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Health Highlights: May 25, 2010

Calorie Counts at Some Restaurants 'Off the Charts' States Can Do More to Promote Exercise: CDC Report Dangerous Hospital Bacterium Spreads in Air: Study States Banning Synthetic 'K2' Pot Thinnest Shoppers Found at High-End Food Stores

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

Calorie Counts at Some Restaurants 'Off the Charts'

Eating out can kill your diet and hurt your heart, with some restaurants packing nearly a day's worth of calories into a single serving, a new report finds.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a consumer group based in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday dished out its annual "Xtreme Eating Awards," USA Today reported.

Among the recipients:

  • The Cheesecake Factory's Pasta Carbonara with Chicken, 2,500 calories and 85 grams of saturated fat.
  • Outback Steakhouse New Zealand Rack of Lamb, with garlic mashed potatoes and fresh vegetables, 1,820 calories, 80 grams of saturated fat and 2,600 milligrams of sodium.
  • Bob Evans' Cinnamon Cream Stacked and Stuffed Hotcakes, 1,380 calories and 27 grams of saturated fat and 7 grams of trans fat. Four tablespoons of syrup adds 200 more calories.
  • P.F. Chang's Double Pan-Fried Noodles Combo, 1,820 calories, 7,690 milligrams of sodium.

"You can't even split these and have a decent meal -- the numbers are just off the charts," said Bonnie Liebman, CSPI's nutrition director, noting the average American should consume about 2,000 calories a day and no more than 20 grams of saturated fat.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, sodium consumption for most Americans should be kept to 1,500 milligrams a day, USA Today said.

The food industry wasn't impressed by the report, however. Mike Donohue, a spokesman for the National Restaurant Association, told USA Today that the CSPI report "paints a distorted picture of restaurants based on a single menu item."


States Can Do More to Promote Exercise: CDC Report

Getting adequate exercise is an uphill battle in many states because they lack effective policies or environmental supports for physical activity, says a report released Tuesday from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Regular physical activity is essential to overall health," said Dr. CDC Director Dr. Thomas Frieden. "This state indicator report provides a measure for a state's ability to support physical activity and shows where a state has been successful and where more work may be needed."

In Vermont, 73.3 percent of adults reported moderate physical activity of at least 150 minutes a week or 75 minutes of intense aerobic exercise, while in Tennessee, only 51.8 percent of residents met that goal, the report said.

First Lady Michelle Obama, who is leading a fight against childhood obesity, said the report shows a need to promote physical activity for children.

Only 50 percent of young people had access to parks, playgrounds, community centers, and sidewalks that make play convenient, the report found. Just a quarter of youngsters enjoy those supports in Mississippi (24.7 percent) and West Virginia (27.2 percent), while almost three-quarters (71.6 percent) of kids in Washington, D.C., benefit from them.

Just 17 percent of U.S. high school students reported getting an hour of physical activity daily; 20 states require or recommend recess in their elementary schools, and 37 states insist that elementary, middle and high schools teach physical education.

"We need parents and teachers, business and community leaders and the public and private sectors to come together to create more opportunities for our kids to be active so they can lead happy, healthy lives," Obama said.


Dangerous Hospital Bacterium Spreads in Air: Study

Scientists thought that a germ that causes deadly intestinal infections in hospital patients spread only by surface contact, but now researchers report Clostridium difficile can travel through the air.

Inhaling the spores doesn't seem to spread C. difficile, but the British scientists said the germs can land in places where people can touch them, The New York Times reported.

Contact with infected feces is the usual source of C. difficile contamination. Studying 50 infected patients, the University of Leeds researchers found that the more active their diarrhea, the more C. difficile spores there were.

The researchers stressed the need to isolate hospital patients with diarrhea -- even before confirmation of C. difficile infection. However, Dr. L. Clifford McDonald, an epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the Times that the finding will probably not change current preventive practice since putting patients in a single room "is the norm here in the U.S."

"There is a little bit of dispersion," McDonald added, "but the heavier contamination is still from direct contact."

The best prevention, experts said, is still proper hand hygiene.


States Banning Synthetic 'K2' Pot

Eleven U.S. states have banned -- or may ban -- a mixture of chemicals called K2, which, when sprinkled on herbs, turn them into whats known as synthetic marijuana.

An article in USA Today said those supporting a ban argue that K2 use, which is rampant among young people, can cause health problems, the Associated Press reported.

Poison centers in 35 states have documented 352 cases of people sickened by K2, according to USA Today.

The mixture of herbs and spices, produced in Korea or China, contains a synthetic compound chemically similar to THC, the psychoactive ingredient in pot. The key ingredients are banned in Europe but unregulated in the United States.

Toxicologists studying the effects of K2 said teenagers have suffered hallucinations, severe agitation, elevated heart rates, vomiting and seizures after using the drug.

"They think they're going to mellow, and that's not what's happening," Dr. Anthony Scalzo, a toxicologist at Saint Louis University, told the AP in March.

Kansas and Kentucky have outlawed K2, and Alabama, Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee have bans pending. According to USA Today, Illinois, Louisiana, Michigan, New Jersey and New York are also weighing proposals to ban the substance.


Thinnest Shoppers Found at High-End Food Stores

Proving perhaps that obesity is an economic issue, a new study finds that cheaper grocery stores attract a higher percentage of obese shoppers.

At the three lowest-priced stores in the Seattle area, the percentage of obese shoppers was almost 10 times higher than at Whole Foods Market stores, which is known for pricey organic and natural foods, MSNBC reported.

"If people wanted a diet to be cheap, they went to one supermarket," said the study's lead author, Adam Drewnowski, a University of Washington epidemiology professor. "If they wanted their diet to be healthy, they went to another supermarket and spent more."

Looking at more than 2,000 shoppers between December 2008 and March 2009, the researchers compared the consumers' choice of supermarkets with their education, income and obesity rates, which were calculated by their body mass index. Anyone with a BMI higher than 30 was defined as obese.

Although the study focused only on Seattle, Drewnowski said it's likely the pattern would be found elsewhere.

"If you have $3 to feed yourself, your choices gravitate toward foods which give you the most calories per dollar," he said.

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