Health Highlights: July 29, 2008

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

FDA Experts Recommend Approval for Experimental Arthritis Drug

The experimental rheumatoid arthritis drug Actemra should be approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, an expert panel advising the agency recommended Tuesday.

The advisors voted 10-1 in favor of approval, despite the drug's serious side effects including possible infections, liver damage and cancer, the Associated Press reported. Last week, the FDA posted documents on its Web site that said Actemra appeared effective in treating moderate-to-severe RA, including symptoms such as disabling joint damage and pain.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • FDA Experts Recommend Approval for Experimental Arthritis Drug
    • Global AIDS Deaths Declined Again in 2007
    • Mediterranean Diet Becoming Less Popular in Countries of Origin
    • Don't Eat Lobster Tomalley: FDA
    • Ritalin May Help Prevent Falls in Elderly
    • Food Makers Spent $1.6 Billion Targeting Children

RA differs from typical age-related arthritis, which involves wear and tear on the joints as people get older. In RA, by contrast, the body's immune system actually attacks the joints. About 2.5 million Americans have the condition, and most people get it in early adulthood or middle age, the AP said.

While most arthritis medications are designed to relieve pain, Actemra is a genetically engineered drug that blocks a protein called IL-6, which has been linked to the body's inflammatory response.

Actemra is made by Hoffman-La Roche Inc.

The full FDA generally follows the suggestions of its advisory panels, though it isn't bound to do so.

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Global AIDS Deaths Declined Again in 2007

For the second year in a row, deaths worldwide from AIDS-related diseases fell in 2007, due mainly to increased distribution of anti-HIV drugs, says a UNAIDS report released Tuesday.

There were an estimated 2 million AIDS-related deaths last year, about 200,000 fewer deaths than in 2005, Agence France-Presse reported.

About 33 million people were living with HIV last year across the globe, compared with 32.7 million in 2006, according to UNAIDS. About 2.7 million people were newly infected with HIV in 2007.

The rate of people worldwide with HIV has remained around 0.8 percent since 2000. While this suggests the AIDS pandemic has stabilized, UNAIDS said more funding and a breakthrough in prevention are needed if progress against the disease is to continue, AFP reported.

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Mediterranean Diet Becoming Less Popular in Countries of Origin

People in countries where the Mediterranean diet originated are abandoning it for food that's higher in salt, sugar and fat, according to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization.

The Mediterranean diet, based on fresh fruit and vegetables, is becoming less popular in several countries including Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, Agence France-Presse reported.

"Hailed by experts as keeping people slim, healthy and long-living, the Mediterranean diet has followers all over the world -- but is increasingly disregarded around the Mediterranean," the Food and Agricultural Organization said.

The effects of that switch are readily apparent, the news service said. Greece now has the highest average body mass index in the European Union and the highest prevalence of overweight and obesity, AFP reported.

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Don't Eat Lobster Tomalley: FDA

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