What is Parkinson’s disease?

— Parkinson’s disease is a “progressive disorder of the nervous system,” according to the Mayo Clinic, that primarily affects a patient’s movement. It often starts with a small tremor in the hand or muscle stiffness and gets worse over time. There is no test for Parkinson’s, so it is occasionally misdiagnosed.

What are the symptoms?

Parkinson’s patients often have trouble walking and talking. Symptoms include slowness of movement, a loss of balance and slurred speech. With Parkinson’s disease, “you may have a decreased ability to perform unconscious movements, including blinking, smiling or swinging your arms when you walk,” the Mayo Clinic says. The symptoms are often worse on one side of the body.

Whom does it affect?

Approximately 1 million people have Parkinson’s disease in the United States, according to the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation. Men are more likely to get it than women, and it usually affects people over 50.

What causes Parkinson’s disease?

Your body uses a chemical called dopamine to control movement, according to the National Institutes of Health. Dopamine is produced by neurons in the brain, which begin to die with Parkinson’s disease. With fewer live cells, a dopamine deficit occurs, causing movement issues.

Scientists don’t know what exactly causes these cells to start to deteriorate but believe it’s a combination of genes and environmental causes. About 15% to 25% of Parkinson’s patients have a family member with the disease, the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation says.

In some cases, researchers have identified a single gene mutation that’s passed from generation to generation, according to the Michael J. Fox Foundation. “Mutations in the LRRK2 gene are the greatest genetic contributor to Parkinson’s disease discovered to date,” the site states. But in most cases, the cause is probably a combination of gene mutations.

Studies have also linked chemicals like TCE and PERC to Parkinson’s, though the relationship has not been proved. “A simple exposure to an environmental toxin is never enough to cause Parkinson’s,” the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation states. “In fact, there is no conclusive evidence that any environmental factor, alone, can be considered a cause of the disease.

Can you treat it?

There is no cure for Parkinson’s disease, according to the National Institutes of Health, but doctors can help patients cope with symptoms.

A medication called levodopa is often given to patients to help their brains make more dopamine. It’s often prescribed with carbidopa, which helps bring the levodopa into the brain.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved deep brain stimulation, which is also used to treat depression, to reduce symptoms in Parkinson’s patients. Electrodes are implanted into the brain and connected to a small device that emits programmed pulses to help control movement.

Other patients prefer less invasive forms of therapy like tai chi.

A recent study done at Harvard University found that patients with Parkinson’s improved after researchers transplanted tissue from fetal dopamine cells into their brains. Patients with severe symptoms experienced 50% fewer symptoms in the years after surgery. People who had been taking medication to control their Parkinson’s but found that the medicine no longer worked also saw significant improvements after surgery.

Train your brain to crave healthy food

— It may be possible to rewire your brain so that it wants — craves, even — healthier foods.

How? By following a healthy diet.

We know, that wasn’t the quick fix to afternoon ice cream binges you were hoping for. But this research could lead to a more sci-fi solution to the obesity epidemic.

In a pilot study published Monday in the journal Nutrition & Diabetes, scientists say that changing your eating behavior can actually change how your brain reacts to high-calorie and low-calorie foods.

“We don’t start out in life loving french fries and hating, for example, whole wheat pasta,” senior author Susan Roberts, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Energy Metabolism Laboratory, said in a statement. “This conditioning happens over time in response to eating — repeatedly — what is out there in the toxic food environment.”

So it makes sense that the opposite would also hold true.

Scientists divided 13 overweight and obese participants into two groups: a control group and an experimental group. At the beginning of the study, both groups underwent an fMRI to record their brain activity in response to photos of various foods.

The experimental group then participated in a behavioral intervention program, which included portion-controlled menus and support group sessions. The participants were asked to reduce their calorie intake by 500 to 1,000 calories a day and to follow a high-fiber, high-protein diet to prevent hunger and cravings.

After six months, people in the experimental group had lost an average of 14 pounds, while the control group had lost about 5 pounds.

Both groups again underwent an fMRI scan, and researchers showed the study participants photos of low-calorie and high-calorie foods, such as a turkey sandwich on wheat bread and a container of french fries. They looked at how the participants’ brains responded to these photos, particularly in the striatum, a region known to be associated with the brain’s reward system.

Previous studies have shown that high-calorie, fatty, sugary foods trigger the pleasure center of the brain. That’s why you naturally crave these unhealthy foods: You expect to be rewarded with dopamine for eating them.

