Recently in Medical School Category

What has nine lives and makes you live longer?

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We're talking cats here.


People love their pets. Some people love their pets to an almost excessive amount. But when you consider the fact that owning a pet can add years to your life, a cat can quickly seem like a smart investment.

According to a study that followed more than 4,000 cat owners, led by executive director of the Minnesota Stroke Institute at the University of Minnesota, Adnan Qureshi, M.D., the presence of cats results in a significantly lower risk of death by heart attack or stroke.

Cat owners "appeared to have a lower rate of dying from heart attacks" over 10 years of follow-up compared to feline-free folk, Qureshi said in an interview with U.S. News.

The 30 percent reduction in heart attack risk "was a little bit surprising," he added. "We certainly expected an effect, because we thought that there was a biologically plausible mechanism at work. But the magnitude of the effect was hard to predict."

This may not come as a surprise to cat owners who have experienced the unconditional love a feline companion can offer, but, cats, by nature, can alleviate stress and anxiety, which has the potential to reduce the risk of heart attack.

Although this type of companionship can potentially help you live longer, it does have a serious risk of cute overload.


(Photo credit: Pieter Lanser/WikiMedia)

U of M health policy experts talk health reform

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On 6/28/2012, the United States Supreme Court issued their decision on the Affordable Care Act.

Here is a synopsis of how the Supreme Court ruled:

1. The entire ACA was upheld.
2. The Individual Mandate was ruled Constitutional, but individuals who refuse to comply would pay a tax.
3. The Medicaid provision (expansion) was limited but not invalidated.
4. Because the whole ACA was deemed constitutional, the provision requiring insurers to cover young adults until they are 26 survives as well.

Throughout the days and weeks that follow, University of Minnesota health policy experts will discuss the ruling and its impact with regional media.

To catch up on all the latest regional media coverage featuring the University of Minnesota health policy experts you trust visit our Storify page.

Is gender neutrality critical to gender equality?

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BLOG Toy Trucks.jpgFrom pink polka-dotted outfits and tutus to wear home from the hospital to toy cars and tool sets for birthday presents, it's no secret that little boys and girls are quickly encouraged to play specific gender roles. But in a world increasingly focused on gender equality, some are saying it's time to focus also on gender neutrality.

Activists in Sweden, one of the most gender equal nations in the world, are now promoting a gender-neutral pronoun: hen. The idea initially surfaced years ago as a way to avoid space-consuming he/she writing. But now, some argue the concept could be key to encouraging a society where everyone is free to choose their own self, especially small children.

But Walter Bockting, Ph.D., a professor in the University of Minnesota's Program in Human Sexuality, isn't sure the effort is necessary in terms of child development.

"Gender generally develops in very predictable ways," Bockting said, "and for the small percentage of people who don't identify with the traditional gender categories of boy or girl, man or woman, these types of accommodations can be beneficial. But whether that identity applies is hard to determine until much closer to adolescence."

Instead of discouraging gender-oriented play, Bockting suggests parents and caregivers provide a variety of options and activities to toddlers and young children. This allows parents to focus time and energy encouraging interests of the child while remaining open and supportive, whatever those interests may be.

"As long as the interests of the child are first at hand, it's best to just let the child play and grow," said Bockting. "Given space, time and an open environment, children will discover their own interests and identity."

Photo by Horia Varlan, used via Creative Commons License, flikr.com.

Family meals: Good for the kids and good for you!

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A new study published this month in the journal Appetite shows that parents who eat more family meals with their kids eat more fruits and veggies.

To learn more about the results, we talked with Jerica Berge, Ph.D., a University of Minnesota Medical School assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. Berge is the lead author of the latest study, which is part of the larger, ongoing study Project EAT study examining the eating patterns of middle and high school students enrolled in Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts.

Here's what Berge had to say:

Q: Why research how family meals affect mom and dad?
Berge: We knew that adolescents and children who have regular family meals are less likely to be overweight and obese. They eat more healthfully overall in terms of consuming more fruits and vegetables, consuming less sugar-sweetened beverages, and being less likely to engage in extreme weight control behaviors that often lead to eating disorders. So, we wanted to know if the same was true for parents.

Q: What did your research find?
Berge: More frequent family meals are associated with a higher fruit and vegetable intake for moms and dads. When eating more meals together with family, dads also ate less fast food, while moms participated in less unhealthy dieting and binge eating.

Q: How many more fruits and vegetables were parents eating?
Berge: Overall, moms and dads went from eating 2-3 servings of fruits and vegetables per day to eating 4+ servings per day. In families that ate zero meals together as compared to families that ate meals together 5+ times per week, moms specifically went from 3 to 4+ servings of fruits and vegetables. Dads went from 2 ½ servings to 4. That's a total of 1-2 more servings each day for mom or dad!

Q: So, now I know eating with my family means I'll likely eat more fruits and veggies. What now?
Berge: The take home message is that family meals may benefit everyone in the family. Less fast food for dads, less unhealthy eating for moms and more fruits and vegetables for everyone means better health all around. Don't just plan family meals to help the kids; do it for the whole family, including yourself.

(Photo courtesy of Stefano Chiarelli via creative commons license.)

Tired and hungry: how lack of sleep hurts your diet

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Early morning meetings sometimes mean a doughnut from the coffee cart as you start up the computer, just as a late night out usually translates into a quick stop at the sub shop or pizza parlor. Turns out, these not-so-great food choices are a pretty universal response to lack of sleep.

New research out of New York City's St. Luke's Roosevelt Hospital Center shows a link between a lack of sleep and craving unhealthy foods like sugars, fats and high-carb options.

Doctors surveyed 16 healthy young adults and found brain regions associated with reward and motivation were highly activated when participants hadn't slept well.

Michael Howell, M.D., a sleep medicine physician and associate professor in the University of Minnesota's Medical School, isn't surprised by the results.

"In all spheres of our lives, judgment is impaired when sleep-deprived," says Howell. "Without enough sleep, you're less able to avoid temptation."

There are a lot of other ways a lack of quality sleep can impact our waistlines, according to Howell.