Archive for February, 2010

Lack of blue-wavelength light may disrupt adolescent circadian rhythms.

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

The Los Angeles Times (2/17, Maugh) reports, “Riding in school buses in the early morning, then sitting in poorly lighted classrooms are the main reasons students have trouble getting to sleep at night,” according to a study published in the journal Neuroendocrinology Letters. That is because adolescents “need bright lights in the morning, particularly in the blue wavelengths, to synchronize their inner, circadian rhythms with nature’s cycles of day and night.” In fact, “if they are deprived of blue light during the morning, they go to sleep an average of six minutes later each night, until their bodies are completely out of sync with the school day.”

The AP (2/17, Neergaard) reports that for the study, 11 eighth-graders “donned special orange goggles that block short-wavelength ‘blue light,’ but not other wavelengths necessary for proper vision,” from the time they got up until the time school ended. “Blocking that light for five days upset the students’ internal body clocks — delaying by half an hour their evening surge of a hormone called melatonin that helps induce sleep, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute researchers reported.”

Prevalence of chronic conditions among US children increasing.

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

The Los Angeles Times (2/17, Roan) reported, “More than a quarter of all US children have a chronic health condition, new research ” in the Journal of the American Medical Association “suggests, a significant increase from the rate seen in earlier decades.” Children are not “less healthy,” however. In fact, “fewer children today are affected by congenital defects, infectious diseases, and accidents than they were 50 years ago.”

In other words, “doctors can now save many children who might once have died very young,” USA Today (2/17, Szabo) reports. But, while “such children survive, they often face serious health problems.” And, “in the last three decades, chronic health problems including obesity, asthma and behavioral and learning problems have been steadily increasing among children,” Time (2/16, O’Callaghan) reported in its “Wellness” blog.

Before reaching those conclusions, researchers at the MassGeneral Hospital for Children Harvard “analyzed data collected during six-year periods from three consecutive groups of children who participated in a US Bureau of Labor Statistics survey that began in 1979,” Bloomberg News (2/16, Peterson) reported. Specifically, investigators “began tracking the first group in 1988, the second in 1994, and the third in 2000.”

When “all cohorts were pooled together, all categories of chronic conditions increased from baseline to the end of the study: obesity: 11.9 to 13.3%; asthma: 2 to 3.6%; other physical conditions (such as allergies and chronic ear infections): 3.9 to 5.7%; behavior/learning problems (such as AD/HD and mental retardation): 1 to 4.7%,” according to MedPage Today (2/16, Neale). “For obesity, the baseline rate increased significantly with each progressive cohort, from 7% in 1988 to 12.3% in 1994 to 19% in 2000.”

HealthDay (2/16, Gordon) noted that the “risk of having a chronic condition was higher for males, and for children who were black or Hispanic.” In addition, those “who had overweight mothers were far more likely to be overweight themselves.” But “some children did outgrow the problems,” WebMD (2/16, Doheny) reported. Medscape (2/16, Lowry), AFP (2/16), and Reuters (2/17, Steenhuysen) also covered the story.

Report compares counties’ health across the US. USA Today (2/17, Marcus) reports on a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute, which offers “a health report card for almost every one of the nation’s more than 3,000 counties.” In the study, “researchers cobbled together federal and state health-related data on 3,016 counties,” ranking “each county in two ways: ‘Health Outcomes’ and ‘Health Factors.’ Health outcomes are derived from a county’s disease and death rates.” The AP (2/17, Neergaard) notes, “Looking at each state’s best and worst further illuminates a well-known trend: The least healthy counties tend to be poor and rural, and the healthiest ones tend to be urban or suburban and upper-income.”

Small study suggests signs of autism may appear by first birthday

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

HealthDay (2/17, Dotinga) reported that, according to a paper appearing in the March issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, “signs of autism don’t appear in infants before they’re six months old, but do start emerging by the time they reach the age of one year.” University of California-Davis researchers “tracked 50 children until the age of three years, recording the number of times that they communicated — by smiling, babbling, and making eye contact — during exams.” Notably, “by the time the children were one year old, attempts at communication decreased in those who were autistic, but increased in the others.”

