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We're so used to noise, we hardly hear it anymore. Wailing car alarms, barking dogs, roaring leaf blowers, honking horns, grumbling washing machines, blaring TVs, squeaking baby toys--they all add up to the sound track of daily life. If it's not enough to drive you insane, says the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, it can still make you sick. Some 30 million Americans are exposed to daily noise levels that will eventually impair their hearing. Moreover, those who were destined to go deaf are doing so decades earlier than expected. Although it takes noises louder than 85 decibels (a typical hair dryer hits 90 db) to cause hearing loss, even softer sounds, like a ringing phone, can lead to hypertension, stress and depression.
At the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., nurses decided to see just how loud it got in recovery rooms where thoracic-surgery patients were trying to sleep. At the 7 a.m. shift change, the noise level shot up as high as 113 db--about as raucous as a jackhammer. The nurses finally hit on a simple solution that can help anyone get a little quiet time: they closed the door.
Americans in every age group are getting plumper and plumper. The number of overweight children ages 6 to 11 doubled between 1980 and 2000, and tripled among adolescents ages 12 to 17. Even the elderly are getting fat. The latest statistics show that 70% of Americans between the ages of 55 and 74 are overweight or obese, twice the percentage of 30 years ago.
The medical consequences of carrying around all this excess weight were made clear by a study published this month in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. A survey of 73,000 adults conducted by researchers at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle showed that being overweight significantly increases the risk of a long list of medical complaints, including coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, hypertension, diabetes, depression, deep-vein thrombosis, osteoarthritis, fatigue, insomnia, indigestion, impotence and hip- and knee-replacement surgery.
So, what can we do about it? A good place to start is to cut back on sugary sodas and fruit drinks. A separate study reported that women who drank less than one sweetened beverage a month not only were thinner but also had a 40% smaller risk of developing diabetes than women who had at least one sugary drink every day.
It's a big country when it comes to pain: 60 million Americans undergo surgery each year, 70 million complain of chronic pain, and half of all visits to doctors' offices are about pain. No wonder innovations in pain management make news. Among the latest: a single epidural injection that delivers 48 hours of time-released morphine; a portable balloon pump that delivers a continuous supply of a local anesthetic directly to the wound site; and a transdermal patch the size of a credit card that is as effective as a patient-controlled pump but doesn't require a needle and tubes.