Medical News Today: Single dads twice as likely to die prematurely

A large-scale study has compared the lifestyle and mortality risk of single dads with those of partnered parents and single moms. The findings are now published in the journal The Lancet Public Health.
single dad kissing his son's head while working on laptop
While the causes are unclear, it appears that single dads are more likely to die a premature death than partnered parents or single moms.

In recent decades, the number of single dads in the United States has skyrocketed.

According to the Pew Research Center, fewer than 300,000 households were built around single fathers in 1960. By 2011, however, the number had jumped to more than 2.6 million.

By comparison, single-mom households went from 1.9 million to 8.6 million during that time.

As the authors of the new study note, despite these growing numbers, not enough research has focused on the health of single dads or compared the mortality of single mothers with that of single fathers.

To remedy this, Dr. Maria Chiu — of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences and the University of Toronto, both in Canada — and colleagues followed the lifestyles of almost 40,500 Canadians over a period of 11 years.

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Death risk doubled among single dads

Of all the participants, 871 were single fathers, 4,590 were single mothers, 16,341 were partnered fathers, and 18,688 were partnered mothers. On average, the participants were aged between 41 and 46.

“Single parents,” explain the study authors, “were defined as those who were divorced, separated, widowed, or single, never-married, and non-cohabitating, and partnered parents were defined as those who were married or common-law partners.”

In their analysis, Dr. Chiu and her colleagues included people aged 15 and above who lived in the household with at least one biological or adopted child under the age of 25.

Using Cox proportional hazards models, the scientists performed what is — to their knowledge — the “first head-to-head comparison of mortality across single and partnered parent groups.”

At the beginning of the study, single dads were more likely to have cancer and heart disease than their partnered counterparts and single mothers. Additionally, they were more likely to have been hospitalized in the year leading up to the study.

Overall, single fathers were found to be more than twice as likely to die prematurely than their partnered counterparts and single mothers.

They also led less healthful lifestyles and were more likely to binge drink once per month as well as consume fewer fruits and vegetables.

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Could lifestyle be to blame for death risk?

The study could not draw any conclusions regarding the causes of death, mainly due to the fact that deaths over the study period were recorded as “other causes.”

However, the authors speculate on some of the possible causes. The unhealthful lifestyle may play a role, they suggest, as might a lack of social support consisting of friends or other community networks.

Dr. Chiu says, “Our research highlights that single fathers have higher mortality, and demonstrates a need for public health policies to help identify and support these men.”

While our study does not identify the exact cause of this, we did find that single fathers also tend to have unhealthier lifestyles, which could be an important area to address to improve health in this high-risk group.”

Dr. Maria Chiu

“Doctors’ appointments,” she continues, “could be an opportunity for doctors to engage with single fathers to help them to improve their health.”

“Research has shown that these conversations can help to motivate patients to adhere to treatment plans, make better decisions about their health, and influence their behavior and recovery,” Dr. Chiu concludes.

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Medical News Today: Just 1 hour of gaming may improve attention

The brain can be affected by just 1 hour of playing video games, according to new research published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.
a man playing a video game
Researchers suggest that gaming for just 1 hour may boost attention.

The study — which was conducted by scientists from the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China in Chengdu — found that participants who spent 1 hour playing the video game League of Legends experienced changes in brain activity.

The participants also demonstrated improved ability to focus on relevant information while screening out distractions.

The researchers recruited 29 male students to participate in the study. One group had at least 2 years of playing action video games and the other group had fewer than 6 months of experience playing these video games.

The group with the most experience, or the “experts,” were ranked in the top 7 percent of League of Legends players. The “non-experts,” meanwhile, were ranked in the bottom 11 percent.

The players’ “visual selective attention” was assessed by the researchers before and after playing League of Legends.

Visual selective attention is how scientists refer to the brain’s ability to focus while simultaneously disregarding less relevant information.

Focusing on relevant information in this way uses up brain power, so scientists tend to believe that people who are very good at focusing their attention while filtering out distractions show a very efficient use of their brains.

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Video game boosted brain activity, attention

The study authors measured visual selective attention with a test involving squares that flashed on different parts of a computer screen.

First, participants were briefly shown a square in the center of the screen, which was followed by a square flashing elsewhere on the screen. The participants had to then tell the scientists where on the screen the second square was, relative to the first square.

The participants’ brain activity was also monitored during the visual selective attention test using an electroencephalogram (EEG) machine.

Before playing the video game, the expert participants were found to have stronger visual selective attention than the non-experts, and their EEG results showed more attention-related brain activity.

