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IU Health & Wellness: Holiday issue

Research and insights from Indiana University

Dec. 13, 2011

IU Health & Wellness for December has a holiday theme:

Indoor air quality concerns over the holidays
Family meals are more than just a meal
Stay safe while shopping online
Help kids eat healthy during the holiday rush
Travel smart during the holiday season
Fuel creativity with do-it-yourself gifts for kids

Indoor air quality concerns over the holidays. With people spending an estimated 90 percent of their time indoors, indoor air quality should be an important consideration during the holidays and year round, says Kevin J. Slates, director of the Occupational Health and Safety Laboratory and clinical assistant professor in Indiana University's School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation. He and adjunct faculty member Larry Newton say there is more to the aromas of pine trees than memories of Christmas past. Spores in the branches, needles and bark can create bothersome odors for people with sensitive allergies.

Here are some of Slates' tips for maintaining good air quality that will keep your family safe during the holidays:

  • The use of portable heating devices and poor air ventilation can lead to build-up of carbon monoxide, "the silent killer." Perform maintenance to your heating, ventilation and air conditioning system to ensure that it is functioning properly, and change filters regularly.
  • Live Christmas trees can be a haven for bugs, allergens and mold. For people with fragrance allergies, set the tree in water in a heated garage or porch for a day or two to acclimate it to warmer temperatures and let insects leave the branches. This will decrease the likelihood of an allergic reaction or having bugs in your home.
  • Do not let live Christmas trees dry out. Water regularly, but keep in mind that needles on pine trees begin to get brittle after two weeks, making your tree a potential fire hazard.
  • Artificial trees must be kept in a dry and sealed container after the holiday season. Dust from an open box, or mold from inside a wet container, are an invitation for allergens to enter your home when you start setting up decorations. If the tree or the packaging is dusty or smells musty, wipe down the tree in a garage or outdoors, and let it dry before bringing it in your home. Sometimes vacuuming helps, as well.

Slates can be reached at 812-856-3766 or The Occupational Health and Safety Laboratory is in the School of HPER's Department of Applied Health Science. Top

Family Snack

Family meals are more than just a meal. To some, "the family meal" is practically folklore, representing a curious practice when American life moved at a slower pace. Despite the hectic, break-neck pace of today's modern family, eating together -- in one form or another -- should remain a priority. Sharing meals has been shown to help kids do better in school, make them less likely to use alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, and result in less depression and lower levels of obesity, said Mary Lay, research associate at the Indiana Prevention Resource Center at Indiana University. "Everyone eats," Lay said. "Finding ways to eat together regularly as a family, and not just during the holidays, is an important part of parenting. That time together really matters." How the time is used, brief as it might be, and the behavior parents model are key. Arguments, criticism and food fights? Not so useful. Goal-setting, healthy eating habits, regular status updates (in person, not on Facebook)? Now that's more than a meal. "Family meals, when the TV and mobile devices are turned off, provide opportunities for social interaction," Lay said. "They give parents a chance to set goals and boundaries for youth. They provide opportunities for youth to share information about their day, their goals and their concerns."

These tips can help make breakfast, lunch, dinner or snacks more than just a meal:

  • Turn off the TV, computers, mobile devices and other distractions.
  • Put it on the family calendar and make it mandatory.
  • Get creative when finding common time. Maybe it's brunch on Saturdays or hot chocolate and a brief snack in the evening. If finding the time is challenging, begin slowly by meeting once or twice a week, and then see if family time can become more frequent.
  • Share the meal planning by letting family members choose the cuisine, or better yet, prepare it.
  • Give everyone a chance to share, whether discussing a highpoint of the day or career aspirations. Other conversation starters can include favorite family memories, where to vacation next and ideas for weekend plans.
  • Avoid using family dinner time to bring up problems with family members. Problems or concerns involving homework, chores or other issues can be discussed privately. If they are discussed during the meal or snack, it could lead to family members dreading or avoiding the shared time.

