Health Highlights: Jan. 22, 2008

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

Nearly 9.7 Million Children Died Worldwide in 2006: U.N. Report

In 2006, nearly 9.7 million children under age 5 died worldwide, mostly from preventable causes such as malnutrition, diarrhea or malaria, according to the U.N. Children's Fund annual report released Tuesday.

On average, more than 26,000 children under age 5 die each day. The agency said many of those deaths could be prevented through simple measures, such as vaccinations, insecticide-treated bed nets and vitamin supplements, the Associated Press reported.

    • Nearly 9.7 Million Children Died Worldwide in 2006: U.N. Report
    • Ty Inc. Won't Recall Lead-Tainted Toys From Illinois Stores
    • NYC Forces Restaurant Chains to Include Calorie Counts in Menus
    • FDA Approves New Hypertension Tablet
    • Lack of Food Not Linked to Obesity in Low-Income Children: Study
    • Flu Vaccination Rates Lower Than Expected

In 2006, Sierra Leone had the highest child death rate (270 per 1,000 births), followed by Angola with 260, and Afghanistan with 257. The worldwide rate was 72 deaths per 1,000 births and the average rate in industrialized countries was six deaths per 1,000 births.

But the U.N. agency noted that there has been some progress. The global death rate for children under age 5 has declined 23 percent since 1990. Nearly one-third of the world's 50 least developed countries have reduced child death rates by at least 40 percent since 1990, the AP reported.

However, the rate of improvement must increase to reach a U.N. goal of decreasing the 1990 global child death rate by two-thirds before 2015.


Ty Inc. Won't Recall Lead-Tainted Toys From Illinois Stores

U.S. toy maker Ty Inc. is refusing to recall toys that violate Illinois lead safety standards from store shelves in the state, which may sue to company to force it to comply with the law, the Associated Press reported.

Tests by the Chicago Tribune found that red vinyl shoes on three Jammin' Jenna dolls exceeded Illinois lead levels. The dolls are part of the Ty Girlz toy line.

Initially, Ty Inc. said it would remove all Jammin' Jenna dolls from Illinois stores, but later reversed its position and said it would not recall the dolls already in stores. The company said the state ban on toys that contain more than 600 parts per million of lead is superseded by federal law, which has a higher limit, the AP reported.

Both the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission and the state attorney general's office contend that Illinois' lead standard is valid because states are allowed to adopt their own rules where no federal law exists.

Scott Wehrs, Ty Inc.'s chief operating officer, declined to comment on the matter, the AP reported.


NYC Forces Restaurant Chains to Include Calorie Counts in Menus

New York City's Board of Health voted Tuesday to bring back a regulation requiring restaurant chains to post calorie counts on their menus. It's hoped the plan, scheduled to take effect March 31, will encourage people to make healthier food choices.

A similar regulation was struck down by a judge last September. The new version was altered to make it comply with the court ruling, the Associated Press reported.

Under the law, any restaurant chain that operates at least 15 separate outlets must provide calorie information on menus. Some major chains do have that information available, but don't list it on the menu boards consumers read when they're ordering food.

Making people aware of the thousands of calories contained in certain foods may help reduce obesity, said city Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden, who hopes restaurant chains will respond by offering healthier food choices, the AP reported.

It's believed that New York City is the first U.S. city to force restaurant chains to provide calorie information on their menus.


FDA Approves New Hypertension Tablet

A new blood pressure tablet called Tekturna HCT was approved Monday by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, according to drug maker Novartis AG, the Associated Press reported.

The new tablets contain the hypertension compound aliskiren (brand name Tekturna) and hydrochlorothiazide, which inhibits the kidneys' ability to retain water. Tekturna HCT is meant for patients whose blood pressure hasn't been brought under controlled by a single drug.

It will be available in the United States in February, the AP reported.

Dizziness, flu-like symptoms, diarrhea, cough, tiredness and skin rashes are among the side effects associated with Tekturna HCT.


Lack of Food Not Linked to Obesity in Low-Income Children: Study

A new study challenges the common theory that lack of food explains why children in low-income families are more likely to be overweight than children from higher-income families, the Associated Press reported.

Previous research suggested that children in low-income families didn't get enough nutritious food and ate hot dogs and other poor-quality foods instead. It's also been suggested that some children eat well when there's enough money but skip meals when cash is short -- a cycle that may slow their metabolism and lead to weight gain.

But this Iowa State University study of 1,031 children living in low-income homes in Boston, Chicago and San Antonio disputes those theories. The study found that while half of the children in the study were overweight or obese, only about 8 percent weren't getting enough to eat, the AP reported.

While the Iowa State researchers concluded that there's no link between lack of food and overweight/obesity in low-income children, they couldn't say why so many children in low-income families have weight problems.

More research is needed to better understand the issue, the study authors said.

According to some studies, nearly one-third of American children ages 10 to 17 are overweight or obese, and nearly 40 percent of those overweight/obese children are from low-income families, the AP reported.


Flu Vaccination Rates Lower Than Expected

Flu vaccination rates among children and high-risk adults in the United States are much lower than expected. That means that millions of people would be unprotected if there's a major flu outbreak, says a report released Monday by the University of Michigan C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health.

The latest online survey of 2,131 adults, ages 18 and older, was conducted in December. It found that among households with children ages 5 and younger, there was only a 36 percent vaccination rate. Another 18 percent of households said they still planned to vaccinate their children this season.

The poll also found that flu vaccination rates among high-risk adults -- those ages 50 and older and those with chronic diseases -- were well below national target levels.

So far this season, 26 states have reported moderate flu activity. There are about 40 million doses of flu vaccine still available and parents should get themselves and their children vaccinated, said Dr. Matthew M. Davies, director of the National Poll on Children's Health.

"National efforts to prevent an influenza epidemic in the U.S. hinge on broad flu vaccination of the public before flu season hits," David said in a prepared statement.