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    Standing desks help children avoid obesity and perform better in school

    The key, researchers believe, is encouraging movement during class time

    A number of studies have been published recently which show that sitting for prolonged periods can be bad for your health, leading to weight gain and obesity. When you consider how long our children sit down in class when they’re at school, it starts to make sense why childhood obesity rates are so high in the U.S.

    Many experts have suggested that schools could benefit from standing desks -- tall working areas that would get students out of their chairs. A new study validates these assertions, showing that standing desks could provide both academic and health benefits to the children that use them.

    “Research around the world has shown that standing desks are positive for the teachers in terms of classroom management and student engagement, as well as positive for children for their health, cognitive functioning and academic achievement. It’s literally a win-win, and now we have hard data that shows it is beneficial for weight control,” said Dr. Mark Benden, one of the authors of the study.

    Healthier outcomes

    The “hard data” that the researchers gathered came from experiments conducted in 24 classrooms across three elementary schools in College Station, Texas. At each school, four classrooms were outfitted with stand-biased desks -- which allowed students to either sit on a high stool or stand – and four were left as standard, controlled classrooms.

    Participating students were followed over the course of two school years to see if the stand-biased desks had any effect on their weight or academic achievement. At the end of the trial period, the researchers found that students with stand-biased desks had a 3% drop in BMI compared to students who gained the typical 2% in BMI due to aging.

    Students who only spent one year with a stand-biased desk also benefitted from the experience, showing a lower mean BMI than students who never used them at all. Researchers attribute these results to encouraging active movement during class time.

    “Classrooms with stand-biased desks are part of what we call an Activity Permissive Learning Environment (APLE), which means that teachers don’t tell children to ‘sit down,’ or ‘sit still’ during class. Instead, these types of desks encourage the students to move instead of being forced to sit in poorly fitting, hard plastic chairs for six or seven hours of the day,” said Benden.

    "Sit less, move more"

    Benden and his colleagues had conducted previous studies showing that standing can allow a person to burn 15% more calories when compared to those who sit down. The results of this study seem to corroborate those findings, which could help keep our children healthy in the long run.

    “Sit less, move more. That’s our message,” concluded Brenden. The full study has been published in the American Journal of Public Health

    A stand-biased desk similar to those used in many classrooms (Staff photo)A number of studies have been published recently which show that sitting fo...
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    Fewer homes for sale leads to fewer sales in July

    Available homes for sale well below a five month supply

    The number of existing homes sold in July fell for the first month since November 2015. It's not that fewer people wanted to buy homes. There were just fewer homes to buy.

    The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports home sales fell in comparison to both June sales and July 2015. Notably, the month-to-month drop was 3.2%.

    The homes that were on the market brought higher prices. The median sale price rose 5.3% year-over-year, to $244,100.

    “The primary culprit behind the decline in July is the lack of homes on the market,” said realtor.com chief economist Jonathan Smoke in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “We simply can’t see growth in sales without having enough homes to sell.”

    Good for sellers, not buyers

    Smoke notes that this declining inventory over the last few months has led to higher prices for sellers, but made it more difficult for buyers to find a home that hits their needs.

    Lawrence Yun, NAR's chief economist, agrees with that assessment, adding that declining inventories have reduced buyer traffic, even with historically low interest rates.

    “With new condo construction barely budging and currently making up only a small sliver of multi-family construction, sales suffered last month as condo buyers faced even stiffer supply constraints than those looking to purchase a single-family home,” Yun said.

    Inventory down 5.8%

    Total housing inventory was nearly flat from June, but it's down 5.8% from a year ago. According to NAR stats, it has declined year-over-year for 14 straight months. Unsold inventory remains at under five months supply.

    What's behind the declining inventory? Two things.

    First, millions of homeowners are still underwater, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. These homeowners are stuck since they can't sell without taking a loss. In normal times, many likely would sell their homes and move up.

    Fewer new homes

    The second factor is bigger. Since the housing crash, home builders are putting up about half the number of homes each year as they did during the real estate boom. Combined with fewer existing homes coming on the market, it has put a serious crimp in supply.

    Tuesday's pleasantly surprising report of a surge in home building activity provides hope for the future, but Smoke concedes the short term may have some additional pain.

    Adding up the limited supply of houses for sale, a potential for higher mortgage rates on the horizon, and dampened consumer confidence, he says he's less optimistic about rising sales in the next few months.

    The number of existing homes sold in July fell for the first month since November 2015. It's not that fewer people wanted to buy homes. There were just few...
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      Here's another Craigslist scam to watch out for

      This one could cost you your car

      Craigslist provides a convenient way to buy and sell things, but it has also been used as a tool by scammers. Here's something else to look out for.

