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Health Highlights: Dec. 11, 2007

More Americans Lack Health Insurance: CDC Survey Fasting May Help Protect Heart, Study Finds Fewer Eighth-Graders Smoking, Using Drugs Drug Called Dasatinib Effective in Leukemia Patients California Panel Recommends Review of Caffeinated Beverages Lead Fears Prompt Recall of Children's Sunglasses

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

More Americans Lack Health Insurance: CDC Survey

Some 42.5 million Americans don't have health insurance, up from about 41 million in 1997, according to a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey.

Based on findings from the National Health Interview Survey of 41,823 people conducted in the first half of this year, the CDC estimated that 30.8 million people were uninsured for more than a year and about 53.2 million were uninsured for at least part of the year prior to the survey, Bloomberg news reported.

About 22 percent of working adults younger than age 64 were uninsured for at least part of the preceding year, and 14 percent had no health coverage for more than one year. Among jobless people, 52 percent were uninsured in the preceding year, and 33 percent were uninsured for more than one year.

However, the survey found that the percentage of uninsured children has continued to decline, Bloomberg reported. In 1997, about 9.9 million (13.9 percent) of children were uninsured, compared with 6.4 million (8.6 percent) in the first half of 2007.

While the CDC put the number of uninsured Americans at 41 million, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 47 million Americans were uninsured in 2006, Bloomberg reported.

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Fasting May Help Protect Heart: Study

People who fast for one day per month may have healthier hearts, suggests a Utah study presented at a recent American Heart Association conference, the Associated Press reported.

The study of 515 people found that 59 percent of those who skipped meals one day a month were diagnosed with heart disease, compared with 67 percent of those who did not regularly fast. The researchers calculated that people who fasted once a month were about 40 percent less likely to develop heart disease than those who never took a break from eating.

The study, partly funded by the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, doesn't provide proof that periodic fasting is good for everyone, the researchers emphasized.

"It might suggest these are people who just control eating habits better," and this type of discipline extends into other lifestyle habits that benefit their health, study leader Benjamin Horne, a heart disease researcher at the Intermountain Medical Center and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, told the AP.

Mormons account for about 70 percent of Utah's population. Religious practice dictates that they abstain from eating on the first Sunday of every month.

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Fewer Eighth-Graders Smoking, Using Drugs

Smoking and illicit drug use among eighth-grade students in the United States declined over the past year, according to the 2007 Monitoring the Future survey released Tuesday by the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA).

It found that daily cigarette smoking among eighth-graders decreased from 4 percent in 2006 to 3 percent this year. It peaked at 10.4 percent in 1996. Marijuana use by eighth-graders declined from 11.7 percent in 2006 to 10.3 percent in 2007. It peaked at 18.3 percent in 1996.

This year's survey also noted a long-term decline in alcohol use among eighth-graders, down to 31.8 percent in 2007 from a peak of 46.8 percent in 1994.

The annual survey, which also includes students in grades 10 and 12, has identified a downward trend in both smoking and illicit drug use among students in all three grades during the last decade. For example, marijuana use among grade 10 students was 27.6 percent in 2007, compared to a peak of 34.8 percent in 1997. Past-year marijuana use among grade 12 students was 31.7 percent this year, compared to a peak of 38.5 percent in 1997.

"We are especially heartened to see the decrease in smoking among eighth-graders, and will be watching the next two years closely to see if this decline will stick as these kids get older," NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow said in a prepared statement. "If this change in attitude is carried with them throughout the rest of their teen years, we could see a dramatic drop in smoking-related deaths in their generation."

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Drug Called Dasatinib Effective in Leukemia Patients

The drug dasatinib (Sprycel) remains highly effective in patients with chronic myelogenous leukemia who couldn't tolerate Gleevec or developed a resistance to it, according to updated findings from an international study.

"Previous results showed that about 65 percent of patients who couldn't tolerate Gleevec or became resistant will benefit from dasatinib. Now, with a longer follow-up of at least two years, these responses are very durable. Very few people have relapsed on the drug," Dr. Richard Stone, of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, said in a prepared statement.

Progression-free survival 15 months after beginning treatment with dasatinib was 90 percent and overall survival was 96 percent. Doses of the drug were interrupted at times for 87 percent of patients and doses were reduced in 73 percent of patients due to side effects, including lowered blood cell counts and excess fluid in the chest cavity, the study found.

Stone was to present the findings Tuesday at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hematology, in Atlanta. Dasatinib, an oral tyrosine kinase inhibitor, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2006.

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California Panel Recommends Review of Caffeinated Beverages

A review should be conducted to determine if energy drinks and soft drinks that contain caffeine pose a health risk to pregnant women and their babies, a California state advisory panel said Monday.

A number of studies have suggested a link between caffeine and miscarriages, premature births and low birth weight, said panel member Hillary Klonoff-Cohen, the Associated Press reported.

But many health organizations and facilities, including the March of Dimes and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, have said that pregnant women can safely consume moderate amounts of caffeine -- about seven soft drinks or two cups of coffee a day.

The Science Advisory Board Developmental and Reproductive Toxicant Identification Committee also recommended a review of Bisphenol-A, which is used to make a number of plastic products, including baby bottles, reusable food containers, and water bottles. Research has shown that the chemical affects hormone levels, the AP reported.

The reviews could lead to warning labels on beverages that contain caffeine, and on plastic containers made with Bisphenol-A. The state does not have to follow the panel's recommendations.

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Lead Fears Prompt Recall of Children's Sunglasses

Possible high lead levels in paint prompted the recall of about 260,000 pairs of Chinese-made children's sunglasses, said the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The recall covers 15 styles of sunglasses imported by FGX International Inc., of Smithfield, R.I., and sold for between $3 and $11 nationwide from January through November, United Press International reported.

The styles -- printed on the left arm of the sunglasses -- include: Foster Grant, Balloon, Bond, Boom, Bubble Gum, Bullseye, Buzz, Conqueror Jr., Curly Q, Encompass Jr. IK, Gadget IK Iceman, Lily, Outer Space and Pluto.

Adults should take these sunglasses away from children and return them to FGX International for a free replacement or refund, the news service said.

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