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Health Highlights: April 27, 2005

Texas A&M; Researchers Say They've Cloned a Horse Report Urges Changes to Nutrition Program 20 Million Working Americans Lack Health Insurance: Report Congress Focuses on NFL Steroids Policy Consumer, Health Groups Back Drug-Safety Bill

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

Texas A&M Researchers Say They've Cloned a Horse

Researchers at Texas A&M University have cloned the first horse in North America, the school announced Wednesday.

Scientists at the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences used adult horse skin cells from a genetic donor to clone the foal, which was born on March 13. The privately owned foal has been named Paris Texas. The reason for the name: the university teamed with a French company that is dedicated to preserving the genes of exceptional horses, the Associated Press reported.

Horses had previously been cloned in Italy.

With the cloned horse, A&M has become the first academic institution in the world to clone six different species. The first cloned cat was born at the school in 2001. Since then the university has cloned several litters of pigs, a goat, a disease-resistant Angus bull, the first Brahma bull and a deer, the AP said.

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Report Urges Changes to Nutrition Program

Encouraging participants of WIC -- the Special Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children -- to eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, reduce consumption of some dairy products, and to breast-feed are among the recommendations made in a report released Wednesday.

The federally funded report by the Institute of Medicine noted that the government nutrition program for low income women and children lags behind current dietary standards, the Associated Press reported.

WIC, which serves about 8 million people a year in the United States, offers vouchers to pregnant women, new mothers and their young children so they can purchase certain foods they may require due to age, dietary needs or breast-feeding habits.

The WIC nutrition plans have changed little since they were introduced in the 1970s. The proposals in this report would result in some significant changes.

Currently, the only fresh produce offered through WIC are carrots for women who are breast-feeding. Participants can get lots of juice, but nutritionists favor fresh fruit over juice.

The report proposes reducing monthly juice allowances by more than 50 percent and instead providing participants with $8 to $10 vouchers to buy fresh produce.

Another proposal would reduce the monthly allowance of eggs for children from about two dozen to one dozen and milk vouchers would cover 2.1 cups per day instead of the current 3.2 cups a day, the AP reported.

The report recommended expanding the selection of whole grains and produce and permitting participants to buy soy, yogurt or tofu instead of milk.

The U.S. Agriculture Department has 18 months following the report's release to update WIC's food packages, the AP said.

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20 Million Working Americans Lack Health Insurance: Report

More than 20 million working adults in the United States do not have health insurance. And 41 percent of uninsured adults said they were unable to see a doctor in the past 12 months because of cost, compared to 9 percent of adults who have health care coverage, a new survey finds.

Texas leads the list with the highest percentage of adults without health insurance, according to the survey released Wednesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Some 30.7 percent of Texans have no health insurance, followed by Louisiana at 26.4 percent and New Mexico at 26 percent, according to study figures cited by the Associated Press. The foundation noted that one-fifth to one-quarter of these adults are employed, dispelling the notion that just about all uninsured people are out of work.

Most of the uninsured throughout the United States earn incomes between the annual poverty level of $19,000 and twice that amount, the foundation said.

By contrast, Minnesota has the lowest percentage of uninsured people at 8.3 percent, followed by Hawaii at 9.8 percent and Delaware at 10.2 percent, the survey found.

The study analyzed 2003 data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Congress Focuses on NFL Steroids Policy

The National Football League's steroids policy is tough but isn't perfect, says the head of a U.S. congressional committee looking into the use of performance-enhancing drugs in sports.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., also said he intends to introduce a bill to create uniform drug-testing policies for all major sports in the United States. It's expected the bill would face opposition in Congress, which has been previously unwilling to legislate professional sports policy, the Associated Press reported.

In opening the House Government Reform Committee's second hearing on steroids, Davis noted that the NFL has been more cooperative than Major League Baseball in discussing its drug policy.

The NFL plans to triple from two to six the number of random off-season tests that players can face, NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and NFL Players Association chief executive Gene Upshaw said in prepared testimony submitted to the committee.

The NFL and the union have also agreed to add new substances to the list of banned performance enhancers. They've also agreed to lower the testosterone ratio threshold and to put in writing previously agreed-to policies to test for designers steroids, the AP reported.

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Consumer, Health Groups Back Drug-Safety Bill

A bill to improve drug safety is an important step toward much-needed reform of the drug approval and monitoring system in the United States, a coalition of consumer and health groups said Wednesday.

"The FDA's (Food and Drug Administration) passive and feeble safety monitoring system has turned millions of trusting consumers into guinea pigs testing unresolved safety issues. Congress must pass this bill to reassure Americans that drug safety will be a top priority at the FDA," Jeannine Kennedy of Consumers Union, which publishes Consumer Reports, said in a prepared statement.

The bill would create an independent Center for Postmarket Drug Evaluation and Research that would report directly to the FDA commissioner. Currently, that role is filled by the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, which grants new drug approvals, the coalition said.

The bill would also provide the postmarket center with the authority to force drug companies to conduct further safety studies of new drugs and to require drug companies to take action to reduce drug risks, according to the coalition.

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