Proposed changes to school lunches aim to reduce sugar and sodium, but flavored milk stays | CNN



CNN
— 

If new US Department of Agriculture school food guidelines stand as proposed, chocolate milk is in, but for the first time ever, at least some added sugars will be out – and sodium levels will be reduced gradually.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack publicly announced the changes on Friday.

“The purpose of this is to improve the health and welfare of our children. And I think everybody who comes to this issue shares that goal and hopefully, collectively, we can make sure it happens,” Vilsack told CNN in an interview Thursday ahead of the announcement.

The federally assisted school meal program provides nutritionally balanced meals at school at low or no-cost.

More than 15.3 million kids every day get breakfast at school in the US and 29.6 million get a school lunch, Vilsack said. The numbers were higher earlier in the pandemic, when meals were offered free to all children regardless of their family’s income, but in June, Congress did not extend the Covid-19 pandemic waivers that had expanded the program.

While school meals are paid for by local and federal funding, the standards for what goes on a kids’ cafeteria tray are set by the USDA. The agency’s job is to make sure any meal served at school is nutritious and falls in line with the US Dietary Guidelines.

Flavored milk with “reasonable limits on added sugars” would be allowed under the proposal. Vilsack said school meal administrators tell the USDA that kids just won’t drink much no-fat skim milk or unflavored milk. “That’s not what they get at home,” Vilsack said. “We want to encourage kids to drink milk because there are there’s tremendous nutritional value in milk.”

However, the proposed standards would limit added sugar in certain high-sugar products like prepackaged muffins, yogurt, and cereal. Eventually, the guidelines would then limit added sugars across the weekly menu.

The standards would reduce sodium limits, but that would happen gradually over several school years.

“The [US Food and Drug Administration] provided some insight and direction by suggesting that it is easier for people to accept and adopt to reduced sodium if you do it over a period of time in small increments,” Vilsack said.

A gradual reduction would also give industry time to reformulate their products, said Dr. Lauren Au, an assistant professor at UC Davis’ Department of Nutrition who studies the effectiveness of school nutrition programs.

The guidelines would also place a bigger emphasis on whole grains, but still leave options open for an occasional non-whole grain product.

“Maybe a biscuit can be instituted for a little variety, or grits can be provided where that may make sense from a geographic standpoint. You are sensitive to cultural demands and needs,” Vilsack said.

The proposed rule would also strengthen the Buy American requirements encouraging schools to use more locally grown food.

The USDA will invest $100 million in the Healthy Meals Incentives initiative which offers farm-to-school grants and grants to buy equipment. In the 1980s, schools around the country tore out kitchens and bought prepackaged processed food. To make more nutritious meals, schools have had to rebuild or update kitchens.

“A lot of schools have outdated ovens, freezers, fridges, and that puts limitations on how they can prepare food, so grants that have helped with equipment have been really successful,” Au said.

The money would also reward schools that do a good job providing nutritious meals. Grants would also be aimed at small and rural districts and training.

Vilsack said the USDA created these proposed standards after the USDA received thousands of comments and held 50 listening sessions with parents, school food administrators, the food industry, public health and nutrition experts.

“Establishing these standards are difficult because you have to follow the science you have to follow the dietary guidelines, but you also have to understand that they need to be implemented in the real world which is which is which is tough,” Vilsack said in an interview with CNN.

Real world circumstances are tough already with the higher cost of food, staff shortages and supply chain problems.

Au hasn’t seen all of the proposed policies, but she said what she has seen look good.

“It’s a step forward in terms of promoting healthy nutrition in schools,” Au said. The reduction of added sugar, she added is a big deal.

“Reducing added sugars for this age range is so important,” AU said.

Megan Lott, deputy director for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program Healthy Eating Research, said that the policies seem to be heading in the right direction.

“There are a couple of things we would probably like to see strengthened, but it also seems like there are plans to do that over time,” Lott said.

The sugar standard is a good start, she said, but she’d prefer the proposal instead say that no more than 10% of calories should come from added sugars across the meal plan.

“But we recognize that schools might need a little bit of time for implementation,” Lott said.

Lott had also hoped they would take flavored milk off the menu. Research shows that schools that have gotten rid of flavored milk show a drop in milk consumption for a year or two, but milk sales eventually rebound.

School food has become a proverbial hot potato.

After decades of bipartisan support for school meals, the program has been politicized in about the last 10 years Lott says, meaning there is bound to be some pushback.

Friday’s proposed changes would be the first large scale reform of school meal standards since President Barack Obama signed the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act into law.

The law that went into effect in 2012, championed by first lady Michelle Obama, really did improve US kids’ diet, studies show. The law raised the minimum standards and required schools to serve more whole grains, fruit, vegetables, and fat-free and/or low-fat milk more frequently and serve fewer starchy vegetables and foods high in trans fat and sodium.

Meals that were eaten by students – not just served to students and then tossed into garbage cans – were much healthier and had better overall nutritional quality, the study showed. Students who didn’t participate in the national program did not see an improvement in their diets.

