Health Highlights: Oct. 26, 2009

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

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.

    • Calorie Info Reduces Fast Food Consumption: Study
    • FDA Lax on Drug Follow-Up Studies: GAO
    • Korean Stem Cell Researcher Convicted, Spared Jail
    • Cell Phones Linked To Brain Tumors: Study
    • Unhealthy Breakfast Cereals Heavily Marketed to Children: Study

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.


Cell Phones Linked To Brain Tumors: Study

Long-term cell phone users are more likely than other people to develop brain tumors later in life, according to a World Health Organization study that included 12,800 people in 13 countries.

People who used cell phones for 10 years or longer had a "significantly increased risk" of brain tumors, study leader Elisabeth Cardis told The Daily Telegraph, United Press International reported.

Cardis recommended restricting cell phone use by children, but they shouldn't be banned from using them because they're important in emergencies and for maintaining contact with parents.

As for adults, they should moderate their use and reduce direct contact by using wireless ear devices, headsets and other hands-free devices.

More than 30 previous studies have found no link between cell phone use and harmful health effects, said a representative of the Mobile Operators Association, UPI reported.


Unhealthy Breakfast Cereals Heavily Marketed to Children: Study

Breakfast cereals marketed to children contain 85 percent more sugar, 65 percent less fiber, and 60 percent more sodium than those targeted at adults, says a Yale University study.

The least nutritious cereals -- such as Reese's Puffs, Lucky Charms and Cap'n Crunch -- are often the most heavily marketed to children, found that researchers at Yale's Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity, USA Today reported.

Among the other findings:

  • Major cereal makers do make products that receive good nutrition marks, but not many of these are marketed to children.
  • The average sugar content of children's cereals has decreased from 3.5 teaspoons to 3 teaspoons of sugar per serving.
  • Cereal makers spend more than $156 million a year marketing to children. The average American preschooler sees 642 TV cereal ads a year and most of those are for cereals with the poorest nutrition ratings.
  • Some cereals with the worst nutrition ratings have health claims on the boxes.

The Yale researchers said cereal company pledges to self-regulate haven't "shielded kids from the barrage of messages" to eat the least healthy cereals, USA Today reported.

"Industry regulation is an abject failure," said Kelly Brownell, director of the Rudd Center. "The worst cereals are being marketed very heavily to children."

The study is being presented Monday at the annual meeting of the Obesity Society.