home
RSS
April 26th, 2010
08:41 PM ET

Unhealthy behaviors can triple, quadruple death risk

By Ann J. Curley
CNN Medical News Assignment Manager

It’s no secret that certain lifestyle behaviors can have a negative impact on our health. A new study in the  Archives of Internal Medicine finds that the combined impact of smoking, physical inactivity, alcohol consumption, and eating a diet low in fruits and vegetables, can triple or quadruple our chances of death compared with practicing none of those behaviors.

Norwegian researchers interviewed 4,886 adult individuals in the United Kingdom in 1984 to 1985. Researchers calculated a health behavior score based on whether the individuals smoked, drank alcoholic beverages, ate fruits and vegetables in their diet, and participated in physical activity. One point was given for each behavior. Participants were followed for a mean period of 20 years. 1080 participants died, 431 from cardiovascular disease, 318 from cancer, and 331 from other causes. Each negative behavior  combined to increase the risk of death, especially smoking.

Lead study author Elisabeth Kvaavik, Ph.D., of the Department of Nutrition at the University of Oslo, Norway, described the significance of their study as showing that “health behaviors work together to have a combined effect on risk of dying that is quite strong and significant.”

“Doing all four poor behaviors increased the risk of dying between three and four times depending on cause of death, compared with having none of these poor behaviors," according to Kvaavik. "But also having, for instance, two poor and two healthy behaviors, doubles the risk of dying compared to having only healthy behaviors.”

Kvaavik said that one of the most interesting findings of their study is that “having all these poor behaviors had the same effect on risk of death as being 12 years older.”

Modestly changing behaviors can have a big health impact. Kvaavik says she wants people to learn that “…modest improvements in all these lifestyle factors may significantly reduce the risk of dying and improve health."

Specifically, she mentioned eating  fruit and vegetables more than three times daily, quitting smoking, exercising two hours or more per week (or about half an hour per day) as well as limiting alcohol to  two glasses of wine or beer per day for women and three glasses for men. These goals, she said, should be achievable for most, otherwise healthy, people.

"It is not necessary to do strenuous exercising, eat very many vegetables or to totally avoid alcohol to improve health. Modest improvements will help," she said.

She notes one exception to her guidance on modest behavior. “Smoking should be avoided, as this is the factor with the strongest individual effect on health of those studied here. That only modest improvements will reduce the risk of an early death may encourage many to try changing their lifestyles.”

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.


April 26th, 2010
02:41 PM ET

Genes may influence how much you smoke

By Elizabeth Landau
CNN.com Health Writer/Producer

New research suggests that  smoking habits may have genetic influences. Although the effect is subtle, the findings highlight that genes are important in influencing cigarette consumption, said Helena Furberg, assistant professor of genetics at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, one of the authors.

Three new studies collectively looked at data from more than 140,000 people who had some measure of smoking behavior. They found genetic regions associated with the quantity of cigarettes that people smoke daily. The research appeared in the online version of the journal Nature Genetics.

Researchers from the University of North Carolina, Oxford University and the Icelandic company deCODE conducted the studies.

A single-letter variation in the sequence of the human genome was previously found to be associated with nicotine addiction and risk of lung cancer. Scientists found this on chromosome 15, an area that harbors three nicotine receptor genes. This area also figured prominently in the new smoking analysis.

The individuals studied all had European ancestry, but researchers are going to expand their study to people of African and Hispanic origin, Furberg said.

These genetic associations are not deterministic, she said. If someone has these genetic variations, that does not mean he or she will smoke, or have a hard time quitting. And the idea of genetic personalization may be far off.

"At this point, if you’re trying to quit smoking, don’t wait until we have personalized therapy," she said.

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.


April 26th, 2010
12:15 AM ET

Watching R-rated movies, early alcohol use linked

By Caitlin Hagan
CNN Medical Associate Producer

It's a scary headline for parents of middle – schoolers. A new study in the Journal on Studies of Alcohol and Drugs found among middle -school-aged kids who were allowed to watch restricted R-rated movies whenever they wanted, almost a quarter started drinking alcohol early. Only 3 percent of middle – schoolers who were never allowed to watch R-rated movies engaged in early onset drinking. The researchers were looking at whether there was an association between parental restriction of R-rated movies and alcohol use early in life.

"Behavior is complicated and there are lots of things that contribute to why you do something," explains Dr. Susanne E. Tanski, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Dartmouth Medical School and lead author of the study. "But seeing things onscreen makes behaviors more normal."

The study used data from nearly 2,400 middle – school students. At baseline, none of the participants reported previous alcohol use. Researchers followed up with the teens between 13-26 months later, asking whether they had alcohol without parental consent and how often their parents allowed them to watch R-rated movies.

The study did not measure how often the teens were drinking, only whether they were. It also did not ask whether the teens developed any problem behaviors related to alcohol use.

A similar association has been well documented with tobacco use but not all experts agree on how great the media's role is in the development of these behaviors.

"The longer you can wait to have your children exposed to illicit drugs and alcohol, the less of a chance they're going to have significant problems later," says Dr. Scott Teitelbaum, an associate professor of both Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the University of Florida.

"But when you look at any sporting event you're going to see a predominance of beer commercials, right? Are you going to make the same argument that letting middle – school kids watch sports makes them more likely to drink too?"

"No one is suggesting that R-rated movies alone are the cause of early onset drinking but it's certainly a factor," says Jim Steyer, CEO, Common Sense Media.

"Good news is that parents can really learn from this and set clear rules about what media their kid consume."

Tanski recommends kids consume two hours or less of entertainment media a day. That includes all television, all movies, and online gaming.

"As a mom of two young boys, I recognize how much of a challenge it is," says Tanski.

"But we should know what our kids are consuming in respect to media like we know who their friends are and where they're hanging out."


Advertisement
About this blog

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.

Advertisement
Advertisement