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Health Headlines - September 15

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:22pm

Experts Challenge Study on Youth Suicide Rates

A number of experts are questioning a recent study that linked a 2004 increase in children's suicides to a U.S. Food and Drug Administration warning about the use of antidepressants in youngsters, The New York Times reported.

The study, published in the American Journal of Psychiatry, suggested that as a result of the FDA warning, severely depressed teens may not have received needed treatment.

However, outside experts say data in the study do not support that theory, the Times reported. The experts noted that the data in the study shows that while there was a 14 percent increase in suicides among Americans ages 19 and younger in 2004, there was not a substantial decline in the number of antidepressant prescriptions for that age group.

There was a sharp decline in antidepressant prescription rates for minors in 2005, but data on suicide rates for that year are not yet available from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"There doesn't seem to be any evidence of a statistically significant association between suicide rates and prescription rates provided in the paper" for the years after the FDA warnings, Thomas R. Ten Have, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Pennsylvania, told the Times.

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San Francisco Offers Free Health Care to Uninsured

San Francisco has launched a new program that offers free or subsidized health care to all of the city's 82,000 adults without health insurance.

Healthy San Francisco, financed mostly by the city, is the first attempt by a locality to guarantee health care to all uninsured adult citizens, The New York Times reported.

The program underwent a two-month trial at two clinics in Chinatown, and is scheduled to become available at 20 more locations across the city on Sept. 17. The 14 city health clinics and eight affiliated community clinics involved in the program will emphasize prevention and management of chronic diseases.

So far, more than 1,300 people have enrolled in the program, and city officials hope to have 45,000 people sign up in the first year of the initiative, the Times reported.

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Preventable Diseases Could Claim 36 Million Lives a Year by 2015: WHO

Unless action is taken, the number of deaths from preventable "lifestyle" diseases worldwide will double to 36 million annually by 2015, says the World Health Organization.

The WHO noted that about 17 million people die prematurely each year from largely preventable diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases, diabetes and obesity, Agence France-Presse reported.

"Unless national interventions are urgently taken to reduce the prevalence of chronic diseases, 36 million people will die of these diseases by 2015, nearly half of them before they turn 70," Shigeru Omi, director of the WHO regional committee for the Western Pacific, said Friday as the committee completed a five-day meeting in South Korea.

Most of these diseases are caused by known and preventable risk factors -- unhealthy diet, physical inactivity and tobacco use. Omi said a "whole-of-society" approach is needed to deal with this issue, AFP reported.

"All sectors, from government to private enterprises, civil society and communities, will have to work together," Omi said.

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1,395 West Nile Virus Cases, 38 Deaths in U.S.

So far this year, there have been 38 deaths among the 1,395 reported human cases of West Nile virus in 38 states, a federal study found.

Of the 1,395 cases as of Sept. 11, the median age of patients was 49 and 770 (56 percent) of the cases occurred in males. There have been 136 reported cases of West Nile virus detected in blood donors, including 33 in California, 20 in Texas, 13 in Oklahoma, 11 in South Dakota, nine in Minnesota, and seven each in Missouri and North Dakota.

Of those 136 cases, two people subsequently had neuroinvasive illness and 31 later developed West Nile fever.

More than 1,200 dead birds with West Nile virus infection have been reported in 29 states and New York City, and infections have been reported in horses in 26 states, one dog in Oregon, 11 squirrels in California, and three unidentified animal species in Idaho and Montana.

The findings are published in the Sept. 14 issue of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

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Reduce Meat Consumption and Help Fight Climate Change?

You can help fight climate change by eating less meat, says a paper in this week's issue of The Lancet medical journal.

The authors of the paper said agriculture accounts for 22 percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions -- about the same as industry and more than that of cars and other forms of transportation. And livestock production accounts for nearly 80 percent of agricultural emissions, Agence France-Presse reported.

Currently, average meat consumption worldwide is 100 grams (3.5 ounces) per person per day. But the average in rich countries is 200 to 250 grams (7 to 8.8 ounces), compared to 20 to 25 grams (0.71 to 0.88 ounces) in poor countries.

The paper's authors said the global average should be reduced to 90 grams (3.17 ounces) per day per person by 2050. That means that people in rich countries need to reduce their meat intake to the equivalent of one hamburger per day, AFP reported.

Not only would that benefit the environment, it would also improve health by lowering the risk of heart disease, obesity, colorectal cancer, and perhaps other kinds of cancers, the authors said.

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Older Siblings May Stunt Younger Children's Growth

Having older siblings may stunt the growth of younger children, say researchers at University College London in England. This is especially true if older siblings are brothers.

The study found that children in larger families were likely to be shorter than average, BBC News reported.

The researchers analyzed data from 14,000 families and found that children with three siblings were 2.5 centimeters (one inch) shorter than the average height for their age.

Multiple siblings may spread thin the resources that parents can offer their children, the researchers suggested.

"If you are the oldest child, having younger siblings will not affect your development significantly but if you are one of the younger ones, then you can expect to be shorter than your older siblings," said study leader David Lawson, BBC News reported.

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