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Health Highlights: Dec. 15, 2010

No Toys With Fast Food Meals: Lawsuit Diabetes Affects 1 in 16 U.S. Women Who Give Birth in Hospital: Report Ban Donor Blood From People With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: FDA Panel Dannon Settles Charges About Product Health Claims Lack of Sleep Affects Looks: Study Fighter Pilots' Brains Different FDA Reexamines Safety of Amalgam Dental Fillings

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

No Toys With Fast Food Meals: Lawsuit

A lawsuit launched Wednesday seeks to stop McDonald's from using toys to market fast food to young children.

The legal action by a California mother and The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which was filed in California Superior Court in San Francisco, claims that this type of marketing exploits a child's vulnerability and therefore violates a number of consumer protection laws, the Associated Press reported.

Such marketing methods are increasingly coming under fire.

Recently, San Francisco became the first city to forbid fast-food restaurants from including toys with children's meals that fail to meet certain nutritional standards. Santa Clara County passed a similar law, the AP reported.


Diabetes Affects 1 in 16 U.S. Women Who Give Birth in Hospital: Report

About 6.4 percent of the 4.2 million women who gave birth in U.S. hospitals in 2008 had pre-existing diabetes or developed diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes), says a new federal government report. Both types of diabetes pose risks for mother and infant.

The 35,500 women with pre-existing diabetes and the 232,300 with gestational diabetes were more likely to have a cesarean section (64 percent and 46 percent, respectively), than those who did not have diabetes (32 percent), according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The analysis of data from the 2008 Nationwide Inpatient Samples also found:

  • Hospital costs for deliveries were $3,800 each for women without diabetes, $4,500 for those with gestational diabetes (18 percent higher), and $6,000 for those with pre-existing diabetes (55 percent higher).
  • The total cost for women with diabetes hospitalized for either childbirth or pregnancy-related problems was more than $1.4 billion, or 8.5 percent of all maternal hospitalization costs.
  • Among women who had a baby during a hospital stay, 43 percent of stays for women with pre-existing diabetes and 36 percent of stays for women with gestational diabetes were billed to Medicaid, compared with 49 percent and 57 percent, respectively, to private insurance.


Ban Donor Blood From People With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: FDA Panel

People diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome should not be allowed to donate blood until it can be determined if the disorder is caused by an infectious agent, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration expert panel said Tuesday.

Some studies have suggested that a virus called XMRV may be linked to the condition, Bloomberg news reported. There is no cure or medicines approved to treat chronic fatigue syndrome, which makes patients exhausted and can cause muscle and joint pain, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The American Red Cross announced Dec. 3 that it will not accept blood donations from people diagnosed with the condition.

The CDC says that more than 1 million Americans have chronic fatigue syndrome, Bloomberg reported.


Dannon Settles Charges About Product Health Claims

The Dannon Company has agreed to pay $21 million to settle charges that it made improper health claims about its yogurt and dairy drinks, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission announced Wednesday.

In an advertising campaign, Dannon claimed that a single serving of its Activia yogurt could benefit people with irregularity and that its DanActive dairy drink could reduce the risk of colds and flu, The New York Times reported.

The FTC, which worked with 39 state attorneys general in the investigation, said Dannon lacked scientific evidence to back those claims. The $21 million settlement will be paid to the states involved in the case.

Dannon will no longer be able to make such health claims unless they are approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the FTC said, The Times reported.


Lack of Sleep Affects Looks: Study

A new study suggest that you really do need your beauty sleep.

"A good night's sleep does not only improve your physiological health, it will also make you look healthier and more attractive, which in turn improves the chance of better treatments in a wide range of social situations," said lead author John Axelsson, an associate professor in the clinical neuroscience department at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, reported.

The researchers had 65 people assess photos taken of 23 participants after a good night's sleep and after they stayed up for 31 hours straight. The people in the photos were perceived as 4 percent less attractive, 6 percent less healthy, and 19 percent more tired after they were sleep deprived.

The study appears online in the British Medical Journal.

"We propose that sleep is a cheap and effective beauty treatment, both acutely and in the long-term," said Axelsson, reported. "Sleep should be seen as the body's natural beauty treatment and a clear alternative or complement to other beauty treatments."


Fighter Pilots' Brains Different

The unique structure of fighter pilots' brains may contribute to their ability to perform well under intense pressure, according to a new study.

U.K. researchers compared brain scans of 11 Royal Air Force pilots and healthy volunteers who were not pilots. They found differences in the white matter and connections of the right hemisphere that could explain the pilots' heightened cognitive abilities, BBC News reported.

It's not clear whether the fighter pilots' are born this way or develop these brain differences as a result of their training, said the University College London team.

The study appears in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The researchers want to examine the brain structures of other professionals, such as sports stars, to see if they also have unique characteristics, BBC News reported.


FDA Reexamines Safety of Amalgam Dental Fillings

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is rehearing evidence about the safety of amalgam dental fillings, less than 18 months after the agency declared the so-called silver fillings safe.

The amalgam -- which contains about 50 percent liquid mercury in a mix of powdered copper, tin and silver -- is safe, effective and one of the most inexpensive dental products on the market, according to dentists' groups, NewsDay reported.

But four consumer advocacy organizations challenged the FDA's March 2009 ruling about amalgam, which has been used in the United States and elsewhere for more than 150 years. The critics point to new studies that suggest amalgam fillings may be associated with neurological conditions and even Alzheimer's disease in some people.

An FDA panel of experts met Tuesday and Wednesday to consider evidence from several scientific studies. They also heard from people who say they've been harmed by the fillings, NewsDay reported.

Some countries have banned amalgam fillings and others have restricted its use.

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