summer heat.

Ohoto credit: stock.xchng

Common Health Risks From Obesity

August 22, 2007 by  
Filed under OBESITY

Nutrition and health science is constantly evolving, and it often seems as if the latest study contradicts earlier ones. It’s hard to know what to believe. But, over the last few decades, a wide array of independent studies has tended to confirm some conclusions about the relationship between excess body fat and associated health risks.

The basic conclusion is that anyone who is considerably overweight is at higher risk for a number of potential health problems. These include various forms of heart condition, high blood pressure, diabetes, colon cancer, liver damage, gallstones and others.

But what is ‘considerably overweight’?

There’s no static, ideal weight for any given individual, though there are various factors that provide a healthy range. One measurement that is a good starting point is BMI (Body Mass Index). To calculate it, just divide your weight (in kg) by your height (in m) squared. If you prefer feet, inches and pounds .. try the BMI Calculator site.

The following table is a rough classification:

* Under 18.5 = Underweight
* Between 18.5 and 24.99 = Normal Weight
* Between 25 and 29.99 = Overweight
* Between 30 and 34.99 = Obese (Class 1)
* Between 35 and 39.99 = Obese (Class 2)
* 40 and above = Extreme Obesity

For those on the lower end of the BMI scale, health risks are no more (or at most only moderately higher) than for anyone. Genetic and other environmental factors will outweigh any body fat or weight issues. But for those nearer the higher range, there is strong evidence that health risks are higher.

For example, abdominal obesity (having large fat deposits around the stomach and abdomen) is associated with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and insulin resistance syndrome. For women, a waist circumference of 35 inches or more (40+ in men) is an indicator of abdominal obesity. Among other conditions, high blood pressure, high triglycerides and high cholesterol are all common factors associated with that condition.

Narrowing of the arteries, atherosclerosis, contributes to the possibility of a clot which can cause a stroke. Excessive body fat is one factor in producing that condition. At the same time, it plays a part in increased blood pressure (hypertension).

Rapid weight gain, from 10-20 lbs for the average person, increases the odds of developing Type 2 diabetes. Genetic factors are fundamental, but weight gain plays a role, according to most studies. The risk is double that of an individual who has not had a weight gain, when other factors are held constant.

Liver disease, apart from that associated with excessive alcohol consumption, can be caused by insulin resistance. That resistance is much more likely among those who are obese. There are many studies which have correlated BMI with the degree of liver damage. The higher the BMI, the greater the odds of liver trouble.

Gallstones are more likely to form in those who are obese, and may be correlated with a rapid rise in BMI. Sleep apnea (interruption of breathing during sleep) is another condition commonly linked to obesity.

In short, though no single study is definitive, and there are many genetic and other environmental elements, excessive body fat is a substantial factor in health issues. Being overweight is not merely an issue of acceptable appearance, it’s a health risk.

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.