Health Highlights: Feb. 4, 2014
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:
Toxic Chemical Releases Fell in 2012: EPA
Total releases of toxic chemicals in the United States were 12 percent lower in 2012 than in 2011, according to an Environmental Protection Agency report released Tuesday.
In 2012, 3.63 billion pounds of toxic chemicals were released into the air, water or land. Between 2011 and 2012, releases of toxic chemicals into land decreased 16 percent, releases into the air fell eight percent, and releases into land declined 16 percent.
The decrease in releases into the air were primarily due to reductions in emissions of hazardous air pollutants such as mercury and hydrochloric acid, which extends a long-term trend, the EPA's annual Toxics Release Inventory report noted.
"People deserve to know what toxic chemicals are being used and released in their backyards, and what companies are doing to prevent pollution," EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said in an agency news release.
New Anti-Smoking Ad Campaign Targets Youth
Ruined teeth and damaged skin are among the images being used in a new U.S. government anti-smoking ad campaign targeting young people.
As part of the $115 million effort, the Food and Drug Administration will begin running ads Feb. 11 in more than 200 markets nationwide for at least one year. Along with placing print ads in magazines such as Teen Vogue and on television stations such as MTV, the campaign will also use social media, the Associated Press reported.
"The Real Cost" campaign is a "compelling, provocative and somewhat graphic way" of getting the attention of more than 10 million Americans ages 12 to 17 who are at risk of, or already, smoking cigarettes, according to Mitch Zeller, director of the FDA's Center for Tobacco Products.
"Our kids are the replacement customers for the addicted adult smokers who die or quit each day," he told the AP. "And that's why we think it's so important to reach out to them -- not to lecture them, not to throw statistics at them -- but to reach them in a way that will get them to rethink their relationship with tobacco use."
One of the TV ads depicts a cigarette-shooting ray gun that wrecks teeth. In another ad, two teens want to buy cigarettes in a corner store and the cashier tells them it will cost them more than they have. The teens then rip off a piece of their skin and pull out a tooth to pay for the cigarettes.
"While most teens understand the serious health risks associated with tobacco use, they often don't believe the long-term consequences will ever apply to them," said FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, the AP reported.
"We'll highlight some of the real costs and health consequences associated with tobacco use by focusing on some of the things that really matter to teens -- their outward appearance and having control and independence over their lives," she explained.
The FDA wants to reduce the number of young cigarette smokers by at least 300,000 within three years, the AP reported.
Brain Changes Found in Hockey Players With Concussions
Researchers have found structural changes in the brains of hockey players who've suffered concussions.
MRI brain scans were conducted on 45 male and female Canadian university hockey players before, during and after the 2011-12 season. Eleven of the players suffered a concussion during the season, The New York Times reported.
The brains of players who suffered a concussion during the study period or who had a history of concussions showed significant differences in white matter microstructure than the brains of those who never had a concussion, according to the findings in the Journal of Neurosurgery.
"We've seen evidence of chronic injuries later in life from head trauma, and now we've seen this in current players," Dr. Paul Echlin, an Ontario sports concussion specialist, told The Times.
He and his colleagues also found that the incidence of concussion among the players in the study was three to five times higher than previous estimates in the medical literature.
"How many more studies do we need before we realize significant changes are needed in the way we play the game?" Echlin told The Times.
"We want our children to keep playing hockey and other sports for the fun, health benefits and heightened self-esteem they derive from it. But we have to look seriously at the structure of the games our children play. We have to protect our children's brains," he added.
Blood Sugar Monitoring System Approved for Children, Teens: FDA
Children and teens can now use a continuous blood sugar monitoring system that's already being used by adults, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Monday.
The agency approved the use of the Dexcom G4 Platinum Continuous Monitoring System by diabetes patients ages 2 to 17. The device provides continual information about glucose (blood sugar) levels in the fluid around cells. It's used in conjunction with a blood glucose meter.
The G4 Platinum System is the first continuous blood sugar monitoring system approved for use in patients ages 2 to 17, the FDA said. The approval was based on a study that included 176 children and teens who wore the sensor for seven days.
The study revealed that in some ways, the device did not work as well in youngsters as in adults. However, the device was effective in determining patterns in blood sugar levels in children and teens, and for alerting them when concentrations were reaching potentially dangerously high or low levels, according to the FDA.
"This device can provide valuable glucose trend information to children with diabetes and their families, but it is important that those using this device understand the expected performance of this device compared to blood glucose meters, especially for detecting low glucose, in pediatric patients," Alberto Gutierrez, director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Devices in the FDA's Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said in an agency news release.
Pill Camera to Check Colon Approved by FDA
A pill camera that's swallowed to enable doctors to check the large intestine for early signs of colon cancer has been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The PillCam Colon, which was approved for use in patients who've had an incomplete colonoscopy, contains a battery-powered camera that takes photos of the intestinal tract over eight hours, the Associated Press reported.
The photos are transmitted to a recording device worn by the patient and later examined by the doctor.
The device was developed by Given Imaging Ltd. of Israel. It estimates that about 750,000 U.S. patients a year can't complete a colonoscopy due to reasons such as anatomy problems, colon diseases or previous surgery, the AP reported.
Eighty other countries had already approved Pillcam Colon.