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Health Highlights: March 1, 2004

Bush Unveils Plan to Curb Illegal Use of Prescription Drugs Eye Protection Urged for Young Athletes Survey Finds Americans Getting Larger New Insomnia Drug Given Preliminary Approval Harvard Plans $100 Million Stem Cell Research Center Pfizer Abandons Viagra Trials for Women

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

Bush Unveils Plan to Curb Illegal Use of Prescription Drugs

The Bush administration announced on Monday a multi-pronged approach to stem the illegal use of prescription drugs, a "widespread and serious problem" that "calls for immediate action," officials said.

The National Drug Control Strategy calls for such measures as wider dissemination of education and training on appropriate pain management and "opioid treatment procedures for physicians authorized to prescribe controlled substances."

It also includes increasing the number of state Prescription Monitoring Programs, which detect suspicious prescriptions and individuals "redeeming prescriptions from multiple physicians ('doctor shopping') to identify abusers," according to a statement announcing the program.

Non-medical use of narcotic pain relievers, tranquilizers, stimulants, and sedatives ranks second, behind marijuana, as a category of illicit drug abuse among adults and youth. In 2002, 6.2 million Americans were current abusers of prescription drugs, administration officials say.

The program's goal: To reduce illegal prescription drug use by 10 percent in two years, and 25 percent within five years.


Eye Protection Urged for Young Athletes

Young athletes in many organized sports need to wear protective eye gear, says a joint policy statement from the American Academy of Ophthalmology and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The policy statement notes that serious and sometimes permanent eye injury can be suffered by children playing sports. It ranks baseball and basketball as high-risk sports for eye injury. They're associated with the most eye injuries in athletes aged 5 to 24, the Associated Press reports.

Tennis is ranked as a moderate-risk sport for eye injury.

Safety goggles for basketball, soccer and racket sports, and helmets with face guards for baseball batters and base runners are among the sports eye gear recommend in the policy statement. Fashion eyeglasses are not acceptable as safety gear.

More than 42,000 sports and recreation eye-related injuries were reported in the United States in the year 2000, the AP reports. More than 70 percent of those eye injuries occurred in people under age 25.

Protective eye gear could cut the risk of sports-related eye injury by at least 90 percent, the policy statement says.


Survey Finds Americans Getting Larger

A new national survey of the average American body that looked at more than 240 measurements from head to toe confirms previous findings -- Americans are getting larger.

The SizeUSA survey used a light-pulsing, 3-D scanner to measure more than 10,000 people in 13 cities. It's the first time since World War II that a national survey has taken stock of the average American body. The survey was sponsored by several universities, the Army and Navy, and a number of clothing and textile manufacturers, The New York Times reports.

The survey found that 19 percent of men are "portly," while another 19 percent have "lower front waists." That's a polite way of saying those men have to lift up their belly to find their waist. Men older than 45 are most likely to have potbellies and older men have thinner thighs than younger men.

Among women, the survey found that black women are larger than other women. But black women are more likely to have a classic hourglass figure. Overall, the survey found that 64 percent of women are pear-shaped and 30 percent have a "straight" figure.

Women on the small side in this survey averaged a size 14, where "plus size" clothing begins. For years, an average American woman was considered a size 8, the Times reports

The average clothing size for men in this survey was also larger than the traditional 40 regular.


New Insomnia Drug Given Preliminary Approval

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has given preliminary approval to the new insomnia drug Estorra, which is made by Massachusetts pharmaceutical company Sepracor Inc.

This "approvable letter" means the company doesn't have to conduct additional clinical or pre-clinical trials to gain final approval for the drug, the Associated Press reports.

The company plans to resubmit the new drug approval application to the FDA. If it receives approval, it may start marketing Estorra as early as the middle of this year.

The drug is designed to treat insomnia that's characterized by difficulty falling asleep, or for those who have trouble maintaining sleep during the night and early morning.


Harvard Plans $100 Million Stem Cell Research Center

Harvard University is preparing to launch a $100 million stem cell research center, which would make it the largest private effort to evade the Bush administration's strict controls on the controversial research, the Boston Globe reports.

Stem cells, which are found in human embryos, umbilical cords and placentas, help create the human body through their ability to develop into any type of tissue cell. Scientists hope to someday manipulate stem cells in laboratories to develop into replacement organs and tissues to treat a host of diseases, including Parkinson's and diabetes, the newspaper reports.

But researchers must destroy embryos to collect the stem cells, and that has led to condemnation of the practice by the Catholic Church, abortion opponents and others. President Bush, citing concerns about the use of harvesting fertilized human egg cells for research, sharply curtailed government support for stem cell research in 2001.

Dr. George Q. Daley, who is helping to develop the center and is an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and Children's Hospital in Boston, says, "Harvard has the resources, Harvard has the breadth, and, frankly, Harvard has the responsibility to be taking up the slack that the government is leaving."

The Harvard project is the latest, and by far largest, effort to circumvent the Bush administration restrictions on stem cell research. In December 2002, Stanford University said it had received a $12 million donation to study cancer by creating human embryonic stem cell lines, the newspaper reports.

Harvard officials say they will announce plans for the center on April 23, with a fund-raising goal of $100 million, the Globe says.


Pfizer Abandons Viagra Trials for Women

The drug company Pfizer Inc. has abandoned eight years of research into whether the anti-impotency drug Viagra can be used to treat female sexual problems because clinical trials on women proved inconclusive.

Karen Katen, executive vice president of Pfizer and president of Pfizer Global Pharmaceuticals, said Friday that while the company was disappointed that the program was not more successful, "this is the nature of drug development," the Associated Press reports.

Female sexuality is more complex than male sexuality, involving psychological and emotional factors that don't seem to affect males, experts agree.

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