Health Highlights: May 21, 2009

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

No Decline in Pregnant Women's Alcohol Use: CDC

The number of American women who drink alcohol while pregnant didn't decrease between 1991 and 2005, despite warnings from the Surgeon General about the dangers of drinking while pregnant, says a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released Thursday.

During that 15-year period, about 1 in 8 women drank any amount of alcohol while pregnant and about 1 in 50 pregnant women engaged in binge drinking. Rates of alcohol use and binge drinking among women of childbearing age remained steady.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • No Decline in Pregnant Women's Alcohol Use: CDC
    • Japanese Women Have Longest Life Expectancy: WHO
    • Chronic Ills Common Among Adults With Public Insurance: Study
    • Many U.S. College Students Feel Stressed: Survey
    • Costly Hospital Care Doesn't Guarantee Better-Quality Care: Study
    • Young Children's Deaths Decline 27%: WHO

The study was published Thursday in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Alcohol use during pregnancy continues to be an important public health concern, said the study authors. They added that health care professionals play an important role in education women about this issue and should routinely ask all women who are pregnant or of childbearing age about their alcohol use, inform them of the risks of alcohol use while pregnant, and advise them not to consume alcohol while pregnant.

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Japanese Women Have Longest Life Expectancy: WHO

Women in Japan and men in San Marino have the longest life expectancies in the world, according to the World Health Organization.

Life expectancies are 86 years for Japanese women and 81 years for men in San Marino. On the other end of the scale, men in Sierra Leone are expected to live only 39 years, while women in Afghanistan live to an average age of 42 years, the Associated Press reported.

The figures are based on statistics from 2007. While some countries, such as Angola, Eritrea and Liberia have made great progress in increasing life expectancy, countries such as Botswana, Kenya and Lesotho have experienced a decrease in life expectancy since 1990, the WHO said.

The life expectancy statistics were among more than 100 health trends released Thursday by the Geneva-based body, the AP reported.

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Chronic Ills Common Among Adults With Public Insurance: Study

Nearly two-thirds of adult Americans under age 65 covered by public insurance in 2005-06 had at least one chronic illness, such as heart disease, diabetes and kidney disease, says a U.S. government study.

About 57 percent of people with private insurance and 36 percent of those without insurance had at least one chronic condition, said the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Among the other findings:

  • 45 percent of the those with public insurance, 32 percent of those with private insurance, and 17 percent of the uninsured had at least two chronic illnesses.
  • Health expenditures for treatment of adults with two or more chronic illnesses averaged $6,455 for those with public insurance, $1,987 for the uninsured, and $3,598 for people with private insurance.
  • People with public insurance with two or more chronic illnesses had lower average annual out-of-pocket expenses than those without insurance -- $708 vs. $1,040.
  • Among adults with public insurance, chronic diseases accounted for 57 percent of medical care spending, compared with 46 percent for the privately insured, and 47 percent for the uninsured.

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Many U.S. College Students Feel Stressed: Survey

A new survey of American college students found that 85 percent said they've felt stressed in their daily lives in recent months, 42 percent said they felt down, depressed or hopeless several days during the previous two weeks, and 13 percent appeared to be at risk for at least mild depression.

Major causes of stress included concerns about school work, grades, relationships and money, according to the Associated Press-mtvU poll of 2,240 undergraduate students, ages 18 to 24, at 40 colleges.

Among the other findings:

  • 11 percent of respondents said they'd had thoughts about hurting themselves or that they'd be better off dead.
  • 9 percent of students were at risk of moderate to severe depression.
  • Among students with a parent who had lost a job during the school year, almost a quarter showed signs of at least mild depression -- more than twice the percentage of students who didn't have a parent who'd lost a job. The survey also found that 13 percent of students with a parent who'd lost a job had seriously considered suicide, compared with 5 percent of students who didn't have a parent who'd lost a job.
  • More than 50 percent of students who said they'd seriously considered suicide at some point in the previous year hadn't received any counseling or treatment.
  • Nearly half of students diagnosed with at least moderate symptoms of depression weren't familiar with counseling resources on campus.
  • 84 percent of respondents said they'd know where to turn for help if they experienced serious emotional distress or had thoughts about hurting themselves. Most said they'd go first to friends or family, while 20 percent said they'd use school counseling.

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Costly Hospital Care Doesn't Guarantee Better-Quality Care: Study

Patients treated at hospitals that provide more intensive and costly care don't necessarily receive better-quality care, according to a U.S. study that looked at care given to Medicare beneficiaries with heart attack, pneumonia and congestive heart failure.

The researchers looked at end-of-life (EOL) spending at 2,172 hospitals and found that average EOL spending per patient was $16,059 for the lowest-spending quintile (or fifth) of hospitals, compared to $34,742 at hospitals in the highest-spending quintile.

"We found no evidence that hospitals with higher spending provided better care, whether we looked at all hospitals across the country or limited our study to academic medical centers, or hospitals within a single region. In fact, in some cases, hospitals that spent more provided worse care," Laura Yasaitis, a joint M.D./Ph.D. student at Dartmouth Medical School and a researcher at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice, said in a news release.

"The fact that some hospitals in the same region are able to provide exemplary care at lower costs points to the need for better reporting of both costs and quality, and for a greater understanding of what processes lead to this improvement in performance," Amitabh Chandra, professor of public policy at Harvard Kennedy School, said in the release.

The study appears online in the journal Health Affairs.

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Young Children's Deaths Decline 27%: WHO

Nearly one-third fewer young children died in 2007 than in 1990, the World Health Organization said Thursday.

The Geneva-based body said that about 9 million children under 5 years old died in 2007, compared with 12.5 million in 1990, the Associated Press reported.

The WHO said the 27 percent decline shows progress is being made toward the goal of a two-thirds reduction in deaths by 2015, which is one of the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals.

The data on young children's deaths were included in more than 100 health trends published this week by the WHO, the AP reported.