      Let's suppose you want to sell your car, so you put an ad on Craigslist, and maybe other online sales platforms, and wait for someone to make an offer.

      Someone does, incredibly meeting your asking price with no quibbling. He produces a cashier's check and you turn over the car and sign over the title. That was easy, you think.

      But when you go to the bank to deposit the check, you discover it is counterfeit. You have no money and your car is gone.

      New Jersey case

      Something like that not only can happen, it has happened. New Jersey Attorney General Christopher Porrino and the Office of the Insurance Fraud Prosecutor (OIFP) have announced two people from New Jersey and a Florida man have been arrested on charges of stealing cars advertised on Craigslist, paying for them with bogus checks.

      It turns out 13 others were indicted for their alleged roles in the scheme that was the brought down by a multi-jurisdictional investigation dubbed “Operation Title Flip.” The defendants are accused of using fake checks to purchase 10 vehicles, valued at $248,650, and selling them to dealerships for a $107,250 profit.

      The alleged scheme was fairly sophisticated. Porrino says the defendants hired intermediaries to pose as buyers interested in the advertised vehicles. After inspecting them, the intermediaries presented fake IDs and counterfeit Bank of America cashier's checks.

      Beware of after-hours transactions

      The transactions always occurred in the late afternoon so the seller would not have time to deposit the check until the next day. It bought the schemers extra time to cover their tracks.

      It is very difficult to protect yourself in such a situation. Insisting on a cashier's check won't help if the check isn't real. By the time the seller realized he or she had been scammed, the “buyer” had transferred the title.

      Regardless of how you advertise a vehicle or other expensive item, a private sale has become increasingly risky. When selling a car, using a consignment service can reduce much of the risk. Most consigners also offer financing, making a vehicle sell faster. We wrote about the process last year.

      For its part, Craigslist has extensive advice to consumers on avoiding scams. You can check it out here.

      Craigslist provides a convenient way to buy and sell things, but it has also been used as a tool by scammers. Here's something else to look out for.Let...
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      Internet of Things -- a little person on your shoulder

      Contextual advertising will be with you wherever you go as the IoT is deployed

      You hear a lot of people talking about how great life will be when cars drive themselves and the Internet of Things is fully deployed. But while many of us dismiss this chatter as background noise, one industry is paying close attention and champing at the bit to get started.

      Yes, of course, it's the advertising industry. After all, when cars drive themselves, you'll have more time to look at the ads that will be popping up on strategically located screens. Your refrigerator will automatically order almond milk, egg whites, and fat-free butter while it tries to get you to try a new kind of genetically engineered hot dog.

      Right at the moment, the advertising trades are obsessing over self-driving taxis and dreaming of the contextual ad possibilities they present.

      Taxis already have ads, you say? Yes, they do but for the most part, the ads are simply being played back from a storage device in the cab -- they're not determined by who you are, where you live, where you are going, and all those other factors that go into the ads you see on the internet everyday, courtesy of Google and other contextual ad mavens.

      “What will be different when true automated taxi fleets hit the streets is that they will be backed with a much more sophisticated ad network that integrates with identity, wallet and itinerary to name a few,” David Hewitt, global mobility lead at SapientNitro, told the IoT Daily.

      Talk to your wearables

      “Through voice, we won't have to worry about tapping screens and we will be able to continue the conversation after stepping out of the vehicle.”

      When he says "continue the conversation," Hewitt is talking about another buzzword currently making the rounds -- "wearables."

      "Wearables" refers to things like the iWatch, Google Glass, and, for all we know, prewashed denims. They'll soon be part of the IoT, muttering to us constantly about whether we'd like to order a latte from the Starbucks two blocks away, whether we should stop into Target and get an umbrella because it is about to rain, and whether we should renew our Xanax prescription.

      The dream goal of marketers is to know everything about you, including what you are doing this very minute and what you are about to do in the next few minutes, since each moment of our lives represents a buying opportunity.

       Or as Hewitt put it in his interview with the Daily: 

      “Not too far into the future the ads will be contextually presented and may also be served up as bite-sized services instead of just targeted display advertising.”

      If everything works out as planned, it will be just like having a little person on your shoulder, constantly nagging you to do all the things your favorite brands want you to do.

      Where's that Xanax?

      You hear a lot of people talking about how great life will be when cars drive themselves and the Internet of Things is fully deployed. But while many of us...
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      How baggage fees improved airline performance

      Researchers claim they help airlines leave the gate on time

      The nation's airlines have gone from economic basket cases to profitable enterprises since the end of the Great Recession, thanks in large part to baggage fees.

