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Health Highlights: Jan. 6, 2007

Warm Weather in Northeast Prompts Early Allergy ReturnFashion Group Issues Guidelines to Guard Against Models' Eating Disorders FDA Considers Osteoporosis Claims for Supplements Study Offers Snapshot of Substance Abuse in U.S. U.S. Approves First Drug for Obese Dogs Less Folate Consumption May Lead to Birth Defects

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

Warm Weather in Northeast Prompts Early Allergy Return

In addition to the somewhat startling appearance of spring plants and flowers sprouting in unfrozen ground, the unusually warm winter weather in the Northeast has also brought an unwelcome early seasonal visitor -- allergies.

The Associated Press reports that doctors' office are being swamped with people who are sneezing, whose eyes itch and run, and whose post-nasal drip is causing coughing.

It's not the cold or the flu, experts say. According to the A.P., mold spores, which usually don't multiply until April or May, have begun to appear, and the changing temperatures may also irritate nasal passages.

"It's an explosion of people who are realizing that they may have allergies," the wire service quotes Manhattan allergist Dr. Clifford W. Bassett, vice chairman in charge of public education of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology, as saying.

What to do? First, check with your physician to make sure your symptoms actually are from an allergy. Then, if your doctor approves, take the allergy medication you would be taking three months from now, and wait for the cold weather finally to make its presence felt.

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Fashion Group Issues Guidelines to Guard Against Models' Eating Disorders

Scientific studies have shown that teenagers -- especially females -- are significantly influenced by the size and shape of fashion models.

And because so many of those young women who show off the latest apparel on the runway and in magazines are very thin, the New York Times reports that one fashion industry umbrella organization has issued guidelines to promote healthy behavior among fashion models.

Some health and nutrition professionals had hoped for more than the guidelines from the Council of Fashion Designers of America, the Times reports. Those guidelines recommend fittings for younger models in the daytime rather than at night, that designers be alert to models who may have eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa or bulimia and improvement in the nutritional content of the food offered by caterers backstage at fashion shows.

Fashion designers in Milan and Madrid have banned using the services of overly thin models the newspaper said, following the death last year of 21-year-old model Ana Carolina Reston, whose death was attributed to complications from anorexia. European design companies have adopted a height-to-weight ratio, the Times reports.

But American designers aren't ready to go that far. "I feel like we should promote health as a part of beauty rather than setting rules," the newspaper quotes Diane von Furstenberg, the president of the designers' council, as saying.

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FDA Considers Osteoporosis Claims for Supplements

The makers of dietary supplements containing calcium and vitamin D would be given greater leeway to promote the products as helping to prevent osteoporosis, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration proposed Friday.

Responding to a petition filed by a division of the Coca-Cola Company, the agency said it would consider allowing manufacturers to cite a reduced risk of the bone disease from consumption of products containing both calcium and vitamin D.

The agency said it would also consider dropping a decade-old requirement that supplement makers include specific label references to a person's sex, age and race, since the benefits of vitamin D and calcium apply to all consumers.

"All persons lose bone with age, and the loss can influence an individual's risk of developing osteoporosis," said Robert Brackett, director of FDA's Center for Food Safety and Nutrition. "Maintenance of an adequate intake of calcium and vitamin D in all stages of life can help lower one's risk."

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Study Offers Snapshot of Substance Abuse in U.S.

San Francisco leads the nation in illicit drug use and Chicago has the highest rate of binge drinking, a federal review of the nation's 15 largest cities revealed Friday.

San Francisco (12.7 percent) and Detroit (9.5 percent) topped the national average of 8.1 percent in illicit drug use, according to the report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).

Chicago (25.7 percent) and Houston (25.6 percent) had higher rates of binge drinking than the national average of 22.7 percent, the survey found. Binge drinking was defined as consuming five or more drinks on the same occasion at least once during the prior 30 days.

Detroit also led the survey in cigarette use for the 15 cities, whose populations comprise about one-third of the nation's total, SAMHSA said.

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U.S. Approves First Drug for Obese Dogs

Recognizing that overeating isn't limited to beings with two legs, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Friday approved the first prescription drug to manage obesity in dogs.

Pfizer's Stentrol (dirlotapide) reduces appetite and a dog's ability to absorb fat, the agency said. The FDA cited surveys showing that up to 30 percent of U.S. dogs are overweight and about 5 percent are obese (more than 20 percent above ideal weight).

Overweight pets, like people, are at higher risk of health problems ranging from cardiovascular conditions and joint problems to diabetes, the FDA said.

To discourage use of the medication by people, Stentrol's label will warn that the drug is not intended for human use, should be kept away from children, and may cause adverse reactions in people, including abdominal pain, diarrhea, headache, nausea and vomiting.

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Less Folate in Women May Lead to Birth Defects

A trend toward declining blood folate levels in young women could lead to an upswing in serious birth defects of the brain and spine, a U.S. government study warns.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, released Thursday, found an 8 percent to 16 percent drop in folate levels among women of childbearing age between 1999 and 2004, the Associated Press reported.

While the exact causes of the drop aren't certain, the increasing popularity of low-carbohydrate diets may be a factor, experts said. High-carb foods, including flour, cereal, and bread products, are often fortified with folate.

Folate is a natural B vitamin; when artificially produced in supplements, it's referred to as folic acid. It's not clear if the drop in women's folate levels has led to an increase in so-called "neural tube" defects such as spina bifida, the AP reported.

The decline in folate levels has been most pronounced in white women, the CDC study found, although black women continue to get the least amount of folate overall, the wire service said.

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