Health Highlights: Aug. 21, 2007

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

27,000 Chinese-Made Toy Train Sets Recalled

Vermont-based Hampton Direct has recalled some 27,000 Chinese-made magnetic toy train sets with paint that contains excessive amounts of lead that could be dangerous to young children, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said Tuesday.

The recall involves Magnetic Alphabet and Number train sets that include a wooden engine, caboose, letters and numbers. The alphabet train set contains 28 pieces and the number train set has 12 pieces.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • 27,000 Chinese-Made Toy Train Sets Recalled
    • More Women Know High School Weight Than Current Cholesterol Count: Survey
    • Thousands of African Children Die of Preventable Diseases
    • Some Medicare Participants Still Can't Afford Drugs
    • New Rules Hamper State Efforts to Fund Child Health Coverage
    • Merck Fighting Each Vioxx Suit Separately

The train sets were sold across the United States by Johnson Smith Co., The Paragon Gifts Inc., and Starcrest Products of California from December 2005 through July 2007. The sets sold for about $30.

Consumers should dispose of the products, the CPSC said. For information about obtaining a replacement set, contact Hampton Direct at 1-800-208-4050 between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.

In June, some 1.5 million Thomas & Friends wooden train sets made in China were recalled for paint that contained excess lead. At the time, HealthDay reported that 70 percent to 80 percent of toys sold in the United States are made in China, according to the Toy Industry Association, which represents most American toy companies and importers.

Earlier this month, Mattel announced two recalls totaling more than 1.5 million Chinese-made toys. Most had excessive levels of lead paint. Others were recalled because they contained small magnets that could attach to each other inside the body if swallowed.

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More Women Know High School Weight Than Current Cholesterol Count

About 79 percent of adult women in the United States know how much they weighed in high school, but only 32 percent know their current cholesterol count, says a survey released Tuesday by the Society for Women's Health Research, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C.

The telephone survey of 524 women conducted from June 29 to July 1 also found that of women who had a recent cholesterol test, only 57 percent could recall the cholesterol count.

Among the survey's other findings:

  • 63 percent of the women said they were concerned that high cholesterol would be a health concern during their lifetime, and 60 percent said they were actively trying to manage their cholesterol.
  • 88 percent said they knew that high cholesterol is linked to hardening of the arteries and heart disease, and 85 percent knew that high cholesterol can lead to stroke.
  • Most of the women (94 to 96 percent) said they knew that exercise and a healthy diet could help fight high cholesterol.

"Clearly, strides have been made in educating women on the risks of high cholesterol, but the disconnect between awareness and action needs to be addressed," Phyllis Greenberger, the society's president and CEO, said in a prepared statement. "Knowing your cholesterol number is the first step in controlling cholesterol."

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Thousands of African Children Die of Preventable Diseases

Every five minutes, eight African children under the age of five die of vaccine-preventable diseases, the United Nations said Tuesday.

Polio, tetanus and measles are the primary killers of the children, said a UN statement released at a meeting in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. Delegates were discussing ways to increase child vaccination rates in Africa, Agence France-Presse reported.

About 155 of every 1,000 children born in Africa die before the age of five, the UN said. The UN's World Health Organization and children's fund UNICEF want to halve that death rate by 2015.

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Some Medicare Participants Still Can't Afford Drugs

One in five U.S. Medicare drug benefit enrollees has put off or even skipped getting medications due to the program's high costs, according to a survey of more than 16,000 seniors published online by the journal Health Affairs.

The survey authors noted that many low-income seniors don't know that they can get additional government subsides to lower their prescription drug costs, the Los Angeles Times reported.

On the positive side, the proportion of seniors with no prescription drug coverage declined to about eight percent after the Medicare drug benefit took effect in January 2006, compared to about one-third the year before.

The program has had mixed results, the study researchers said.

"It has helped in expanding coverage to people who didn't have it, and that is a great thing, but there is still work to be done in making medications more affordable for seniors," said Tricia Neuman of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, the Times reported.

Researchers from the Commonwealth Fund and the Tufts-New England Medical Center also took part in the study.

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New Rules Hamper State Efforts to Fund Child Health Coverage

The Bush Administration has announced new standards for the Children's Health Insurance Program that make it much more difficult for states to extend coverage to children in middle-income families, The New York Times reported.

The new standards, outlined in a letter sent to state health officials last week, are designed to return the program to its original focus on low-income families and to prevent the program from becoming a substitute for private health insurance, White House officials said.

States that want to cover children in families with incomes 250 percent above the federal government's poverty level ($20,650 for a family of four) will have to enroll at least 95 percent of children in the state below 200 percent of the federal poverty level who are eligible for either Medicaid or the child health program.

But state officials cited by the newspaper said the Bush administration's new policy imposes unachievable standards and hinders states' efforts to provide more children with health coverage.

"No state in the nation has a participation rate of 95 percent," Deborah Bachrach, a deputy commissioner in the New York State Health Department, told The Times.

"We are horrified at the new federal policy. It will cause havoc with our program and could jeopardize coverage for thousands of children," said Ann Clemency Kohler, deputy commissioner of human services in New Jersey.

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Merck Fighting Each Vioxx Suit Separately

Merck's plan to aggressively fight each Vioxx-related lawsuit separately seems to be successful. Of the 45,000 people who have sued American's third-largest drug maker, none has received payments from the company, The New York Times reported.

The lawsuits were brought by people who contend that they or a loved one had a heart attack or stroke after taking Vioxx. The drug was taken off the market in 2004, after a clinical trial found that the drug increased the risk of heart attack when taken for 18 months or more.

To date, fewer than 20 Vioxx suits have reached juries. At the current rate, it will take years to work through the backlog of Vioxx cases and many plaintiffs may die before their case is heard in court, The Times reported.

Even if a plaintiff wins, it may take years to receive the financial award. Merck has appealed every case it has lost.

Merck maintains that it adequately warned patients and doctors of Vioxxs heart risks and that it never knowingly endangered patients. The company, which has spent more than $1 billion in legal fees over the last three years, has steadfastly refused the idea of an overall settlement to resolve all the lawsuits at once, The Times reported.

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