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Health Highlights: June 26, 2007

Fast Food Chains Won't Post Calorie Counts in NYC: Report AMA Wants Allergy Medicines Allowed at Schools Corporate America Creating Health Safety Net for Early Retirees Millions of Americans Still Lack Health Insurance Alzheimer's Drug Battle Ends Up in U.K. Court

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

Fast Food Chains Won't Post Calorie Counts in NYC: Report

At least three of America's largest fast food chains plan to defy a New York City rule that takes effect July 1 requiring restaurants to post calorie counts on their menus, the Associated Press reported.

Awaiting the outcome of a New York Restaurant Association lawsuit to overturn the regulation, McDonald's, Burger King, and Wendy's have said they would defy the new rule, the wire service said. Other fast food eateries such as Taco Bell and KFC haven't announced a decision, although their menus remain unchanged, the AP added.

The city has said it wouldn't fine any violators until October.

New York City is the first U.S. city to require that calorie counts be added to menus in typeface at least as large as each item's price.

Fast food establishments, saying the new rule would make their menus virtually impossible to read, have said they're being unfairly singled out, since the rule applies only to restaurants that serve standardized portions, the AP said.

The road to implementation has been a lot smoother for another New York City rule that takes effect Sunday -- a ban on trans fat cooking oils in all restaurants. Most fast food chains consulted said they've already made the switch, the AP reported.

Artery-clogging trans fats, found in partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, have been shown to contribute to heart disease.


AMA Wants Allergy Medicines Allowed at Schools

Children with severe allergies should be permitted to bring their potentially lifesaving medicines to school, the American Medical Association voted Monday during its annual meeting in Chicago.

Many school districts prohibit students from bringing medicine to school and 18 states have similar bans, said Dr. Duane Cady, a member of the AMA's board of trustees.

But in the case of serious food allergies, for instance, preventing medicines at school can literally be a matter of life and death, according to the measure AMA delegates adopted, the Associated Press reported.

The AMA vote covers medicines that include prescription epinephrine and other injectable drugs to treat severe allergic reactions called anaphylaxis, which can cause swelling, difficulty breathing, loss of consciousness and even death, the AP said.

"Life-threatening allergic reactions to foods can easily happen at school or away from home, and an epinephrine injection at the first sign of a reaction is critical," said AMA board member Dr. Rebecca Patchin.

All states should have laws that allow children to protect themselves, she said.

An estimated 12 million Americans have food allergies, according to the Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis Network. Each year, an estimated 30,000 people are treated at emergency rooms for severe food allergies, and more than 100 people die, the AP reported.


Corporate America Creating Health Safety Net for Early Retirees

Thousands of early retirees are hoping that corporate America will help rescue them from the ranks of the uninsured, The New York Times reported Monday.

Many people aged 55 to 64 are jobless as a result of layoffs, employee buyouts, and the loss of American jobs overseas. They're also too young for Medicare and can't afford private insurance.

So the HR Policy Association (HRPA), a group representing 250 corporate giants including General Electric, IBM, and Sears, has devised a program to create affordable insurance plans for HRPA-member retirees. Premiums would be cheaper than traditional private plans, and no one who qualifies could be turned down for a medical condition, the newspaper said.

Details of each plan would vary by employer, including whether the company would help subsidize the plan.

The HRPA told the newspaper it doesn't know how many early retirees are among its members, but the Times said there are some 800,000 middle-age Americans who are uninsured and are too young for Medicare.

New accounting rules implemented in the 1990s prompted many companies to stop providing some or all insurance for early retirees. Only 18 percent of large employers still contribute to health benefits for retirees younger than 65, the newspaper said.


Millions of Americans Still Lack Health Insurance

Some 43.6 million Americans lacked health insurance coverage in 2006, which amounts to 14.8 percent of the population, a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found.

Among working-age Americans between ages 18 and 64, 19.8 percent didn't have insurance in 2006, a slight rise from 18.9 percent in 2005, the CDC report found.

On a positive note, fewer children under age 18 were uninsured last year (9.3 percent) than in 1997 (13.9 percent), the agency said.

In 2006, the percentage of uninsured in the 20 largest states ranged from a high of 23.8 percent in Texas to 7.7 percent in Michigan.


Alzheimer's Drug Battle Ends Up in U.K. Court

A pair of pharmaceutical firms and an advocacy group for Alzheimer's patients have taken Britain's drug watchdog to court, hoping to overturn the government's decision to deny many Alzheimer's patients access to a three-drug regimen designed to inhibit the disease, BBC News reported.

The government's National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) has ruled that the three medicines -- donepezil, rivastigmine, and galantamine -- were not cost effective for people with mild Alzheimer's, the BBC said.

Drug companies Eisai and Pfizer, with support from the Alzheimer's Society, want Britain's High Court to reverse the ruling. NICE guidelines published in 2006 stated that the drugs should only be prescribed to people with moderate forms of the disease.

NICE has ruled that the drugs, which cost about £2.50 ($5 US) a day would not be effective enough to recommend for all patients, and were not good value for the money, the BBC reported.

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