TIME Infectious Disease

Spacing Out Kids’ Vaccines Can Hurt Their Health, Experts Say

Girl getting immunization
Getty Images

All those shriek-inducing pokes may seem excessive but the rewards of following national vaccination guidelines far outweigh the risks, experts say

“Like any parent, I don’t like to see my child get a shot,” says Dr. Michael J. Smith, a pediatrician at the University of Louisville who has studied immunizations and developmental health outcomes among kids. “But these vaccine schedules are in place for a reason.” Smith compares skipping or postponing one of your child’s vaccinations to not buckling him or her in during a car ride. “You never know when you’re going to get hit. And if you delay or space out your child’s shots, not only are you putting your kids at risk, but you’re putting other people’s kids at risk too.”

The urgency of Smith’s warnings are borne out in the recent outbreaks of measles and pertussis, diseases that had been almost totally eradicated in the U.S. but have made a frightening comeback since the turn of the century—right around the time two now-discredited scientific papers suggested a possible link between vaccines and autism. Dozens of subsequent studies have demonstrated there are no links between vaccinations and autism. But while stats show most parents understand the importance of immunizing their kids, research from the University of Michigan indicates plenty of moms and dads—roughly 1 in 4—worry that current immunization guidelines may overburden their babies’ tiny immune systems.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommend that all healthy babies be vaccinated against 12 different diseases or viruses during the first two years of life. That’s compared to eight back in the early 1990s. Recently added to the list are vaccinations against potentially deadly illnesses like hepatitis and chicken pox.

But while the number of vaccines (and needle pricks) has grown during the last two decades, the amount of antigen in those shots, which is the substance that triggers a response from your child’s immune system, has plummeted, Smith explains. “The actual burden on your child’s immune system is far lower that it was 10 or 20 years ago, even though kids now receive more shots,” he says. That’s credited to advances in protein science and a better understanding of the way diseases and children’s immune systems interact.

In an effort to provide some answers for concerned parents, Smith and his colleagues looked at kids’ scores on tests related to motor skill, verbal memory, attention span, and several other neuropsychological factor to see if vaccine timing had any impact—good or bad—on a child’s brain development. His research shows kids vaccinated on time score the same or better than children who receive their vaccinations late or not at all.

Related research from Canada looked specifically at the immunization decisions made by parents of children diagnosed with autism. “Our study found that roughly 60 percent of parents who had a child with autism delayed or declined vaccinations for a later-born child,” says Dr. Jessica Brian, a developmental psychologist at the University of Toronto. According to Brian’s research, those children who did not receive their shots on time or altogether were slightly more likely to develop autism. “I don’t want to suggest that vaccines offer some protection against autism,” she says. “But our data show that there’s no increased risk of autism among kids who are vaccinated on time.”

Brian, Smith and other vaccine researchers repeatedly point to the Internet as a source of misinformation and, in some cases, unsubstantiated fear mongering when it comes to vaccines. Not uncommon are conspiracy theories involving pharmaceutical companies and the CDC. But travel overseas, and the picture changes slightly.

In Europe, where some diseases were never eradicated as thoroughly as they were in the U.S., health officials say there isn’t as much “too much, too soon” concern among parents when it comes to immunizations. Still, European moms and dads do harbor fears about potential vaccine side effects, says Niklas Danielsson, deputy head of the vaccine-preventable diseases program for the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. Danielsson says the “unprecedented success” of vaccination programs has created a generation of young parents who aren’t familiar with the reality of something like a measles outbreak, so they’re focus is on a shot’s rare risks as opposed to its many proven benefits.

The lingering presence of diseases in other countries is one of the big reasons having your children vaccinated on time is so important, says Dr. Simon Hambidge, a professor of pediatrics and epidemiology at the University of Colorado. “We live in a world of international travel, and people are coming into our country all the time who may be carrying these diseases,” Hambidge says. “Unfortunately, the vast majority of the new outbreaks we’re seeing involve unvaccinated children.”

Hambidge has looked closely at one possible vaccine side effect that has parents worried: seizures. The CDC recommends that all healthy infants receive their first measles vaccination between the ages of 12 and 15 months, and some research has linked the measles vaccine to higher rates of febrile seizures. Though frightening for parents, seizures of this type are relatively common and almost never cause lasting damage, Hambidge explains. “About one in 2,000 to 4,000 kids will experience one of these febrile seizures after receiving the measles vaccine,” he says. “But we found that that seizure rate rises to one in 1,000 or 2,000 if the measles vaccine is given late, or between 16 and 23 months of age.” Hambidge says this is just one example of how a slight deviation from the CDC’s vaccination schedule can put your child’s health at risk.

