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Health Highlights: Oct. 27, 2009

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

Cars Big Threat To Trick-or-Treaters

The dangers faced by children on Halloween are more pedestrian than supernatural.

Safe Kids USA says youngsters are more than twice as likely to be killed by a car while walking on Halloween than on any other night of the year, USA Today reported.

An analysis of 2002-06 data showed that an average of 2.2 children are killed in pedestrian accidents between 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. on Halloween, compared with an average of one death during the same time period on every other night of the year.

"Halloween is consistently the most dangerous day of the year for kids to walk," Safe Kids spokeswoman Kate Jones told USA Today.

There are a number of reasons for this increased risk. Dark costumes can make it hard for drivers to see trick-or-treaters and masks can impair children's ability to see around corners. Many suburbs don't have sidewalks and children are more likely to dart out from between parked cars.

"We need to get the message out to drivers," Moira Donahue, director of pedestrian safety at SafeKids, told USA Today. "On Halloween, slow down, turn your lights on and be prepared that there are going to be more kids out."


Antidepressants Have Immediate Effect: Study

Antidepressants begin to work on improving mood within hours after a patient starts taking them, according to a U.K. study that challenges current thinking.

The Oxford University study of 33 depressed patients found that those who took an antidepressant showed positive improvements within three hours of taking the drugs. For example, they were more likely to have positive thoughts about themselves and others, BBC News reported.

But patients may not notice any obvious effects until they've been taking antidepressants for a few months, said lead researcher Dr. Catherine Harmer and colleagues.

"We found the antidepressants target the negative thoughts before the patient is aware of any change in feeling subjectively. Over time, this will affect our mood and how we feel because we are receiving more positive information," Harmer told the BBC News.

The study appears in the American Journal of Psychiatry.


Calorie Info Reduces Fast Food Consumption: Study

New Yorkers who used calorie information to order lunch at fast-food chain restaurants bought 106 fewer calories' worth of food than people who didn't see or use the information, says a city health department study.

In March 2008, New York City began requiring chain restaurants to post calories on menu boards. Researchers surveyed more than 10,000 lunch customers at 275 fast-food and coffee-chain outlets in spring 2007 and surveyed another 12,000 this spring, USA Today reported.

The study found that 56 percent of customers saw the calorie information and 15 percent used it. Those who used the calorie information bought an average of 754 calories' worth of food, compared with 860 calories' worth for those who didn't see or use the information.

Compared to other customers, those who saw and used calorie information consumed average of 152 fewer calories at hamburger chains and 73 fewer calories at sandwich chains. The reduction at coffee shops was 23 calories, USA Today reported.

The findings were presented Monday at the annual meeting of the Obesity Society.


FDA Lax on Drug Follow-Up Studies: GAO

The use of several drugs to treat cancer and other conditions has been allowed to continue even though follow-up studies showed they didn't extend patients' lives, says a U.S. Government Accountability Office report to be released Monday.

The GAO also said that the Food and Drug Administration has never ordered a company to take a drug off the market because promised follow-up studies about the drug's benefits haven't been completed. In some cases, that follow-up information is more than a decade overdue, the Associated Press reported.

The FDA also needs to do more to monitor whether drugs approved under its so-called "accelerated approval" program actually fulfill their promise, the GAO said. The accelerated approval program is designed to speed availability of treatments for the most serious diseases.

The GAO said that since 1992, the FDA has requested follow-up 144 studies of drugs approved under the program, but only 64 percent have been completed and more than one-third are still pending, the AP reported.

The GAO report presents an overly-negative assessment of the program and there are no plans to get more aggressive about follow-up, according to the FDA.

"Millions of patients with serious or life-threatening illnesses have had earlier access to new safe and effective treatments," through the accelerated approval program, the agency said, the AP reported.


Korean Stem Cell Researcher Convicted, Spared Jail

Disgraced South Korean stem cell scientist Hwang Woo-suk has been convicted of embezzling research funds and illegally buying human eggs in connection with a cloning scandal that ruined his career.

In 2004, Hwang and colleagues claimed they'd created the first cloned human embryos and had extracted stem cells from them. But an investigation revealed that the claims were false.

Hwang was found not guilty on the main charge of fraud. After his conviction on the other charges, prosecutors asked for a four-year prison term but the Seoul Central District Court judge said Hwang had shown remorse and gave him a suspended sentence, the Associated Press reported. He'll avoid jail if he stays out of trouble for three years.

Hwang made no comment as he left the courthouse.


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Posted: October 2009