But people in the experimental group showed a slightly different response to seeing high-calorie foods after participating in the intervention program. Researchers saw less activity in the striatum when participants were shown these foods and more activity when they were shown lower-calorie foods.

The same did not hold true for the control group.

“There is much more research to be done here, involving many more participants, long-term follow-up and investigating more areas of the brain,” Roberts said. “But we are very encouraged that the weight-loss program appears to change what foods are tempting to people.”


™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Fruit recall affects Costco, Trader Joe’s, Walmart, Kroger stores

If you’ve picked up fruit at Costco, Trader Joe’s, Kroger or Walmart stores recently, keep reading.

Wawona Packing Co. is voluntarily recalling peaches, nectarines, plums and pluots that were packed at its Cutler, California, warehouses between June 1 and July 12, 2014. Wawona believes the products may be contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes.

Costco, Trader Joe’s, Kroger and the Walmart Corp.— which operates Walmart and Sam’s Club stores, have all posted notices about the fruit recall on their websites. So have grocery chains Ralphs and Food 4 Less. The recall is nationwide, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Consumers should look for a sticker on their fruit that says “SWEET 2 EAT,” according to the recall warnings.

Internal testing at Wawona revealed the potential Listeria contamination, the FDA says. The facility was shut down and sanitized; subsequent tests have been negative for the food-borne illness.

“We are aware of no illnesses related to the consumption of these products,” Wawona President Brent Smittcamp said in a statement. “By taking the precautionary step of recalling product, we will minimize even the slightest risk to public health, and that is our priority.”

Trader Joe’s has urged customers not to eat any of these stone fruits— meaning fruits with large pits— and to return them to a nearby store for a full refund.

In addition, Wegmans Food Markets, Inc. has recalled several of its baked goods that contain fruit from Wawona Packing Co. This includes cakes, pies, tarts and other pastries. For a full list, see FDA.gov.

Listeria monocytogenes is a bacterium that can cause Listeriosis. The most common symptoms of Listeriosis are gastrointestinal issues (such as diarrhea), fever and muscle aches. Pregnant women, infants, older adults and people with a weakened immune system are particularly at risk for a more serious infection, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC estimates about 1,600 illnesses and 260 deaths are caused by Listeriosis each year in the United States. Overall, outbreaks have been on the decline since 2001, but the largest in U.S. history occurred in 2011. Cantaloupes from a farm in Colorado sickened 147 people and killed nearly three-dozen.

The farmers responsible recently were sentenced to five years’ probation, including six months of in-home detention.

Tony Gwynn and a habit all too common in baseball

— Padres fans remember Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn’s hitting prowess: 3,141 hits, a .338 batting average and an intense focus at the plate.

What they probably don’t remember is Gwynn using smokeless tobacco throughout his career — a habit, Gwynn told ESPN in 2010, that probably gave him cancer. Gwynn’s use doesn’t specifically come to mind because so many of his fellow Major League Baseball players had the same habit.

A survey administered in 1999 found that close to one-third of rookies starting in the major leagues were already regular smokeless tobacco users. More than two-thirds had tried smokeless tobacco. Other studies found similar rates — about 30% — in the majors in the ’70s and ’80s, though smokeless tobacco use among players began declining in the late 1990s (PDF).

But it wasn’t until 2011 that MLB implemented rules related to smokeless tobacco products. Worried about the message it was sending to young fans, MLB collaborated with the Major League Baseball Players Association to prohibit teams from providing tobacco to players. Players cannot have tobacco tins in their uniforms or do interviews while using chewing tobacco.

Yet the players’ union stopped short of banning tobacco use on the field altogether.

Smokeless tobacco is the general term for two products: chewing tobacco and snuff. Though snuff can be inhaled through the nose, most users place smokeless tobacco in their mouth and suck on it, periodically spitting out the juices.

Smokeless tobacco contains 28 carcinogens, according to the CDC, and is a known cause of oral cancer.

Smokeless tobacco is primarily a male habit, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2012, approximately 11% of high school boys used smokeless tobacco; only 1.5% of girls did. Nationally, an estimated 6% of adult men use smokeless tobacco, compared with just 1% of women.

“Current use of smokeless tobacco is about half of what it was in the mid-1990s,” the CDC Youth and Tobacco use website states. “However, only a modest decline has occurred since 2010 and no change occurred between 2012 and 2013.”