Mary Lay can be reach at 812-856-4885 and The Indiana Prevention Resource Center is part of the Department of Applied Health Science in the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation at IU Bloomington. Top

Stay safe while shopping online. Online shopping is simple, right? So, do you really know whether that great email bargain was sent from your favorite store and not a scammer? Are you paying at a secure site? Does it matter how you pay online? In this two-minute video, cybersecurity experts for Security Matters, an informational service of Indiana University's Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research, offer some simple advice and steps shoppers can take to get the online benefits without security risks. Did you know that checking your bank account while using Wi-Fi at your favorite coffee shop is risky? "Avoid doing anything sensitive that exposes important credentials in public. Don't do high-risk activities," said Von Welch, deputy director of the Center for Applied Cybersecurity Research. Welch said online banking sites and other websites that release personal information are a target for hackers who may be monitoring public wireless networks for credit card numbers and other information to steal. Security Matters offers how-to videos and other information on a range of security issues. Some video topics include "Facebook: Changing your privacy settings," "Mobile banking," "Why the U.K. hacking scandal may hit close to home" and "Choosing a good password."

For more information, contact James Boyd at 812-856-1497 or For more information and Security Matters videos, visit The YouTube video about online shopping can be found at Top

Healthy Eating

Help kids eat healthy during the holiday rush. Between the shopping, cookie baking and holiday travels, fast food may seem like a cheap and speedy way to feed the family, but some experts think it may be a major contributor to an alarming statistic: 12.5 million obese children and adolescents in America. Antonio Williams, an Indiana University fitness and marketing expert, said many fast-food restaurants have an increased amount of sugar, sodium and fat in their products to preserve food that is later cooked. This causes calorie counts to skyrocket, he said, in the unhealthy food that children increasingly are eating. "Parents need to be educated on what a child needs on a day-to-day basis to be healthy," Williams said. "They need to help their kids understand what fats, carbs and proteins are good for their bodies." With the extra family time spent together, school breaks during the holidays can provide parents with opportunities to show their kids how to be healthy. Youth will have a better understanding of the harmful effects of fast food, for example, if they see their parents eating less of it. Kids are likely to maintain a healthy weight, Williams said, if their parents are health conscious as well. "It is not what you can tell them," he said, "but lead by example. There is a strong correlation between obese and overweight kids and adults. We need to create a united front and then people won't indulge as much."

These tips can help parents and kids join together to eat healthier:

  • Here to stay, fast-food restaurants are a part of our society. Consider patronizing restaurants that invest in your health by eating at the establishments that have healthy items such as lean proteins (grilled chicken), whole grains (oatmeal) and fruits/veggies (apples).
  • Choose restaurants that make their calorie and macro-nutrient counts visible and are starting to recognize the importance of healthy children. For example, McDonald's is launching the "new happy meal" that includes a 10 percent reduction in sodium and a reduction in fries from 2.5 to 1.2 ounces.
  • Spending time exercising together takes kids away from the television. Images in fast-food commercials make food look especially delicious through animation and vibrant colors, designed to make people hungry.
  • Already have your smartphone in your palm 24/7? Download a calorie counter application such as MyFitnessPal or Livestrong. It will only take a few seconds to look up the items on a menu, which will help you make a smart decision
  • Juice is a big culprit for childhood obesity because of the large amount of sugar. Show kids that sugar is not always bad, but give them natural or less refined sugars. Try caffeine-free fruit tea as a juice option.
  • Carry snacks while running errands. Almonds are an easy snack with a lot of great nutrients.
  • Be sure to eat a nutritious breakfast before a day of shopping. Try to stay away from sugary cereals. Oatmeal is a great option because it can make one less hungry throughout the day and less likely to stop for a treat.
  • Do not be influenced by deals if eating at a fast-food restaurant. Diners should not splurge for the large fries, even if it is only 50 cents more, if the smaller serving is their normal choice.
  • Keep it simple. Ordering a sandwich or burger without side items like french fries is a much smarter decision.
  • Stay away from sauces, which are a source of hidden calories. Also, salad dressing should be ordered on the side to make it easier to control portions.
  • Thirst versus hunger. Signals for thirst are similar to those for hunger, but we confuse them. Drink 8 ounces of water and then wait 15 minutes before reassessing hunger. Try carrying a water bottle in the car or while shopping.
  • Eating healthy does not mean a higher grocery bill. Most people over-consume, so it seems like they spend more for organic or fresh food. However, eating healthy foods over time will help control appetites, thus reducing shopping lists and expense.