“The risk of measles is far, far more serious than the risk for febrile seizures,” Hambidge says. “Even if your child is unlucky enough to have a seizure after a vaccination, these seizures are short-lived and don’t lead to any long-term issues, while measles is a life-threatening disease.”

Despite the overwhelming amount of research and real-world evidence that points to the reliable safety of vaccines, experts acknowledge that parents will continue to worry about the chemicals and additives in immunization shots. To those who have doubts, Dr. Smith says, “Vaccines are one of the most rigorously tested and effective health products on the planet. Nothing involving them is done lightly.”

And when it comes to the CDC’s recommendations regarding vaccination schedules, he adds, “As a pediatrician and as a parent, if my family’s on vacation and we have to put off my daughter’s doctor visit, I get anxious each day that she goes unvaccinated. I think the timing is that important.”

TIME Healthcare

We’re One Step Closer to Better Sunscreen

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Jeffrey Coolidge—Getty Images

A bill for better sunscreen is on its way to Congress

The approval process by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) can be woefully slow, and for over a decade, new sunscreen ingredients—some of which are widely used in other countries—have been trapped in an FDA backlog. But on July 15, those ingredients got one step closer to market when the House Energy and Commerce’s Health Subcommittee approved a bill that would speed up the process.

As we reported in May, sunscreen innovation advocates are hopeful that the a bipartisan bill called the Sunscreen Innovation Act—which is currently under review—could pass this summer. There are eight ingredients currently waiting for FDA approval, and the majority have been used in European and Asian countries for years. Some of the ingredients appear to offer better protection from UVA rays than those currently used in U.S. products.

The House Energy and Commerce’s Health Subcommittee approved the bill, which means it’s one step closer to getting passed by the House, something advocates think could happen before Congress’ recess in August. After that the bill heads to Senate. If the bill passes, the FDA is will have to respond to the current pending ingredients within a year, and all new applications will have to be responded to within one and half years.

Since skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S., having the most up-to-date products is important to keep people safe. For now, here are some shopping tips.

Read our full coverage of the bill, here.

TIME

3 Skin Products You Need to Stop Using

Girl with skincare product
Marili Forastieri—Getty Images

You may think that as long as an item is on store shelves, it’s got a proven health and safety record. But the truth is, the long-term impact of personal-care creations aren’t always fully understood until years after they go to market.

That’s the case with several high-profile health and beauty products on the market today: Doctors and scientists are discovering that despite their popularity and “healthy” image, they may not be so good for us, or for the planet. So we asked Lisa Donofrio, M.D., associate clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University, for her take on the recent headlines. Here’s her advice on which ingredients to avoid, plus her recommended alternatives.

Health.com: 15 Biggest Sunscreen Mistakes

Antibacterial soaps and body washes
Liquid hand and body soaps that boast “antibacterial” claims often contain an ingredient called triclosan, which has been linked to antibiotic resistance and hormone disruption. (Triclosan is also present in some toothpastes and cosmetics.) “It gets into the water supply and kills off beneficial bacteria,” says Dr. Donofrio. Plus, she adds, research hasn’t shown a true health benefit to antibacterial products. “We need to be a little dirty; it’s good to give our immune systems something to do so they don’t turn on us.”

The FDA has warned manufacturers that in the coming years, they’ll need to prove that products containing triclosan are more effective in preventing illness and reducing the spread of infection than regular soap and water, or they’ll have to reformulate their products. And Minnesota recently issued a ban on triclosan, which will go into effect in 2017.

Antibacterial bar soaps can contain a similar chemical, called triclocarban, that should be avoided as well. Instead, says Dr. Donofrio, choose bars, liquid soaps, and body washes with natural antimicrobials (she likes formulas that contain benzoyl peroxide or sulphur, which are gentler on the environment and don’t foster drug resistance), or use an alcohol-based sanitizer to clean your hands when you’re not near soap and water.

Health.com: 16 Hair Myths You Should Stop Believing

Face and body scrubs with microbeads
These tiny plastic beads are added to face and body washes as an exfoliant, and they help scrub away dead skin. The problem is, recent studies have shown that they also slip through water filtration systems and are making their way into our streams and oceans, potentially hurting fish and wildlife. The synthetic ingredient was recently banned by Illinois, and several other states are following suit.

In light of this news, a “natural” exofoliant may seem like the way to go—but Dr. Donofrio cautions against face and body washes that contain ground up pieces of nuts, seeds, and pits, which can have jagged edges and scratch or irritate skin. Her best alternative? “A coarse washcloth is a great exfoliator, as are scrubs that contain fine sea salt or sugar.”