Despite the program’s success, in 2018, the Trump administration announced a proposal to roll back many of the policies in the name of “flexibility,” including ones that involved sodium and whole grains. Trump’s policy would essentially create a loophole letting schools sell more burgers, pizza and french fries and reduce the fruit and vegetables sold. A federal court struck down the rule in April 2020.

During the pandemic, some of the polices were relaxed, like for whole grains, because it was difficult to find products, Lott said.

Studies show kids who eat meals at school ate more fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy, compared with those who ate at school less frequently.

Better nutrition can help prevent obesity. About 20% of the US population ages 2 to 19 live with obesity, which can cause kids to have high blood pressure, breathing problems and type 2 diabetes, and lead to lifelong health problems, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hungry kids have a hard time paying attention in class. Students who ate healthy meals at school scored better on end-of-year academic tests, studies have shown.

The new standards are just a proposal. The USDA will ask for additional feedback.

Vilsack is hopeful the standards will incentivize more schools to offer more healthy options.

“In terms of future of this program,” Vilsack said, “we want to see more and more school districts push themselves not only to meet the standards, but in some cases to exceed them.”

Source link

#Proposed #school #lunches #aim #reduce #sugar #sodium #flavored #milk #stays #CNN

Tracking the opioid crisis: Inside the DEA’s secret lab | CNN

Watch CNN Films’ “American Pain” at 9 p.m. ET Sunday, February 5.



CNN
— 

Sitting among the warehouses of Dulles, Virginia, is one of the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s forensic labs. It’s one of eight across the country where scientists analyze illegal drugs and try to stay ahead of what’s driving deadly overdoses.

Starting in the late 1990s with overprescribing of prescription narcotics, the opioid epidemic has continued to plague the United States for decades. What has changed is the type of drugs that have killed more than half a million people during the past 20 years.

CNN was granted rare access to the secret lab where the DEA tests seized illicit drugs to understand what’s coming next.

“The market is constantly changing, so we are trying to do everything we can from a science base to keep up with that,” Scott Oulton, deputy assistant administrator of the DEA’s Office of Forensic Sciences, told CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

Holding a white bag of fentanyl precursor powder – one of the chemicals used to make the opioid – Oulton explained that the illicitly made painkiller continues to be a dominant presence in the drugs officials are finding.

“This kilogram can be converted into fentanyl to make approximately 800 grams,” he said. “So it doesn’t take that much material, it’s fairly cheap, it’s inexpensive to obtain.”

Fentanyl is the deadliest drug in the United States, and it’s often found in combination with other illicit drugs, including cocaine and heroin. But increasingly, fentanyl is showing up in illicit pills disguised as common prescription drugs like oxycodone, hydrocodone, even Adderall.

Users buying drugs on the street that look like prescription pills may end up with a highly potent, potentially deadly drug they never intended to take.

“Over 99% of what we see are fake. They contain fentanyl,” Oulton says of the pills that the agency is seizing.

The 800 grams of fentanyl that Oulton held could be turned into 400,000 to 500,000 potentially lethal pills.

As more and more of these lethal pills circulate, the opioid epidemic is reaching more of the population.

Deena Loudon of Olney, Maryland, is among those living with its effects.

“I truly love sharing Matthew with the world,” Loudon says as she flips through pictures of her son.

One of her favorite memories is Matthew playing hockey – what Loudon calls his happy place.

Matthew Loudon's mom says he turned to drugs after struggling with anxiety.

But she also recalls his struggles with anxiety, which led him to turn to drugs. He started dabbling in them in the 10th grade. By the following year, his grades began to fall, and he couldn’t keep them high enough to stay in hockey.

“He was using Xanax to help self-medicate himself and I think to help get rid of some of that angst so he could live somewhat of a normal life,” Loudon said.

Matthew was always honest, almost to a fault, Loudon says. “He told me he tried everything. Like everything. Heroin, meth, crack, you name it, cocaine, whatever – until I guess he found what made him feel the best, and it was Xanax.”

And as much as a mother can worry, Loudon says, Matthew always tried to reassure her. “I know what I’m doing,” he would tell her.

She had heard about fentanyl showing up in pills in their area.

“But you don’t ever think it’s going to happen to you,” Loudon said.

She said they even had a conversation about fentanyl the day before he died. “I was sort of naive, wanting to stick my head in the sand and thinking ‘I bet he does know what he’s doing.’ ”

On November 3, 2020, she found 21-year-old Matthew on the floor of their basement.

Matthew’s autopsy report lists his cause of death as fentanyl and despropionyl fentanyl intoxication.

“I don’t say he overdosed. I say he died from fentanyl poisoning. … Truthfully, like, at the end of the day, to me, he was murdered, right? Because he asked for one thing. They gave him something different. And it took his life.”

For a parent, she said, the hardest thing is burying their child. It’s a pain she speaks out about in hopes of keeping other families safe.