Gwynn was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. ESPN reported at the time that the then-50-year-old faced chemotherapy and radiation to fight the “slow-moving but aggressive” cancer in his salivary gland.

He isn’t the only former ballplayer to battle oral cancer. Most notably, Babe Ruth, Brett Butler and Bill Tuttle were all diagnosed after years of chewing tobacco use. Butler became a passionate advocate against tobacco after he returned to the field following treatment, according to the Oral Cancer Foundation.

Still, players say the habit is hard to break.

“I use it as a stimulator when I go to hit,” Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz told the Boston Globe. “But the minute I finish my at-bat, I spit it out. It keeps me smooth and puts me in a good mood. I don’t do it in the offseason. I don’t really like it that much, to be honest with you.”

Nicotine, the addictive substance found in cigarettes, occurs naturally in all tobacco.

“Over time, a person becomes physically dependent on and emotionally addicted to nicotine,” according to the American Cancer Society.

Those who do try to quit experience withdrawal, often for weeks after their last spit or chew. Withdrawal symptoms can include irritability, dizziness, depression, headaches and weight gain, according to the American Cancer Society.


™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

When you need antibiotics — and when you don’t

— New study shows many doctors prescribe useless antibiotics for bronchitis

Most sinus infections are caused by viruses and don’t require antibiotics

Strep throat is a bacterial infection and should be treated with antibiotics

When you need antibiotics — and when you don’t

By Jacque Wilson


(CNN) — You’re sick. You’re not sure what it is, but you know you would really love for this achy feeling, stuffed up head, or painful cough to go away. So you go to the doctor — and demand drugs.

If recent research is any indication, your physician will likely prescribe you an antibiotic, even if he or she knows it won’t make you better any faster.

“Research has shown that several common infections do not require antibiotics. Yet we continue to unnecessarily take them,” said Amanda Helberg, a physician assistant at Scott & White Lago Vista Clinic in Lago Vista, Texas. “This overuse of antibiotics has led to ‘superbugs,’ and now bacterial resistance is on the rise.”

A letter published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows doctors prescribe antibiotics for acute bronchitis approximately 70% of the time, despite decades of evidence demonstrating that these drugs don’t work against respiratory illness.

“Despite clear evidence, guidelines, quality measures and more than 15 years of educational efforts stating that the antibiotic prescribing rate should be zero … physicians continue to prescribe expensive, broad-spectrum antibiotics,” write Dr. Michael Barnett and Dr. Jeffrey Linder with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

Save yourself some money at the doctor’s office by knowing which common ailments require antibiotics, and which ones don’t:

Cold and flu

Upper respiratory infections, better known as the common cold, and influenza are caused by viruses. Antibiotics only kill bacteria.

“Antibiotics are not needed and are of no benefit” for cold and flu, said Dr. John Joseph, a family medicine physician at Scott & White Killeen Clinic in Killeen, Texas.

The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If you’ve already got it, talk to your doctor about taking an antiviral drug to speed your recovery.

Colds usually last seven to 10 days, Helberg said, and will go away on their own with plenty of rest and fluids. You can take over-the-counter medications to relieve some of the symptoms.


As the journal letter mentions, “acute bronchitis in otherwise healthy adults does not need to be treated with antibiotics,” Joseph said.

But there are exceptions. “Patients with complicating factors such as emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) may receive antibiotics since these patients are more susceptible to developing secondary bacterial infections,” he said.

Ear infections

It’s probably best to let your doctor make the call on ear infections.

Ear infections can be caused by viruses or bacteria, and “the only definitive method for determining the cause of the ear infection is to puncture the eardrum and culture the fluid,” Joseph said. “In the U.S., most physicians treat with antibiotics instead of obtaining the culture.”

Some doctors recommend first waiting to see if the infection clears up on its own, according to WebMD, but others worry that letting bacteria go untreated could do more damage.


Pneumonia can be caused by a variety of things: bacteria, viruses and fungi, according to Mayo Clinic. Antibiotics will work if the doctor has identified the specific type of bacteria causing your infection. Antiviral medications can also be used to treat viral pneumonia.

Sinus Infection

Sinusitis is inflammation of the sinuses, according to the Cleveland Clinic. The infection can be bacterial, viral or fungal, or due to allergies. Most sinus infections are caused by viruses, Joseph said, and do not require antibiotics. Once again, there are exceptions.

