Belly fat. No one wants it, but women are much harder on themselves about extra pounds wrapped around their middle than men are, regardless of how much they weigh. And the more they beat themselves up about their "spare tire," the more likely women are to gain weight in this high-risk area, new research suggests. Visceral (belly) fat wraps around the organs in the abdomen, and is thought to be more dangerous than other types of fat. "This study contributes to a growing evidence base which shows that blaming oneself for one's weight and engaging in self-stigma may be harmful to health, particularly for women," researchers said. This isn't surprising given how societal ideals of female beauty emphasize thinness, researchers said. "Women who have bodies that deviate from this unrealistic ideal are vulnerable to blame, shame and stigma, often publicly, as we see so frequently on social media platforms." They feel like they're at fault, and turn the stigma inward. As a result, women may be more likely to use food as a way to cope with stress and other negative emotions. Researchers set out to understand how self-stigma about weight affects belly fat in men and women. Seventy men and women completed a questionnaire that rates self-stigma about weight on an ascending scale of 1 to 7. Researchers also used scans to measure visceral and total body fat in all participants. Women scored 3.5 on average on this scale, compared with 2.7 among men. For women, each 1-point rise in their score corresponded to an average increase of 0.14 pounds of visceral fat. By contrast, there was no relationship between score and visceral fat in men. Weight stigma is a chronic stressor that forces people to churn out higher levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn leads to the accumulation of more visceral fat and greater risk for heart disease, the researchers concluded. The ultimate goal should be to eliminate weight stigma, researchers said. Unless and until this happens, it's important to raise awareness of the harms of weight stigma and provide more support for people who are experiencing weight stigma, researchers said. Internalizing weight bias may also lead to avoidance of doctors, reports noted. Women may feel judged about their weight by health care professionals and avoid medical care as a result, researchers said. Obesity is not caused by laziness or lack of willpower. Instead, it is sired by a complex relationship between your genes, your hormones, your choices and your environment, he said. The study did have its share of limitations. It only measured the relationship between self-stigma and belly fat at one point in time, which makes it difficult to determine cause and effect, the release said. The findings will be presented this weekend at the American Heart Association's annual online meeting. Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Parents who want to read to their toddlers and give them a developmental boost ought to pick up a traditional paper book rather than an e-book on a tablet, a new study reported. Toddlers are more likely to interact with their parents when they're sharing a paper children's book rather than a tablet, University of Michigan researchers found. Parents also tended to talk more to their children when reading from a paper book. Further, unruly children prone to emotional outbursts responded better to their parents when reading from print versus digital. The point of reading to your child isn't just what's on the page, but the experience you're having with them, child development experts explained. Your children will learn reading skills in school, but often they come to associate reading with work, not fun. The best thing parents can do to encourage children to love books and reading is to read aloud to them. And don't stop reading aloud to them once they have learned to read for themselves. Read to your child every day-even if only for a few minutes. It is your time together. Reading should be fun. You don’t have to finish a story if your child loses interest. Let your child choose the book even if it means reading the same book over and over. Invite your child to “read” to you from a familiar book that he has memorized from having heard it so often read to him. Stop and ask about the illustrations or what your child thinks will happen next. The answers may amaze you. Read from a variety of children's books, including fairy tales, poetry, and nursery rhymes. Follow your child’s interests in choosing the books. There are many great books on non-fiction subjects such as the ocean or dogs. Join your local library.
A holiday visit with older relatives might be a good chance to help them remove fall risks in their home, an expert suggests. Older adults' risk of falling may have increased during the pandemic due to declines in physical activity and mobility, along with increased isolation, a poll shows. Many also became more fearful of falling, which, in turn, can increase the risk. "Taking steps now to reduce fall risk in their homes could prevent catastrophic injury and hospitalization," said a fall researcher and assistant professor of nursing at the university. Older people whose mobility declined during the first part of the pandemic were 70% more likely to say they'd had a fall in that time, and twice as likely to express a fear of falling, the poll revealed. "Even if an older adult has gotten more active since getting vaccinated, their risk of falling could still be higher than it would have been if the pandemic hadn't increased their inactivity or isolation," university news release said. The following are some tips on fall-proofing older adults' homes:
- Rugs and mats: Cut pieces of non-skid material to fit underneath small throw rugs and mats. If they already have non-skid material, check that it still grips the floor. Throw rugs/mats should only be used on bare floors, not on top of carpet. Make sure bath mats have rubber backing in good condition.
- Furniture placement: Offer to help move furniture and other objects to create wider walking paths.
- Bathrooms: A grab rail in the tub/shower is a good idea, along with a rubber mat with suction cups or a stool with non-skid feet. If possible, a walk-in shower is much better than a tub.
