Health Highlights: May 13, 2008
Major Depression Affects 1 in 12 Teens: U.S. Report Research Prompts Worries About "Designer Babies" Rising Food Prices Increase Risk of Child Malnourishment 'CFC-Free' Asthma Inhalers Proving Difficult for Millions Sleep Problems Plague Many U.S. College Students Minority-Tailored Asthma Education Programs Benefit Patients
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
Major Depression Affects 1 in 12 Teens: U.S. Report
One in every 12 American teens (about 2.1 million) ages 12 to 17 experienced major depression in the past year, according to a report released Tuesday by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
There was a large gender difference, with 12.7 percent of females and 4.6 percent of males reporting major depression. It's defined as a period of two weeks or longer of depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure, and at least four other symptoms -- such as problems with sleep, energy, concentration and self-image -- reflecting a change in functioning.
The report, based on data from 67,706 teens who took part in the 2004 to 2006 National Surveys on Drug Use and Health, also found that 48.3 percent of teens who reported major depression said it severely impaired their ability to function in at least one of four major areas of their everyday lives, such as home life, school/work, family relationships, and social life.
Teens who reported the most severe depression-related impairment were unable to carry out normal activities on an average of 58.4 days in the past year.
Research Prompts Worries About 'Designer Babies'
Researchers believed to be the first to genetically alter a human embryo are dismissing worries that it's the first step toward creating "designer babies" by inserting specific genes into embryos to promote desired traits such as athletic ability or intelligence.
The scientists said their work was focused on stem cells, and they used an abnormal embryo that had no chance of developing into a baby, the Associated Press reported.
"None of us wants to make designer babies," said Dr. Zev Rosenwaks, director of the Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility at New York Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center. He and his colleagues presented their study last fall at a meeting of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, but it only received widespread attention after it was highlighted over the weekend by a British newspaper.
The Cornell scientists are developing techniques that others might use to produce genetically-modified humans, "and they're doing it without any kind of public debate," said Marcy Darnovsky, associate executive director of the Center for Genetics and Society, the AP reported. The research was also criticized by a London-based group called Human Genetics Alert.
The research doesn't trouble Kathy Hudson, director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., who noted that there are still many technical barriers to modifying babies by inserting genes.
"We're not even close to having that technology in hand to be able to do it right," and it would be ethically unacceptable to attempt it when it hasn't been proven to be safe, Hudson told the AP.
Rising Food Prices Increase Risk of Child Malnourishment
Rising global food prices put 1.5 million more children in India at risk of becoming malnourished and could prove devastating for vulnerable women and children throughout South Asia, warns UNICEF. Currently, about five million Indian children are malnourished.
The UN children's charity noted that South Asia already has the largest number of malnourished children in the world and that nearly half of all Indian children showed signs of stunted growth before the current food price crisis, BBC News reported.
"It is a perfect storm; we have increasing malnutrition in an area that already has the majority of malnutrition in the world," said Daniel Toole, UNICEF's regional director for South Asia. "We have huge numbers of people living in poverty and a doubling of food prices. Those factors combined mean that we're going to just create tremendous vulnerability."
UNICEF's latest State of the World's Children report found that 48 percent of children under age five in India have stunted growth, compared to 43 percent in Bangladesh and 37 percent in Pakistan. The report also said 30 percent of babies in India are born underweight, compared with 22 percent in Bangladesh and 19 percent in Pakistan, BBC News reported.
'CFC-Free' Asthma Inhalers Proving Difficult for Millions
The U.S. government-mandated switch to CFC-free inhalers is causing problems for millions of people with asthma and other lung diseases, according to The New York Times. CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), used as propellants in the inhalers, damage the Earth's ozone layer.
As of Jan. 1, 2009, CFC inhalers will have to be replaced with inhalers that use propellants called HFAs (hydrofluoroalkanes). But HFA inhalers cost much more than CRC inhalers and the new and old inhalers differ in feel, force and taste, and in how they're primed and cleaned, the Times said.
Many asthma patients and doctors haven't been educated about the changes, which has resulted in ungrounded fears about the new inhalers, preventable trips to emergency rooms, and even hoarding of CFC inhalers, the newspaper reported.
"What the government failed to do is to mandate anyone to tell patients and physicians this transition was happening. There is no education, no monitoring of patients, no financial assistance to patients who have to pay higher prices for the new drugs," said Nancy Sander, president of the Allergy and Asthma Network Mothers of Asthmatics.
CFC-free inhalers have been available for more than a decade but four to five million inhaler users have yet to switch to them, the group said.
Sleep Problems Plague Many U.S. College Students
Many American college students have sleep patterns that may harm their education, driving abilities and health, according to researchers who also found that white noise may help improve students' sleep.
The researchers surveyed more than 300 college students and found that one-third took more than 30 minutes to fall asleep and 43 percent woke more than once per night, United Press International reported.
The findings are published in the Journal of American College Health.
In another study, the same researchers concluded that the use of continuous white noise may help improve college students' sleep. White noise decreased difficulty falling asleep and reduced night wakings in students who'd reported sleep problems, UPI reported.
That study was published in the journal Sleep and Hypnosis.
Minority-Tailored Asthma Education Programs Benefit Patients
Tailoring asthma education programs to minorities can improve patients' quality of life, according to Australian researchers who reviewed three studies that included 396 asthma patients, ages 7 to 59, from ethnic minority groups.
All the studies compared the use of culture-specific asthma education programs to general education programs or usual care, United Press International reported.
Culture-specific programs were more effective in improving asthma quality of life scores in adults than general programs or usual care, the review authors concluded. But there wasn't enough data to determine whether the culture-specific programs had any effect on asthma-related hospitalizations.
The review was published in The Cochrane Library journal.