Health Desk

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If you are looking for proof that Americans' vegetable habits lean towards french fries and ketchup, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has it: Nearly 50 percent of vegetables and legumes available in the U.S. in 2013 were either tomatoes or potatoes. Lettuce came in third as the most available vegetable, according to new data out this week.

In this installment of NPR's series Inside Alzheimer's, we hear from Greg O'Brien about his decision to forgo treatment for another life-threatening illness. A longtime journalist in Cape Cod, Mass., O'Brien was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's disease in 2009.

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There has been a profound — and positive — change since 1990 in how people die around the world, a new study shows. "We've made great progress in reducing the risks of maternal and child health, diarrhea, pneumonia, though there's still more work to be done," says Dr.

The wealth gap in America manifests itself not just in our pocketbooks but also in our bellies: The poor are eating less nutritious food than everyone else.

So concludes a new review of 25 studies published between 2003 and 2014 that looked at the food spending and quality of diets of participants in SNAP, the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps.

The Lasker Award, given for outstanding contributions to medicine and medical research, is sometimes referred to as "America's Nobel Prize." Since the award was established in 1945, more than 80 laureates have gone on to win the Nobel.

The medical aid group Medicins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) is one of four recipients this year, accepting the award for its contributions to the fight against Ebola. I spoke with the president of the U.S. Board of Directors, Dr. Deane Marchbein, who was in New York for the presentation.

British scientists announced Friday that they had applied for permission to edit the DNA in human embryos, a controversial step that has provoked intense debate around the world.

Kathy Niakan of The Francis Crick Institute in London and colleagues filed an application with the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which regulates experiments involving human embryos in England.

In anesthesiology, it pays – literally – to be a man.

At least, that's what's suggested by a study examining this specialty's demographics and salaries in 2007 and again in 2013. The study, by the RAND Corp., a nonpartisan research institute, was published Thursday in the journal Anesthesiology.

When it comes to sleep, fruit flies are a lot like people. They sleep at night, caffeine keeps them awake, and they even get insomnia.

Those similarities, along with scientists' detailed knowledge of the genes and brain structure of Drosophila melanogaster, have made the fruit fly extremely valuable to sleep researchers.

We talk a lot on The Salt about the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in nuts, olive oil, fish, fruits and vegetables. Scientists believe it's one of the world's healthiest patterns of eating, and can protect against a lot of chronic diseases.

In the Arctic, the typical meal looks very different. There, a traditional plate would have some fatty marine animal like seal or whale and not much else – fruits and vegetables are hard to come by in the harsh climate.

Hundreds of you sent in questions for Skunk Bear's live conversation with three astronauts and NASA's chief scientist on Tuesday. Thanks! The most common question was: "What happens when you get your period in space?"

I didn't end up asking them this question because:

a) The question itself has a lot of historical baggage;
b) The answer is pretty boring.

But since people were genuinely curious, I decided to answer it here.

Fast food is an undeniable part of American culture. We've probably all encountered the McDonald's "I'm Lovin' It" jingle and the white-goateed Colonel Sanders of KFC at least once, if not hundreds, of times.

The big fast-food chains market their foods to us constantly. And our children see, on average, three to five fast-food ads per day.

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Be honest. When was the last time you had a grapefruit? If you're having a hard time remembering, you're not alone.


When a young boy in a village in Jangjir, India, came home with a snakebite, his family needed to get him to a clinic. But they didn't dare take him out through the front door. Instead, a handful of men dismantled the thatch roof of his home. Then family members inside lifted the boy up, out through the roof and over a six-foot wall into their arms.

"You can't take the patient out through the doorway," says the boy's neighbor Bedmathi, who goes by one name. "The venom gets stronger and they die. I've seen it with my own eyes."

It's our own fault.

In the U.S., Japan, Korea and elsewhere, we use antibiotics too much. We use them to treat coughs and colds — for which they're ineffective. We've used them in animal feed in an attempt to prevent disease and to fatten cows and chickens. And the more we use antibiotics, the greater the likelihood that clever bacteria will evolve in ways that resist the attack of antibiotics. So once-treatable infections become difficult or impossible to cure.