After playing League of Legends for 1 hour, both groups demonstrated improved visual selective attention, even reporting similar scores in the post-game test.

Not only that, but the researchers found that the brain activity of the non-experts increased after playing the game, to the extent that levels of brain activity between experts and non-experts were now comparable.

Although the findings demonstrate a measurable increase in both brain activity and visual selective attention scores in participants after playing a video game for 1 hour, the authors explain that their findings do not tell us about how long these effects might last. They therefore suggest that more studies are needed in this regard.

It is worth noting, as well, that this study was conducted in a very small group of participants — just 29 men — so its results should be interpreted with caution.

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New findings add to growing evidence

Some previous studies have also found that action video games such as Halo and Call of Duty may improve visual attention.

A 2010 review of the available research, for example, suggested that playing video games may be beneficial for improving focus in military training and education.

As Bjorn Hubert-Wallander, the lead author of that review, explained, “Visual attention is crucial to preventing sensory overload, since the brain is constantly faced with an overwhelming amount of visual information.”

“It’s an ability,” he said, “that is especially emphasized during visually demanding activities such as driving a car or searching for a friend’s face in a crowd, so it is not surprising that scientists have long been interested in ways to modify, extend, and enhance the different facets of visual attention.”

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Medical News Today: How do I stop stress eating?

Emotional eating is a pattern of eating where people use food to help them deal with stressful situations.

Many people experience emotional eating at one time or another. It could show itself as eating a bag of chips when bored or eating a chocolate bar after a difficult day at work.

However, when emotional eating happens frequently or becomes the main way a person deals with their emotions, then their life, health, happiness, and weight can be negatively affected.

Triggers to avoid

Businessman at his desk emotional eating
Common triggers for emotional eating may include fatigue, habits, boredom, and stress.

Emotions, such as stress, are not the only triggers for emotional eating. Other common triggers that people report include:

  • Boredom: Being bored or having nothing to do is a common emotional eating trigger. Many people live very stimulating and active lives, and when they have nothing to do will turn to food to fill that vacuum.
  • Habits: These are often driven by nostalgia or things that happened in a person’s childhood. An example might be, having ice cream after a good report card or baking cookies with a grandparent.
  • Fatigue: It is easier to overeat or eat mindlessly when fatigued, especially when tired of doing an unpleasant task. Food can seem like the answer to not wanting to do a particular activity anymore.
  • Social influences: Everyone has that friend who encourages them to get a pizza after a night out, go out for dinner or drinks after a difficult day, or as a reward for a good day. It can be easy to overeat when with friends or family.

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Coping strategies

The first step a person needs to take to rid themselves of emotional eating is to recognize the triggers and situations that apply in their life.

Keeping a food diary or journal can help to identify situations when someone is more likely to eat because of emotional instead of physical hunger.

Tracking their behavior is another way someone can gain insight into their eating habits.

The behavior they record can include:

  • patterns of hunger levels, maybe on a 1–10 scale
  • what they are doing and if it is tedious and unpleasant
  • what they are feeling, whether bored or angry,

Next, they may want to brainstorm ideas for ways to counteract the triggers they identify. For example:

  • Someone who eats when bored may want to find a new book that sounds exciting to start reading, or start a new hobby that could provide a challenge.
  • Someone who eats because of stress could try yoga, meditating, or taking a walk to help themselves cope with their emotions.
  • Someone who eats when they are depressed may want to call a friend, take the dog for a run, or plan an outing to cope with their negative feelings.

It can also be helpful to talk to a therapist or psychologist to discuss other ways to break the cycle of emotional eating.

A nutritionist or doctor may also be able to provide a referral to an expert or additional information on creating positive eating habits and a better relationship with food.

Emotional eating is not simply a matter of a person lacking self-discipline or needing to eat less. Likewise, people who eat to deal with stress do not just lack self-control.

The causes are complex and may involve some of the following:

Childhood development

Child in a kitchen eyeing up cookies
Emotional eating may be a learned behavior from childhood that could be difficult to break.

For some people, emotional eating is a learned behavior. During childhood, their parents give them treats to help them deal with a tough day or situation, or as a reward for something good.

Over time, the child who reaches for a cookie after getting a bad grade on a test may become an adult who grabs a box of cookies after a rough day at work.

In an example such as this, the roots of emotional eating are deep, which can make breaking the habit extremely challenging.