“It’s Russian roulette,” she warns them. “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

The number of pills the DEA has seized skyrocketed in just three years, from 2.2 million in 2019 to 50.6 million in 2022.

The sheer volume of pills has been one of the biggest challenges for the DEA’s lab, Oulton says. As the fentanyl threat continues to grow, the Virginia facility is expanding to accommodate the analysis needed.

The lab can test for something as simple as the presence of fentanyl, but something called the purity of the pill also offers important insight. This means how much fentanyl is actually in one of these illicit pills.

“Lately, we’ve been seeing a purity increase over the last year, where we used to say roughly four out of the 10 seizures that we were receiving would contain a lethal dose of greater than 2 milligrams. As of October last year, we started reporting that we’ve seen an uptick. Now we’re saying that six out of 10 of the seizures that we’re receiving contain over 2 milligrams,” Oulton said.

He says they’re finding an average of 2.3 milligrams of fentanyl in each pill.

Two milligrams may be the cutoff for what is considered lethal, but Oulton says that doesn’t necessarily mean a pill with 1.99 milligrams of fentanyl can’t be deadly.

“One pill can kill” is his warning.

“The message I would like to send out is, don’t take it,” he said. “Don’t take the chance. It’s not worth your life.”

Oulton says he and his team are constantly finding new and different drugs and substances in pills – things they’ve never seen before.

One machine in the lab is almost the equivalent of an MRI in a medical office, showing the structure and detail of a pill.

“We will do what we call structural elucidation to determine that this is a different version of a fentanyl that’s got a new compound and molecule that’s been added to it,” Oulton said.

They’ve seen “hundreds and hundreds of unique combinations,” he said.

“We’ll see one that contains fentanyl, one with fentanyl and xylazine, one with fentanyl and caffeine, one with fentanyl and acetaminophen, and you don’t know what you’re getting.”

Xylazine, a veterinary tranquilizer, poses a unique problem. It’s not an opioid, so even when it’s mixed with fentanyl, drugs designed to reverse an opioid overdose may not work.

Narcan or naloxone, one of the more common overdose-reversing drugs, has become increasingly necessary as the prevalence and potency of illicit drugs increases. About 1.2 million doses of naloxone were dispensed by retail pharmacies in 2021, according to data published by the American Medical Association – nearly nine times more than were dispensed five years earlier.

Oulton wants to be clear: The problem Isn’t with pills prescribed by your doctor and dispensed by a pharmacy – it’s the pills on the illicit market.

Those, Matthew’s mother warns, are easy to get.

“The first pills [Matthew] got was in high school. And it was just flipping out, floating around, and it was easy for him to get his hands on,” she said.

Loudon’s message for parents now: Keep your eyes open.

“Just be mindful of what your children are doing. You just just have to keep your eyes open. And even sometimes, when you keep your eyes open, you can miss some of the warning signs, but I think a parent knows their child best, so just keep talking.”

Source link

#Tracking #opioid #crisis #DEAs #secret #lab #CNN

Children’s mental health tops list of parent worries, survey finds | CNN



CNN
— 

Forty percent of US parents are “extremely” or “very” worried that their children will struggle with anxiety or depression at some point, a new survey finds.

The Pew Research Center report said mental health was the greatest concern among parents, followed by bullying, which worries 35% of parents. These concerns trumped fears of kidnapping, dangers of drugs and alcohol, teen pregnancy and getting into trouble with the police.

Concerns varied by race, ethnicity and income level, with roughly 4 in 10 Latino and low-income parents and 3 in 10 Black parents saying they are extremely or very worried that their children could be shot, compared with about 1 in 10 high-income or White parents.

Nearly two-thirds of the respondents said that being a parent has been at least somewhat harder than they expected, about 41% say that being a parent is tiring, and 29% say it is stressful all or most of the time.

The report captured the perceptions of a nationally representative sample of 3,757 US parents whose children were younger than 18 in 2022.

Experts say mental health issues among children and adolescents have skyrocketed in recent years.

“I would say over the last 10 years, since I’ve been practicing as a general pediatrician, I have seen a shift both in the amount of patients and of all ages dealing with anxiety and depression. And their parents being concerned about this is a key issue,” said Dr. Katherine Williamson, a pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics. “Even before the pandemic, we were seeing skyrocketing numbers of kids and adolescents dealing with mental health issues, and that has increased exponentially since the pandemic.”

Suicide became the second leading cause of death among children 10 to 14 during the Covid-19 pandemic, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mental health-related emergency room visits among adolescents 5 to 11 and 12 to 17 also jumped 24% and 31%, respectively.

Many parents feel helpless when their children have mental health issues because they don’t feel equipped to offer support in this area.

“They are unable to relieve [mental health issues] and address that as they could if they were struggling with their grades or other things that seem more traditional to for kids to struggle with,” said Allen Sabey, a family therapist at the Family Institute at Northwestern University.

Parents trying to “work out and look at and connect with their own feelings will give them important information about what feels off or OK for their kid,” he said.

