Tag Archives: cdc

How Light Affects Our Sleep (And Overall Happiness)

moring in prague

Anyone who has ever experienced insomnia can tell you that lack of sleep is one of the cruelest barriers to happiness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 25% of the U.S. population reports not getting enough sleep, and a whopping 10% reports chronic insomnia! Not only are we stressed, sick, and overweight in this country, but we are dangerously under-slept – and all of these circumstances undoubtedly have something to do with one another.

In addition to temperature, stress, and other factors, light has been shown to have a major effect on the circadian rhythm. Timing, intensity, and quality of light all play into either promoting or detracting from healthy sleep patterns. Imagine the difficulty night shift workers have to establish their sleep cycles! But even those of us who work regular hours and expect our sleep time to comfortably overlap with the dark hours can be negatively impacted by a disturbance in our light exposure. Think: computer and cellphone screens, artificial light, television, and the like.

Doctors and scientists in recent decades have developed light therapy treatment for various issues, including sleep disorders, and their results are promising. One study published in the American Psychological Association journal reported patients’ improvement in circadian rhythms after two hours of bright light exposure in the morning in conjunction with light restriction around bedtime. Another study published in Biological Psychiatry reported that bright light therapy can reduce the incidence of relapse in patients after other forms of sleep therapy – the results of which, by the way, may have a major affect of reducing depressive symptoms in patients with depression. The future looks bright, indeed.

Bright light therapy has also been shown to help treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), as well as reduce the incidence of behavioral disorders in patients suffering from dementia. All evidence points to the fact that light gravely affects not only our sleep patterns, but also our minds, emotions, and overall pursuit of happiness. With that in mind, it’s heartening to know that there may be measures we can take, which include light therapy, to increase overall health and wellness.

 Here are some tips on promoting sleep health with light therapy:

  1. Put your phone, computer, and television away after dark, or at least close to bedtime. Those moments right before bed might seem like the perfect time to catch up on email or your favorite show, but doing so may inhibit your ability to fall asleep. So save it for the morning, and pick up a book or sketch pad, instead.
  2. Go to sleep a bit earlier to align your sleep rhythm more closely with the day. This is hard to do, especially if you’re a parent, student, or busy professional. But going to sleep earlier might just allow you to wake up a bit earlier, too, and not lose an inch of productivity!
  3. Try using candlelight and natural light as much as possible. Artificial light has been implicated in the growth of sleep disorders – and again, much of this has to do with laptops and television screens. Turn it off, unplug, and opt for natural light.
  4. Make sure your bedroom is lit (and unlit) as much as possible by natural light. For instance, keep it dark after dark and around bedtime, but be sure the morning sunlight makes it in, as well. Exposure to bright light upon awakening, as we mentioned, can help promote healthy circadian rhythms. So let the light in!

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This 12-Year-Old is Seriously Fed Up with Unhealthy School Lunches

Screen Shot 2013-08-23 at 11.24.43 AMIf your child came to you and asked if he could starting bringing lunch to school instead of eating cafeteria food, what would you say? What if the school lunches were free and the school district promoted them as “healthy and delicious” with mouth-watering photos and descriptions?

Zachary Maxwell was in 4th grade when he decided his days of school lunches were coming to an end, but his parents weren’t convinced. “It’s free! And it looks pretty good on the online menu.” Zachary would not back down, though, and went undercover to expose the inconsistencies in his school’s lunch menu as compared to the actual food that was served.

Oh, and Zachary is hilarious and so smart. Check it out!

“Yuck” is right! Would you eat that food?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more that one third of children and adolescents in the United States are overweight or obese. Though there may be some genetic factors associated with weight, nutrition and physical activity play a major role in maintaining a healthy weight and cardiovascular health. No matter how you look at it, pizza and cheese sticks do little to help kids stay healthy, let alone give them the nutrients and energy needed to get through a demanding school day.

Do Zachary’s school lunches look like something you’d want to feed to your kids? Is it really too expensive or inconvenient to offer children healthy eating options? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below!

