Health Highlights: July 18, 2007

Food Makers Pledge to Limit Ads Aimed at Children Health Costs for Ground Zero Workers Expected to Soar Report Cites Big Rise in Hip and Knee Surgeries U.S. Has Limited Capability to Handle Flu Pandemic: Report Ritalin May Cause Long-Term Changes in Young Brains U.S. Army Begins Mental Health Education Program

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

Food Makers Pledge to Limit Ads Aimed at Children

Eleven prominent food and drink companies have agreed to limit U.S. advertising aimed at children under 12, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

The announcement came just before the start of hearings Wednesday by the Federal Trade Commission into whether the growing child obesity problem could be curtailed by more responsible marketing practices, the wire service said.

The food makers included: Campbell Soup Co., General Mills, PepsiCo, McDonald's, Cadbury Adams, the Coca-Cola Co., The Hershey Co., Unilever, Masterfoods, Kellogg Co., and Kraft Foods, the AP reported.

The self-imposed rules included a pledge by seven of the companies to no longer use characters made popular by television and movies in their ads aimed at children, unless the ads promoted healthier products.

The voluntary commitments also affect advertising in schools and online advertising aimed at youngsters. The rules should be fully implemented by the end of next year, the AP said.

"These companies have taken a laudable step toward promoting healthier products to children and implementing changes in marketing practices that are truly meaningful," Joanne Lupton, President of the American Society for Nutrition, said in a prepared statement.


Health Costs for Ground Zero Workers Expected to Soar

The costs of treating workers who toiled at the World Trade Center site after the 2001 terrorist attacks are projected to soar to $20 million per month by the end of the year from the current $6 million per month, according to unreleased federal documents cited Wednesday by The New York Times.

More recovery workers are becoming sick and their ailments are becoming more serious, according to the documents prepared by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

The estimates are based on an analysis of treatment records from five hospitals in the New York City metropolitan area, the newspaper said.

Since last September, the fifth anniversary of 9/11, some 500 workers per month have registered for screening and treatment. The total number of registered workers now exceeds 37,000, the Times said.

About half of those registered are being treated for asthma and other respiratory problems, and about a quarter are seeking help for stress-related ailments, the newspaper said.


Report Cites Big Rise in Hip and Knee Surgeries

The number of orthopedic surgeries -- including knee and hip replacements and spinal fusions -- rose by nearly 25 percent between 1997 and 2005, according to an analysis of federal records released Wednesday.

Knee surgeries rose 69 percent to 555,800 in 2005 from 328,800 in 1997. Hip replacements climbed 32 percent to 383,500 from 290,700, and spinal fusions rose 73 percent to 349,400 from 202,100, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality said.

Women were 60 percent more likely than men to undergo hip replacements, and were 70 percent more likely than men to have knee surgery, the agency said.

There were about 1.3 million orthopedic procedures performed nationwide in 2005, versus 822,000 in 1997, the AHRQ said.


U.S. Has Limited Capability to Handle Flu Pandemic: Report

Despite a year-old program designed to dictate the U.S. response to a global flu pandemic, the nation still has limited resources to detect such an outbreak and monitor its progress, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

The federal government also has decided that U.S. borders will remain open in the event that a widespread flu outbreak emerges elsewhere in the world, the newspaper said.

"We believe that if a pandemic virus emerges anywhere in the globe, it is inevitable that it will arrive here in the U.S. irrespective of the actions we take at the borders," the Times quoted Dr. Rajeev Venkayya, President Bush's special assistant for biodefense, as saying.

While the plan is to limit the number of infected people who arrive in the United States and to detain those who are sick, the government will try to permit the ongoing flow of imported products and incoming travelers, the newspaper said.

Venkayya conceded that the United States has "a lot of trouble determining when we have an outbreak of disease," adding that hospitals and other health institutions have little extra capacity to deal with a widespread outbreak.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it had released $897 million in emergency preparedness funding to the states, $175 million of which has been earmarked for flu preparedness, the newspaper said.


Ritalin May Cause Long-Term Changes in Young Brains

The attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder drug Ritalin may trigger long-term changes in the brains of young children, researchers at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City say.

The scientists, studying the brains of young rats, found changes in the brain areas that control higher executive functioning, addiction and appetite, social relationships, and stress. They noted that these changes gradually disappeared as the rats were taken off the drug.

Doctors must be careful in diagnosing ADHD and prescribing Ritalin, the researchers said, because the brain changes -- while potentially helpful to children with the disorder -- could cause harm to children with healthy brains.

Doses given to the rats were on the high end of what a child might be prescribed, the scientists said. They also said the rats were injected with the drug instead getting it orally, since this allowed the rodents to metabolize the drug in a way that more closely mimicked the process in humans.

The study was published in the Journal of Neuroscience.


U.S. Army Begins Mental Health Education Program

The U.S. Army was to begin a program Wednesday aimed at educating soldiers about mental health issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, the Washington Post reported.

Troops will also be taught about physical factors, such as traumatic brain injury, which can contribute to mental health problems.

The program will include more than 150,000 troops who face combat in Iraq and Afghanistan within 90 days. The Post quoted an Army spokesman who conceded that there's a perceived stigma about mental health issues among current and returning soldiers that often prevents them from seeking help and being properly diagnosed.

If the program works, it will put added strain on an already overtaxed system of Army mental health providers nationwide. The system is already short some 270 people, the Post said.

The Army has created a hotline for wounded soldiers and their families -- 1-800-984-8523.

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