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Health Replay: Pet Health Crisis … and More

This week in health news

Americans are pet people. We own 69.9 million dogs and 74.1 million cats, and the American Pet Products Association reports that 42 percent of dogs share a bed with their owners. Yet, our furry friends are in the midst of a health crisis. In the past seven years, the percentage of pets in this country that are obese or overweight has increased 37 percent for dogs and 90 percent for cats. As in people, this epidemic increases the risk of other serious conditions, including arthritis, diabetes, kidney disease and thyroid problems. Flea infestation, heartworms and dental disease are also on the rise. The American Veterinary Medical Association says there’s one reason for so many sick pets: Owners don’t take them for regular vet visits. An annual checkup can catch a lot of problems before they become emergencies, pet advocates say, and would lessen the need for making a trip to the doggy ER.

Pregnant women who eat peanuts or tree nuts are less likely to have a child with a nut allergy, says a recent study published inJAMA Pediatrics. This is promising news as the prevalence of peanut and tree allergies in children more than tripled from 1997 to 2010. Roughly one in 13 children has a food allergy, and about 40 percent of those have had a severe reaction. Yet this new study adds to the confusion surrounding nuts while pregnant. In 2000, the American Academy of Pediatrics advised pregnant women to avoid peanuts and tree nuts, and then reversed this advice in 2008. And some studies have found that avoiding nuts while pregnant could increase a child’s risk of a nut allergy. Here’s the takeaway: Nuts are good sources of protein and folic acid. The new study’s lead author suggests that women who aren’t allergic should feel free to include them in their diets while pregnant to reap these health benefits.

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Racism makes black men age faster. A new study, published in theAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine, found that black men who experienced and internalized racism had shorter telomere length (found in our DNA), which is associated with an increased risk of diabetes, dementia, heart disease, stroke and premature death. “[With our study] we contribute to a growing body of research showing that social toxins disproportionately impacting African-American men are harmful to health,” explains David H. Chae, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Maryland School of Public Health and the study’s lead investigator. “Our findings suggest that racism literally makes people old.” But the study, the first to link racism-related factors and aging, found that those who hold pro-black attitudes have normal-length telomeres and may be buffered against the negative effect of racial discrimination.

Finally, some good news out of Chicago: The murder rate decreased by 18 percent in 2013. Homicides were down from 50 per every 100,000 residents to 43. While this is a step in the right direction, the Windy City still sits atop the list among U.S. cities, with a total of 415 homicides last year.

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