Karen Springen

Stories by Karen Springen

  • Health: Battle Of The Binge

    Ron Saxen's problem with binge eating started when he was 11. He hid the disorder well enough--through exercise and yo-yo dieting--to sign a modeling contract at the age of 21, when he was 6 feet 1 and weighed 179 pounds. But the pressure to remain thin proved to be too much. He quit the catwalk and eventually ballooned to 295 pounds. "In the darkest days, I would get two Big Macs, a large order of fries and a chocolate shake, then pull into Taco Bell before finishing my McDonald's," says Saxen, author of "The Good Eater: The True Story of One Man's Struggle With Binge Eating Disorder" due out next month.But Saxen, now 44 and recovering, is one of the lucky ones. This month Harvard researchers found that binge-eating disorder, or BED, is the most common eating disorder in the United States--more prevalent than anorexia and bulimia nervosa combined. Its definition: single bursts of uncontrolled eating that last less than two hours and occur at least twice a week. Because of the...
  • Toy Business: American Girl, On The March

    Beth Miller--an Atlanta mother with daughters 5, 7 and 12 years old--will visit the new American Girl doll store when it opens in her city this fall. "I'm sure I will have to," she says. AG owner Mattel is counting on moms like Miller to boost its $440 million in revenue last year--up just 1 percent from $436 million in 2005. "We wanted to bring the success of our flagships to smaller markets where we know we have customers," says AG president Ellen Brothers. Last year 3 million people made pilgrimages to the three existing AG stores in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles to ogle the $87 dolls and their pricey accessories. This fall Mattel is opening AG "boutiques" in Atlanta and Dallas. The new stores will be smaller, without live theater. "The big, big stores are a once-in-a-lifetime experience for many girls," says Brothers. "We didn't want to have too many of those around the country." Is bigger better? Next year AG is moving its 40,600-square-foot Chicago stand-alone store to a...
  • Fourth-Grade Slump

    Terri Bollinger, principal at the Ridge Central elementary school, has noticed a troubling trend. Her third graders are doing incredibly well. Most of them meet or exceed Illinois state reading standards. But her fifth graders aren't showing the same kind of improvement--and in 2005, their reading scores even dropped a little. Bollinger thinks she knows why. For complicated reasons, some kids lose their mojo when they get to fourth grade.Principals and teachers around the country are growing increasingly concerned with what they call the fourth-grade slump. The malaise, which can strike children any time between the end of the second and the middle of fifth grade, is marked by a declining interest in reading and a gradual disengagement from school. What's causing it? Some say fourth graders get distracted by videogames, organized sports and after-school activities. Others worry that kids are burning out. No Child Left Behind has created an intense push to teach kids the fundamentals...
  • New Sensible Eating Rules for Kids

    Every day at 6:15 p.m., 4-year-old Payton and 7-year-old Avery Lumeng sit down for dinner with their parents, who let them eat as much or as little as they'd like. They're free to be excused when they're finished—even if it's after only 15 minutes. If they're hungry when it's not mealtime, they eat snacks—including occasional cookies and candies. "If you have all these hard and fast rules—'My children are never going to eat candy'—it makes it all the more tempting," explains their mom, Dr. Julie Lumeng of the University of Michigan's department of pediatrics and Center for Human Growth and Development. She should know: she worked on "Healthy From the Start," a new booklet on healthy eating just out from the nonprofit group Zero to Three (zerotothree.org) and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.In the booklet, Lumeng and her colleagues redefine the rules of healthy eating for kids. Faced with a childhood-obesity epidemic (about one in six U.S. kids is fat), experts are...
  • To Your Health: Not Hungry? No Problem.

