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Health Highlights: April 1, 2011

FDA Proposes Calorie Labels for Fast Foods, Vending MachinesWhite House Plan Would Reduce Health Care Fragmentation No Health Risk From Radiation in U.S. Foods: Officials U.S. Road Deaths Lowest in Six Decades

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

FDA Proposes Calorie Labels for Fast Foods, Vending Machines

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday proposed regulations that would require calorie labeling on menus and menu boards in chain restaurants, retail food establishments, and vending machines.

"These proposals will ensure that consumers have more information when they make their own food choices," Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in an FDA news release. "Giving consumers clear nutritional information makes it easier for them to choose healthier options that can help fight obesity and make us all healthier."

Under the proposal for chain restaurants and similar food establishments, consumers would see calories listed in eateries that are part of a chain with 20 or more locations. Examples include fast food establishments, bakeries, coffee shops and certain grocery and convenience stores, the FDA said.

A companion proposal would require posting calorie information for food sold in vending machines.

"Americans now consume about one-third of their total calories on foods prepared outside the home," FDA Commissioner Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg said in the news release. "While consumers can find calorie and other nutrition information on most packaged foods, it's not generally available in restaurants or similar retail establishments. This proposal is aimed at giving consumers consistent and easy-to-understand nutrition information."

The FDA is seeking public comment on the menu labeling proposal for 60 days, until June 6. The comment period for the vending machine proposal would last 90 days, July 5. The agency said it plans to issue final rules before the end of 2011.

To comment on the proposals, visit


White House Plan Would Reduce Health Care Fragmentation

Proposed rules meant to encourage doctors and hospitals to work together and reduce costs were released Thursday by the Obama administration.

In return for forming these accountable care organizations and meeting federal quality standards, health care providers and facilities would be given financial rewards, The New York Times reported.

The program could create 75 to 150 of these organizations, which would serve 1.5 million to 4 million of the nation's 47 million Medicare beneficiaries, according to federal officials.

Advocates of the plan believe accountable care organizations are a good way to help patients and save money by reducing the high level of fragmentation in the nation's health care system, the Times reported.


No Health Risk From Radiation in U.S. Foods: Officials

Americans shouldn't be concerned about the health effects of low levels of radiation in foods, according to health officials and experts.

Traces of radiation from the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan have started to appear in the United States. For example, radioactive iodine was found in milk in California and Washington state. The amount detected in the milk sample from Spokane, Wash. was 5,000 times below the U.S. recommended limit for exposure, and a similar trace amount was found in the milk sample from a dairy in San Luis Obispo County, Calif., the Associated Press reported.

"It is safe to drink milk. It is safe to eat dairy products," San Luis Obispo County Health Officer Penny Borenstein said at a news conference Thursday.

So far, no radiation from the damaged Japanese nuclear plant has been found in any other foods in the U.S., according to the Food and Drug Administration.

Experts say the current levels of radiation leaking from the Fukushima complex are unlikely to cause health problems in the U.S. or any other nations far away from Japan.

"This amount of radiation is tiny, tiny, tiny compared to what you get from natural sources every day," John Moulder, a professor of radiation oncology at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, told the AP.

It's possible that leafy vegetables such as spinach will be the next U.S.-produced foods to show signs of radiation, which will come from contaminated rainwater, Moulder said.

As in the case of the affected milk, the health risk "is about as close to zero as you can get," he told the AP.


U.S. Road Deaths Lowest in Six Decades

Increased use of seat belts, better safety features in cars, and programs to reduce drunk driving helped push road deaths in the United States in 2010 to the lowest number in more than 60 years, say federal officials.

The 32,788 people killed on the nation's roads last year was a decrease of about 3 percent from 2009 and is the fewest number of fatalities since more than 30,000 were killed in 1949, the Transportation Department said Friday, the Associated Press reported.

Deaths fell 12 percent in the Pacific Northwest and there were also large declines in Western states.

The lower number of traffic fatalities last year is especially noteworthy considering that Americans drove 20.5 billion more miles (0.7 percent) more than they did in 2009, says the Federal Highway Administration, the AP reported.

The rate of deaths per 100 million miles traveled also declined to a record low of 1.09 in 2010. The previous record low of 1.13 deaths was set in 2009.

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