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Despite the increasing evidence that diet can be linked to many of the most common--and most lethal--ailments, many health textbooks used in high schools ignore the issue entirely, according to a survey conducted by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a Washington-based group concerned with health and nutrition.

"It would be no surprise if schoolchildren thought America's most pressing current nutritional problems were beriberi, pellagra, and scurvy," said Michael Jacobson, the biochemist who is the organization's executive director. "Rarely do the textbooks mention that the major diseases related to diet are due to the overconsumption of basic nutrients, rather than the lack of micro-nutrients, such as vitamins and minerals."

Instead, the public-interest group found in its "content analysis" of five textbooks, the material is organized around the "basic four food groups," a concept that nutritionist Jean Mayer has said "makes no sense." Only one of the five books discusses the "Dietary Goals for the U.S.," issued by a Senate committee "at least three years before the books were published," according to the survey.

"While it appears to be a helpful guide to food selection, the Basic Four downplays crucial distinctions among foods in a particular food group," the report says. "How valuable is a guide that fails to account for differences between hot dogs and chicken (meat/fish/poultry group), ice cream and skim milk (milk group), or potatoes and potato chips (fruit and vegetable group)?" it asks.

The textbook editors that the group spoke with offered several explanations for the absence of current nutrition information. When the book was published, one editor said, there was insufficient evidence to support the "dietary goals." Subsequent revisions may include them.

Other editors, however, acknowledged that they were apprehensive about including controversial subjects--food additives, for example--before all the evidence was in. One editor, according to the report, said that "editors and authors studiously avoid information that might be controversial and detrimental to business."

"But those who view with alarm the high rates of heart disease, hypertension, and diet-related cancer may see this editorial philosophy as its own form of malnutrition," the researchers write. "The scarcity of explanation about preserving good health through diet, and the lack of analysis about the forces shaping our food choices, does little to protect the next generation from preventable disease."

Children who attempt suicide are likely to come from families that are already experiencing significant emotional and economic stress, the findings of a new study suggest.

Conducted by Barry D. Garfinkel, a psychiatrist at Bradley Hospital in East Providence, R.I., and colleagues, the study examined the family history and circumstances of 505 children who attempted suicide over a seven-year period. Fifty of the children were not yet in their teens.

The researchers identified the group by examining the records of a Canadian pediatric hospital.

The group was matched with a second group of children of about the same age who did not attempt suicide.

Psychiatrists distinguish suicide attempts from suicide "gestures"; in the former, the person involved is presumed to have "the conscious intention to die," while in the latter, the intent is to "draw attention to experienced conflict and distress," the researchers write.

The children who attempted suicide, the researchers found, more often came from families with one or both parents absent. In many cases, a member of the family had had a drug, alcohol, or other kind of psychiatric problem.

Many also came from families in which the father was unemployed. A high percentage also had family members with significant health problems.

"An adolescent may not share problems with parents who are physically ill in an attempt not to overburden them," the researchers write. ''Also, the adolescent's concern for the parents' well-being may further deepen his or her own feelings of sadness."

Drug overdoses were the most common suicide method used by the children, accounting for about 88 percent of the cases. Wrist-cutting was the next most common method, and small percentages had also tried to hang themselves or to jump from heights or in front of vehicles, according to the study.

Most of the attempts occurred at home, more often in the winter, and more often in the evening.

The results of the study appear in the October American Journal of Psychiatry.

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