Health Highlights: Oct. 4, 2007

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

Experts Offer Fish-Consumption Guidelines for Pregnant Women

Contrary to current U.S. government advice, pregnant and breast-feeding women should eat at least 12 ounces of fish and seafood a week to ensure optimal brain development in their babies, leading scientists say in an advisory to be released Thursday by a nonprofit coalition, the Washington Post reported.

Fish and seafood are rich in nutrients that promote brain and nervous system development in developing fetuses, infant and young children.

    • Experts Offer Fish-Consumption Guidelines for Pregnant Women
    • FDA Mulls Behind-the-Counter Drug Sales
    • Disabled Americans Have High Rate of Smoking
    • Many HIV Patients Overweight, Obese: U.S. Study
    • More U.S. Children Taking Drugs for Digestive Problems
    • Kraft Recalls White Chocolate Baking Squares

But in 2001, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said new mothers and mothers-to-be should eat no more than 12 ounces of seafood per week due to concerns about mercury contamination.

The new advisory comes from the National Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition, which has nearly 150 members, including the March of Dimes, American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Post reported.

The FDA plans to study the coalition's new guidelines but will not change its recommendations on fish consumption by pregnant and breast-feeding women, an FDA representative said.


FDA Mulls Behind-the-Counter Drug Sales

An expansion of "behind-the-counter" sales -- where people are allowed to buy certain drugs directly from pharmacists without a doctor's prescription -- is being considered by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

In its announcement Wednesday, the agency said its seeking public input on the issue, including whether this would be a way to improve uninsured patients' access to medicines, the Associated Press reported.

The FDA has scheduled a Nov. 14 meeting in Washington, D.C. to gather opinions from patients, pharmacists, doctors and anyone else who wants to offer their views. The agency also will accept written comments through Nov. 28.

The agency has no petitions to switch specific drugs to behind-the-counter sales, Ilisa Bernstein, the FDA's director of pharmacy affairs, told the AP. She refused to list drugs that may be considered for behind-the-counter sales.


Disabled Americans Have High Rate of Smoking

The rate of smoking among disabled Americans is nearly 50 percent higher than in the general population (29.9 percent vs. 19.8 percent), says a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released Thursday.

The analysis of 2004 data revealed that disabled people in Delaware have the highest smoking rate (39.4 percent), while those in Puerto Rico have the lowest (16.5 percent). About 70 percent of disabled people who smoke and had visited a doctor in the previous year had been advised to quit smoking. However, about 40 percent of those advised to quit smoking received no information about smoking cessation treatments.

It's unclear why disabled people are more likely to smoke and the issue requires further study, the study authors said. They noted that people with disabilities are less likely than those without disabilities to receive preventive health care and are therefore more subject to illness and disease.

"About 50 million Americans are living with a disability and most Americans will experience a disability some time during the course of their lives," Dr. Edwin Trevathan, director of the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities, said in a prepared statement.

"The release of these findings during Disability Awareness Month reminds us that disparities persist in health and health care of people with disabilities," he said.


Many HIV Patients Overweight, Obese: U.S. Study

Nearly two-thirds of HIV-infected Americans may be overweight or obese, suggests a study of 663 HIV patients at Navy hospitals in San Diego and Bethesda, Md.

"We used to worry that they would lose weight and become wasted. Maybe we should redirect our concerns to making sure they are maintaining a healthy, normal weight," said study author Dr. Nancy Crum-Cianflone of TriService AIDS Clinical Consortium in San Diego, the Associated Press reported.

Of all the patients in the study, 63 percent were overweight or obese and only three percent were underweight. None of the patients was considered to be "wasted." Among patients with full-blown AIDS, about 30 percent were overweight or obese.

Patients who were infected at a younger age, those who had the virus for a longer time, and those who had high blood pressure were more likely to be overweight or obese, the AP reported.

The findings were to be presented Thursday at an infectious disease meeting in San Diego.


More U.S. Children Taking Drugs for Digestive Problems

Between 2002 and 2006, there was a 56 percent increase in the number of American children aged 4 and younger taking prescription drugs for heartburn and other digestive problems, according to a Medco Health Solutions Inc. analysis released Thursday.

Last year, more than 557,000 children in that age group were taking the drugs. The analysis also found there was a 31 percent increase among children ages 5-11 (551,653 in 2006) and a six percent increase among children ages 12-18 (one million in 2006), the Associated Press reported.

Overall, about two million U.S. children 18 and younger used prescription drugs for digestive or gastrointestinal problems in 2006.

"It's a signal that something's going on that we need to keep an eye on," Dr. Robert Epstein, Medco's chief medical officer, told the AP. "Whether it's parents getting their children diagnosed more frequently, or obesity," or other factors, "it bears further study," he said.


Kraft Recalls White Chocolate Baking Squares

Potential salmonella contamination has prompted a recall of Kraft's six-ounce Baker's Premium White Chocolate Baking Squares sold in the United States.

The recall, announced Thursday, covers product that has the UPC Code 0043000252200 and reads best when used by March 31, April 1, April 2 and April 3, 2008, the Associated Press reported.

Consumers with the recalled white chocolate should immediately discard it, Kraft said. The company launched the recall after testing by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration detected the presence of salmonella in some packages of the white chocolate baking squares. Kraft said it's investigating the source of the problem.

The company said the recall doesn't involve any other varieties of Baker's White Chocolate or any other Baker's products sold in the U.S. the AP reported.