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Health & happiness - Sept 27

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Hurricane Katrina Exacts Another Toll: Enduring Depression

Peter Whoriskey, Washington Post
NEW ORLEANS -- A gravel-voiced fire department captain, Michael Gowland says he had never been a big crier.

"I'm not a Neanderthal," he said last week, "but I wasn't much for tears."

Now, sometimes, he cries two or three hours at a stretch. Other times, his temper has exploded, prompting him one day to pick up a crescent wrench and chase an auto mechanic around a garage. Even more perplexing to him, the once devout Roman Catholic now wonders "if there's anything out there."

"If anyone had told me before that depression could bring me this low, I'd have said they were a phony," Gowland, 46, married and a father of three, said during a break from fixing his flooded home. "Everything bothers me."

More than two years after the storm, it is not Hurricane Katrina itself but the persistent frustrations of the delayed recovery that are exacting a high psychological toll on people who never before had such troubles, psychiatrists and a major study say. A burst of adrenaline and hope propelled many here through the first months but, with so many neighborhoods still semi-deserted, inspiration has ended.

Calls to a mental health hotline jumped after the storm and have remained high, organizers said. Psychiatrists report being overbooked, at least partly because demand has spiked. And the most thorough survey of the Gulf Coast's mental health recently showed that while signs of depression and other ills doubled after the hurricane, two years later, those levels have not subsided, they have risen.
(23 September 2007)


An interview with green pediatrician Alan Greene

Amy Linn, Grist
If you were to give a check-up to Alan Greene, eco-pediatrician extraordinaire, you just might diagnose him with ASHD -- Attention Surplus Hyperproductivity Disorder. It isn't a real disorder, of course. But whatever Greene's got -- whatever blend of vim and vision allows him to stay at the cutting edge of environmentalism and e-medicine while also writing books, doctoring, and being a 100-percent-organic-food-eating father of four -- well, it's something that's helped the world get better.

...Q: What can you do if you can't afford an all-organic lifestyle?

A: Another reason I wrote the book was to put these things in perspective and make things as simple as possible. What you can do, for example, is try to eat organic foods at least during pregnancy, when babies are the most vulnerable. Pregnancy is also a time when you have the most control. The baby is only going to be exposed to what goes on your skin, what goes in your mouth, and the fumes you inhale.

And, again, it's possible to turn things around. Researchers have been looking at bisphenol A, one of the nasty plasticizers that are all over the place, and they gave it to pregnant animals. Then they gave the animals extra levels of folate and genistein [an active ingredient in soy], and it erased the damage. Getting great phytochemicals and antioxidants in your diet during pregnancy can go a long way.

Q: What are you seeing that's not so heartening?

A: A lot of the environmental diseases are getting worse. Asthma has tripled or quadrupled in recent decades, peanut allergies have doubled in a five-year period -- and they can be very serious. Cancers are also on the rise across the board. There's been a 250 percent increase in ADHD. Autism is on the rise: the incidence used to be 1 in 10,000; now it's 1 in 166. It used to be that doctors saw high cholesterol, and glucose tolerance out of whack, and out-of-control waist sizes in middle-aged people. Today, about two-thirds of high-school students already have one of those problems. Type-2 diabetes, which used to be called adult-onset diabetes, is really on the rise -- we're seeing it starting in fourth grade. We have a ticking diabetic time bomb.

We're giving kids too many calories, too many ingredients that kids' bodies don't know how to deal with, and diets so unbalanced that kids are missing out on many of the protective nutrients they need. Obesity is very, very common.
(24 September 2007)


He’s Happier, She’s Less So

David Leonhardt, New York Times
Last year, a team of researchers added a novel twist to something known as a time-use survey. Instead of simply asking people what they had done over the course of their day, as pollsters have been doing since the 1960s, the researchers also asked how people felt during each activity. Were they happy? Interested? Tired? Stressed?

Not surprisingly, men and women often gave similar answers about what they liked to do (hanging out with friends) and didn’t like (paying bills).

...there appears to be a growing happiness gap between men and women.

Two new research papers, using very different methods, have both come to this conclusion. Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers, economists at the University of Pennsylvania (and a couple), have looked at the traditional happiness data, in which people are simply asked how satisfied they are with their overall lives. In the early 1970s, women reported being slightly happier than men. Today, the two have switched places.

Mr. Krueger, analyzing time-use studies over the last four decades, has found an even starker pattern. Since the 1960s, men have gradually cut back on activities they find unpleasant. They now work less and relax more.

Over the same span, women have replaced housework with paid work — and, as a result, are spending almost as much time doing things they don’t enjoy as in the past. Forty years ago, a typical woman spent about 23 hours a week in an activity considered unpleasant, or 40 more minutes than a typical man. Today, with men working less, the gap is 90 minutes.

These trends are reminiscent of the idea of “the second shift,” the name of a 1989 book by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild, arguing that modern women effectively had to hold down two jobs. The first shift was at the office, and the second at home.

But researchers who have looked at time-use data say the second-shift theory misses an important detail. Women are not actually working more than they were 30 or 40 years ago. They are instead doing different kinds of work. They’re spending more time on paid work and less on cleaning and cooking.

What has changed — and what seems to be the most likely explanation for the happiness trends — is that women now have a much longer to-do list than they once did (including helping their aging parents). They can’t possibly get it all done, and many end up feeling as if they are somehow falling short.
(26 September 2007)
Money and consumer spending don't seem to correlate with happiness. As this article points out, other factors seem to be more important. -BA

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