WCBE

Nancy Shute

To keep people from getting into trouble with alcohol, it would help to know why they're at risk.

Genes make some people more susceptible to dependence or addiction, while the surroundings exert a stronger pull on others. But it's been devilishly hard for researchers to sort those out. Context — who's drinking where and when with whom — matters a lot.

Add in money and it gets even trickier. And we're not talking about whether you can afford microbrews.

Millions of people take statins to lower their cholesterol and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. But taking statins does slightly up the risk of Type 2 diabetes. Figuring out whether that means "No statins for you" isn't always easy, despite a proliferation of guidelines intended to help.

Each year more than 32,000 people die in the United States as a result of suicides, homicides and accidents with firearms.

For years doctors have tried to reduce the toll by addressing gun injuries and deaths as a public health issue; there's ample evidence that ease of access to is linked to the number of suicides and homicides. But those efforts haven't gained much traction.

If you have siblings, you probably think that your parents liked one kid best — and you're probably right. Scientists say the family pecking order does affect children, but not always in the way you might think.

The vast majority of parents do have favorite child, according to research — about 80 percent. But that number sounds pretty darned high. So I decided to ask some kids in my neighborhood in Bethesda, Md., what they think happens in their families.

Sleeping in probably sounds like a no-brainer to most teenagers, but their parents aren't so sure that it's worth starting school later to get the extra shut-eye.

If you were seeking a seething mass of microbes, it'd be hard to think of a better place to look than the New York City subway system.

Scientists who descended into that subterranean maze in search of its microbial tenants wanted to find out how the 5.5 million people who use the system each weekday influence the microbes, and vice versa.

But the 18-month-long project, which sampled DNA from 466 stations, was no walk in Central Park.

If you've got a stuffy, drippy or itchy nose from allergies, figuring out which remedies help best can be tough.

New guidelines from the Academy of Otolaryngology should make it easier for people and their doctors to choose the treatments that will help the most, from over-the-counter remedies like antihistamines to more serious interventions like allergy shots and even surgery.

And because allergic rhinitis affects 1 in 6 Americans, that's a lot of stuffy drippy misery potentially avoided.

Women who smoke while they're pregnant are more likely to have health problems, and their babies are at risk, too. But attempts to get women to stop smoking while pregnant usually fail.

When pregnant women in Scotland got paid to quit, 23 percent of them managed to stop smoking, compared with 9 percent who quit after they got counseling, support calls and free nicotine replacement therapy, according to a study published Tuesday in The BMJ.

Extracting medical care from the health care system is all too often an expensive exercise in frustration. Dr. Eric Topol says your smartphone could make it cheaper, faster, better and safer.

That's the gist of his new book, The Patient Will See You Now. Lots of people are bullish on the future of mobile health to transform health care, but Topol gets extra cred because of his major medical chops: Former head of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic and present director of the Scripps Translations Science Institute in La Jolla, Calif.

The Connecticut Supreme Court's ruling that 17-year-old Cassandra could be forced to undergo cancer treatment sparked thousands of impassioned comments on NPR.org and Facebook.

Bariatric surgery is being widely promoted as the solution for people who are extremely obese, but so far most of the studies haven't followed enough people for enough time to really know if surgery helps improve health long term.

The last thing my 11-year-old does before she goes to sleep is put her iPod on the nightstand. And that could mean less sleep for her, researchers say.

There's plenty of evidence that children who have televisions in their rooms get less sleep. This is one of the first studies to look at whether having a small screen like an iPod or smartphone in the room also affects rest.

If you're resolved to quit smoking this year, it's arguably the one best thing you could do for your health. But it's not easy, so every bit of help is a good thing.

People who used both state-sponsored telephone quit lines and newer Web-based services to quit smoking were more successful, compared with people who just used one service, a study finds.

Ebola may have slid off the nation's worry list, but that doesn't mean the United States is ready to handle an outbreak of Ebola or another infectious disease, an analysis says. That includes naturally occurring outbreaks like dengue fever, tuberculosis and measles, as well as the use of bioterrorism agents like anthrax.

Women and their doctors have a hard time figuring out the pluses and minuses of screening mammograms for breast cancer. It doesn't help that there's been fierce dissent over the benefits of screening mammography for women under 50 and for older women.

Lose weight and those pounds shuffle off, unmourned. Good riddance. Please don't come back soon.

But where does weight go when we lose it?

We talk about burning off fat, and it does burn in a way, going through a complex biochemical process. But mass can't be created or destroyed, so the atoms that made the triglycerides that plumped up the love handles have got to be somewhere.

Radiation treatment for breast cancer could take less time and cost less for many women, but doctors aren't putting that knowledge into practice, a study finds.

And one reason is that the doctors in charge of radiation treatment will make less money, according to Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, a study author and chairman of the Department of Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania.

Surely I'm not the only person who has gone to the orthopedist figuring that the radiologist sent over the MRI, only to find out that I was supposed to have asked for a CD and a paper copy of the report. Really? That is so last century.

Since I can Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest images with ease, shouldn't I also be able to get my MRI online and share it with my doctors?

If you've seen the classic movie A Christmas Story, you know that Ralphie really, really wanted that BB gun. And you know that his mother, his teacher, even the department store Santa all said: "You'll shoot your eye out."

Should you get a blood test to see if you're deficient in vitamin D? It sounds like such a good idea, seeing as how most people don't get enough sunshine to make vitamin D themselves. And the tests are becoming increasingly popular.

But there are problems with making vitamin D tests a standard part of preventive medicine, a federal panel said. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said Monday there's not enough evidence of benefits or harms to recommend vitamin D testing for all.

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