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Health Headlines - January 29

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:23pm

Famous Diet Program May Be Part of West Virginia Medicaid Plan

Weight Watchers as a Medicaid benefit?

The noted diet program may be West Virginia's best bet to curb an obesity problem that had the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranking the state second only to Mississippi as having the most obese adults in the United States.

According to the Associated Press, West Virginia's annual Medicaid costs associated with obesity-related illness exceed $100 million of its $2.1 billion budget. State health officials think a Weight Watchers program designed to bring about weight loss and prevent diseases such as diabetes would be a good choice.

However, the immediate concern is not so much about cost as it is long-term benefits. "It's not about immediate cost containment," the wire service quotes state Medicaid spokeswoman Shannon Riley as saying. "The Medicaid program will see savings down the line, but this is about slowing the growth of lifestyle-induced diseases and disabilities."

The neighboring state of Tennessee adopted a similar measure last year, and the A.P. cites state officials as saying that more than 8,000 pounds were lost by the 1,400 residents who participated in the Weight Watchers regimen. Similar programs are being planned for California, Colorado Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Missouri, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Virginia and Wisconsin, the wire service reports.

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Variant Gene Raises Diabetes Risk in Half of U.S. Population

Earlier studies into causes of diabetes indicated that a version of a specific gene might increase the risk of getting diabetes.

Now, a scientist at Saint Louis University confirms the finding that a common variation of the gene FABP2 causes people to metabolize food in a way that increases risk for type 2 (adult onset) diabetes. Edward Weiss, in a university news release, says that his research concluded that the gene, found in about half the U.S. population, burned fat in the body in a way that hindered the ability to remove sugar from the blood stream.

Too much sugar in the blood is a major characteristic of diabetes, and it is estimated that more than 17 million Americans have type 2 diabetes.

While this finding is significant, Weiss says that having the gene variation doesn't mean a person is going to get diabetes. "Many other genes, some known and some unknown, are involved in a person's overall risk of developing diabetes," Weiss says in the news release. "Those are things a person can't control. But there are risk factors for diabetes that a person can change -- lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise."

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Increased Stroke Risk Found in New Macular Degeneration Drug

A recently-approved drug to treat macular degeneration in the elderly may increase a person's risk of getting a stroke.

According to the New York Times, a high dose of pharmaceutical company Genentech's new eye drug Lucentis caused a stroke to occur in 1.2 percent of patients in a clinical trial compared to only .3 percent of those patients given a lower dose.

Genentech sent a letter to retina specialists this past week reporting the findings, the Times reports, although a company spokesperson said that the significantly different statistical finding probably would not change the information on the drug's label, because it already contains a warning about possible clotting or stroke risk.

The importance of Lucentis (ranibizumab) is that clinical trials have demonstrated it is the first drug that actually causes vision improvement in people suffering from macular degeneration, rather than just slowing degeneration of eyesight, the newspaper reports.

Macular degeneration, which leads to blindness, especially in the elderly, is caused by the degeneration of part of the retina, leading to blurry vision or vision that excludes the ability to see peripherally.

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Japan Begins Poultry Slaughter After Another Outbreak of Avian Flu

Unlike many other Asian countries, Japan had until recently escaped massive outbreaks of avian flu among its poultry population.

But that has changed. The Associated Press reports that a second outbreak has been detected on a poultry farm in southern Japan in the country's major chicken-producing region. Scientitsts determined that the first outbreak, which killed 4,000 chickens, was caused by the deadly H5N1 strain of the flu, the one that health experts are carefully monitoring for mutations that could cause a pandemic among humans.

The latest outbreak was in a group of 3,000 chickens, and the wire service reports that the Japanese government has begun slaughtering tens of thousands of the birds on the infected farms and on neighboring farms as well. Only one non fatal human case of avian flu has been reported in Japan, according to the A.P.

Since avian flu was first identified, 163 humans have died, but health officials say that all of them contracted the disease from contact with birds and not from other humans.

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Most Diabetics Don't Exercise: Study

Even though physical activity plays an important role in controlling the disease, fewer than 40 percent of people with type 2 diabetes exercise, says a U.S. study that surveyed more than 22,000 diabetes patients.

The study also found that the diabetes patients most in need of exercise are the least likely to be active, the Associated Press reported.

The findings appear in the February issue of the journal Diabetes Care. The study results are disappointing, said lead researcher Dr. Elaine Morrato, an expert in public health and epidemiology and assistant professor at the University of Colorado in Denver.

"It is difficult to be optimistic about addressing the twin epidemics of obesity and diabetes without success in increasing physical activity in the population," she and her colleagues concluded. "The results of this study provide very pessimistic data."

People with type 2 diabetes who don't exercise face complications such as high blood pressure and nerve damage, the AP reported. The American Diabetes Association recommends at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise, five times a week.

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FDA Panel Approves Combination Vaccine for Children

Pentacel, a combination vaccine for five childhood diseases that would reduce the number of shots given to infants, received the approval of a U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Thursday.

The vaccine, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, whooping cough and invasive Hib disease, is made by Sanofi-Aventis SA.

The 13 to 2 vote in favor of the vaccine was based on studies that showed that four doses of Pentacel protected children from these diseases. Currently, U.S. health officials recommend 23 separate shots for infants. Pentacel would reduce that to 16 shots -- about two fewer at every checkup, Bloomberg News reported.

The advisory committee said that Pentacel appeared to work at least as well as individual vaccines designed to protect against the five diseases. They also said that reducing the number of shots may help improve immunization rates.

It's expected that the FDA will decide by March 9 whether to act on the advisory committees' recommendation and approve Pentacel, Bloomberg reported. While the FDA isn't required to follow its committees' advice, it usually does so.

Currently, the only five-component childhood vaccine available in the U.S. is Pediarix, made by GlaxoSmithKline. It's similar to Pentacel, but protects against hepatitis B instead Hib.

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