Weekly health rail, with advice for parents looking to soothe a child's cough, new research on waist size, how to protect yourself against MRSA in the hospital, and more.

Any parent knows a child's cough can render you feeling helpless at 3 a.m. and keep the entire family from being well-rested.

According to the Mayo Clinic, the common cold is the No. 1 reason why children miss school. Children catch six to 10 colds a year, and cough is a major symptom. In fact, it's estimated to be the symptom that most commonly prompts patients to see a doctor.

"A cough is a symptom, not a disease," says Dr. Jim LaValle, a clinical pharmacist, author of "Green Immunity Boosters," and founder of LaValle Metabolic Institute.

"In healthy people, it is a very useful reflex that keeps our air ducts clear from particles or excessive mucus so our breathing is protected," he says. "However, not only does it spread germs but it also interrupts sleep.”

LaValle offers some advice for parents treating kids' coughs:

1. Stay hydrated and settle down. To start, parents can encourage kids to drink water or other healthy liquids to thin mucous secretions, thereby soothing a cough, and discourage kids from over-exerting themselves when they have fever, aches or a cough that produces phlegm.

2. Honey: Myth or truth? Grandma was right, according to a study published in the December 2007 Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. A teaspoon of honey before bed seems to calm children's coughs and helps them sleep more soundly. Honey coats the throat to soothe irritation and is rich in infection-fighting antioxidants. It also spurs saliva production, which can help thin out mucus. Refrain from giving honey to children younger than 1 year of age.

3. Opt for an expectorant, rather than a suppressant. Coughs associated with colds should be treated with an expectorant to clear out mucus. A productive cough is the body's way of clearing out mucus.

4. Read the labels. Manufacturers of decongestants, antihistamines and cough suppressants recently have voluntarily relabeled these medications, instructing parents not to use them in children younger than 4 years of age. The move followed a U.S. Food and Drug Administration panel questioning the safety and efficacy of these medications' use in children younger than 6 years of age.

5. Know when to see a doctor. Most coughs subside on their own within a week to 10 days. Coughs that linger longer or are associated with coughing up colored phlegm or blood, wheezing, temperatures higher than 101 degrees and drenching night sweats can be symptoms of a more serious illness like pneumonia or asthma.

-- ARA

New Research: Larger waist puts you at risk

Individuals with a large waist circumference appear to have a greater risk of dying from any cause over a nine-year period, according to a new report.

Researchers examined the association between waist circumference and risk of death among 48,500 men and 56,343 women age 50 and older.

After adjusting for body mass index and other risk factors, very large waists (120 centimeters or 47 inches or larger in men, and 110 centimeters or 42 inches or larger in women) were associated with approximately twice the risk of death during the study period.

-- JAMA

Did You Know?

New research indicates that women's cholesterol levels vary with the phase of their menstrual cycle. -- National Institutes of Health

Health Tip: Protect yourself against MRSA

In a health-care setting, methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus is a potentially dangerous bacteria that is mainly spread to other patients through people's hands, especially the hands of healthcare personnel. To prevent it:

- Be proactive in asking doctors and nurses to clean their hands before treating you.

- Since intravenous catheters and drainage tubes may serve as entry points for infection, discuss with your doctor when these devices can be safely removed.

- Always ask visitors to wash their hands. If possible, ask your friends and relatives not to visit if they feel ill.

- After leaving a healthcare facility or after having a medical procedure, pay attention to symptoms that may indicate an infection: unexpected pain, chills, fever, drainage, or increased inflammation of a surgical wound. Contact your doctor immediately if any of these occur.

-- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Number to Know: 48

Youth exposure to alcohol advertising in magazines declined by 48 percent between 2001 and 2008, according to a new study by the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins University.

Children’s Health: Benefits of walking to school

A simple morning walk to school could reduce stress reactivity in children during the school day, curbing increases in heart rate and blood pressure that can lead to cardiovascular disease later in life, according to a new study.

Researchers report that children who took a simulated walk to school later experienced smaller elevations in systolic blood pressure, heart rate and perceived stress while taking a short exam than children who had gotten a simulated ride to school.

Cardiovascular reactivity -- including changes in heart rate and blood pressure due to stress -- is associated with the beginnings of cardiovascular disease in children.

-- University at Buffalo

Senior Health: Zinc protects against pneumonia

A high proportion of nursing facility residents were found to have low zinc concentrations during an observational study.

The scientists found that those with normal blood zinc concentrations were about 50 percent less likely to develop pneumonia than those with low concentrations.

The same study found that among the facility residents, those who consumed 200 international units of vitamin E daily for one year were 20 percent less likely to get upper respiratory infections, such as colds, than those who took a placebo.

-- American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

GateHouse News Service