- Lighting: Dark hallways, stairways, closets with high shelves and outdoor steps are fall risk areas. Install brighter light bulbs or new fixtures that take multiple bulbs. Add motion sensors so lights come on automatically when someone enters the area, and consider night lights that come on when it gets dark or have a motion sensor.
- Safe reaching: Encourage use of a folding step stool that has multiple steps and a high hand rail instead of a small stool or chair when seniors want to reach things on high shelves or change a light bulb, clock or smoke/carbon monoxide detector batteries.
- Sensible storage: Help them reorganize storage to place items on lower shelves, even if they're only used occasionally.
- Railings and steps: Check railings on stairways and porch steps to make sure they're securely anchored. If steps can become slippery, add stick-on traction strips.
- Seasonal decor: Offer to bring holiday decorations and lights from the attic, an upstairs room or basement, and to help put them up.
- Ice problems: Make sure older adults have a good supply of de-icer or sand to use on steps, walkways and driveways. For those who can't easily lift a heavy jug, transfer the de-icer or sand to a container with a lid and add a scoop so they can scatter it more easily.
- Snow removal: Make sure their snowblower is in good working order and that shovels, car scrapers and brushes are close at hand and in good shape. If an older person uses a shovel, it should have a back-saving handle to provide more stability when shoveling and prevent muscle strains.
- More outdoor hazards: Make sure outdoor lights work and have automatic sensors. Check doormats to make sure they won't slip. Clean gutters above entrances so melting snow doesn't collect on steps and form ice.
Planning ahead will reduce the risk of allergies and asthma interfering with your holiday plans, an expert says. "In addition to concerns about COVID-19, those with allergies and asthma sometimes have an added layer of anxiety because they need to always be thinking about allergy and asthma triggers that can cause serious symptoms," said the president of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI). "With a bit of preparation ahead of your events, you can make sure everyone is safe from allergy and asthma flares, in addition to possible COVID-19 exposure," an ACAAI news release said. The medical association offered a number of tips: In addition to a COVID vaccine or booster, consider a flu shot this year. The flu can make asthma symptoms more severe, so it's recommended that anyone with asthma get a flu vaccine. Think twice about using candles or lighting the fireplace. Smoke of any kind can be a problem for people with asthma. And while products such as air fresheners, artificial snow, potpourri and other scents are not technically allergic triggers, they can irritate already inflamed airways. Food is an essential part of holiday celebrations, but it can be risky for those with food allergies. If you or a family member have a food allergy and you're going to a gathering, you should alert the host about potential problem foods, bring a safe dish or two to share, and be sure you have your epinephrine auto injectors with you. Some people are allergic to the terpene in the sap of trees or bothered by mold found in trees and wreaths. Artificial trees don't pose those problems, but can trigger dust allergies if they're not cleaned off. The same is true of other holiday decorations. Take prescribed medications before you leave the house, and work with your allergist if your allergies or asthma symptoms seem particularly bad.
A return to a more normal holiday season may also mean higher stress levels, so an expert offers some coping tips. Don't get too focused on buying the perfect presents, making the best dinner or planning the perfect party. Try to be mindful of pleasant things and moments, a health and wellness studies lecturer at Binghamton University, State University of New York suggested. "Being mindful requires you to be present and aware. It is impossible to be in the moment when you are focused on what is next or stuck in could have, would have, should have," a university news release said. "Being mindful requires intentionality, so try an easy breathing exercise next time you find yourself mindlessly going through your day," the news release suggested. "Few things bring us into the moment like our breath. There are so many techniques out there, but something as simple as taking several deep breaths can be effective." Try to adopt an attitude of gratitude. "Gratitude is more than simply being thankful," the news release said. It requires intentionally seeking goodness in your life and understanding that goodness comes from both inside and outside of ourselves, she explained. "Gratitude is a powerful positive emotion, and science shows when we practice gratitude, we experience numerous benefits. It improves sleep habits, cultivates happiness, reduces the stress hormone cortisol and improves mental health," the news release said. "A great exercise we can all do is to take a little time in the next few weeks to reflect upon what and who we are truly and genuinely thankful for. Being grateful will help us see the holidays through a different lens. I encourage everyone to find a way to let people in your life know you are grateful for them and why." It's also important to set healthy boundaries by not saying yes to every party, dinner, present or other holiday request, she added. "First, reflect on what your boundaries are. Surprisingly, many people can't tell you their boundaries because they have never given themselves time to think about them," the news release said. "Once you acknowledge what your boundaries are, you need to communicate them assertively and directly. Remember, you can be assertive without forgoing compassion and kindness. If you do not communicate your boundaries, then you can't expect people to respect them," the news release said. "You can anticipate that some people may be taken aback by your boundaries, but remember that you are not responsible for others' actions," the release suggested. "Do not fall into the trap of believing that setting a boundary is selfish. It's an act of self-love, as it acknowledges your self-worth."