Health Desk

School is still out for the summer, but at Eastern Senior High School in Washington, D.C., students are hard at work — outdoors.

In a garden filled with flowers and beds bursting with vegetables and herbs, nearly a dozen teenagers are harvesting vegetables for the weekend's farmers market.

Developers of a new video game for your brain say theirs is more than just another get-smarter-quick scheme.

Akili, a Northern California startup, insists on taking the game through a full battery of clinical trials so it can get approval from the Food and Drug Administration — a process that will take lots of money and several years.

So why would a game designer go to all that trouble when there's already a robust market of consumers ready to buy games that claim to make you smarter and improve your memory?

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Like most medical professionals, it's Dr. Katherine McKenzie's job to evaluate the wounds and scars of the patients who come to her. But unlike most, it's not her job to treat them.

For the past decade, she has worked to verify claims of physical torture by refugees seeking asylum in the U.S.

Africa will mark one year without polio on Tuesday. The last case was in Somalia in 2014.

But last week, a polio vaccination campaign in Kenya faced an unlikely opponent: The country's Conference of Catholic Bishops declared a boycott of the World Health Organization's vaccination campaign, saying they needed to "test" whether ingredients contain a derivative of estrogen. Dr. Wahome Ngare of the Kenyan Catholic Doctor's Association alleged that the presence of the female hormone could sterilize children.

Editor's note: This story was originally published on August 9, 2015.

Fresh air, the smell of pine trees, the sounds of birds chirping and brooks babbling — all of these have helped American city-dwellers unwind for generations. But in the era of Jim Crow segregation, nature's calm also gave African-Americans a temporary respite from racism and discrimination.

The National Football League held its annual hall of fame induction ceremony Saturday night, in Canton, Ohio. Eight players were given football's highest honor, including a posthumous induction for Junior Seau, the former linebacker for the San Diego Chargers who killed himself in 2012.

After his death, Seau's brain showed signs of chronic damage — the same kind of damage that has been found in dozens of other former NFL players.

Dr. Frances Oldham Kelsey, whose tireless efforts uncovered a link between the drug thalidomide and severe birth defects, has died at age 101.

In 1960, Kelsey was the new medical officer at the Food and Drug Administration when an application for FDA approval of the sedative Kevadon, the trade name of thalidomide, manufactured by drug company William S. Merrell Company of Cincinnati.

Thalidomide had already been sold to pregnant women in Europe and elsewhere as an anti-nausea drug to treat morning sickness, and Merrell wanted a license to do the same in the U.S.

Could Sexting Help Your Relationship?

Aug 8, 2015

Sexting is scandalous, dangerous and downright dirty behavior.

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On a hot, sunny Monday in mid-July, Dr. Leana Wen stood on a sidewalk in West Baltimore flanked by city leaders: Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, interim police commissioner Kevin Davis, Rep. Elijah Cummings. Under a huge billboard with the web address dontdie.org, she proudly unveiled a 10-point plan for tackling the city's heroin epidemic.

Wen, the city's health commissioner, said she aims to create a 24/7 treatment center, an emergency room of sorts for substance abuse and mental health. She spoke of targeting those most in need, starting with those in jail.

Sumo Breakfast Of Champions: Bowls And Bowls Of Clay Pot Stew

Aug 7, 2015

At the U.S. Sumo Open on Saturday in Long Beach, Calif., roughly 60 sumo wrestlers from around the world will face off at one of the largest sumo competitions outside Japan.

To the untrained eye, they may look like pudgy giants in underwear shoving each other around a ring. But this is a sport and there's a lot to it. Pros have to master 82 winning techniques, and follow strict training regimens that include weight lifting and flexibility exercises.

Take a close look at a house cat's eyes and you'll see pupils that look like vertical slits. But a tiger has round pupils — like humans do. And the eyes of other animals, like goats and horses, have slits that are horizontal.

Scientists have now done the first comprehensive study of these three kinds of pupils. The shape of the animal's pupil, it turns out, is closely related to the animal's size and whether it's a predator or prey.

The American Psychological Association voted Friday in favor of a resolution that would bar its members from participating in national security interrogations.