      Airlines, with the notable exception of Southwest, now charge extra to check a bag. Consumers hate it, but there's an interesting study that suggests this move not only helped airlines' bottom line, it has helped them leave the gate on time.

      Here's how: because passengers hate paying these fees, they avoid checking bags if possible and instead drag as much carry-on luggage as they can on board. While that may be annoying to fellow passengers, Mazhar Arikan, a University of Kansas business school professor, notes it reduces the time needed for ground crews to stow checked luggage aboard the aircraft.

      "Because passengers changed their behavior, less weight went into the plane below the cabin," he said. "This offset any changes in carry-on luggage, and it helped airlines improve their on-time departure performance. The below-the-cabin effect dominates the above-the-cabin effect."

      Up to four minutes earlier

      Arikan and his fellow researchers found airlines improved their median departure time between 3.3 to 4.2 minutes. Departure delays declined 1.3 to two minutes. The deciding factor, the researchers found was whether an airline charged for the first or second checked bag.

      The changes even spilled over to Southwest, which does not charge for the first two checked bags. The researchers suggest that's because baggage fees in general have created a cultural shift – passengers are now geared toward less checked luggage and more carry-on bags, regardless of what airline they are flying.

      Lost opportunity costs

      That said, the research shows Southwest's performance did not improve as much as its fee-charging rivals, hurting one of the carrier's historical competitive advantages. Arikan goes so far as to argue Southwest's “Bags Fly Free” policy is actually costing the carrier in lost opportunity, since he says the airline could be offering more flights each day.

      All in all, Arikan says it's a unique way of looking at the whole issue of checked bag fees. Previous research, he notes, has focused solely on the economic effects of the checked bag fees.

      The researchers contend the time fluctuations are significant because departure times and mitigating delays are critical indicators of performance. They can also affect the number of flights airlines can offer and their image among potential customers.

      The nation's airlines have gone from economic basket cases to profitable enterprises since the end of the Great Recession, thanks in large part to baggage...
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      Mortgage applications post second consecutive decline

      Contract interest rates were on the rise

      Another drop for mortgage applications.

      The weekly survey conducted by the Mortgage Bankers Association shows applications were down 2.1% in the week ending August 19.

      The Refinance Index was down 3.0%, dropping the refinance share of mortgage activity to 62.4% of total applications from 62.6% the previous week.

      The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share of activity was unchanged at 4.6% of total applications; the FHA share dipped to 8.9% from 9.6% a week earlier; the VA share of total applications fell to 12.4% from 13.2%; and the USDA share of total applications held steady at 0.6%.

      Contract interest rates

      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year fixed-rate mortgages (FRMs) with conforming loan balances ($417,000 or less) rose three basis points -- to 3.67% from 3.64%. Points increased to 0.34 from 0.31 (including the origination fee) for 80% loan-to-value ratio (LTV) loans, and the effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs with jumbo loan balances (greater than $417,000) came in at 3.62% from 3.60% the week before, with points increasing to 0.35 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 30-year FRMs backed by the FHA was up four basis points to 3.53%, with points increasing to 0.34 from 0.28 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 15-year FRMs jumped from 2.90% to 2.95%, with points increasing to 0.38 from 0.32 (including the origination fee) for 80 % loans. The effective rate increased from last week.
      • The average contract interest rate for 5/1 ARMs slipped one basis point to 2.84%, with points increasing to 0.37 from 0.17 (including the origination fee) for 80% LTV loans. The effective rate increased from last week.

      The survey covers over 75% of all U.S. retail residential mortgage applications.

      Another drop for mortgage applications. The weekly survey conducted by the Mortgage Bankers Association shows applications were down 2.1% in the week en...
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      ALEX Toys recalls infant building play sets

      Small parts of the plastic toy building sets can detach, posing a choking hazard

      ALEX Toys of new Jersey is recalling about 91,000 ALEX Jr. Baby Builder, First Pops and First Snaps.

      Small parts of the plastic toy building sets can detach, posing a choking hazard to young children.

      There have been 22 reports of the ends of small parts detaching from the building sets. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves three ALEX Jr. branded sets of infant building toys: the Baby Builder, model 1982, First Pops, model 1981P and the First Snaps, model 1981S produced prior to November 2010.

      The sets include an assortment of plastic shapes in bright colors. The pieces are designed to be pulled, pushed, snapped and twisted and come in stackable plastic jars. They were sold in sets of 14 and 26 pieces.