Medical technology, prescription medication use see “dramatic” rises in CDC report. ABC World News (2/17, story 8, 0:25, Sawyer) reports that “a groundbreaking health report” released on Wednesday found “a dramatic increase” in the number of prescription pills taken by Americans. According to the findings, “nearly half of all Americans take at least one prescription” medication “a day, and 21% take three or more drugs daily.” In addition, “the number of Americans taking those statin drugs to lower their cholesterol has increased almost nine times.” The CBS Evening News (2/17, story 5, 2:30, Couric) reported, “The CDC said today we’re living longer,” but “some are questioning whether we’re taking too much medicine and having too many tests for our own good.” USA Today (2/18, Marcus) reports that, according to a report by the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the CDC, “a boom in medical technology over the past decade or two has led to a surge in certain medical tests and increased prescription drug use.” The report shows that “imaging, assisted reproductive technologies, prescription drugs, and knee replacements have all seen a dramatic rise since the early ’90s.” Data also indicated that the number of liver transplants increased “42% from 1997 to 2006.” The AP (2/18, Stobbe) reports, “The frequency of…medical scans nearly tripled at doctor offices and outpatient clinics,” while “the use of high-tech diagnostic imaging in emergency rooms has quadrupled since the mid-1990s.” But, “health officials and others worry about the safety and cost of” increased scanning. While the “surging use of improved medical technology…is driving up life expectancy for Americans and driving down rates of major killers, such as heart disease and cancer,” the report also showed that “some things about the nation’s health” have not changed, HealthDay (2/17, Reinberg) reported. In fact, the authors noted that “cigarette smoking has pretty much leveled off,” and “obesity has doubled over the past three decades.” In addition, “more Americans are going without health insurance, with almost eight percent of those aged 18 to 64 uninsured.” Modern Healthcare (2/17, Zigmond) also covered the story.

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

ABC World News (2/17, story 8, 0:25, Sawyer) reports that “a groundbreaking health report” released on Wednesday found “a dramatic increase” in the number of prescription pills taken by Americans. According to the findings, “nearly half of all Americans take at least one prescription” medication “a day, and 21% take three or more drugs daily.” In addition, “the number of Americans taking those statin drugs to lower their cholesterol has increased almost nine times.”

The CBS Evening News (2/17, story 5, 2:30, Couric) reported, “The CDC said today we’re living longer,” but “some are questioning whether we’re taking too much medicine and having too many tests for our own good.”

USA Today (2/18, Marcus) reports that, according to a report by the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the CDC, “a boom in medical technology over the past decade or two has led to a surge in certain medical tests and increased prescription drug use.” The report shows that “imaging, assisted reproductive technologies, prescription drugs, and knee replacements have all seen a dramatic rise since the early ’90s.” Data also indicated that the number of liver transplants increased “42% from 1997 to 2006.”

The AP (2/18, Stobbe) reports, “The frequency of…medical scans nearly tripled at doctor offices and outpatient clinics,” while “the use of high-tech diagnostic imaging in emergency rooms has quadrupled since the mid-1990s.” But, “health officials and others worry about the safety and cost of” increased scanning.

While the “surging use of improved medical technology…is driving up life expectancy for Americans and driving down rates of major killers, such as heart disease and cancer,” the report also showed that “some things about the nation’s health” have not changed, HealthDay (2/17, Reinberg) reported. In fact, the authors noted that “cigarette smoking has pretty much leveled off,” and “obesity has doubled over the past three decades.” In addition, “more Americans are going without health insurance, with almost eight percent of those aged 18 to 64 uninsured.” Modern Healthcare (2/17, Zigmond) also covered the story.

Stuttering may be linked to genetic defects in basic metabolic process.

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

USA Today (2/11, Rubin) reports that researchers at the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders “for the first time have identified genetic variations associated with stuttering, and the study’s senior author says his team was ‘kind of shocked’ that two of the implicated genes were linked to rare, fatal metabolic disorders.” In other words, the “genes are extremely well-known and studied by people who have been in this field for decades,” Dennis Drayna explained.

According to the Los Angeles Times (2/11, Maugh), the research could eventually “help identify children who are likely to develop stuttering problems, allowing early initiation of treatments that can minimize or eliminate the problem.” Still “further in the future, it could lead to new treatments to overcome the biological underpinnings of the disorder.”

