Originally created 02/11/99

Health capsules

Computer posture

While most of the concern about children using computers centers on smut on the Internet, another threat has gone mostly unnoticed: a potential harm to musculoskeletal development.

In a study of 95 youngsters in grades 3-5, a researcher at Cornell University found that none of the children had computers set up for postural comfort.

The study by Shawn Oates of Cornell found that keyboard heights were set above recommended levels; none included wrist or palm rests; and monitors were also generally too high.

"In fact, more than half the monitors were higher than adult recommended levels," said Dr. Oates, who published her study in the journal Computers in Schools.

The measurements were taken at four locations in New York and Michigan.

"Most children are now working for short periods on keyboards that are too high and incorrectly angled, looking sharply up at monitors and with their legs dangling, unsupported by the floor," said Dr. Oates.

Program benefits

Even though multiple sclerosis is a progressive disease, putting patients into rehabilitation programs can provide long-term benefits, two new studies suggest.

The studies, in Britain and Italy, showed that patients who participated in rehabilitation programs functioned better for several months and had improved feelings of well-being for nearly a year after the rehab was over. The studies were published in the January issue of the journal Neurology.

"Although the study showed that benefits continued, it also showed that they tended to wear off after a number of months," said Alan Thompson, a neurologist at the Institute of Neurology in London.

He said the support systems available to patients played a large role in the long-term success of rehab programs.

Dental dilemma

While recent studies suggest links between gum disease and such afflictions as stroke and heart disease, most patients tend to downplay the importance of gum problems, a study by the American Dental Association suggests.

While 42 percent of dentists surveyed cited periodontal disease as the single largest threat to oral health, 55 percent also said their patients aren't adequately concerned about their gum problems.

"Dentists must educate their patients about periodontal diseases," said Dr. Timothy Rose, president of the American Dental Association.

Sports risks

When a high school basketball or football player dies during a game or practice workout, it often sends alarms through the community and raises questions, but a new study finds that such deaths are quite rare.

Researchers at the Minneapolis Heart Institute Foundation calculate that about 1 out of 200,000 high school athletes may die each year of sudden cardiac death.

"There have been very little credible data to answer the important question of how common these events really are," said Barry Maron, who led the study. "Most people know that these events are uncommon, but defining an exact number has been very difficult."

The study relies on data from a statewide insurance program for public school athletes in Minnesota. Dr. Maron said Minnesota's numbers are likely to closely mirror the nation's as a whole.

Half-asleep birds

You'd think it would take real talent to be asleep and awake at the same time.

But all it takes is a birdbrain.

Research has shown that birds can sleep with only one half of their brains. Scientists have suspected that the other half keeps one eye open so the birds can be alert to danger.

Now, researchers at Indiana State University in Terre Haute have confirmed the idea. If birds really do sleep with one eye open and one-half of the brain alert to watch for predators, they should do it more in risky situations, the scientists reasoned.

So the researchers put some mallard ducks in a row and took videos while the ducks were sleeping. The ducks at the ends of the row, being in a more exposed position, should have been at more risk than the ducks in the middle.

As the scientists report in the latest issue of the journal Nature, the ducks at the ends were more likely to be sleeping with only one eye closed, an indication they were asleep with only half their brains.


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