sealPurdue Lifestyles Briefs

August 1998

Take precautions to keep cool when heat is on

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- When the mercury soars outside, using a little common sense and drinking lots of liquids can keep things from getting too hot to handle.

That's the advice from Olivia B. Wood, associate professor of foods and nutrition at Purdue University. Wood works with athletes and teaches them the effects of dehydration and nutrition on the body. A heat wave, with temperatures in the 90s and humidity to match, is cause for concern, she says.

"During a heat wave, it is important to be aware of the symptoms associated with dehydration and loss of body fluids." she says. "If you don't use common sense and prepare yourself, you could face some serious difficulties. Some of them could be fatal."

Wood says that when temperature and humidity are high, the body loses much of its cooling ability. "The body cools itself by the evaporation of sweat from the skin. In really hot and humid weather, sweat doesn't evaporate and the heat is trapped."

Be aware of signs of dehydration, she says. They include heat cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat cramps are signaled by thirst, chills, clammy skin, nausea and a throbbing heartbeat.

"If you experience these symptoms, immediately stop what you're doing and move to a cool location," Wood says. "Consume lots of water or some other cool liquid."

Paying attention to these early signs may prevent the onset of a much more serious condition, such as heat exhaustion or heat stroke, Wood says.

"Heat exhaustion is signaled by reduced sweating, shortness of breath, dryness of the mouth, a weak but rapid pulse, headache, dizziness and extreme fatigue," she says. "Again, drop everything and move to a cool location and consume cool liquids. Also, it is important to employ other methods to cool the body off. Take a cool shower or apply an ice pack to the forehead."

Wood says failure to pay attention to early warning signs may lead to the most serious type of heat stress -- heat stroke. At that point, immediate medical attention is required, because the person is in a life-threatening situation.

"Their temperature will increase dramatically," she says. "Because of severe dehydration, the body's circulatory system and kidneys can shut down."

Cool liquids, which can be easily absorbed from the stomach, are best for preventing and treating the early stages of dehydration, Wood says.

"Water, sodas without caffeine, sport drinks and fruit juices are all good choices," she says. "Plain water is the least expensive and most readily available."

Wood says to avoid concentrated beverages, as they may actually contribute to dehydration.

"Concentrated beverages are beverages that contain high levels of sugar, salt or potassium," she says. "These beverages stay in the stomach until sufficient fluids are drawn in to dilute them" she says. "Also, avoid alcohol and any kind of beverage with caffeine, because they act as diuretics, and increase the loss of fluid from the body."

How do you tell if you are getting enough liquid?

"Strong-colored, strong-smelling urine in small amounts indicates dehydration," she says. "Light-colored urine in normal amounts indicates normal hydration. The average amount of urine expelled per day varies among individuals, but it is usually about one and a half to two and a half quarts."

Wood says heat-related problems are preventable and fairly easy to avoid.

"When it gets hot outside, stay inside if at all possible," she says. "At the very least, stay in a cool place and drink lots of liquids. Use a little common sense, and you won't have a problem when mother nature turns up the heat."

CONTACT: Wood, (765) 494-8238;;

Loan consolidation: Fiscal savior or
final step to financial ruin?

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Loan consolidation -- paying off several smaller debts with one larger loan -- has just delayed financial disaster for many consumers rather than helped them avoid it, according to a Purdue University expert on family finances.

"Loan consolidation often leads to the next step, and that's bankruptcy," says Purdue Cooperative Extension Service specialist Janet Bechman. "Consumers who consolidate loans without changing their spending habits are likely to dig themselves deeper in debt, not out of it."

Bechman, who is an accredited financial counselor, says that in some instances, consumers could actually pay off their debt sooner without loan consolidation. "Loan consolidation is a means of paying off existing debts over a longer period and at a greater overall expense. If people concentrated on paying off their bills one by one, they might pay more per month in the short run, but actually come out ahead faster than if they had taken out another loan," Bechman says.

She suggests that consumers chart out their monthly bill paying and compare it to the cost of a consolidation loan. "Normally, as you pay down your debt, your total monthly payments decrease. However, with a loan consolidation, the payment will remain fixed for the entire length of the loan," she says.

Bechman says another drawback is the initial sense of freedom some consumers feel after consolidating loans. "They see that their bills amount to $80 a month now rather than the $100 before. In their mind they reason that they used to be able to pay out more per month, so rather than stop spending, they spend more," Bechman says.

Not all loan consolidations are bad, but Bechman says they should be used by consumers who understand themselves and are able to apply self-discipline. "If you comparison shop for your loan and select a reputable lender, then you might find it helpful in the event of an unexpected loss of income -- such as an accident or job loss," she says.

While the name may be different, generally half of all second mortgages are used to consolidate debts, according to Bechman. "The unfortunate thing is that people can lose their houses when they default on a second mortgage or home equity loan," she points out.

CONTACT: Bechman, (765) 494-8309

Businesses can profit from family-friendly policies

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Family-friendly employee benefits are becoming popular and profitable.

Shelley MacDermid, director of the Center for Families at Purdue University and of the Midwestern Work-Family Association, says workplace practices that help employees take care of family responsibilities benefit the employees affected, as well as co-workers and the company's bottom line.

"When employees come to work stressed out by family needs, they may be less productive," she says. Companies have found that work-family programs improve employee recruitment, retention, productivity and loyalty -- factors that she says can affect business profits.

Among work-family policies, businesses most frequently provide child care benefits. A survey by five major U.S. corporations found that 82 percent of working parents had missed days at work, arrived late, left early or had to use work time to deal with child-care problems. "Statistics show the average company with 250 employees can save $75,000 per year in lost work time by subsidizing care for employees' sick children," MacDermid says.

She says employers can pick and choose from many child-care benefit options including everything from child-care vouchers to on-site day care. The results can be as individual as each company. MacDermid offers tips to employers who would like to find out what benefits would work best for their employees:

  • Evaluate the current situation -- assess company goals and problem areas.
  • Marshal support from management -- educate managers on the business benefits of work-family programs.
  • Form a task force -- the committee should include employees from all company levels and workers who have child-care needs.
  • Assess employees' needs -- use surveys or focus groups to find out employee priorities and preferences. "Find out what employees see as the barriers to them doing their job well," MacDermid says.
  • Identify resources and constraints -- look at practices already in place that may be used to meet child-care needs, and know to what extent the company will go in finding and funding solutions.

The Midwestern Work-Family Association is a partnership between the Center for Families at Purdue and Midwestern employers who are interested in work-family issues. The association shares resources and is an advocate for family-friendly policies consistent with business objectives. For more information, call (765) 494-9878.

CONTACT: MacDermid, (765) 494-9878; e-mail,

Compiled by: Beth Forbes, (765) 494-9723; e-mail,

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; e-mail,

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