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Health Highlights: Aug. 4, 2003

U.S. Panel Urges Universal Vaccine Program Kids Need to Be Monitored for Obesity: Report Scientists Eye Allergen-Free Peanut Green Tea's Cancer Fighting Methods Identified President Bush in 'Excellent' Health Medical Author Criticized for Conflict of Interest

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

U.S. Panel Urges Universal Vaccine Program

In a proposal that would ensure all Americans get all the vaccines they need, a panel of health experts is recommending that the federal government require all insurance plans to cover vaccinations. And the government should offer vouchers to people without insurance so they can get their shots, the Associated Press reports.

"We offer a plan that both ensures access to vaccines for those in need and creates incentives for private investment in the vaccine industry that would sustain the development and manufacture of these products in the future," said Frank Sloan, professor of health policy at Duke University and chairman of the Institute of Medicine panel that issued the report Monday.

While 75 percent of U.S. babies get vaccinated on schedule against nine different diseases, many children don't get the shots that would protect them, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says.

Compounding the problem, the panel said, was that there were more than 25 companies producing vaccines for the United States 30 years ago. Today, there are only five, the AP reports.

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Kids Need to Be Monitored for Obesity: Report

Whether skinny or fat, all kids should have a yearly exam that includes a measurement of their body-mass index (BMI), the American Academy of Pediatrics says in a new series of recommendations.

The BMI, a height-to-weight ratio, could point out a child's tendency to develop obesity-related problems, the academy says, noting that most pediatricians already track a child's height and weight.

Some 15 percent of American children ages 6 through 19 are grossly overweight or obese, the Associated Press reports of recent research data, a figure that has doubled over the past 20 years. And there's been a corresponding rise in obesity-related disorders like diabetes.

The academy's new policy also recommends that pediatricians:

  • Track obesity risk based on family history, ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
  • Encourage exercise and discourage more than two hours of TV a day.
  • Encourage healthy eating.
  • Encourage new mothers to breastfeed because research indicates the practice may reduce an infant's risk of obesity.

The recommendations are published in the August issue of the journal Pediatrics.

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Scientists Weigh Allergen-Free Peanut

U.S. scientists have discovered a variety of peanut that lacks one of the major causes of peanut allergy, the Washington Post reports.

The Agriculture Department researchers who made the discovery hope to crossbreed the peanut with the more common variety as a step toward an allergy-free supermarket offering.

Peanuts contain two proteins -- Ara h 1 and Ara h 2 -- that cause reactions in more than 50 percent of those who are allergic to peanuts, the Post says. Scientists discovered that of more than 300 varieties tested, a single type of peanut lacked Ara h 2. Now the researchers are investigating whether they can find any peanut that lacks Ara h 1.

There are more than 14,000 varieties of peanuts in the United States alone, and countless others elsewhere, the newspaper reports.

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Green Tea's Cancer Fighting Methods Identified

While green tea has been much-ballyhooed for its anti-cancer properties, University of Rochester scientists report they have figured out why. They've discovered chemicals in green tea that appear to shut down a key molecule that tobacco uses to cause cancer.

Previous research has shown that both tobacco smoke and the cancer-causing chemical dioxin manipulate a molecule called the aryl hydrocarbon (AH) receptor to cause their harm. The Rochester researchers found that two substances in green tea -- epigallocatechingallate (EGCG) and epigallocatechin (EGC) -- are close cousins to other flavonoids that are known to help prevent cancer. Flavinoids are also found in broccoli, cabbage, grapes and red wine.

The scientists found that the chemicals in green tea shut down the AH receptor in cancerous mouse cells, and that early tests indicate the same is true in human cells, the researchers say in a prepared statement.

Their findings are published in a recent edition of the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology.

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President Bush in 'Excellent' Health

Maybe U.S. health officials should make President Bush the centerpiece of their campaign to get sedentary Americans off the couch and into the gym.

The 57-year-old Bush, a devoted exerciser, got a clean bill of health from his doctors over the weekend before leaving for a month-long working vacation at his 1,600 acre ranch in Crawford, Texas.

The president's regimen includes running three miles three times a week, using an elliptical trainer for 25 minutes three times a week, lifting weights twice a week and water jogging -- walking briskly through the White House swimming pool -- once a week, the Associated Press reports.

Bush also doesn't drink alcohol, enjoys an occasional cigar, and takes a daily aspirin.

His payoff? Bush is in the "superior" fitness category for men his age, the news service quotes his doctors as saying.

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Medical Author Criticized for Conflict of Interest

A doctor who wrote an article for the medical journal Nature Neuroscience on the value of experimental treatments for depression has been criticized for not disclosing he had financial ties to the companies that produce some of the therapies, The New York Times reports.

Dr. Charles B. Nemeroff, chairman of the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, says he would have reported the conflict, but the journal did not have a policy requiring him to do so.

"I have always been totally compliant, probably gone overboard, with disclosure," Nemeroff said. "If there is a fault here, it is with the journal's policy."

Dr. Charles G. Jennings, who is executive editor of the Nature Research Journals, which includes Nature Neuroscience, said the publications were weighing whether to change the disclosure policy, given the criticism.

Jennings said disclosures of conflicts of interest were required only on articles about original research. Nemeroff's article last November was a review of previously published research.

The two doctors who raised the concerns are Dr. Robert T. Rubin, director of the Center for Neurosciences Research at Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, and Dr. Bernard J. Carroll, director of the Pacific Behavioral Research Foundation in Carmel, Calif.. They said they faulted the policy of Nature Neuroscience, and Nemeroff for not disclosing the potential conflict, the Times reports.

Nemeroff said Carroll was "stirring up things" because of past differences between the two doctors, the newspaper says.

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