Health Highlights: Feb. 8, 2008

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

Sad Shoppers Often Regret Purchases

Sad and self-focused people who attempt to increase their self-esteem by shopping tend to spend more for the same item than other people and often end up regretting their purchases, according to a U.S. study released Friday at the annual meeting of the Society for Social and Personality Psychology.

"What we think is going on is that sad and self-focused people are feeling pretty bad about themselves and have a decreased valuation of themselves. They want to enhance this valuation, and one way to do this is be acquiring material goods," said study co-author Cynthia Cryder, a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University, Agence France-Presse reported.

These people may be seeking to boost their self-esteem by transferring the value of items to themselves. But this kind of purchase often results in later regret.

"A huge key to avoiding decision-effects like this is being aware that you're sad in the first place. But that's rather hard to do," Cryder said. "Participants in studies such as ours usually have no idea that their feelings influence their decisions, so it's impossible to correct."

She suggested people "always re-evaluate major purchases one day or one week after you make them so that you can make sure that whatever you bought is still attractive to you," AFP reported. "That lowers the probability that you'll have an over-priced mistake due to some fleeting influence that you didn't know about and still don't know about. You just know, 'Wow... why did I pay so much for that?'"

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Trek Recalls Girls' Bicycles

U.S. bicycle maker Trek has recalled about 49,000 MT220 girls' bicycles due to a risk of frame failure during use, which can cause riders to lose control and suffer injuries, said the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The company has received 13 reports of frames breaking, including four incidents that resulted in minor injuries. The recall covers MT220 bicycles from model years 2005 (light metallic blue), 2006 (metallic silver and metallic purple or pink and pearl white), and 2007 (pink and white pearl or metallic purple). The model name is printed on the frame of the bicycle. MT220 bicycles from model year 2008 are not included in the recall.

The recalled bikes were sold from April 2004 through June 2007 for about $300. Consumers should take these bicycles away from children immediately and return them to a Trek dealer for a free replacement bicycle or a $100 discount on a different size Trek bicycle.

For more information, contact Trek Bicycle Corp., of Waterloo, Wis., at (800) 373-4594.

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Longer Sleep Cuts Kids' Risk for Weight Problems

The longer children sleep at night, the less likely they are to be overweight or obese, concludes a U.S. study in the February issue of the journal Obesity.

Researchers analyzed 11 published studies and found that the risk of children being overweight or obese declines nine percent for each additional hour of sleep they get per night, CBC News reported.

"Our analysis of the data shows a clear association between sleep duration and the risk for overweight or obesity in children. The risk declined with more sleep," senior author Youfa Wang, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health's Center for Human Nutrition, said in a prepared statement.

Wang and colleagues found that children who got the least amount of sleep -- less than 9 hours for those under age five, and less than 7 hours for those over age 10 -- were 92 percent more likely to be overweight or obese than children who got more sleep, CBC News reported.

Lack of sleep may increase children's risk of being overweight and obese by affecting their metabolism and hormone levels, the researchers suggested.

"The prevalence of childhood obesity may be decreased by increasing sleep duration, independent of other risk factors for childhood obesity," the researchers wrote. "Our findings have some important public health implications for fighting the growing childhood obesity epidemic."

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Merck to Pay More Than $650 Million to Settle Drug Pricing Fraud Charges

In one of the largest-ever healthcare fraud settlements, New Jersey-based Merck & Co. agreed Thursday to pay more than $650 million to resolve charges that it cheated Medicaid out of millions of dollars in discounts over eight years through routine overbilling for the arthritis drug Vioxx and the cholesterol drug Zocor, the Washington Post reported.

According to U.S. prosecutors, Merck gave the drug to hospitals at low cost in order to get poor patients used to the expensive pills. When these patients were discharged from hospital, many kept taking the drugs and the government had to pay the higher costs.

The investigation began in 2000 after a Merck district sales manager alerted federal authorities about what he believed were questionable sales tactics by the company, the Post reported.

Merck did not admit wrongdoing. It stood by its pricing strategies, but wanted to resolve the matter, according to a statement released by executives of the United States' third-largest drug maker.

