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Health Headlines - July 29

Posted Jul 28 2009 10:32pm

Recession Will Affect Kids' Well-Being: Report

There were modest improvements in the well-being of American children during the good economic times earlier this decade, but things will get worse in the current recession, according to a new report released Tuesday.

The Kids Count evaluation of 10 key indicators in federal government statistics, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, found slight improvements in six areas since 2000, including infant death rates, the Washington Post reported. Teen pregnancies are lower than they were in 2000 but are on the rise again in all but nine states and the District of Columbia.

However, even before the official start of the recession in December 2007, more children were living in poverty, in homes with single parents, or with parents who were unemployed, said the report.

Since the most recent data are from 2007, the report doesn't include the effects of recession-related job losses.

"Our take-away is that even going into the recession, the economic outlook for a lot of families was dire," Laura Beavers, the national Kids Count coordinator, told the Post. "There was a flattening of the median income, and the poverty level was creeping up year after year."

The Kids Count report has been issued annually for 20 years.

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Texting Greatly Increases Crash Risk

Texting while driving increased truckers' risk of collision 23-fold, according to new U.S. research.

The analysis of images recorded by video cameras in the cabs of more than 100 long-haul truckers over 18 months also revealed that in the moments before a crash or near-crash, drivers spent about five seconds looking at their texting devices, the New York Times reported. At highway speeds, a vehicle travels more than the length of a football field in five seconds.

In terms of driver distraction, not just in trucks, "texting is in its own universe of risk," Rich Hanowski, who oversaw the study, told the Times.

The findings, released Tuesday, deliver a clear message about texting while driving, said Tom Dingus, director of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute, which did the research. "You should never do this," he told the newspaper. "It should be illegal."

Currently, only 14 states ban texting while driving.

In a related study, University of Utah researchers found that college students using a driving simulator were eight times more likely to crash when texting, the Times reported.

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Fast-Track Program Doesn't Speed Approval Of New Cancer Drugs

New cancer drugs in a fast-track approval program aren't getting to the U.S. market quicker than other cancer drugs, says a new study.

It found that all cancer drugs took about seven years to get approved, whether they were part of the Food and Drug Administration's "accelerated approval" program or not. The researchers looked at 19 drugs that had received accelerated approval since 1995 and 32 drugs given regular approval, USA Today reported.

The findings are a "disappointment," said study author Charles Bennett, a professor at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago. The study appears online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The accelerated approval program was created in 1992 in order to speed availability of promising drugs to patients with little time to live.

Bennett noted that patients with advanced cancer are often willing to accept a higher level of risk and the potential for serious side effects associated with new drugs if they offer hope for extending their lives, USA Today reported.

"We're not talking about people with skin conditions. These people are going to die," Bennett said.

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Probiotics May Help Fight Flu in Children: Study

Probiotics may help prevent flu symptoms and reduce their duration in children, according to a study sponsored by a company that makes probiotics products. But some experts are skeptical about the findings.

The study of nearly 250 Chinese children, ages 3 to 5 years old, found that taking probiotics for six months reduced fever incidence by up to 72.7 percent, decreased coughing by up to 62.1 percent, and reduced runny noses by up to 58.5 percent, ABC News reported.

The Danish nutritional supplement company Danisco funded the study, which was published in the journal Pediatrics.

"It is a surprising result and one that is hard to reconcile with traditional medical wisdom," Dr. Julie Gerberding, former director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told ABC News. "I would take (the findings) as 'interesting but still very preliminary.'"

"Most practitioners will feel more confident when these results are replicated in trials sponsored by government or other parties without a potential conflict of interest," noted Dr. Kathi Kemper of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C.

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Swine Flu Death Toll 816: WHO

The worldwide swine flu death toll now stands at 816, according to a bulletin released Monday by the World Health Organization.

Most of the victims (707) have been in the Americas, followed by the Asia-Pacific region (74) and Europe (34). There has been one death in the eastern Mediterranean region, which includes the Middle East and parts of northern Africa, Agence France Presse reported.

The WHO bulletin also said that several countries and territories have reported their first cases of swine flu since the previous bulletin on July 6.

So far, 134,503 cases of infection with the H1N1 swine flu virus have been reported to the agency, AFP
reported. However, countries are no longer required to test and report individual cases, which means that latest figure "understates" the actual number of infections, the WHO said.

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