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Health Highlights: Jan. 11, 2010

Veterans' Suicide Rate Increases 26 Percent Baseball Great Admits to Steroid Use Asian Companies Warned Against Using Toxins in Toys Mental Health Issues Up for High School, College Students Huge Increases in Drug Prices: Report Sex Good for Men's Hearts: Study

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

Veterans' Suicide Rate Increases 26 Percent

From 2005 to 2007, the suicide rate among 18- to 29-year old males who've left the U.S. military increased 26 percent, according to preliminary data released Monday by the Veterans Affairs Department.

In 2007, the suicide rate for this group was 56.77 per 100,000, compared with 44.99 per 100,000 in 2005. The numbers were calculated using Centers for Disease Control and Prevention figures from 16 states, the Associated Press reported.

One positive finding was that veterans in this group who used VA health care in 2007 were less likely to commit suicide than those who did not. That wasn't the case in 2005.

The VA needs to improve its understanding of what leads to these suicides, and VA facilities need more stringent protocols about how to handle a potentially suicidal veteran, VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said Monday at a conference about the issue, the AP reported.

Veterans account for about 20 percent of suicides committed each year in the U.S., he noted.


Baseball Great Admits to Steroid Use

Baseball great Mark McGwire admitted on Monday that he was using steroids when he slammed a record-breaking 70 homeruns while playing in 1998.

The confession, sent in a statement to the Associated Press, comes right before he is set to join the St. Louis Cardinals in spring training camp as a batting coach.

"It's very emotional, it's telling family members, friends and coaches, you know, it's former teammates to try to get a hold of, you know, that I'm coming clean and being honest," he said during a 20-minute telephone interview with the wire service, his voice repeatedly cracking. "It's the first time they've ever heard me, you know, talk about this. I hid it from everybody."

He repeatedly stressed that his use of steroids was caused by his desire to overcome injuries, get back on the field and prove he was worth his multimillion salary.


Asian Firms Warned Against Using Toxins in Toys

Asian manufacturers shouldn't try to substitute other toxic substances for lead in children's jewelry and other items sold in the United States, says the head of the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

U.S. law forbids the use of lead in children's toys and jewelry.

In taped remarks to be delivered Tuesday in Hong Kong, Inez Tenenbaum warned that her agency would keep a close watch on the imported products, the Associated Press reported.

"I would highly encourage all of you to ensure that toy manufacturers and children's product manufacturers in your country are not substituting cadmium, antimony, barium, in place of lead," Tenenbaum said in a transcript of a speech to children's products manufacturers, exporters and regulators. "All of us should be committed to keeping hazardous or toxic levels of heavy metals out of ... toys and children's products."

On Sunday, the AP reported that some Chinese manufacturers substitute cadmium for lead in inexpensive charm bracelets and pendants sold in the United States. That prompted U.S. officials to launch an investigation.

Along with being a known carcinogen, cadmium can hinder brain development in very young children. Youngsters can get persistent, low-level doses of cadmium by biting or sucking jewelry with a high level of the toxic metal.


Mental Health Issues Up for High School, College Students

Compared to the 1930s, five times as many American high school and college students are struggling with anxiety and other mental health issues, according to a new study.

Researchers reviewed the responses of 77,576 high school or college students who completed the Minnesota Multiphase Personality Inventory questionnaire between 1938 and 2007, the Associated Press reported.

The findings showed that, overall, an average of five times as many students in 2007 surpassed thresholds in one or more mental health categories, compared with students in 1938. In two areas, six times as many students in 2007 scored much higher in two areas:

  • The rate of hypomania (a measure of anxiety and unrealistic optimism) was found in 31 percent of students in 2007, compared with 5 percent in 1938.
  • The rate of depression among students was 6 percent in 2007 and 1 percent in 1938.

The study also found that 24 percent of students in 2007 scored high in a category called "psychopathic deviation" -- defined as having trouble with authority and feeling that rules don't apply to you -- compared with 5 percent of students in 1938, the AP reported.

The findings were released Monday, and the study will appear in a future issue of the journal Clinical Psychology Review.


Huge Increases in Drug Prices: Report

The cost of 416 brand-name drugs increased at least once by 100 percent or more between 2000 and 2008, according to a U.S. Government Accountability Office report to be released Monday.

While most of the major price increases ranged from 100 percent to 499 percent, the prices of 26 brand-name drugs rose more than 10-fold. The largest price increase was 4,200 percent, The New York Times reported.

Drugs meant to treat depression, anxiety and other central nervous system disorders accounted for nearly a third of the drugs affected by substantial price increases, the GAO said. Many drugs used to treat cardiovascular problems or infections also had major increases.

In an e-mailed statement, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America said that drugs represent only 10 percent of overall health care spending in the United States, The Times reported.

"Companies make price adjustments independently as a result of market forces, which include everything from patent expirations" to research costs associated with developing new medicines, the group said.

"It is hard to find a good-faith explanation for why drug prices could go up this much," said Sen. Charles E. Shumer (D-N.Y.), The Times reported. He said the GAO report "will lead to a strong demand for action by Congress."


Sex Good for Men's Hearts: Study

Having frequent sex may almost halve a man's risk of heart disease, according to a U.S. study of more than 1,000 men who were followed for 16 years.

Men who had sex at least twice a week were up to 45 percent less likely to develop life-threatening heart problems than those who had sex once a month or less, reported the Daily Telegraph in England.

The study, published in the American Journal of Cardiology, did not examine how sexual activity affected women's heart health.

The team at the New England Research Institute in Massachusetts said men may gain both physical and emotional benefits from regular sexual activity. In some forms, sex offers a physical activity component that may protect heart health.

The researchers also said men who have sex on a regular basis may be more likely to be in a supportive intimate relationship, which can offer health benefits through stress reduction and social support, the Daily Telegraph reported.

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