    Every day at 6:15 p.m., 4-year-old Payton and 7-year-old Avery Lumeng sit down for dinner with their parents, who let them eat as much or as little as they'd like. They're free to be excused when they're finished--even if it's after only 15 minutes. If they're hungry when it's not mealtime, they eat snacks--including occasional cookies and candies. "If you have all these hard and fast rules--'My children are never going to eat candy'--it makes it all the more tempting," explains their mom, Dr. Julie Lumeng of the University of Michigan's department of pediatrics and Center for Human Growth and Development. She should know: she worked on "Healthy From the Start," a new booklet on healthy eating just out from the nonprofit group Zero to Three ( zerotothree.org ) and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.In the booklet, Lumeng and her colleagues redefine the rules of healthy eating for kids. Faced with a childhood-obesity epidemic (about one in six U.S. kids is fat), experts...
  • Ground Support

    Michelle Obama has always been a creature of discipline and decorum. As a young lawyer, she initially brushed off advances from her future husband, Barack Obama, because they worked at the same firm. A reporter, visiting her Chicago home in 2004, noticed a to-do list for her two daughters that included time for "play." She is in bed most nights by 9:30 and rises each morning at 4:30 to run on a treadmill. "She'll sacrifice the sleep so she can make sure she has that time," says Susan Page, a friend since Harvard Law School. "Once she has a plan, she goes for it."Now, however, Michelle's once orderly life is tending toward the chaotic, in the form of a presidential campaign, and no amount of planning can stave it off. Last week her husband's name was on the lips of every Democrat from Boston to Berkeley after he announced he was forming a presidential exploratory committee. But Michelle was out of sight--the Obama campaign declined to make her available for this story--even as many...
  • Marketing: A 'Little House' Makeover

    Sometimes it's good that you can't judge a book by its cover. This month, for the "Little House" books' 75th anniversary, the first eight stories appear with photos of models as Laura instead of with the Garth Williams illustrations. (The text is unchanged.) "Girls might feel the Garth Williams art is too old-fashioned," says Tara Weikum, executive editor for the "Little House" series. "We wanted to convey the fact that these are action-packed. There were dust storms and locusts. And they had to build a cabin from scratch." (The new tag line: "Little House, Big Adventure.")Publishers are altering cover art--often tied to anniversaries and movies--to appeal to kids weaned on videos and computer games. The thinking is that children are more likely to pick up "Charlotte's Web" with Dakota Fanning on it than with Williams's illustration of a girl and a pig, or Newbery winner "Bridge to Terabithia" with a scene from the Disney movie (in theaters next month). "A Wrinkle in Time" is...
  • The Rev. John Foley

    The best ideas are often bred in desperation. A decade ago, Father John Foley and his Jesuit colleagues were in the midst of creating a new college-prep high school for students from Chicago's Pilsen and Little Village neighborhoods, a low-income area largely populated by Mexican immigrants. Even finishing high school was a lofty goal for many of these youngsters; in the inner city, a 50 percent dropout rate is not unusual. Coming up with a curriculum that would turn likely dropouts into college grads was a major challenge, but figuring out how to pay for the school seemed an even bigger obstacle. Clearly, the parents could not afford much tuition. The church couldn't sustain it, either. The worthy project was in danger of failure before a single student had enrolled. So Foley turned to a management consultant he describes as "original in his thinking." Two weeks later, the consultant, Richard Murray, returned with the suggestion that the students themselves could pay for their...
  • Health and Safety Tips for the Holidays

    Tis the season of excess, so NEWSWEEK spoke to the experts about alcohol use, winter sports and a sackful of other topics. The bottom line: have fun, but be smart.
  • Health: Sites Walk A Thin Line

    If a food craving strikes, try a manicure to "keep your hands occupied." This kind of tip is common fare on pro-"ana" (anorexia) and pro-"mia" (bulimia) Web sites. Well intended or not, they're not "benign," says Dr. Rebecka Peebles of Stanford University, coauthor of "Surfing for Thinness," published in Pediatrics last week. Stanford researchers surveyed patients treated for eating disorders, ages 10 to 22, and found that users of pro-eating-disorder sites were sick longer. And 96 percent of them reported learning new tips for weight loss or purging; 69 percent said they used them.The sites tend to gloss over bad news: people with anorexia are 56 times more likely than their peers to commit suicide. (And they're not broadcasting the November anorexia-related death of Brazilian model Ana Carolina Reston.)Sites deny being harmful, saying they provide a community for those with eating disorders. The term "pro-ana" is broadly used, and sites vary greatly. "We offer them support, saying...
  • This Is Your Brain on Alien Killer Pimps of Nazi Doom

