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Health Highlights: July 13, 2004

Food Pyramid To Be Revamped France Berates U.S. Over AIDS Drugs SARS Antibodies Prevent New Infections Yesterday's R-rated Movies Are PG-13 Today Many Preschoolers Lack Required Immunizations Tabloid HQ Declared Free of Anthrax

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

Food Pyramid To Be Revamped

Uncle Sam has cried uncle over its failed Food Guide Pyramid.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Monday that the program, which has been used to help guide Americans' eating habits for years, is about to undergo what the agency called "a comprehensive review and update."

While 80 percent of Americans are familiar with the guide -- with sweets, fats, and oils at the narrow tip and breads and cereals at the broad base -- most aren't following it, agency officials admitted to the New York Times. The increasing number of obese and overweight people is proof that something's amiss.

"We've got to reverse some trends," Eric Hentges, executive director of the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion at the Agriculture Department, told the newspaper. "We've got to connect with individuals. We've got to be able to communicate the major message of what's appropriate for you."

The USDA is inviting the public to comment on how best to overhaul the pyramid. "We are seeking public input on how to best present the most current nutritional science in a form that assists the public in personalizing the information, so they can make healthier choices," Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said in a statement.

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France Berates U.S. Over AIDS Drugs

French President Jacques Chirac blasted the United States on Tuesday for pressuring Third World nations to give up their right to make cheaper, generic anti-AIDS drugs in exchange for free-trade agreements with the U.S.

The French leader accused the Bush administration of policies that are "tantamount to blackmail," an allegation that an unidentified U.S. official dismissed as "nonsense," the Associated Press reported.

Chirac's comment appeared timed to revelations at the International AIDS Conference in Thailand that only about 7 percent of the 6 million people who need HIV/AIDS treatments are getting them. Brand-name AIDS drugs cost up to $5,000 per person each year, but generic versions could be available at a tiny fraction of that price, experts say.

Since the last AIDS conference in 2002, 6 million people have died from AIDS and 10 million have become infected, the AP reported, citing figures from the World Health Organization.

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan urged the United States to take the world's helm in fighting AIDS, as it has done in combating terrorism. "We really do need leadership. America has a natural leadership capacity because of its resources, because of its size," he said.

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SARS Antibodies Prevent New Infections

SARS antibodies taken from people who have recovered from the disease could help uninfected or newly infected people from developing full-blown SARS, Swiss researchers say.

Using SARS DNA and a type of immune cell called a B cell, the scientists at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine were able to create super-potent antibodies that reproduced rapidly and attacked the SARS virus, BBC News Online reported.

Past attempts to produce SARS antibodies have focused on cloning genes, rather than whole immune cells, the BBC report said.

Lead researcher Dr. Antonio Lanzavecchia said he's hopeful that the same technique could be applied to HIV and a host of other dangerous infectious diseases, the network reported. Results of his study appear in the journal Nature Medicine.

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Yesterday's R-rated Movies Are PG-13 Today

Movie violence, sex, and profanity soared in the 11 years from 1992-2003, and Hollywood screeners have become more lenient in their ratings, according to a new Harvard University study.

Researchers from the Kids at Risk Project at the Harvard School of Public Health said a film rated PG-13 today approaches a movie that would have been rated R a decade ago.

Even today's G-rated animated films are more violent than they used to be, the researchers say. "Given the possibility of long-term fear and anxieties from children's exposure to media, physicians should discuss media consumption with parents of young children and the fact that animation does not guarantee appropriate content for children," the study leaders said in a statement.

There's evidence, they said, that the age-based movie rating system has become much more tolerant about allowing violence in films than sexual content.

The research appears in the peer-reviewed medical journal Medscape General Medicine.

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Many Preschoolers Lack Required Immunizations

Almost one quarter of preschool children have not received the required immunizations, putting both themselves and other children at risk for various preventable illnesses, HealthDay reported.

Vaccination rates were about the same regardless of whether the children were in day care, according to a new study appearing in the August issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

"The children who are not up to date are at risk for development of those infections which vaccines can prevent," said Dr. Joseph Bocchini, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center and a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics' committee on infectious diseases. "And because they are in a group with other children, they can not only become infected themselves but they can pass it on to other children."

Legislation and regulations requiring school-aged children in kindergarten and first grade to have their vaccinations before enrolling have resulted in rates that exceed 95 percent in that age group. As a result, related disease rates, too, are low.

Similar rules are in place for child-care facilities, which have an estimated 3.5 million preschool-aged children enrolled nationwide, but it has been unclear how effective these regulations have been.

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Tabloid HQ Declared Free of Anthrax

Almost three years after being hit by a deadly anthrax attack, the former headquarters building of a supermarket tabloid in Florida was declared free of the deadly spores on Monday.

The cleanup crew finished decontaminating the American Media Inc. building in Boca Raton at 7:30 a.m., said Karen Cavanagh, chief operating officer of BioONE and Sabre Technical Services.

The cleanup, which started Sunday, followed months of planning and rancor over the fate of the building, the Associated Press reported.

Chlorine dioxide, a chemical used to disinfect drinking water and treat fruits and vegetables, was pumped into the building to kill the anthrax spores, which had spread throughout its 65,000 square feet.

The cleanup was led by BioONE, a company co-established by former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

The arrival of anthrax in the mail at the building in October 2001 was the first in a series of still-unsolved attacks that killed five people. AMI publishes The National Enquirer and The Sun.

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