Difficulty dealing with emotions

It is common for people to also struggle with difficult or uncomfortable feelings and emotions. There is an instinct or need to quickly fix or destroy these negative feelings, which can lead to unhealthy behaviors.

And emotional eating is not only linked to negative emotions. Eating a lot of candy at a fun Halloween party, or too much on Thanksgiving are examples of eating because of the holiday occasion itself.

Physical impact of stress

There are also some physical reasons why stress and strong emotions can cause a person to overeat:

  • High cortisol levels: Initially, stress causes the appetite to decrease so that the body can deal with the situation. If the stress does not let up, another hormone called cortisol is released. Cortisol increases appetite and can cause someone to overeat.
  • Cravings: High cortisol levels from stress can increase food cravings for sugary or fatty foods. Stress is also associated with increased hunger hormones, which may also contribute to cravings for unhealthy foods.
  • Sex: Some research shows that women are more likely to use food to deal with stress than men are, while men are more likely than women to smoke or use alcohol.

Physical vs. emotional hunger

It is very easy to mistake emotional hunger for physical hunger. But there are characteristics that distinguish them.

Recognizing these subtle differences is the first step towards helping to stop emotional eating patterns.

Does the hunger come on quickly or gradually?

Emotional hunger tends to hit quickly and suddenly and feels urgent. Physical hunger is usually not as urgent or sudden unless it has been a while since a person ate.

Is a food craving for a specific food?

Emotional hunger is usually associated with cravings for junk food or something unhealthy. Someone who is physically hungry will often eat anything, while someone who is emotionally hungry will want something specific, such as fries or a pizza.

Is there such a thing as mindless eating?

Mindless eating is when someone eats without paying attention to or enjoying what they are consuming.

An example is eating an entire container of ice cream while watching television, having not intended to eat that much. This behavior usually happens with emotional eating, not eating through hunger.

Does the hunger come from the stomach or the head?

Emotional hunger does not originate from the stomach, such as with a rumbling or growling stomach. Emotional hunger tends to start when a person thinks about a craving or wants something specific to eat.

Are there feelings of regret or guilt after emotional eating?

Giving in to a craving, or eating because of stress can cause feelings of regret, shame, or guilt. These responses tend to be associated with emotional hunger.

On the other hand, satisfying a physical hunger is giving the body the nutrients or calories it needs to function and is not associated with negative feelings.

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Emotional eating is a common experience and is not usually associated with physical hunger. Some people succumb to it occasionally while others can find it impacts on their lives and may even threaten their health and mental wellbeing.

Anyone who experiences negative emotions around their eating habits should arrange a visit to their doctor to discuss their issues. They may also want to consult a registered nutritionist or another therapist to help them find solutions or coping mechanisms.

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Medical News Today: How to treat an infected hangnail

A hangnail is a small piece of jagged or torn skin that appears at the very edge of the fingernail. Hangnail infections are common and highly treatable.

In this article, we look at home remedies, how a doctor can drain an abscess, how to prevent infection, and possible complications.

Is the hangnail infected?

Man inspecting infected hangnail, with grooming and manicure equipment sand products on table in front of him.
Redness, swelling, and pain are potential symptoms of an infected hangnail.

Infection occurs when bacteria or fungus get under the skin. An infection between the nail and the skin is called paronychia.

Hangnails commonly occur on the fingernails and are sometimes also found on the toenails.

The following symptoms suggest a hangnail is infected:

  • redness
  • swelling
  • pain
  • a warm feeling
  • some bleeding
  • a pus-filled abscess at the nail edge

Bacterial infections can produce symptoms almost immediately, while fungal infections may take longer to appear.

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A hangnail can be treated at home using the following steps:

  • Warm water soak. Soak the nail in warm water for 15 minutes up to 4 times a day. This increases blood flow and cleanses the area.
  • Trim the hangnail. When the hangnail is soft from soaking, trim the edges to prevent it from catching on anything, and to reduce the risk of further infection.
  • Moisturize. Moisturize the affected area to stop it from drying out. This can prevent more hangnails from developing.
  • Medicinal creams. Applying small amounts of antibiotic or antifungal cream, depending on the cause of the infection, can speed up recovery. A doctor may also recommend topical steroids.

If the hangnail develops an abscess or starts producing pus, it may need to be drained to stop the infection from spreading. This procedure should be done by a medical professional.

To drain an infected hangnail, a doctor will:

  • Numb the area.
  • Lift the nail fold with an instrument to allow the pus to drain away. A surgical incision is rarely necessary.
  • Wash the area thoroughly.
  • Place a gauze strip into the abscess. This stays in the wound for 24-48 hours to help the area drain.
  • Prescribe an oral antibiotic.