    Symeohn Fuqua, 14, and his brothers don't play videogames anymore. This wasn't their idea; Symeohn had the bad luck to participate in a study by researchers at Indiana University that found that 30 minutes of slaying enemies on the screen affected the brain for up to an hour afterward. The study didn't look for or find permanent effects, but Symeohn's mother, Twila, didn't wait to unplug the game machine. Even if the effect is temporary, she figures, "by the time it wore off, they'd be playing again."The study will fuel the debate over whether adolescent fantasies of mayhem should be fed by the powerful technology of videogames. "We suspected there was an emotional connection to these games," says Dr. Donald Shifrin of the American Academy of Pediatrics. "We now have anatomic proof."Of the study's 44 subjects, half were assigned to splattering Nazis in Medal of Honor: Frontline, while the rest played a fast-paced but bloodless car-chase game. In brain scans afterward, the first...
  • Mixed Messages

    Drink ice-cold water ("your body has to burn calories to keep your temperature up") and hot water with bullion cubes ("only 5 calories a cube, and they taste wonderful"). When a food craving strikes, give yourself a manicure ("applying extra layers of slow-drying polish. It will keep your hands occupied"). These kinds of tips are common fare in the growing world of "pro-ana" (pro-anorexia) and "pro-mia" (pro-bulimia) Web sites. More than 200 such sites now cater to the estimated .5 to 1 percent of adolescent and adult women who are anorexic and to the 1 to 2 percent who are bulimic.Well intended or not, the sites are "not benign," says Dr. Rebecka Peebles, a specialist in adolescent medicine at Stanford University's Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. In "Surfing for Thinness: A Pilot Study of Pro-Eating Disorder Web Site Usage in Adolescents with Eating Disorders," published this week in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, she and her colleagues reported...
  • College A More 'Common' Application Process

    The University of Chicago is known for its "Uncommon Application," filled with quirky questions like "How do you feel about Wednesday?" So when word got out in November that the school is expected to switch to the more staid Common Application, Illinois high-school junior Amy Allen wrote the dean of enrollment, Michael Behnke, in dismay: "The questions I saw on the Uncommon App were fun and interesting. I was already thinking about what mathematical function I might be!" (That's essay option No. 4.)The Common Application is simpler, more utilitarian--and soaring in popularity. Since a nonprofit consortium of colleges behind it was founded in 1975, membership has swelled from 15 to 298 schools; 15 more are currently applying to join. Colleges, U of C included, like the generic app because it ups the applicant pool. (Most college-ranking systems weigh the percentage of admitted students.) Students like filling out just one form and zapping it--along with application fees--to as many...
  • Back Pain: To Cut or Not to Cut

    Each year, about 300,000 Americans have surgery for herniated disks, at a cost of $10,000 to $15,000 per procedure. Is it worth it? Maybe. And maybe not. A report in last week's Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that patients with severe leg pain who did not have surgery improved nearly as much as those who went under the knife. Differences in outcome over a two-year period were described as "small and not statistically significant." Either way, "patients got remarkably better," says Dr. David Flum of the University of Washington.So, who should get surgery? Patients need to examine their priorities, says Dr. Rick Deyo, co-author of the JAMA report. "Are you risk-averse and prefer to avoid surgery? If so, you'll probably get better. Are you a risk taker and prefer surgery? If so, you'll probably get better faster, and it'll cost a bit more."For some patients, letting nature take its course may be best. "Can you do your work?" asks Dr. Richard Guyer, head of the...
  • This Is Your Brain on Violence

