It’s the most wonderful time of year – the winter holiday season. The malls are bustling, cheery music can be heard near and far and twinkling lights adorn homes in neighborhoods everywhere. While it may be cold outside, there’s always a sense of warmth surrounding people at this time. UAB has news you can use to make this the brightest holiday season yet. From turning temporary jobs in to full-time opportunities to making your online sales tax list and checking it twice, we’ve got consumer tips to help. Plus, how to stay nutritious despite all the great parties and dinners ahead, and for the diabetic in your life: how to travel safely. To wrap it all up with a bow comes bowl season: consider your health like an athletic arena with advice from a wellness expert on how to get the best seat in the house.
The failure to collect taxes owed from Internet sales will cost the United States an estimated $10 billion this year. A University of Alabama at Birmingham retail expert says the victim is not the IRS; the victim is your community.
“These are taxes owed to municipalities, counties and states, which consumers are obliged to report and remit on their state income-tax returns,” said Robert Robicheaux, Ph.D., professor and chair of the Marketing, Industrial Distribution and Economics department in the UAB School of Business. “This problem demands immediate attention nationwide because the share of Internet retail sales is growing at such a breakneck pace that the amount of lost tax revenue will be doubled by the end of the decade.”
How do you know if you owe? In the state of Alabama the loss is estimated to be only about $30 per person but in a state with 4.7 million people that adds up to $141 million. That is just the average. Not everyone owes. If you made purchases online and were not charged state sales tax at checkout then you owe.
“Many and maybe most Internet buyers are unaware they have a tax obligation for items they buy online and are not charged state and local sales tax,” says Robicheaux. “The failure to collect taxes that are already owed may force local, county and state leaders’ to find new sources of revenue to support essential services.”
Bowl season marks the end of college football games for the year, and one University of Alabama at Birmingham expert says it could also mark the end of unhealthy times for some Americans, with five simple lifestyle modifications.
“If you looked at the health status of the fans in an athletic arena, you may be surprised,” says Lauren Whitt, Ph.D., UAB’s wellness coordinator and an adjunct professor in the Department of Human Studies. “We can estimate that 70 percent of people in the stands will die from a chronic disease,” says Whitt, citing national health statistics.
“If you want to move out of that crowd and get in the game of living well, you have to choose to be healthy. Think about what changes you are willing to make in order to stop being a spectator,” Whitt says.
The most common chronic diseases are heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension and inactivity all implicated as causes or contributing factors. Nearly one in two adults are living with at least one chronic disease.
“The incredible component of chronic diseases is that many of them are preventable through lifestyle,” Whitt says.
There are few holiday presents worse than a hospital stay. But if a loved one or friend must be hospitalized this season, University of Alabama at Birmingham experts say you can take steps to ensure their holiday is still merry and bright.
“Being in the hospital can be distressing for anybody,” says Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., a UAB clinical psychologist. “While the psychological impact may be short-lived, the bottom line is people would rather be well and home than sick and away.
“The holidays are about social interactions, the sharing of emotions and connecting as humans, and there is nothing written that says this cannot occur in a hospital setting. Bring the holidays to the hospital,” Klapow explains.
How to do that, you ask?
“In addition to the hospital’s efforts to enhance the holiday spirit of our patients, like providing music therapy and collecting toys and stockings for the children, family and friends can also take part in a variety of ways,” explains Jordan DeMoss, assistant vice president of UAB Hospital.
First and foremost, visit and spend time with your loved one.
You’ve probably heard a holiday song today, or perhaps you even hummed one to yourself. This time of year, it’s hard to get away from them. They’re even on ring tones.
Whether you find it uplifting or annoying, there’s good reason to join in the caroling, says Casey Brasher, a board-certified music therapist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Singing, and even listening to music, is good for your body and your mind, and it is something everyone in the family, from youngest to oldest, can do together – perfect pitch not required.
“Music is so beneficial to so many different populations and ages, in so many different ways,” Brasher says. “Music can take us to different places.”
For people dealing with pain or anxiety, not uncommon during the holidays, music can be especially helpful for distraction to a heap of holiday chores, or relaxation while circling the parking lot again and again.
“When you are singing, you have to take a deeper breath,” Brasher says. “That extra oxygen can really help people calm down.” It can lower a person’s heart rate as well, she says. Just like taking a deep sigh, it has a relaxing effect on the body.
Making the season magical for kids stuck in the hospital during the holidays is easier said than done, and knowing the type of Christmas present to give them would even challenge St. Nick.