When it comes to anxiety and depression in children, pediatricians say, parents can watch for signs like decreased interest or pleasure in things they previously enjoyed, poor self-esteem and changes in mood, appetite or sleep.

Experts also say parents should consider the amount and content of social media their child consumes, as research has found that it can have negative effects on their mental health.

But, they say, having more parents recognize the importance of mental health in children is a step in the right direction.

“I have always felt there’s been so much resistance to seeking care for mental health among the population that I serve. And I am actually happy that since the Covid pandemic, at least people now are recognizing this as a very key and important health need,” said Dr. Maggi Smeal, a pediatrician at Stanford Medicine Children’s Health.

Smeal hopes that “all people that are interacting with children can be aware of these issues and feel empowered to identify and advocate for these children, to tell them to go to their primary care provider and have an assessment just like you do if your kid has a cough or a fever or ear infection.”

The number of parents concerned about gun violence reflects the fact that guns are the leading cause of death among children in the US, research has showed. From 2019 to 2020, the rate of firearm-related deaths increased 29.5% – more than twice the increase as in the general population.

“Gun violence is a real risk to our kids today. And that is both being killed by somebody else as well as suicide in the face of the mental health issues that we’re seeing today,” Williamson said.

The survey found that Black, Hispanic and lower-income parents were most likely to be concerned about gun violence, a finding that’s consistent with the communities most affected. Research has shown that from 2018 to 2021, the rate of firearm-related deaths doubled among Black youth and increased 50% among Hispanic youth. Another study found that children living in low-income areas are at higher risk of firearm-related death.

Direct and indirect exposure to gun violence can contribute to mental health problems.

“Even if they hear gunshots in their community, they hear adults talking, there’s all different ways that children are traumatized and victimized by gun violence. And what we see is all the symptoms of anxiety in even the youngest of children. We see children with somatic complaints – stomachaches, headaches. They have post-traumatic stress disorder,” Smeal said.

Most of the parents in the survey said parenting is harder than they expected, and that they feel judgment from various sources.

“The findings of this of this report were, as a pediatrician and a parent, just exactly what you would expect. Parenting is the hardest thing you’ll ever do, and there are very high levels of stress and fatigue, especially in the parents of young children,” Smeal said.

One of the best things parents can do is lean on fellow parents, experts say.

“The main challenge for parents is our siloed independent nature sometimes, and so we want to find people who we trust and kind of work towards being more vulnerable and open with,” Sabey said. “To where it’s like not just you and your kid, but it’s a kind of a group of people caring and working together.”

Pediatricians emphasize that no parent is perfect and that the most important thing you can do is to just be there for your child.

“We know that the best chance for a child to be successful and happy is for them to have at least one person in their life who believes in them and advocates for them. So I think it’s important for parents to know that there’s no such thing as a perfect parent, because we are all human, and humans are imperfect by nature, but that is OK,” Williamson said.

A parent’s job is to “really make sure that they know how important they are and they have a voice in this world,” she said. “Every child will have their own unique struggles, whether it is academically, emotionally, physically. Our job is to help them with the areas [where] they struggle, but even more, help them recognize their strengths.”

Source link

#Childrens #mental #health #tops #list #parent #worries #survey #finds #CNN

Weight loss surgery extends lives, study finds | CNN



CNN
— 

Weight loss surgery reduces the risk of premature death, especially from such obesity-related conditions as cancer, diabetes and heart disease, according to a new 40-year study of nearly 22,000 people who had bariatric surgery in Utah.

Compared with those of similar weight, people who underwent one of four types of weight loss surgery were 16% less likely to die from any cause, the study found. The drop in deaths from diseases triggered by obesity, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, was even more dramatic.

“Deaths from cardiovascular disease decreased by 29%, while deaths from various cancers decreased by 43%, which is pretty impressive,” said lead author Ted Adams, an adjunct associate professor in nutrition and integrative physiology at the University of Utah’s School of Medicine.

“There was also a huge percentage drop — a 72% decline — in deaths related to diabetes in people who had surgery compared to those who did not,” he said. One significant downside: The study also found younger people who had the surgery were at higher risk for suicide.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Obesity, reinforces similar findings from earlier research, including a 10-year study in Sweden that found significant reductions in premature deaths, said Dr. Eduardo Grunvald, a professor of medicine and medical director of the weight management program at the University of California San Diego Health.

The Swedish study also found a significant number of people were in remission from diabetes at both two years and 10 years after surgery.

“This new research from Utah is more evidence that people who undergo these procedures have positive, beneficial long-term outcomes,” said Grunvald, who coauthored the American Gastroenterological Association’s new guidelines on obesity treatment.

The association strongly recommends patients with obesity use recently approved weight loss medications or surgery paired with lifestyle changes.

“And the key for patients is to know that changing your diet becomes more natural, more easy to do after you have bariatric surgery or take the new weight loss medications,” said Grunvald, who was not involved in the Utah study.

