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Health Highlights: Sept. 4, 2006

Obesity Pandemic Looms, Health Officials Say Coated Stents Might Lead to Fatal Clots, Experts Warn Medicare Director McClellan to Resign: Report Boredom Drives Binge Drinking in U.S. West Journal to Clarify Paper on Stem-Cell Research

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

Obesity Pandemic Looms, Health Experts Say

An obesity pandemic could paralyze health-care systems around the globe, health officials warned at an international conference on Sunday, the Associated Press reported.

More than 1 billion adults are overweight and 300 million of them are obese, according to the World Health Organization, and that puts those people at risk for diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke and some forms of cancer.

"This insidious, creeping pandemic of obesity is now engulfing the entire world," said Paul Zimmet, who chaired the International Congress on Obesity, in Sydney, Australia. There are now more overweight people in the world than malnourished, a figure estimated to be 600 million, the AP reported.

"We are not dealing with a scientific or medical problem. We're dealing with an enormous economic problem that, it is already accepted, is going to overwhelm every medical system in the world," said Dr. Philip James, the British chairman of the International Obesity Task Force.

He added that the cost of treating obesity-related health problems was immeasurable on a global scale, but it already billions a year in countries such as the United States, Britain and Australia.

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Coated Stents Might Lead to Fatal Clots, Experts Warn

Drug-coated stents for the heart could lead to fatal blood clots in rare cases, experts attending a heart meeting in Barcelona said Sunday, the Associated Press reported.

First introduced in 2000 as an improvement over bare metal stents, almost 6 million people worldwide now have the drug-coated versions of these mesh tubes that keep arteries open after they have been cleared. But three different studies presented at the World Cardiology Congress showed these coated stents had higher risks of clotting than the bare metal version.

"This is potentially explosive information," Dr. Steve Nissen, president of the American College of Cardiology and director of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic, told the AP. "It certainly makes me pause with substantial concern."

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Medicare Director McClellan to Resign: Report

Mark McClellan, the Texan doctor and economist who has managed federal Medicare/Medicaid programs since early 2004, will resign from the post, the Dallas Morning News reported Sunday.

Sources close to McClellan said the decision could be announced as early as Tuesday.

McClellan is brother to former White House press secretary Scott McClellan, and son to Texas comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn of Austin. Strayhorn, a Republican, is running as an independent for governor of that state.

The Morning News said McClellan was not available for comment, nor was there any comment on the move from the White House or the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

President George W. Bush appointed McClellan to the top post at Medicare/Medicaid after a short stint as commissioner of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. McClellan oversaw the often-controversial launch of Medicare's 'Part D' drug-coverage program.

Sources close to McClellan told the Morning News that he had been mulling a move to the private sector or academia for some time, citing a desire to spend more time with his family.

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Boredom Drives Binge Drinking in U.S. West

A recent survey found that seven of the top 10 areas for under-age binge drinking in the Unitd States. lie in the country's northern plains states such as Wyoming, Montana and the Dakotas. Speaking to the New York Times, local residents and experts say boredom among young people is to blame.

"I think so many kids drink because the state is barren, desolate and boring to some people, and there's not really anything to do," Isaiah Springer, a recent high school graduate from Cheyenne, Wy., told the Times.

The all-night beer parties that break the tedium for kids often turn deadly, however. "Had a kid, drunk, flipped his car going 80 miles an hour, and that killed him; and another kid, drink, smashed his boat up against a rock just a couple months ago, killing two; and then there was this beating after a kegger -- they clubbed this kid to death," said Scott Steward, sheriff of Wyoming's Park County.

One federal survey, conducted three years ago, found that south-central Wyoming led the nation in alcohol abuse by people 12 years of age or under. The same survey found that rural 12-and-13-year-olds were twice as likely as urban youth to drink and abuse alcohol. Experts say drug abuse -- especially methamphetamine -- is also rampant in small towns in the north and west central plains.

Others point to an ingrained culture in the region that may encourage also drinking. "We're a frontier culture, and people say, 'I work hard and I'll be damned if I'm not going to have a beer or two on the way home,'" Rosie Buzzas, a Montana state legislator who oversees alcohol counseling services in the western part of the state, told the Times. "There's a church, a school, and 10 bars in every town."

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Journal to Clarify Paper on Stem-Cell Research

The editors of the journal Nature said they will clarify a research paper published last week that described a way to create embryonic stem cells without destroying human embryos.

Many newspapers, TV stations and Web sites around the world portrayed the embryos' survival as the study's main innovation, the Associated Press reported.

In the paper, researchers at Advanced Cell Technology in Worcester, Mass., described their historic success in developing stem cells using single cells taken from early embryos. But none of the embryos that the researchers used to harvest cells was left intact.

In the study, the researchers took up to seven cells from 16 human embryos, then tried to grow stem cells from each individual cell. The researchers said this was done to maximize the number of cells they could test and improve the chances of obtaining stem cells. The scientists hope to show they can make stem cells from intact embryos that have had just one or two cells removed, the AP said.

Although the study's main findings remain unchallenged, the journal may modify the paper and a potentially misleading diagram, a Nature spokeswoman said.

Study leader Robert Lanza of Advanced Cell Technology said the clarification "doesn't change the scientific point of the paper."

Scientists believe stem cells have the ability to develop into any cell type in the body, potentially leading to medical advances in which the cells might help replace diseased or injured tissue, thereby treating a host of diseases and conditions.

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