Health.com: 13 Everyday Habits That Age You

Anything with parabens
These preservatives are found in everything from shampoos to soaps to lotions, and are used to prevent bacteria growth and extend shelf life. But they are also absorbed into our bodies, and research suggests that they may be tied to hormone disruption and certain cancers. “They bind to estrogen receptors and pose a potential health risk since they are stored in body fat,” says Dr. Donofrio. “Since we are uncertain if they pose a real or theoretical health problem, why tempt fate?”

Parabens are listed on ingredient labels—as methylparaben, propylparaben, or other words ending in -paraben—so it’s easy to choose products that don’t contain them, says Dr. Donofrio, or to limit your exposure by keeping their use to a small amount of skin area. Preservative-free products, or those with natural preservatives (such as grapefruit-seed extract, rosemary extract, or citric acid), likely won’t last as long, but if you use them regularly you should still finish them before their expiration date.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Infectious Disease

Girl, 9, Killed by Brain-Eating Parasite in Water

Kansas and Florida officials issue health warnings about swimming in fresh water

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Kansas health and environment officials have issued a health warning after a 9-year-old girl died from a brain-eating amoeba that lives in fresh water.

Hally Yust is reported to have been a regular water-skier who frequently swam in freshwater areas. She died last week after encountering the parasite Naegleria fowleri which is found in warm, still water.

Florida officials have provided similar warnings following Yust’s death. Last summer Florida resident Zachary Reyna, 12, died after he picked up the parasite while playing in a ditch near his home.

The Department of Health and Environment in Kansas said that it’s not clear where Yust, a resident of Johnson County, contracted the parasite. This is the second such case in Kansas.

“We are very saddened to learn of this unfortunate circumstance, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends during this difficult time,” said Robert Moser, Department Secretary and State Health Officer.

He added: “It is important for the public to know that infections like these are extremely rare and there are precautions one can take to lower their risk – such as nose plugs.”

From 1962 to 2013 there have been 132 similar cases reported in the U.S. The infection usually happens when the amoeba enters a person’s nose whilst they’re underwater and travels to the brain. Symptoms usually appear five days after exposure.

Officials recommend keeping your head above water when swimming in warm freshwater, wearing nose clips or avoiding freshwater activities altogether.

TIME

You Asked: Are All Calories Created Equal?

Are all calories equal?
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Kale or corn dogs, bananas or beer, a calorie is still a calorie. At least, that’s what dieters have been told for the past half-century. Now, experts don't agree

“By and large, we’ve been taking an accounting approach to weight loss,” says Dr. David Ludwig, a professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. By that he means, health scientists have traditionally focused on the number of calories coming in versus the number of calories going out. But there are a lot of problems with that approach, he says. For one thing, it’s really tough to accurately keep track of your daily calorie intake. “Being off by just 100 calories a day could add up to a hundred pounds over a lifetime,” he says.

If burning more calories than you consume would keep you skinny, a low-fat diet should be the answer to all your diet prayers. That’s because, compared to protein or carbohydrates, fat contains roughly twice the number of calories, ounce for ounce. But Ludwig says low-fat diets have proved ineffective when it comes to losing weight. “Mediterranean or low-carbohydrate diets outperform a low-fat diet every time, and that wouldn’t be true if calories were the only measure that mattered,” he adds. (Mediterranean diets and others like the now-trendy Paleo diet are both high in fat, comparatively speaking.)

In reality, Ludwig says the body responds differently to calories from different sources. “Your weight is regulated by a complex system of genetic factors, hormonal factors, and neurological input, and not all calories affect this system the same way,” he explains.

As for fat: “Some naturally high-fat foods are among the most healthful we can eat in terms of promoting weight loss and reducing risk for diabetes and heart disease,” he explains, listing off foods like nuts, avocados, and many types of fish. “If you’re counting calories, you would want to eat these foods sparingly because they’re dense in calories. But they’re also very filing.”

Refined carbohydrates, on the other hand—like those found in white bread, cookies, crackers, and breakfast cereals—raise your blood’s level of the hormone insulin, which signals to your body that it needs to store fat cells. Also referred to as high-glycemic foods, these refined carbs pass through your digestive system quickly—which is why you can eat a whole bag of potato chips and feel hungry 15 minutes later, Ludwig says.

Dr. Richard Feinman, a professor of cell biology at the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center, compares insulin to a faucet handle. The more your blood’s amount of the hormone rises, the more the faucet opens and the more fat your body stores.

Feinman has looked at calories from the perspective of thermodynamics—or the laws that govern heat and energy. Like Ludwig, he says the idea that calories from different macronutrient sources would have the same effect on your body is silly. Put simply, it doesn’t make sense that “a calorie is a calorie” because your body uses the energy from different foods in a variety of ways, Feinman explains.