With school in full swing and flu season just around the corner, you might be looking for a way to keep those germs at bay. But if you're stocking up on antibacterial soaps, a study suggests you might as well be reaching for that regular old bar of soap instead.

Last year's flu vaccine didn't work very well. This year's version should do a much better job protecting people against the flu, federal health officials said Thursday.

An analysis of the most common strains of flu virus that are circulating in the United States and elsewhere found they match the strains included in this year's vaccine, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.

Right now, some 7,000 Thai workers are combing the Lapland wilderness of Finland and Sweden for bilberries, lingonberries and cloudberries. Each day, they hike into the woods that lie mostly above the Arctic Circle with buckets and simple scooping tools, emerging with up to 270 pounds in berries per person.

The pressure to pick as many tiny blue, red and yellow berries as possible is intense. If the migrant foragers are lucky, can stay healthy and find good berry patches, they can make more money in one season than they could in two years back at home.

Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



Copyright 2015 NPR. To see more, visit



Everyone knows that caffeine can keep you awake, but a new study shows that the world's most popular drug can actually interfere with your body's internal sense of time.

"The circadian clock is way beyond 'sleep and wake,' " says Kenneth Wright, a sleep and circadian physiologist at the University of Colorado, Boulder. "The circadian clock is present in cells throughout our entire body. It's in your fat cells; it's in your muscle cells. It's in your liver, for example, as well as in your brain."

On Wednesday, the Census Bureau gave Obamacare some good news: the number of people without health insurance dropped to 10.4 percent in 2014, down from 13.3 percent in 2013.

Colorado may be doing even better. When the Affordable Care Act launched two years ago, about 1 in 7 of the state's residents, or 14 percent, were uninsured, according to the nonprofit, nonpartisan Colorado Health Institute. That figure is now 6.7 percent, according to the organization's latest data.

The percentage of Americans without health insurance dropped by nearly three percentage points between 2013 and 2014, according the U.S. Census Bureau, from 13.3 to 10.4 percent. Put another way, 8.8 million more people were insured in 2014 than the year before.

The annual study from Census is considered the definitive measure of health insurance, although a change in the way health insurance questions are asked make this year's report comparable to 2013 but not earlier years.

More people die prematurely because of the air they breathe than the 2.8 million who die each year of HIV/AIDS and malaria combined.

That's the startling statistic from a new study in this week's journal Nature. The annual global death toll from outdoor air pollution is 3.3 million. (Premature death is a medical term that means a usually preventable death that occurs before expected — for instance, earlier than the life expectancy of age 78 in the U.S.).

It's called the Heartland virus disease. Since it was first detected in 2009, there have been only nine reported cases in the Midwest, including two deaths.

So scientists thought the Heartland virus was limited to a small region.

That assumption was wrong.

A team at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has now found signs that Heartland virus is circulating in deer, raccoons, coyotes and moose in 13 states — from Texas to North Carolina and Florida to Maine.

Hispanic people much are less likely to get cancer than non-Hispanic whites, but it's also their leading cause of death.

Beneath that puzzling fact lie the complexities and contradictions of the Hispanic health experience in the United States. Since we're talking about 17 percent of the U.S. population, it has ramifications for health care and the economy.

Here's what caught our eye in Wednesday's report on cancer and Hispanics from the American Cancer Society:

The Demand For Medical Cannabis In Illinois

Sep 16, 2015

Legislation creating Illinois’ medical marijuana law took effect at the start of 2014, but nearly two years into it, no product has been sold.  In Wednesday’s report on the opening of one of the first cultivation sites, we heard about one of the companies growing the state’s first crop of medical cannabis.  Now we hear about those hoping to benefit.

If you haven't experienced it yourself, you've no doubt heard about the outrageous — and rapidly growing — prices of certain prescription medications.

The average price for about one year of cancer-drug therapy has skyrocketed from $10,000 or less before 2000 to more than $100,000 by 2012, according to a recent Mayo Clinic study.