What’s the Deal with Salt? New Report Suggests We’ve Been Worrying Too Much

nobodylistensWe have long been warned about the dangers of sodium, including the frightening risks of heart attack, stroke, and cardiovascular disease. But according to a new report commissioned by the Institute of Medicine under the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these warnings may be misguided.

Moderation in all things is wise, but according to the expert panel, there is no need to limit sodium beyond about 2,300 milligrams a day. As reported by the New York Times, chairman of the committee Dr. Brian L. Strom confirmed, “As you go below the 2,300 mark, there is an absence of data in terms of benefit and there begin to be suggestions in subgroup populations about potential harms.” These “potential harms” include increased rate of heart attacks and risk of death – exactly counter to what was previously believed!

The average daily intake of sodium in America is roughly 3,400 milligrams, equivalent to about 1.5 teaspoons of salt. US dietary guidelines have traditionally encouraged people to aim for 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams of sodium a day. To put that in perspective, if your day’s eating included two eggs for breakfast, a peanut butter sandwich for lunch, yogurt and an apple as a snack, salmon and rice for dinner, and a chocolate chip cookie for dessert (and you haven’t added any salt, sauces, or toppings), you would have only consumed just under 800 milligrams of sodium. Once you start piling on fast food, condiments, processed snacks and the like, that number will easily spike up. One cup of canned chicken noodle soup has over 1,100 milligrams of sodium…So you can see our point.

If there’s no need to heavily limit sodium anyways, though, then what’s keeping us from an all-out salt binge? The first question on our minds was: are there any conflicts of interest in this report? If the organization sponsoring the panel were simultaneously receiving funding from Coke, say, or a fast food corporation, we would have cause to be skeptical. The Institute of Medicine, however, is a non-profit, non-governmental organization, and their mission is to provide the most rigorous and unbiased health information possible.

Either way, this new information about sodium should not act as an open invitation to load your plate with table salt. If you maintain a healthy, balanced diet, then continue doing whatever you’re doing! If you’ve been stressing about sodium all your life, maybe relax a bit on that and focus more on eating wholesome food that fills and nourishes you. If you have eating habits you’d like to shake, then stay positive and set some realistic goals for yourself. At the end of the day, healthy eating is easier and a lot more fun than counting this or that.

What do you think of these findings? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!

Global Poitics Meets Public Health

Recently, the Wall Street Journal showcased the polio eradication effort in Afghanistan where it’s more than just a process of disseminating vaccines.  It requires dealing with local tribal leaders, overcoming challenging security issues, and working within the tense political climate pervading parts of Afghanistan.  Global politics meets public health meets diplomacy, you could say.  Or simply put, it’s ‘vaccination diplomacy.’


To read the full article and see the photospread, click on the following URL:



Blackened Pinkies- In Vogue

 Blackened pinkies- they’re in vogue…

Once a month, in train stations, at schools, in slums, at the markets, there’s a search for clean pinkies.  If spotted, they don’t stay clean for long.  They’re quickly tarnished by a UNICEF worker.  No clean pinkies are allowed for little boys and girls.  Blackened pinkies are the vogue these days.
Because blackened pinkies are the mark of a child who’s been vaccinated for polio.
Tracking a child in a world without hospital records, school registration forms, and even birth certificates at times is a tough task.  But that’s the target of health workers in UP and Bihar in India.  They plough through neighborhoods, trek through farms to rural homes, attend local schools, and weave through train stations, looking for newborns and young children (ages 5 and below).  
With populations nearing one million in these ‘small’ cities, the challenge is monumental.  Plus, women on the periphery of town, in the rural areas, have children without hospital care or even a midwife.  There’s no record for these children- who are they? where do they live? when were they born? who are their parents?  These details aren’t easily found in medical forms.
They don’t all go to school either; in fact, many don’t.  They spend their days wandering about the neighborhood with children their age, trying to keep themselves amused.  Some follow their parents to work- a roadside shop perhaps.  So, how do you find them?  How do you track them?  They don’t have a seat in school.  They’re not on a roll call sheet.
And then, there are the migrants.  Smoke spews from factories along the main road, factories for brick-making.  At base of these towers, workers take root albeit for just a few months.  In tents, they live with their families.  And once their term at that kiln is finished, they’ll migrate to a different one- and they’ll take their children with them. Another labourer will arrive.  He may have a wife.  He may have a child too.  But, again, there’s no record for that child.  People are easily replaceable in the brick-making business.
So, how do you track those without roots? How do you track people who are constantly on the move?
That’s where blackened pinkies help.  They may move ten kilometers away or to the other side of the state, but the child’s pinky will remain blackened- a sign that he/she’s been vaccinated for polio.
The polio virus doesn’t always manifest itself.  But it remains alive and relies on carriers.  Children are its vehicle to go from one body to another, one neighborhood to another, one state to another.  Like any other virus, it doesn’t respect boundaries.  That’s why it’s crucial to vaccinate every child.  But in a country of millions of children, that’s no easy venture.
Local Rotary clubs have joined the trend- painting pinkies.  So many of our friends who have returned from these trips are now painting pinkies at events, honoring those who donate to this cause.  Whether it’s a penny or a grand, each one is entitled to a painted pinky.  Join the cause.  Contact a local Rotary club and see if they’re participating.  I’m sure they’d be happy to stain your finger for polio.



