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Health Highlights: July 29, 2009

Pollution Closed Many U.S. Beaches In 2008: Report FDA Warns About Body Building Products Recession Will Affect Kids' Well-Being: Report Texting Greatly Increases Crash Risk Fast-Track Program Doesn't Speed Approval Of New Cancer Drugs

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

Pollution Closed Many U.S. Beaches In 2008: Report

Storm water and sewage runoff are the main reasons why there were 20,341 beach closing days reported in the United States in 2008, the fourth year in a row that the number has been higher than 20,000, says a Natural Resources Defense Council report released Wednesday.

Delaware, New Hampshire and Virginia had the best beach water quality while Louisiana, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois had the worst, USA Today reported.

"The waters along the Great Lakes coastline appear to the dirtiest, while the waters along the Southeast and DelMarVa (Delaware, New Hampshire and Virginia) coasts are relatively cleaner," the NRDC report said.

Rain is the main reason for polluted beaches because it carries pollutants from dirty storm water and overflowing sewage into streams and rivers, which eventually empty into oceans and lakes, Nancy Stoner, the council's water program co-director, told USA Today.

Many Great Lakes states had a wetter-than-normal summer in 2008, while Mid-Atlantic states were unusually dry, according to the National Climatic Data Center.


FDA Warns About Body Building Products

Consumers should stop using body-building products that claim to contain steroids or steroid-like substances, many of which are sold as dietary supplements, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warned in a public health advisory issued late Tuesday.

Over two years, the agency has received five reports of adverse events, including serious liver injury, among people taking 21 of these products, the Associated Press reported. Eight of the products are made by American Cellular Laboratories Inc., which received a warning letter from the FDA.

"Products marketed for body building and claiming to contain steroids or steroid-like substances are illegal and potentially quite dangerous," Dr. Margaret A. Hamburg, commissioner of food and drugs, said in an FDA news release.

The products are believed to be popular among high school athletes, especially football players "because they work, they're relatively cheap, and you assume they're safe because you can buy them at your local shopping center," Travis Tygart, CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, told the AP.


Recession Will Affect Kids' Well-Being: Report

There were modest improvements in the well-being of American children during the good economic times earlier this decade, but things will get worse in the current recession, according to a new report released Tuesday.

The Kids Count evaluation of 10 key indicators in federal government statistics, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, found slight improvements in six areas since 2000, including infant death rates, the Washington Post reported. Teen pregnancies are lower than they were in 2000 but are on the rise again in all but nine states and the District of Columbia.

However, even before the official start of the recession in December 2007, more children were living in poverty, in homes with single parents, or with parents who were unemployed, said the report.

Since the most recent data are from 2007, the report doesn't include the effects of recession-related job losses.

"Our take-away is that even going into the recession, the economic outlook for a lot of families was dire," Laura Beavers, the national Kids Count coordinator, told the Post. "There was a flattening of the median income, and the poverty level was creeping up year after year."

The Kids Count report has been issued annually for 20 years.


Texting Greatly Increases Crash Risk

Texting while driving increased truckers' risk of collision 23-fold, according to new U.S. research.

The analysis of images recorded by video cameras in the cabs of more than 100 long-haul truckers over 18 months also revealed that in the moments before a crash or near-crash, drivers spent about five seconds looking at their texting devices, the New York Times reported. At highway speeds, a vehicle travels more than the length of a football field in five seconds.

In terms of driver distraction, not just in trucks, "texting is in its own universe of risk," Rich Hanowski, who oversaw the study, told the Times.

The findings, released Tuesday, deliver a clear message about texting while driving, said Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which did the research. "You should never do this," he told the newspaper. "It should be illegal."

Currently, only 14 states ban texting while driving.

In a related study, University of Utah researchers found that college students using a driving simulator were eight times more likely to crash when texting, the Times reported.


Fast-Track Program Doesn't Speed Approval Of New Cancer Drugs

New cancer drugs in a fast-track approval program aren't getting to the U.S. market quicker than other cancer drugs, says a new study.

It found that all cancer drugs took about seven years to get approved, whether they were part of the Food and Drug Administration's "accelerated approval" program or not. The researchers looked at 19 drugs that had received accelerated approval since 1995 and 32 drugs given regular approval, USA Today reported.

The findings are a "disappointment," said study author Charles Bennett, a professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. The study appears online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The accelerated approval program was created in 1992 in order to speed availability of promising drugs to patients with little time to live.

Bennett noted that patients with advanced cancer are often willing to accept a higher level of risk and the potential for serious side effects associated with new drugs if they offer hope for extending their lives, USA Today reported.

"We're not talking about people with skin conditions. These people are going to die," Bennett said.

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