Monday, December 29, 2008

List Of Holiday "Health Myths" Comes Up Short. Here's A Better One

The holiday season is as saturated with lists as it is with candy canes and mistletoe. Gift wish lists, top holiday songs, best seasonal dessert recipes. Today, health reporters across the country have been buzzing with yet another festive rundown: "5 Holiday Health Myths." And as much as we hate to be a holiday humbug, this latest list just doesn't pass muster. The Washington Post reports on the debunked myths, including:

Suicide rates are higher during the holidays. Poinsettias are toxic if eaten. Hangovers are curable. Sugar makes children hyperactive. You lose most of your body heat through your head. Eating at night makes you fat. "We really don't know why some myths become so embedded," said one of the article's co-authors, Dr. Rachel Vreeman, an assistant professor of pediatrics. "Sometimes you hear these myths from people you consider to be experts," suggested Vreeman's co-author, Dr. Aaron Carroll, director of the Center for Health Policy and Professionalism Research.

True, we do hear a lot of health myths from pseudo-experts. But it's not so surprising that midnight snacks aren't to blame for the "obesity epidemic," nor are we shocked that children aren't getting their energy from candy or sugary drinks. The rest of the list is equally un-earth shattering. Do you care where your body heat escapes as long as you manage to stay warm? Is anyone you know really craving a poinsettia salad?

We didn't think so. So we put our heads together and whipped up a new one for you. In the spirit of "making a list and checking it twice," here's a list of holiday health myths you might actually find useful this holiday season:

Myth #1: Your Christmas beef tenderloin is causing global warming.

PETA may never admit it, but it turns out that eating meat isn't so eco-unfriendly after all-at least if it's American meat. Back in October, we took a closer look at that 2006 United Nations report everyone's talking about, Livestock's Long Shadow, and found that greenhouse gas sources directly related to livestock production in the U.S. only account for 2.58 percent-not 18 percent-of the total.

Myth #2: Watch out! Those potato latkes are full of acrylamide!

Don't believe the hype: According to the British Journal of Cancer, the link between acrylamide (a substance that forms when potatoes are fried) and cancer is actually an inverse trend. You could eat your weight in latkes or French fries every week for the rest of your life without ever incurring any real danger.

Myth #3: Grandma's tuna casserole will give you mercury poisoning.

Passing on the ocean-caught fish this month-or any other month-will probably cause more damage than eating the tiny traces of naturally occurring toxins that are in all fish. Just ask the Food and Drug Administration.

Myth #4: Lay off the cheese balls and pecan pie unless you want to look like a fat Santa.

As the American Dietetic Association has said, food is not the enemy. Rather than fixate on one food or the other, try and focus on the big picture: your total diet and exercise regimen. Enjoy your holiday feast. Just walk it off.

Myth #5: Your holiday turkey is laced with harmful antibiotics.

Despite the claims of environmental and animal-rights activists, medicines given to livestock are required to improve the health of farm animals, and pose no health risk to meat-eaters. Banning them would backfire, harming the health of people like you.


Final Christmas for Artisan Toymakers? New Safety Rules Threaten Mom-and-Pop Handicrafters and Retailers

Worries over lead paint in mass-market toys made the holidays a little brighter for handcrafted toy makers last year, but now the federal government's response to the scare has some workshops fearful that this Christmas might be their last. Without changes to strict new safety rules, they say, mom-and-pop toy makers and retailers could be forced to conduct testing and labeling they can't afford, even if they use materials as benign as unfinished wood, organic cotton and beeswax, the AP reports.

"It's ironic that the companies who never violated the public trust, who have already operated with integrity, are the ones being threatened," Julia Chen, owner of The Playstore in Palo Alto, which specializes in wooden and organic playthings, told the AP. A spokeswoman for the Consumer Product Safety Commission said the agency is working to set up some exemptions, reports AP writer Marcus Wohlsen.

Lead paint spurred the recall of 45 million toys last year, mostly made in China for larger manufacturers. Parents flocked to stores like The Playstore in the recall's aftermath searching for safer alternatives. Lawmakers also responded. In August, President Bush imposed the world's strictest lead ban in products for children 12 or younger by signing the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act.

Small toy makers strongly back the restrictions in the bill, which they say reflect voluntary standards they have long observed to keep harmful substances out of toys. But they never thought their products would also be considered a threat.

Under the law, all children's products must be tested for lead and other harmful substances. Toy makers are required to pay a third-party lab for the testing and to put tracking labels on all toys to show when and where they were made. Those requirements make sense for a multinational toy manufacturer churning out thousands of plastic toys on an overseas assembly line, Dan Marshall, co-owner of Peapods Natural Toys and Baby Care in St. Paul, Minn., told the AP. But a business that makes, for example, a few hundred handcrafted wooden baby rattles each year cannot afford to pay up to $4,000 per product for testing, a price some toy makers have been quoted, he said.

Marshall and nearly 100 other toy stores and makers have formed the Handmade Toy Alliance to ask Congress and the federal agency that enforces the law to exempt small toy companies or those that make toys entirely within the U.S. from testing and labeling rules. Failing that, they want the Consumer Product Safety Commission to preemptively declare unfinished wood, wool and cotton and food-grade wood finishes such as beeswax, mineral oil and walnut oil to be lead-free.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., lead sponsor of the legislation, says toy makers should not worry. Rush points out that the law already exempts products and materials that do not threaten public safety or health. "This exemption should be sufficient to affect most companies," Rush told the AP. Determining what materials fall under that exemption falls to the safety commission, however, which has yet to issue specific guidelines. With a Feb. 10 deadline for complying with the law, small toy makers say they have no choice but to act as if its rules apply to them or risk facing fines of $100,000 per violation.

"The agency is diligently working on providing rules that would define some exclusions and some exemptions," Julie Vallese, a spokeswoman for the product safety commission, told the AP.


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