The dressing and gauze should be removed within a couple of days. A person should then soak their nail in warm water up to 4 times a day.

People can also use the RICE method to reduce pain and swelling. The acronym RICE stands for rest, ice, compression, and elevation. Taking over-the-counter painkillers and anti-inflammatories can also help.

Complications and when to see a doctor

Doctor reassuring female patient.
A hangnail infection may resolve by itself, although an infection that lasts over 6 weeks will need to be assessed by a doctor.

In most cases, infected hangnails are temporary, mild, and can be treated at home.

If the hangnail develops an abscess or starts producing pus, it may need to be drained by a doctor. Avoid doing this at home, as improper drainage can lead to further complications.

A medical professional can usually diagnose an infected hangnail by sight. They may also send a sample off to a laboratory to determine the type of infection.

An infection lasting for longer than 6 weeks may be a chronic condition. A doctor can advise on the best course of treatment for this condition.

Rarely, the infection can spread to the hand or foot. This can be very serious, resulting in a loss of sensation or mobility, and can put the extremity at risk of amputation. Infections are more likely to spread in people with diabetes or other circulation disorders.

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Hangnails occur when the skin around the nail becomes irritated or damaged. Infection occurs when bacteria or fungus get into the wound.

A person is more likely to develop an infection if their hands or feet are frequently in moist conditions. For example, people who work as bakers and dishwashers are more likely to experience this condition.

A hangnail may be caused by:

  • dry skin
  • nail-biting
  • frequent sucking of a finger
  • clipping the nails too short
  • clipping the cuticles, the soft skin at the base of the nails
  • using artificial nails that contain glue or chemicals
  • having the hands in water frequently,
  • certain health conditions, such as diabetes

Infections around the nail can also be caused by ingrown fingernails or toenails, which occur when the edge of the nail starts to grow into the soft tissue surrounding it.


Person moisturizing with hand cream in lotion pot.
Moisturizing the skin on the hands regularly may help to prevent hangnail infections.

To prevent a hangnail from becoming infected:

  • avoid peeling it, as further injury makes infection more likely
  • trim the hangnail down with nail clippers
  • keep the fingernails clean
  • moisturize regularly
  • avoid biting the nails
  • make sure the hands do not stay wet for too long
  • wear rubber gloves when washing up or keeping the hands underwater

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Hangnail infections are common and will often heal without complication.

Home remedies, such as warm water soaks and antibiotics, can be effective for most mild infections. More serious infections involving pus or abscesses may require medical attention.

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Medical News Today: The 10 things you should know about your vagina

Though half of the world’s population has a vagina, there’s likely a lot you don’t know about this essential piece of reproductive machinery. Well, prepare to learn, as we take you through 10 surprising facts about your lady parts.
a woman holding a heart
Half of the population has a vagina, but there’s a lot we don’t know about it.

If simply hearing the word “vagina” makes you cringe with embarrassment, you’re not alone.

In fact, a 2016 survey discovered that a huge 65 percent of young women have problems saying “vagina,” with many preferring to use other terms, such as “women’s bits.”

Whatever you call it, there is one thing that we can all agree on: the vagina is vital for human reproduction and plays a major role in sexual satisfaction.

But there is so much more to the vagina than many of us realize. For example, did you know that that the word “vagina” derives from the latin word for “sheath” or “scabbard”?

Here, we take a look at 10 more things that you probably didn’t know about your “vajayjay” (yes, I hate that word, too).

1. The ‘vagina’ probably isn’t what you think

This is one fact that we need to get out of the way. When you talk about the vagina, you might think you’re referring to a woman’s collective private parts — but you’d be wrong.

Instead, the word vagina actually refers to a specific part of the female reproductive system. It is the muscular tube that runs from the vulva — which refers to the external female genitalia, including the labia and clitoris — to the cervix.

If you were wondering about size, research has found that vaginal depth can range from 2.7 to 3.1 inches. During sexual arousal, it is estimated that its depth can range from 4.3 to 4.7 inches.

2. You can’t lose a tampon in there

You may have heard some horror stories, but you’ll be relieved to know that it is impossible to get a tampon lost in your vagina; the opening at the top of your vagina is simply too small for it to escape through.

It is possible, however, to get a tampon stuck. If this is the case, you should see your doctor to get it removed. Leaving it in there for too long can increase the risk of toxic shock syndrome.

