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Health Highlights: Jan. 7, 2003

States Plug Deficits With Tobacco Settlement Money HRT Cuts Diabetes Risk, Study Says Hip-Hugging Pants May Cause Nerve Damage Middle-Age Obesity as Bad as Smoking: Study Feds Lax in Policing Gene-Altered Foods, Group Warns Sect's Cloning Claim Could Be 'Elaborate Hoax,' Evaluator Says

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

States Plug Deficits With Tobacco Settlement Money

Many of the states are using money from billion dollar settlements with tobacco companies to cover budget shortfalls, instead of anti-smoking programs, according to the American Lung Association.

In 1998, tobacco companies settled lawsuits with a pledge to pay $206 billion over 25 years to 46 states. A separate agreement was made with four other states totaling $40 billion.

But in a report released today, the association found most states spend only a fraction of their funds on government recommended anti-smoking measures, such as smoking cessation programs and anti-tobacco campaigns in schools, HealthDay reports.

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HRT Cuts Diabetes Risk, Study Says

Hormone replacement therapy can reduce a woman's risk of developing diabetes by 35 percent, but that's not enough reason to take the hormones, a new study says.

Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, examined the data of 2,763 postmenopausal women who participated in the Heart and Estrogen/Progestin Replacement Study (HERS), and found that 6.2 percent of those on hormones were diagnosed with diabetes, compared with 9.5 percent who were taking a placebo, USA Today reports.

Despite the results, Alka Kanaya, assistant professor of medicine and the lead investigator, says women should not take hormones merely based on a diabetes risk. Weight loss and other lifestyle changes can cut people's diabetes risk by up to 60 percent, Kanaya says, so women should go on hormones only if they've been recommended for menopausal symptom relief.

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Hip-Hugging Pants May Cause Nerve Damage

Those high-fashion, hip-hugging pants may squish important nerve routes and cause burning, tingling sensations in people who don the trendy trousers, according to a Canadian doctor.

Dr. Malvinder Parmar, medical director at the Timmins and District Hospital in Ontario, says that in the last year, three of his patients complained about a bewildering sensation in their upper thighs. Physical examinations revealed nothing unusual, but the women shared a proclivity for tight, hip-hugging pants.

Parmar suspected nerve constriction. To confirm his diagnosis, he recommended the women switch to loose-fitting dresses. After four to six weeks, their symptoms disappeared, he says.

Parmar says the lateral femoral cutaneous nerve, which runs beneath both sides of the hipbone, is compressed by the hip band of the pants. This produces "meralgia paresthetica," or burning, tingling thighs, Canada's Globe and Mail newspaper reports.

The nerve damage doesn't seem to be permanent, Parmar says. Still, "people who suffer these symptoms should not wear these tight pants," he says.

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Middle-Age Obesity as Bad as Smoking: Study

Middle-aged people who are overweight lose an average of three years of life compared to their slimmer counterparts, Dutch researchers say in today's issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

The shorter life expectancy among fat people at about age 40 compares with average-weight people who smoke, say the researchers at Erasmus Medical Center and the University of Gronigen, both in the Netherlands.

And even if a long-term overweight person finally attempts to lose weight, it may be too little, too late, scientists say. "The message is that you have to work early on your weight. If you wait a long time, the damage may have been done," Dr. Serge Jabbour, director of the weight-loss clinic at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, tells the Associated Press.

The researchers analyzed statistics collected from about 3,457 volunteers in Framingham, Mass., from 1948 to 1990.

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Feds Lax in Policing Gene-Altered Foods, Group Says

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration hasn't sufficiently regulated companies that produce genetically altered foods, according to the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

The consumer group says the lack of strong government safeguards means harmful compounds could show up in some foods without consumers' knowledge, reports the Washington Post.

Although the current food supply seems safe, the group says, the FDA's regulations are chock full of loopholes that need immediate plugging. Current regulations are mostly a patchwork of voluntary recommendations and of older laws that were never written to deal specifically with genetically altered foods, the group says.

An FDA spokesperson calls the risk to the nation's food supply "very hypothetical," but tells the newspaper that the agency is studying whether changes to its food-oversight policies are needed. And a food industry spokesperson, while calling the current set of voluntary regulations adequate, says the industry could support some type of mandatory FDA review.

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Sect's Cloning Claim Could Be 'Elaborate Hoax,' Evaluator Says

The leader of a team that was to evaluate a company's claim to have created the first cloned human says he has suspended the review, noting that the claim could be nothing more than "an elaborate hoax" to promote a religious sect with ties to the company, CNN reports.

"The team of scientists have had no access to the alleged family and, therefore, cannot verify firsthand the claim that a human baby has been cloned," says former ABC News science producer Michael Guillen. He says recent announcements by Clonaid, which is tied to a religious sect that believes aliens created life on earth, may be part of a plan to create publicity for the sect, called the Raelians.

After the birth of the alleged first clone last month, Clonaid said it would allow Guillen to supervise DNA testing of the infant, dubbed "Eve." Clonaid then said that Eve's parents were balking at the testing. The company has since announced the birth of a second cloned child, allegedly to a lesbian couple in the Netherlands.

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