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Health Highlights: Jan. 29, 2010

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

Gates Foundation Offers $10 Billion for Vaccine Research

Over the next 10 years, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will donate $10 billion for research on new vaccines and to make them available to the world's poorest nations.

In a statement issued on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates said "we must make this the decade of vaccines," the Associated Press reported.

He also said that "innovation will make it possible to save more children than ever before."


Cell Phone Bans May Not Reduce Crashes

Bans on the use of cell phones and other hand-held devices while driving haven't reduced road crashes in California, Connecticut, New York or Washington, D.C., according to a new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute.

Researchers compared insurance claims in those areas and in regions that don't have cell phone bans, CNN reported. The study found no changes in collision rates before and after cell phone restrictions took effect.

"The laws aren't reducing crashes, even though we know that such laws have reduced hand-held phone use, and several studies have established that phoning while driving increases crash risk," said institute president Adrian Lund.

"So the new findings don't match what we already know about the risk of phoning and texting while driving," he added, CNN reported.


Newer Emergency Contraceptive Beats Plan B in Study

A newer type of morning-after pill called ulipristal acetate (brand name ellaOne) is more effective than levonorgestrel (brand name Plan B), the most widely used emergency contraceptive, says a new study that included 1,700 women, ages 16 to 36.

The women received either Plan B or ellaOne within three to five days of having unprotected sex. There were 22 pregnancies in the Plan B group and 15 pregnancies in the ellaOne group, the Associated Press reported.

The researchers also found that the risk of pregnancy among women who took ellaOne within five days after sex was nearly half that of those who took Plan B -- 1.8 percent vs. 2.6 percent. Plan B is effective only if taken within three days after sex, while ellaOne is effective for up to five days after sex.

The study -- funded by ellaOne's maker, HRA Pharma -- was published Friday in The Lancet.

Plan B is approved in more than 140 countries and is available without a prescription in nearly 50 of those countries. EllaOne is approved only in Europe and requires a prescription, the AP reported.


Students Benefit From Milk Switch: Study

Substituting low-fat and fat-free milk for whole milk in schools can greatly reduce students' consumption of calories and fat and help combat childhood obesity, says a new study.

It examined the impact of the New York City Department of Education's decision to switch from whole fat to low-fat/fat-free milk in 2005. The change meant that a milk-drinking student was exposed to 33 fewer calories and 3.4 fewer grams of fat per school day, which works out to nearly 6,000 fewer calories and more than 600 fewer grams of fat a year.

The effect was even greater for a student who drinks white milk -- 7,000 fewer calories and more than 900 fewer grams of fat a year. The researchers also found that school purchases of milk increased 1.3 percent after the switch.

Making changes to school milk policy can help reduce students' consumption of calories and fat without decreasing their intake of important vitamins and minerals, the researchers concluded.

The study appears in the latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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Posted: January 2010