“While we don’t yet fully understand why, these interventions actually change the chemistry in your brain, making it much easier to change your diet afterwards.”

Despite the benefits though, only 2% of patients who are eligible for bariatric surgery ever get it, often due to the stigma about obesity, said Dr. Caroline Apovian, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and codirector of the Center for Weight Management and Wellness at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Apovian was the lead author for the Endocrine Society’s clinical practice guidelines for the pharmacological management of obesity.

Insurance carriers typically cover the cost of surgery for people over 18 with a body mass index of 40 or higher, or a BMI of 35 if the patient also has a related condition such as diabetes or high blood pressure, she said.

“I see patients with a BMI of 50, and invariably I will say, ‘You’re a candidate for everything — medication, diet, exercise and surgery.’ And many tell me, ‘Don’t talk to me about surgery. I don’t want it.’ They don’t want a surgical solution to what society has told them is a failure of willpower,” she said.

“We don’t torture people who have heart disease: ‘Oh, it’s because you ate all that fast food.’ We don’t torture people with diabetes: ‘Oh, it’s because you ate all that cake.’ We tell them they have a disease, and we treat it. Obesity is a disease, too, yet we torture people with obesity by telling them it’s their fault.”

Most of the people who choose bariatric surgery — around 80% — are women, Adams said. One of the strengths of the new study, he said, was the inclusion of men who had undergone the procedure.

“For all-causes of death, the mortality was reduced by 14% for females and by 21% for males,” Adams said. In addition, deaths from related causes, such as heart attack, cancer and diabetes, was 24% lower for females and 22% lower for males who underwent surgery compared with those who did not, he said.

Four types of surgery performed between 1982 and 2018 were examined in the study: gastric bypass, gastric banding, gastric sleeve and duodenal switch.

Gastric bypass, developed in the late 1960s, creates a small pouch near the top of the stomach. A part of the small intestine is brought up and attached to that point, bypassing most of the stomach and the duodenum, the first part of the small intestine.

In gastric banding, an elastic band that can be tightened or loosened is placed around the top portion of the stomach, thus restricting the volume of food entering the stomach cavity. Because gastric banding is not as successful in creating long-term weight loss, the procedure “is not as popular today,” Adams said.

“The gastric sleeve is a procedure where essentially about two-thirds of the stomach is removed laparoscopically,” he said. “It takes less time to perform, and food still passes through the much-smaller stomach. It’s become a very popular option.”

The duodenal switch is typically reserved for patients who have a high BMI, Adams added. It’s a complicated procedure that combines a sleeve gastrectomy with an intestinal bypass, and is effective for type 2 diabetes, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

One alarming finding of the new study was a 2.4% increase in deaths by suicide, primarily among people who had bariatric surgery between the ages of 18 and 34.

“That’s because they are told that life is going to be great after surgery or medication,” said Joann Hendelman, clinical director of the National Alliance for Eating Disorders, a nonprofit advocacy group.

“All you have to do is lose weight, and people are going to want to hang out with you, people will want to be your friend, and your anxiety and depression are going to be gone,” she said. “But that’s not reality.”

In addition, there are postoperative risks and side effects associated with bariatric surgery, such as nausea, vomiting, alcoholism, a potential failure to lose weight or even weight gain, said Susan Vibbert, an advocate at Project HEAL, which provides help for people struggling with eating disorders.

“How are we defining health in these scenarios? And is there another intervention — a weight neutral intervention?” Vibbert asked.

Past research has also shown an association between suicide risk and bariatric surgery, Grunvald said, but studies on the topic are not always able to determine a patient’s mental history.

“Did the person opt for surgery because they had some unrealistic expectations or underlying psychological disorders that were not resolved after the surgery? Or is this a direct effect somehow of bariatric surgery? We can’t answer that for sure,” he said.

Intensive presurgery counseling is typically required for all who undergo the procedure, but it may not be enough, Apovian said. She lost her first bariatric surgery patient to suicide.

“She was older, in her 40s. She had surgery and lost 150 pounds. And then she put herself in front of a bus and died because she had underlying bipolar disorder she had been self-medicating with food,” Apovian said. “We as a society use a lot of food to hide trauma. What we need in this country is more psychological counseling for everybody, not just for people who undergo bariatric surgery.”

Managing weight is a unique process for each person, a mixture of genetics, culture, environment, social stigma and personal health, experts say. There is no one solution for all.

“First, we as a society must consider obesity as a disease, as a biological problem, not as a moral failing,” Grunvald said. “That’s my first piece of advice.

“And if you believe your life is going to benefit from treatment, then consider evidence-based treatment, which studies show are surgery or medications, if you haven’t been able to successfully do it with lifestyle changes alone.”

Source link

#Weight #loss #surgery #extends #lives #study #finds #CNN

FDA proposes new levels for lead in baby food, but critics say more action is needed | CNN



CNN
— 

The allowable levels of lead in certain baby and toddler foods should be set at 20 parts per billion or less, according to new draft guidance issued Tuesday by the US Food and Drug Administration.

