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Health Highlights: May 18, 2010

Hundreds of Texas Doctors Leave Medicare Hot Dogs, Bacon Tied to Heart Disease, Diabetes: Study Nobel Prize Winner to Head U.S. Cancer Institute Food Industry Group to Cut Calories FDA Expands Johnson & Johnson Children's Drug Probe Urinary Tract Infections Becoming 'Resistant': Study

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

Hundreds of Texas Doctors Leave Medicare

Problems with Medicare reimbursement may have led hundreds of Texas doctors to opt out of the federal health care program for the elderly.

In the first three months of 2010, 50 Texas doctors left the program, bringing to more than 300 the number who have dropped out in the past two years, according to a survey by the Texas Medical Association, CBS/AP reported.

Primary care doctors, already in short supply around the country, have left in greatest numbers, an article in the Houston Chronicle Tuesday noted.

"This new data shows the Medicare system is beginning to implode," Dr. Susan Bailey, president of the Texas Medical Association, told the Chronicle. Doctors will continue to drop out if Medicare isn't fixed soon, and the congressional promise to provide medical care to seniors "will be broken," she said.

Years of declining Medicare reimbursement preceded a 21 percent cut this year, the paper said.


Hot Dogs, Bacon Tied to Heart Disease, Diabetes: Study

They may taste good, but bacon, sausage, hot dogs and deli meats can increase the risk of heart disease and diabetes, a study found.

The study in the journal Circulation linked consumption of processed meats to a 42 percent greater risk of heart disease and a 19 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes, Agence France-Presse reported.

"Based on our findings, eating one serving per week or less would be associated with relatively small risk," said lead author Renata Micha, a research fellow in the department of epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health.

But there was good news too: No higher risk of heart disease or diabetes was noted among those who ate unprocessed red meat, such as lamb, beef or pork.

The team studied 1,600 reports involving about 1.2 million people. On average, the researchers said each 1.8 ounce daily serving of processed meat -- the equivalent of one hot dog or one to two slices of deli meats -- was linked to the greater heart disease and diabetes risk, AFP said.

In the United States, the amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol in unprocessed red and processed meats were similar, but processed meats "contained, on average, four times more sodium and 50 percent more nitrate preservatives," said Micha. "This suggests that differences in salt and preservatives, rather than fats, might explain the higher risk of heart disease and diabetes seen with processed meats, but not with unprocessed red meats," she said.


Nobel Prize Winner to Head U.S. Cancer Institute

Dr. Harold E. Varmus, president of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and a Nobel Prize-winning biologist, will be appointed director of the U.S. National Cancer Institute, the White House said Monday.

Varmus, 70, is likely to shake up the often-criticized federal cancer program, which has a budget of $5.1 billion this year, The New York Times reported.

Formerly director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health under President Bill Clinton, Varmus was selected by President Barack Obama. Senate confirmation is not required.

"There are tremendous new opportunities in cancer research, with knowledge about the human genome and how cells are wired," Varmus told The Times. "Everyone feels a sense of accelerating success. There are amazing prospects."

Although some advocacy groups have reportedly had conflicts with Varmus, Dr. Otis W. Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, told The Times he was "thrilled and delighted" with the president's choice.


Food Industry Group to Cut Calories

Michelle Obama has scored a big success in her fight against childhood obesity with the announcement Monday that a major food manufacturing group will bring out healthier products, reduce calories in some products and trim portion sizes.

The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, whose members make about 25 percent of food consumed in the United States, has pledged to cut 1 trillion calories by the end of 2012 and 1.5 trillion calories by the end of 2015. Its 16 members include General Mills, Kellogg, Campbell Soup, Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods and PepsiCo.

"This is precisely the kind of real private-sector commitment that we need. And I hope that more will follow the example that they've set," Obama said at a news conference in Washington, D.C., the Washington Post reported.

The move comes less than a week after the White House's Childhood Obesity Task Force reported its findings.

Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale University, said he hopes other companies will feel compelled to make changes. "Any step in the right direction is welcome, even if it's a tiny one," he told the Post.


FDA Expands Johnson & Johnson Children's Drug Probe

Johnson & Johnson, which recently recalled more than 40 children's medicines, is coming under more government scrutiny, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The FDA said it is expanding its investigation and looking into manufacturing within the company's consumer health-care unit, McNeil Consumer Healthcare, which makes Benadryl, St. Joseph aspirin, Motrin, Tylenol and Zyrtec, among other products for children and adults, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Last month, the company recalled some over-the-counter medicines for children and infants, and closed the Fort Washington, Pa., plant where the recalled products were made.

An FDA spokeswoman said the agency wanted to make sure similar manufacturing problems didn't exist at McNeil unit plants in Lancaster, Pa., and Las Piedras, Puerto Rico.

As a result of the recall, a congressional committee is looking into how the company handles consumer complaints and reviewing the FDA's inspection procedures. Johnson & Johnson's chief executive, William Weldon, has been asked to testify at a hearing on May 27, the Journal said.


Urinary Tract Infections Becoming 'Resistant': Study

Overuse of antibiotics by the farming industry is making it harder to treat common urinary tract infections, experts warn.

"Resistance" genes are being passed from animals to humans in the food chain, said University of Hong Kong researchers, who looked at samples from humans and animals and found an identical gene for antibiotic resistance, BBC News reported.

Their results were published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology.

The study involved Escherichia coli bacteria, which are responsible for most human urinary tract infections.

The gene, known as aacC2, provides resistance to the often-prescribed antibiotic gentamicin. It was seen in about 80 percent of 249 human and animal samples examined, BBC said.

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