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.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • 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.

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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.

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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.

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