Polio Eradication 101

First off, thanks to Gotham for introducing me to Intent.com and to Mallika for having me on board.  Appreciate it.

This February, I had the chance to participate in an incredible program- PolioPlus.  I traveled to India with a team to give out polio vaccines in cities outside of Delhi.   Needless to say, it was a memorable experience.  After coming back, I’ve been trying to spread the word about polio- a disease that’s largely been forgotten in the developed world.  So, I’ll be using this venue to post articles, information, and hopefully, some interviews with the experts working on polio eradication.

Many have heard about the efforts to control malaria.  The latest Twitter throwdown between CNN and Kutcher generated lots of buzz about malaria and malaria nets.  Economics and development guru Jeffrey Sachs has long been an advocate of the $10 malaria nets.

Polio, though, hasn’t garnered as much media attention- largely because the battle has been going on for very long and it hasn’t attracted much celebrity attention in recent years.

So, let’s begin with a 101 on polio:

What is it?

Polio attacks the nervous system and causes paralysis (in many forms, some more serious than others).  It’s a virus that’s largely submitted from human-to-human contact.  The biggest challenge is that many people can be a carrier of the virus but not show any signs of paralysis (so the virus stays alive w/o necessarily being active and manifesting itself).

Where’s it happening?

India, Nigeria, Pakistan,  Afghanistan

What are we doing about it?

Four organizations have come together to take on the fight against polio, each offering their own expertise and resources: WHO, UNICEF, Rotary, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control

The effort’s been going on since 1988- that’s 20 plus years and counting.

What can you do?

1. It may sound silly to ask for money in these economic times but one of the crucial needs in the eradication effort is funds.

Each vaccine for a child costs 60 cents.  That’s two drops of the vaccine and that’s all a child needs.  So, the smallest donations make a difference.

2. For those who can’t support financially, you should write to your congressman/woman, urging them to support the cause.  Spread the word in whatever fashion- through word of mouth, online, blogging, etc.

This year, the governments of Great Britain and Germany each gave 100 GBP and 100 EUR, respectively.  Plus, the Gates Foundation has just awarded Rotary a grant of $255 million.

These institutions/ governments are supporting Rotary and its partners because they’ve shown results in the past: they’ve eliminated polio from 122 countries in the world and reduced the number of cases by 99 percent.  They’re effective.  And that’s why we should be making some ‘noise’ about this program- it’s an example of how by pure volunteerism a disease can be wiped out…

Why do we care?  Because viruses don’t see national boundaries and geographic limits.  Plus, it’s a life-long disease.  So, you’re giving people the chance to walk limp-free, crutch-free for a lifetime.

This is just the beginning.  Stay tuned for more on polio.  Till then, check out: http://www.rotary.org/en/ServiceAndFellowship/Polio/HelpEradicatePolio/Pages/ridefault.aspx

A few side notes:

I’d like to dedicate this blog to Prachi and her family- hope that our efforts help in some small way.

Photo of the vaccine courtesy of Randy Butler- one of the members on the 2009 team and a fantastic photographer!

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