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Health Highlights: Aug. 11, 2005

U.S. Plans Review of Some Vets' PTSD Claims Car Fire Deaths Outnumber Apartment Fire Fatalities: Study Pfizer Limiting Viagra Ads to Adult Audiences Exercise, Diet Can Slow Prostate Cancer Progression Living Close to Bus Station Increases Kids' Cancer Death Risk Food Industry Trying to Develop More Healthy, Tasty Foods

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

U.S. Plans Review of Some Vets' PTSD Claims

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will conduct a year-long review of 72,000 insurance claims from veterans who now get disability payments for post-traumatic stress disorder, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

An internal VA review found inconsistencies in the way the claims were decided, the wire service said. Many cases reportedly were approved even with a lack of medical evidence.

The investigation will cover claims approved between 1999 and 2004 for veterans who now receive the full monthly disability benefit for PTSD of $2,299, a VA spokesman told the AP.

Last year, the VA spent about $4.3 billion on PTSD payments, not including medical care, the wire service said.

The mental illness, characterized by symptoms like flashbacks and nightmares, is subjective and can be difficult to quantify, the AP said.


Car Fire Deaths Outnumber Apartment Fire Fatalities: Study

Vehicle fires claimed more lives in the United States last year than did apartment fires, the National Fire Protection Association concluded from a new study.

Vehicle fires accounted for 19 percent of the 1.5 million fires reported in 2004, the fire safety group said. An estimated 550 people died and 1,500 were hurt in vehicle fires in 2004, at a cost of more than $1.3 billion in property damage.

Nearly half of all vehicle fires were caused by mechanical failure or malfunction, the NFPA said in a statement. And while crashes or overturns caused only 3 percent of last year's vehicle fires, they were associated with 57 percent of vehicle fire deaths.

Older teens and young adults were most likely to die in a vehicle fire, the group said. People ages 75 to 84 were considerably less likely than average to die in a car fire, while those 85 or older were at only slightly above average risk.

More vehicle fires occurred in July than in any other month, while the fewest vehicle fires occurred in November and December, the NFPA said.


Pfizer Limiting Viagra Ads to Adult Audiences

The maker of Viagra says it will limit ads promoting the erectile dysfunction drug to television shows that predominantly attract adults, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

Pfizer Inc. also pledged not to advertise medicines to consumers after the drugs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for at least six months, the wire service said.

The pledges followed last week's adoption by the pharmaceutical industry of new advertising guidelines aimed at better communicating the benefits and risks of various drugs with consumers.

In mirroring the industry guidelines, Pfizer also said it would submit all new TV ad campaigns to the FDA for review, the AP reported.


Exercise, Diet Can Slow Prostate Cancer Progression

Regular exercise and a low-fat vegetarian diet may help slow the progression of early stage prostate cancer, says a University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) study that's the first to find that lifestyle changes can combat the disease.

The study of 93 early-stage patients found those men who made lifestyle changes that included a vegan diet, regular moderate exercise and stress-reducing techniques such as yoga did better than patients who made no lifestyle changes.

After one year, the patients who made the lifestyle changes scored better on a standard blood test used to monitor prostate cancer development, the Washington Post reported. Those men were also less likely to require additional treatment, and lab tests found that the men's blood showed signs of being able to inhibit prostate cancer cells.

The study appears in the September issue of the Journal of Urology.

"Diet and other lifestyle changes play an important role in the development of many health problems. Now we have evidence it can slow the progression of prostate cancer," study lead author Dean Ornish, clinical professor in the UCSF department of urology, told the Post.


Living Close to Bus Station Increases Kids' Cancer Death Risk

Children who live within a third of a mile of a bus station are six times more likely to die of cancer as a result of exposure to exhaust fume pollution, British researchers contend.

The University of Birmingham study also found an increased risk for children who lived close to railways stations, oil industry sites and hospitals. The study found that children living close to hospitals had a 2.5 times greater risk of cancer death. Hospitals use incinerators and are often heavy traffic areas, the study authors explained.

They analyzed the cancer deaths of 22,5000 children between 1955 and 1980, BBC News reported. The researchers concluded that carbon monoxide and 1,3-butadience were the major cause of this increased cancer death risk among children living close to major transport sites. Both chemicals are produced by vehicle exhausts, particularly diesel engines.

The study appears in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Some experts said people shouldn't be worried by the findings.

"Before we can be certain of any link between childhood cancer and exposure to pollution, research needs to include much more detailed information on people's levels of exposure than this study provides," Ruth Yates, statistical information manager at Cancer Research UK, told BBC News.


Food Industry Trying to Develop More Health and Tasty Foods

Salty corn chips that have chemically modified starches to make the chips high in fiber and bread with microscopic capsules of heart-healthy fish oil are examples of the food industry's efforts to offer consumers foods that are both healthy and tasty.

Major food producers and food-ingredient companies are hungering for success in this area due to the fact that two-thirds of Americans are overweight and many say they want to eat healthier foods, The New York Times reported.

The industry is trying to cook up foods that have fewer unhealthy ingredients -- such as sugar, salt, fat and white flour -- and more healthy contents such as fiber, fish oil and whole grains.

However, some nutrition experts say some attempts, such as putting fish oil in bread, may just cause consumers to become even more confused about basic concepts of good nutrition.

In other food-related news, the New York City health department on Wednesday asked all city restaurants to stop serving foods with trans fats, which have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, the Times reported.

The request is the first of its kind by any major American city. It's unclear how many restaurants will comply with the appeal. It's estimated that 30 percent to 60 percent of New York City restaurants use partially hydrogenated oil, which contain trans fats, in their food preparation.

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