Monthly Health Observances



January is National Birth Defects Prevention Month. Birth defects affect approximately one in 33 newborns and are a leading cause of infant mortality in the United States (1,2). This year, National Birth Defects Prevention Month focuses on medication use before, during, and after pregnancy. This includes over-the-counter or prescription medications and herbal or dietary products.

Approximately two thirds of women use at least one medication during their pregnancy (3,4). Because of the possible risks to the unborn baby, pregnant women are not included in the testing of new medications. As a result, little information is available about the safety of taking most medications during pregnancy. Better data will allow women and their health-care providers to make informed decisions about treatment during pregnancy and evaluate the risks and benefits of treatment.

CDC's National Birth Defects Prevention Study (NBDPS) helps identify medications that can increase the risk for birth defects. NBDPS data have been used to understand the risks associated with specific antidepressants, antibiotics, and antihypertensives.

Health-care providers should speak with their patients who are planning to become pregnant about the need for any medications, including prescription or over-the-counter medications and herbal or dietary products, and ensure that these patients are only taking necessary medications. Additional information about birth defects is available at


  1. CDC. Update on overall prevalence of major birth defects---Atlanta, Georgia, 1978--2005. MMWR 2008;57:1--5.
  2. Hoyert DL, Mathews TJ, Menacker F, Strobino DM, Guyer B. Annual summary of vital statistics: 2004. Pediatrics 2006;117:168--83.
  3. Andrade SE, Gurwitz JH, Davis RL, et al. Prescription drug use in pregnancy. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2004;191:398--407.
  4. Werler MM, Mitchell AA, Hernandez-Diaz S, Honein MA. Use of over-the-counter medications during pregnancy. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2005;193:771--7.

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February is American Hearth month and that means it's a good moment to think about a disease that kills more than 600,000 Americans each year. Heart disease is the leading killer amongst both men and women.

But there's lots we can do to stay heart healthy. According to the CDC, making these healthy lifestyle choices can help:

  • Choose lean meats and poultry without skin and prepare them without added saturated and trans fat.
  • Select fat-free, 1percent fat, and low-fat dairy products.
  • Cut back on foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce trans fat in your diet.
  • Cut back on foods high in dietary cholesterol. Aim to eat less than 300 mg of cholesterol each day.
  • Cut back on beverages and foods with added sugars.
  • Select and purchase foods lower in salt/sodium.
  • If you drink alcohol, drink in moderation. That means no more than one drink per day if you're a woman and two drinks per day if you're a man.
  • Keep an eye on your portion sizes.

It's also important to know the signs of an impending heart attack, because they can start slowly and symptoms may seem mild. According to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, these are the signs that may mean a heart attack is in progress.

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath. May occur with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.

For more information, check out the CDC and the American Heart Association.

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National Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The campaign is designed to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. NNM also promotes the Academy and its members to the public and the media as the most valuable and credible source of timely, scientifically based food and nutrition information.

It is appropriate and fitting that March is National Nutrition Month, since it is in between winter and spring. Winter holiday gatherings have past and have left many of us with cherished memories and frequently unwanted weight gain!

Healthy eating and routine exercise are needed all year round; but many of us need a friendly reminder to get ourselves back on track. Be kind to your body and reacquaint yourself with healthy eating habits and fitness. Replace your unhealthy habits with smart health choices for a healthier body.

Well-nourished and active children and teens grow, develop, and learn better. Good nutrition also helps ensure a healthy pregnancy and successful breast-feeding. And, healthful eating and active living help adults and seniors feel their best, work productively, and lower their risk for a variety of conditions.

Fitness at every age comes from a lifestyle that includes good nutrition and regular physical activity. The sooner you start the better your health.

When you are fit, you:

  • Improve your mood, reduce your stress, and increase your energy.
  • Reduce your risk for heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
  • Look and feel your best.
  • Have the physical strength and endurance to do the things you want to do.

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In 1914, as a result of the collective and individual efforts of African-American leaders who recognized the link between health, and social and economic well being, Dr. Booker T. Washington initiated Negro Health Improvement Week, which evolved into National Negro Health Week and the National Negro Health Movement. The first National Negro Health Week was recognized in April 1915.