“For babies and young children who eat the foods covered in today’s draft guidance, the FDA estimates that these action levels could result in as much as a 24-27% reduction in exposure to lead from these foods,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf in a statement.

The

Baby foods covered by the new proposal – which is seeking public comment – include processed baby foods sold in boxes, jars, pouches and tubs for babies and young children younger than 2 years old, the agency said.

While any action on the part of the FDA is welcome, the suggested levels of lead are not low enough to move the needle, said Jane Houlihan, the national director of science and health for Healthy Babies Bright Futures, a coalition of advocates committed to reducing babies’ exposures to neurotoxic chemicals.

“Nearly all baby foods on the market already comply with what they have proposed,” said Houlihan, who authored a 2019 report that found dangerous levels of lead and other heavy metals in 95% of manufactured baby food.

That report triggered a 2021 congressional investigation, which found leading baby food manufacturers knowingly sold products with high levels of toxic metals.

“The FDA hasn’t done enough with these proposed lead limits to protect babies and young children from lead’s harmful effects. There is no known safe level of lead exposure, and children are particularly vulnerable,” Houlihan said.

The director of food policy for Consumers Reports, Brian Ronholm, also expressed concerns. In 2018, Consumer Reports analyzed 50 baby foods and found “concerning” levels of lead and other heavy metals. In fact, “15 of them would pose a risk to a child who ate one serving or less per day,” according to Consumer Reports.

“The FDA should be encouraging industry to work harder to reduce hazardous lead and other heavy metals in baby food given how vulnerable young children are to toxic exposure,” Ronholm said in a statement.

Exposure to toxic heavy metals can be harmful to the developing brain of infants and children. “It’s been linked with problems with learning, cognition, and behavior,” according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Lead, arsenic, cadmium and mercury are in the World Health Organization’s top 10 chemicals of concern for infants and children.

As natural elements, they are in the soil in which crops are grown and thus can’t be avoided. Some crop fields and regions, however, contain more toxic levels than others, partly due to the overuse of metal-containing pesticides and ongoing industrial pollution.

The new FDA guidance suggests manufactured baby food custards, fruits, food mixtures — including grain and meat-based blends — puddings, vegetables, yogurts, and single-ingredient meats and vegetables contain no more than 10 parts per billion of lead.

The exception to that limit is for single-ingredient root vegetables, such as carrots and sweet potatoes, which should contain no more than 20 parts per billion, according to the new guidance.

Dry cereals marketed to babies and toddlers should also not contain more than 20 parts per billion of lead, the new FDA guidance said.

However, the FDA didn’t propose any lead limit for cereal puffs and teething biscuits, Houlihan said, even though the products account for “7 of the 10 highest lead levels we’ve found in over 1,000 baby food tests we have assessed.”

The limit set for root vegetables will be helpful, Houlihan added. Because they grow underground, root vegetables can easily absorb heavy metals. For example, sweet potatoes often exceed the 20 parts per billion limit the FDA has proposed, she said.

Prior to this announcement, the FDA had only set limits for heavy metals in one baby food — infant rice cereal, Houlihan said. In 2021, the agency set a limit of 100 parts per billion for arsenic, which has been linked to adverse pregnancy outcomes and neurodevelopmental toxicity.

There is much more that can be done, according to Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit environmental health organization.

“We can change where we farm and how we farm to reduce toxic metals absorbed by plants,” Faber said. “We also urge baby food manufacturers to conduct continuous testing of heavy metals in all their products and make all testing results publicly available.”

Companies can require suppliers and growers to test the soil and the foods they produce, and choose to purchase from those with the lowest levels of heavy metals, Houlihan added.

“Growers can use soil additives, different growing methods and crop varieties known to reduce lead in their products,” she said.

What can parents do to lessen their child’s exposure to toxic metals? Unfortunately, buying organic or making baby food at home isn’t going to solve the problem, as the produce purchased at the grocery store can also contain high levels of contaminants, experts say.

A 2022 report by Healthy Babies, Bright Futures found lead in 80% of homemade purees or store-bought family foods. Arsenic was found in 72% of family food either purchased or prepared at home.

The best way to lessen your child’s exposure to heavy metals, experts say, is to vary the foods eaten on a daily basis and choose mostly from foods which are likely to have the least contamination. Healthy Babies, Bright Futures created a chart of less to most contaminated foods based on their testing.

Fresh bananas, with heavy metal levels of 1.8 parts per billion, were the least contaminated of foods tested for the report. After bananas, the least contaminated foods were grits, manufactured baby food meats, butternut squash, lamb, apples, pork, eggs, oranges and watermelon, in that order.

Other foods with lower levels of contamination included green beans, peas, cucumbers and soft or pureed home-cooked meats, the report found.

The most heavily contaminated foods eaten by babies were all rice-based, the report said. Rice cakes, rice puffs, crisped rice cereals and brown rice with no cooking water removed were heavily contaminated with inorganic arsenic, the more toxic form of arsenic.

