Health Highlights: Jan. 21, 2010

Jan. 22, 2010 -- Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Same-Sex Couples Good Parents: Study

Same-sex couples are as good as male/female couples when it comes to parenting, say researchers who reviewed 81 studies of one- and two-parent families, including gay, lesbian and heterosexual couples.

"Children being raised by same-gender parents, on most all of the measures that we care about, self-esteem, school performance, social adjustment and so on, seem to be doing just fine and, in most cases, are statistically indistinguishable from kids raised by married moms and dads on these measures," said review co-author Timothy Biblarz, of the University of Southern California, USA Today reported.

"It's more about the quality of the parenting than the gender of the parents," noted co-author Judith Stacey of New York University.

The researchers also found that "two women who choose to parent together are slightly more likely than a heterosexual couple to be actively committed to hands-on parenting. We don't have data yet on two men parenting, but I think it will come out fairly similar," Stacey said, USA Today reported.

The review findings will be published Friday in the Journal of Marriage and Family.


Herpes Drug Doesn't Reduce HIV Infection Risk

The herpes drug acyclovir doesn't reduce the risk of HIV infection, a new study says.

The five-year trial included more than 3,400 African couples in which one partner had HIV and one partner was HIV-free, Agence France Presse reported.

The infected partners were randomly selected to take twice-daily doses of acyclovir or a placebo.

During the study, there were 41 HIV infections among couples in which the infected partner took acyclovir, and 43 HIV infections among those who took a placebo. The researchers said this wasn't a significant difference, AFP reported.

The study appears online in the New England Journal of Medicine.


First Lady Michelle Obama Tackles Childhood Obesity

The nation's mayors are being asked by first lady Michelle Obama to join her campaign to reduce childhood obesity rates, which have tripled in the past 30 years.

About one in three American children is overweight and 17 percent are obese or dangerously overweight, according to the latest figures, the Associated Press reported.

"The statistics still never fail to take my breath away," Obama said in a speech Wednesday to a meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. She noted that local leaders are among the first to notice what's happening to people in their communities.

Obama plans a major initiative to raise awareness about childhood obesity, with a formal rollout of her program planned for next month, the AP reported. The first lady said she'll seek help from educators, religious leaders, government, community and health centers, and businesses and nonprofit organizations.


Access to Specialists a 'Big Problem' for Some Patients

About 8 percent of the 36 percent of U.S. adults who needed to see a health specialist in 2007 said getting access to one was a "big problem," according to a federal government study.

The latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality also found that:

  • Patients who didn't have a usual source of care were much more likely than those with a family physician or other usual source of care to report having difficulty getting specialty care -- 16 percent vs. 6 percent.
  • Difficulty getting access to a specialist was more common among non-elderly adults without insurance (26.5 percent) than among non-elderly adults with public coverage (16 percent) or those with private insurance (6 percent).
  • Among elderly patients, those with Medicare and supplemental insurance were more likely to say access was a big problem (11 percent) than those with Medicare only (5 percent) or those with Medicare and supplemental private coverage (2.5 percent).
  • The study was based on data from a national survey that didn't ask respondents the reasons they had difficulty seeing a specialist. But previous research suggests these reasons may include: lack of health insurance; specialist non-participation in patients' health insurance plans; patient difficulty contacting specialists; lengthy wait times to get an appointment; and specialists' office locations.


    Too Much Sitting May Harm Health

    Sitting for extended periods can harm your health, even if you get regular exercise, experts warn.

    It may be time to rethink how physical activity is defined in order to emphasize the dangers of sitting, Elin Ekblom-Bak, of the Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences, wrote in an editorial published this week in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the Associated Press reported.

    Guidelines currently recommend the minimum amount of physical activity, but don't suggest people limit the time they spend sitting.

    "After four hours of sitting, the body starts to send harmful signals," said Ekblom-Bak, the AP reported. Genes that regulate the amount of glucose and fat in the body start to shut down, she explained.