Originally created 11/13/97

Health capsules



More than stress

Gulf War veterans reporting a host of physical and mental ailments aren't just suffering the fallout of stress, a Dallas researcher has concluded.

Since returning from the war against Iraq six years ago, many service members have complained of concentration problems, chronic diarrhea, extreme fatigue and other symptoms. In January, a presidential advisory committee reviewing this so-called Gulf War syndrome reported that stress was an important cause of the veterans' symptoms.

The presidential panel based its conclusions on a review of 16 studies examining the symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder. However, those studies drew largely on responses to questionnaires and not the diagnoses of trained psychologists or psychiatrists, said Dr. Robert Haley of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Work by Dr. Haley and his colleagues has suggested that exposure to a mixture of pesticides and other chemicals is responsible for the syndrome.

Dr. Haley reported on their findings in the November issue of the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Blowing smoke

Bans on smoking don't hurt the restaurant business, according to a study of 20 cities and two counties in California and Colorado.

"Smoke-free ordinances do not adversely affect either restaurant or bar sales," researchers concluded. The finding contradicts claims by the tobacco industry and others that bans on smoking would cut revenue by as much as 30 percent.

The study compared sales-tax data from the first 15 cities in the country to ban smoking in enclosed restaurant areas (not necessarily including bar areas) with tax data from 15 other cities where smoking is widely permitted. The matched pairs of cities -- all in California or Colorado -- had similar population, income, smoking prevalence and geography.

No-smoking ordinances had no significant effect on the portion of a city's total retail sales that went to restaurants and bars. Nor did such bans alter the ratio of sales in smoke-free cities to sales in comparable smoke-allowed cities, the study found.

Keeping control

People in their 80s and 90s may be more likely to hold on to their health if they feel in charge of their surroundings, a new study suggests.

Researchers from Pennsylvania State University and the University College of Health Sciences in Jonkoping, Sweden, followed 142 men and women whose average age was 87.

After four years, 43 percent of the study volunteers had not seen a significant decline their health or activity level. Those who remained stable were twice as likely at the beginning of the study to report a high feeling of "mastery," which the researchers used to gauge whether the volunteers felt in control of their lives.

Writing in the Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences, the scientists said the findings should encourage older people to maintain a sense of independence for as long as possible, even if they feel their physical health deteriorating.