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Health Highlights: Jan. 28, 2010

Students Benefit From Milk Switch: Study Rural Hospitals Admit More Medicare Patients States Weigh Tougher Rules on Youth Head Injuries Vital Social Skill Seems to Develop at Young Age

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

Students Benefit From Milk Switch: Study

Substituting low-fat and fat-free milk for whole milk in schools can greatly reduce students' consumption of calories and fat and help combat childhood obesity, says a new study.

It examined the impact of the New York City Department of Education's decision to switch from whole fat to low-fat/fat-free milk in 2005. The change meant that a milk-drinking student was exposed to 33 fewer calories and 3.4 fewer grams of fat per school day, which works out to nearly 6,000 fewer calories and more than 600 fewer grams of fat a year.

The effect was even greater for a student who drinks white milk -- 7,000 fewer calories and more than 900 fewer grams of fat a year. The researchers also found that school purchases of milk increased 1.3 percent after the switch.

Making changes to school milk policy can help reduce students' consumption of calories and fat without decreasing their intake of important vitamins and minerals, the researchers concluded.

The study appears in the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Rural Hospitals Admit More Medicare Patients

In 2007, Medicare patients accounted for 45 percent of all stays at rural hospitals and 35 percent of stays at urban hospitals, says a new U.S. government report.

The latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality also found that 36 percent of urban hospital patients and 25 percent of rural hospital patients were covered by private insurance. About 20 percent of patients in both urban and rural hospitals had Medicaid and about 5 percent were uninsured.

Among the other findings:

  • About half of the 2,000 rural hospitals in the United States had fewer than 50 beds, compared with 20 percent of urban hospitals.
  • Among the two-thirds of rural residents who were hospitalized in rural hospitals, the top five illnesses were: pneumonia (267,000 stays); congestive heart failure (166,000 stays); chronic obstructive lung disease (146,000 stays); chest pain (110,000 stays); and fluid and electrolyte disorders, primarily dehydration and fluid overload (106,000 stays).
  • Among the one-third of rural residents admitted to urban hospitals, the top five illnesses were: hardening of the arteries (108,000 stays); osteoarthritis (79,000 stays); back problems (75,000 stays); medical device, implant or graft complications (61,000 stays); and heart attack (61,000 stays).


States Weigh Tougher Rules on Youth Head Injuries

Measures to tighten restrictions on when young athletes can return to play after suffering a head injury are being considered by a number of states.

Last year, Washington state set a precedent when it passed what's considered the strongest return-to-play law in the nation. It forbids athletes under 18 from returning to the game unless they have written approval from a licensed health-care provider. Similar bills are pending in several other states, including California and Pennsylvania, the Associated Press reported.

Last year, Maine lawmakers approved creation of a working group on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of concussions in young athletes. New Jersey has created a commission to examine brain injury research.

On Monday, a U.S. House committee will hold a forum to look at how high schools and colleges handle athlete concussions, the AP reported. The same committee has held hearings on head injuries in the NFL.


Vital Social Skill Seems to Develop at Young Age

Babies develop an important social skill -- gazing -- when they're as young as 5 months old, according to a British study.

The researchers found that when babies pay joint attention to an object, they use an area of the brain (left prefrontal cortex) that's involved in complex cognitive and social behaviors, United Press International reported.

Joint attention -- when two people share attention to the same object -- is an important social skill necessary for teaching, language learning and collaboration, the researchers explained. Impairment in joint attention is one of the earliest signs of autism.

The study appears in the journal Biology Letters.

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