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if the symptoms are severe and include high fever along with nasal drainage and a productive cough. Antibiotics may also be necessary if you feel better after a few days and then your symptoms return, or if the infection lasts more than a week.

Strep throat

Strep throat is a bacterial infection, and as such, antibiotics are required to fight it, Helberg said. But only a tiny portion of sore throats are actually strep throat, so make sure your doctor makes the right diagnosis based on a physical exam and lab test.

Bottom line

“Consult your doctor or physician assistant when you feel ill,” Helberg said. “Do not take leftover medication for a new infection, do not share antibiotics, and do not take antibiotics for a virus.”


™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Obesity rates drop sharply for 2- to 5-year-olds: Study

— Obesity rates of children ages 2 to 5 years old have decreased significantly over the past decade, according to a new study published Tuesday.

While there were no significant changes in obesity rates for most ages between 2003-2004 and 2011-2012, researchers saw a sharp decrease in the obesity rates of 2- to 5-year-olds — from 13.9% to 8.4%, according to the study published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

A big part of a child’s obesity risk is already established by age 5, according to a study published in January.

The study findings were announced the same day as first lady Michelle Obama proposed new rules to limit the types of foods and beverages that can be advertised in schools and marked the fourth anniversary of her Let’s Move! initiative to combat child obesity.

Under the suggested federal regulations, companies would no longer be permitted to use logos of high-calorie products such as regular sodas on cups, vending machines or posters.

The move is part of the first lady’s ongoing efforts to combat childhood obesity in America.

According to the new JAMA study, close to 17% of children aged 2 to 19 were obese in 2011-2012. That number has remained fairly constant since 2003-2004, dropping just 0.2%.

More than a third of adults over 20 were obese that same year, a number that held steady over the study’s time period. The prevalence is often higher in women and in Hispanic and non-Hispanic black populations.

Four years ago this month, Obama announced that she was taking on childhood obesity with a new initiative called Let’s Move! The comprehensive program was part parental education, part government reform — with a bit of celebrity encouragement thrown in.

“About one-third of our children are overweight or obese. None of us want that for our country,” Obama said at the time. “It’s time to get moving.”

Let’s Move! had several objectives under its broader ambition of “solving the challenge of childhood obesity within a generation.” Obama wanted to increase physical activity and improve nutrition in schools, overhaul nutrition labels to make healthy choices easier for families, decrease the number of calories in restaurant meals and eliminate food deserts — areas without access to fresh, healthy foods — in cities across America.

In December 2010, President Barack Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act into law, which was designed to encourage better eating habits in schools by giving the federal government more authority to set standard for food sold on school grounds. The $4.5 billion act provided more money to subsidize free meals and help administrators offset the higher costs of including more fruits and vegetables in school lunches.

Then in June 2011, the USDA dismantled the traditional food pyramid and replaced it with a new icon called MyPlate. The plate emphasizes fruits and vegetables, telling Americans to fill half of every plate they eat with produce. Another quarter of the plate should be lean protein; the last quarter should be whole grains. A small portion of dairy — perhaps a glass of low-fat milk — can be added on the side.

The first lady also tackled nutrition and physical education in childcare facilities around the country. Let’s Move! offers guidelines for childcare providers: one to two hours of physical activity a day; limited screen time; more fruits and vegetables at meals served family-style when possible; no fried foods and no sugary drinks.

“Food manufacturers have pledged to cut 1.5 trillion calories from the products they sell. Local grocers and national chains such as Walgreens and SuperValu are building new supermarkets and expanding existing stores to sell fresh food in 1,500 underserved communities,” Obama wrote in an op-ed for CNN in 2012.

“Restaurants are transforming their kids’ menus, packing them with healthier options. Mayors are planting gardens and refurbishing parks. Congregations are sponsoring summer nutrition programs for kids and exercise ministries for families.”

Even Disney and the Department of Defense are jumping on board.

In January 2012, the USDA issued its new rules for school meals, which are being phased in over a three-year period. Cafeterias must offer fruits and vegetables at every meal, reduce sodium and some types of fat and keep to calorie minimums and maximums. The government agency followed up six months later with new rules for snack foods. The regulations set limits for fat, salt and sugar sold in school vending machines and snack bars.

The USDA has faced opposition over the new rules — from student athletes who say they’re not getting enough calories to administrators who say kids just aren’t buying the healthier options.