University of Alabama at Birmingham pediatric experts say some gifts that can brighten a child’s holiday hospital stay and help put them on the road to recovery.
“A carefully selected gift could actually benefit a child during a hospitalization,” says UAB Child Life Specialist Jane Love.
Love suggests checking your list twice before you buy and ask the child’s care team if there are any special directives or instructions for gifts.
- Consider gifts that get kids up and walking for kids who have had surgery
- Pinwheels, bubbles or other gifts can help kids who need to do deep-breathing exercise to loosen fluids and alleviate soreness
- Video games that encourage physical participation or remote control cars or animals can also get kids active
Whether it’s over the river and through the woods to grandma’s house for Christmas or joining thousands in Times Square to rock New Year’s Eve, millions of people will take to the skies and the highways this holiday season. But for diabetics, travel can be dangerous if they’re not careful.
“I tell patients, especially Type I diabetics, to be diligent about blood-sugar control when they travel — especially across time zones — because it’s easy to lose control of your glucose management when you get out of your usual routine,” says Fernando Ovalle, M.D., director of the UAB Multidisciplinary Diabetes Clinic and a senior scientist in the UAB Comprehensive Diabetes Center.
But, Ovalle says, simple things can make travel easier and safer:
Be over-supplied - If you are traveling in the United States or most places in Europe, pack twice as much medication and blood-testing supplies as you need. If you are traveling to Africa or places where medical resources can be scarce, pack three to four times what you need.
Those resolutions you promise yourself you will keep each year probably look a little like this — lose weight, exercise daily, quit smoking, save money, etc. Though these are great personal commitments to make, one University of Alabama at Birmingham expert says New Year’s resolutions are, for most, a waste of time.
“Many of us wind up making short-lived changes that rarely pan out. We resolve to be different or live better, and then spend a year not achieving these goals. We waste time making unmet resolutions yearly,” explains Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., a UAB clinical psychologist and author of the book, Living SMART: Five Essential Skills to Change Your Health Habits Forever.
This is not an excuse to throw in the towel and get fat or lazy. Klapow says Jan. 1 is a great time to start living the way you want to be. But, you have to be serious about it and create a game plan so the resolutions are implemented and not squandered.
“Without a course of action, these changes will not fall into place. It’s not enough just to be inspired,” Klapow explains.
If you want to achieve it — say losing weight, for example — you have to be detailed about it. Klapow says you have to outline the days and times you will go the gym, the menu adjustments you will make and who in your circle can help keep you accountable for these goals.
But before your plans get too elaborate, Klapow advises you to do a gut-check.
“Ask yourself, ‘do I really want to do this?’ If your heart isn’t in it, it’s not going to happen. It’s better to be honest than to fail,” says Klapow.
The battle to grab deals on Black Friday is nothing compared to the competition for jobs. A half-million temporary jobs were filled this holiday season and Mickey Gee, executive-in-residence at the University of Alabama at BirminghamSchool of Business, tells new hires to take advantage of a rare opportunity in this depressed economy.
“I hired many people for many years in part-time positions, and I know you have to be crazy if you don’t try to move someone working part-time into full-time if you like them and their work,” says Gee, former owner of a Birmingham-area retail chain.
Turning a part-time job into a full-time or permanent job is possible. Since this past August, retailers have hired nearly 100,000 employees, according to the National Retail Foundation. Gee points out that six weeks in a temporary job is plenty of time for the employer to see your talents and your issues. Their impression depends on your performance. Gee recommends three things:
- Be positive
- Showcase all talents, skills and abilities
- Be flexible
“A lot of people don’t want to work retail because they don’t want to work weekends,” Gee says. “But for those taking care of older family members or children — and available only night or weekends — flexibility may give them an advantage.”
This holiday season, most families will have the traditional turkey, cranberry sauce and a pumpkin pie, without which it wouldn’t qualify as a holiday meal. The one thing that usually falls off the list of must-haves is sensibility, says one University of Alabama at Birmingham expert.
“Many of us toss our typical eating plans and healthy-living strategies to enjoy the winter festivities and just expect to gain weight during the holiday season,” says Lauren Whitt, Ph.D., a wellness coordinator and adjunct professor in the UAB Department of Human Studies.
But if you play the holiday season by the numbers, you can have your pie and eat it, too, Whitt says.
“The average adult consumes about 3,000 calories in one Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner. This figure can easily increase to more than 4,500 calories when you account for eating the rest of the day,” Whitt says.
