Scanning some recent health-related headlines

The most amazing thing about the recent report on the health of regular nut eaters was not its conclusion that nut consumers were less likely to die then non-nut eaters, the most amazing thing was that the study took 30 years.

In the early 1980s, when the country was grooving to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," the Reagan administration was trying to figure a way out of a recession, and the first MRI machines were appearing in hospitals, the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research & Education Foundation decided to undertake a study that might demonstrate beyond doubt - in 30 years - that nuts are good for you.

That showed some serious patience and farsightedness on the behalf of the nut industry. The payoff, it turns out, is great. Working in conjunction with the National Institutes of Health, the Nut Council demonstrated that people who ate nuts just about every day were 20 percent less likely to die. If you want to market a food, not dying is a good selling point.

The risk of dying of heart disease dropped by nearly one-third among nut lovers, from dying of cancer 11 percent, and nut eaters were on average thinner. They are also probably better looking, more clever and funny, but the study did not look at that. Any tree nut, it appears, will do - walnuts, peanuts, pistachios, almonds. The Harvard study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, tracked 119,000 people.

As luck would have it, I don't eat many nuts. I guess I better start. In the meantime, I am still holding out hope for the long-term potato chip study.

ER waiting times

Another recent health story focused on emergency room waiting times. Windham Hospital had an average waiting time of 14 minutes before a patient gets to see a health care provider, the quickest, while Hartford Hospital had the longest at 82 minutes. (Regular nut eaters, I suspect, had shorter waiting times - not that they ever have to go a hospital).

Other hospitals with long waiting times included Waterbury at 72 minutes and Bridgeport at 71 minutes. I cannot say I was shocked that you can expect to wait much longer in a hospital in a crowded urban setting than at a predominately rural one.

The story talked about steps hospitals are taking to reduce waiting times, trying to buck a national trend of increasing wait times.

Most people I know expect that any visit to an emergency room is going to result in a long wait - unless you're at risk of dying and can't be ignored by ER personnel (not a good trade off to save time). ERs are to be avoided if possible.

It will help if the Affordable Care Act achieves the desired result of assuring most people have health insurance, ending the practice of uninsured patients using ERs as health clinics for routine care.

Whooping cough is back

A third recent health item concerned the re-emergence of pertussis, more commonly called whooping cough. Health officials diagnosed four cases in East Lyme- three students in high school and one elementary aged. After near eradication in this country following development of a vaccine in the 1940s, the disease is re-emerging among children.

Health officials recorded outbreaks nationally in each of the last three years, including a 58-year high in 2012, with 50,000 cases nationally, including 20 deaths. Connecticut had 156 cases. The uncontrollable coughing can be deadly, particularly in infants.

There is no need for it. Children are protected if the parents get them the vaccine and booster shots. Unfortunately, and without scientific basis, some parents have concluded the series of vaccines children receive to immunize them from disease are harmful and avoid them. This practice is more prevalent among the educated and affluent. It endangers their kids and others.

It is also nutty.

Paul Choiniere is editorial page editor.


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