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Just the Facts

Sleepy Surgeons’ Scalpels Slip

You might want a good night’s sleep if you’re headed for surgery, but what really counts is whether your surgeon is well-rested. Using a virtual-reality surgery simulator, London researchers found that surgeons who stayed up all night made 20 percent more mistakes and took 14 percent longer to complete surgical tasks. They also showed more signs of stress and poorer dexterity. Going without sleep impairs performance as much as a blood alcohol level of 0.10 percent, which itself is enough to have a driver arrested in many states.

Taffinder NJ, McManus IC, Gul Y, Russell RCG, Darzi A. Effect of sleep deprivation on surgeons’ dexterity on laparoscopy simulator. Lancet. 1998;352:1191.

Give us your tired, your poor, and we’ll probably ruin their health, too

Welcome to America—it’s all downhill from here. A 271-page report from the National Research Council shows that arrival in America marks the beginning of gradually worsening health for immigrant families. “McDonaldization,” said one of the researchers, “is not necessarily progress when it comes to nutritious diets.” Recent immigrants eat more fruits, grains, and vegetables, a pattern soon lost with assimilation. Despite having less access to prenatal care, new immigrants also have lower rates of infant mortality and low-birth-weight babies than U.S. mothers of similar ethnic background and social class, presumably due to healthier diets and less use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs. The longer they are in America, however, the more they lose these advantages. Mental health problems, including suicide, also increase as new immigrants lose touch with family traditions. The good health of new arrivals is found despite their often being impoverished, or perhaps, in part, because of it.

And ketchup is a vegetable, too!

Americans are eating 19 percent more vegetables, 22 percent more fruit, and 47 percent more grain products than they did in 1970, according to the October 1, 1998, issue of Cancer. That’s the good news. The bad news: fully a quarter of our “vegetables” are french fries.

The Pharmaceutical Flush

In 1992, German researchers looking for herbicides in water found traces of an unidentified chemical. Eventually, tests proved it to be the cholesterol-lowering drug clofibrate, a cousin of the weed-killer 2,4-D. Now so many Europeans are using clofibrate to lower their cholesterol levels—and excreting it into domestic sewage lines—that detectable levels are found throughout the entire North Sea, which receives an estimated 50 to 100 tons of it each year. Researchers are also concerned about estrogen supplements which are excreted in the urine and can alter sex characteristics of certain fish at concentrations of just 20 parts per trillion, well below levels triggering governmental scrutiny.

A Not-So-Healthy Appetite

The National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that the number of animals killed for food in the U.S. hit a new record in 1998, at 9.4 billion. These included:

“Broiler” chickens

8,470 million

“Laying” hens

446 million


297 million


119 million

Cows and calves

41 million


24 million


5 million


9,402 million

An estimated 10 percent, or 900 million, of these animals died of stress, injury, or disease before slaughter. Also reaching new peaks in 1998 were the amount of animal manure produced (2.6 trillion pounds) and the total combined weight of human adipose tissue.

Get Out Your Checkbook

America’s collective medical bill will reach $2.1 trillion per year by 2007, according to the Health Care Financing Administration. The figure is growing at 6.5 percent per year.

Where’s the Beef?  Who Cares?

Gardenburger, the nation’s leading vegetarian burger, is projecting sales in the neighborhood of $250-300 million in 1999.

Carcinogens Really Are Unhealthy

Eating well-cooked beef or bacon on a regular basis is linked to a substantial increase in breast cancer risk, says the November 18, 1998, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, presumably because of the carcinogens that form as meat is cooked. Apparently the folks at the Breast Cancer Coalition didn’t read the report. On November 20, they were busy lambasting Dr. Bob Arnot for suggesting that dietary factors can help prevent breast cancer in his book The Breast Cancer Prevention Diet.

Zheng W, Gustafson DR, Sinha R, et al. Well-done meat intake and the risk of breast cancer. J Natl Cancer Inst 1998;90:1724-1729.

Americans Aren’t Buying the Milk Mustache

Milk consumption continues to tumble, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. From 35.5 gallons per person in 1966, milk consumption fell to 31.6 in 1976, then to 28.6 in 1986, and 26.2 in 1997. Likely reasons: health considerations, the availability of juices and bottled water beverages, and aggressive soda marketing.


Winter 1999

Winter 1999
Volume VIII
Number 1

Good Medicine

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