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Health Highlights: June 15, 2017

Group Warns of Lead in Baby Food Fried Potatoes Linked to Increased Risk of Early Death Bill Seeks to Provide Acupuncture to U.S. Veterans

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

Group Warns of Lead in Baby Food

Some baby food sold in the United States contains lead, an environmental group warns.

"Lead was detected in 20 percent of baby food samples compared to 14 percent for other food," according to the Environmental Defense Fund study, NBC News reported.

"Eight types of baby foods had detectable lead in more than 40 percent of samples. Baby food versions of apple and grape juices and carrots had more samples with detectable lead than the regular versions," the group said.

Lead is highly toxic and there is no known safe level of it for anyone to eat, drink or breathe in, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

In babies, lead can kill developing brain cells and there is no way to reverse that damage, NBC News reported.

The EDF's findings are from an analysis of 11 years of data on what the Food and Drug Administration has detected in baby food.

"Overall, 20 percent of the 2,164 baby food composite samples and 14 percent of the other 10,064 food composite samples had detectable levels of lead," the EDF said, NBC News reported.

"The root vegetables category had the highest rate of lead detection, with lead found in 65 percent of the composite samples. The crackers and cookies category was next with 47 percent followed by fruits, including juices, with 29 percent," according to the EDF.

Lead was found in just 4 percent of cereals.

"What we did in this analysis was to say was lead present or not -- not how much was there," Sarah Vogel, vice president of EDF's health program, told NBC News. The FDA data also lacked brand information.

"The only thing parents can do right now is to reach out to their favorite brands and ask them what they are doing (to ensure products are lead-free)," Vogel said.

Pediatricians who weren't involved in the study noted that lead-based paint and lead-contaminated water are by far the main sources of lead affecting U.S. children.

"We don't really consider foodstuff as a significant source of lead," Dr. Karen Fratantoni, a pediatrician at Children's National Health System in Washington, D.C., told NBC News.

While Gerber Products Company said its baby foods are safe, it did not say they are lead-free, NBC News reported.


Fried Potatoes Linked to Increased Risk of Early Death

A new study links eating fried potatoes with an increased risk of early death.

Researchers looked at 4,440 people ages 45-79 and found that over eight years, those who ate fried potatoes such as French fries, hash browns and potato chips two or more times a week had double the risk of early death than those who did not eat fried potatoes, CNN reported.

The study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition does not prove a direct link between eating fried potatoes and early death but "we believe that the cooking oil, rich in trans-fat, is an important factor in explaining mortality in those eating more potatoes," said lead author Nicola Veronese, a scientist at the National Research Council in Padova, Italy.

Trans fat has been shown to boost levels of "bad" LDL cholesterol in the blood, which can lead to heart disease, CNN reported.

Veronese said he hopes the study will alert people that eating fried potatoes "could be an important risk factor for mortality. Thus, their consumption should be strongly limited."

But Veronese also noted that "other important factors" such as obesity, inactivity and high salt intake might also be factors in the increased risk of early death among people who often eat fried potatoes.

The study provides "no evidence" that potato consumption in and of itself may increase the risk of early death, Susanna Larsson, an associate professor at the Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institute in Sweden, told CNN.

She was not involved in this study but conducted her own study of potato consumption that found no link between eating potatoes and increased risk of heart disease.

The threat from eating fried potatoes and other starchy foods is a potential cancer-causing chemical called acrylamide, according to Stephanie Schiff, a registered dietitian at Northwell Health's Huntington Hospital in Huntington, New York. She was not involved in the study.

Acrylamide is "a chemical produced when starchy foods such as potatoes are fried, roasted or baked at a high temperature," Schiff explained in an email to CNN.

"You can reduce your intake of acrylamide by boiling or steaming starchy foods, rather than frying them," Schiff said. "If you do fry foods, do it quickly."


Bill Seeks to Provide Acupuncture to U.S. Veterans

U.S. veterans could get access to acupuncture under a bill introduced last week in the House of Representatives.

The bill to require veterans health facilities to provide acupuncturist services was sponsored by Rep. Judy Chu (D-CA), who said she has seen the benefits of acupuncture in treating pain and other health problems.

"But I've also seen how stigma or lack of understanding of acupuncture and traditional Asian medicine has put it out of reach for many as insurance won't cover the treatment," Chu said in an email to NBC News. "This means fewer options at exactly the time when we need more."

Acupuncture would offer a "non-addictive alternative" to opiates for pain management, Chu said. The bill has the support of a number of groups, including the American Legion.

Evidence about the effects of acupuncture is mixed. For example, a review of studies about acupuncture published in the Experimental and Therapeutic Medicine journal in 2015 found that while some studies suggested that acupuncture is beneficial, others concluded the procedure has a placebo effect, NBC News reported.

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