      The recalled First Snaps sets’ containers have the following batch codes, on a sticker above the UPC code on the container:

      P000 2073

      P000 1713

      P000 1330

      P000 0954

      P000 2107

      P000 1628

      P000 1009

      P000 00814

      P000 1948

      P000 1536

      P000 1098

      P000 1677

      P000 1427

      P000 0983

      The toy sets, manufactured in China, were sold at Barnes & Noble and Land of Nod and online at www.Zulily.com. The Baby Builders were sold from December 2009, through June 2016, for about $28; First Pops ere sold from March 2009, through June 2016, for about $18, and First Snaps were sold from March 2009, through October 2010, for about $18.

      What to do

      Consumers should immediately take the recalled building sets away from children and contact ALEX for a prepaid shipping envelope to return the product(s). ALEX will send consumers a full refund upon receipt of returned sets.

      Consumers may Contact ALEX toll-free at 844-310-6691 anytime or online at www.alexbrands.com and click on the “Recall Information” link beneath the carousel for more information.

      ALEX Toys of new Jersey is recalling about 91,000 ALEX Jr. Baby Builder, First Pops and First Snaps. Small parts of the plastic toy building sets c...
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      Lawmakers demand EpiPen price rollbacks, patient groups silent

      Sky-high price of allergy first-aid tool leads to calls for FTC, Congressional action

      Federal and state lawmakers are calling on the manufacturer of EpiPens to roll back price increases that have raised the cost of the life-saving emergency allergy treatment beyond the reach of many families, but some patient advocacy groups are strangely silent. 

      U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) said in a letter to the CEO of Mylan Pharmaceutical, Heather Bresch, that he was "shocked and dismayed" to learn that the price of EpiPens has risen by several hundred percent since 2009 "even though [the product] has not been improved upon in any obvious or significant way."

      Blumenthal pointedly noted that he was a supporter of legislation signed by President Obama in 2013, which encourages states to adopt laws requiring schools to have epinephrine auto-injectors on hand to deal with emergencies.

      The EpiPen contains about $1 worth of epinephrine, but it costs $600 or more for a package of two in the United States, nearly a 1,000% increase over the $57 the EpiPen went for in 2007. 

      Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the Ranking Member of the Antitrust Subcommittee of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called on the Senate Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing to investigate the increase.

      "This outrageous increase in the price of EpiPens is occurring at the same time that Mylan Pharmaceutical is exploiting a monopoly market advantage that has fallen into its lap,” said Klobuchar. “Patients all over the U.S. rely on these products, including my own daughter. Not only should the Judiciary Committee hold a hearing, the Federal Trade Commission should investigate these price increases immediately."

      Klobuchar said the FTC should also "report to Congress on why these outrageous price increases have become common and propose solutions that will better protect consumers within 90 days."

      Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) also expressed concern and asked Mylan to explain the price hikes. 

      Price-gouging

      Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) submitted a letter to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform requesting a hearing on the EpiPen price increases.

      "Thousands of Americans rely on EpiPens in a given year, and perhaps no time is more important in the purchasing of these devices than the beginning of a new school year,” said Meng. “The free market can be a wonderful engine for good in our society, and it has certainly led to the production of countless medical innovations. We must be vigilant, however, to not cross the line of price-gouging, especially when a product has been around for a generation and is incredibly cheap to produce."

      State legislators are also demanding action. In New Jersey, Sen. Joseph Vitale, D-Woodbridge, the chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said he would allocate part of a hearing scheduled for next month on discussions over the cost increase.

      Mylan has not responded directly to critics, instead issuing a prepared statement that does not address the pricing issue: “Mylan has worked tirelessly over the past years advocating for increased anaphylaxis awareness, preparedness and access to treatment for those living with potentially life-threatening allergies.”

      Patient groups silent

      Oddly, while news outlets and politicians have responded to the concerns of patients, patient advocacy groups have not had much to say.

      A New York public relations firm sent a cheery news release last week on behalf of the Allergy & Asthma Network entitled "Why patients don't have to worry about the EpiPen price increase."

      It took a day to pry loose the promised information, which turned out to be identical to what the group had posted on its Facebook page:

      Allergy & Asthma Network is concerned about the rising costs of epinephrine auto injectors. We are committed to working in the following three ways:

      1. Directly with Mylan. We have asked them to assist families with large out of pocket expenses and high deductible health plans with a new program. 

      2. Directly with government and commercial insurance plans to get epinephrine on preventive drug lists. This would ensure epinephrine is no longer subject to deductibles or copays and reduce the cost burden for families.

      3. Directly with families to navigate the complex healthcare system. Choose a health plan fully understanding what is and is not covered. Beware of high deductible plans as they can result in significant out of pocket expenses throughout the year. Take advantage of savings programs like my Epi savings card to reduce your financial burden. 

      How about the American Lung Association? We found nothing on their site about the issue, and an email asking if the group was taking a position was not immediately answered.

