Health Highlights: May 12, 2010

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

Mentally Ill Get Jail Time Rather Than Treatment: Report

If you have a serious mental illness in the United States, you're far more likely to be jailed than admitted to a hospital for treatment, according to a report released Wednesday.

"These people should be getting treatment, not jail time," said report co-author James Pavle, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a non-profit in Arlington, Va., USA Today reported.

Although regional variations were noted, on average someone with an illness like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder is three times more likely to be sent to jail than hospitalized, the report from the National Sheriffs' Association and the Treatment Advocacy Center found.

"It is now extremely difficult to find a bed for a seriously mentally ill person who needs to be hospitalized," Pavle and his colleagues write. In 1955, one psychiatric bed existed for every 300 Americans. By 2005, only one bed was available for every 3,000 Americans. Fewer beds are available largely because of the deinstitutionalization movement begun in the 1960s, USA Today noted.

"We're not trying to say this is a criminal population," said Pavle. "All they have to do is step over a line -- public urination, a misdemeanor. Then they get in jail, and the whole thing can spin out of control."

The report relied on newly published 2004-2005 data provided by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Bureau of Justice.


FDA Alerting Professionals to Misleading Drug Ads

A new effort to help health care providers spot misleading or false prescription drug advertising and promotions was launched Tuesday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"The Bad Ad Program will help health care providers recognize misleading prescription drug promotion and provide them with an easy way to report this activity to the agency," said Thomas Abrams, director of the agency's Division of Drug Marketing, Advertising, and Communications (DDMAC), in an agency statement.

The agency said it would launch the program at selected medical conventions and distribute educational materials in partnership with specific medical societies.

The FDA has limited ability to monitor marketing activity that occurs in private, and this new campaign aims to alert doctors and other health care providers to report irregularities.

Suspected violations in drug promotion activity can be reported by sending an email to [email protected] or calling 877-RX-DDMAC. Although reports can be submitted anonymously, the FDA prefers to receive contact information in case follow-up is needed.


Michelle Obama Endorses Weight Guidelines for Moms-to-Be

Women who stay at a healthy weight while pregnant and breast-feed after birth can help prevent childhood obesity, a U.S. government panel reports.

First Lady Michelle Obama, who is leading a campaign against childhood obesity, released the panel's findings Tuesday, the Associated Press reported. In all, the panel made 70 recommendations aimed at reducing the life-threatening health risks associated with being overweight or obese.

With one in three American children overweight or obese, children today may end up living shorter lives than their parents because of the high risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and other illnesses associated with weight.

The advisory report says the problem could be solved in a generation if childhood obesity rates dropped to 5% by 2030.

A woman's weight before pregnancy and her weight gain during pregnancy help determine whether a child will become obese, studies have shown.

Other studies have found that children who are breast-fed are 22% less likely to become obese.

The advisory panel, created by President Barack Obama in February, reviewed more than 2,500 suggestions from the public before issuing its recommendations. Participants represented a dozen federal agencies, including the Education, Agriculture, Health, Interior and Transportation departments, the AP reported.


Toxins in Children's Jewelry Targeted

Following the recall Monday of "Best Friends" charm bracelets, U.S. regulators say they are cracking down on companies producing children's jewelry that contains the toxic metal cadmium.

"More recalls are in the works," said U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission spokesman Scott Wolfson, the Associated Press reported.

Although he would not say how many products are under scrutiny, Wolfson said the recalls would follow voluntary testing by companies, some of which have reported disturbing cadmium levels to the agency, the news service ssid.

Also, inspectors at 10 U.S. ports have screened imported jewelry for cadmium in recent weeks and turned away at least one shipment of Chinese jewelry, the AP said.

The CPSC announcement followed the voluntary recall of about 19,000 "Best Friends" charm bracelet sets made in China and sold exclusively at Claire's in North America and Europe.

"Cadmium is toxic if ingested by children and can cause adverse health effects," the agency said in its recall announcement. In high levels, cadmium is a carcinogen and can damage kidneys and bones, the AP said.

Consumers should return the charm bracelets to Claire's for a replacement or refund, the agency said.

On Monday, Claire's said it had discontinued shipments from the manufacturer, identified as Dae Yeon Industries Corp., the AP reported.


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New Rules Developed for Chicken, Turkey Safety

New federal guidelines for chicken and turkey could protect tens of thousands of Americans from developing life-threatening food-borne illnesses, experts say.

"These standards will have probably the greatest public impact for consumers' health since anything USDA [the U.S. Department of Agriculture] has adopted in the last 15 years," says Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced the new safety rules Monday and said they could result in 65,000 fewer people getting sick from campylobacter and salmonella poisoning, two of the most common causes of food-borne illness, USA Today reported.

The new rules would only allow 7.5% of chicken carcasses at a plant to test positive for salmonella, down from 20% currently allowed.

To guard against campylobacter, which had not been regulated before, the new rules prohibit companies from exceeding 10% for "highly contaminated" carcasses and 46% for "low level" contamination, USA Today said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1.4 million Americans develop salmonella infections a year, and another 2.4 million get infected with campylobacter.

The poultry industry will work hard to fulfill customers' expectations "for safe and wholesome chicken," Richard Lobb, of the National Chicken Council, told USA Today.

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