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Health Highlights: Jan. 11, 2007

U.S. House Passes Stem Cell Bill More Health Screenings Needed, U.S. Reports Say FDA Expands Use of "Lean" on Food Labels Recalled Air Pumps Pose Explosion Risk Drug Makers Providing More Research Information Cannabis Increases Fatal Crash Risk

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

U.S. House Passes Stem Cell Bill

A bill to loosen restrictions on embryonic stem cell research in the United States was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

But the 253-174 tally was short of the two-thirds margin that would be needed to override a promised veto by President Bush, the wire service said.

The bill is identical to one passed by the House and Senate in 2005 and later vetoed by Bush.

But there's been a change since 2005. The Democrats, who favor expanded stem cell research, now control Congress and they'll keep pushing the bill.

"One way or another, we're going to get this done this year," Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said in a meeting Wednesday with Washington Post reporters and editors.

Under a policy introduced by Bush in August 2001 taxpayer dollars can be used to study only stem cells derived from embryos that had already been destroyed by that date. That covers about 21 colonies of cells out of nearly 400 that currently exist, the Post reported.

The new bill seeks to increase that number by allowing federal funding of research on cells from embryos slated for disposal at fertility clinics and donated by parents.


Americans Need More Health Screening: Reports

While overall quality in the U.S. health system improved in 2006, too few Americans are being screened and counseled to prevent colorectal cancer, obesity, and other conditions, according to two annual reports released Thursday by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The National Healthcare Quality Report and the National Healthcare Disparities Report looked at 40 core quality measures and found a 3.1 percent increase in the quality of care in 2006 -- the same rate of improvement seen in the previous two years.

However, the use of proven prevention strategies is lagging behind other gains in health care. For example:

  • Only about 52 percent of adults reported receiving recommended colorectal cancer screenings. The disease kills some 56,000 Americans each year.
  • Fewer than half of obese adults reported being counseled about diet by a health care professional. About a third of American adults are obese, which increases risks of high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and osteoarthritis.
  • Only 49 percent of people with asthma said they were told how to change their environment to control the disease, and only 28 percent said they received an asthma management plan.
  • Only 48 percent of diabetic adults received all three recommended screenings -- blood sugar tests, foot exams, and eye exams. These screenings can help prevent diabetes complications.


FDA Expands Use of "Lean" on Food Labeling

A final rule to allow expanded use of the nutrient content claim "lean" on food labels was announced Thursday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Under the new rule, labels on meals-on-the-go (such as burritos, pizza rolls, egg rolls, and sandwiches) can carry the word "lean" if the items have less than 8 grams total fat, 3.5 grams or less saturated fat, and less than 80 milligrams of cholesterol per amount customarily consumed (140 grams).

Prior to the rule change, the nutrient content claim "lean" applied only to seafood and game meat products, and to meal and main dish products that met FDA criteria.

"FDA acknowledges that meals-on-the-go have made their way into consumers' diets as a convenient meal option. With controlled nutrient and portion size, these foods serve a useful purpose in assisting consumers in selecting a diet that is consistent with recommended U.S. Dietary Guidelines," the agency said in a news release.


Recalled Air Pumps Pose Explosion Hazard

Sportsstuff Inc. of Omaha, Neb. is recalling about 11,000 air pumps used to inflate products such as rafts and toys. The pumps can overheat and explode, posing risks to users and bystanders.

So far, the company has received 52 reports of pumps exploding, including 13 cases of lacerations. Some people suffered facial cuts, and there was one reported eye injury, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said.

The recalled products are 2.5-PSI pumps with model numbers 57-1504-A and 57-1504. The model number is located on the Underwriters' Laboratories label on the top of each pump.

The pumps were sold from January 2004 to January 2005 at stores across the United States. Some pumps were sold individually and others were bundled with an inflatable water trampoline.

Consumers with these pumps should immediately stop using them and contact Sportsstuff for a free replacement. Call the company toll-free at 888-814-8833 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT, Monday through Friday.


Drug Makers Providing More Research Information

Since medical journals started to pressure pharmaceutical companies to enter studies in a U.S. government registry, drug makers have done a better job of providing important information about their research, says an editorial published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The editorial said that 8 percent of the 2,983 studies added to the federal registry in 2006 did not describe key outcomes, such as deaths or cholesterol levels, being measured in the trials. In previous years, the rate was 26 percent, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. federal registry was launched in 2000 but there was only limited drug industry participation until late 2004, when the members of the International Committee on Medical Journal Editors said they'd only publish studies that were signed into the registry in the early stages, the AP reported.

The committee made the move, in part, to prevent drug makers from trying to hide the findings of trials that produced unfavorable results.


Cannabis Increases Fatal Crash Risk

Drivers who tested positive for cannabis over a 10-year period were 29 percent more likely to cause a fatal crash than drivers who didn't use the drug, says a study in the current issue of the Canadian Journal of Public Health.

Researchers analyzed test results from 32,543 U.S. motorists. Between 1993 and 2003, 1,567 of those drivers tested positive for cannabis, but not for alcohol.

"Those who tested positive for cannabis had 29 percent more risk of having committed a driving action that led to the crash than those who did not," study leader Michel Bedard, director of public health at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ontario, told CBC News.

The increased risk linked to cannabis persisted even after the researchers factored in age, sex and previous driving record.

"It tells us that cannabis is not a safe substitute for alcohol, and I especially mean that for young people," Bedard told CBC News.

The study authors said more research is needed in order to determine at what dose cannabis starts to impair driving ability.

Consumer News