Health Highlights: April 20, 2010

School Lunches Threaten National Security: Study Obesity Gene Variant Linked to Brain Shrinkage Many Americans Believe Marijuana Has Medical Benefits: Poll NFL Donates $1 Million for Brain Injury Research

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

School Lunches Threaten National Security: Study

High-calorie school lunches are a threat to U.S. national security, according to a study released Tuesday by Mission: Readiness, a group of retired military officers.

Military recruitment is being jeopardized because school lunches are causing many children to become overweight or obese, which means that fewer young people can meet the military's physical fitness requirements, the Associated Press reported.

The study found that 27 percent of Americans ages 17 to 24 are too heavy to join the military.

Mission: Readiness wants Congress to pass a nutrition bill that would make school lunches healthier, the AP reported.


Obesity Gene Variant Linked to Brain Shrinkage

A variant of the obesity gene puts more than one-third of Americans at risk for Alzheimer's and other brain diseases, according to a new study.

It was already known that people with this common variant of the FTO gene are at increased risk for becoming obese. This new study found that the same FTO variant is also linked to brain shrinkage, United Press International reported.

University of California, Los Angeles researchers studied 206 elderly people and found that those with the FTO variant had up to 12 percent less tissue in some parts of the brain, the news service said.

"If you have the bad FTO gene, your weight affects your brain adversely in terms of tissue loss," senior author Paul Thompson, a professor of neurobiology, said in a news release. "If you don't carry FTO, higher body weight doesn't translate into brain deficits."

The study was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


Many Americans Believe Marijuana Has Medical Benefits: Poll

While 74 percent of Americans believe marijuana has medical benefits and 60 percent support the idea of medical marijuana, only 33 percent favor legalization of the drug and 55 percent oppose it, a new Associated Press-CNBC poll found.

Age influenced opinions. People under 30 were the only group where a majority (54 percent) favored legalization. The highest level of opposition (73 percent) was among those 65 and older. Women and people in rural and suburban areas were also more likely to oppose legalization.

The poll also found that two-thirds of Democrats and 53 percent of Republicans support the idea of medical marijuana, the AP reported.

Respondents' opinions about legalizing marijuana or allowing it to be used for medicinal purposes were largely the same across the country.

When asked if the cost of enforcing existing laws is too high, 45 percent said yes and 48 percent said the cost is about right. Those most likely to say the cost is too high were men, young people and Democrats.


NFL Donates $1 Million for Brain Injury Research

Brain injury researchers at the Boston University School of Medicine have received a $1 million donation from the National Football League.

The money will be used by the Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy to continue investigating the long-term effects of repetitive brain trauma in football players and other athletes, the Associated Press reported.

The CSTE has been a major contributor to evidence that athletes who suffer repeated blows to the head can develop a degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), which is associated with cognitive and behavioral problems later in life, and eventually dementia.

The NFL is the first sports league to provide funding to support CTE research at the center, the AP reported.

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