Health Highlights: Sept. 12, 2007

Employer-Sponsored Health Plan Premiums Increase 6.1 Percent Injured Football Player Moving Arms and Legs Lipitor Tops 2004 Drug Sales Birth Control Pills May Reduce Long-Term Cancer Risk Lead-Tainted Chinese Toys Subject of U.S. Senate Hearing Many Countries Have Food Nutrition Logo Systems

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

Employer-Sponsored Health Plan Premiums Increase 6.1 Percent

The cost of employer-sponsored health insurance in the United States increased 6.1 percent this year and continues to outpace increases in inflation and wages.

That's the finding of an annual report released Tuesday by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust.

Average annual premiums this year were $12,106 for family coverage and $4,479 for single coverage. Of those totals, workers paid $3,281 and $694, respectively, the Los Angeles Times reported. The amount paid by workers increased 10 percent for family coverage and 11 percent for single coverage from last year.

Family coverage premiums have increased 78 percent since 2001, while wages have increased 19 percent and the cost of inflation has increased by 17 percent. The report said the average total cost of health-care premiums for a family of four now exceeds the yearly income of a minimum wage worker.

Rising premium costs and plan deductibles aren't the only issues. The Kaiser study noted that 95 percent of covered workers are now responsible for co-payments and shared costs for out-of-plan services, outpatient surgeries and hospital stays, the Times reported.


Injured Football Player Moving Arms and Legs

Doctors said Buffalo Bills tight end Kevin Everett's condition had improved dramatically, that he was moving his arms and legs, and could eventually walk out of the hospital, The New York Times reported.

The 25-year-old NFL player was paralyzed from the shoulders down after a collision with another player during a game Sunday against the Denver Broncos.

On Sunday night, Everett underwent surgery to repair damage to his third and fourth cervical vertebrae and spinal cord. The surgery was performed by orthopedic spinal surgeon Dr. Andrew Cappuccino, who said Monday afternoon that Everett's chances of a complete recovery were between 5 and 10 percent.

But another doctor who consulted with Cappuccino said Tuesday that Everett will eventually walk out of the hospital, the Times reported.

"Kevin Everett is moving his arms and legs, his legs stronger than his arms," said neurosurgeon Dr. Barth Green. "He's moving them both to a point, to a degree that he will end up walking. He will walk out of the hospital."


Lipitor Tops 2004 Drug Sales

The cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor ranked first in terms of total spending on prescription drugs by people ages 18 to 64 in the United States in 2004. Sales of the drug reached nearly $5 billion, says the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

Another cholesterol-lowering drug, Zocor, ranked fourth overall with sales of $2.3 billion. In second and third place were two proton-pump inhibitors that reduce stomach acid -- Nexium ($2.7 billion) and Prevacid ($2.4 billion). The antidepressant Zoloft was fifth, with $1.9 billion sales.

The AHRQ data also showed that:

  • Among people 65 and older, Lipitor and Zocor ranked first and second in total spending ($4.35 billion and $2.4 billion), followed by: the antiplatelet drug Plavix ($1.7 billion); the calcium channel blocker drug Norvasc, which can be used to treat high blood pressure and certain kinds of chest pain, such as angina ($1.5 billion); and Nexium ($1.5 billion).
  • Among those 17 and younger, the top five drugs were: the asthma medication Singulair ($680 million); the attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder drugs Concerta ($490 million), Strattera ($430 million) and Adderall ($410 million); and the antihistamine Zyrtec ($420 million).


Birth Control Pills May Reduce Long-Term Cancer Risk

Birth control pills may reduce the long-term risk of cancer of any kind by 3 to 12 percent. That's the finding of a study that examined 36 years of data on 46,000 women who took part in the Royal College of General Practitioners' oral contraception study in Great Britain.

If the true figure is 12 percent, that would translate into one less cancer case for every 2,200 women who used the pill. If the true figure is 3 percent, there would be one less cancer case for every 10,000 women who used the pill, The Guardian newspaper reported.

The two different rates in cancer reduction were arrived at using calculations of different datasets.

The study found that women who were once on the pill -- but did not take it for more than eight years -- were significantly less likely than women who never used the pill to be diagnosed with a number of kinds of cancer, particularly ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer, The Guardian reported.

However, women who took the pill for more than eight years had an increased risk of ovarian cancer.


Lead-Tainted Chinese Toys Subject of U.S. Senate Hearing

The recent wave of Chinese-made toys tainted with lead paint will be the focus of a U.S. Senate subcommittee hearing Wednesday that will feature testimony from members of the toy industry, consumer groups, and federal regulators.

The hearing comes a day after China signed an agreement to prohibit the use of lead paint on toys exported to the United States, the Associated Press reported. In recent months, the presence of lead paint has led to the recall of millions of Chinese-made toys.

Lead can cause serious harm to children.

China is facing increasing international criticism after health and safety concerns prompted recalls this year of a number of the country's exports, including pet food ingredients, toys, fish, and jewelry, the AP reported.


Many Countries Have Food Nutrition Logo Systems

While a number of countries have established standardized food label logo systems that provide consumers with quick information about the nutritional value of food products, there's no such system in the United States.

That's resulted in a patchwork of nutritional labeling information systems that experts fear may cause consumers even more confusion when they're looking for healthy eating choices, the Associated Press reported.

In what it says is the first step toward consideration of establishing a national system, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration at a meeting Monday invited food companies, medical experts and other organizations to share their views on how easy-to-understand logos on food packaging may help improve public health.

Even if it eventually does establish a national system, the FDA says it would be voluntary.

While the FDA studies the issue, a number of U.S.-based food companies are taking action on their own. For example, next month, Kellogg Co. and General Mills Inc. breakfast cereal boxes will start to carry symbols that summarize nutritional information, the AP reported.

The Hannaford Bros. supermarket chain in New England also uses a zero to three-star system to rate the nutritional quality of more than 25,000 food items on its shelves.

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