Which raises the question: With all these new guidelines and regulations, are kids really getting any healthier?

It’s a difficult question to answer, as the most comprehensive data collections about obesity are still a few years behind. But there have been signs of progress.

Steven Hanus, a elementary physical education teacher in the Chicago suburbs, says he’s noticed a change in his students — and their parents — over the past five years.

Overall, the kids are in better shape, he says. Parents are asking Hanus more questions as well, about how to keep their kids moving at home. And he’s received strong support from administrators in his quest to find new ways to interest students in fitness. Recently, his first-graders were given pedometers for the first time.

“From our top level down, the initiative to keep kids moving and active has definitely been a big part of the district,” Hanus says. “It’s made us all a little more aware of how active we are.”

Another study published in August 2013 that analyzed data from preschool children in low-income families showed a small but significant decline in the group’s obesity rates between 2008 and 2011.

“It’s a bright spot for our nation’s young kids, but the fight is very far from over,” CDC Director Dr. Tom Frieden said at the time.

Obama agrees.

“While childhood obesity rates are beginning to fall, we still have a long way to go before we solve this problem once and for all,” the first lady said Tuesday. “We can’t slow down and we can’t turn back now.”

Let’s Move! recommends children engage in physical activity for a total of 60 minutes every day, and adults should move for 30 minutes daily.

Show the White House how you move on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Vine using the hashtag #LetsMove.

CNN’s Kevin Liptak, Madison Park and William Hudson contributed to this story.


™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Not your mama’s gym class

— It’s been called the fourth “R” of education: reading, writing, arithmetic and now, aerobics. But the gym class of generation Wii isn’t the same one you probably remember from school.

“You hear sometimes the old stories … where you roll the ball out and students just played the game,” says Hanna Vaandering, president of the Oregon Education Association. “That’s not what physical education is about today.”

As they struggle to keep kids active in the midst of an obesity epidemic, PE teachers are using technology and the latest fitness trends to inspire even the most nonathletic children to develop a lifelong love for exercise.

“If you don’t have health, what do you have?” Vaandering asks. “You’ve got to make sure (students) understand how to take care of their body.”

Fighting an epidemic

Stop me if you’ve heard these statistics before: Approximately 17% of Americans age 2 to 19 years old are obese. Though recent studies have shown signs of progress, an estimated one out of every eight preschoolers in the United States is still obese, according to the CDC. And only 25% of adolescents between the ages of 12 and 15 met the national fitness recommendation of 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity daily in 2012.

PE teachers have struggled to fight the effects of childhood obesity in class, says Vaandering; many children’s motor skills are not where they should be and cardiovascular endurance is a big problem.

And frankly, “the kids are lazier,” says Rich Muller, a PE teacher at Dwight-Englewood School in Englewood, New Jersey. “They don’t want to work. They don’t want to do anything.”

Not just flag football anymore

In his 28 years as an educator, Muller has seen a significant shift in the kinds of activities taught in gym classes. Just a decade ago, he says, the focus was 95% on team sports. Now teachers are incorporating golf, rock climbing, bowling and even ping-pong into their curriculum.

“I’m trying to find that environment where they can find that one lifelong activity,” says Matthew Pomeroy, a PE teacher at Merton Intermediate School in Merton, Wisconsin. “All those different things that kids can kind of be engaged in and enjoy.”

While kids in Pomeroy’s district tend to be more active than the average American middle schooler, he sees another troubling trend: students who are spending 10 to 12 months of the year playing only one sport. While that’s great for physical fitness, he says, orthopedic surgeons are seeing an increase in children’s sports injuries related to such repetitive motions.

Both Muller and Pomeroy offer students at their respective schools a choice every day: They can play volleyball or do yoga; they can practice archery or work out in the weight room. Zumba. CrossFit. Geocaching. Tabata. Spinning. All these and more are offered to encourage students to move.

“The participation level has skyrocketed because they have more options,” Muller says. “It’s fun. We have hardly any complaints like we used to.”


If there’s one thing Pomeroy is pumped about, it’s using technology in his class. The self-proclaimed Twitter fanatic has reached out to PE teachers all over the world to bring new ideas to his students.

Pomeroy’s class uses iPads to analyze their archery or free throw techniques. With an app called Coach’s Eye, they record videos of their shot, then play it back while discussing their form. Pomeroy has also split his class into groups to create their very own workout videos — recording these at home is easier for some students than performing live in front of their peers, he says.