      The Lung Association and other groups were similarly silent a few years ago when asthma patients complained bitterly about the drastic increase in the cost of their inhalers after CFC-powered inhalers were replaced by new models that did not harm the ozone layer. Patients were basically told the new inhalers were more environmentally friendly and they would just have to learn to live, or die, with them.   

      "Stranglehold on pricing"

      One group willing to speak out was Consumer Watchdog, which called the price increases "yet another example of the stranglehold on pricing that drug companies have."

      "This is medication that is mandatory for a lot of people, it’s life-saving, it’s not something you can do without and for that reason, Mylan has been able to jack up the price at will," said Carmen Balber, the group's executive director.

      Balber's group is backing Proposition 61 in California, which would prevent state agencies from paying more for a drug than the price paid by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Balber called it a "step toward bulk pricing that would move toward cheaper drugs for everyone."

      The Los Angeles Times recently reported that drug companies had so far spent more than $65 million to defeat the measure. 

      "Hiking the price of a life-saving medical device like the EpiPen by 500 percent is the worst form of corporate greed," said David Plunkett, staff attorney for the Food Safety Program at the Center for Science In the Public Interest. "Unlabeled allergens in food were the number one reason behind recalls issued by FDA and FSIS in 2015.  Every three minutes a food allergy reaction sends someone to the ER, and all Mylan could see in these facts is an opportunity for profits."

      First responders affected

      In his letter, Blumenthal demanded that Mylan lower the price of the EpiPen to "an affordable, accessible level," saying the skyrocketing price has not only affected families but has also exhausted the budgets of schools and first responders.

      "My office has heard from first responders on this issue, with one emergency medical services (EMS) supplier offering 'lists of EMS representatives who can show you that EpiPen prices are destroying their EMS budgets,'” he said. "In fact, first responders in other states have turned to directly injecting epinephrine using syringes, a method that is far less safe but increasingly necessary. Along with ambulances, schools in Connecticut are also required to stock epinephrine auto-injectors. The costs that Mylan’s price increases have waged not only on individual families, but on each taxpayer in Connecticut, is unacceptable."

      Blumenthal noted that he had supported Congressional legislation requiring epinephrine in schools and was currently supporting a bill that would require epinephrine inectors on commercial aircraft.

      "However, I am concerned that your company has failed to recognize that affordability in health care is key to ensuring accessibility," he said. "When families, schools, and first responders struggle to purchase your product, any effort to mandate its availability becomes an expensive burden that they are forced to bear."

      No substitute for first aid

      When a severe allergic reaction strikes, there is no substitute for having an epinephrine auto-injector on hand, as Sarah Denny, a physician at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, learned a few years ago.

      Dr. Denny’s son, Liam, 18 months old at the time, had an anaphylactic reaction to soy milk in 2008. Previous testing confirmed he was allergic to dairy, egg, peanuts, and tree nuts, but Liam drank soy milk for months before his anaphylactic reaction.

      After drinking a cup of soy milk as he had done regularly for months, Liam immediately started coughing, vomiting, developed hives all over his body and slipped into unconsciousness after a few minutes. Dr. Denny’s husband, also a physician, administered Liam’s epinephrine auto injector then immediately called 911, according to an account provided by the hospital. 

      “Thankfully, in the 10-minute ride in the ambulance to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, the epinephrine started to work and by the time we got to the Emergency Department he was sitting up on my lap, waving to the nurses,” recalled Dr. Denny. “Had we not had an epinephrine auto injector at home, I don’t know that we would have been so lucky.”

      Federal and state lawmakers are calling on the manufacturer of EpiPens to roll back price increases that have raised the cost of the life-saving emergency ...
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      What's behind the rising traffic death toll?

      Cars are safer but drivers aren't

      New cars are packed with airbags and other safety features. So why is the highway death toll still climbing?

      The National Safety Council's preliminary estimates show deaths from car crashes were up a startling 9% in the first half of the year, compared to the first half of 2015. The death toll is a staggering 18% higher than the first six months of 2014.

      According to the Council, some 19,100 people died on U.S. roads since January and 2.2 million were injured. The total cost is somewhere in the neighborhood of $205 billion.

      The question is why? It may turn out to have little to do with vehicle safety and a lot more to do with numbers.

      Coincides with low gas prices

      It's telling that the increase in highway deaths began in 2014, because that's when gasoline prices began to fall sharply. As prices fell and stayed low, more people drove cars and they drove them more miles. With more cars on the road, the likelihood some would run into each other rose.

      While many factors could have contributed to the rise in fatalities, the Council notes a stronger economy and lower unemployment rates are at the core of the trend. It says the average gasoline price in the first half of the year was 16% lower than the year before, resulting in a more than 3% increase in the number of miles motorists drove.