    For nearly 35 years, Americans have lived with videogames—and the controversy surrounding them. Proponents say the games are fun and even help teach kids how to use logic to solve problems. Critics say the more violent games—including some that reward players for killing innocent bystanders and police—increase aggressive thoughts and anti-social behavior.Unfortunately, the debate has suffered from a dearth of empirical evidence about the effect of videogames. Now, a new brain-imaging study from Indiana University—the first of its kind—suggests that playing violent videogames may indeed change the way a person feels and acts. In the study, released Tuesday at the at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, researchers found that teenagers who played a violent video game exhibited increased activity in a part of the brain that governs emotional arousal. The same teens showed decreased activity in the parts of the brain involved in focus, inhibition and...
  • To Cut Or Not To Cut

    About 300,000 Americans have surgery each year for herniated disks. With total hospital, anesthesia and surgery costs running around $10,000 to $15,000 per operation, that works out to up to $4.5 billion worth of surgery annually. Is it worth it? Maybe. And maybe not. A report in this week's issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that herniated disk patients who did not opt for surgery did nearly as well as those who went under the knife after a two-year period. And the researchers said the differences in outcome between the two approaches were "small and not statistically significant."The multi-center Spine Patient Outcomes Research Trial (SPORT) enrolled 501 surgical candidates with severe leg pain and operated on half of them. The randomized clinical trial found that patients who had surgery and patients who did not both “improved substantially over a two-year period.” However, a second, observational trial (also in JAMA this week), in which...
  • Education: More A's, More Pay

    Meet the fourth R: reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic--and a reward. The Department of Education just launched the first federal program that uses bonuses to motivate teachers who raise test scores in at-risk communities, awarding $42 million this month to 16 school systems in places like Chicago, Dallas and South Carolina.Similar ideas are used in the private sector all the time. "In any other profession, when you do well, you get rewarded," says Lewis Solmon, whose National Institute for Excellence in Teaching runs an incentive-based program in 131 schools. Jason Culbertson, who won a $4,500 reward in 2003 through South Carolina's pilot program, says the incentive "kept me in education." He now leads projects related to the state's grant.With an average incentive of $5,000 at stake, some teachers may be tempted to cook the books. "I'm not going to say they will. But it's a lot of money, and teachers are not well paid," says Eric Anderman, a professor of educational psychology at the...
  • Health: Is Amnio Right For You?

    During Audrey Fosse's first two pregnancies, at ages 30 and 33, early screening tests revealed she had higher-than-average odds of delivering a baby with Down syndrome. Both times, her obstetrician recommended she have amniocentesis, a diagnostic test that determines if a woman is carrying a baby with a chromosomal abnormality. But the test has an often-cited miscarriage rate of one in 200. "It was a little bit scary because you did know there were risks involved," says Fosse. "But we wanted the reassurance that everything was okay--or, if it wasn't okay, that we would be prepared for that." Her results were normal, and she delivered healthy children.It turns out Fosse was ahead of her time in using more than just her age to help her decide whether to get amnio 15 weeks or so into her pregnancy. A paper in the November issue of the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, part of a major National Institutes of Health-funded study on pregnancy screening, reports that the risk of...
  • Cars: It Pays to Drive Green

    If Joanne Aggens, a Wilmette, Ill., village-board member, trades in her 200,000-mile Subaru for a hybrid, she'll save $50 off the $75 price of her city vehicle sticker--a new clean-car perk she and her fellow board members recently approved. Towns are also using free parking and HOV-lane privileges to entice residents to drive green cars. "It's not going to send a mob down to the local dealership," says Bradley Berman, editor of HybridCars.com, "but it's one more way that a city can encourage civic responsibility."L.A., Salt Lake City, Albuquerque and New Haven offer free parking for green cars, trying to meet the clean-air goals in the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. Environmentalists like the city activism. "People are not willing to wait for a change in Washington to take action on what they see to be a major problem," says the Sierra Club's Jack Darin. Not everyone's a fan. "These are incentives for the fairly well off," says Heritage Foundation energy analyst Ben...
  • To Catch a Killer

