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Health Highlights: April 24, 2015

Tanning Salons Sued by New York State Attorney General Diet Pepsi to Switch from Aspartame to Sucralose Heavy Drinking, Binge Drinking on the Rise in U.S. Minnesota Declares State of Emergency Over Bird Flu FDA Warns Supplement Makers About Stimulant

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

Tanning Salons Sued by New York State Attorney General

Two tanning salon chains are being sued by New York's attorney general, who accuses them of downplaying the health risks of indoor tanning.

The lawsuits against Portofino Spas and Total Tan were filed Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

Both chains falsely advertise the health benefits of indoor tanning by claiming it is a safe alternative to outdoor tanning, said Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. He added that lawsuits are also coming against Planet Fitness and Beach Bum Tanning.

Total Tan's lawyers denied the allegations and a spokesman for Planet Fitness said the company is trying to solve the issue, the AP reported. Comments were not obtained from the other two companies.


Diet Pepsi to Switch from Aspartame to Sucralose

Aspartame in Diet Pepsi sold in the United States will be replaced with sucralose, PepsiCo Inc. said Friday.

The decision to switch from one artificial sweetener to another was made after consumer surveys showed the presence of aspartame was the main reason why Americans are reducing their consumption of diet colas, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Diet Pepsi without aspartame will begin appearing in U.S. stores in August. Aspartame will continue to be used in Diet Pepsi sold in other countries.

Health concerns are turning U.S. consumers away from artificial sweeteners, even though the Food and Drug Administration says they are safe. Aspartame has become increasingly unpopular among consumers, WSJ reported.


Heavy Drinking, Binge Drinking on the Rise in U.S.

Rates of heavy and binge drinking among adults 21 and older are on the rise in the United States, researchers say.

Those rates are increasing more among women, but they still drink much less than men, according to the study published Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.

"The percentage of people who drink is not changing much, but among drinkers we are seeing more heavy drinking and more binge drinking," said co-lead author Ali Mokdad, a professor at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, USA Today reported.

"We're going in the wrong direction," Mokdad added.

Heavy drinking is defined as more than two drinks a day for men and more than one drink a day for women. Binge drinking is defined as at least five drinks on one occasion for men and at least four drinks for women.

The study also found "huge variations" in rates of heavy and binge drinking across the country. The highest rate of binge drinking (36 percent) was in Wisconsin's Menominee County, while the lowest rate (5.9 percent) was in Madison County, Idaho, USA Today reported.

The highest rate of heavy drinking (22.4 percent) was in Esmeralda County, Nevada, while the lowest rate (2.4 percent) was in Hancock County, Tennessee.

In general, the highest rates of overall and problem drinking were along the Pacific coast, northern parts of the West and Midwest and in New England, USA Today reported.


Minnesota Declares State of Emergency Over Bird Flu

A state of emergency has been declared in Minnesota because bird flu has struck more than 40 poultry farms.

The state is also offering the anti-flu drug Tamiflu to workers who have handled dead and dying birds, NBC News reported.

The H5N2 bird flu virus has been detected in a dozen states and more than 7 million poultry birds have been slaughtered in an effort to halt the spread of the virus, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In Minnesota, 70 of the 87 people who might have handled sick or dead birds have agreed to take Tamiflu. There is no evidence that people can catch H5N2, but they can catch other types of bird flu, such as H5N1 and H7N9, and the advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is to take Tamiflu, just in case, USA Today reported.

"There's no reason for anybody in the state of Minnesota to be concerned about their own health or that of their children," Governor Mark Dayton said at a news conference.

It's believed that H5N2 is being carried by waterfowl migrating from Asia, and poultry producers have been advised on ways to protect their flocks, USA Today reported.


FDA Warns Supplement Makers About Stimulant

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday sent warning letters to the makers of eight dietary supplements that state their products contain a potentially dangerous compound that acts like amphetamine.

According to The New York Times, the letters notify the five companies that the chemical, known as BMPEA, is not an appropriate dietary ingredient or an extract of the rare shrub Acacia rigidula, as the product labels claim.

Earlier this month, Harvard researchers reported on the presence of BMPEA in 11 of 21 weight-loss and sports supplements they tested. At the time, they also said the FDA first discovered BMPEA in these products in 2013, but failed to take any action or issue any warnings to the public.

The companies the agency notified Thursday include Hi-Tech Pharmaceuticals, Human Evolution Supplements, Train Naked Labs, Better Body Sports and Tribravus Enterprises, according to the Times.

Steve Mister, president and chief executive of the Council for Responsible Nutrition, told the Times that, "We see this as a positive step to getting a potentially dangerous ingredient out of the marketplace."

Vitamin Shoppe and Vitacost, which are owned by the supermarket chain Kroger, have already said they would stop selling the supplements. And the Canadian government pulled the products from store shelves last December because of safety concerns, the Times reported.

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