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Health Highlights: May 24, 2006

U.S. Kids Linked to TVs, Video Games, Computers: Report Groups Demand Direct-to-Consumer Rx Drug Ads Stop Poll Reveals Public's Skepticism About FDA Young Adults Largest Group of Uninsured in U.S. U.S. Online Pharmacy Prices Increase, Non-U.S. Prices Fall

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

U.S. Kids Linked to TVs, Video Games, Computers: Report

One-third of American children age 6 and younger live in homes where the television is on nearly all the time, and almost 20 percent of children under age 2 have a TV in their bedroom, says a Kaiser Family Foundation study released Wednesday.

The study, which included focus groups and a national survey of 1,051 parents of children 6 months to 6 years old, also found that 83 percent of children under age 6 watch TV, play video games, or use the computer on a typical day. They get about two hours per day of screen time, compared to 48 minutes a day listening to a story being read to them, The New York Times reported.

The study also concluded that many parents encourage the use of TV, video games and computers by their children, often starting in infancy. These parents cite a number of reasons: it helps their children learn; it give the parents time to cook or shower; the parents use screen time as a reward or to help their children wind down at bedtime.

"I had this sense of kids clamoring to use media and parents trying to keep their finger in the dam. I found that not to be a very accurate picture in most cases," lead researcher Victoria Rideout told The Times.

Media use increases as children grow older. The study found that 61 percent of children 1 year or younger watch TV, while 90 percent of children ages 4 to 6 have daily screen time.

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Groups Demand Direct-to-Consumer Rx Drug Ads Stop

The U.S. Congress should put a stop to all prescription drug advertising aimed at consumers, says a coalition of 39 medical, health and seniors' groups.

"Prescription drug ads are dishonest and dangerous. They hype the benefits and cloak the risks of prescription drugs," Gary Ruskin, executive director of Commercial Alert, said in a prepared statement.

He noted the following comment made more than two decades ago by Robert A. Schoellhorn, former chairman of Abbott Laboratories: "We believe direct advertising to the consumer introduces a very real possibility of causing harm to patients who may respond to advertising by pressuring physicians to prescribe medications that may not be required."

"We agree," Ruskin said. "We would add that the possibility of creating another Vioxx catastrophe has only grown since then."

Regulation of direct-to-consumer prescription drug advertising is inadequate, said Amy Allina, program director of the National Women's Health Network.

"The ad campaigns promoting hormone therapy to women at menopause were a triumph of marketing over science. Drug companies ducked and weaved around the regulations for truth in advertising, touting unproven benefits for their menopause drugs, which exposed millions of women to breast cancer and heart disease risks with little or no benefit to many," Allina said in a prepared statement.

The groups want legislation to stop direct-to-consumer prescription drug ads.

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Poll Reveals Public's Skepticism About FDA

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration does only a fair-to-poor job of ensuring the safety and efficacy of new prescription drugs, say 58 percent of 2,371 people surveyed last week in a Harris poll.

That finding, released Wednesday, is significantly worse than two years ago and indicates that the public is aware of the systemic problems at the FDA that jeopardize the health of millions of Americans, says Dr. Sidney M. Wolfe, director of the Health Research Group at Public Citizen, a national nonprofit consumer advocacy organization.

The poll also found that 76 percent of respondents were somewhat or very concerned about the FDA's ability to communicate prescription drug safety concerns to doctors and the public.

Each year in the United States, adverse drug reactions cause 100,000 deaths and 1.5 million hospitalizations, making this one of the five leading causes of death in the nation, Wolfe said.

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Young Adults Largest Group of Uninsured in U.S.

Young adults are the largest and fastest-growing group of people in the United States without health insurance, says a Commonwealth Fund report released Wednesday.

The report said 13.7 million Americans between the ages of 19 and 29 don't have insurance, an increase of 2.5 million from 2000. The rate of uninsured people in this group is twice that of those ages 30 to 64.

Young adults comprise 17 percent of the under-65 population, but account for 30 percent of the uninsured non-elderly population, the report said.

This lack of health coverage puts them at increased risk for poor health. The report said that 57 percent of young adults without health insurance said they'd had to do without needed health care, such as not seeing a doctor or specialist when needed, skipping a recommended medical test or treatment, or failing to fill a prescription.

There's also a financial toll. Forty-six percent of uninsured young adults said they were paying off a medical debt or had trouble paying medical bills.

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U.S. Online Pharmacy Prices Increase, Non-U.S. Prices Fall

Drug prices at U.S. online pharmacies increased an average of seven percent over the past year, compared to a two percent decline in prices at Canadian and other non-U.S. online pharmacies, according to an analysis by PharmacyChecker.com.

The changes mean that prices on non-U.S. online pharmacies are now an average of 40 percent lower than those on U.S. online pharmacies. The analysis compared prices of 10 top-selling drugs from the first quarters of 2005 and 2006.

Here's one example. In 2005, the average price for the popular cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor (90 20mg tablets) was $202.94 at non-U.S. online pharmacies. In 2006, the average price was $188.15. The average U.S. online price for the same drug went from $295.67 in 2005 to $319.15 in 2006.

PharmacyChecker.com said the decline in non-U.S. online drug prices may be due to tough competition among Canadian online pharmacies that have lost many U.S customers to Medicare Part D drug plans. In response, the Canadian online pharmacies are increasingly filling orders through other countries with lower prices.

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