Living Today: Issues of modern living

By ALEX CUKAN, United Press International
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Across the nation, hospitals and doctors' offices are returning blood pressure cuffs to their manufacturers to comply with a federal environmental initiative to cut down on the use of mercury.


Mercury is a toxic metal that can pollute the air and water when disposed of improperly. However, the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, say the mercury gauges are being replaced by newer devices that may be unreliable.

The medical experts warn that inaccuracies may be leading to false diagnoses and inappropriate treatments, The New York Times reports.

In a joint statement, the heart association and the Heart, Lung and Blood Institute say that before the old mercury devices are removed, the nation needs a system to be sure the new ones are accurate and reliable.

"We don't have a system in place to ensure the accurate determination of blood pressure," says Dr. Daniel W. Jones, of the University of Mississippi Medical Center.


The push to get rid of mercury sphygmomanometers began in June 1998 when the Environmental Protection Agency and the American Hospital Association agreed to eliminate as much mercury waste as possible from hospitals by 2005.

However, replacements using aneroid devices can get metal fatigue, making readings inaccurate. Manufacturers recommend that they be recalibrated every six months or so but some medical experts say that is seldom done.

Electronic devices use physical measurements and mathematical formulas to calculate pressure, but some blood pressure experts say they are unsatisfied by the data that the companies provide.


President Bush is proposing an initiative to dismantle barriers that prevent minorities from owning their own homes.

"A home is a foundation for families and a source of stability for communities and it serves as the foundation of many Americans' financial security," Bush says.

Bush is highlighting the American Dream Downpayment Fund, which would provide $200 million to an estimated 40,000 low-income families a year.

"When a low-income family is qualified to buy a home, but comes up short on the down payment, the American Dream Down Payment Fund will help provide the needed funds," Bush said.


While nearly three-fourths of white Americans own their own homes, less than half of black and Hispanic Americans are homeowners, Bush said.

The president said there are three obstacles to homeownership: high down payment requirements, a lack of affordable housing and the difficulty of the purchasing process.

The Millenial Housing Commission was charged by Congress to examine the state of housing in the United States. In its report released last month, the panel found that housing affordability is the "single greatest challenge" facing the nation.

Approximately 13.4 million renter households and 14.5 million homeowners face spending between 30 percent and 50 percent of their incomes on housing.

(Thanks to UPI White House reporter Kathy A. Gambrell.)


Botox treatments already are the top cosmetic procedure in the country, with some 1.6 million injections administered last year and the wrinkle relaxer's popularity is only growing now that it has federal approval, according to the New York Daily News.

"It's the best innovation we've had in cosmetic treatment in the last 20 years at least," says Dr. Frederic Brandt, a Manhattan and Miami plastic surgeon.

But even as middle-aged women flock to their dermatologists for a temporary shot at youth a Botox backlash is brewing in some corners of the medical establishment.


The drug has been around for awhile, but had only been used for relatively rare illnesses. When it goes into widespread use, more side effects can occur, said Dr. Gina Zuccotti, deputy editor of The Medical Letter, a non-profit drug watchdog.

Botox is derived from the same toxin that causes botulism, or killer food-poisoning. But it is injected in a much smaller, purified dose that its champions insist is completely safe.

The agent works by blocking a neurotransmitter produced by the body that interrupts electrical impulses the brain uses to make muscles move, paralyzing them for three to six months.

Zuccotti thinks patients should consider the downside to the youth treatments. Botox side effects include: headaches, bruising, swelling, lopsided or droopy eyebrows and uncontrollable drooling.

Some critics complain that Botox devotees can wind up with a curious blank look because their facial expressions are paralyzed.


One week away from Wimbledon, a British sports psychologist says the

multimillion-dollar rewards at the top of women's tennis are taking a devastating toll on the health of young aspirants, London's Independent news reports.

"These girls have been in a motivational climate, driven and controlled by their parents from a very early age and their reward system is based entirely on winning," says Dr. Jim McKenna, of Bristol University, in England.


The threat of losing often suffices to undermine even trying, and it bears all the hallmarks of clinical depression," he says.

The psychological results of these pressures are illustrated in a television documentary to be shown in England this week. The cameras are treated to tears and tantrums as they follow players such as Anna Kournikova and Magdalena Maleeva across Europe. The girls' routines revolve around a treadmill of tournaments, a ruthless ranking system, demanding sponsors and a constant tug of war between performance on the court and image off it ­-- and their parents, according to The Independent.

The Wimbledon champion Venus Williams is no stranger to parental ambition. "It was never really my dream to be a tennis player, my dad started me, but once you get older you realize what's going on," she says.

There are many child prodigies at 12 or 13 who don't make it, said British Coach Alan Jones. "I just hope that they're sane and enjoying it somewhere."

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