Williams recently received funding from Ronald McDonald House Charities to launch his Fit U (Fit University) program. Fit U is an overall wellness initiative dedicated to changing perceptions and empowering kids through education to make healthy food choices at home, at school and in fast-food restaurants. The program also encourages physical activity through the monthlong MVP pledge: moderation, variety, play.

Williams can be reached at 812-855-3061 and Top


Travel smart during the holiday season. Whether you're jetting off to Disney World or venturing to Grandma's house for Christmas dinner, traveling can be even more stressful during the holidays than it usually is. The holidays are a time for making memories and enjoying the company of your family, not stressing out about how to make it to your destination.

Here are a few tips provided by Amanda Cecil, assistant professor at the IU School of Physical Education and Tourism Management, about what to know before you go.

  • Be positive. "Go into your trip with the right mindset. If you are prepared for the traffic, possible flight delays and crowds, then you are much better off," Cecil said. "Have a positive attitude and prepare for the experience."
  • Use technology! "You can check your flight status online before you leave for the airport, which can eliminate that extra time spent in the airport if your flight is delayed," Cecil said. "You can also view traffic (and) weather, and check in online."
  • Don't over-pack. "Many airlines charge you extra fees for traveling with a bag that is too heavy," Cecil said, "so consider shipping your gifts beforehand if you are planning to bring them. Shipping gifts in advance may be cheaper and eliminate worrying if they are going to get lost in baggage or not make your connecting flight."
  • Think outside the box. "Consider alternative forms of transportation such as the MegaBus or train. People are looking at rail travel in ways that they hadn't considered it before," Cecil said. "It is a fast way to get to your destination and can be less stressful than dealing with airports."
  • Be a smart shopper. "Follow helpful websites such as Groupon and Living Social to find deals on travel and attractions. Even the Indiana Office of Tourism has discounts."
  • Have a family meeting beforehand. "If you are traveling with a large group or extended family, everyone is going to have a different expectation for their vacation," Cecil said. "It is important to openly discuss your budget, activities and hopes for the vacation with everyone in your traveling party."
  • Don't wait until the last minute. "Do your research beforehand so you aren't stressing out the week before your trip," Cecil said. "Many airlines have blackout dates during the holidays where frequent flier points or other discounts do not apply."

Amanda Cecil can be reached at 317-278-8569 or Top


Fuel creativity with do-it-yourself gifts for kids. The razzle-dazzle of the usual holiday gift guides, catalogs and commercials for the latest toys are filling airwaves and mailboxes with a vengeance. Wondering how to bypass the commercialism, while also engaging a child's creative side? Just ask Marjorie Cohee Manifold, associate professor of art education and curriculum studies in the Indiana University School of Education.

  • Create a do-it-yourself art kit. Fill a container with supplies, including a thick pad of heavy white paper for painting, regular paper for drawing and construction paper, as well as glitter markers, puffy paint gel markers, crayons, scissors, glue, pencils and erasers. Don't forget to add in a few "How to Draw" books tailored to your child's taste. "Begin collecting items on sale throughout the year and keep them in the container until it is full," Manifold said. "Try to find things that don't require a lot of fuss to set up and aren't inherently messy."
  • Say "Cheese." Purchase a durable, relatively inexpensive digital camera that will allow a child to take photographs and shoot video. Pair the camera with a box full of scrapbooking materials and encourage the child to create theme albums; or, include simple editing software so he or she can create a short film.
  • Build a personalized dress-up kit. Fill a chest or box with clean, costume-worthy items by sorting through materials that might otherwise be donated to charity, or by collecting items at garage sales. Some favorites include hats, jewelry, scarves, faux-fur items and shoes. "You see commercial companies taking advantage of this interest by producing princess gowns and pirate costumes," Manifold said. "But it might be much more fun for you and your child if you collected materials and put together your own costume play kit."
  • Set aside time to be creative together. Collaborations might include cookie and/or cake decorating; making a model, kite or jewelry; doing needlework; or creating any kind of paper craft, such as origami or a collage. "You don't have to be a good artist to make art with your child," Manifold said. "Any craft- or art-making that interests you could also interest your child. And the fact that you would share your interest or want to share his or her interest is, in itself, an enormous gift."

Marjorie Cohee Manifold can be reached at 812-856-8133 or Top

For additional assistance with these tips, contact Tracy James at 812-855-0084 or