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

FDA Approves New Sweetener

A non-nutritive sweetener said to be 7,000-to-13,000 times sweeter than sugar received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration today to be marketed as an additive in candies, soft drinks and various other products.

Like other familiar sweeteners, Neotame is a white crystalline powder that dissolves in water. It is made by Monsanto, which also makes NutraSweet's sweetener Equal. Neotame is approved for use in baked goods, nonalcoholic beverages, chewing gum, confections, frozen desserts, gelatins and puddings, jams, jellies, fruit, juices, toppings and syrups, reports the Associated Press.

The FDA declared the product to be safe for consumption after reviewing more than 113 animal and human studies, some of which looked at any possible links with cancer-causing or neurological side effects.


Child Disability Rates Increased Over Decade

Figures from the latest census show a dramatic increase in the numbers of U.S. youths with mental or physical disabilities during the past decade, with about 5.2 million, or about one in every dozen children or teens, having such handicaps.

Experts say there are a wide variety of explanations for the increased numbers, including improvements in health care saving low birth-weight babies, medical advances allowing some people with spinal cord injuries or Down syndrome to live longer and even increased rates of diabetes that are attributed to rising childhood obesity, reports the Washington Post.

In addition, the definition of disability itself has broadened, and with greater benefits and less stigma attached to many conditions, more are coming forward and being diagnosed as disabled, says the article.

The Post says metropolitan areas with the highest child disability rates -- at least 10 percent -- include Lewiston-Auburn, Maine; Huntington, W.Va.; and Dothan, Ala. All areas have above-average poverty. Those with the lowest rates were, conversely, areas with low poverty rates, including Hunterdon County, N.J., Stamford, Conn., and the university areas of Charlottesville, Va. and Boulder, Colo.


Forget Sharks - - Parents Should Watch for 'Sand Hole' Accidents, Say Experts

While few beach activities are as much funs to kids as burying their siblings or friends in the sand, experts warn that even such seemingly harmless play can have its hazards.

Dangerous combinations like deep sand holes, nearby collapsing piles of sand or sandcastles and an unexpected wave can quickly turn disastrous, with kids becoming trapped or buried in a sand hole.

There's no official tally of the so-called "sand hole" incidents, but CNN reports that media stories gathered by experts during the past five years show an alarming death rate of 61 percent of people trapped in sand.

And, while there have been seven shark attacks in New England over the past 300 years, there have been as many sand hole incidents in the region in just the six years between 1996 and 2002, says the report.

To prevent such accidents, parents are advised to choose a beach with a lifeguard; stay away from holes deeper than their knees; call for emergency help immediately if someone gets trapped; and if someone is buried, keep other people away until hel arrives.


Global AIDS Fight Could Prevent 29 Million Infections: Studies

Using simple, relatively inexpensive steps known to stem the spread of AIDS would prevent 29 million people across the world from becoming infected by 2010, according to two new studies reported today.

The reports say the number of adults infected with HIV, the AIDS virus, each year would drop drastically if such measures as improving the status of women, promoting and distributing condoms, offering voluntary counseling and testing, and educating students and workers were implemented.

But, according to a New York Times report, the studies, by experienced AIDS workers across the globe, estimate that if countries fail to do so, about 46 million people, most in sub-Saharan Africa, China and India, would become infected by 2010.

The reports were issued in advance of the 14th International AIDS Conference, which begins in Barcelona, Spain, on Sunday. One report, an analysis of 86 prevention programs and HIV trends in 126 countries, was done by researchers from a variety of groups, including the United Nations, the World Health Organization and the United States Census Bureau, and is being published tomorrow in The Lancet. The second report, sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, is a blueprint for reducing infections worldwide.

The Times reports that the costs of a sustained aggressive program would be $10 billion a year, or $1,000 for each infection prevented, which prevention experts argue is much less than the cost of treating people once they become ill.


Nigeria Offers Free HIV Tests; Russia Warns It's Out of Funds

Nigerian's president, Olusegun Obasanjo, has ordered free HIV/AIDS tests for more than 500,000 Nigerians. About 3.6 million Nigerians are believed to suffer from the disease.

According to Agence France-Presse, Nigeria's health minister, Alphonsus Nwosu, said the testing and counseling would be voluntary. The program is linked to efforts to prevent mother-to-child transmission of the disease and to promote antiretroviral trial drugs. Nigeria is presently conducting large-scale trials of cheaper generic antiretrovirals imported from India.

The government recently set up 25 AIDS treatment centers across the country that will focus on administering the drugs to patients at subsidized prices. The trial program is intended to cover 15,000 patients, including 5,000 children.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reports that the top AIDS expert in Russia is warning that current financing of AIDS- and HIV-prevention programs covers only 450 people. The underfinancing, says Vadim Pokrovsky, head of the federal AIDS center, could lead to disaster.

There are already 2,000 AIDS patients in Russia and will be 200,000 in several years, Pokrovsky told the Interfax news agency. Officially, there are 200,000 patients in Russia infected with H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.

Pokrovsky said the Russian government had allocated only $190,000 to AIDS research, compared with $500 million by the United States, the Times reports.


Study Urges Downward Shift in 'Safe' Cholesterol Levels

If you think you don't have to worry about your blood cholesterol level because it is in the range described as normal and safe, you'd better think again.

That's the revolutionary implication of a major British study showing that a cholesterol-lowering statin drug reduces the incidence of heart attack and stroke in high-risk people, even if they have "normal" or "low" cholesterol readings.

HealthDay reports that the Heart Protection Study included more than 20,000 Britons aged 40 to 80. All were at more than usual risk of a heart attack or stroke because they had artery disease or diabetes or a previous stroke. Half took daily doses of simvastatin, a statin drug marketed as Zocor, and the other half got a placebo. Zocor's maker, Merck & Co., co-funded the study along with the British Heart Foundation and the U.K. Medical Research Council.

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