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U.S. workers and sick days

U.S. workers took an average of 14 sick days in 2007 -- on average, employees took 10 days off because they were sick or injured and four to care for family members, according to the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The agency's analysis also found that:

*Workers ages 55 to 64 took an average of 18 days off work, compared with 10 days for workers ages 16 to 24.

*About 38 percent of female workers missed work in 2007 for their own health problems, versus about 30 percent of male employees.

*24 percent of married women and 17 percent of married men ages 16-64 were more likely to miss work to care for a sick child or other family member, compared with 14 percent of unmarried women or 7 percent of unmarried men.

*Only 26 percent of uninsured employees took sick leave as compared to 36.5 percent of privately insured workers, and 32 percent of people with Medicaid or other public insurance.

*29.3 percent of people ages 16-24 had workdays lost due to illness, injury or mental or emotional problems.

The analysis also found that the higher the income, the less likely children in the house missed school.

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Wine acts like diabetes drug

Several studies have shown that moderate drinking of red wine can reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. So Alois Jungbauer and colleagues at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences in Vienna, Austria, tested 10 reds and two whites to find out how strongly the wines bind to a protein called PPAR-gamma, which is targeted by the anti-diabetic drug rosiglitazone (marketed as the controversial Avandia).

Among other things, PPAR-gamma regulates the uptake of glucose in fat cells, and rosiglitazone targets the protein in these cells to improve glucose uptake in people with type 2 diabetes.

The team found that the white wines had low binding affinities, but all the reds bound readily: the tendency of 100 milliliters of red wine -- about half a glass -- to bind to PPAR-gamma is up to four times as strong as the same tendency in the daily dose of rosiglitazone (Food and Function).

"It's incredible -- really high activity," says Jungbauer. But he warns that wine's anti-diabetic effects in people may not work like this, and anyway, not all the wine compounds studied will be absorbed and available to the body to use.


New way to steer wheelchair

A microphone that listens for distinctive tongue flicks could help disabled people control wheelchairs, robotic arms or even type.

Tongue clicking is a vital part of language for some southern African groups, and it could soon help paralyzed people steer their wheelchairs. The key is an in-ear device that listens for clicks and tuts and translates the sounds into commands for a wheelchair.

Mouth interfaces that interact with wheelchairs are already common for severely disabled people. One retainerlike device that fits within the roof of the mouth houses buttons that can be pressed with the tongue.

"But everything that involves tongue movement requires putting something in the mouth," says Ravi Vaidyanathan of the University of Bristol, United Kingdom. Besides issues of hygiene, these devices make it difficult for the user to eat or speak, if they are able to, while using it. Monitoring tongue movements through the ear avoids these problems.

The new device, a simple microphone that resembles an earbud for listening to music, picks up low-frequency sounds made by four sorts of tongue click, chosen because each has a distinct local acoustic signature that the system won't easily confuse with other sounds.

The microphone sends the information to a signal processor, which categorizes the clicks and passes the information to the wheelchair, where each click type moves the chair in a distinct direction.

Vaidyanathan's group has so far used the interface to navigate a virtual wheelchair through a maze, and have plans to wire it up to a real wheelchair.


Keep watch on cholesterol

It's never too early to start worrying about your cholesterol. Elevated levels of "bad" cholesterol -- or LDL -- in adults as young as 20 may already be damaging their arteries and setting the stage for later heart disease and stroke, according to a study in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Researchers followed a group of individuals from 18 to 30 years old for 20 years, and found that those with high LDL levels in youth were more likely to develop heart disease later, regardless of their levels in adulthood.

Cholesterol-lowering medications, however, may not be the best answer: Young adults should exercise and watch what they eat, Reuters reports.

Compiled from News wire sources

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