Health Highlights: May 6, 2010

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

Record Number of Births to Unmarried Women in 2008: Study

Unmarried women accounted for a record 41% of births in the United States in 2008, compared with 28% in 1990, says a new study about the demographics of American motherhood.

The Pew Research Center study also found that new mothers are increasingly older and better educated. Nearly 14% of new mothers in 2008 were 35 or older, compared with about 9% in 1990, the Associated Press reported.

In 2008, about 10% of new mothers were teens, compared with 13% in 1990.

The study is based on data from the National Center for Health Statistics and the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as a telephone survey conducted in April 2009, the AP reported.

Among the other findings:

  • Most new mothers (54%) in 2008 had at least some college education, compared with 41% in 1990. Among new mothers 35 or older, 71% had at least some college education in 2008.
  • There were 4.3 million births in the United States in 2008, compared with 4.2 million in 1990.

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Congress Investigates Recall of Children's Medicines

The actions of federal regulators and drug maker McNeil Consumer Healthcare will be scrutinized by a Congressional committee investigating the recent massive recall of over-the-counter children's medicines that includes brand names such as Tylenol, Benadryl, Motrin and Zyrtec.

In a joint statement, the leaders of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said they are "deeply concerned" about the recall. Reps. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said they plan to ask "tough questions about the conditions of the manufacturing plant and controls put in place by the drug company's management, and about whether FDA's inspection and recall procedures were sufficient," the Washington Post reported.

The hearings are expected to begin within the next few weeks.

Newly released FDA documents reveal that agency inspectors found widespread quality control problems at McNeil Consumer Healthcare's Pennsylvania plant, where the recalled medicines were manufactured. McNeil is a division of Johnson & Johnson.

For example, the inspectors discovered that raw materials known to be contaminated with unspecified bacteria "were approved for use to manufacture several finished lots of Children's and Infant's Tylenol drug products," the Post reported.

There were a number of other problems in quality-control methods and manufacturing processes, according to the FDA.

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Children More Likely to Eat 'Fun' Fruit: Study

Children are more likely to eat fruit if it's made fun and attractive, say European researchers who studied nearly 100 children ages 4 to 7.

The children were offered apples, strawberries and seedless grapes cut into cubes and either made into a hedgehog -- skewered with colorful cocktail sticks and stuck into a watermelon -- or given to them on a white plate, BBC News reported.

Even though they understood that presentation doesn't change the taste of the fruit, the children ate nearly twice as much of the "fun" fruit. The study appears in the journal Appetite.

"How food looks probably does have quite an influence, especially for kids who are getting used to different types of foods," Dr. Laura Wyness, of the British Nutrition Foundation, told BBC News.

Simple ways to make food interesting include cutting it into triangles, squares or strips, she said.

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Fewer Black Asthma Patients Take Medicine Daily: Report

The disparity in the number of white and black Americans with asthma who take inhaled or oral medicine daily to prevent asthma attacks is growing, according to a federal government report.

In 2003, daily asthma medicines were used by 29% of blacks with asthma and 30% of white patients. By 2006, the rates were 25% and 34%, respectively, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Among the other findings from the analysis of data from the 2009 National Healthcare Disparities Report:

  • The number of Hispanic asthma sufferers who reported taking a daily asthma medicine decreased from 28% in 2003 to 23% in 2006.
  • During that same time, the gap shrank in use of asthma medications between lower- and higher-income patients.
  • The gap also narrowed between patients who didn't finish high school and those with higher levels of education.

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D.C. Council Approves Medical Marijuana Use

In a unanimous vote Tuesday, the 13-member District of Columbia Council voted to allow people with cancer, glaucoma or a "chronic and long-lasting disease" to obtain medical marijuana from up to eight dispensaries regulated by the city.

The legislation would allow patients to receive two ounces of marijuana a month and gives the mayor the power to raise that amount to four ounces without further council action, The New York Times reported.

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty is expected to sign the measure into law. Congress and the White House would then have 30 days to decide whether to allow the city to proceed with the medical marijuana plan.

In order to block the law, the House and Senate must pass a joint resolution that would then need the approval of President Barack Obama, The Times reported.

Currently, 14 states allow residents to use marijuana for medical purposes.

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