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Health Highlights: Jan. 3, 2007

Cervical Cancer Admissions Fall More Than One-Third U.S. Health Spending Grows, But Results Fall Short: Report FDA Not Using Advisory Committees Effectively: Report Starbucks, A&W; to Cut Trans Fats From Foods Trauma of War Boosts Heart-Attack Risk for Aging Veterans: Study

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

Cervical Cancer Admissions Fall More Than One-Third

Hospitalization rates for cervical cancer cases declined 36 percent between 1994 and 2004, according to the latest News and Numbers issued Wednesday by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The statistical breakdown showed that during those 10 years, the number of admissions dropped from 25.9 patients to 16.6 patients per every 100,000 women, and the number of admissions per year fell from 34,600 to 24,800.

The study also found that in 2004:

  • Cervical cancer hospitalizations were more than 40 percent higher in the South than in the West (19.0 versus 13.2 admissions per 100,000).
  • Women 18 to 44 accounted for half of all hospitalizations for cervical cancer; women 45 to 64 accounted for 37 percent.
  • Hysterectomy was performed in 60 percent of all hospital stays for cervical cancer. Women in the West were almost 40 percent more likely to have a hysterectomy than women in the Northeast.
  • Private insurers were billed for half of the hospital stays for cervical cancer. Medicaid was billed for 28 percent, Medicare got the bill for 11 percent of the stays, and 7 percent were uninsured.


U.S. Health Spending Grows, But Results Fall Short: Report

The United States has had one of the highest growth rates in per capita health-care spending since 1980 among developed countries, but does not appear to provide substantially greater results for its citizens on important health measures, a new report finds.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation's latest installment of Snapshots: Health Care Costs, the United States has spent more per capita on health care than other countries -- 15.2 percent of the gross domestic product in 2003, up from 8.8 percent in 1980. This almost 7 percentage-point increase in the health share of GDP is larger than increases seen in other high-income countries, or put another way, at least three percentage points higher than for any of the 19 developed countries examined in the group's analysis.

This growing gap between health-care spending in the United States and other higher-income countries -- all of which provide universal health coverage -- should encourage policymakers to look more closely at how American health dollars are being spent and the value citizens are receiving for those dollars, the report suggested.

The "snapshot," released Wednesday and titled Health Care Spending in the United States and OECD Countries, is available online at


FDA Not Using Advisory Committees Effectively: Report

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is not using its own advisory committees effectively when considering the approval of new drugs and overrules the findings of those panels 28 percent of the time, says a Public Citizen study published in a letter in the current edition of The Lancet.

Public Citizen found that the FDA often allowed drug companies to make oral presentations to the agency's 18 drug advisory committees without a countervailing FDA view. The agency, however, failed to present its own interpretation of company data 18 percent of the time, or at 49 of 275 drug advisory committee meetings examined by Public Citizen from Jan. 1, 1997, to June 30, 2006, the Associated Press reported.

The data also showed that the FDA was holding advisory meetings less often than it did in the late 1990s -- only 24 percent, or 35 of 147, new molecular entities (NMEs) approved between 2000 and June 30, 2006, were preceded by meetings. The citizen's group said that represented a decrease from 1998 and 1999, when the FDA held meetings for 40 percent and 52 percent of approved NMEs, respectively, the AP said.

"Advisory committees are a vital element of the nation's drug safety net, but by failing to use these committees adequately, this resource is being squandered," Dr. Peter Lurie, deputy director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group and an author of the letter, said in a prepared statement.


Starbucks, A&W to Cut Trans Fats From Foods

Starbucks stores in 10 U.S. cities will have no trans fats in their food as of Wednesday, the Associated Press reported.

Starbucks Corp. is cutting trans fats from the doughnuts, muffins and other treats in half its U.S. stores and plans to eventually drop trans fats from all company-operated coffeehouses. Spokesman Brandon Borrman said Tuesday that the company has been working to eliminate the fats from its menu for about two years.

Stores in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Philadelphia, Portland, Ore., San Diego, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., will be affected by Wednesday's deadline.

Borrman said Starbucks had already replaced the fats in its nationally distributed food products, such as its seasonal pumpkin muffins and gingerbread. Starbucks has about 5,600 company-owned coffeehouses in the United States. Other sites, such as kiosks in airports and grocery stores, are licensed by the company but operated by other businesses, the AP reported.

Meanwhile, the Canadian Press reported Wednesday that A&W Food Services of Canada said it was the first national hamburger chain to offer "zero or significantly lower" trans fat menu items.

The Vancouver-based operator said it had eliminated trans fat from its French fries, Chubby Chicken Burger, Chicken Grill Deluxe, Swiss Veggie Deluxe, poutine (a fries, cheese and gravy dish) and hash browns. The company also said it had reduced trans fats by more than 95 percent in its onion rings, Chubby Chicken pieces and Chubby Chicken strips, and by 85 percent in its breakfast sandwiches.


Trauma of War Boosts Heart-Attack Risk for Aging Veterans: Study

Two new studies on post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) show that veterans from World War II through the conflict in Iraq likely have a greater risk of heart attack as they age and also report worse physical health, more doctor visits and more missed workdays, the Associated Press reported.

The first study, by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Boston University and published in the Jan. 1 Archives of General Psychiatry, joins existing evidence that veterans with PTSD also have more autoimmune diseases such as arthritis and psoriasis. "The burden of war may be even greater than people think," said lead author Laura Kubzansky of Harvard, who studies anxiety, depression and anger as risk factors for heart disease.

The second study, funded by the U.S. Army, was based on a survey of 2,863 soldiers one year after returning from combat in Iraq. The findings were published in the Jan. 1 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

The groundbreaking Harvard study examined 1,946 male veterans from World War II and Korea, gleaned through data from the Veterans Administration Normative Aging Study, a long-term research project tracking Boston-area vets. Although the men had different levels of PTSD symptoms, very few had enough symptoms for a true diagnosis, Kubzansky said. The study needs to be repeated to see if the findings hold true for PTSD-diagnosed veterans, and for women, she added.

Dr. Gary J. Kennedy, director of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City, called the Harvard study "impressive." Kennedy, who was not involved in the research, said, "We've got a whole generation of veterans coming back [from Iraq and Afghanistan] and their health needs are just going to be tremendous." He added that one symptom of PTSD is avoiding activity, which could account for some of the effect on the heart.

Medical authorities first accepted post-traumatic stress disorder as a psychiatric condition in 1980 at the urging of Vietnam veterans, the AP reported. In PTSD, the body's normal hormonal response to stress becomes trigger-happy, scientists believe. Long after traumatic events, people remain edgy and prone to nightmares and flashbacks. The continual release of adrenaline prompted by these symptoms may wear down the cardiovascular system, Kubzansky said.

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