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Health Highlights: Dec. 2, 2004

Survey Finds U.S. Medicine Chests Are Bulging Actor Jerry Orbach Has Prostate Cancer Possible Link Between Dental Plaque and Pneumonia Exercise Benefits Vary Among Individuals Some Abstinence Programs Misinform Teens: Report Baseball's Giambi Reportedly Says He Took Steroids

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

Survey Finds U.S. Medicine Chests Are Bulging

Just over 44 percent of Americans use at least one prescription drug, and nearly 17 percent take at least three, according to a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey released Thursday.

Five out of six persons 65 and older are taking at least one medication, and almost half the elderly take three or more, according to the agency's annual report on the nation's health.

The use of antidepressants among adults almost tripled between 1988-1994 and 1999-2000, with 10 percent of women 18 and older and 4 percent of men now taking the drugs. Prescriptions for nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, antidepressants, blood glucose/sugar regulators, and cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, in particular, were also on the rise.

Prescription drugs, which now account for about one-tenth of the nation's total health-care bill, are the fastest growing expenditure, the report said. Spending on prescription drugs has risen at least 15 percent every year since 1998.

The wide-ranging report on the state of America's health also found that:

  • Americans' life expectancy rose to 77.3 years in 2002, a record.
  • Deaths from the top three killers -- heart disease, cancer, and stroke -- fell by 1 percent to 3 percent from the prior survey.
  • Overall health care-spending climbed 9.3 percent in 2002 to $1.6 trillion.

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Actor Jerry Orbach Has Prostate Cancer

Actor Jerry Orbach of the Law & Order television series has been diagnosed with prostate cancer.

According to Orbach's manager, Robert Malcolm, the actor is doing well and continuing to shoot episodes of Law & Order: Trial by Jury, a new spinoff of the hit franchise, the Associated Press reported.

Orbach, 69, spent 12 seasons on the original Law & Order, playing Detective Lennie Briscoe. He's also an accomplished song-and-dance man, having won a Tony Award for his role in the Broadway production Promises, Promises and two other Tony nominations. He provided the voice of Lumiere the candle in the 1991 Disney musical Beauty and the Beast, the first full-length animated film nominated for a Best Picture Oscar.

Law & Order producer Dick Wolf says that shooting for the new series will be worked around Orbach's treatment schedule.

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Possible Link Between Dental Plaque and Pneumonia

A possible link between dental plaque and pneumonia in nursing home residents is described in a University at Buffalo study in the November issue of the journal Chest.

The study found that regular toothbrushing and other good oral hygiene habits may reduce the risk of pneumonia among people living in nursing homes.

Study lead author Dr. Ali El-Solh said the findings indicate that dental plaque may harbor respiratory pathogens that can be inhaled into the lungs and trigger pneumonia, the Associated Press reported.

However, he said more research is needed in order to determine conclusively if brushing or rinsing the teeth or dentures of nursing home residents is sufficient to kill the respiratory pathogens and prevent pneumonia.

The study findings do provide a strong argument for improving nursing home residents' dental care, El-Solh said. Elderly people who are seriously ill or institutionalized are especially susceptible to pneumonia.

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Exercise Benefits Vary Among Individuals

If it seems that you have to exercise twice as hard as your buddy in order to get the same results, you may not be imagining it.

A Louisiana State University study of 742 people who were put through a strenuous 20-week endurance training program found that some people get less benefit from exercise than others, New Scientist magazine reported.

By the end of the program, the group showed an average 17 percent improvement in maximum oxygen consumption, a measure of a person's ability to perform well during exercise.

However, there were some wide disparities among individuals. Some had improved their maximum oxygen consumption by 40 percent, while others showed no improvement at all. Similar patterns of individual differences were found in other fitness measures such as heart rate, blood pressure, and cardiac output.

"There is an astounding variation in the response to exercise. The vast majority will benefit in some way, but there will be a minority who will not benefit at all," New Scientist quoted head researcher Claude Bourchard as saying.

The study was presented at the Australian Health and Medical Research Congress.

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Some Abstinence Programs Misinform Teens: Report

Some federally funded abstinence programs are spreading misinformation to teenage participants, a new congressional report has found.

Among the misleading information taught to youngsters over the past three years: Abortion can lead to sterility and suicide, half of gay male teens in the United States have the AIDS virus, and touching a person's genitals can lead to pregnancy, according to an account of the report by the Washington Post.

The report, prepared by the staff of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), reviews 13 of the most commonly used curricula among the federally funded abstinence programs. The study found that two of the curricula were accurate, but 11 others contained subjective conclusions or "outright falsehoods," the newspaper reported.

Among other misleading statements cited by the study: A 43-day-old fetus is a thinking person, the AIDS virus can be spread by sweat and tears, and condoms fail to prevent the spread of the AIDS virus as often as 31 percent of the time during heterosexual sex.

President Bush's budget next year includes $170 million for abstinence-only programs, the Post said.

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Baseball's Giambi Reportedly Says He Took Steroids

New York Yankees slugger Jason Giambi has admitted before a federal grand jury that he used performance-enhancing drugs, the San Francisco Chronicle reported Thursday.

Giambi testified that he injected himself with human growth hormone during the 2003 season, and had begun using steroids at least two years earlier, the newspaper reported.

Giambi's testimony in December 2003 contradicts his public statements denying he had ever used performance-enhancing drugs. The 33-year-old slugger was testifying in the BALCO case, which involves a San Francisco Bay Area firm accused of supplying steroids to baseball players and other high-profile professional athletes.

In 2003, when he hit 41 home runs, Giambi testified, he said he had obtained several different steroids from Greg Anderson, a weight trainer for San Francisco Giants star Barry Bonds, the newspaper said. These included "undetectable" steroids known as "the clear" and "the cream," which were applied to the tongue and rubbed onto the body.

Giambi played in fewer than half of the Yankees games this past season, saying he had an intestinal parasite and a benign tumor on his pituitary gland. Giambi denied speculation that his declining health was related to steroid use.

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