The big lesson here is that people need to look at food as not just a collection of calories, experts say. By cutting out refined carbs and eating more protein and healthy fats, which help you stay full without triggering the storage of fat cells, “You can work with, as opposed to against, your body’s internal weight-control systems,” he says. “That will make weight loss more natural and easy.”

The best part: You can put away the calculator. No more calories counting.

TIME health

Watch Shoppers Smash a Hot Car Window to Free Trapped Toddlers

The mother pleaded with witnesses not to call the police

A group of shoppers in a Katy, Texas, parking lot took it upon themselves to break through the window of hot Jeep on Monday to free children trapped inside.

The children’s mother had left the two young kids, a boy and a girl, locked in the car while she got a haircut, WUSA 9 reports.

“The kids were in there crying,” said Gabriel Del Valle, who shot a cell phone video of the incident. “I mean you would understand. It’s real hot.”

Witnesses said the mother pleaded with all involved not to call the police and said she had made a terrible mistake. The children reportedly appeared unhurt and authorities were not contacted.

[WUSA9]

TIME Tech

Google Joining With Pharma Company to Build its Smart Contact Lens

The lenses would be a breakthrough in diabetes management, allowing diabetics to monitor blood sugar levels without drawing blood

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Pharmaceutical company Novartis announced Tuesday that its eye care division, Alcon, will license Google’s smart contact lens technology, creating a tool to monitor diabetics’ blood sugar levels through tear samples.

Alcon will collaborate with Google[x], Google’s secretive lab for major technological advances which also designed Google Glass. The two will join forces to develop contact lenses that wirelessly connect to mobile devices to report blood sugar in near-real-time. The technology may also provide accommodative vision correction for those with impaired eyesight.

“Our dream is to use the latest technology in the miniaturization of electronics to help improve the quality of life for millions of people,” said Google C0-Founder Sergey Brin in a statement. “We are very excited to work with Novartis to make this dream come true.”

A marriage between a medical juggernaut and a tech powerhouse, the agreement will benefit both companies by allowing Google to merge biology with its miniature electronic efforts and Novartis to leverage technology to manage disease, according to Novartis’ press release. The partnership remains subject to anti-trust approvals.

“This is a key step for us to go beyond the confines of traditional disease management, starting with the eye,” said Novartis CEO Joseph Jimenez.

The partnership announcement arrives shortly after Babak Parviz, one of the Google[x] pioneers behind the smart lens and Google Glass, wrote on Google Plus Saturday that he will leave Google for Amazon. Parviz, who debuted in 2011 a smart lens prototype with a red LED light indicating glucose at or below certain thresholds, is expected to contribute to Amazon’s wearables and technological advancements.

Google announced its smart contact lens project in January.

 

 

TIME Heart Disease

Americans Are Having Fewer and Fewer Strokes

Blood pressure check-up
Getty Images

In the last two decades the stroke rate among Americans has dropped, and those that do have strokes have a lower risk of dying from then than they did in the past.

In a new study, researchers followed 14,357 Americans who were stroke-free in 1987 until 2011. They found a 24% overall drop in first-time strokes in each of the last two decades and an overall 20% decline per decade in deaths after stroke. The authors note that progress in stroke rates was primarily seen in the over-65 age group and stressed the continued need to lower the number of strokes in younger people.

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), reports that the declines can be credited to better control over risk factors like blood pressure, getting people to quit smoking, and the fact that so many Americans are on cholesterol-controlling statins.

There’s still concern, however, over the high number of Americans suffering from obesity and type 2 diabetes, since both can increase the risk for stroke. About a third of American adults are obese, and if trends continue, one in three Americans will have a form of diabetes by 2050, according to CDC data. Considering already about 80,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke each year, the number still needs to drop, and addressing all risk factors is one way to get Americans’ overall health in check and continue to lower the stroke rate.

TIME Exercise/Fitness

1 in 4 Americans Admit Doing No Exercise At All

Overweight man using remote controls
Overweight man using remote controls Geri Lavrov—Getty Images

The 10 most sedentary states in America are as follows

The CDC released a new report Tuesday that looks at how states across the country support physical activity, revealing one in four people across the U.S. admit doing no voluntary exercise at all.

The research is intended to show how some states are much more active than others. But to really drill in the point, the CDC included a table that tracks the percentage of adults by state who participate in zero physical activity in their free time.

A total of 25.4 percent across the U.S. admitted making no time at all for leisure-time physical activity, according to the report. Just over half of those surveyed said they met the CDC’s 150-minute weekly guideline for aerobic activity.

