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Birth Control for Teens

reproductive health

Some health experts say the time has come for oral contraception to be available to teens without a prescription. According to a review of decades of research led by a team at Johns Hopkins, teenage girls are capable of safely using “the pill” to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Associated health risks—like high blood pressure or increased risk of stroke—are rare in teens, and most have displayed skills to make informed choices about proper pill use. This age group may even use them more consistently than prophylactics.

Critics counter that making oral contraceptives readily available may encourage teens to have sex. But a majority of them already are. Pediatrician Krishna Upadhya, lead author of the report, notes that 55 percent of U.S. adolescents are sexually active by age 18. A recent survey found that 54 percent of females ages 15 to 19 have taken oral contraceptives. This group has experienced a significant drop in births, a change that experts attribute to an increased use of birth control. “Our review strongly suggests that giving teens easier access to various contraceptives will not lead to more sex but would result in fewer unwanted pregnancies,” she says.

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Gary Neill

Buying Vitamins You Don't Need

supplements

A steady dose of advertising by the vitamin industry has had the desired effect on consumers, even though the products themselves might be superfluous. Researchers in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health examined seven years of advertising data and found that an avalanche of print and TV ads significantly increased sales of vitamins and supplements despite little evidence of their efficacy. Both healthy and sick individuals drove the demand, says Johns Hopkins health economist Matthew Eisenberg, lead author of the new study. An earlier Johns Hopkins study found that gary neill vitamin advertisements touted chronic disease treatment and prevention, but these claims were largely unsubstantiated by medical research. Supplements are of little health benefit in generally well-nourished populations, Eisenberg says.

Aging at Home

occupational therapy

Scrolling through your Facebook feed may be a great way to keep tabs on faraway grandchildren and relatives, but the diversion could turn depressing when central vision loss blurs every smile and dimple.

Diseases like macular degeneration may rob people of the joy found in daily rituals like checking the mail, reading a book, or watching a Facebook video of a grandson blowing out his birthday candles. But Johns Hopkins researchers say that in-home visits with an occupational therapist can lessen the symptoms of depression by helping people maintain their ability to enjoy life’s simple pleasures.

“Many caregivers and patients may not realize how prevalent depression is among people with low vision, and our duty as health care providers is to raise awareness of the problem and the availability of help,” says Ashley Deemer, an instructor of ophthalmology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. “It is good practice not only to refer lowvision patients to a mental health expert but to suggest low-vision rehabilitation and occupational therapy, which could have a huge impact on our patients’ lives.”

A Case of the Fidgets

habit

Your 5-year-old daughter wiggles her fingers every few minutes while watching TV. In between homework problems, your 8-year-old son flaps his hands. Such behaviors may leave parents alarmed, but they do not necessarily indicate a significant neurological disorder and can be quite harmless, says Harvey Singer, a Johns Hopkins neurology professor and an expert on pediatric movement disorders. What they’re doing is called complex motor stereotypies (CMS), a fancy scientific term for a repetitive, rhythmic, patterned—yet purposeless—movement that stops with distraction. Many typically developing children can have CMS, a condition
that begins by age 3. While the root cause is unknown, episodes can be triggered by stress, fatigue, anxiety (you’re nervous about a role in the school play), or being engrossed in an activity.

Children don’t necessarily grow out of stereotypies. In a follow-up study of 49 participants, ages 9 to 20, with primary CMS, stereotypies persisted in all but one. In most, however, the movements decreased in frequency and duration with age. “People get greater control as time goes by,” Singer says. With no medications to diminish or halt CMS episodes, Singer advises behavioral therapy, which involves awareness training and learning to control the movement.

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Pete Ryan

Your No-Panic Guide to Head Lice

dermatology

Nothing strikes fear in the heart of a parent quite like the word “lice.” When an outbreak spreads through your community or your kid’s school, take a deep breath and follow this advice from Johns Hopkins pediatric dermatologist Bernard Cohen.

How do lice spread? Lice have nothing to do with hygiene. “The way you get head lice is by having close physical contact with someone who has them,” Cohen says. Lice do not jump or fly, they crawl, with six legs that cling to hair shafts. They mostly spread from head-to-head contact, so if your child plays with someone who’s got them and they touch heads, your child could get them even if hair is freshly washed. If there’s an outbreak and your child is lice-free, consider putting long hair in a ponytail or bun for a few days.

How to treat. There’s confusing information about the best way to treat lice. First, don’t waste time trying to suffocate them with mayonnaise or lotion. “By and large, those treatments are not effective,” Cohen says.

Over-the-counter formulas, which contain the chemical permethrin, aren’t always effective at killing the louse eggs (nits), so if you choose a drugstore method, re-treat the scalp seven to 10 days later to get any surviving lice that may have hatched. OTC meds work, but not as well as they used to, Cohen says. You may have heard about the rise of drug-resistant “super lice” that won’t die. They’ve grown resistant to permethrin. If OTC formulas aren’t working, ask your pediatrician about a prescription treatment.

If using chemicals worries you, Cohen says there’s no need for concern as long as you’re using the prescription or OTC formula as directed. “The studies done on them show that they’re very safe if used as recommended.”

Treat your home. You don’t need to boil your home or call an exterminator. “Lice need a blood meal within 12 to 24 hours. They won’t live more than a couple of days off the human host,” Cohen says. Lice can’t survive extreme temperatures, so put combs and
brushes in the dishwasher on a hot cycle, or in the freezer. No need to trash fabrics: Washing bed sheets, hats, and scarfs that might have come into contact with a lice-ridden scalp will do.

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Orlie Kapitulnik

The Young and the Listless

exercise

Any 60-year-old might jump at the chance to reclaim the energy levels of his 19-yearold self. Turns out, many of today’s 19-year-olds are letting that youthful vigor go to waste. A new study from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reports that physical activity among kids and teenagers is lower than previously thought. The study confirmed concerns about the current obesity epidemic: Exercise recommendations are not being met. “Activity levels at the end of adolescence were alarmingly low, and by age 19, they were comparable to 60-year-olds’,” says the study’s senior author, biostatistician Vadim Zipunnikov.

Young adults over the age of 20 show the only increases in activity, the study found, and after age 35 activity levels declined through midlife and older adulthood. Researchers used activity trackers to measure the movements of more than 12,000 study participants throughout the day. Understanding patterns of when people are active and sedentary could help health professionals design exercise programs by targeting not only age groups but times with the least activity, such as during the morning for children and adolescents.

A Little Dirt Won't Hurt

immunity

Believe it or not, dirt can be a good thing—especially when it comes to kids. Racing to disinfect a spoon or pacifier that falls on the
kitchen floor can cheat a child’s immune system. “That early microbial exposure is educating the immune system so that it’s better able to respond to the things that are really harmful,” says Johns Hopkins biologist Marsha Wills-Karp. “While this might make us uncomfortable, exposure to friendly bacteria is necessary and won’t cause long-term harm.”

Although you don’t want to deliberately expose kids to germs come cold season, don’t go overboard disinfecting your home. You’ll inadvertently remove good bacteria, too. And if your kids do get the sniffles, remember: “Having a cold can prime the pump of the immune system,” Wills-Karp says.

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Loveis Wise

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