Many schools provide pedometers and heart rate monitors for students, Vaandering says. When she taught elementary PE, she encouraged her students to increase the number of steps they took during every class.

“You’d see their little feet moving while we’re giving instructions because they want to get more steps,” she says with a laugh.

Pomeroy has taken technology even further, using it to connect his students with others across the globe. In one instance he teamed up with a PE teacher in the United Kingdom to pull off an international dance team competition via Skype. Another time, his students gave jump rope lessons to their peers abroad.

“Sometimes for phys ed, you just need to get out of the gym,” Pomeroy says.


Perhaps one of the biggest differences Vaandering sees in students today is high levels of stress. An overemphasis on standardized tests and budget cuts has removed important stress outlets such as art class and PE in some schools, she says. A few districts in Oregon have even cut recess for elementary school.

“That’s so not in line with brain research and what science tells us about a child’s learning (process),” Vaandering says. “In reality there needs to be a balance and a respect for the whole child.”

Some schools are getting the message that stress reduction is an important part of a child’s overall well-being. They’re incorporating yoga and meditation, Muller says, while educating the mind, body and spirit.

In health class at Dwight-Englewood, students are offered the opportunity to use apps like Calm.com, which provides a soothing screen and sounds in timed blocks to calm the mind.

“It’s amazing how much better you feel after two minutes,” Muller says.

What you can do

Parents play a big role in their children’s success at school, Vaandering says, whether it’s in math class or gym class.

“It really is important to do family activities,” she says. “Enjoying each other’s company, going hiking, playing pickleball on the weekend.”

Pomeroy agrees. “You can make such a great connection with your kids through physical activity.”

What does your family do to stay fit? Share your tips and learn from other parents on Friday at 1 p.m. ET with @CNNHealth and celebrity trainer David Kirsch. Use the hashtag #FitFamilies to join in the conversation on Twitter.

Study: MTV’s ’16 and Pregnant’ led to fewer teen births

— The next time your teen turns on MTV’s “16 and Pregnant,” avoid any disparaging remarks. The show may actually encourage him or her to practice safer sex, according to a new study.

The study, released Monday by the National Bureau of Economic Research, says “16 and Pregnant” ultimately led to a 5.7% reduction in teen births in the 18 months after its premiere on TV. This would account for about one-third of the overall decline in teen births in the United States during that period, researchers Melissa Kearney and Phillip Levine concluded.

In 2011, a total of 329,797 babies were born in the United States to girls between the ages of 15 and 19; that’s a rate of 31.3 births per every 1,000 girls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC does not have rates available for 2012; Kearney and Levine say that number dropped to 29.4 per every 1,000 that year.

The declining teen birth rate is a well-documented trend in the United States. Between 1991 and 2008, the rate dropped steadily at an average of about 2.5% a year. In the past four years, it has dropped even more dramatically at a rate of about 7.5% per year.

“We were really curious as to what was going on,” said Kearney, who has been studying teen pregnancy interventions alongside Levine for more than a decade. When the researchers learned that Sarah Brown, CEO of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, thought MTV’s shows may have something to do with it, they thought: “Could that really be true?”

“16 and Pregnant” premiered in June 2009 and has been on for five seasons, with a total of 47 episodes through October 2013. The show features one teen every episode and follows her through several months during and after pregnancy. The documentary-style show inspired several spinoffs, including the popular “Teen Mom.”

Both “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” have experienced their share of controversy. The shows are often criticized for glamorizing teen pregnancy.

“Instead of really helping viewers understand the day-to-day responsibilities of attending to a new infant — scrubbing poop stains or spit-up out of clothing — or dwelling on the ‘mundane,’ MTV chooses to focus on the girls’ volatile relationships with the babies’ fathers or their new body piercings and tattoos,” Parents Television Council Director Melissa Henson wrote on CNN. “That makes for better TV.”

Kearney and Levine looked at Nielsen ratings as well as search data from Google Trends and Twitter to determine the show’s potential impact on teen birth rates. They recorded spikes in Google searches and Twitter mentions about the show when new episodes aired and looked specifically for searches on terms such as “birth control” and “abortion” alongside those spikes.

They then analyzed geographic data to see whether locations with higher search activity and tweets about “16 and Pregnant” showed higher levels of searches and tweets about birth control and abortion.

They did.

The researchers also looked to see whether high viewership in certain areas corresponded with a bigger drop in teen births.