As part of the settlement, the company agreed to heightened oversight by regulators for five years. Merck remains the subject of a separate grand jury investigation related to Vioxx marketing. It's also trying to reach another multibillion-dollar settlement of thousands of lawsuits filed by people who had heart attacks after taking Vioxx.

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Expanded Recall of New Era Canned Vegetables

A nationwide recall of canned vegetable products made by the New Era Canning Company of Michigan is being expanded for a third time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration said Thursday. The recalled products may be contaminated with Clostridium botulinum, which produces the toxin that causes botulism. Infection with the toxin can cause life-threatening illness or death.

The recalled New Era products are large institutional-sized cans, weighing between six and seven pounds, of various types of beans, blackeye peas, and asparagus. They're marketed under ten different brand names: Classic Sysco; Code; Frosty Acres Restaurant's Pride Preferred; GFS; Kitchen Essentials; Monarch Heritage; Necco; New Era; Nugget; and Reliance Sysco.

To date, no illnesses have been reported to the FDA. Consumers should not consume these products, even if they appear to be normal, because of the potential serious risk to health. Consumers who have the affected products, or who have used them in recipes, should immediately throw the cans and food away, the FDA said.

A complete list of specific brands, products, and lot codes subject to the New Era recalls can be found at the FDA Web site. Consumers with questions can call the FDA at 1-888-SAFEFOOD.

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U.S. Lawmakers Seek Details on Lipitor Ads Featuring Dr. Robert Jarvik

Information about people who may have served as stunt doubles for Dr. Robert Jarvik in television commercials for Lipitor is being sought by a U.S. congressional committee investigating the ad campaign for the cholesterol drug, The New York Times reported.

On Thursday, the committee sent letters to nine advertising firms believed to be involved in the Lipitor ad campaign. The letters noted that the House Energy and Commerce Committee and its subcommittee on oversight and investigations are looking into "false and misleading statements and the use of celebrity endorsements of prescription medications in direct-to-consumer advertising."

Jarvik, a pioneer in artificial hearts, was promised a minimum of $1,350,000 over two years to appear in Lipitor ads, according to a copy of a contract between Jarvik and drug maker Pfizer that was released by the committee.

The ad campaign began in 2006 with a TV ad depicting Jarvik sculling at Lake Crescent near Port Angeles, Wash. But Jarvik doesn't row and a Seattle rowing enthusiast served as Jarvik's stunt double in the ads, The Times reported.

It's believed the House committee is interested in finding out whether doubles for Jarvik were used in other Lipitor ads.

"We are taking a hard look at the deceptive tactics of drug companies in their direct-to-consumer advertising," Bart Stupak (D.-Mich), the subcommittee chairman, said in a prepared statement.

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Tobacco Could Kill 1 Billion People This Century: WHO

Smoking and other types of tobacco use killed 100 million people worldwide in the 20th century, and could kill as many as 1 billion people this century unless dramatic global action is taken to curb tobacco use, said a World Health Organization report released Thursday.

It said all countries must significantly boost efforts to prevent young people from starting to smoke, help smoker kick the habit, and protect nonsmokers from secondhand smoke, the Associated Press reported.

The WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic, 2008 listed six specific tobacco-control policies that should be adopted by governments: raise tobacco taxes and prices; ban tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship; protect people from secondhand smoke; warn people about the dangers of tobacco; help people who want to quit smoking; and monitor tobacco use to understand and reverse the epidemic.

"The tobacco epidemic already kills 5.4 million people a year from lung cancer, heart disease and other illnesses,'' said WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan. ''Unchecked, that number will increase to more than 8 million a year by 2030.''

It's expected that more than 80 percent of tobacco-related deaths will be in low- and middle-income countries by 2030, the AP reported.

The WHO report said nearly two-thirds of the world's smokers live in 10 countries, with 30 percent in China and about 10 percent in India. Other countries with large numbers of smokers include Indonesia, Russia, the United States, Japan, Brazil, Bangladesh, Germany and Turkey.

Governments worldwide collect more than $200 billion in tobacco taxes a year, but spend less than one-fifth of 1 percent of that revenue on tobacco control, the WHO report said.

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Posted: February 2008


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