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Health Highlights: June 29, 2005

More Kids Now Have Health Insurance: CDC Inhaled Insulin Helps Type 1 Diabetics Dietary Counseling Ineffective on Obese Patients: Study EPA Panel Calls Teflon Ingredient a 'Likely Carcinogen' R.I. State Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill WHO Experts Downgrade Bird Flu Pandemic Threat

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

More Kids Now Have Health Insurance: CDC

More than 90 percent of children in the United States had health insurance in 2004, up significantly from the 86 percent of youngsters insured in 1997, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a report released Wednesday.

About 7 million children were uninsured last year -- 3 million fewer than seven years earlier, the agency said.

Among Americans of all ages, 14.6 percent of the population was uninsured last year, about the same level as in 1997, the CDC said. One in five working-age adults -- ages 18 to 64 -- lacked health insurance in 2004. This number had been rising steadily in recent years but appeared to have leveled off last year, the agency said.

Among the 10 largest states, Michigan, New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania had significantly lower rates of uninsured than the national average of 16 percent. In California and Florida, just over 20 percent lacked health coverage. And in Texas, the rate was about 27 percent, the CDC said.

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Inhaled Insulin Helps Type 1 Diabetics

An inhaled form of insulin is as effective in controlling blood sugar as injected insulin in people with type 1 diabetes, University of Miami researchers say.

The 6-month study involved 328 people with type 1 diabetes, in which patients produce no insulin and require daily shots. The investigational drug was Exubera, which is manufactured by the study's sponsors -- the pharmaceutical firms Pfizer and Sanofi Aventis, USA Today reported.

Side effects of the inhaled drug were similar to that of injected insulin, though a small number of participants who used the inhaled drug had bouts of severe hypoglycemia -- a dangerous drop in blood sugar, USA Today reported.

The drug could help patients manage their blood sugar levels in settings where injecting insulin isn't possible or is difficult. Type 1 diabetes affects 1 million to 2 million people in the United States, the newspaper said.

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Dietary Counseling Ineffective on Obese Patients: Study

Morbidly obese people who had six months of dietary counseling were no better off than those who weren't counseled, researchers told an Orlando, Fla., meeting of the American Society for Bariatric Surgery (ASBS) on Wednesday.

Among patients who went on to have gastric bypass surgery, said the study's authors from Virginia Commonwealth University, people who had mandated counseling actually went on to lose less weight than study participants who had no mandated diet.

Dietary counseling is often required by insurance companies for candidates for weight-loss surgery, the study's authors noted in a statement. They suggested that their research questions the need for such counseling among these patients.

Morbid obesity is associated with conditions including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, asthma, and cancer. Some 140,000 people in the United States last year had gastric bypass surgery, which involves reducing the size of the stomach and small intestine to limit the amount of food intake and absorption, the ASBS said.

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EPA Panel Calls Teflon Ingredient a 'Likely Carcinogen'

A chemical compound used to make Teflon is a "likely carcinogen," according to a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency scientific advisory panel draft report that will be submitted to the EPA in early July.

The report by the 17-member panel about the chemical compound perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) was posted Tuesday on the EPA Web site. The findings could prompt the EPA to regulate PFOA for the first time, the Washington Post reported.

Until now, the EPA has classified the chemical compound as a "suggested" carcinogen, a status that requires less stringent controls on substances.

The majority of panel members were convinced to label PFOA a likely carcinogen after reviewing studies that identified four different kinds of tumors in rats exposed to the compound.

The report doesn't draw any conclusions about whether using non-stick pans or other products with stick- and stain-resistant surfaces made with PFOA pose a health threat to humans, the Post reported.

The panel's conclusions are "huge," said Richard Wiles, vice president of the advocacy organization Environmental Working Group, which has been lobbying the EPA to regulate PFOA.

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R.I. State Senate Passes Medical Marijuana Bill

The Rhode Island legislature has passed a bill allowing the use of medical marijuana.

The bill was approved Tuesday evening by the State Senate by a vote of 33 to 1. The bill was passed by the State House last week by a vote of 52 to 10. The bill will now proceed to Gov. Donald L. Carcieri, who is likely to reject it, The New York Times reported.

However, supporters of the bill are confident they have the required three-fifths majority to override the Governor's veto. If they're successful, Rhode Island would become the 11th state to authorize the use of medical marijuana.

Three weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could prosecute people who use medicinal marijuana, even if they live in states that allow its use.

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WHO Experts Downgrade Bird Flu Pandemic Threat

The risk of an imminent bird flu pandemic has been downgraded by a team of international scientists who say the H5N1 bird flu virus has not mutated and the threat to humans is lower than previously thought.

The team of epidemiologists and virologists from the United States, Japan, Britain and Hong Kong gave their opinion Tuesday night after a visit to Vietnam to assess the potential danger posed by the H5N1 strain.

"What was reported to the (Vietnamese) government is that, according to preliminary findings, they could not find any indication showing that the virus has actually extended its range in humans," Hans Troedsson, World Health Organization (WHO) representative in Vietnam, told Agence France Presse.

"The most important thing is that we could rule out that there was an immediate, imminent pandemic," Troedsson said. "Since the virus is widely spread, the risk is still there but not as imminent as we initially might have suspected."

Last year, the WHO warned that millions of people could die if the H5N1 virus mutated to become easily transmissible between humans. Since the start of the bird flu outbreak in southeast Asia in 2003, 54 people have died -- including 38 in Vietnam, 12 in Thailand and four in Cambodia.

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