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Health Highlights: July 1, 2002

Drug Companies Fight Medicaid 'Preferred Drug' Lists Surrogate Parents Just As Loving as Natural Parents - If Not More: Study Ice Shavers Recalled Over Cutting Risk NYC Cigarette Tax Now Highest in Nation Pediatricians Lack Expertise for Helping Obese Kids: Survey Lead Poisoning Strikes the Unborn

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

Drug Companies Fight Medicaid 'Preferred Drug' Lists

Pharmaceutical companies have filed a lawsuit to try to prevent states from creating "preferred drug lists" for Medicaid programs on which drugs can only be included if substantial discounts are made.

The programs are intended to help make expensive drugs accessible to the poor, but companies, represented in the lawsuit by the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, claim the program doesn't allow doctors to decide what drugs are best for patients, reports the Associated Press.

Medicaid uses state and federal funds to provide health insurance for the poor. The lawsuit, filed in federal court last Friday in Washington, seeks a preliminary injunction to halt a program currently running in Michigan and also asks that 11 other states be prevented from establishing such drug lists.

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Surrogate Parents Just As Loving as Natural Parents - If Not More: Study

Not only are surrogate mothers and fathers as loving to their children as natural parents, but also they appear to be even more so.

The research, presented today at the annual conference of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology in Vienna, compared the responses of parents of babies between ages nine months and 12 months. The children were born through surrogate arrangements; through in vitro fertilization with donated eggs; or naturally.

The responses indicated that in areas of warmth, emotional involvement and mothering and fathering qualities, all of the couples rated highly, but surrogate and egg donor parents scored exceptionally high, reports CNN.

The researchers, with City University in London, theorize that surrogate parents may hold themselves to higher standards than average due to a possible "tendency towards over-investment in the child."

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Ice Shavers Recalled Over Cutting Risk

About 1,000 ice shavers sold by Bath and Body Works stores are being recalled due to their risk for cutting customers, reports the Associated Press.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, there have been five reports of minor injuries stemming from use of the shavers.

The shavers were sold in Bath and Body Works stores in May for about $20. They are orange and blue, come with two ice maker cups and have a palm tree design on the sides. "Bath and Body Works Art Stuff" is written on the front and "Made in Taiwan" is on the bottom.

The shavers have a silver and blue handle that compresses ice with a stainless steel blade. They can be returned to the store of purchase for a refund or credit.

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NYC Cigarette Tax Now Highest in Nation

New York City's tax on cigarettes rose to $1.50 a pack today, an increase that will make the levy the highest in the nation and one that will push the price of some brands to more than $7 a pack.

"This may be the most important measure my administration takes to save people's lives," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said before signing the bill during an unusual public hearing in City Hall yesterday, reports The New York Times.

Under the new law, the city's cigarette tax, now 8 cents a pack, increases by $1.42. On top of that, New York City's smokers will have to pay the highest state cigarette tax in the nation, an additional $1.50 a pack. The two taxes will increase the price of some brands to more than $7 a pack, which is nearly double the national average.

Bloomberg said he viewed the measure mainly as a public health initiative.

"If it were totally up to me, I would raise the cigarette tax so high the revenues from it would go to zero," the mayor said.

The new tax was applauded by groups like Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the American Cancer Society.

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Pediatricians Lack Expertise for Helping Obese Kids: Survey

Many overweight kids don't get adequate treatment because many pediatricians and other health workers lack expertise in helping them slim down, a new survey suggests.

Pediatricians and nurse practitioners say they need more training to overcome weight-loss obstacles including a lack of patient motivation, insurance and parental involvement, according to the survey.

The eight-page 1999 survey involved 940 pediatricians, pediatric nurse practitioners and dietitians nationwide and is part of an effort by the federal Maternal and Child Health Bureau to examine the growing problem of obesity in children and to assess how doctors are dealing with it. Reports on it are published in a supplement to the July issue of Pediatrics, the Associated Press reports.

More than a third of pediatricians surveyed said they had low proficiency in behavior management techniques to help patients lose weight; 25 percent said they lacked expertise in getting parents to help their children lose weight, and almost 20 percent said they were ill-equipped to help patients gain a more active lifestyle.

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Lead Poisoning Strikes the Unborn

A new study has found that women whose bones are laced with lead during pregnancy can transfer the toxin to their unborn babies with potentially serious consequences for the child's physical and mental development, HealthDay reports.

Babies exposed to lead in this way, and through maternal blood, have significantly lower scores on general measures of infant motor and mental ability.

The skeleton normally sequesters the heavy metal, keeping it out of circulation. However, during pregnancy women cannibalize their own bone to help build up the fetal skeleton, setting lead free in the process. Once unlocked, the poison enters the bloodstream and makes its way to the fetus across the umbilical cord.

Lead experts say the findings aren't surprising, and they underscore the importance of reducing exposure to the toxin in young girls.

The findings, which appear in the July issue of Pediatrics, also suggest that steps to prevent the release of lead during pregnancy may protect babies. Taking calcium supplements, which shore up the skeleton and slow bone breakdown, is one promising approach, according to Dr. Howard Hu, a Harvard University public health expert and a co-author of the study.

He and his colleagues are now conducting a study to see if calcium therapy will work against this harmful transfer.

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