After rice-based foods, the analysis found the highest levels of heavy metals in raisins, non-rice teething crackers, granola bars with raisins and oat-ring cereals. But those were not the only foods of concern: Dried fruit, grape juice, arrowroot teething crackers and sunflower seed butter all contained high amounts of at least one toxic metal, according to the report.

While buying organic cannot reduce the levels of heavy metals in infant food, it can help avoid other toxins such as herbicides and pesticides, Dr. Leonardo Trasande, director of environmental pediatrics at NYU Langone Health told CNN previously.

“There are other benefits to eating organic food, including a reduction in synthetic pesticides that are known to be as bad for babies, if not even more problematic,” Trasande said.

Source link

#FDA #proposes #levels #lead #baby #food #critics #action #needed #CNN

Recently identified inflammatory disease VEXAS syndrome may be more common than thought, study suggests | CNN



CNN
— 

David Adams spent half a decade fighting an illness he couldn’t name. He was in and out of the hospital several times per year. His inflamed joints made his hands feel like they had been squeezed into gloves – and he could no longer play his beloved classical and jazz guitars.

He had constant fevers and fatigue. He even developed pain and swelling in his genitalia, which was his first sign that something was really wrong.

“At the turn of the year 2016, I started with some really painful effects in the male anatomy,” said Adams, now 70. “After that, again, a lot of fatigue – my primary care physician at that point had blood tests done, and my white blood cell count was very, very low.”

Next, Adams, who lives in Alexandria, Virginia, saw a hematologist, a pulmonologist, a urologist, a rheumatologist and then a dermatologist. Some of them thought he might have cancer.

Adams’ symptoms continued, with even more fatigue, pneumonia and a large rash below his waist. He tried at least a dozen medications, saw about two dozen doctors, and nothing helped.

In 2019, worsening symptoms forced him to retire early from his decades-long career in clinical data systems. But he remained in the dark about what was causing the problems.

Finally, in 2020, scientists at the National Institutes of Health discovered and named a rare genetic disorder: VEXAS syndrome, which wreaks havoc on the body through inflammation and blood problems.

Adams had an appointment with his rheumatologist at the time, and when he walked into the office, he saw that his physician “was giddy like a little kid.”

In his doctor’s hands was a copy of a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine detailing the discovery of VEXAS syndrome.

Adams had his answer.

“For the first time, there was a one-to-one correlation of symptoms,” he said. “It was quite a shock.”

An estimated 1 in about 13,500 people in the United States may have VEXAS syndrome, a new study suggests, which means the mysterious and sometimes deadly inflammatory disorder may be more common than previously thought.

In comparison, the genetic disorder spinal muscular atrophy affects about 1 in 10,000 people and Huntington’s disease occurs in about 1 in every 10,000 to 20,000 people.

Since its discovery, occasional VEXAS cases have been reported in medical research, but the study reveals new estimates of its prevalence.

The research, published Tuesday in the journal JAMA, suggests that about 1 in 13,591 people in the US have mutations in the UBA1 gene, which develop later in life and cause VEXAS syndrome.

“This study is demonstrating that there’s likely tens of thousands of patients in the US that have this disease, and the vast majority of them are probably not being recognized because physicians aren’t really considering this as a diagnosis more broadly,” said Dr. David Beck, an assistant professor in the Department of Medicine at NYU Langone Health and a lead author of the study.

VEXAS syndrome is not inherited, so people who have it don’t pass the disease to their children. But the UBA1 gene is on the X chromosome, so the syndrome is an X-linked disease. It predominantly affects men, who carry only one X chromosome. Women have two X chromosomes, so if they have a mutation in a gene on one X chromosome but not the other, they are generally unaffected.

“It’s present in 1 in 4,000 men over the age of 50. So we think it’s a disease that should be thought about in terms of testing for individuals that have the symptoms,” said Beck, who also led the federal research team that identified the shared UBA1 mutation among VEXAS patients in 2020.

“The benefit of VEXAS syndrome is that we have a test. We have a genetic test that can help directly provide the diagnosis,” he said. “It’s just a question of patients who meet the criteria – who are older individuals with systemic inflammation, low blood counts, who really aren’t responding to anything but steroids – then advocating to their doctors to get genetic testing to get a diagnosis.”

Adams, who became a patient of Beck’s, said that finally getting a diagnosis – and understanding the cause of his symptoms – was life-changing.

“It really was incredibly freeing to have the diagnosis,” he said.

“You can’t fight your enemy unless your enemy has a name,” he added. “We finally had something where we could point to and say, ‘OK, we understand what’s going on. This is VEXAS.’ “

For the new study, Beck and his colleagues at the NIH, New York University, Geisinger Research and other institutions analyzed data on 163,096 patients in a health system in central and northeastern Pennsylvania, from January 1996 to January 2022, including electronic health records and blood samples.

Eleven of the patients had a disease-causing UBA1 variant, and a 12th person had a “highly suspicious” variant.