It did.

“The results of our analysis indicate that exposure to ’16 and Pregnant’ was high and that it had an influence on teens’ thinking regarding birth control and abortion,” the researchers write.

That’s all well and scientific, but could a TV show really have that big of an impact on teen birth rates?

“It’s an extraordinary study done by two very cautious economists,” said Bill Albert, chief program officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. “I jokingly refer to them as Drs. No because they generally set out to say, ‘That doesn’t work.’ For that reason alone, we take it very seriously.”

Kearney said that while she and Levine did a lot of “fancy economic work” to make sure their conclusion was right, the most compelling evidence came from the teens’ social media language. “The text of the tweets are phenomenal: ‘This reminds me to take my birth control.’ ‘Watching 16 & Pregnant, going to take my birth control,’ ” she remembered reading.

Of course, no one, including the study authors, is saying that MTV alone is responsible for the declining teen birth rate.

About half of the recent dramatic decline can be attributed to the recession, Kearney says. Research shows that all birth rates fall during slow economic times, including teens’; those who were once ambivalent about using birth control often become more conscientious when they realize that finding — or keeping — a job to support a baby would be difficult.

Kearney believes TV shows like “16 and Pregnant” work to deter teens in a similar way.

“Shows that make it clear how hard it can be … affect girls who might not care otherwise,” she said. “You see she’s fighting with her boyfriend on a daily basis. She’s gaining weight. Her friends are partying without her.”

Making the immediate cost clear seems to get through to teens more than statistics that show what happens to teen parents when they’re 25, Kearney says.

Teens may turn to TV shows about sex because they’re lacking other options, Albert says. A recent study published in the medical journal JAMA showed that doctors certainly aren’t spending a lot of time talking about the important topic: The average conversation about sex between doctors and teens in the study lasted less than two minutes.

And parents, Albert says, are often shocked to learn that teens say their parents have a major influence on their decisions about sex.

“I think the takeaway here is that media can be, and often is, a force for good,” Albert said. “We have always viewed these particular shows as sex education for the 21st century.”

CNN’s Stephanie Smith contributed to this story.

Paleo diet ranks last on ‘best diets’ list

— Followers of the Paleo Diet may go prehistoric on U.S. News & World Report this week. The publication has ranked the controversial diet last on its “Best Diets Overall” list for 2014.

Each year, U.S. News & World Report asks experts to rank various nutrition plans to help consumers make informed decisions. This year the panel evaluated 32 of the most popular diets.

To be top-rated, a diet has to be relatively easy to follow, nutritious, safe, effective for weight loss and protective against diabetes and heart disease.

First popularized in the 1970s, the Paleo Diet asks people to follow a diet similar to those who lived during the Paleolithic era, between 2.6 million and 10,000 years ago. This means eating like hunters and gathers — consuming lots of produce and animal protein, while avoiding sugar, grains, legumes and dairy altogether.

“If the cavemen didn’t eat it, you shouldn’t either,” U.S. News & World Report summarized.

The diet has gained a significant following in recent years, especially among the Crossfit crowd. “Paleo Diet” was the most searched diet term on Google in 2013.

Being last on the Best Diets list doesn’t mean Paleo is the worst diet ever (the “Cookie Diet” didn’t even make the list). But U.S. News & World Report’s experts said the Paleo Diet was too restrictive for most people to follow long term, and that it limited some essential nutrients. They also cited a lack of research proving the Paleo Diet’s cardiovascular health and weight loss benefits in their ranking.

The Paleo Diet tied for last place on the list alongside the Dukan diet, which is also a high-protein, low-carbohydrate approach.

For the fourth year in a row, the DASH Diet Eating Plan was named the best overall diet. DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, was developed by the National Institutes of Health for people with high blood pressure. But it is also effective in lowering cholesterol and reducing a person’s risk for heart disease, stroke, kidney stones and diabetes, its website states.

Unlike many diet plans, DASH doesn’t cut out or extremely restrict certain foods. Its focus is on limiting daily sodium intake. The meal plan includes three whole-grain products each day, four to six servings of vegetables, four to six servings of fruit, two to four servings of dairy products and several servings each of lean meats and nuts/seeds/legumes.

The diet’s only downfalls, the expert panel said, are that it takes some “grunt work” to adhere to, and that it may cost more than a diet based on “processed, fatty, sugary foods.”