National Negro Health Week was sustained and flourished by the broad-based participation of a multitude of organizations: schools, churches, businesses and worksites, local health departments, professional associations, the media, and civic groups. While the Week originated at Tuskegee Institute, the support from the United States Public Health Service was critical to sustaining the effort over time. However, while there existed standardized materials and a framework for the Week, there was also the freedom for local observances to modify their activities to suit their needs. This combination of governmental support, collaboration among a multitude of organizations, and freedom to develop a campaign appropriate to individual communities suggests a model for community-based public health today.

In April 2001, the National Minority Health Month Group, in partnership with the federal Office of Minority Health, launched National Minority Health Month (NMHM) in response to and in support of Healthy People 2010, the national health promotion and disease prevention agenda promulgated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The subsequent passage on October 3, 2002 by the 107th Congress of a joint resolution (H. Congressional Resolution 388) to establish a National Minority Health and Health Disparities Month lends to this movement the recognition of the Legislative Branch that a national focus of the health status on these specific populations is an essential component of national policy.

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Each year, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) declares May to be "National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month." It's a peak season for asthma and allergy sufferers, and a perfect time to educate your patients, family, friends, co-workers and others about these diseases.

Each year, AAFA asks the President of the United States to officially designate May as National Asthma and Allergy Awareness month. We make it easy for you to join in the activities by inviting you to use AAFA materials and tools to bring healthy messages to work, school and home.

Get an Awareness Month Planning Kit from the EPA.

There is no place safe from allergies in America, and some cities are more problematic than others. The Allergy Capitals is an annual research project of the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA) to identify "the 100 most challenging places to live with allergies" in the spring and fall seasons. This year Knoxville, TN, is the #1 city for the second year in a row. Visit to see where over 100 cities are on the list this year.

No city is free from asthma triggers, and some cities are more challenging places to live than others. This year, Richmond, VA, has been named the top "Asthma Capital" in our annual ranking of "the 100 most challenging places to live with asthma." Visit to see where over 100 cities are on the list this year.

"Swine" Flu Resources

The "flu" is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and can lead to death in severe cases. "Avian" and "swine" flu are examples of different strains of the flu virus. For people with asthma, guarding against the flu is important every year because your lung function can be compromised if you catch the flu, making your asthma symptoms even worse.

Stay informed about the flu all year long by clicking on the links below.

If you would like information on how you can host an event in your area, contact AAFA at or 1-800-7-ASTHMA.

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Did you know that cataracts are the leading cause of vision loss among adults 55 and older? In fact, more than half the people over age 65 have some degree of cataract development.

Moreover, a recent study out of the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston indicates that seniors suffering from poor vision have shown evidence of a premature mental decline. The results of this study clearly bring to light the importance of routine eye care for older adults, who are at increased risk of eye conditions that cause severe visual impairment such as cataracts. What people may not know is that vision loss caused by cataracts can be easily treated.

In honor of "Cataract Awareness Month," EyeCare America encourages people to call the EyeCare America Seniors EyeCare Program. This year-round program offers eye exams and care to seniors who are without an ophthalmologist (a medical eye doctor). To see if you, a loved one or a friend, 65 and older, is eligible to receive a referral for an eye exam and care, call 1-800-222-EYES (3937). The EyeCare America help line operates all day, every day, year-round.

What is a cataract?

A cataract is a clouding of the lens in the eye, the part of the eye that focuses light and produces clear images. Inside of the eye, the lens is contained in a sealed bag or capsule. As old cells die they become trapped within the capsule. Over time, more cells die and accumulate causing the lens to cloud, making images look blurred or fuzzy. For most people, cataracts are a natural result of aging. But, eye injuries, certain medications, and diseases such as diabetes and alcoholism have also been known to cause cataracts.

In the early stages, stronger lighting and eyeglasses may lessen vision problems caused by cataracts. At a certain point, however, surgery may be needed to improve vision. Cataract surgery is the most frequently performed surgery in the United States. More than 90% of the people who have cataract surgery regain useful vision.

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UV Safety Month is a great time to spread the message of sun, fun and UV safety to your community. Ultraviolet (UV) radiation is the main cause of skin cancer. UV rays can also damage your eyes.

Anyone can get skin cancer, but the risk is greatest for people with:

  • White or light-colored skin with freckles
  • Blond or red hair
  • Blue or green eyes

You can take these steps to help prevent skin cancer:

  • Stay out of the sun between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
  • Use sunscreen with SPF 15 or higher.
  • Cover up with long sleeves and a hat.
  • Check your skin regularly for any changes.

