Health Highlights: April 25, 2006

Lack of Milk During Pregnancy Leads to Smaller Babies: Study Vatican Still Studying Condom Issue Malaria Experts Criticize World Bank Many Americans Know Little About Mental Illness: Survey Narcolepsy Drug May Help Treat Cocaine Addiction U.S. Concerned About Deadly Lung Disease in Food Workers

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

Lack of Milk During Pregnancy Leads to Smaller Babies: Study

Pregnant women who don't drink enough milk -- and therefore don't get enough vitamin D -- are more likely to give birth to smaller babies, says a study by researchers at McGill University and the University of Calgary, Canada.

The study of about 300 pregnant women, ages 19 to 45, found that those who drank less than 250 milliliters of milk a day (about a glass) delivered smaller babies than women who drank more milk, CTV news reported.

The findings were published Tuesday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Smaller babies have higher rates of obesity, hypertension and diabetes as they age, say medical experts.

Vitamin D, which promotes bone and organ growth, is made naturally through skin exposure to sunlight. However, pregnant women are often told to avoid sun exposure due to chloasma, a blotchy skin condition that sunlight can make worse or permanent, CTV news reported.


Vatican Still Studying Condom Issue

While the Vatican is conducting a study on whether it can condone the use of condoms by married couples in order to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic, officials said Tuesday that there is no impending pronouncement.

Last weekend, an Italian newspaper reported that Cardinal Javier Lozano Barragan, head of the Vatican's office for health care, said his office would soon release a document on married couples, condoms and HIV/AIDS, the Associated Press reported.

However, Barragan said Tuesday that his office was merely studying the issue at the request of the pope.

"We are conducting a very profound scientific, technical and moral study" that will be presented to the pope, he told Vatican Radio.

In recent years, the Vatican has come under increasing criticism for its refusal to approve the use of condoms by married couples to prevent the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.


Malaria Experts Criticize World Bank

The World Bank faked data, approved useless treatments and broke promises about providing funding to combat malaria, say a dozen experts who signed an opinion piece published online Tuesday in The Lancet medical journal.

The article accuses the World Bank of falsifying data to indicate that progress was being made against malaria and of approving an obsolete drug called chloroquine for anti-malaria programs in India, the Associated Press reported.

In addition, the experts charged that the World Bank failed to honor a 2000 pledge of between $300 million and $500 million in loans (providing only between $100 million and $150 million) to fight malaria in Africa.

"The bank failed to lend Africa the funds for malaria control that it said it would, and rather than admit this with candor, the bank concealed the fact by using untransparent and contradictory accounting," Amir Attaran, a lawyer at the Institute of Population Health at the University of Ottawa, Canada, wrote in the article.

The World Bank denied the charges but did say it would try harder to direct more money to anti-malaria programs, the AP reported.


Many Americans Know Little About Mental Illness: Survey

Many Americans (44 percent) know little about the symptoms, causes and treatments for mental illnesses, but 84 percent agree that they would benefit from knowing more about the warning signs of such disorders, says a survey released Tuesday by the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

"The consequences of this gap in knowledge are quite serious," Dr. Carolyn Robinowtiz, president-elect of the APA, said in a prepared statement. "About one in five Americans suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder during any given year. This means few families are untouched by a mental illness. All families will benefit from understanding how these disorders can impact their lives.

One-third of the respondents mistakenly thought that emotional or personal weakness is a major cause of mental illnesses, and nearly as many said they believed old age is a major cause. However, mental illness is caused by genetic and environmental factors, traumatic events, and other physical illnesses and injuries that have psychiatric side effects, the APA said.

The survey also found that 31 percent of adults said they wouldn't seek treatment for mental illness for fear of what other people would think.

Robinowitz noted that common mental illnesses can be successfully treated in most cases. "Left untreated, mental illnesses can take an enormous toll on family life, the workplace, and society as a whole," she said.

Mental disorders account for four of the 10 leading causes of disability in the United States. The economic burden of depression alone in the U.S. in 2000 was an estimated $83 billion.


Narcolepsy Drug May Help Treat Cocaine Addiction

The U.S. National Institutes of Health is spending $10.8 million on three clinical trials investigating whether modafinil -- a drug used to treat narcolepsy -- is effective as a treatment for cocaine addiction.

Previous evidence suggests that modafinil can help cocaine addicts kick their addiction. It's believed that modafinil may blunt addicts' cravings for cocaine and may also counter the damage that the drug causes to users' brain circuits, which helps continue the cycle of addiction, the Associated Press reported.

Modafinil may help restore proper function of an important brain chemical called dopamine in cocaine addicts, said Dr. Nora Volkow, director of the NIH's National Institute on Drug Abuse.

The NIH studies -- being conducted at the University of Pennsylvania, the University of Texas in Houston, Boston University, and other sites -- include about 650 cocaine users. Results from the first of those clinical trials could be available by the end of the year, the AP reported.

Despite about two decades of research, scientists have been unable to find a medication to treat cocaine addiction.


U.S. Concerned About Deadly Lung Disease in Food Workers

U.S. government scientists are concerned about the increasing number of cases of food workers with a potentially fatal lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans, which is linked to chemicals used in food flavorings.

The disease has been found among workers in popcorn plants throughout the Midwest, and was linked to diacetyl, which is used to enhance flavor or impart the taste of butter. The disease was found in nearly 200 popcorn plant employees and killed at least three workers, the Associated Press reported.

"Now we've got cases of bronchiolitis obliterans among workers in other plants that use flavorings and in plants that make the flavorings," Dr. Kathleen Kreiss, chief of the field studies branch of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), told the Baltimore Sun.

New cases include an employee of a Baltimore-area flavoring company, a man at a North Carolina potato chip plant, a worker at a Chicago candy maker, and employees at a Cincinnati flavoring plant.

The cases have NIOSH scientists questioning the food industry's commitment to protecting its workers.

Bronchiolitis obliterans is an irreversible, progressive condition that is often fatal without a lung transplant.

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