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Health Highlights: June 27, 2006

Fewer Teens Becoming Mothers Avastin Trial for Pancreatic Cancer Halted Dry Eye Rules in Vegas FDA Enforcement Actions Declining, Lawmaker Says U.S. Supreme Court Won't Hear Generic Drug Case Antidepressants, Air Conditioning May Be Sparking Obesity: Study

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

Fewer Teens Becoming Mothers: Report

Fewer U.S. teenagers are having babies, according to a new report on child and teen health from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

Teen birth rates fell to 42 per 100,000 females in 2003 -- the most recent year for which statistics are available -- from 48 per 100,000 females in 2000, according to the report released Tuesday. The foundation said it considered statistics from the U.S. Census Bureau and other government agencies.

The percentage of high school dropouts also declined, to 8 percent in 2004 from 11 percent in 2000, and the death rates for both children and teens fell slightly over the period, according to an Associated Press account of the report.

But about 18 percent (some 13 million children) lived in poverty in 2004, up from 17 percent in 2000. And one-third of children lived in homes where no parent had a full-time job, up slightly from 32 percent in 2000.

Overall, children and teens fared best in the states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Minnesota, and Iowa. They fared worst in Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, South Carolina and Tennessee, the foundation said.


Avastin Trial for Pancreatic Cancer Halted

Roche Holding AG said Tuesday that it was stopping clinical trials of its cancer drug Avastin for pancreatic cancer because the drug failed to extend patients' lives, Dow Jones Newswires reported.

The Swiss drugmaker said the decision wouldn't affect existing filings and approvals of the drug's use for colorectal, lung and breast cancers, Dow Jones said.

The pancreatic trials were comparing use of Avastin combined with chemotherapy, versus chemotherapy alone. Roche said the trials weren't ended because of safety reasons, and no safety issues were uncovered during the trials.

Avastin was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for advanced colorectal cancer in 2004, and approval petitions have been filed for cancers of the lung and breast, Dow Jones said.


Dry Eye Rules in Vegas

Las Vegas sits atop a new list of the 100 hotspots for dry eye, a condition caused when the tear glands fail to keep the eye sufficiently moist. Left untreated, dry eye can boost a person's risk of infection and impaired vision, according to the list's sponsor, the National Women's Health Resource Center (NWHRC).

The non-profit group considered six factors, including temperature, humidity, wind, altitude, pollutants, and eye allergens.

After Las Vegas, rounding out the top 10 U.S. dry eye spots were the Texas cities of Lubbock, El Paso, Midland, and Dallas; followed by Atlanta; Salt Lake City; Phoenix; Amarillo, Texas; and Honolulu.

Dry eye is among the most common complaints brought to eye doctors, accounting for nearly one-fourth of all office visits, the NWHRC said.


FDA Enforcement Actions Declining, Lawmaker Says

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's enforcement of national food and drug laws lapsed sharply in the first five years of the George W. Bush administration, a top House Democrat alleges.

An investigation by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) found the number of FDA warning letters sent to drug and medical device companies dropped 54 percent in 2005 from five years earlier, according to an analysis of the study by The New York Times.

Seizures of mislabeled, defective, or dangerous products fell 44 percent over the span, the inquiry found. And enforcement actions over medical devices fell 65 percent. This was not because companies were in greater compliance with government regulations, Waxman's probe concluded, but because top FDA officials increasingly overruled subordinates' desire to enforce regulations, the newspaper said.

Reaction to the investigation was mixed, the Times reported. "I doubt that it makes a significant difference in the safety of drugs or other products," the newspaper quoted Jack Calfee, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, as saying.

Dr. Sidney Wolfe, director of Public Citizen's Health Research Group, noted that the FDA receives some $380 million a year from drug companies and device makers. "The public is getting the kind of FDA that the industry is paying for them to get," he said.


U.S. Supreme Court Won't Hear Generic Drug Case

The U.S. Supreme Court has turned down the Federal Trade Commission's bid to end what the FTC says is now a common drug company practice of paying off generic drug manufacturers in exchange for delaying introduction of cheaper generics, the Associated Press reported.

The Supreme Court refused to hear the FTC's appeal of a March 2005 lower-court decision that found such settlements permissible under antitrust law. That decision involved drug maker Schering-Plough Corp., which paid two generic-drug companies a total of $75 million to settle separate lawsuits involving a potassium supplement prescribed to people on blood pressure medications. The settlements included pledges from both firms that they would keep their generic versions off the market for a specified period, the AP said.

Since last year's ruling that such settlements were allowed, the number of similar settlements has jumped, the FTC told the wire service.

The appeal of the lower-court decision had pitted the FTC against the U.S. Justice Department, which had urged the Supreme Court not to consider the case, the AP reported. The Justice Department's Solicitor General had argued that the case wasn't the proper vehicle for the high court to decide whether the settlements improperly restrained trade, the wire service said.


Antidepressants, Air Conditioning May Be Sparking Obesity: Study

Everyone knows that fatty food consumption and lack of exercise are prime contributors to America's growing waistline, note researchers at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. But in addition to what they call the "big two," factors like the growing use of antidepressant medications and air conditioning may also be responsible, the scientists say.

Writing in the International Journal of Obesity, study author David Allison said too much attention is being paid to the "big two" causes of obesity. Allison cited other factors, including the growing use of antipsychotics, antidepressants, antihistamines, and other drugs known to cause weight gain, Bloomberg news service reported.

And America's growing reliance on air conditioning may be interfering with the natural biological process of burning energy to keep our bodies within a certain temperature, Allison said. "Yesterday in Alabama it was 100 degrees," he told Bloomberg. "If you were here in 1960, with no air conditioning in a car or restaurant, you probably wouldn't want to go to the all-you-can-eat buffet."

Allison's research cited other factors contributing to the obesity problem, including former cigarette smokers who eat as a substitute, adults getting less sleep, and mothers giving birth later in life, Bloomberg reported.

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