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March 2nd, 2010
05:32 PM ET

Half of all cohabiting couples marry within 3 years

By Caitlin Hagan
CNN Medical Associate Producer

Things are getting pretty serious between John, 30, and Lindsay, 26, a college-educated couple in Boston who have been dating for almost two years. They've been talking about moving in together since September but Lindsay has only recently become comfortable with the idea. Now she's actively searching for someone to sublet her apartment.

"I've lived on my own...for the last four years and I've had eight different roommates, " says Lindsay. "I'm kind of at the point that I'm spending so much time at my boyfriend's house, my apartment is like a closet to me."

It's a question most couples battle with at some point in a serious relationship. Now data from a new CDC report on marriage and cohabitation trends in the United States offer hope for couples like John and Lindsay. The report looked at survey responses from more than 12,000 men and women aged 15-44 living in households in 2002. It found that more than half of all couples who moved in together were married within three years, so long as each partner had at least a college degree. Couples without degrees were likely to stay together for at least three years, but not get married, provided they had never lived with a partner before.

"The more I thought about us living together, it just seemed right, " says Lindsay. "We've talked about this a lot, talked about our future, talked about marriage."

While living together has become an increasingly popular option among couples, there is some evidence that living together before becoming engaged does not always work out for the best. The CDC report found that waiting to live together increased the chances of a couple staying married for 10 years. For example, 71 percent of men and 65 percent of women who were engaged at the time they moved in together were still married after 10 years but couples who moved in before getting engaged only had 55 percent chance of staying married for a decade.

But that's not stopping John or Lindsay from continuing with their plans.

"I see myself with him for the future," says Lindsay. "And he has said he sees his future with me. For us, this is taking our relationship to the next level."

And never living with or being married to someone else before bodes well for John and Lindsay's future. The CDC report also found that roughly two-thirds of first-time marriages lasted a decade while one-third ended in separation before the 10-year mark.

"I'm super excited," says Lindsay. "It's scary as much as it is exciting but it's a life change, too."

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


March 2nd, 2010
03:56 PM ET

Most vaccinate but many worry

By Miriam Falco
CNN Medical Managing Editor

Even though more than 90 percent of parents believe that vaccinations are a good way to protect their children from disease, more than half of the parents also believe vaccines cause serious side effects, a new survey has found.

The belief that vaccines can cause serious harm troubles many experts.

"Nearly one in four parents has the erroneous belief that vaccines cause autism in healthy children," says Dr. Gary Freed, primary author of the study and a pediatrician and director of Pediatrics and Communicable Diseases in the Division of General Pediatrics at the University of Michigan Health System.

The notion that vaccines cause autism persists, which has strong roots in a now-discredited 1998 study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield.  The study, which suggested that the measles vaccine caused gastrointestinal problems and that those GI problems led to autism, was retracted last month after Wakefield was found to have conducted the research in an unethical manner.  There are also many parents who believe vaccines cause autism because their children’s symptoms appear at the same time they get a lot of childhood vaccinations.

One of the most visible parents is actress and author Jenny McCarthy, who tells TIME magazine  that while she doesn’t believe all vaccines are bad, she swears her son Evan will never get vaccinated again.

Freed cautions:  “There's a real danger that some of the people the media turn to for scientific information are celebrities.”

Dr. Meg Fisher, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics, which published the study, says she's not surprised that so many parents worry about side effects from vaccines. "It's something pediatricians have been noticing over the past several years," says Fisher, who chairs the Department of Pediatrics at the Children's Hospital at Monmouth Medical Center in Long Branch, New Jersey. She says she's not surprised that so many parents worry about side effects from vaccines. "It's something pediatricians have been noticing over the past several years.” "The fact that a quarter of parents still believe vaccines cause autism is obviously of great concern." She says "people are still not getting the message that science shows there's no basis for these concerns.

Dr. Max Wiznitzer, a pediatric neurologist at Rainbow Babies & Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, says "the medical community needs to be proactive in getting accurate information to the public because in today's day in age anybody can say something – the accuracy has to be determined before we draw any conclusions.”

He tells parents “Don't believe a word I say.  Here are the resources – you have to be educated."  He says parents need to be directed to reliable resources and when they are, they come back and they tell him he is right about getting their child vaccinated.

Fisher also believes pediatricians need to take the time and address the concerns of parents and point them to more reliable sources of information. "For me that would be the AAP Web site (www.aap.org)  – the immunization Web site [on the APP site] and the CDC Web site (www.cdc.gov),” Fisher says.

The survey also found that 11.5 percent refused at least one of the vaccines recommended for their child.  Those who refused at least one vaccine for child appeared more concerned about newer vaccines, particularly vaccines that prevent HPV (the FDA approved Gardasil in 2006 and Cervarix in 2009).

Women were more likely to think that vaccines cause serious side effects and specifically that vaccines cause autism, according to the study, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

Freed says parents want to do the right thing for their children, but some don't understand the diseases that vaccines can prevent can kill or permanently damage their children.

"I took care of a child that died of measles and that was a horrible and tragic thing to have happen. It was a tragedy for the child and it was a tragedy for the parents because it was a totally preventable death."

Wiznitzer points out that just a last week, a college student at Ohio University died from meningitis.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, college students living in dormitories are among the high-risk groups who should get vaccinated for meningitis because bacterial meningitis can spread very quickly, especially among those living in close quarters.