The genes “control the breakdown and recycling of substances in cells in key regions of the brain linked with speech,” the UK’sIndependent (2/11, Laurance) reports. The metabolic disorder in question, mucolipidosis, is “caused by an enzyme deficiency which has severe effects on the development of the heart, lungs, liver and joints.” Notably, “some cases of mucolipidosis can be treated with injections of enzymes, and the researchers speculate that similar enzyme replacement therapy might one day be used as a treatment for stuttering too.”

For years though, “stuttering has been attributed to such things as nervousness, lack of intelligence, stress, or bad parenting,” according to the AP (2/11, Nano). Indeed, “stuttering tends to run in families, and previous research suggested a genetic connection.” But, “researchers had not been able to pinpoint any culprit genes.”

So, the current team of scientists decided to analyze “a section of chromosome 12 in a large Pakistani family that” they had included in an earlier study, HealthDay (2/10, Gardner) reported. “As it turned out, several mutations in the GNPTAB, GNPTG, and NAGPA genes were present in people who stuttered, but not in other study participants,” according to the paper in the Journal of American Medical Association.

Further “analysis led the researchers to estimate that about 9% of people who stutter and have a family history of the condition have mutations in one of the three genes,” WebMD (2/10, Boyles). BBC News (2/11) and the UK’s Telegraph (2/11, Alleyne) also cover the study.

18 and Under: When to Worry if a Child Has Too Few Words

Thursday, February 11th, 2010

18 and Under:  When to Worry if a Child Has Too Few Words
By PERRI KLASS, M.D.
Every pediatrician knows the frustration of trying to quantify the speech and language skills of a screaming toddler.

From NY times 2/9/2010

Lancet formally retracts paper linking vaccine to autism.

Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010

ABC World News (2/2, story 7, 0:30, Sawyer) reported that “one of the world’s most respected medical journals,” The Lancet, is “formally retracting an article that…sparked a fierce debate.” The “1998 study…linked the vaccine for mumps, measles and rubella to autism,” which “led to a drop in vaccinations and a jump in measles cases,” the CBS Evening News (2/2, story 9, 0:30, Couric) reported. But, “25 studies in all have found no link between the vaccine and autism.”

The move “is part of a reassessment that has lasted for years of the scientific methods and financial conflicts of Dr. Andrew Wakefield,” whose “research showed that the…vaccine may be unsafe,” the New York Times (2/3, Harris) reports. Last week, “a British medical panel concluded…that Dr. Wakefield has been dishonest, violated basic research ethics rules, and showed a ‘callous disregard’ for the suffering of children involved in his research.”

The Washington Post (2/3, Kelland) reports, “The Lancet said that after the” panel’s “ruling, it was clear that parts of Wakefield’s paper were wrong.” The journal “highlighted, for example, assertions that investigations of children for the study were ‘approved’ by the local ethics committee.” Richard Horton, editor in chief of The Lancet, said the journal was especially concerned that Wakefield’s study specifically chose certain children to participate rather than testing those who arrived at the hospital as described in the study, the Wall Street Journal (2/3, Wang) reports.

The AP (2/3) reports, “The retraction…comes a day after a competing medical journal, BMJ, issued an embargoed commentary calling for The Lancet to formally retract the study.” The BMJ “said once the study” was published, “the arguments were considered by many to be proven and the ghastly social drama of the demon vaccine took on a life of its own.”

“Despite multiple subsequent studies that have refuted the link, vaccination rates have remained lower than they were before” Wakefield’s study, the Los Angeles Times (2/2, Maugh) reported. BMJ editor Dr. Fiona Goodless said the retraction “will help restore faith in” the vaccine “and in the integrity of the scientific literature.”

Bloomberg News (2/3, Cortez), Reuters (2/2), WebMD (2/2, DeNoon), HealthDay (2/2, Gardner), BBC News (2/2, Triggle), theFinancial Times (2/2, Jack), AFP (2/3, Ingham), and CNN (2/3, Park) also covered the story, as did the UK’s Guardian (2/2, Boseley), the Press Association (2/3), and the Telegraph (2/3).