The resolution by the country's largest professional organization of psychologists passed overwhelmingly. The only dissenting vote came from Col. Larry James, a former Army intelligence psychologist at Guantanamo.

Men who work out may be using legal over-the-counter supplements to the point that it's harming their emotional or physiological health, according to a recent study.

Some days, the french fries are just irresistible. You know it's not the best thing to put in your body, but did that salad really stand a chance after the smell of fried garlic, Parmesan and thyme on crisp potato wedges wafted over to you?

Until recently, nurses at Los Angeles County Harbor-UCLA Hospital had to maneuver through a maze of wheelchairs, beds, boxes and lights to find surgical supplies in the equipment closet for the operating rooms.

But as public hospitals like Harbor-UCLA try to cut costs and make patients happier, administrators have turned to an unlikely ally: Toyota.

It goes by many names: Delhi belly. Montezuma's revenge. The Aztec two-step. But doctors use one not-so-glamorous term: traveler's diarrhea.

If you're visiting a place this summer with less than ideal sewage disposal — maybe a resort in Mexico or a village in Rajasthan — chances are your GI tract will give you trouble at least once ... maybe twice ... maybe continuously.

Physician and epidemiologist Gary Slutkin has worked in more than 20 countries, fighting infectious diseases like cholera, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. After a decade abroad, he returned to the United States in 1994 and found an acute problem here: gun violence. He began to study the issue and saw familiar patterns: "I just said, 'This is behaving exactly like an infectious disease.' This is the same kind of map, same kind of clustering. Someone has picked this up from someone else, and they pass it on to someone else, and pass it on to someone else."

Neighborhoods in Baltimore are still struggling to recover from the riots that broke out following the funeral of Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal injury to his spine while in police custody. In the aftermath of the unrest, we here at NPR spent many hours trying to understand the raw anger on display. We looked at police brutality, economic disparities and housing segregation in Baltimore.

Our conversations eventually led us to Leana Wen.

Here's a number to help frame the debate over whether middle schools and high schools should start later in the morning: A study finds that only 18 percent of these public schools start class at 8:30 a.m. or later, as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.

Brenda Hummel's 7-year-old daughter Andrea was born with severe epilepsy. Like many children with significant diseases or disabilities, she has health insurance through Medicaid. Hummel navigated Iowa's Medicaid resources for years to find just the right doctors and care for her daughter. But now Iowa's governor, Republican Terry Branstad, is moving full speed ahead with a plan to put private companies in charge of managing Medicaid's services, and that has Hummel worried.

Dental patients really don't like Western Dental. Not its Anaheim, Calif., clinic: "I hate this place!!!" one reviewer wrote on the rating site Yelp. Or one of its locations in Phoenix: "Learn from my terrible experience and stay far, far away."

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Brazil is the largest country in Latin America, and it's expanding, if you look at waistlines. Almost half the country is now considered overweight. Compare that to 30 years ago when the rate was half that.

It's a common problem in the developing world, where rising prosperity often means greater access to processed food.

One woman in Brazil is trying to change the direction the country is going. But it hasn't been easy.

Bela Gil is the daughter of one of Brazil's most famous singers, Gilberto Gil. She's quick to say she has zero musical talent.

Hannah Roberts was a first-year-medical student at Columbia University College of Physicians in 2013 when she noticed her classmates were having an especially tough time relating to dementia patients.

"There's a misconception that dementia patients are like toddlers in a way," Roberts says. Many medical students, she says, "are intimidated at the challenge of having to get accurate histories and establish a connection with someone who has a limited ability to communicate."

At the New Jalisco Bar in downtown Los Angeles, a drag show featuring dancers dressed in sequined leotards and feathered headdresses draws a crowd on a Friday night, most of them gay Latino men.

Inside the bar and out, three health workers chat with customers, casually asking questions: Do you know about the HIV prevention pill? Would you consider taking it? A few men say they have never heard of it. Others simply say it isn't for them.

Untangling The Many Deductibles Of Health Insurance

Aug 5, 2015

Sure, there's a deductible with your health insurance. But then what's the hospital deductible? Your insurer may have multiple deductibles, and it pays to know which apply when. These questions and answers tackle deductibles, whether an ex-spouse has to pay for an adult child's insurance, and balance billing.

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