Following DASH on the best overall list was the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes Diet, which also was created by the National Institutes of Health. Next in line were the Mayo Clinic Diet, the Mediterranean Diet and Weight Watchers — all tied for third place. This is the same as last year’s ranking.

U.S. News & World Report also published several other lists, including best weight-loss diets, best diabetes diets, best commercial diet plans and easiest diets to follow.

Weight Watchers topped the best weight-loss, best commercial diet plan and easiest to follow lists. Also high on several lists were the Jenny Craig plan and “The Biggest Loser” plan.

For more, visit U.S. News & World Report’s Best Diets Rankings.

™ & © 2014 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.

Diabetes spreading around the world

— On World Diabetes Day, news about the disease’s global impact is dire.

An estimated 382 million people worldwide have diabetes, according to a new report from the International Diabetes Federation. The IDF expects that number to rise to 592 million by 2035, when one in every 10 people will have the disease.

“Diabetes in all its forms imposes unacceptably high human, social and economic costs on countries at all income levels,” the report authors begin in the executive summary. They go on to say that this latest edition of the Diabetes Atlas “carries a bitter but unavoidable message: despite the array of tools at our disposal to tackle the disease… the battle to protect people from diabetes and its disabling, life-threatening complications is being lost.”

Epidemiologist Leonor Guariguata, project coordinator for IDF’s Diabetes Atlas, wasn’t surprised by the report’s findings. In fact, she says the estimates are conservative, and that diabetes may be a much bigger problem than we think.

“The thing that strikes me is that we keep saying the same thing again,” she said. “Every time we produce new estimates, they are above and beyond what we had projected from past estimates.”

There are three types of diabetes: Type 1, Type 2 and gestational diabetes.

People who have Type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin, a hormone the body needs to convert sugar and starches into energy. Type 1 diabetes used to be called juvenile onset diabetes because it is usually diagnosed in adolescence. Around 5% of the diabetic population in the United States has Type 1 diabetes.

Cells offer hope for Type 1 diabetics

People with Type 2 diabetes have developed a resistance to the insulin their body produces. Most people who develop Type 2 diabetes are adults, although experts worry about the increasing number of young people being diagnosed.

Gestational diabetes occurs during pregnancy and can increase both the mother and baby’s chances of developing Type 2 diabetes later in life.

According to the IDF report, China, India and the United States top the list for the most cases of diabetes per country; around 24.4 million Americans had the disease in 2013. But islands in the Pacific have the most alarming rates of prevalence, or the number of cases compared to the country’s population overall.

For example, 37.5% of the population of Tokelau, located northeast of Fiji, has diabetes. Micronesia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar also reported higher-than-average prevalence rates. A large part of this is due to the growing obesity problem; while all types of diabetes are on the rise, the number of people with Type 2 diabetes is expected to double in less than 25 years.

“We started seeing big increases in prevalence in those islands maybe 20, 30 years ago,” Guariguata said. “That coincides with rapid development.” The discovery of natural resources on the islands, she explained, led to an influx of money in the population. People started eating more imported foods and moving less.

But diabetes is no longer considered just a rich man’s disease, Guariguata said. Approximately 80% of the people living with diabetes are in low- and middle-income countries.

The Middle East and North Africa currently have the highest rates of adult diabetes prevalence compared to other world regions, according to the report, but Africa will see the greatest increase in cases over the next two decades. Urban centers in Africa are showing higher prevalence rates than cities in Europe, Guariguata said, and many cases go undiagnosed and untreated because of a lack of awareness in these countries.

In addition to those that already have diabetes, IDF estimates 316 million people have IGT, or impaired glucose tolerance — also known as prediabetes. These are people at a high risk of developing the disease.

“There is no country that has solved the problem for diabetes and no country has gotten it right,” Guariguata said. “The good news for all of this is diabetes is imminently treatable, with cheap generic drugs that are available and (with) lifestyle change. We’re not looking at a disease that we have absolutely no response for.”

Here are some other significant statistics from the IDF report:

— An estimated 5.1 million people died of diabetes-related complications in 2013

— 17% of babies in 2013 were born to women with high blood sugar levels, a sign of gestational diabetes, which Guariguata says will contribute to the global diabetes burden in years to come

— More than 79,000 children developed Type 1 diabetes in 2013; that’s up from 77,800 in 2011

— The equivalent of $548 billion was spent on health care for diabetes patients around the world in 2013


™ & © 2013 Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company. All rights reserved.