Dr. William Schaffner, the chairman of Preventive Medicine and the Division of Infectious Diseases at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and a liaison member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), which advises the CDC on vaccines, says that some parents don't realize that it's not just about their child.  Some children can't get vaccinated because they are too young or too frail because of illnesses such as  cancer.  The  only way to protect those who can't be protected is by vaccinating those children who can be, so they don't infect the others.

Freed's study concludes that parents need to understand the true danger from the diseases the vaccines are designed to prevent and that pediatricians need to do a better job of explaining them. 

Schaffner would take it one step further.  He wants children in middle and high school to learn about the importance of vaccines and what they can do, so that when they become young parents will be more educated.  "Unless you teach about those things, those young parents will continue to have questions." Schaffner concedes it’s a long-term project, but "something I want to work on."

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


March 2nd, 2010
11:50 AM ET

Asthma advances

By Saundra Young
CNN Medical Senior Producer

23 million Americans, 7 million of those children, struggle with asthma.  The statistics are sobering.  Every day in the United States, 30,000 people have an asthma attack. 40,000 miss school or work because of the disease, emergency rooms see 5,000 asthma patients; 1,000 of those will actually be admitted to the hospital and 11 people will die.  Every day.  It's one of the country's most common, and most costly diseases.

During an asthma attack the smooth muscle around your trachea, or windpipe, constricts, squeezing down and causing shortness of breath and chest tightness.  There is no cure for this chronic disease, and for those who suffer with severe, persistent, debilitating asthma, quality of life can be downright miserable.  Treatment has been limited to medications that are often short lived and can potentially have side effects.

But according to Dr. Mario Castro, a pulmonologist at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri,  a breakthrough is close at hand.  Castro led a clinical trial testing the first ever non-drug treatment for severe asthma.  It's called bronchial thermoplasty and he contends that it actually prevents attacks (watch Dr. Sanjay Gupta's report here).

"What bronchial thermoplasty does is it allows us to go down into your windpipes, into your bronchial tubes and deliver a very controlled energy, a controlled heat to the lining of your windpipe," Castro said, "What it results in is that the muscle, the smooth muscle around your windpipe is decreased in the amount and size."

There are three treatments, three weeks apart and no overnight hospital stay.  Nearly 300 patients participated in the largest trial of it's kind here in the United States.  Those who actually got the treatment logged 84 percent fewer visits to the emergency room than the patients who didn't. 

Jenny and Michael McLeland, severe asthma sufferers their entire lives, were both got the thermoplasty.

Both of us experienced a huge change in our asthma symptoms." Jenny said. "The summer following our treatments we did RAGBRAI, which is a weeklong bike ride up in Iowa.  So it involved biking about 550 miles and camping over an entire weekend.  Prior to the treatment I couldn't sleep outside. I couldn't sit in the grass without getting wheezy.  So to be able to make it through an entire week with no problems was just phenomenal."

 Two and a half years after the treatment, Jenny hasn't had to make a single visit to the ER.  And Michael says he can't put a price on his new-found quality of life.

"I feel like I'm 18, 19 years old and doing anything, it feels like I can do anything I want to now.  I've done things that I didn't think I would be able to do. The quality of life– the expenses I don't have to worry about anymore, just kind of the emergency room costs and the physician costs and the medication was expensive."

Dr. Norman Edelman, chief medical officer of the American Lung Association, says anything new that will help these patients is an important advance.

"It's a new concept. Nobody up until now has thought of dealing with asthma by changing the anatomy of the lung.'  But Edelman cautions there is a downside.  "It's a complex procedure.  Local physicians who treat asthma will not be ready to use the technique."

An FDA advisory committee has already recommended approval on several conditions—such as doctors getting the proper training and requiring that the procedure be performed only at a facility with full resuscitation equipment.  The FDA is still  considering the recommendation.

So, if you're on the highest dose of your asthma medication and feeling like there's no where else to go, help could be just around the corner.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


March 2nd, 2010
10:55 AM ET

Not all snacks are created equal

By Matt Sloane
CNN Medical Producer

For many American adults, the snack was a childhood institution. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon and after school, they were just a part of life. Those provided by schools were often pretty healthy. But more often than not, snacks from home were less so - a pudding cup, processed cheese and crackers (with that little red plastic stick for spreading), cookies or even chips. According to new research, it's only gotten more important in kids' lives today. Researchers at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill followed more than 30,000 kids from age 2 to age 18, and found that almost 98 percent of them snacked on a regular basis – sometimes as often as three times per day. They also concluded that, on average, snacks are responsible for 27 percent of our children's calories each day.

"Kids are eating 187 more calories per day in snacks than they were in 1977," said Carmen Piernas, the study's co-author, "and the snacks they're eating are largely high-fat, low-nutrient foods."

Well of course! What could a kid possibly want more than a high-fat, low-nutrient snack wrapped in pretty packaging, that tastes amazing??

But, Piernas says, those low-nutrient snacks can add up to hundreds of empty calories per day, and she is putting the onus on parents to change these habits.

"The message we are sending to parents is: Cut snacking down to once or twice per day, depending on activity level, and make them healthy snacks."

Her suggestions? Apple slices, carrot sticks and lowfat milk.

"They are easy to prepare at home, and kids really enjoy them."

Carrot sticks and apple slices may not be as enticing as sweetened cookies and crunchy chips, but serving those may help your child build healthier eating habits.

Editor's Note: Medical news is a popular but sensitive subject rooted in science. We receive many comments on this blog each day; not all are posted. Our hope is that much will be learned from the sharing of useful information and personal experiences based on the medical and health topics of the blog. We encourage you to focus your comments on those medical and health topics and we appreciate your input. Thank you for your participation.


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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.

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