    At 76, E. Patrick Flynn believes he is alive today only because a CT scan detected a tiny tumor in his lung in 1996. “Not the slightest question in the world,” says Flynn, a former smoker. The Carmel, N.Y., resident underwent surgery shortly after the tumor was found and has visited his doctor for annual CT scans ever since.  They’ve given him peace of mind—and allowed him to enjoy "all the pleasures of life"—such as golfing, investing in real estate and spending time with his seven grandchildren.Flynn may well be right that his life was extended by those painless diagnostic procedures. In a study published in this week's New England Journal of Medicine, researchers report that early detection of lung cancer followed by surgery within one month results in a 10-year survival rate of 92 percent. That’s a big deal because lung cancer kills more Americans than any other cancer. Each year 173,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease and 164,000 die from it. Overall, the five-year...
  • Reassessing Diabetes Treatments

    At least 20 million Americans suffer from diabetes, a devastating disease that contributes to more than 200,000 deaths a year. Many of them have used Actos over the past seven years, since the type 2 diabetes treatment was approved. But a new report now questions the advantages of taking the popular prescription drug.In the review, which appears in the current issue of The Cochrane Library (a quarterly publication of medicine reviews from the nonprofit Cochrane Collaboration), researchers say they found no clear long-term benefit to taking Takeda Pharmaceutical's pioglitazone (sold as Actos), which racked up nearly $1.8 billion in sales last year. They also noted an increased occurrence of edema, or excessive swelling, and heart failure among patients.The examination of data from 22 clinical trials of Actos involving 6,200 patients, revives questions about the long-term effectiveness and risks of the class of medicines called thiazolidinediones (TZDs) to which Actos—as well as a...
  • Airlines: Leaving The Nest

    With the holidays approaching, you may soon be packing up your kids for a trip alone. Here are some things to keep in mind: Plan ahead. Airlines won't let children fly unaccompanied before the age of 5 and may require a nonstop ticket. Book early. Avoid the last flight of the day, because another one may not be available if there's a diversion. Go to the gate. Ask the check-in desk for a special pass, which will allow you to stay with your children until boarding, and don't leave until the plane departs. Whoever's picking up at the other end can do the same. Stay in touch. Give them two emergency contact numbers and a cell phone. Set the 'no strangers' rule. "If they have any questions, deal with people who are part of the airline," says Dr. Robert T. Brown, president of the Society for Adolescent Medicine.
  • Assault on Obesity

    Vending machines have always been synonymous with junk food. But that's about to change—at least for kids in public schools. On Friday, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation—an initiative of the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation—announced that five of the nation's top food manufacturers had agreed to the first-ever voluntary guidelines to sell healthier fare in school vending machines and a la carte food lines. This follows the Alliance’s deal in May to only allow water, unsweetened juice and low-fat and nonfat milk in elementary and middle schools. Under the plan announced Friday, manufacturers agreed that foods should not get more than 35 percent of their calories from fat or sugar. The goal: to reduce childhood obesity, which all too often leads to adult obesity and problems like heart disease and diabetes. NEWSWEEK's Karen Springen spoke with Raymond Gibbons, president of the American Heart Association, about the agreement with Campbell Soup Co.,...
  • Saying No to Big Pharma

    For the past few years, Dr. Eric Mizuno and his colleagues at Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Physicians Group have banned pharmaceutical-company freebies like sticky pads and calendars from their offices. "It just felt right to not contaminate the environment," Mizuno says. The ban also reduces the number of sales reps crowding the reception area. "There was a time when there were literally more reps in the office than patients," he says.Drug samples and other giveaways from pharmaceutical companies may seem like part of the standard decor in most doctors' offices, but a growing number of medical centers and individual physicians like Mizuno and his colleagues are beginning to just say no. The most recent example is Stanford University, which this week officially stopped allowing its medical students and faculty to accept any gifts—including free drug samples—from pharmaceutical and medical-device companies. "There is a naive assumption on the part of all of us that we're immune to...
  • Health: Getting Ready To Roll