      Fatal complacency

      "Our complacency is killing us," said Deborah A.P. Hersman, president and CEO of the National Safety Council. "One hundred deaths every day should outrage us. Americans should demand change to prioritize safety actions and protect ourselves from one of the leading causes of preventable death."

      And that means focusing more on some of the other factors that no doubt contribute to highway deaths. Drinking and driving seems to be on the decline but distracted driving isn't. As we recently reported, drivers have gone from texting behind the wheel to actually engaging apps.

      The Council says drivers should never use a cell phone, even if it is in hands-free mode.

      Drowsy driving has also emerged as a contributing factor, and it isn't just long-haul truck drivers who are most likely to nod off. People who travel for business may be tempted to drive longer than their physical stamina allows, just to make the next appointment.

      Hersman says drivers should get plenty of sleep and take plenty of breaks during a long trip to remain alert.

      New cars are packed with airbags and other safety features. So why is the highway death toll still climbing?The National Safety Council's preliminary e...
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      Why you should know the risk factors and symptoms of a stroke

      Researchers say that educating the pubic may improve health outcomes

      One of the first steps in preventing a disease is knowing more about it. While scientists and researchers devote their lives to learning more about conditions like cancer or heart disease, the average U.S. citizen may not know much about a leading cause of death in this country – stroke.

       A report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last year shows that 130,000 U.S. consumers die from stroke each year, or about one out of every 20 deaths. Unfortunately, not knowing more about this fatal condition can make it even more dangerous.

      In a recent study, over half of all patients who had suffered a stroke failed to recognize symptoms as they developed. Researchers believe that educating the general public about strokes may help improve overall health outcomes.

      Stroke risk factors

      The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association define stroke as a disease that affects arteries that carry blood and oxygen to the brain. When these arteries burst, rupture, or become blocked, the brain doesn’t get the resources it needs. This can result in brain cell death, as well as a range of short- and long-term issues, such as paralysis, vision problems, behavioral changes, memory loss, and speech problems.

      According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), there are several risk factors associated with stroke. While consumers cannot control some of them – such as age, race, or family history – others can be managed. These include factors like blood pressure, cigarette smoking, heart disease, diabetes, cholesterol imbalance, and obesity.

      Symptoms to look out for

      But how do you know when you are experiencing a stroke? It’s a problem that many people struggle with. One recent study found that 58.7% of patients in a trial group did not think they were having a stroke when it happened to them.

      NINDS states that there are several warning signs that consumers can observe to know if something is wrong. They include:

      • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body;
      • Sudden confusion, or trouble talking or understanding speech;
      • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes;
      • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination; and
      • sudden severe headache with no known cause.

      Consumers can remember some of these symptoms by remembering the acronym FAST, which stands for Face, Arm, Speech, and Time. However, researchers from the aforementioned study say that many patients in their trial group displayed eye-related symptoms. They suggest that a small modification could help patients identify a greater range of stroke symptoms.

      “FASTER – Face, Arm, Speech, Time, Eyes, React – may be a better acronym,” said Professor Ashok Handa, senior author of the study.

      The full study has been published in the British Journal of Surgery.

      One of the first steps in preventing a disease is knowing more about it. While scientists and researchers devote their lives to learning more about conditi...
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      A new warning about subprime credit cards

      NerdWallet study says they can be predatory

      As we have pointed out here numerous times, there is a big difference between credit cards. In addition to the types of rewards and incentives they offer, they are targeted to different types of consumers.

      Cards for people with excellent credit tend to have the best rewards and lowest fees. Cards for people with subprime credit pretty much reside on the opposite end of that scale.

      A new report from personal finance site NerdWallet suggests something else: subprime credit cards – just like their cousin, the subprime mortgage – can be predatory.

      For the report, the authors looked at both internal and external data to identify the problems with these products and some possible solutions. Here are some of the key take-aways:

      First, the subprime credit card market is huge. If you have a low credit score, around 600 or below, the credit card in your wallet is likely a subprime card. Some 48 million consumers fall into that category.

      These consumers get the worst credit terms, if they can get credit at all. They may also pay higher insurance rates and can find their housing and job options limited.

      Industry can be predatory

      Next, the subprime credit industry can be predatory. We saw evidence of that during the housing bubble, when these borrowers got loans with low teaser rates that adjusted to double-digit levels after a couple of years. It was a contributing factor to the foreclosure crisis.

      The NerdWallet study says subprime credit cards have more complex agreements and fee structures than prime cards, yet they target a less-educated market. These cards are also more expensive.

