Health Highlights: April 12, 2012

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

Drug Giant Hit With $1.2 Billion in Fines

Fines of more than $1.2 billion were slapped on Johnson & Johnson and its subsidiary Janssen Pharmaceuticals after a jury found that the companies minimized or concealed dangers associated with the antipsychotic drug Risperdal.

Experts said the penalty imposed by an Arkansas judge is one of the largest on record for a state fraud case involving a drug company, The New York Times reported.

The judge issued a penalty of $1.19 billion for nearly 240,000 violations of Arkansas' Medicaid fraud law and also fined the companies $11 million for violations of the state's deceptive practices act.

Earlier this year, Texas settled a similar case with Janssen for $158 million. Last year, Janssen was hit with a $327 million penalty in South Carolina and nearly $258 million in damages in Louisiana, the Times reported.


Vehicle Seat Design Makes Child Seat Use Difficult: Study

The design of passenger seats in many cars makes it difficult to properly install child safety seats, finds a new study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

It found that just 21 of 98 top-selling 2010 and 2011 model year vehicles have seat designs that are easy to use with child restraints, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The low percentage is notable in light of the fact that the auto industry uses a system called Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children (Latch) that's meant to make it easier to install child safety seats.

The insurance institute said the problem is that auto makers don't pay enough attention to how the Latch system works when designing passenger seats.

"Installing a child restraint isn't always as simple as a couple of clicks and you're done," study co-author Anne McCartt, the insurance institute's senior vice president for research, told the Times. "Sometimes parents blame themselves when they struggle with Latch, but oftentimes the problem lies with the vehicle, not the user."


E. Coli Found in Nearly Half of Raw Chicken Products: Study

The bacteria E. coli was found in nearly half of packaged raw chicken products bought at grocery stores across the United States, a new study says.

Researchers found E. coli -- an indicator of fecal contamination -- in 48 percent of 120 raw chicken products bought in 10 major cities, The New York Times reported.

The study was conducted by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a nonprofit group that advocates a vegetarian diet, among other things.

Food safety experts downplayed the findings, noting that the type of E. coli found in the chicken was not the kind that threatened public health.

"What's surprising to me is that they didn't find more," Dr. Michael Doyle, director of the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia, told the Times. "Poop gets into your food, and not just into meat -- produce is grown in soil fertilized with manure, and there's E. coli in that, too."


FDA Panel Recommends Approval of New Breast Ultrasound Device

An automated ultrasound device that can help detect cancer in dense breast tissue should be approved for use in the United States, a Food and Drug Administration advisory panel said Wednesday.

Traditional mammograms may be unable to detect tumors in women with dense breast tissue. Some research suggests that about 40 percent of women have dense breast tissue, ABC News reported.

The automated breast ultrasound (ABUS) machine provides 3-D images of breast tissue and is intended to used along with mammograms, not in place of them, according to manufacturer U-Systems.

The FDA's panel decision to recommend approval of ABUS came after a review of the safety and effectiveness of the device, ABC News reported. The FDA typically follows the advice of its expert panels.


Group Urges Hospitals to Evict McDonald's

A U.S. advocacy group is petitioning several hospitals to remove McDonald's restaurants from their dining areas.

Corporate Accountability International, which fights corporate abuse, outlined its position in a letter sent to the hospitals, CBS News reported.

"In your role as a local health leader, you have allowed McDonald's -- a corporation that has disregarded public health in the name of profits -- to operate within an environment devoted to helping our children get well," the letter stated.

"A 2006 study published in Pediatrics concluded that by allowing a McDonald's store to operate inside your facility, you are not just affecting hospital guests' consumption on the day of their visit, but you are unintentionally boosting your guests' perception of the 'healthfulness' of McDonald's food. In other words, your hospital is being used as part of McDonald's comprehensive marketing strategy, a strategy that is clearly inconsistent with your goals as a health institution."

The group is targeting McDonald's in this effort, but it's not the only chain that contributes to the problem of unhealthy fast food in hospitals, according to campaign director Sara Deon.

A 2011 report by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine said that some hospitals have up to five different fast food restaurants and serve unhealthy foods such as country fried steak in their cafeterias, CBS News reported.


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