To put this in perspective, the average adult female typically takes in about 2,000 calories a day, while men are eating about 2,500. Doubling up on the caloric intake for one day can be detrimental to your weight and your overall health.
“In order to lose one pound of fat, a person must burn 3,500 calories more than they consume,” Whitt explains. “In order for a 160-pound person to burn off the 3,000 calorie meal, they would have to run at a moderate pace for four hours, swim for five hours or walk 30 miles.”
Yikes. No time for that kind of exercise in between watching the big game or hitting the sales to find that perfect gift? Whitt offers tips to drop that whopping one-meal calorie count down:
Shopping is overtaking eating as the national pastime for Thanksgiving, and shoppers are being urged to gorge themselves unnecessarily, says one retail expert.
“Everyone is anticipating the season’s start, and we are seeing much more aggressive retailers with more deals for customers,” says Mickey Gee, M.A., executive-in-residence at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Business. “Retailers look at this season like a big pie, and everybody is doing what they can to get their initial slice because once the slices are gone they’re gone.
“Already consumers are being pelted with pre-releases of Black Friday or Thanksgiving deals,” says Gee. “Around 55 percent of retailers are going to send out special emails to their customers, and almost 40 percent are putting up specials on Facebook pages.”
It started with blizzards. Tornadoes followed. Flooding ensued. 2011 has been filled with natural disasters, deadly and devastating, and Thanksgiving may be the year’s first family holiday that things look different around the dinner table.
Natural disasters are blamed for hundreds of deaths nationwide, and it is one of the deadliest years in the United States since Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, according to the National Climactic Data Center. In Alabama alone, 255 people were killed during two tornados in April, according the Alabama Emergency Management Agency.
“For survivors of natural disasters earlier this year, this may be a very different holiday season; they’re grateful for their lives, but guilty that they survived when others didn’t,” says Joshua Klapow, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
“As families gather, many will be reminded of the ones who perished and will not feel holiday joy this year,” Klapow says.
“And though families may have a roof over their heads, it may not be the same roof as last year,” Klapow notes. “For some it means a different house in the same neighborhood, for others it means a different house in a different neighborhood, and that can be distressing.”
Klapow says the biggest challenge in the first year following the loss is reconciling the deep feelings of grief when the rest of the world appears to be feeling joyous and festive.
Planning is the best way to cope, Klapow says, and makes these suggestions:
If Grandma is coming up from Florida during Thanksgiving to see the grandbabies or Aunt Madge will be at Christmas dinner this year, use this opportunity to learn more about your family health history from people with pertinent knowledge, say University of Alabama at Birmingham genetics experts.
“The holidays are a great time to collect your family history,” says Lynn Holt, M.S., director of the School of Health Professions Genetic Counseling program. “Most people don’t know much about the family history beyond their first-degree relatives, their own parents and siblings.”
Talk to grandparents or great-grandparents and make detailed records on their immediate family — parents, siblings and children. You want to jot down names, year of birth, year of death and any health problems that person may have had. Ask if any siblings died during childhood and if so, why? Many people don’t like to talk about a sibling who died young, but knowing if it happened — and why — can produce very valuable information.
“We sometimes hear people say they’ve been told their mother’s brother dropped dead at age 20, for example,” says Holt. “It’s important to find out why. Was it because of a genetic heart condition that you might have inherited, or is it simply that brother was guilty of some accident that nobody wants to talk about?”
So, has that bag of Halloween-themed candy “minis” purchased in early October made it this far yet? If so, while you’re showing great willpower, you may want to think twice before dispersing it to the ghouls and goblins who show up on your doorstep Halloween night.
“Obesity is a serious epidemic, and we have to wake up and realize this is a problem,” says Donna Arnett, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Epidemiology in the UAB School of Public Health.
Nearly 17 percent of children in the United States ages 2-19 are obese, and 31 percent are overweight or obese, according to the American Heart Association. Arnett, who is president-elect of the American Health Association, says holidays in which candy plays a big part in the celebration do not help obesity rates.
“Though Halloween alone is not going to be a major overall contributor to our children’s health, any behaviors they learn can have an effect,” adds Arnett.
Based on the nutrition facts for popular candies handed out this time of year, Arnett estimates the average child collects between 3,500 and 7,000 calories Halloween night.
Do you dread the dead or do you kill for the thrill? There is no purgatory for fear. Being frightened is heaven for some and hell for others.
