4 Quick Answers To Complicated Health Questions

Cutting through the noise so you don't have to.

ICYMI Health features what we're reading this week.

This week, we sought out simple answers to tough health questions. While such questions require a degree of nuance -- if they didn't, they wouldn't be tough, right? -- consider this an at-a-glance guide to some of the week's most interesting health findings, a jumping off point to explore the research in more detail.

Read on and tell us in the comments: What did you read and love this week?

Q: Are anti-obesity measures in school effective?

A: So far, no. In fact, in-school BMI measurements can backfire and lead to childhood eating disorders.

Body metric index report cards, for which schools measure a child's BMI and send a report home to their parents, started in Arkansas in 2003. Other states followed suit, and 2006 federal "wellness policy" guidelines, which call for teaching nutrition in schools, sometimes translate into measuring students' BMIs.

According to eating disorder activists, however, these report cards are going more harm than good. One long-term study even found that parents who knew their kids were overweight did not make strides to help their children get healthier by eating more fruits and vegetables. Instead, they put their kids on a calorie-restricting diet, a method researchers say actually leads to more weight gain among young adults.

"If a parent finds out or realizes that their child is overweight and then they encourage them to go out and diet, it can be counterproductive," University of Minnesota epidemiologist Dianne Neumark-Sztainer told Pacific Standard.

Some children obsess over their BMIs after public school weigh-ins, Pacific Standard reported, with some of them even developing eating disorders such as anorexic or bulimia.

Q: Will wearing earplugs at concerts save your hearing?

A: Hard to say. There have only been two (?!) high-quality studies done on the subject.

The two studies were small -- only 29 concert attendees each -- and the results couldn't be combined and analyzed, researchers said. Based on these small samples, earplugs did seem to reduce, but not eliminate, hearing loss directly after concerts, but researchers tressed that more data is sorely needed.

Repeated exposure to loud music at clubs, concerts and festivals can hurt hearing by damaging the inner ear, but music isn't the primary noisy activity that causes hearing loss in young people. Other high-volume recreational culprits include loud toys and video games, firecrackers, personal music players, lawn equipment, sporting events, air shows and target shooting.

“Most concerts are both loud enough, and long enough, that they are likely to exceed the total daily exposure allowed by workplace safety regulations,” Colleen Le Prell, a professor of hearing science at the University of Texas at Dallas told Reuters.

Seems like a research opportunity ripe for the picking in our books.

MORE: Reuters

Q: Do walk-in clinics save the health care industry money?

Dr. Sassan Naderi holds a vile of flu vaccination at the Premier Care walk-in health clinic on January 10, 2013 in New York City.
Dr. Sassan Naderi holds a vile of flu vaccination at the Premier Care walk-in health clinic on January 10, 2013 in New York City.

A: Nope! People go to them for mild symptoms that don't actually need treatment.

According to a study published in the journal Health Affairs this month, the reason that walk-in clinics aren't a useful cost-cutting solution is because patients tend to visit the more than they would typically visit a primary-care physician. In fact, when combined with preventative care, the costs of substituting walk-in clinic visits for visits to a primary care physician resulted in $14 more health care spending per patient, per year, Business Insider reports.

What's going on? Fifty-eight percent of people are dropping in to walk-in clinics for minor health problems, like sore throats or coughs, and driving up health care costs in the process.

Q: Are you better off knowing your medical future or living in ignorant bliss?

A: It depends.

There's a reason only 7 to 10 percent of people who are at risk for Huntington's disease get a genetic test to see if they have the gene that indicates they'll develop the neurodegenerative condition.

“I decided that if I knew I had the gene, I would make certain decisions in my life,” Jennifer Leyton, who has a family history of Huntington's, told Science of Us. “And not knowing I had the gene, I’m just going to go on with my life and do what I need to do.”

New research from Brown University bears this out. After analyzing a national data set of 1,000 Americans who are at risk for Huntington's disease, the researchers determined the reason so few of them are getting tested isn't because the tests are expensive or hard to get. People simply don't want to know if they have the disease, because they're afraid they'll live their lives differently.

This intuitive approach seemed to pay off. In terms of achievement, people who preferred not to get tested for the Huntington's disease gene tended to have more fulfilling lives, at least on paper, than those who knew they had the gene. The untested cohort pursued higher educational levels, stayed in the workforce longer and were more likely to get (and stay) married and have children than the those who took the test and found out they carried the gene.

Facts About Childhood Obesity