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Health Highlights: April 10, 2012

Neighborhood Features Influence Weight: Study Toxins Found in Many 'Non-Toxic' Nail Polishes at Calif. Salons Appeals Court Hears Case on Graphic Warnings on Cigarette Packs EPA Rejects Petition to Ban 2,4-D Weed Killer FDA Delays Decision on Weight-Loss Drug

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

Neighborhood Features Influence Weight: Study

Neighborhood characteristics such as grocery stores and parks have an influence on children's weight, a new study says.

U.S. researchers examined neighborhoods in King County, Wash. and San Diego County, Calif. and rated them in terms of physical activity and nutrition for children ages 6-11, ABC News reported.

A neighborhood received a high rating if it had good parks, ample opportunities for children to walk to places such as libraries and stores, and had numerous food stores that offered produce and healthy foods. A neighborhood received a poor rating if it had few good food stores, a large number of fast food restaurants, and offered children few opportunities to walk or play in good parks.

"The biggest difference we found in rates of obesity were in the places where the environment was good for both nutrition and physical activity, the rates were less than 8 percent, but if the nutrition and physical activity were not good, the rates went up to 16 percent," said study co-author Brian Saelens, a professor of pediatrics at Seattle Children's Research Institute, ABC News reported.

The study was one of series of related studies published this week in a special issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.


Toxins Found in Many 'Non-Toxic' Nail Polishes at Calif. Salons

Many nail polishes used in salons and advertised as free of three toxic chemicals actually have high levels of one or more of the chemicals, California officials say.

The mislabeled nail products could harm thousands of employees and customers of the more than 48,000 nail salons in the state, according to the Department of Toxic Substances Control report released Tuesday, the Associated Press reported.

Investigators analyzed 25 brands of nail products, including a number that claimed to be free of the chemicals toluene, dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and formaldehyde, the so-called "toxic three." Exposure to large amounts of the chemicals has been linked to developmental problems, asthma and other illnesses.

Toluene was found in 10 of 12 products that claimed to be free of the chemical, and four of the products had dangerously high levels of toluene. Five of seven products that claimed to be free of the "toxic three" actually had one or more of the chemicals in significant levels, the AP reported.

A decision on possible legal action will be made by the state attorney general's office.


Appeals Court Hears Case on Graphic Warnings on Cigarette Packs

The battle over graphic warning images on cigarette packs resumes Tuesday in a U.S. federal appeals court.

The Obama administration wants cigarette packs to carry shocking images -- such as diseased lungs or a man exhaling smoke through a hole in his windpipe -- in order to discourage potential smokers. Tobacco companies say the measure violates their First Amendment rights, CBS News reported.

A federal judge ruled earlier this year that forcing tobacco companies to place the images on their cigarettes packs violates their constitutional right to free speech. The Obama administration appealed that decision.

The graphic warning labels were supposed to begin appearing on cigarette packs in September. But it's possible the case will go all the way to the Supreme Court and take years to resolve, CBS News reported.


EPA Rejects Petition to Ban 2,4-D Weed Killer

An environmental group's petition to ban the widely used herbicide 2,4-D has been rejected by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The agency said the petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council did not adequately show that 2,4-D was harmful under the conditions in which it is used, The New York Times reported.

The herbicide, first approved in the late 1940s, is one of the most widely used weed killers in the world. It is used by farmers and is an ingredient in many home lawn-care products.

In its petition, the Natural Resources Defense Council cited studies suggesting that exposure to 2, 4-D could cause problems such as cancer, genetic mutations and hormone disruption, The Times reported.

While some of the studies did suggest that high doses of the herbicide could be harmful, they did not establish lack of safety, the EPA said in its ruling.


FDA Delays Decision on Weight-Loss Drug

U.S. regulators will take another three months to decide whether to approve a new obesity drug called Qnexa, drugmaker Vivus Inc. said Monday.

The Food and Drug Administration was scheduled to make a decision by April 17 but that has been changed to July 17 to give the FDA time to assess a new drug safety plan submitted by Vivus, the Associated Press reported.

The FDA rejected the drug in 2010 over concerns that it can cause heart palpitations and birth defects if taken by pregnant women. Vivus resubmitted the drug for approval and an FDA panel of medical advisers voted in February to recommend approval of the drug.

However, the FDA does not have to follow the advice of its expert panels.

If approved, Qnexa would become the first new prescription weight loss pill to reach the U.S. market in more than a decade, the AP reported.


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