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Health Highlights: Oct. 16, 2008

Social Security Benefits To Rise 5.8 Percent in 2009 EPA Tightens Lead Air Pollution Limits People With Autism Less Likely to React on 'Gut Instinct': Study Fewer Chinese Children in Hospital for Melamine Illness Cell Phones Linked to Face, Ear Rashes Religious Belief Reduces Teen Pot Use

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

Social Security Benefits To Rise 5.8 Percent in 2009

A 5.8 percent increase in Social Security benefits next year means the average retiree will receive an additional $63 per month, the U.S. government announced Thursday.

The increase, based on rises in the Consumer Price Index, is the largest since a 7.4 percent boost in 1982 and more than double the 2.3 percent increase this year, the Associated Press reported.

More than 55 million Americans will benefit from next year's cost of living increase, including more than 50 million on Social Security, and others who receive Supplemental Security Income payments for the poor.

The typical monthly Social Security check for one person will go from $1,090 to $1,153 per month, while the average couple receiving Social Security benefits will see an increase of $103 a month to $1,876, the AP reported.

A couple receiving the standard Supplemental Security Income payment will go from $956 to $1,011 per month, while the monthly SSI payment for an individual will go from $637 to $674 per month. The average monthly check for a disabled worker will go from $1,006 to $1,064 per month.


EPA Tightens Lead Air Pollution Limits

A 10-fold tighter limit on lead air pollution announced Thursday by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was welcomed by environmentalists, who predicted the EPA would have to increase monitoring in order to enforce the new standard of 0.15 micrograms per cubic meter. The old standard was 1.5 micrograms per cubic meter.

"We commend EPA for taking a giant step in the right direction, but they need to greatly expand the lead monitoring network if they hope to enforce this standard," Dr. Gina Solomon, a senior scientist with the Natural Resource Defense Council, told the Associated Press.

The new standard will better protect everyone, but especially children, who can suffer learning, IQ and memory problems when exposed to even low levels of lead early in life, the EPA said.

Under the new standard, the 16,000 remaining sources of lead, including smelters, metal mines, and waste incinerators, will have to reduce their emissions, the AP reported. No later than October 2011, EPA will designate areas of the country that fail to meet the new standard, and state and local governments in those areas will be required to find ways to reduce lead emissions.


People With Autism Less Likely to React on 'Gut Instinct': Study

A U.K study suggests that people with autism-related disorders are less influenced by "gut" decisions and less likely to make irrational decisions.

Study participants performed a task in which they had to decide whether or not to gamble with a sum of money. People with autism tended to be more consistent in their pattern of choice. Their greater attention to detail may have helped them avoid being influenced by their emotions, according to University College London researchers cited by United Press International.

The findings appear in the Journal of Neuroscience.

The researchers noted that decision making is a complex process that involves both analysis and intuition. Analysis involves computation and more rational thought, making it slower. Intuition is much faster but less accurate because it relies on gut instinct, UPI reported.


Fewer Chinese Children in Hospital for Melamine Illness

The number of children being treated in hospital after consuming melamine-tainted milk products has decreased from about 11,000 a week ago to 5,824, Chinese officials said Thursday.

China's Ministry of Health said six of the children still hospitalalized are in serious condition, according to state news agency Xinhua.Agence France Presse reported that the ministry also said a total of 43,603 children have recovered and been discharged from hospitals since the melamine scandal erupted in September.

Of the more than 53,000 children who became sick after consuming melamine-tainted milk products, four have died. Many of those who became ill suffered from kidney stones and vomiting. Melamine, a chemical used to make plastics, has been found in fresh milk, powders, yogurt and other goods made with Chinese-produced milk.

On Wednesday, Chinese officials ordered all dairy products made before Sept. 14 to be pulled from store shelves. All the products will be tested for melamine, AFP reported.


Cell Phones Linked to Face, Ear Rashes

Nickel on the casings and buttons of cell phones can cause allergic rashes on the faces and ears of people who spend long periods of time on the phones, warns the British Association of Dermatologists.

Women who suffer allergic reactions to nickel in jewelry have a higher risk of suffering a rash from phone use, said the association, which noted that several studies have identified a link between facial/ear rashes and cell phones, BBC News reported.

Anyone who develops a face rash, which could be caused by prolonged cell phone use, should see a doctor, advised the association, which noted that many such cases go unreported or untreated.

A U.S. study published earlier this year found nickel in 10 of 22 popular-brand cell phones, BBC News reported.


Religious Belief Reduces Teen Pot Use

Religious teens are half as likely to use marijuana as other teens and also less likely to smoke or drink, says a U.S. study that asked more than 18,000 adolescents how often they attended church and how important religion was to them, United Press International reported.

"The power of peers is less among youths who are religious. Meaning if you are religious, the pressure from peers to use drugs will not have as much effect," study co-author Stephen Bahr, a sociology professor at Brigham Young University, said in a news release.

The protective effect of religious belief supplements the influence of parents, suggested study co-author John Hoffmann, a sociologist at BYU, UPI reported.

"Parents shouldn't force it, but they can encourage spirituality and religion in their families, which in itself becomes a positive influence in their children's lives," Hoffmann said.

The study appears in the Journal of Drug Issues.

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