In Brief

June 12, 2008

Psychology

Debt leads to physical pain for millions

The stress from deepening debt is becoming a major pain in the neck - and the back and the head and the stomach - for millions of Americans.

When people are dealing with mountains of debt, they're much more likely to report health problems, too, according to an Associated Press-AOL Health poll. And not just little stuff; this means ulcers, severe depression, even heart attacks.

Although most people appear to be managing their debts all right, perhaps 10 million to 16 million are "suffering terribly due to their debts, and their health is likely to be negatively impacted," says Paul J. Lavrakas, a research psychologist and AP consultant who analyzed the results of the survey. Those are people who reported high levels of debt stress and have had at least three stress-related illnesses, he says.

That finding is supported by medical research that has linked chronic stress to a wide range of ailments.

And the tough economic times and rising costs of living seem to be leading to increasing debt stress, 14 percent higher this year than in 2004, according to an index tied to the AP-AOL survey.

Among the people reporting high debt stress in the new poll:

*27 percent had ulcers or digestive tract problems, compared with 8 percent of those with low levels of debt stress.

*44 percent had migraines or other headaches, compared with 15 percent.

*29 percent had severe anxiety, compared with 4 percent.

*23 percent had severe depression, compared with 4 percent.

*6 percent reported heart attacks, double the rate for those with low debt stress.

*More than half, 51 percent, had muscle tension, including pain in the lower back. That compared with 31 percent of those with low levels of debt stress.

People who reported high stress were also much more likely to have trouble concentrating and sleeping and were more prone to getting upset for no good reason.

Associated Press

Cancer

Rates rise faster for teens than adults, scientists find

Teenagers may be more susceptible than adults to certain types of cancer, including cervical, testicular and skin cancer, British scientists said this week.

Certain cancer rates rose faster among adolescents in England than in adults from 1979 to 2003, according to research presented at an international conference on teenage cancer in London. But researchers have yet to determine why the rates differ - whether the cause is genetic or hormonal, or if it stems from environment, lifestyle or a mix of all three.

"The question is whether there are special reasons these young people are developing cancers that are usually only typical of adults," said Jillian Birch, director of Cancer Research United Kingdom's Pediatric and Familial Cancer Research Group.

Cervical cancer rates for all ages dropped across England in the past three decades - except in teenagers and young adults. Among teens ages 15 to 19, the rate increased by nearly 7 percent each year, according to the research funded by Cancer Research UK.

Skin cancer rates increased in all age groups but most markedly among people in their 20s. The yearly rate increased by about 4 percent in people ages 20 to 24, compared with 2.5 percent for those 35 to 39. The actual number of cases in England remains small, however, with an average of 40 cases of cervical cancer a year, and of 140 cases of skin cancer annually.

Most common cancer types in young people include testicular cancer, Hodgkin's disease and brain tumors. Birch and colleagues found that teens with these cancers were more likely to have come from affluent backgrounds.

Associated Press

Weight loss

Parents often make dieting harder on their teenagers

Parents who think their teenager is overweight are no more likely to banish junk food and keep healthful foods around the house than those who don't - or to encourage habits such as family meals, less eating in front of the tube and more exercise. But they are more likely to urge their teen to diet.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota and published this month in Pediatrics, was part of a larger one gauging the weight and eating habits of 902 Minneapolis-St. Paul adolescents through interviews with the mother or primary caregiver. Five years later, the project returned to 314 parents who had accurately identified their child as overweight - and found that encouragement to diet was counterproductive. Teens who had been encouraged were more likely to be overweight than those who were not.

Study lead author Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, a University of Minnesota professor, said the findings are in line with others showing that efforts to restrict a child's dietary intake can backfire.

Los Angeles Times

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