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Health Highlights: March 4, 2009

Please note: This article was published more than one year ago. The facts and conclusions presented may have since changed and may no longer be accurate. And "More information" links may no longer work. Questions about personal health should always be referred to a physician or other health care professional.

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

87M Americans Under 65 Uninsured During Last 2 Years: Report

President Barack Obama has made reducing the number of Americans without health insurance a centerpiece of his health reform efforts, and a new poll highlights those concerns: 86.7 million people under 65 went without coverage at some time during the past two years, according to an advocacy group's report released Wednesday.

Gleaning data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Current Population Survey and its Survey of Income and Program Participation as well as from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, Families USA, a nonprofit health care reform group, said that the figure represents one of every three Americans under age 65, according to United Press International. Of all those uninsured, 60.2 percent were without coverage for nine months or more, and almost 74.5 percent were uninsured for six months or more, the group found. And, more than half of families with incomes between $21,200 and $42,400 a year -- 52 percent of them -- went without insurance in 2007-2008, the report said.

The report also warned that four of every five uninsured Americans are from working families and face even greater risks in a slumping economy: As more and more workers get laid off, they may lose their ability to keep health coverage.


FDA Control Over Dietary Supplements Inadequate: GAO

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has too little control over dietary supplements, according to a report released this week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).

The GAO, which conducted the evaluation at the request of Congress, found that the FDA lacks the information, resources or recall ability it needs to adequately regulate dietary supplements, which are taken by 79 percent of American adults, USA Today reported.

As one example, the GAO noted that supplement companies aren't required to tell the FDA what products they sell or ingredients they use.

A number of groups have long demanded the FDA increase its regulation of supplements.

"It's like the Wild West, and the bad guys know they don't have to take the sheriff seriously," Bruce Silverglade, legal director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told USA Today.


Egg Protein Boosts Muscles and Energy Levels: Study

The high-quality protein in eggs makes an important contribution to muscle strength, energy and a sense of fullness, according to U.S. researchers who reviewed more than 25 protein studies.

One egg provides 13 percent of the recommended daily value of high-quality protein that helps preserve muscle mass and prevent muscle loss in older adults, said review co-author Donald K. Layman, professor emeritus at the University of Illinois, United Press International reported.

"While many Americans may be getting enough protein, they need to focus on consuming sources of higher-quality protein," Layman said in a news release.

Along with benefiting muscle strength, the high-quality protein in eggs provides steady and sustained energy, the researchers said. That's because egg protein doesn't cause a surge in blood sugar or insulin levels, which can lead to a rebound effect or energy "crash" as levels drop, UPI reported.

The review was published in the journal Nutrition Today.


HIV Infection Among People 50 and Older Concerns WHO

A "surprisingly high" number of people over age 50 worldwide are infected with HIV and the number of cases in older adults may be growing, says a World Health Organization study released Tuesday.

For example, between 2003 and 2006, the rate of HIV infection among Americans 50 and older increased from 20 percent to 25 percent. Between 1996 and 2006, the rate of HIV infection among people 50 or older in Brazil increased from 7.5 to 15.7 per 100,000, Agence France Presse reported.

"The frequency of infection with HIV in older people is worrying. We need to understand why and when these people are becoming infected so that public health campaigns can be better targeted to prevent such infections," said WHO scientist George Schmid.

One problem is that HIV is widely regarded as a young people's disease, the WHO said. This leads to less HIV screening among older people, which results in delayed diagnosis. In addition, older people are less likely than younger people to practice safe sex, AFP reported.


Scientists Identify Cause of Gray Hair

British and German scientists say they've identified the root cause of gray hair, a finding that may lead to new methods of treatment.

In experiments with hair and follicle cells, the researchers found that gray hair is caused by a large build-up of hydrogen peroxide due to wear and tear of hair follicles. This build-up blocks hair's natural pigment, BBC News reported.

"This discovery is a major breakthrough in the understanding of hair graying and opens up some novel ideas to combat this scenario. These are being followed up at the current time in our laboratory," said lead researcher Karin Schallreuter.

The study was published in The FASEB Journal, published by the Federation of the American Societies for Experimental Biology.


Doctor's Plan for Custom-Made Babies Condemned

Bioethicists and other critics are condemning an American doctor's offer to let parents pick the color of their children's eyes and hair. Dr. Jeff Steinberg says the service will be available at the New York City and Los Angeles offices of his Fertility Institutes within six months.

Doctors will examine the genetic character of embryos created in a lab and implant the ones that have the best chance of giving parents a baby with the desired traits, the New York Daily News reported.

The announcement triggered widespread criticism.

"We're crossing the line into eugenics, the theory of trying to give people enhanced characteristics -- genetic engineering to make sort of the superman or superwomen," Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, director of ethics at New York Medical College and St. Vincent's Hospital, told the Daily News.

Some say Steinberg doesn't have the ability to give parents what they want.

"He's the only one offering this, because you can't yet do it. Nobody can do this right now," said Sean Tipton of the American Society for Reproductive Technology.

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