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Health, Science, Environment
The latest coverage related to the debate over the federal health care law - both in the US Supreme Court and how it touches the St. Louis region.

The economic crisis: health implications

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: October 1, 2008 - As the economy absorbs one hit after another, many of us feel like we want to pull the covers over our heads until it's over. That's a symptom of stress and it can affect our health.

Elevated levels of stress hormones can result in hormonal imbalances, increased risk of health conditions including heart disease, and also instigate a wide range of mental health issues such as depression, anxiety, and insomnia. And chronic stress leads to chronic inflammation and an even greater incidence of these afflictions.

"Stressors are reaching a tipping point; people are getting so worn down from worrying about things," said Dr. Ken Haller, SLUCare pediatrician at SSM Cardinal Glennon Children's Center. "And when someone is concerned over keeping their job, they are less likely to take time to be seen by the doctor."

Even in better times health often goes neglected. Twenty percent of Americans either delayed or dismissed medical treatment in 2007, according to a report from the Center for Studying Health System Change. This was true even for those that actually had health insurance at the time. When more people are faced with losing their jobs, and even more joining the ranks of the uninsured, this expands the numbers of those failing to get the medical care they and their families need.

"Even when people do have coverage, they can still have onerous co-pays," said Haller. And now, "a lot of people are being cut from Medicaid, which impacts mostly adults. But when adults are not getting health coverage, health care is not on their radar, for them or for their kids. You then start to see kids missing appointments or never having appointments made for them in the first place."

And when kids don't get their immunizations or preventive care visits, problems ensue. "Instead of getting a [pertussis (whooping cough)] immunization, the child is getting pertussis and winding up in the hospital," Haller said.

Preventive (and economic) medicine, in the kitchen

In the meantime, we can all reduce our stress by adopting or sticking known mood- and health-boosting practices such as regular exercise, strong social support networks, and an emphasis on healthy diet.

"There is a misconception that saving money on food means you'll have to sacrifice health by eating a less nutritious diet," said Katie Eliot, a nutrition and dietetics instructor at Saint Louis University

Eliot suggests otherwise and offers some tips on putting economically efficient, healthy eating into practice. "Take time to make a menu each week and create a shopping list based on coupons and weekly specials." And look at the cost per unit to find the real bargains. "You can compare smaller and larger sizes; you are not always saving money with a larger size." Look at the top and bottom of the shelves when there tend to be generics. "Generics tend to be of the same quality but less expensive."

Another suggestion from Eliot is to limit convenience items. "Any food item that has the time and energy already put into it, you are paying for that. You can learn how to cook and save a lot of money by doing the cutting and chopping yourself."

And lastly, try to make small changes in the ways you approach food, for example: eat less meat each week. "Make at least one meal a week meatless; if you already do this, add another." Another tip: Shop for in-season fruits and vegetables. "This will cost less and will also tend to taste better."

HealthDay's Dr. Cindy Haines is managing editor of the Physician's Briefing news service.

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