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Health Highlights: June 3, 2004

Obesity in Kids More Widespread Than Thought Seniors Baffled by Medicare Drug Card Hoarders Exhibit Unusual Brain Activity Annual Cancer Study Yields Good News and Bad Junk Food Reigns Supreme in U.S. Diet FDA Experts Fault Labeling on Athlete's Foot Products

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

Obesity in Kids More Widespread Than Thought

A new survey from Arkansas suggests that the obesity problem among children may be worse than experts have believed.

The Associated Press reports that 40 percent of schoolchildren there are overweight, and 22 percent are obese.

The wire service said that it is the first comprehensive look at the weight of children because Arkansas passed a law mandating such a survey. "I think we'll find as we go along that Arkansas is not that much more obese than other parts of the country," the AP quotes Dr. Carden Johnson, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, as saying.

Previous national studies had found that 30 percent of children were overweight, and that 15 percent were considered obese.

Gov. Michael Huckabee, who has lost 100 pounds in the last year, said he hopes the survey is a wake-up call to Arkansas residents.

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Seniors Baffled by Medicare Drug Card

Seniors and the disabled are confused by the new Medicare drug discount card, and that the puzzlement is souring them on the initiative, a new survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation finds.

On a scale of 0-to-100 (with 100 being the most favorable), seniors rated their perceptions at 31, HealthDay reports. That score is "well below the halfway point, so the inclination is to be negative -- and the fact that the system is confusing is one of the reasons people give it a negative score," said Geoff Garin, a partner with Peter D. Hart Research Associates, which conducted part of the research. "There is a view [that the government has created a Rube] Goldberg contraption."

"Beneficiaries are badly confused at this early stage about this law, and that means that it will take a major effort to educate and inform if the law is to be successful and if seniors and disabled people are to make the best choices for themselves and for their families," HealthDay quotes Drew Altman, president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation, as saying.

Democratic opponents of the new card, who would prefer buying cheaper drugs from Canada, told Newsday that only 500,000 of the 2.7 million enrollees signed up voluntarily; the rest were automatically signed up through insurance programs connected to Medicare.

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Hoarders Exhibit Unusual Brain Activity

People who collect things and hold on to them for a long time may suffer from an unusual form of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) that's not treatable with standard therapies.

The BBC reports that the researchers behind a new study believe hoarders may have been treated inappropriately.

Hoarding has long been thought to be a form of OCD, a condition in which people have lingering fears that force them to repeat tasks (like washing their hands) repeatedly and unnecessarily.

The new study, appearing in the American Journal of Psychiatry, finds that hoarders exhibit different brain activity patterns. "Hoarding and saving compulsions long associated with OCD may spring from unique, previously unrecognized neurobiological malfunctions that standard treatments do not necessarily address," the BBC quotes Dr Sanjaya Saxena of UCLA as saying. "In addition, the results emphasize the need to rethink how we categorize psychiatric disorders."

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Annual Cancer Study Yields Good News and Bad

Lung cancer rates among American women have begun to drop for the first time ever, according to results of an annual survey released Thursday. The diagnosis rate has fallen about 2 percent each year since 1998, and female deaths from the disease have remained steady since about 1995, according to the report.

The study, co-sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and the American Cancer Society, also found that survival rates for other types of cancer -- notably those of the colon and kidney -- are improving for both men and women, according to HealthDay.

The encouraging news from the just-released Annual Report to the Nation on the Status of Cancer appears in the June 3 issue of the journal Cancer. The latest annual overview covers the period from 1975 to 2001.

Not all the news is positive, however. The decline in death rates was more dramatic in men than in women from 1992 to 2001. And, most minority groups continued to have a higher risk of dying from cancer than whites, the survey's authors concluded.

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Junk Food Reigns Supreme in U.S. Diet

Almost one-third of the average American's diet comes from sugary snacks and sodas at the expense of healthier options like fruits and vegetables, researchers from the University of California at Berkeley concluded from a new study.

A 1999-2000 analysis involving more than 4,500 adults found that three food groups -- sweets and desserts, soft drinks, and alcoholic beverages -- comprised about 25 percent of calories consumed by the average American. Another 5 percent was attributed to salty snacks and fruit-flavored drinks, the study's authors said in a prepared statement.

Results of the study, in which 144 separate food items were categorized in to 23 food groups, appear in the June issue of the Journal of Food Composition and Analysis.

Here's a quick summary of the findings:

Rank Food Group % of total
calories
1 Sweets, desserts 12.3
2 Beef, pork 10.1
3 Bread, rolls, crackers 8.7
4 Mixed dishes 8.2
5 Dairy 7.3
6 Soft drinks 7.1
7 Vegetables 6.5
8 Chicken, fish 5.7
9 Alcoholic beverages 4.4
10 Fruit, juice 3.9

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FDA Experts Fault Labeling on Athlete's Foot Products

Despite package claims to the contrary, any over-the-counter athlete's foot remedy isn't likely to quash the fungal disease quickly and may not work at all unless the directions are followed very carefully, according to analysis by two expert government panels.

As reported by the Washington Post, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration committees criticized patient directions on some product packaging as insufficient. One FDA expert said he believed that manufacturers were inappropriately encouraging shorter treatment regimens in order to improve the attractiveness of their products.

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