      “Consumers with subprime credit are spending hundreds of dollars more in fees alone by opting for a credit card from a subprime specialist issuer,” the authors write.

      What to do

      For people with subprime credit, the best solution is to improve their credit score. If you have a subprime credit card, pay down the balance as much as possible before using it again. If possible, make only charges that you can pay in full at the end of the billing cycle.

      The best solution, the authors suggest, is putting the subprime card in a desk drawer and replacing it with a secured credit card. The credit limit is determined by the amount of money you deposit to secure it. But NerdWallet says you'll save, on average, $125 each year in fees.

      Finally, pay the bill on time every month. In fact, pay all of your bills on time every month, since that is the quickest route to an improved credit score.

      As we have pointed out here numerous times, there is a big difference between credit cards. In addition to the types of rewards and incentives they offer,...
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      Low gas prices painting automakers into a corner

      Having more SUVs on the road pulls down their fleet fuel economy rating

      Up until 2014, it appeared automakers were on cruise control as they worked their way toward meeting the government's mandated fuel economy standards, known as CAFE.

      But in late 2014, fuel prices began to rapidly decline and have stayed low ever since. As a result, consumer automotive preferences suddenly changed.

      Up until then, there was demand for small, fuel efficient four-cylinders, hybrids, and even electric cars. But consumers turned away from those vehicles in favor of trucks and SUVs.

      Skewing the average

      That's proved to be a problem for automakers, since the CAFE targets are based on the average fuel economy of a manufacturer's fleet. If there are more trucks and SUVs in the fleet, the average fuel economy goes down.

      Automakers asked federal regulators to take that into consideration, but last week the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) jointly finalized standards for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles that pretty much stick to previous targets, when there were more fuel efficient vehicles on the road. Those standards begin to take effect in 2018.

      EPA says the industry can still meet the targets because it possesses the technology to make trucks even more fuel efficient.

      “The final standards are expected to lower CO2 emissions by approximately 1.1 billion metric tons, save vehicle owners fuel costs of about $170 billion, and reduce oil consumption by up to two billion barrels over the lifetime of the vehicles sold under the program,” the agency said in a release.

      The government doesn't care'

      “It’s clear the government understands the fuel-efficiency challenge automakers will face because of shifting consumer preference toward trucks and SUVs,” said Kelly Blue Book senior analyst Karl Brauer, in an email to ConsumerAffairs. “It’s also clear the government doesn’t care.”

      Brauer says automakers may have erred in doing such a good job in meeting the CAFE standards every time the government raised them.

      “So good in fact that the EPA isn’t going to cut them any slack on the rising standards going forward,” he said. “No good deed…”

      Environmentalists have applauded the regulators' stand. But a report by American Action Forum predicts the costs of meeting the new standards could exceed $245 billion.

      Up until 2014, it appeared automakers were on cruise control as they worked their way toward meeting the government's mandated fuel economy standards, know...
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      Consumers face stiff challenges to saving

      Mounting debt and shrinking paychecks among the biggest

      Americans want to save money, and are trying to save money. But a new survey from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board) shows consumers are having a hard time putting money away, even though they are increasingly optimistic about the future.

      The challenges may sound familiar. Mounting credit card bills, staggering student loan debt, payments on a new car that may stretch six or seven years into the future, and the day-to-day needs of a growing family.

      "CFP Board Consumer Advocate Eleanor Blayney says the U.S. economy has come a long way since the depths of the recession, but most Americans, regardless of income brackets, are just finding it hard to save for the future.

      Debt plus stagnant incomes

      "An inability to start saving early, debt and stagnant incomes are just a few of the factors driving Americans' financial anxiety," she said.

      The survey found nearly half of consumers in the survey said they don't always have enough money after paying the bills. Contributing to that situation, 35% said their household has seen a significant loss of income.

      About 34% point to existing debt as the chief reason they are unable to put money away on a consistent basis. But in spite of all that, just over half – 51% – said they are able to regularly save on a monthly basis.

      The survey includes a segmentation analysis that divides people into four groups, based on their ability to save and their feelings about money.

      Types of savers

      There are “Concerned Strivers,” who have relatively high incomes but still struggle to make ends meet. Even so, about half are able to save money on a regular basis.

      The “Confident Savers” place a major priority on setting aside for the future. In fact, they began saving for retirement around age 25.

      “Tentative Savers” are older and have relatively high incomes, but still worry about their ability to set money aside. Nearly two-thirds think they might not be saving enough for retirement.

      The last group is the “Stretched Worriers.” As the label implies, these consumers are most likely to be anxious about their financial futures. For this group, staying current on bills is a bigger priority than saving.

