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Health Highlights: June 20, 2007

Bush Vetoes Stem Cell Legislation Most Sunscreens Fail Safety Test: Report Tyson Drops Antibiotics in Fresh Chicken NCI Cancels Major Breast Cancer Study Breastfeeding Decline Linked Annually to 160,000 Deaths U.S. Parents Concerned About Media Violence, Sex: Survey

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

Bush Vetoes Stem Cell Bill

President Bush on Wednesday vetoed a bill that sought to ease restrictions on federally funded embryonic stem cell research, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. government funding is now limited to research using embryonic stem cells that had been harvested as of Aug. 9, 2001. The bill from the Democratic-led Congress sought to lift that restriction. News sources report that the Democrats do not have enough votes to override a veto.

Last year, Bush vetoed a similar bill.

In a counter move, Bush issued an executive order instructing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to promote research on other kinds of stem cells, the AP reported.

Scientists believe that stem cells have the potential to treat a range of health problems, including spinal cord injury, stroke, heart disease, diabetes, burns, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, and osteoarthritis.

The American Diabetes Association issued a statement condemning Bush's action:

"By vetoing this legislation, President Bush has again stood in the way of progress toward a cure for diabetes and other devastating diseases. The world's leading scientists, Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and millions of Americans urged the President to support legislation to expand the promising field of embryonic stem cell research, while maintaining clear and ethical standards. The President chose not to listen," the ADA said.

A statement from the Society for Women's Health Research was similarly critical of the veto:

"There should be no ethical debate between throwing away embryos that already exist and using them in the scientific quest for treatments and cures of fatal and life-threatening diseases. It is a tragedy to allow embryos to be wasted and discarded, when we could be exploring their unique potential to alleviate human suffering," the statement said.


Most Sunscreens Fail Safety Test: Report

Eighty-four percent of name-brand sunscreens tested offered inadequate protection from the sun or contained at least one ingredient with "significant safety concerns," the Environmental Working Group (EWG) said in releasing results on 783 products evaluated.

"Only 16 percent of the products on the market are both safe and effective, blocking both UVA and UVB radiation, remaining stable in sunlight, and containing few if any ingredients with significant known or suspected health hazards," the Wasington, D.C.-based group said in an analysis posted on its Web site.

At least 48 percent of products evaluated had unacceptable or misleading marketing claims, including terms like "all day protection," "mild as water," and "blocks all harmful rays," the EWG said.

Ingredients contained in some of the sunscreens "release skin damaging free radicals in sunlight, some act like estrogen and could disrupt hormone systems, several are strongly linked to allergic reactions, and still others may build up in the body or the environment," the group warned.

The EWG criticized the U.S. government for not approving mandatory safety standards for sunscreens, leaving manufacturers to "make their own decisions on everything from advertising claims to product quality."

The group's Web site,, offers a list of recommended sunscreens, and companion lists of products to be used with caution, and those to avoid entirely.


Tyson Drops Antibiotics in Fresh Chicken

Tyson Foods, among the largest U.S. poultry producers, says it will no longer use antibiotics in its chickens sold as fresh.

"According to our research, 91 percent of consumers agree it's important to have fresh chicken produced and labeled 'raised without antibiotics,'" Tyson president Richard Bond said in a statement.

The company said it has already begun shipping the antibiotic-free chicken to stores nationwide.

Tyson said it hoped to convert other forms of chicken -- including quick frozen, marinated, and breaded items -- by late August.

The company statement said its no-antibiotic chicken would cost more, but didn't specify how much. The New York Times, citing a Tyson senior vice president, reported the increase would be less than $1 per pound.


NCI Cancels Major Breast Cancer Study

Citing concerns about its safety and usefulness, the U.S. National Cancer Institute has canceled a $100 million study to test whether a new generation of drugs called aromatase inhibitors could prevent breast cancer in high-risk women, the Washington Post reported.

The study would have included 12,800 women at 500 sites across the United States and Canada. The women would have received either the aromatase inhibitor letrozole or the estrogen-blocking drug raloxifene, then would have been monitored for five years.

But the NCI decided that there were too many questions about the safety and the usefulness of the study, the Post reported.

While the study may have helped identify new options for women at risk for breast cancer, "the dangers of introducing these drugs, with their many known side effects, outweighs their potential until we are better able to determine who will benefit from these interventions and what the longer term effect may be," the agency said in a statement.

One of the risks associated with aromatase inhibitors is brittle bones, the Post reported.

Breast cancer researchers and patient advocates had mixed opinions about the cancellation. While some felt it was a scientifically valid study that could potentially help thousands of women, others opposed the idea of giving powerful drugs to healthy women, the Post reported.

Currently, there are two large studies underway in the United States and England comparing aromatase inhibitors with a placebo. That was another factor in the NCI decision to cancel its study, the newspaper said.


Breastfeeding Decline Linked Annually to 160,000 Deaths

A decline in breastfeeding is associated with the deaths of 160,000 infants each year in the Asia-Pacific region, UNICEF regional advisor Stephen Atwood said Wednesday at a breastfeeding conference in the Philippines.

UNICEF told delegates that just 35 percent of infants in the Asia-Pacific region are exclusively breastfed in the first four months of life, Agence France-Presse reported.

Infants less than five months old who aren't exclusively breastfed are much more likely to develop diarrhea and pneumonia, conditions that can be deadly in developing nations.

UNICEF and the World Health Organization told delegates that the low prevalence of breastfeeding poses "an alarming threat to child survival" and urged Asia-Pacific leaders to do more to promote breastfeeding and to warn their citizens about "the dangers of breast milk substitutes," AFP reported.


U.S. Parents Concerned About Media Violence, Sex: Survey

A new survey released Tuesday found that two-thirds of American parents are very concerned about their children's exposure to sex and violence through media such as television, the Internet, and computer games.

The Kaiser Family Foundation survey of 1,008 parents of children, ages 2 to 17, also found that about 66 percent of parents said they already closely monitor their children's use of media, 18 percent said they should do a better job in that area, and 16 percent said such monitoring isn't necessary, Associated Press reported.

The survey also found that about one in four parents feels that media are mainly a negative influence on their children, about one-third said media are mainly positive, and slightly more than a third said media have little impact on children.

About four in 10 parents who have televisions with V-chips that can block children from viewing certain shows knew they had the technology. Of those four in 10 parents, about half said they've used the technology, the AP reported.

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