3. Your vagina may benefit from a workout

We don’t mean a “workout” in the sexual sense — although research has shown that regular sexual activity can help to keep your vagina healthy.

No, we’re talking about pelvic floor exercises, which are otherwise known as kegel exercises. They are normally done to help manage urinary incontinence, but research has shown that they can also help to improve sexual satisfaction.

How? Well, kegel exercises help to tighten the vagina, making sex more pleasurable and more likely to lead to orgasm.

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4. Your vagina is like wine

That’s right. The normal pH of the vagina is less than 4.5, which is similar to the pH of wine.

Lactobacilli are the “good” bacteria that dominate the vagina; they help to keep pH levels normal in our lady parts and prevent the growth of infection-causing bacteria.

When levels of lactobacilli fall, vaginal pH levels can rise above 4.5, which is ideal breeding ground for vaginal infections, such as yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis.

5. Don’t get carried away with cleaning

And that is exactly why we should avoid using scented soaps and other perfumed products to clean our vaginas.

Using such products interferes with the natural balance of vaginal bacteria, which may give rise to the aforementioned infections. In actual fact, we don’t really need to be overconcerned with our vaginal cleanliness at all; it takes care of itself.

There are glands in the vagina that secrete fluid, or “discharge,” and this helps to keep it clean.

“I see women of all ages with irritation, soreness, and itching,” said gynecologist and obstetrician Dr. Sangeeta Agnihotri to The Telegraph, “because there is a tendency for women to be overzealous with their cleanliness. This causes discomfort.”

“Our vaginas are sensitive areas. I would recommend washing once a day with water,” she added.

6. What you eat affects its scent

But if you’re worried that scrapping the soap might leave you smelling less than fresh down there, you might be interested to find that any unwelcome odors could be down to your diet.

onions and garlic
Strong-smelling foods, such as onions and garlic, can leave you smelling less than fresh down there.

When it comes to the scent of your lady parts, there is some anecdotal evidence that we are what we eat.

For example, there is a widespread belief that consuming pineapple can give your vagina a sweeter scent. Other foods believed to alter vaginal odor include garlic, onion, and fish, as well as cheese and chillies.

A word of caution, however: if you notice that your lady parts smell particularly pungent or their scent has changed dramatically, it could be a sign of infection, so it’s worth getting it checked out.

7. Your clitoris has thousands of nerves

While the clitoris is not a part of the vagina, we simply couldn’t pass up the chance to talk about this amazing piece of female genitalia.

The clitoris is considered by many women as the crux of sexual pleasure, and it’s no wonder; the tip of the clitoris alone has a whopping 8,000 nerve endings — more than double the number of nerve endings in the penis — making it the most sensitive part of a woman’s erogenous zone.

And if that wasn’t enough, research has shown that the clitoris can increase in size by up to 300 percent during sexual arousal.

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8. Your vagina doesn’t ‘fart’

All women have experienced it at one point or another: that embarrassing yet uncontrollable emission of air from the vagina, which is commonly known as “queefing.”

Yes, queefing sounds a lot like farting, but sounds can be deceiving. Those little puffs of air that emerge from our lady parts are simply that — trapped air that is being released from the vaginal canal.

They are not “farts” in the traditional sense because they are not waste gases, nor do they emit an unpleasant odor.

That said, in some rare cases, vaginal flatulence may be caused by a vaginal fistula, which is an abnormal opening from the vagina to the bladder, colon, or rectum.

9. The link between vaginas and sharks

While you wouldn’t normally compare your vagina to Jaws (and before you ask, no, vagina dentata is not a real condition), your lady parts have more in common with sharks than you realize.

The lubricant produced by the vagina contains a compound called squalene, which is the same compound that is found in the livers of sharks.

Controversially, squalene is also used in many cosmetic products, such as moisturizing lotions, sunscreens, and hair products.

10. It’s not all about the G-spot

We’ve all heard of the G-spot — an erogenous zone of the vagina that, when stimulated, may lead to sexual arousal and orgasm.

But have you heard of the A-spot? Also known as the anterior fornix erogenous zone, the A-spot is believed to be located deep inside the vagina, between the cervix and the bladder.

The A-spot is a relatively new discovery by Malaysian researcher Dr. Chua Chee Ann. In a study, he reported that 10–15 minutes of A-spot stimulation led to instant orgasms and vaginal lubrication in 15 percent of women who reported pain and dryness during sexual intercourse.

And since we’re on the subject of sex, you might want to take a look at an article that debunks five of the most common sex myths.

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