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Health Highlights: Aug 10, 2015

School 'Fat Letters' Don't Work: Study Coca-Cola Funding Scientists Who Shift Focus to Exercise, Not Diet, in Weight Control Medicare Will Cover Costly New Cancer Drug

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

School 'Fat Letters' Don't Work: Study

School programs to monitor students' weight and send updates home have almost no effect, a new study finds.

Schools in 10 states are required to send these notifications -- so-called "fat letters" -- home to parents. In 2003, Arkansas became the first state to implement this type of program, The New York Times reported.

This study of high school juniors and seniors in Arkansas found that students whose families received the updates showed no notable improvement in body mass index (BMI - an estimate of body fat based on height and weight) scores after two years, compared to those whose families did not receive the updates.

The study in The Journal of Adolescent Health raises questions about the use of the letters.

"The typical 16-year-old's reaction to getting a letter at home and having your parents tell you to eat right and exercise, would be, 'Don't nag me,' " study author Kevin Gee, assistant professor of education policy, University of California, Davis, told The Times.

A 2011 study of younger students in California yielded similar findings about the use of such letters, and many health, parent and educator groups oppose such programs.

"There is so much stigma with being overweight, and children in adolescence are particularly sensitive to that," Mary Story, an expert on teen obesity at Duke University, told The Times. "In some schools, there is no privacy screen when they're being weighed, and the process is embarrassing for them."


Coca-Cola Funding Scientists Who Shift Focus to Exercise, Not Diet, in Weight Control

Coca-Cola is funding research by scientists who are promoting the message that maintaining a healthy weight hinges on getting more exercise and worrying less about reducing calorie intake.

The world's largest maker of sugary drinks has partnered with scientists who are promoting this message through social media, at conferences and in medical journals, The New York Times reported.

Coke is giving financial and other support to a new nonprofit group called the Global Energy Balance Network, which claims that Americans need to exercise more and pay less attention to how much they eat and drink.

This is a misleading message and part of the beverage giant's campaign to quell criticism about the role sugary drinks have played in rising rates of obesity and type 2 diabetes, health experts say.

They note that what people eat and drink has a much greater effect on body weight than physical activity, The Times reported.


Medicare Will Cover Costly New Cancer Drug

Medicare will pay for a new, expensive cancer medication that costs about $178,000 for a standard course of treatment, the Obama administration says.

Beginning Oct. 1, Medicare will make additional payments for patients with a particularly aggressive type of leukemia to receive Amgen's Blincyto, The New York Times reported.

The announcement reverses a preliminary decision in April, when the government said Medicare would not pay extra for Blincyto because clinical studies were "not sufficient to demonstrate" that it offered substantial benefits to patients with acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.

However, the final rule to be published in the Federal Register on Aug. 17 says the administration received "additional information and input" from Amgen and other experts and now agrees with their opinion, The Times reported.

That means that Blincyto qualifies for special "add-on payments" that Medicare makes to hospitals for new treatments whose costs are not yet included in standard lump-sum payments for treating patients with a particular health problem.

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