      Americans want to save money, and are trying to save money. But a new survey from the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. (CFP Board) show...
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      The surge in new home sales continues

      Housing prices were mixed

      Sales of new single-family houses rose in July for a second consecutive month.

      The Commerce Department reports sales shot up 12.4% from the revised seasonally adjusted annual rate of 582,000 in June to a rate of 654,000 last month. The sharp advance also put the July rate 31.3% above the year-ago rate of 498,000.

      Pricing and inventory

      New-home prices, on the other hand, were mixed. The median sales price of new houses sold in July was $294,600, down $15,900 from June and a decline of $1,400 from July 2015. The median is the point at which half the houses sold for more and half for less.

      The average sales price was $355,800, a gain of $2,300 from the month before and a year-over year advance of $13,900.

      The seasonally adjusted estimate of new houses for sale at the end of July was 233,000, which translates into a supply of 4.3 months at the current sales rate.

      The complete report is available on the Commerce Department website.

      Sales of new single-family houses rose in July for a second consecutive month.The Commerce Department reports sales shot up 12.4% from the revised seas...
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      BMW recalls model year 2016-2017 MINI Clubman vehicles

      The side curtain airbags for front seat occupants may not deploy in the intended positions

      BMW of North America is recalling 7,810 model year 2016-2017 MINI Clubman vehicles manufactured August 19, 2015, through July 14, 2016.

      The side curtain airbags for the front seat occupants may not deploy in the intended positions in the event of a crash. As such, these vehicles fail to comply with the requirements of Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) number 226, "Ejection Mitigation."

      If a side curtain airbag does not inflate as intended in the event of a crash, there is an increased risk of injury to the front seat occupants.

      What to do

      BMW will notify owners, and dealers will modify the driver and passenger side curtain air bag covers, free of charge. The recall is expected to begin September 12, 2016.

      Owners may contact BMW customer service at 1-800-525-7417 or email BMW at CustomerRelations@bmwusa.com.

      BMW of North America is recalling 7,810 model year 2016-2017 MINI Clubman vehicles manufactured August 19, 2015, through July 14, 2016. The side cu...
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      Why frequent lung cancer screenings are important to your health

      An initial negative screening is not a sure sign that everything is fine

      A new study from the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa underlines the importance of screening for lung cancer – a disease that is a leading cause of death for both men and women. The researchers say that although treatment of the disease is complicated, proper screening allows healthcare professionals the ability to diagnose and treat it at its earliest stages.

      The study found that patients who initially tested negative for lung cancer but later went on to develop it one or two years later tended to develop a more aggressive and lethal form of the disease. As a result, patients who initially have negative test results may actually end up with worse health outcomes, so frequent screenings should not be avoided.

      “Our findings suggest that individuals who originally present with negative screens and develop lung cancer 12 or 24 months later develop faster growing, more aggressive cancers that arose from a lung environment previously lacking abnormalities,” said Dr. Matthew B. Schabath.

      Importance of frequent screenings

      One of the major factors that the researchers discuss in the study is the need for consumers to have high-quality lung cancer screenings on a frequent basis. According to the National Lung Screening Trial, lung cancer screening using low-dose helical computed tomography (LDCT) reduced cancer deaths by 20% when compared to standard X-ray screens.

      Using information from this trial, the researchers attempted to see how patient outcomes differed from their initial screening to their 12- and 24-month LDCT screenings. They found that, although LDCT screens are responsible for a reduction in cancer deaths, an initial negative screening was not always a sure sign of prolonged health.

      Patients who initially tested negative but later tested positive at the 12- and 24-month screenings were found to have lower survival and higher mortality rates than patients who initially received a positive screening for a cancer abnormality that later manifested into lung cancer.

      So what’s the takeaway? The findings show that consumers should not put off lung cancer screenings because of an initial negative test result. By having frequent screenings, doctors stand a better chance of catching an abnormality early and starting treatment.

      Smokers at high risk

      Another caveat of the study discusses how smoking affects the frequency of screenings. Current guidelines suggest that consumers between the ages of 55 and 74 get regular LDCT screenings if they ever smoked at least one pack of cigarettes per day for 30 years or more. This is also advised for previously heavy smokers who may have quit within the last 15 years.

      The researchers point out that although an individual may have stopped smoking years ago, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t at an increased risk of developing lung cancer.

      “Although tobacco cessation is one of the most important ways to reduce your risk of lung cancer, screening is a proven method to detect lung cancer earlier when it is easier to treat. Moreover, screening is not a one-time event. For it to be effective, high-risk individuals need to be screened on regular yearly intervals,” said Schabath.

      The full study has been published in PLOS ONE.

      A new study from the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa underlines the importance of screening for lung cancer – a disease that is a leading cause of death for...
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