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Health Highlights: Jan. 5, 2011

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

Patient Beds Catching Fire: FDA

An Ohio company has received a warning letter from U.S. health officials about problems with its electric beds, including fires that caused injury and death.

The Food and Drug Administration's Dec. 15 letter to Invacare Corp. says the company failed to document and investigate recurring malfunctions with the beds. The letter was posted Tuesday morning on the agency's Web site, the Associated Press reported.

Between April and July 2010, Invacare received four complaints about sparks or fires associated with the beds' electronics, the FDA said. Those cases include one where a bed caught fire and two patients had to be treated for smoke inhalation and chest pain, and another where a fire that started at the foot of the bed caused a patient's death.

There were other complaints about patients getting stuck between the mattress and bed rail, including one case where the problem allegedly caused the death of an 11-year-old child, AP reported.

The FDA told Invacare it must respond with plans for correcting the issues within 15 working days after receiving the letter.


Medicare Won't Pay for End-of-Life Planning

End-of-life planning will no longer be included in regulations covering annual physical examinations for Medicare patients, the Obama administration said Tuesday.

The abrupt change in the rule was done for procedural reasons, according to administration officials, but it's believed that political pressure was also a factor, according to The New York Times.

During debate about the new health care law, Republicans said inaccurately that a House version of the bill allowed a government panel to decide about end-of-life care for Medicare recipients. The White House is preparing to defend the health care law against attack by the new Republican majority in the House.

The reference in the Medicare regulation that listed "advance care planning" as one of the services that could be offered in annual physical examinations was widely supported by doctors and providers of hospice care, The Times reported.

Some officials at the Department of Health and Human Services are upset by the decision to delete the reference to end-of-life care. The officials say such discussions help ensure patients get the care they desire.


Company Says it has 'Safer' Smokeless Tobacco

A Virginia tobacco maker is seeking U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval to sell a moist smokeless tobacco with the claim that it is safer than its competitors.

Star Scientific Inc. says its Stonewall Moist-BDL product has 90 to 99 percent fewer cancer-causing chemicals than other smokeless tobacco products and should carry the "modified risk" label being developed by the FDA, the Associated Press reported.

If the FDA agrees, the product would be among the first to marketed as less harmful than other forms of tobacco. The agency is currently considering similar applications for two of Star's dissolvable tobacco products.

A 2007 report from the Royal College of Physicians in the U.K. suggests that some smokeless tobacco products are less dangerous than cigarettes. However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says smokeless tobacco contains 28 cancer-causing agents and is not a safe substitute to smoking, the AP reported.


Americans' Diets Aren't as Healthy as They Believe: Poll

The majority of Americans believe their diet is healthier than it actually is, according to a new survey.

The Consumer Reports Health poll of 1,234 adults found that about 90 percent of respondents said their diet is somewhat, very, or extremely healthy, even though many admitted that they consumed large amounts of fat, sugar and carbohydrates, The New York Daily News reported.

The survey also found that 43 percent of respondents said they drank at least one soda or sugar-sweetened coffee or tea a day, and that vegetables and fruits weren't popular food choices.

"Americans have a tendency to give themselves high marks for healthy eating," said Nancy Metcalfe, a senior program editors with Consumer Reports Health, the Daily News reported. "We found their definition of healthy eating was somewhat questionable."

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Posted: January 2011