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August is typically recognized as National Immunization Awareness Month (NIAM). This awareness month highlights the need for improving national immunization coverage levels and encourages all people to protect their health by being immunized against infectious diseases.

While Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not sponsor this month, CDC does support and encourage the efforts of state and local health departments and other immunization partners to celebrate NIAM and use this month to promote back to school immunizations, remind college students to catch up immunizations before they move into dormitories, and remind everyone that the influenza season is only a few months away. It's a great reminder to our nation that people of all ages require timely immunization to protect their health.

CDC has developed immunization materials for year-round use by our immunization partners. These materials and resources target groups throughout the lifespan and can be used by immunization partners to support local outreach and education efforts during NIAM and beyond. Below are links to age specific campaign materials:

Additional resource from Healthfinder:

You may also want to check with your state or local health department or immunization coalition to see if they have additional immunization resources you can use during NIAM or plans to celebrate the month.

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Families, caregivers, charities and research groups across the United States observe September as Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. In the U.S., over 12,000 children under the age of 21 are diagnosed with cancer every year; approximately 1/4 of them will not survive the disease. A diagnosis turns the lives of the entire family upside down. The objective of Childhood Cancer Awareness Month is to put a spotlight on the types of cancer that largely affect children, survivorship issues, and - importantly - to help raise funds for research and family support.

Healthy Child Healthy World's 5 Easy Steps include recommendations that address the concerns of these and other groups of scientists and pediatricians in regards to pediatric cancer. They include:

  1. Avoid Pesticides: Use non-toxic or least toxic pest remedies such as soap water to kill ants and boiling water to kill weeds. Prevent pests through good sanitation. Remove shoes before entering your home to prevent tracking in pesticides.
  2. Use Non-Toxic Products: Read labels and ask questions about what chemicals are in the personal care and cleaning products, as well as furnishings, that you buy. Look for products made from natural, rather than synthetic, materials.
  3. Clean Up Indoor Air: Use non-toxic products, utilize plants to filter indoor air, and open windows for a few minutes a day to ventilate rooms.
  4. Eat Healthy: Choose to eat and prepare organic, whole foods rather than packaged foods whenever possible. Reduce meat intake and include more nuts, seeds, whole grains and produce.
  5. Be Wise With Plastics: Reduce the use of plastics, especially with foods and beverages. For example, opt for filtered water in a stainless steel reusable water bottle rather than single-use, plastic bottled water and reusable glass storage containers over plastic. If you do buy plastic, chose safer plastics #2, 4 or 5.

Read more »

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Why do you see so much pink every October? October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is an annual campaign by major breast cancer organizations to increase awareness of the disease. This includes educating the public about early detection, the cause, diagnosis, treatment, and support for survivors.

What You Can Do

Thank you for supporting Breast Cancer Awareness month!

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With nearly 26 million children and adults in American living with diabetes, and another 79 million at high risk for developing type 2 diabetes, the disease is taking a devastating physical, emotional and financial toll on our country. Yet, most Americans don't consider diabetes a serious matter. They feel it is someone else's responsibility; someone else's problem.

Recent numbers by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paint a desperate situation of where we are at, and where we are headed:

  • Every 17 seconds, someone is diagnosed with diabetes.
  • Diabetes kills more people each year than breast cancer and AIDS combined.
  • Recent estimates project that as many as 1 in 3 American adults will have diabetes in 2050 unless we take steps to Stop Diabetes®.

November is American Diabetes Month, a time to rally individuals, communities and families to Join the MillionsSM in the movement to Stop Diabetes®.

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With the holiday season approaching, your thoughts may be turning to shopping for toys and gifts. You'll want to get the children in your life their favorite toys, and there are thousands of toys to choose from in stores and online.

Before you make those purchases remember to consider the safety and age-range of the toys. To prevent injuries, choose toys that are safe for the age of the child. Look for labels to help you judge which toys might not be safe, especially for infants and children under age three. For children of all ages, consider if the toys are suited to their skills and abilities.

To learn more about toy safety, visit:

For toy safety shopping tips, visit:

Sources: U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

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Park Place Family Practice | Internal Medicine

Dr. Raj A. Goswami M.D. Diplomate of American Board of Internal Medicine