    From the day Avrick Altmann was born 15 months ago, his mom, Dr. Tanya Remer Altmann, has kept him moving. She gave him plenty of "tummy time" on the floor. She held up bright objects and rattles so he would lift his head. When he was about 4 months, she even bought him a tiny basketball hoop (LeapFrog Learning Hoops; $24.83 at walmart. com ) so he could practice shooting a ball through it. "Kids form habits at an extremely young age," says Altmann, editor in chief of the American Academy of Pediatrics' book "The Wonder Years: Helping Your Baby and Young Child Successfully Negotiate the Major Developmental Milestones" ($24), due out this week.Increasingly, physicians worry that those habits will turn out to be sedentary ones. Babies need plenty of time on their bellies to strengthen muscles for rolling over and crawling. But with the AAP telling parents to put babies to sleep on their backs to prevent SIDS, and with multitasking caregivers keeping kids in strollers and car seats...
  • Teaching Kids: Discovering the Magic in Writing

    For a lot of kids, writing is a chore. Essays. Journal entries. Book reports . But this month Newbery Honor winner Gail Carson Levine, author of "Ella Enchanted," comes to the rescue with "Writing Magic: Creating Stories That Fly," a how-to-write guide for kids 10 and up.The book's advice covers the basics: add a mix of narrative and dialogue; don't solve all the problems until the end; pay attention to details. But Levine makes it fun, with suggestions like "make your hero suffer" (she is, after all, the author who made gems and bugs fall out of girls' mouths in "The Fairy's Mistake"), and with exercises that ask kids to "turn someone you dislike into an animal." She encourages kids to write things they'd enjoy reading--and not to listen to naysayers. She still remembers a childhood teacher who called her story "pedestrian"--"a death blow," she says.Librarians--and publisher HarperCollins--expect children to pay attention to Levine, a star in the kid-lit world. "She has clout,"...
  • China: Summer of Silence

    It may be the slow summer season in China's capital, but the courts sure have been busy. In the past two weeks, they've concluded three high-profile cases, two of which have been lingering for more than a year. The courts handed out convictions and prison terms in each case. The latest: on Friday, a Beijing court sentenced Hong Kong resident and Singapore Straits Times reporter Ching Cheong to five years on charges that he spied for Taiwan.The guilty verdicts are part of a larger, long-term effort by Beijing to rein in journalists and activists, say analysts. And worryingly, they were handed out with little regard to legal niceties. Consider the case of rural activist Chen Guangcheng, whose lawyers were all arrested the day before he was to go to trial. On Aug. 24, he was sentenced to more than four years in prison for "disturbing public order."Beijing lawyer Teng Biao says, "Nothing can prevent human-rights activities from developing because more and more Chinese want to fight for...
  • 'Unhappily Ever After'

    Young readers, already worried about Harry Potter, now face a new threat. Lemony Snicket (a.k.a. Daniel Handler, 36) says at least two characters will die in his 13th and final "A Series of Unfortunate Events" book, "The End." The fate of the Baudelaire orphans and their nemesis, Count Olaf, will be revealed when 2.5 million copies go on sale at 12:01 a.m. on the appropriately unlucky day of Friday, Oct. 13. The first dozen "Unfortunate" books have sold more than 50 million copies.Booksellers applaud the timing. Mary McCarthy of Harry W. Schwartz Bookshops in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, hates to see the series end, but says "certainly 13 is the way to go." In a Potter-less year, "this will fill sort of a void," says Becky Anderson, owner of Anderson's Bookshops in Illinois. On Oct. 13, her stores will hold trivia contests with "unfortunate prizes" like moldy cheese and socks with holes. And Barnes & Noble will raffle off 797 autographed copies (one at each of its stores). "The books...