Health Highlights: Nov. 5, 2007

Americans' Health Declining: Report FDA Issues Recall for External Defibrillators Boomers Misinformed About Long-Term Care Coverage: Survey Iron Deficiency-Anemia Linked to Stroke in Children Study Probes Lung Cancer Genetics Mice With 2 Epilepsy Genes Have Fewer Seizures

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

Americans' Health Declining: Report

The overall health of Americans declined by 0.3 percent over the past year, even though progress has been made in several key health indicators, according to the 18th annual America's Health Rankings report released Monday by the United Health Foundation, the American Public Health Association, and the Partnership for Prevention.

Between 1990 and 2000, the United States had annual 1.5 percent increases in overall health. But improvement has stagnated since 2000, the report found. While there have been modest gains in reducing rates of cancer and cardiovascular death rates, these advances are overshadowed by increases in obesity, numbers of uninsured people, children living in poverty, and the continuation of risky health behaviors, such as tobacco use and violent crime.

Obesity has increased from 11.6 percent of the population in 1990 to more than 25 percent (55 million) today. The number of uninsured Americans has risen from 13.4 percent of the population in 1990 to 15.8 percent (47 million) today.

The U.S. continues to trail many other nations in important health indicators such as overall life expectancy, healthy life expectancy and infant mortality. Life expectancy in the U.S. is at its highest point in history (77.9 years) but is behind 43 other countries, including Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Japan, and Sweden.

In terms of healthy life expectancy -- number of years of active, healthy life expected at birth -- a baby girl born in the U.S. can expect 71 years of healthy life, compared to 78 years for a baby girl born in Japan.

Based on the 20 health measures included in the report, Vermont, Minnesota, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Connecticut ranked as the top five healthiest states, while Tennessee, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi (the least healthiest state) were the bottom five.

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FDA Issues Recall for External Defibrillators

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday that it had issued a recall for Welch Allyn AED 10 automatic external defibrillators.

The devices are typically used by emergency or medical personnel to treat heart attack. They analyze an unconscious patient's heart rhythm and automatically deliver an electrical shock to the heart if needed to restore normal heart rhythm.

With the recalled devices, there's a possibility of failure or unacceptable delay in analyzing a patient's electrocardiogram, resulting in possible failure to deliver appropriate treatment. The potential failure or delay depends on the location of the defective part that stores an electrical charge on the circuit board. The company plans to replace all affected units, the FDA said.

The devices were manufactured between March 29, 2007, and Aug. 9, 2007, with part numbers 970302E, 970308E, 970310E, and 970311E, the FDA said.

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Boomers Misinformed About Long-Term Care Coverage

One in four U.S. Baby Boomers mistakenly believes he or she has coverage for long-term care expenses. And many Boomers have misconceptions about who pays for long-term care, and they haven't given much though to long-term care insurance.

Those findings are contained in a survey released Monday by America's Health Insurance Plans (AHIP).

"This should be a wake-up call to Baby Boomers. They aren't factoring expenses for long-term care into their retirement planning and are missing an opportunity to protect themselves," Karen Ignagni, president and CEO of AHIP, said in a prepared statement.

The data released Monday are preliminary findings from ongoing survey and focus group research. Among the findings:

  • Only in four Baby Boomers nearing or at the age of 60 say he or she is "very familiar" with long-term care insurance, and 41 percent have not had any discussions about long-term care within the past year.
  • Most Baby Boomers think Medicare or "other health insurance" will pay for long-term care. Medicare does cover long-term care, but only after requiring individuals to spend nearly all of their assets to quality for assistance.

The release of the survey coincides with the start of Long-Term Care Awareness Week.

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Iron Deficiency-Anemia Linked to Stroke in Children

There appears to be a link between iron deficiency-anemia and stroke in children, says a Canadian study that looked at 56 children who suffered an ischemic stroke -- caused by blood clots that block an artery -- and 153 healthy children.

The researchers found that 53 percent of the stroke patients had iron-deficiency anemia, compared with 9 percent of the healthy children -- an almost six-fold difference, the Toronto Globe and Mail reported.

The study results, published Monday in the journal Pediatrics, suggest that a poor diet can harm a child's circulatory system.

"This is the first time research has shown a relationship between a common problem, anemia, and a not so common but devastating condition, stroke," lead author Patricia Parkin, director of the Pediatrics Research Outcomes Team at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, told the Globe and Mail.

Stroke is rare in healthy children, but "we do need to pay more attention to iron-deficiency anemia," said Parkin, who noted that an iron-poor diet can cause neurological delays and learning problems in children.

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Study Probes Lung Cancer Genetics

A gene that play a critical role in the spread of lung cancer, as well as genetic abnormalities associated with the disease, have been identified by researchers involved in a worldwide, multicenter DNA study. These findings about the biological basis of lung cancer may help lead to the development of new treatments, Agence France-Presse reported.

"This view of the lung cancer genome is unprecedented, both in its breadth and depth. It lays an essential foundation, and has already pinpointed an important gene that controls the growth of lung cells," said research leader Matthew Meyerson of Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The team concentrated its efforts on lung adenocarcinoma, which accounts for just under a third of all lung cancer cases.

Meyerson and his colleagues identified 57 genomic changes commonly found in lung cancer patients and, of those changes, 40 are associated with genes not previously known to be involved with lung adenocarcinoma, AFP reported.

The study is published in the journal Nature.

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Mice With 2 Epilepsy Genes Have Fewer Seizures

Having two epilepsy-related genes may actually reduce the likelihood of suffering seizures, according to research in mice conducted by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine in the United States.

They focused on defects in two genes: the Kcna1 gene, involved in the transport of potassium in and out of cells; and the Cacna1a gene, which plays a role in calcium levels, BBC News reported.

The defect in the Kcna1 gene has been linked to severe seizures in "temporal lobe" epilepsy. Mice with this defect are at risk of sudden death. The defect in the Cacna1a gene in linked with "absence" epilepsy, where patients stare into space.

The researchers were surprised to find that mice bred with both gene defects did not experience a worsening of symptoms, but actually had far fewer seizures and did not die suddenly, BBC News reported.

The finding, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, could lead to new ways of treating certain types of epilepsy, the researchers said.

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