Health Highlights: Nov. 18, 2002

High-Fat Atkins Diet May Be Good For Cholesterol U.S. Releases New Cancer Statistics Number of Kids With Peanut Allergies Triples, Study Says Newspaper: New York 'Exporting' Mental Patients NFL Tackles Diet Supplements FDA Approves Schizophrenia Medication

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

High-Fat Atkins Diet May Be Good For Cholesterol

People on the high-fat, low-carbohydrate Atkins diet may shed more pounds than those who stick to a low-fat regimen -- and the controversial formula may actually be better for their cholesterol.

Many medical professionals have long viewed the high-fat Atkins diet as a cardiovascular nightmare, but now, the results of at least three scientific studies are suggesting otherwise, the Associated Press reports.

In the latest study, Dr. Eric Westman of Duke University randomly assigned 120 overweight volunteers to the Atkins diet or to the American Heart Association's low-fat Step I diet. People on the Atkins diet restricted their carbohydrate intake to less than 20 grams a day, while 60 percent of their calories came from fat.

After six months, participants on the Atkins diet had lost 31 pounds, had an 11 percent increase in HDL, the good cholesterol, and a 49 percent drop in tryglycerides. Step 1 dieters lost 20 pounds, showed no change in HDL, and their tryglycerides fell 22 percent.

Despite the findings, Westman said, "More study is needed before such a diet can be recommended."

The new research was presented today at the annual scientific meeting of the American Heart Association in Chicago.

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U.S. Releases New Cancer Statistics

Prostate cancer is the leading cancer in men, followed by lung and colon cancer. Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, followed by lung and colon cancer in white women, and colon then lung cancer in black women.

Those findings, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, detail the incidence of cancer in the United States during 1999. For the first time, the statistics are "state-specific."

The findings represent about 78 percent of the population.

HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson said, "The state and regional data will prove invaluable to public health officials as they plan and evaluate cancer control programs and conduct research."

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Number of Kids With Peanut Allergies Triples, Study Says

The proportion of children who test positive for potentially dangerous peanut allergies has tripled since 1989, according to a new British study.

Researchers ran peanut allergy tests on 1,246 children born between 1994 and 1996. About three percent of them tested positive, compared to one percent in a similar 1989 study.

Half the children who tested positive for a peanut allergy were also asthma sufferers, and almost all had eczema.

The researchers believe the increase may be due to "more women eating peanuts when they are pregnant or breastfeeding," the BBC reports.

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Report: New York 'Exporting' Mental Patients

The state of New York is shipping hundreds of mentally ill patients to nursing homes and adult care facilities outside its borders, many of which are unable to care for them, The New York Times reports.

The moves by the administration of Gov. George Pataki are meant to clear the state's facilities of often-violent, chronically ill patients who have been in the state's care for a decade or more, a former state official tells the newspaper. The homes outside New York -- many with tarnished medical histories -- then get hundreds of millions of dollars from the New York Medicaid program, the Times reports. Two New Jersey facilities alone have been paid $82 million over the last seven years.

Pataki took office in 1995, at which time state mental hospitals had 9,000 beds. The current number has been reduced to 4,300, the newspaper reports.

At one home near Boston, a resident from New York recently gouged out the eye of another resident with his bare hands, the Times says. Some Massachusetts homes have threatened to close their doors if New York continues to send them such patients, the newspaper reports.

A spokesman for New York's Office of Mental Health says out-of-state homes get only a small percentage of the thousands of patients discharged each year by state hospitals.

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NFL Tackles Diet Supplements

The National Football League has sent a memo to all of its 32 teams that they face substantial fines if they supply players with banned diet or strength-building supplements.

The rule applies even if players are given the substances unknowingly, reports the Associated Press. One team -- reportedly the Oakland Raiders -- has already been disciplined, the AP reports. An NFL spokesman confirmed that a team had already been fined, but would not confirm which one.

The spokesman said players are ultimately responsible for their actions, but added that the teams would be penalized if they are found to be involved.

Earlier this year, the NFL became the first United States sports league to ban ephedrine, a strength-building substance that has been found to cause dangerous seizures and strokes. The NFL Players Association supported the move, the AP says.

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FDA Approves New Schizophrenia Drug

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the Bristol-Meyers Squibb drug Abilify (aripiprazole) for the treatment of schizophrenia, the company says in a press release.

In clinical studies involving 1,238 schizophrenic patients, Abilify was found to cause minimal weight change and sleepiness, and fewer extrapyramidal symptoms -- characterized by involuntary muscle movement.

While older drugs to treat the disease had many side effects, Abilify -- among a new class of medications called atypical antipsychotics -- is said to cause fewer problems.

Schizophrenia affects more than 2 million Americans, interfering with a person's ability to think clearly, manage emotions, make decisions and relate to others. Other symptoms may include hallucinations, delusions, paranoia, and social withdrawal.

The once-daily oral tablet will be available in 10 mg., 15 mg. and 30 mg. strengths within two weeks, the company says. It did not mention an approximate cost.

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