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Health Highlights: Oct. 31, 2008

Consumer Group Questions Safety of Nanoparticles in Sunscreens China Widens Melamine Investigation Light Drinking During Pregnancy OK, Study Suggests More Overweight Women Have Sex: Study

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

Consumer Group Questions Safety of Nanoparticles in Sunscreens

Four out of five mineral-based sunscreens that claim not to contain nanoparticles actually do contain them, says a report released Friday by Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports.

The organization urged the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to conduct a full-scale safety review of nanoparticles in sunscreens.

"The widespread use of nanoparticles of titanium dioxide and zinc oxide in sunscreen is involving consumers in a vast experiment as to the safety of these products," Michael Hansen, a senior scientist at Consumers Union, said in a news release.

"These very tiny nano-sized particles are known to have different properties than the conventional versions of these chemicals and could be harmful to health. The FDA should require safety data for all these nanoparticles, and at the very least, they should require companies to be truthful about whether or not they are using nano-ingredients," Hansen said.

According to Consumers Union, the four sunscreens that claimed not to contain nanoparticles, but did contain them, were: Aubrey Organics Natural Sun SPF 25 Green Tea Protective Sunscreen; Badger SPF 30 Sunscreen; Kiss My Face SPF 30+ Sun Screen with oat protein complex; and Mexitan SPF 30 Sunscreen. Zinka Colored Nosecoat was the only one of the five that contained no nanoparticles, the group said.


China Widens Melamine Investigation

The investigation into melamine-contaminated food in China is being widened, Chinese officials said Friday as there was more evidence that the toxic industrial chemical is widespread in the nation's animal feed supplies.

Earlier this week, food safety tests showed the eggs produced in three different provinces were contaminated with melamine, which has been blamed for causing kidney stones and renal failure in infants who consumed milk products tainted with the chemical. The egg test results triggered recalls and consumer warnings, The New York Times reported.

Hong Kong officials announced earlier this week that a wide variety of Chinese-produced foods -- including vegetables, flour and meat products -- would be tested for melamine.

The reports of contaminated Chinese foods are causing concern worldwide, the Times reported.

Also Friday, BBC News reported that the addition of melamine to animal feed in China is likely routine and an "open secret," according to reports published in several state newspapers.

As a whole, the animal feed industry in China seems to have decided to use melamine to reduce production costs while maintaining the protein count for quality inspections, said an editorial in the state-run China Daily.

The Nanfang Daily said the practice of mixing melamine into animal feed was an "open secret."

Experts noted that the articles in the Chinese newspapers were unusual and may amount to a tacit government admission that melamine contamination could affect a large portion of the nation's food supply, BBC News reported.

Melamine-tainted milk killed at least four babies in China and sickened tens of thousands.


Light Drinking During Pregnancy OK, Study Suggests

Drinking small amounts of alcohol during pregnancy doesn't increase the risk of cognitive or behavioral problems in children, according to a study by researchers at University College London in England.

They looked at 12,500 three-year-olds and found that boys born to light drinkers (a range of one drink every so often to two drinks per week) were 40 percent less likely to have conduct problems and 30 percent less likely to be hyperactive than those born to abstainers. Boys born to light drinkers also scored better on vocabulary tests and on identifying colors, shapes, letters and numbers, BBC News reported.

Girls born to light drinkers were 30 percent less likely to have emotional problems than those born to abstainers. The study was published in the International Journal of Epidemiology.

The researchers said their findings raise questions about recommendations for complete abstinence during pregnancy and suggest the need for further research.

But some experts were alarmed by the study.

"We are concerned that the findings from the UCL study may lull women into a false sense of security and give them the green light that there is no problem with drinking during pregnancy This is not the case," Dr. Vivienne Nathanson, head of science and ethics at the British Medical Association, told BBC News. "The BMA believes the simplest and safest advice is for women not to drink alcohol during pregnancy."


More Overweight Women Have Sex: Study

A U.S. study says overweight women are more likely to have heterosexual sex than normal-weight women, a finding that challenges the common belief that overweight and obese women aren't as sexually active as other women.

Researchers at the University of Hawaii and Oregon State University analyzed data from the 2002 National Survey of Family Growth, which looked at the sexual behavior of more than 7,000 women, United Press International reported.

The study found that 92 percent of overweight women and 87 percent of normal-weight women reported a history of sex with men. The findings were published in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

"These results were unexpected and we don't really know why this is the case," study author Dr. Bliss Kaneshiro, of the University of Hawaii, said in a news release, UPI reported.

"This study indicates that all women deserve diligence in counseling on unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease prevention, regardless of body mass index," Kaneshiro said.

Consumer News