Health Highlights: June 23, 2010

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

Study Faults McDonald's for Happy Meals Side Dishes

French fries are nearly always served with McDonald's kids' Happy Meals because the majority of servers don't ask customers if they want a healthier alternative, according to a new study by the consumer group Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI).

The other side dish available with Happy Meals is called Apple Dippers, which are apple slices with low-fat caramel dip. Beverage choices include soft drinks, 100% juice, and 1% low-fat milk.

CSPI researchers ordered 75 Happy Meals at 44 McDonald's across the United States and found that in 93% of cases, servers gave french fries as the side dish without asking if the customer would prefer Apple Dippers, USA Today reported.

In 84% of cases, a beverage choice was offered, but soda was usually the first option mentioned by servers. The study also found that more than three-quarters of the McDonald's outlets had toy displays for Happy Meals.

"In the past, we've asked them not to promote unhealthy meals with toys and to have the default side dishes and beverages be the healthy choices," said Margo Wootan, CSPI's director of nutrition policy, USA Today reported.

The group said it would sue McDonald's if the company continues to use toys to promote Happy Meals to kids.

McDonald's USA's vice president of communications, William Whitman, said in a statement: "Since 2006, we have been a part of the Council for Better Business Bureau's voluntary initiative to address the importance of children's well-being. In the U.S., McDonald's primarily advertises the four-piece Chicken McNuggets Happy Meal, which includes Apple Dippers, low-fat caramel dip and 1% low-fat white milk.

"We are proud of our Happy Meal, which gives our customers wholesome food and toys of the highest quality and safety," he added.

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Few Substance Abuse Centers Offer Programs for Gays/Lesbians

Only six percent (777 of 13,688) of substance abuse treatment facilities surveyed across the United States offer special programs for gays and lesbians, a federal government study found.

The 2008 survey also found that privately operated for-profit facilities were more than two times as likely as federal facilities to offer specialized gay and lesbian treatment programs (7.0% vs. 2.6%), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration said.

These types of programs were offered at 5.5% of state-run facilities and 5.8% of private non-profit facilities.

The study also found that 7.1% of facilities with a mixed substance abuse and mental health focus offered programs for gays and lesbians, compared with 2.3% of facilities with a primary focus on general health care.

"People in substance abuse treatment come from diverse backgrounds and benefit from programs designed to meet their particular needs," SAMHSA Administrator Pamela S. Hyde said in an agency news release. "The treatment community needs to work with all segments of our society to ensure that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, as well as members of other underserved groups, are afforded more opportunities for this kind of specialized care."

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FDA Approves New H1N1 Flu Test

A new test to detect 2009 H1N1 flu virus infections in humans has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

The test, developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, will help ensure the accuracy of influenza testing results among the approved laboratories that conduct influenza subtype testing in the U.S. and other nations, according to officials.

The new CDC Influenza 2009 A (H1N1)pdm Real-Time RT-PCR Panel (IVD) replaces the previous Swine Influenza Virus Real-Time RT-PCR Detection Panel which received emergency use authorization by the FDA in April 2009 and was used during the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic.

The new test will soon be made available to approved labs.

"This clearance represents several months of close collaboration between the FDA and the CDC," Dr. Jeffrey Shuren, director of the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in a CDC news release. "This test is the second diagnostic cleared in recent weeks by the FDA for the 2009 H1N1 influenza virus."

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U.S. Bans Mail Shipments of Tobacco

As of June 29, the U.S. Postal Service will no longer be able to deliver mail-order cigarettes or smokeless tobacco bought from low-tax southern states or tax-free Indian reservations that charge much less than store prices.

The new law, signed by President Barack Obama on March 31, closes a loophole the federal government regarded as a tax dodge and a way for young people to get around age restrictions on tobacco products, CBS News/Associated Press reported.

The mailing ban includes cigarettes, roll-your-own tobacco, and smokeless tobacco. However, it doesn't include cigars, tobacco shipments entirely within Alaska or Hawaii, or packages sent between tobacco businesses.

The Prevent All Cigarette Trafficking Act is among a number of anti-tobacco measures taken by the Obama administration. Other actions have included bans on flavored cigarettes and cigarettes labeled as "light," CBS/AP reported.

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