The 10 states with the highest percentage of inactivity were as follows:

Mississippi: 36%
Tennessee: 35.1%
West Virginia: 35.1%
Louisiana: 33.8%
Alabama: 32.6%
Oklahoma: 31.2%
Arkansas: 30.9%
Kentucky: 29.3%
Indiana: 29.2%
Missouri: 28.4%

The report states that data on physical activity behavior was gathered using data from the CDC’s Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, and the CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (which was used to track youth physical activity.)

While some of the above numbers might look bad, all hope isn’t lost. The CDC’s report suggests strategies states can employ to encourage physical activity. Those include:

1) Creating or enhancing access to safe places for physical activity
2) Enhancing physical education and physical activity in schools and child care settings
3) Supporting street-scale and community-scale design policy.

The CDC found that 27 states are tying to make the streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists with Complete Street policies to get people up and moving.

TIME Food & Drink

5 Delicious Breakfasts That Won’t Leave You Hungry

Breakfast smoothie
madlyinlovewithlife—Getty Images/Moment Open

You may have seen reports in the news lately questioning the benefits of breakfast for weight loss, but I’m not ready to sanction skipping. In my experience, eating breakfast strongly supports weight control, and several studies back what I’ve seen in my 15+ years of counseling clients—breakfast fuels your body when you’re most active, and therefore most likely to burn off what you’ve eaten. It also tends to prevent late night overeating, when you’re less active, and more prone to racking up a fuel surplus that feeds fat cells.

Also, weight loss aside, “breaking the fast” is a savvy nutrition strategy, because it’s a chance to fit in servings of produce, whole grains, healthy fats, and lean proteins. Missing that opportunity, particularly day after day, can lead to shortfalls that deprive your body of important health protective nutrients.

Health.com: Best Superfoods for Weight Loss

Eating breakfast, especially one with protein, is also a smart way to build and maintain metabolism-boosting muscle. One recent study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that muscle building was 25% greater among people who ate a diet with an evenly distributed protein intake, compared to those who consumed less protein at breakfast, slightly more at lunch, and the majority of their protein at dinner.

Finally, a study published last year from the American Heart Association found that over a 16 year period, regular breakfast skippers had a 27% higher risk of a heart attack or fatal heart disease.

If you’re on board for a daily breakfast, but your biggest barrier is time, here are five tips and tricks to help you create shortcuts, so you can reap the benefits without running late.

Chill your oatmeal
Oatmeal doesn’t have to be served warm. Cook, then chill individual portions, and stash them in the fridge in small containers you can grab, along with a spoon, on your way out the door. Just mix a protein powder (like pea, hemp, or organic whey) into rolled oats, add hot water, stir, fold in fresh fruit, cinnamon, and nuts, and chill. Or skip the protein powder, and mix the oats, fruit, cinnamon, and nuts into nonfat organic Greek yogurt, and chill to make a grab-n-go mueslix.

Health.com: 20 Snacks That Burn Fat

Hard boil it
Many of my clients enjoy omelets on the weekends, but feel like an egg-based breakfast takes too much time during the week. For a make-ahead option, prep hard boiled organic eggs on a Sunday for the upcoming week. While you’re making dinner, take a few extra minutes to whip up a simple egg salad for breakfast the next morning. Mix chopped egg with either guacamole or pesto, diced or shredded veggies, and a small scoop of cooked, chilled quinoa or brown rice. Grab a portion with a fork in the a.m., and you’re good to go.

Have dinner for breakfast
It may seem odd to chow down on a garden salad topped with lentils or salmon at 8 am, but who says breakfast meals have to look different than lunch or dinner? Many of my clients make double portions in the evening, and eat seconds for breakfast the next day. Give it a try – you may just find that warmed up stir fry, veggie “pasta,” or a crisp entrée salad is your new favorite way to start the day.

Health.com: 25 Surprising Ways to Lose Weight

Pre-whip your smoothie
Smoothies are pretty fast, but I know that when you’re running late, just tossing ingredients into a blender and pressing a button can require more time than you can spare. If that tends to be the case, blend up a smoothie just before bed, stash it in a sealed to-go jug in the fridge, grab it on your way out the door, and shake it up before sipping.

Make a meal out of snack foods
It’s perfectly OK to cobble together a breakfast from an assortment of snack foods, including veggies with hummus and whole grain crackers, or trail mix made from nuts or seeds, unsweetened preservative-free dried fruit, and a whole grain cereal you can eat with your hands. Bon (breakfast) appetit!

Health.com: 10 High-Protein Breakfast Recipes

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

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