Health Highlights: July 12, 2007

Large HIV Prevention Programs More Efficient Government to Investigate Missing CDC Equipment Bias Against Overweight Kids Starts Early Bill Would Boost FDA's Control Over Drug Safety Tax on Unhealthy Foods Would Save Thousands of Lives: U.K. Study Uninsured Women Less Likely to Get Pap Smears

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

Large HIV Prevention Programs More Efficient

Boosting the size of HIV prevention programs increases their efficiency and helps prevent more infections, concludes a University of Southern California, San Francisco study. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

The study found that each doubling of an HIV prevention effort's size reduces costs by about a third. Some large programs are 10 times more efficient than smaller ones, which translates into the prevention of many more HIV infections using the same amount of resources.

This "scale-up, cost-down" effect was found in many countries and different kinds of HIV prevention programs. The study was published Thursday in the BioMed Central journal BMC Health Services Research.

"Proven prevention methods need to be scaled up rapidly," lead author Eliot Marseille said in a prepared statement. "Therefore, the fact that costs tend to go down as scale goes up is good news. This could save millions of lives, as well as keeping in check the number of new patients requiring expensive anti-retroviral therapies."

For this study, the researchers analyzed 206 HIV prevention programs in India, Mexico, Russia, South Africa and Uganda.


Government to Investigate Missing CDC Equipment

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says it will investigate the disappearance of more than $22 million worth of computers and other equipment from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The investigation, along with an audit of the CDC's property management procedures, was requested last month by a congressional oversight committee, the Associated Press reported.

In a June 25 letter to a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Health and Humans Services Inspector General Daniel Levinson said his department would launch an investigation and conduct an audit. In recent weeks, about $9 million in missing goods have been accounted for, CDC officials said.

No arrests or disciplinary measures resulted from 61 investigations into the theft or disappearance of CDC property between fiscal 2004 and 2006, the AP reported. CDC spokesman Tom Skinner said much of the equipment was noted missing when the center underwent a reorganization. New computer programs are now being used to improve tracking of items.


Bias Against Overweight Kids Starts Early

As early as age 3, overweight children face teasing, rejection, bullying and other forms of stigmatization from other children, finds a U.S. study in the July issue of the journal Psychological Bulletin.

The researchers at Yale University and the University of Hawaii noted that overweight children who face social abuse are two to three times more likely to report suicidal thoughts and to suffer health issues such as eating disorders and high blood pressure, the Associated Press reported.

The study authors reviewed all research on children and weight-related bias conducted over the past 40 years.

"The stigmatization directed at obese children by their peers, parents, educators and others is pervasive and often unrelenting," the researchers wrote.

They said discrimination against overweight children is as important a problem as racial discrimination or inequity suffered by disabled children, and needs to be taken equally seriously.


Bill Would Boost FDA's Control Over Drug Safety

The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday voted 403-16 in favor of a bill to give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration more money and power to oversee prescription drug safety.

The House bill would give the FDA nearly $400 million to spend on drug safety over the next five years. The money would come from fees levied on the drug industry, the Associated Press reported.

The U.S. Senate already voted in favor of similar legislation. Over the next few weeks, the House and Senate are expected to resolve differences in their bills. Both bills would give the FDA the power to order drug companies to do follow-up studies on certain drugs.

The FDA has been criticized for its handling of a series of drug safety problems, including the painkiller Vioxx, which was voluntarily withdrawn from the U.S. market by Merck & Co. in 2004 after research showed the drug doubled the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Neither of the bills contain a provision that would permit American consumers to buy cheaper drugs from other countries. The White House said it would veto a bill with such a provision, the AP reported.


Tax on Unhealthy Foods Would Save Thousands of Lives: U.K. Study

A 17.5 percent tax on fatty, sugary or salty foods would prevent more than 3,000 fatal heart attacks and strokes a year in the U.K., a decline of 1.7 percent, says an Oxford University study.

The authors of the study, published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, said their findings demonstrate that the time is right to debate a "fat tax" in the U.K., BBC News reported.

"The other thing which would have to be done is to look at the possibility of subsidies for healthier foods, rather than simply looking at increases in tax," said researcher Dr. Mike Rayner.

For this study, Rayner and his colleagues used economic data to predict how a tax would reduce consumption of unhealthy foods.

The British Heart Foundation does not yet support the idea of taxing unhealthy foods, spokeswoman Maura Gillespie told BBC News.

"The debate on unhealthy diets is important as it is estimated that 30 percent of deaths from coronary heart disease are caused by unhealthy diets," Gillespie said. "Further evidence is needed on the effect of targeted food taxes before we can support a 'fat tax'."


Uninsured Women Less Likely to Get Pap Smears

When surveyed in 2005, one-fourth of uninsured U.S. women ages 18 to 64 said they did not have a Pap smear within the previous three years, according to findings released Wednesday by the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

In contrast, 11 percent of women with private insurance and 15 percent of those covered by Medicaid or other public insurance reported that they did not have a Pap smear within the prior three years.

The latest News and Numbers from the AHRQ also found that:

  • Overall, 14 percent of U.S. women ages 18 to 64 -- with or without insurance -- did not receive a Pap smear in the three years prior to the survey.
  • Among different ethnic/racial groups, 21.5 percent of Asian women said they hadn't had a Pap smear, compared to 16 percent of Hispanic women, 13.5 percent of whites, and 10 percent of black women.
  • Women ages 50 to 64 were more likely (17 percent) to not have had a Pap smear than women ages 40 to 49 (12 percent) and women ages 30 to 39 (nine percent).

It's recommended that women ages 21 to 64 undergo Pap smear screening every three years to detect cervical cancer and abnormal cells that can develop into cancer, the AHRQ said.


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