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Health Highlights: Nov. 22, 2002

Girl Scout Chocolate Raisins Being Recalled Heart Failure Test Gets FDA Ok Low Priority on Prevention = High Rates of Cancer Docs Avoid Prescribing Chemotherapy for Elderly Obese Kids Sue McDonald's Drunken-Driving Deaths Up in U.S.

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

Girl Scout Chocolate Raisins Being Recalled

Twelve-ounce cans of Girl Scout Chocolate Covered Raisins are being recalled because some packages may contain chocolate-covered peanuts, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says.

The product, manufactured by Ashdon Farms of Waukesha, Wisc., is marked with a code date of 2283A10 on the bottom of the can. The company also is recalling 7-ounce cans of the same product, marketed under the Ashdon Farms brand name, which are marked with a code date of 2305A6.

People with a severe allergy or sensitivity to peanuts could suffer a life-threatening reaction if they eat this product. No illnesses have been reported to date.

The products were distributed nationwide. You can contact the company at 1-262-832-8201.

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Heart Failure Test Gets FDA OK

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a new lab test to help doctors diagnose congestive heart failure.

The Roche Diagnostics test, named Elecsys proBNP Immunoassay, detects elevated levels of a heart peptide, NT-proBNP, which could indicate congestive heart failure. The higher the peptide level, the more serious the condition.

The earlier congestive heart failure is treated, the better the chances a patient will survive. The just-approved test will allow doctors to quickly diagnose whether a person's symptoms indicate heart failure, or another condition such as lung disease.

The FDA cleared the test following clinical trials involving more than 2,000 people in the United States and Europe.

Congestive heart failure affects up to 2 percent of the population. It is often fatal, especially among the elderly.

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Low Priority on Prevention = High Rates of Cancer

Many states with the highest lung cancer rates are spending tobacco settlement money on things other than cancer prevention, according to a report by two non-profit groups.

Four years ago, 46 states won a total of $206 billion from the world's largest cigarette makers, yet many have not earmarked most of their shares for anti-smoking programs, according to the report prepared by Cancer Care and The Chest Foundation.

While the 10 states with the worst rates of lung cancer received an average of $29 per person in the settlement, they have spent about $2 per person on smoking cessation and related programs, according to an analysis of the report by the Associated Press. Many of the states are in the South.

Earlier this week, a federal appeals court ruled that the states could spend the money virtually any way they wanted. "[State officials] think that the money just fell out of heaven," says Mississippi Attorney General Mike Moore. "It's so shortsighted," he tells the AP.

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Docs Often Avoid Prescribing Chemotherapy for Elderly

While almost 90 percent of doctors surveyed believe the elderly can benefit as much as younger people from aggressive chemotherapy, two-thirds believe the anti-cancer regimen isn't prescribed as much as it should be because the doctors worry that the elderly may be too frail to tolerate it, a new study finds.

Conducted for the American Society on Aging and Pharmacia Oncology, the poll of 300 cancer specialists (oncologists) and primary-care physicians also found that only 16 percent of those surveyed had undergone formal training in how to care for cancer patients aged 65 or older. And one-third of doctors polled believed elderly patients are mostly under-informed about their treatment options.

This year, more than 500,000 Americans will die from cancer, 70 percent of whom are over 65, the survey's authors emphasize.

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Obese Kids Sue McDonald's

Several overweight New York City children have sued McDonald's, claiming the fast-food giant is liable for a national epidemic of childhood obesity.

McDonald's has filed a motion with U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet to dismiss the suit as frivolous, reports Newsday. "They are seeking to hold McDonald's and McDonald's alone accountable for the growing problem of youthful obesity," says company attorney Brad Lerman.

The plaintiffs include a 15-year-old Bronx boy who says he's been eating McDonald's food since the age of six. Gregory Rhymes -- at 5 feet, 6 inches tall -- says he now weighs 400 pounds and has been diagnosed with diabetes, the newspaper reports.

The attorney representing those suing, Samuel Hirsh, says the case has two named plaintiffs, yet includes at least eight others.

Newsday reports that the children's parents say they never saw posters in McDonald's restaurants that explain the nutritional content of the food.

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Drunken-Driving Deaths Up in U.S.

Drunken driving in the United States killed 17,448 people last year, nearly 1,000 more than in 1999, according to Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

That's why, in its 2001 "Rating the States" survey, MADD dropped the nation's drunken-driving grade to a "C" from a "C-plus" in 1999. Among individual states, California rated the highest with a B-plus, while Montana was the only state that failed, the Associated Press reports.

Four factors determined a state's grade: the number of alcohol-related accidents, trends in the number of deaths, state laws, and enforcement attempts.

From 1980, when MADD was formed, until 1993, drunken-driving deaths on U.S. roads fell by 40 percent. From 1994 to 1999, the figure held steady at around 16,500.

Faced with the 2001 increase, MADD President Wendy Hamilton said, "The war against drunk driving stalled."

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