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Health Highlights: Sept. 28, 2003

Doctors Look Down on Obese People No More Hair of the Dog? You Won't Sleep Tight Over This Comeback Woman on Trial for Son's Suicide Leading Journal Tightens Disclosure Rules Audit Finds Phony Fen-Phen Claims

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

Doctors Look Down on Obese People

A Yale University study finds that overcoming the stigma of obesity will be difficult because it extends to the doctors who treat overweight people.

The team did psychological profiles of 389 professionals who treat and study obese people, according to a BBC report. They found that younger professionals especially were more likely to have unfavorable opinions of them. Also, those who did not directly deal with obese people saw them in a bad light.

"The stigma of obesity is so strong that even those most knowledgeable about the condition infer that obese people have blameworthy behavioral characteristics that contribute to their problem, i.e. being lazy," said the lead researcher, Dr. Marlene Schwartz.

"It is disappointing but it is not surprising to see that health professionals have the same ingrained prejudice against obese people as the general public," a British obesity expert, Dr. Ian Campbell, told the BBC. This happens even though four in five cases of obesity can be attributed to genetics, he said.


No More Hair of the Dog?

A supplement that claims to cure hangovers is becoming increasingly popular with the jet set, according to the New York Post.

The supplement that supposedly gets rid of the by-product of a heavy night of drinking is itself a by-product of the Cold War, the newspaper says.

The pill, called RU-21, was formulated for KGB agents to keep them on their toes despite having been drunk the night before. The makers say it's a mixture of vitamin C, carbohydrates, and amino acids. It doesn't stop people from getting drunk, but the makers claim it stops the body from producing an enzyme that turns alcohol into a toxin that contributes to a hangover, the Post writes.

It has become popular among celebrities in New York and Hollywood, where drinking is part of the social circles, according to the paper.

As a supplement, it doesn't require FDA approval, and that scares some of its critics. "The social context of this thing catching on and causing increased alcohol abuse is very frightening to me," UCLA psychiatrist and addiction specialist Dr. Reef Karim told the paper.


You Won't Sleep Tight Over This Comeback

Bedbugs, once thought to be eliminated from the United States, are making a creepy comeback.

The Chicago Tribune writes that 28 states reported an influx of the pesky critters in 2002, and they've afflicted everything from tenements to world-class luxury hotels.

Experts attribute their return to an increase in international travel, since the pests can hide in luggage and stow a ride from countries where they haven't been eradicated. They also say that pesticides that helped get rid of them have since been banned because they prove dangerous to humans, according to the Tribune.

Bedbugs start out tiny and lurk in the crevices of mattresses and other tiny places like picture frames. Once they bite a host, they grow to the size of a ladybug and turn red. Then they leave blood-infused feces on the bedsheets, the Tribune reports.

Frank Meek, the pest control manager for Orkin, Inc., said his company has seen five times as many cases of the critters as it did two years ago.


Woman on Trial for Son's Suicide

A Connecticut woman is on trial in connection with her 12-year-old son's suicide, with prosecutors alleging that she is criminally responsible for not reaching out to help the troubled child.

Judith Scruggs, 52, caught a break Friday when a judge acquitted her of three counts of risk of injury to her son, J. Daniel Scruggs. But the judge also ruled that there was enough evidence to go forward with charges that she created a situation likely to cause injury, according to the Hartford Courant.

Judith Scruggs is the only person charged with the boy's death, but her lawyers have put the school system in the spotlight as well, alleging that J. Daniel was the victim of bullying and that school officials looked the other way.

J. Daniel Scruggs hanged himself with a necktie on Jan. 2, 2002, according to the Courant. His death has prompted an outcry that has led to the creation of several anti-bullying groups.

The paper recounted testimony from a classmate Friday, who told the court that other kids would bully the frail boy "a lot," and that they'd "knock him off the bleachers in gym class and treat him like a piece of dirt."


Leading Journal Tightens Disclosure Rules

The editors of Nature and its several sister journals announced Friday that they would have tighter rules that require contributors to disclose any financial ties they have to a subject they write about.

The New York Times reports that the new rules come in the wake of an embarrassing episode revolving around an article about the treatment of depression. In the article, which appeared in Nature Neuroscience, a researcher at the Emory School of Medicine highly praised three products in which he had major financial ties.

According to the Times, the researcher, Dr. Charles Nemeroff, said he would have disclosed his interests had the journal asked him to. The editors said he violated no policy in place at the time.

The editors announced that there's a need for scientists to disclose all conflicts of interest to protect "the integrity of the scientific enterprise as a whole."


Audit Finds Phony Fen-Phen Claims

Auditors have found that a "huge number" of people who took the diet drug fen-phen did not suffer damage to their heart valves as they have claimed.

The Associated Press reports that administrators for the $3.75 billion trust fund, set up by Wyeth Inc., the recalled drug's maker, has determined some inconsistencies. More than 100,000 people have filed claims stating that fen-phen hurt their hearts.

But payments to hundreds of the claimants have been thrown out after a judge, who saw some sample claims, ordered a full review, according to the AP.

"A huge number were problematic," Richard Scheff, an attorney for the trust fund, told the AP. "There is an enormous task to be done to separate the wheat from the chaff."

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