Health Highlights: April 4, 2007

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

Foundation Pledges $500 Million to Fight Childhood Obesity

Over the next five years, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation plans to spend more than $500 million to reverse the alarming increase in childhood obesity in the United States, making it one of the largest public health efforts ever launched by a private philanthropy.

The foundation will fund a number of initiatives, including: programs to improve access to healthy food and to encourage the development of safe play spaces; obesity research; and efforts to push governments to address the problem, The New York Times reported.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • Foundation Pledges $500 Million to Fight Childhood Obesity
    • Low-Dose Steroid Helps Prolong Multiple Myeloma Survival: Study
    • Wal-Mart Ensures Access to Birth Control
    • Joan of Arc's Bone Actually From Egyptian Mummy
    • Test Can Help Verify Organic Foods
    • New Cancer Cases to Double by 2030: Report
    • Depression During Pregnancy May Increase Risk for Early Birth

"This is an epidemic that is going to cost the country in terms of morbidity and mortality and economically. The younger generation is going to live sicker and die younger than their parents because of obesity," said Dr. Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, the foundation's president and chief executive.

She noted that many obese children are poor. They have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables and live in neighborhoods where it's not safe to play outside, the Times reported.

"In many cases, the environment makes it almost impossible for them to choose healthy lifestyles. We're going to try to change that," Lavizzo-Mourey said.

In the United States, about one-third (25 million) of all children 17 and younger are obese or overweight, according to Census Bureau data and a 2006 study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

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Low-Dose Steroid Helps Prolong Multiple Myeloma Survival: Study

Preliminary results from a large U.S. study of patients with newly diagnosed multiple myeloma found that a low dose of the steroid dexamethasone (brand named Decadron), in combination with lenalidomide (brand name Revlimid), improved survival when compared to a treatment regimen with lenalidomide and a higher, standard dose of dexamethasone.

Researchers reported Wednesday that patients in the study who received low-dose dexamethasone and lenalidomide had a one-year survival of 96 percent, compared to 86 percent for patients treated with the standard-dose of dexamethasone and lenalidomide. Also, there were fewer side effects associated with the low-dose dexamethasone and lenalidomide, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Lenalidomide, a derivative of thalidomide, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2006 to be used in tandem with dexamethasone for the treatment of multiple myeloma in patients who had received at least one prior therapy for their disease. Dexamethasone is a steroid that acts as an anti-inflammatory and as an immunosuppressant.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer of plasma cells that are found in blood and bone marrow. In 2007, an estimated 19,900 people in the United States will be diagnosed with multiple myeloma and an estimated 10,790 people will die of the disease.

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