Health Points: Friday

The Food and Drug Administration listed poor sanitation and other deficiencies in 47% of 199 inspections from January 2001 to February 2007, according to a report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. None of the cases was referred to the FDA's enforcement arm for further action.

E. coli bacteria in bagged spinach from California killed three people and sickened at least 205 in 2006. The spinach may have been tainted when feral pigs roamed through cattle feces at a nearby ranch and crossed into the spinach fields, investigators from the FDA and California said last year.
The best that Dr. Julie Gilchrist, a medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and one of the study’s authors, can offer is a few guidelines and observations about why studies have yet to answer the stretching questions.


If your goal is to prevent injury, Dr. Gilchrist said, stretching does not seem to be enough. Warming up, though, can help. If you start out by moving through a range of motions that you’ll use during activity, you are less likely to be injured.

In fact, Dr. Gilchrist said, in her review of published papers, every one of the handful of studies that concluded that stretching prevented injuries included warm-ups with the stretches.
The legislation is aimed at curbing the fallout from Americans' unhealthy eating habits, seen in rising rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes. The hope is that the labels will help people make healthier choices when they're eating out.


But dozens of studies have produced mixed results on whether nutrition labeling improves consumers' eating habits. It can't hurt to make the information available, nutritionists say, however, the truth is, if people want a Big Mac for lunch, knowing that it has 540 calories and 29 grams of fat probably isn't going to stop them.
Scientists said they, too, are concerned about the findings of the water testing commissioned by the Associated Press, but several said that there is no need for people to stop drinking tap water.


The contaminants present are "in the parts-per-billion level and essentially at homeopathic doses," said Phyllis Gardner, a Stanford University physician and pharmacologist. "It can't possibly have an effect."

The fact that the substances are in tap water at all concerns Gardner and others. "I wish they weren't there," said Mary Vore, a professor of toxicology at the University of Kentucky. "But I will keep drinking the water."
New rules announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will tighten air quality standards set a decade ago, reflecting a growing amount of research indicating that smog poses greater health risks than previously thought.


The air in Chicago, which met federal smog standards for the first time last year, will fail again under the new limit.

Under the regulations outlined by top EPA officials, the allowable level of smog in the air will be 75 parts per billion, down from the current standard of 85 parts per billion but higher than 60 parts per billion recommended by pediatricians and environmental groups to protect children and the elderly.
A recent study of the PACE (People with Arthritis Can Exercise) program by researchers at the University of North Carolina showed significant improvements in reducing pain and fatigue among those who completed the eight-week course, with benefits persisting for up to six months after completion of the course.


"I liked it because it's not just an exercise program," said Laurie Maietta, who taught the PACE course last fall at Panther Physical Therapy in Hampton. "You have the exercise program, an educational program, and a relaxation component as well."

Arthritis sufferers tend to be less fit than seniors who don't suffer from this condition. Which is too bad, said Dr. Moira Davenport, director of sports and emergency medicine for Allegheny General Hospital, because "exercise can definitely help people suffering from arthritis. It strengthens the muscle around the affected joints, and takes away some of the pressure and pain."
The study, by researchers at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, found that men and women who were severely obese were 45 percent more likely than normal-weight adults to develop pancreatic cancer over five years…


…Pancreatic cancer is difficult to catch early, and 95 percent of patients die within five years of being diagnosed. Because of this dismal prognosis, researchers consider it particularly important to pinpoint the modifiable risk factors for the disease.
In many ways, pediatricians do know more than parents. When your doctor says your newborn needs to ride in a rear-facing car seat, don't argue. When he says your 2-month-old with a 105-degree fever needs to get to the doctor's office -- and fast -- you'd better listen.


But there are far more areas that are gray and have no science, or not very good science, to back them up, says our panel of pediatric experts. They say that sometimes, this means your pediatrician is giving you his or her opinion, not medical fact.

"There are several ways to approach many issues in pediatrics. There isn't one clear-cut way," says Dr. Robert Needlman, co-author of the latest edition of "Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care." "Pediatricians really should make a distinction between what's based on research and what's based on our own particular beliefs."
The U.S. federal standards for acceptable levels of pharmaceutical residue in bottled water are the same as those for tap water -- there aren't any.


The Food and Drug Administration, which regulates the $12 billion bottled water industry in the United States, sets limits for chemicals, bacteria and radiation, but doesn't address pharmaceuticals.

Some water that's bottled comes from pristine, often underground rural sources; other brands have a source no more remote than local tap water. Either way, bottlers insist their products are safe and say they generally clean the water with advanced treatments, though not explicitly for pharmaceuticals.
Tests on mice show that diacetyl, a component of artificial butter flavoring, can cause a condition known as lymphocytic bronchiolitis, said the team at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health.


The condition can lead to obliterative bronchiolitis -- or "popcorn lung" -- a rare and debilitating disease seen in workers at microwave popcorn packaging plants and at least one consumer.

At least two microwave popcorn makers -- ConAgra Foods Inc and Weaver Popcorn Co Inc -- have said recently they would stop using diacetyl.