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Health Highlights: Feb. 14, 2015

U.S. Govt. Approves Genetically Modified Apples Most Research on U.S. Health Care System Doesn't Use Gold Standard: Study

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

U.S. Govt. Approves Genetically Modified Apples

Genetically modified apples that are resistant to turning brown when sliced or opened were approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday.

The apples, developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits of Canada, will be available in small quantities by late 2016. But consumers will probably have to wait at least another year before enough trees are planted to produce significant amounts of the apples, The Des Moines Register reported.

The so-called Arctic apple should prove attractive to restaurants, grocery stores, airlines and other companies that offer pre-sliced fruit, said Okanagan co-founder Neal Carter, The Wall Street Journal reported.

"We really know that getting the consumer to buy in to the product and the technology has to be the priority," Carter said. The company plans to market two varieties of the apple -- the Arctic Granny and the Arctic Golden, new versions of the Granny Smith and Golden Delicious, the Journal reported.

The prospect of such genetically modified foods is not without controversy.

Some apple industry executives worry that biotech apples, while safe to eat, will meet with resistance from some consumers. They're also concerned that the new apples might hurt exports of apples to countries opposed to genetically modified foods, The New York Times reported.


Most Research on U.S. Health Care System Doesn't Use Gold Standard: Study

Few studies looking at ways to improve the United States' health care system use the gold standard of scientific research, according to a new study.

This standard -- known as random assignment -- is routinely used in the development of new drugs and compares results among patients randomly selected to receive either a new therapy or no treatment, The New York Times reported.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers analyzed hundreds of studies about improving health care and found that only 18 percent of those conducted in the United States used the random assignment method, compared with 41 percent of studies conducted in other countries.

The findings were published Thursday in the journal Science.

The MIT researchers and experts not involved in the study said the fact that so few studies in the United States use random assignment is a missed opportunity at a time when the country's health care system is experiencing so many challenges and so much change under the Affordable Care Act.

"At the end of the day they will have very little definitive evidence about whether these great innovations they are funding are actually working," Jon Baron, president of the nonprofit Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy, told The Times.

About 18 percent of the U.S. economy is consumed by health care, which accounts for about a quarter of federal government spending.

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