Health Highlights: April 23, 2007

Landis, 31, will have an arbitration hearing May 14 in California. If the doping allegations are upheld, he faces a two-year ban from competition and he would become the first rider in the 104-year history of the Tour de France to be stripped of the title.

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U.S. Nursing Homes Standards Not Properly Enforced: Report

U.S. government oversight of nursing homes is criticized in a new report to be released next week by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), an investigative arm of Congress.

The report said that nursing homes repeatedly cited for mistreatment of patients receive only minimal penalties, The New York Times reported. As a result of the weak penalties, some nursing homes don't consistently meet federal standards and pose an ongoing threat to patient health and safety, the GAO said.

The U.S. Health and Human Services Department "fails to hold homes with a long history of harming residents accountable for the poor care provided," the report said.

"Some of these homes repeatedly harmed residents over a six-year period and yet remain in the Medicare and Medicaid program," the report noted.

In 1987, Congress established strict standards for nursing homes, the Times reported. In 1998, a GAO report said that "homes can repeatedly harm residents without facing sanctions."

Since then, a number of new initiatives to improve care were announced by the federal government and nursing home industry.

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FDA Knew About Food Problems Before Outbreaks: Report

For years, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration knew about contamination problems on California spinach farms and at a ConAgra Foods peanut butter plant in Georgia that resulted in serious salmonella and E. coli outbreaks within the last year, according to documents and interviews.

Even though it knew about the problems, the FDA took only marginal steps to correct the issues and relied heavily on food makers to police themselves, the Washington Post reported. The FDA did this because it didn't have adequate resources.

The salmonella outbreak in Peter Pan and Great Value peanut butter sickened more than 400 people in 44 states. The plant that made the peanut butter has been closed. The E. coli outbreak in California spinach caused 205 illnesses and at least three deaths in 26 states and Canada.

The farm that grew the spinach and the companies that processed and marketed it just settled lawsuits with the families of three women who died.

FDA officials told the Post that changes need to be made in order for the agency to meet the huge growth in the number of food processors and imports. But they said the FDA could not have done anything to prevent the outbreaks caused by the contaminated peanut butter and spinach.

The FDA, which is responsible for safeguarding 80 percent of the United States' food supply, oversees 60,000 to 80,000 facilities a year.

On Tuesday, a House of Representatives' Energy and Commerce subcommittee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the recent wave of food recalls in the United States, the Post reported.

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School Food Rules Reduce Number of Overweight Students

Within four years after banning soft drinks and sweets and introducing healthier lunches, 10 Stockholm, Sweden schools saw a six percent decline in the number of overweight students, says a study presented Monday at an international obesity conference in Budapest, Hungary.

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