Clinical psychologist Vivian Friedman, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham says the answer is in your personality: “Some people are daredevils and they love rollercoaster rides, and other people hate roller coaster rides because they don’t like that feeling of being terrified at the moment the roller coaster is going downhill.”
And that brings us to the ultimate roller coaster of fear emotions, Halloween.
“It is the one day of the year I can let that internal 12-year-old have his way and do all those silly and crazy things you think of year round,” says Tony Warren, kid at heart. “I like putting Vampire teeth in my mouth and going around scaring all the little kids that have terrorized me all year in my neighborhood,” he says, laughing.
When you’re deciding on a Halloween costume, why limit your imagination to what’s available at the store? For many people, making a Halloween costume is far more fun than buying one. Not only is it more creative, exciting and unique to make your own, it can also be more affordable and better for the environment.
To make your own mask, or help children make one, take some tips from UAB Assistant Professor of Art Doug Barrett, M.F.A., who also is vice-president of the Birmingham chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Arts.
- First, you’ll need heavy paper, paper plates, or face mask forms available at craft stores. Barrett uses blank mask forms that come in a variety of animal face shapes. Your imagination is the limit when creating your own mask. Some heavy paper plates are especially good because they become like paper mache when painted, he says. If you are using a paper plate or paper, grab a pencil and some scissors and carefully sketch and cut out eye holes.
There are 14 million people officially unemployed in the United States; another 12 million have stopped looking for jobs. Yet the ghoulish economy is not scaring away Halloween consumers, and that means the holiday season will not be a nightmare for retailers.
“Halloween sales really reflects well the mood of the consumer and the economy in this country,” says Mickey Gee, M.A., executive-in-residence at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Business. “Halloween sales is a number that we as retailers really look at because it often will indicate how much extra help we need to hire for the holiday season, how much we need in inventory levels and the amount of promotion we need to do or not do.”
The National Retail Federation says the average person will spend almost $75 on Halloween, up nearly $10 dollars per person from last year. According to Gee, an instructor with the UAB Department of Marketing, Industrial Distribution and Economics, Halloween is the second largest event-driven season for retailers.
“With costumes, decorations, pumpkins and candy, Halloween will approach almost $7 billion in total expenditures, which is more than double what was spent in 2005,” said Gee. “I even saw one statistic that said people will spend around $300 million this year just to dress their pets.”
The big day your princess has dreamed about is here. But the first door she knocks on is answered by a cackling witch, and the fun of Halloween dress-up ends for your little Snow White faster than you can say, “Don’t bite that apple!”
A University of Alabama at Birmingham child psychologist says it is difficult to avoid the things that create nightmares this time of year, and the best thing you can do is to prepare a young child for tombstones in the neighbor’s yard and ghoulish costumes and spooky decorations in the store aisles and daily mail.
“Throwing a child who doesn't swim into the pool is never a good idea,” says child-adolescent psychologist Vivian Friedman, Ph.D., professor in the UAB Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurobiology. “Forcing a child into a situation he fears is likely to make it worse.”
Your child will eventually understand the difference between real and imaginary, possible and impossible or fear and actual danger. “A lack of understanding is the root of most irrational fears and superstitions,” says Friedman. “A 2-year-old fears going down the bathtub drain because he doesn’t know that he is too big to fit down a small hole.”
Ghosts, ghouls and goblins are suiting up for the yearly pilgrimage through neighborhoods shouting “Trick or Treat!” and begging for sweet treats that are synonymous with Halloween.
But a candy-centric holiday poses challenging questions for parents of children with diabetes. Can they have a mini candy bar? Is the orange and black gooey goodness of a cupcake off limits?
“They can enjoy Halloween and enjoy some of the sweets the holiday offers — within reason,” says Kenneth McCormick, M.D., pediatric endocrinologist and senior scientist in the UAB Comprehensive Diabetes Center. “We give parents and kids three options and let them decide how they want to handle Halloween and the sweets that come with it.”
Tip 1: Count Carbs
McCormick says by counting carbohydrates – which your body breaks down into glucose creating fluctuations in blood sugar – kids can enjoy some of the treats Halloween has to offer in moderation. In this option, the child keeps up with how many carbs they are eating and takes, for example, one unit of insulin for every 15 or 20 grams of carbohydrates.
“This is an easy option for kids on an insulin pump because they can just dial in an extra dose of insulin to compensate for what they are about to eat. But for kids that take shots, this could prove to be more difficult or inconvenient if they have to go to the school nurse for an extra dose,” he says.