Health Highlights: March 30, 2018
New CDC Director Highlights Importance of Science and Data California Coffee Shops Must Post Cancer Warnings: Judge FDA to Move Ahead With Obama Administration Food Labeling Rules
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
New CDC Director Highlights Importance of Science and Data
The new director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention emphasized the importance of science and data during an agency-wide address Thursday.
Robert Redfield Jr., 66, also said that the CDC's most important public health aim is to protect Americans "from that which we don't expect," the Washington Post reported.
The University of Maryland medical professor and longtime AIDS researcher was appointed CDC director a week ago. His brief remarks, in which he said he was honored to lead the best "science-based, data-driven agency in the world," were followed by a question and answer session.
CDC staff nationwide were able to watch or listen to the 45-minute session. Several employees said they were glad to hear Redfield say that if there is evidence to support a public health initiative, the CDC should take action, the Post reported.
Under the Trump administration, there have been growing concerns among scientists and public health experts about the CDC's commitment to science- and evidence-based research.
Redfield's appointment to lead the CDC sparked criticism due to his controversial positions on HIV testing during the first decade of the AIDS crisis, his links to conservative groups that promoted abstinence-based AIDS prevention, and the fact that he has no experience with governmental public health organizations, the Post reported.
California Coffee Shops Must Post Cancer Warnings: Judge
Coffee sellers in California must post warnings that coffee may pose a cancer risk, a judge ruled Wednesday.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elihu Berle's verdict came after an eight-year legal battle between a small nonprofit group and the coffee industry, the Associated Press reported.
The Council for Education and Research on Toxics sued to force the industry to either remove a known carcinogen called acrylamide from coffee or to warn consumers about the chemical that's produced when coffee beans are roasted.
The industry argued that the level of acrylamide in coffee isn't harmful and that any risks are outweighed by benefits, the AP reported.
In his ruling, Berle said the coffee industry didn't make a strong enough case.
"While plaintiff offered evidence that consumption of coffee increases the risk of harm to the fetus, to infants, to children and to adults, defendants' medical and epidemiology experts testified that they had no opinion on causation," Berle wrote in his proposed ruling.
"Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proving ... that consumption of coffee confers a benefit to human health," he stated.
The defendants, which include Starbucks and 90 other companies, have a few weeks to challenge the ruling before it is final. Many coffee shops in California have already posted warnings saying that acrylamide is cancer-causing chemical found in coffee, the AP reported.
The coffee companies have said it's not feasible to remove acrylamide from coffee without affecting taste, but the lawyer who led the lawsuit said that's not true.
"I firmly believe if the potato chip industry can do it, so can the coffee industry," said Raphael Metzger said, the AP reported. "A warning won't be that effective because it's an addictive product."
Potato chip makers were forced to remove acrylamide after the Council for Education and Research on Toxics sued them years ago.
While there is no firm evidence on whether coffee is good or bad for you, the World Health Organization removed coffee from its "possible carcinogen" list in 2016, the AP reported.
Research shows that coffee is unlikely to cause breast, prostate or pancreatic cancer, and it may lower the risk of liver and uterine cancers, according to the WHO. There is not enough evidence to ascertain the relationship between coffee and dozens of other types of cancer.
FDA to Move Ahead With Obama Administration Food Labeling Rules
After a long delay, Obama administration rules requiring calorie labeling on restaurant menus and new "Nutrition Facts" panels on food products will be implemented by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The Trump administration's year-long delay in moving forward with the new rules caused concern for public health advocates and consumer watchdogs, the Washington Post reported.
But FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb announced Thursday that the new rules would be included in a wide-ranging, multiyear bundle of nutrition initiatives to be launched this summer in order to combat health problems such as obesity and heart disease.
Those initiatives will also include encouraging food makers to reduce salt in processed foods and making some food labels easier to understand, the Post reported.
"I'm committed to advancing our work in nutrition as one tool to help reduce health disparities and improve the lives of all Americans," and "to help every family live more free from the burden of preventable illness," Gottlieb said at a meeting of food industry representatives, consumer watchdogs and academics in Washington, D.C.
The initiatives outlined Thursday are part of what Gottlieb called the FDA's "Nutrition Innovation Strategy," and many continue programs introduced by the Obama administration, the Post reported.
While the food industry and some lawmakers in Congress have opposed reducing salt in processed foods, Gottlieb said the FDA will strive to lower salt in foods and said that salt reduction is the "single [most] effective public health action related to nutrition."
New, short-term voluntary salt reduction targets will be introduced in 2019 and the FDA will push for longer-term reductions to prevent high blood pressure and other health conditions associated with high salt intake.
Among the other measures: as of May 8, chain restaurants and grocery stores will have to display calorie and other nutrition information on menus; and beginning January 2020, food products will have to carry the new Nutrition Facts panel, which includes information about added sugars and highlights calorie counts in bold letters, the Post reported.