Health Highlights: March 12, 2004

New FDA Strategy to Fight Obesity Woman Charged with Murder After Birth of Stillborn Child Fizzy Drinks Increase Risk of Tooth Erosion GOP Senator Trent Lott Backs Drug Imports U.S. to Buy Large Quantities of Anthrax Vaccine White House May Issue Condom Warnings

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

New FDA Strategy to Fight Obesity

The message that "calories count" is the focus of a new U.S. Food and Drug Administration strategy to help counter the nation's growing obesity epidemic.

The strategy, released Friday in a report by the FDA's Obesity Working Group, includes recommendations to strengthen food labeling, to encourage restaurants to provide diners with calorie and nutrition information, and to educate consumers about maintaining a healthy diet and weight.

The report also recommends increased enforcement to ensure food labels accurately portray serving size, revising and reissuing guidance on the development of obesity drugs, and strengthening coordinated scientific research to reduce obesity and to develop healthier and low-calorie foods.

"Counting calories is critical for people trying to achieve and maintain a healthy weight," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said in a prepared statement.

"This new report highlights FDA's overall strategy for getting consumers accurate, helpful information that allows them to make wise food choices at home, at supermarkets and in restaurants. Taking small steps to eat a more balanced diet and to stay physically active can go a long way to reversing the epidemic of obesity that harms far too many Americans," Thompson said.

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Woman Charged with Murder After Birth of Stillborn Child

A woman in Salt Lake City has been charged with murder because she delivered a stillborn child after she refused doctors' recommendations that she have a caesarean section.

Melissa Ann Rowland, 28, faces a first-degree felony count of criminal homicide and could be sentenced to life in prison if she's convicted, CBC News Online reports.

Prosecutors say she exhibited a "depraved indifference to human life" because she told her doctors she'd rather allow her twins to die than to have them delivered by surgery. It's alleged that during the final month of her pregnancy, Rowland was repeatedly warned by doctors that her unborn children might die if she didn't receive medical attention.

The prosecutors contend that Rowland refused immediate surgical delivery on Jan. 2, even though she was told her babies were in danger. One of the twins was stillborn when Rowland did go into labor. The surviving twin is up for adoption.

Her lawyer says Rowland is mentally ill.

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Fizzy Drinks Increase Risk of Tooth Erosion

Results of a U.K. study suggest a strong association between carbonated drinks such as soda pop and tooth erosion among children and teens.

Researchers concluded that tooth erosion was 59 percent greater in 12-year-olds and 220 percent greater in 14-year-olds who drank fizzy drinks compared to those who didn't consume such drinks, BBC News Online reports.

Drinking at least four glasses a day of carbonated beverages was associated with a 252 percent increased risk of tooth erosion in 12-year-olds and a whopping 513 percent increased risk in 14-year-olds.

The study, which surveyed more than 1,000 children and teens, appears in the British Dental Journal.

Tooth erosion, which refers to the wearing away of the enamel coating of teeth, is caused by acidic substances. Tooth decay occurs when sugar in food and drink reacts with bacteria in plaque.

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GOP Senator Trent Lott Backs Drug Imports

Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi, the former Senate Majority leader, says he now supports efforts to allow imports of lower-cost drugs, The New York Times reports.

"I cannot explain to my mother any longer why she should pay twice or two-thirds more than what is paid in Canada and Mexico," Lott said at a Senate hearing Thursday in announcing he had switched positions on the issue.

Senators from both parties criticized the position of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration that the imports could be inert, mislabeled and even unsafe. The hearing was held to consider President Bush's nomination of FDA chief Dr. Mark McClellan to run Medicare and Medicaid.

The House of Representatives has repeatedly voted to allow legalization of Canadian and other prescription drug imports, but the Senate has stalled such efforts. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) opposes legalization, saying it would endanger the nation's drug supply amid terrorism worries, the Times reports.

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U.S. to Buy Large Quantities of Anthrax Vaccine

Though a new vaccine against the deadly anthrax bacterium is still considered experimental, the federal government is preparing to buy as many as 27 million doses in case of a large-scale terror attack, the Washington Post reports.

The move would provide a commercial incentive for mass development of the vaccine, the newspaper says. It would create a reserve large enough to vaccinate every person in New York City and Washington, D.C., for example, or any other large city that might be targeted by bioterrorists.

Coupled with past efforts to compile large quantities of smallpox vaccine, the United States soon would have significant defenses against the two top biological weapons, according to the Post.

The new anthrax stockpile, expected to cost at least $700 million, would provide enough to cover 9 percent of the U.S. population, the newspaper says.

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White House May Issue Condom Warnings

The White House may require a label on condom packages warning that the devices do not protect users from a little-known but widespread sexually transmitted disease, the Associated Press reports.

Recent research has shown that condoms don't protect users from human papillomavirus (HPV), which can cause genital warts and cervical cancer.

More than 2 million American women are infected with HPV annually, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Some 10,000 women are diagnosed each year with cervical cancer, and 4,000 of them wind up dying from the disease, the CDC says.

Lawmakers who oppose the new labeling say the move could discourage use of condoms, which do protect against diseases like AIDS, chlamydia and gonorrhea. Supporters deny accusations that the move is part of a broader effort by the Bush administration to promote an abstinence-only sex education policy.

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