February In A Nutshell

Health Grocery Shopping

We have always wanted to live a healthy life. There are many ways to improve our general well-being. A healthy diet is one of the important components. What we buy from the grocery stores will affect our health as we will be consuming the food. Here are some changes that we can do to improve our diet:

  1. Eat the rainbow - Adding a variety of colourful fruits and vegetables will boost your vitamin and fibre intake. They are generally low in fat but be careful of pre-prepared salads as they may contain much fat, salt and sugar.
  1. Diary consumption - Aim for natural yoghurt as the flavoured ones contain as much as half of the recommended daily intake of sugar.
  1. Lean meats - Meats like fish and chicken are a good choice for the plate. Ultimately, try to avoid processed food like lunchmeat or hot dogs. They are loaded with preservatives and salt which can cause high blood pressure.
  1. Whole grain bread - Two slices of white sandwich bread provide one fourth of your daily recommended salt intake. Hence, choose whole grain bread (NOT whole wheat) which will decrease your cholesterol and sugar intake. Therefore, diseases like diabetes can be avoided.
  1. Read the labels - Each time when you shop, make a habit by reading the nutritional labels on the food. They give useful information about what the food contains. It also gives us an opportunity to compare different types of food so we can opt for the ones with less salt and sugar.
  1. Stocking up fruit and vegetables - Instead of stuffing your freezer with ice cream, pizzas and snacks, make it an effort to store more frozen veggies and fruits.

Read more lifestyle advice at The Star.


Scottish schools 'lacking' mental health provision

Half of mental health problems start before the age of 15.

Nevertheless, according to the BBC, Scotland is the only UK country that has no national strategy for school-based counselling services.

Currently, Scotland councils employ educational psychologists who are based at different locations for children who need them. With a significant shortage of these employees, a fifth of referred children are not seen within an 18-week target at NHS Scotland’s mental health counselling service.

Data from the NHS shows that between January 2015 and September 2016, there were 30639 children who used the mental health service but 6745 of them had to wait for more than 18 weeks. Worse, 708 were only seen after 53 weeks.

Addressing mental health issues as quickly as possible amongst children is vital. Hence, providing counselling service in schools will reduce waiting time. However, some health boards had a “long way to go” on mental health provision.


Vaping is better than smoking?

Research had been carried out to compare the harm caused by vaping and smoking in the long run. It involved 181 participants who were recruited from Greater London. They were separated into three different groups: cigarette smokers only, former smokers using e-cigarettes or NRT only and smokers who use both cigarettes and e-cigarettes or NRT.

These volunteers were not allowed food, drink and the use of nicotinic products an hour before their appointment. Samples of breath, saliva and urine were taken and assessed for tobacco specific nitrosamines (TSNAs) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

Analysis showed that there were significantly lower levels of TSNAs and VOCs in those who use e-cigarettes or NRT only as compared to participants who smoke combustible cigarettes. It has been found that there are similar levels of tobacco-related toxins in both the cigarette smokers only and smokers who use both cigarettes and e-cigarettes or NRT.

Unlike previous researches which assessed vaping outcome based on laboratory equipment or animal experiment, this study is considered to be of significance as it involved actual human users.

Nevertheless, there were some weaknesses regarding this research. Firstly, it could not account for the indirect exposure to cigarette smoking on the participants. Besides, it is unable to compare the effectiveness of e-cigarettes and NRT in smoking cessation which is supposedly the ultimate aim.


Preventing medication errors

According to the Patient Safety Unit of the Health Ministry, there were around 3500 medication errors and 248300 near misses in 2014-2015. A near miss is an error made but was detected early and rectified before being dispensed to the patient.

Medication errors are the single most preventable cause of harm to patients. There are a few steps to prevent such errors. Before we discuss these steps, here are some terms to describe the process of administering medication to patient:

  1. Prescribing – the doctors decides what type of medication to give, its dose and frequency of administration
  2. Transcribing – correctly interpret the prescription by a pharmacist or dispenser
  3. Dispensing – pharmacist or dispenser checks the prescription and releases the medication in the exact amount needed
  4. Administration – giving the correct medication to the patient at the right time. In hospital, this is normally the responsibility of the nurse; in community, it is the patient’s or caregiver’s responsibility

The US Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality released a few recommendations at each stage to minimise medication errors:

  1. Prescribing – computerised entry rather than handwritten and adhering to conservative prescribing principles
  2. Transcribing – computerised entry to eliminate handwriting and transcription errors
  3. Dispensing – use of “Tall man” lettering to differentiate lookalike and sound-alike medications
  4. Administration – use of the five Rs: giving the right medication, in the right dose, at the right time, by the right route and to the right patient, barcode medication administration and revised medication labels so that patient can understand the instructions easily

Patients can also play a part in reducing medication errors. They should be proactive in knowing the medication they are getting like identifying the side effects and its interaction with other pills. Communication is also an important key so always ask your doctor or pharmacist if in doubt.

Read more at The Star.


'Tobacco free' campaign by Public Health England

Public Health England is campaigning for a strictly non-smoking area outside health service buildings as an effort to encourage smokers to give up their habit.

Smoking in hospital grounds is banned by law in Northern Ireland and Scotland but not for Wales and England yet.

According to the British Thoracic Society, a quarter of hospital patients were smokers, a figure which is more than the general population of 19%. Among other findings from the survey were:

  • Only one in 13 patients who smoke were referred to a smoking cessation service
  • More than one in four patients were not asked if they smoke
  • Nearly three in four smokers were not asked if they had plans to stop smoking
  • Half of frontline healthcare staffs were not offered training in smoking cessation

The report came to a conclusion that there is still a lot to be done in improving access for patients who want to quit smoking. Some suggestions include enhancing prescription of nicotine replacement therapy and referring more patients to specialised smoking cessation centres.

In conclusion, it is not about forcing people to stop smoking but giving a helping hand to those in need. People who receive fast and adequate help are four times more likely to stop this habit forever.

Therefore, much can be saved from smoking-related hospital admissions which cost 2 billion pounds in the period of 2014-2015 with an additional 1.1 billion pounds in social care costs.

Read more at the BBC.


In a nutshell, taking care of both our physical and mental health is extremely important. Our physical health can be improved by eating right, while mental health should be available to all people, regardless of age.

Although smoking or vaping may have harms on a person's physical health in the long run, it is up to the smoker to understand these risks and to make an informed choice.

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