WSJournal criticizes Lancet over vaccine-autism link article. In an editorial, the Wall Street Journal (2/3) criticizes British medical journal The Lancet for apologizing for a study published in 1998 that linked the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine to autism. The Journal says the article gave credence to vaccine skeptic Dr. Andrew Wakefield, and resulted in a reduction of vaccinations despite evidence to the contrary

The Miracle of Vitamin D: Sound Science, or Hype? By TARA PARKER-POPE

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

well.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/01/the-miracle-of-vitamin-d-sound-science-or-hype/?nl=health&emc=healthupdateema1

Imagine a treatment that could build bones, strengthen the immune system and lower the risks of illnesses like diabetes, heart and kidney disease, high blood pressure and cancer.  Some research suggests that such a wonder treatment already exists. It’s vitamin D, a nutrient that the body makes from sunlight and that is also found in fish and fortified milk.  Yet despite the health potential of vitamin D, as many as half of all adults and children are said to have less than optimum levels and as many as 10 percent of children are highly deficient, according to a 2008 report in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Small study indicates fish oil may stave off psychotic illness.

Tuesday, February 2nd, 2010

The AP (2/2, Johnson) reports that “fish oil pills may be able to save some young people with signs of mental illness from descending into schizophrenia,” according to a study published in the February issue of Archives of General Psychiatry. For the study, investigators “identified 81 people, ages 13 to 25, with warning signs of psychosis,” then randomized 41 of them “to take four fish oil pills a day for three months” at a “daily dose of 1,200 milligrams.”

The Los Angeles Times (2/1, Healy) “Booster Shots” blog reported that “for a year after” the study “was completed,12 weeks of dietary supplementation with omega-3 fish oil reduced progression to full-blown psychosis in a large group of adolescents and young adults,” while simultaneously improving “many of the symptoms that identified these young patients as likely schizophrenics and bipolar disorder sufferers.” In fact, “roughly 5% of those on fish oil went on to develop full-blown psychosis during the study period, versus 28% of those who got psychotherapy alone.”

WebMD (2/1, DeNoon) reported, “No other intervention, including psychiatric” medications, “has achieved as much for so long after treatment stopped.” Unlike antipsychotic medications, “fish oil pills have no serious side effects.”

Reuters (2/2, Harding) noted that fish oils may be used someday to stave off or even prevent psychotic or bipolar illness as well as substance abuse disorder and depression. BBC News (2/2) and the UK’s Press Association (2/2) also cover the story.

Administration issues new mental health coverage rules.

Monday, February 1st, 2010

The New York Times (1/30, A14, Pear) reported the Obama Administration “issued new rules…that promise to improve insurance coverage of mental healthcare for more than 140 million people insured through their jobs.” Under the rules that go into effect July 1, “employers and group health plans cannot provide less coverage for mental healthcare than for the treatment of physical conditions like cancer and heart disease.”

The AP (1/30) reported that the new rules prohibit “separate annual deductibles for mental health treatment” and higher “copayments for visiting a psychiatrist or social worker.” The measure “also prohibits health plans from setting limits on number of visits or hospital days for mental health problems that are different from any such limitations on treatment for medical problems.”

Modern Healthcare (1/29, Zigmond) reported, “The rule applies to group plans of 50 or more people and divides benefits into the following six categories: inpatient, in-network; inpatient, out-of-network; outpatient, in-network; outpatient, out-of-network; emergency care; and prescription drugs.” CQ HealthBeat (1/30, Norman) also covered the story.

Dozens of states consider legislation to address concussion awareness, treatment.

Monday, February 1st, 2010

The New York Times (1/31, SP2, Schwarz) reported that “dozens of state lawmakers consider legislation to improve awareness and treatment of concussions in youth sports” in a movement that “started in the Pacific Northwest” and “is wafting across the United States.” Washington and Oregon were the first states to pass “concussion-specific laws covering scholastic sports” that “mandated education for coaches, immediate removal from play of any athlete suspected of a concussion in a game or practice, and proper medical clearance before that athlete could return.” Now, the Zackery Lystedt Brain Project, “spearheaded by the Sarah Jane Brain Foundation and the American College of Sports Medicine,” aims to “continue those organizations’ push for states to enact” similar laws.