Only three of the 12 are still alive. A five-year survival rate of 63% has been previously reported with VEXAS.

Among the 11 patients in the new study who had pathogenic variants in UBA1, only two were women. Seven had arthritis as a symptom, and four had been diagnosed with rheumatologic diseases, such as psoriasis of the skin or sarcoidosis, which causes swollen lumps in the body. All had anemia or low blood cell counts.

“None had been previously clinically diagnosed with VEXAS syndrome,” Beck said.

The finding “is emphasizing how it’s important to be able to pick these patients out, give them the diagnosis and start the aggressive therapies or aggressive treatments to keep their inflammation in check,” he said.

VEXAS – an acronym for five clinical characteristics of the disease – has no standardized treatment or cure, but Beck said symptoms can be managed with medications like the steroid prednisone or other immunosuppressants.

“But the toxicities of prednisone over years is challenging. There are other anti-inflammatory medications that we use, but they’re only partially effective at the moment,” he said. “One treatment for individuals that we’ve seen that’s very effective is bone marrow transplantation. That comes with its own risks, but that’s just underscoring the severe nature of the disease.”

Although the new study helps provide estimates of the prevalence and symptoms of VEXAS syndrome, the data is not representative of the entire United States, and Beck said that more research needs to be done on a larger, more diverse group of people.

Some men might be hesitant to seek medical care for VEXAS symptoms, but Adams said that doing so could save their life.

“Eventually, it’s going to get so bad that you’ll end up like my first hospitalization, where you’re on death’s door,” Adams said. “You don’t want to be in that situation.”

Adams has been taking prednisone to ease his symptoms, and it’s helped. But because steroid use can have side effects such as cataracts and weight gain, he has been working with his doctors to find other therapies so he can reduce his intake of the medication.

Beck and his colleagues are studying targeted therapies for VEXAS syndrome, as well as conducting stem cell bone marrow transplant trials at the NIH.

“There are many different facets of the disease,” Dr. Bhavisha Patel, a hematologist and researcher in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s Hematopoiesis and Bone Marrow Failure Laboratory, said in an NIH news release last month.

“I believe that is what is challenging when we think about treatment, because it’s so heterogeneous,” said Patel, who was not involved in the new study.

“Both at NIH and worldwide, the groups that have dedicated themselves to VEXAS are looking for medical therapies to offer to other patients who don’t qualify for a bone marrow transplant,” she said. “We continue to collaborate on many projects in order to categorize this disease further and ultimately come up with the best treatment options.”

Source link

#identified #inflammatory #disease #VEXAS #syndrome #common #thought #study #suggests #CNN

Many women underestimate breast density as a risk factor for breast cancer, study shows | CNN



CNN
— 

Dense breast tissue has been associated with up to a four times higher risk of breast cancer. However, a new study suggests few women view breast density as a significant risk factor.

The study, published in JAMA Network Open, surveyed 1,858 women ages 40 to 76 years from 2019 to 2020 who reported having recently undergone mammography, had no history of breast cancer and had heard of breast density.

Women were asked to compare the risk of breast density to five other breast cancer risk factors: having a first-degree relative with breast cancer, being overweight or obese, drinking more than one alcoholic beverage per day, never having children and having a prior breast biopsy.

“When compared to other known and perhaps more well-known breast cancer risks, women did not perceive breast density as significant of a risk,” said Laura Beidler, an author of the study and researcher at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice.

For example, the authors report that dense breast tissue is associated with a 1.2 to four times higher risk of breast cancer compared with a two times higher risk associated with having a first-degree relative with breast cancer – but 93% of women said breast density was a lesser risk.

Dense breasts tissue refers to breasts that are composed of more glandular and fibrous tissue than fatty tissue. It is a normal and common finding present in about half of women undergoing mammograms.

The researchers also interviewed 61 participants who reported being notified of their breast density and asked what they thought contributes to breast cancer and how they could reduce their risk. While most women correctly noted that breast density could mask tumors on mammograms, few women felt that breast density could be a risk factor for breast cancer.

Roughly one-third of women thought there was nothing they could do to reduce their breast cancer risk, although there are several ways to reduce risk, including maintaining a healthy, active lifestyle and minimizing alcohol consumption.

Breast density changes over a woman’s lifetime, and is generally higher in women who are younger, have a lower body weight, are pregnant or breastfeeding, or are taking hormone replacement therapy.

The level of breast cancer risk increases with the degree of breast density; however, experts aren’t certain why this is true.

“One hypothesis has been that women who have more dense breast tissue also have higher, greater levels of estrogen, circulating estrogen, which contributes to both the breast density and to the risk of developing breast cancer,” said Dr. Harold Burstein, a breast oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute who was not involved in the study. “Another hypothesis is that there’s something about the tissue itself, making it more dense, that somehow predisposes to the development of breast cancer. We don’t really know which one explains the observation.”

Thirty-eight states currently mandate that women receive written notification about their breast density and its potential breast cancer risk following mammography; however, studies have shown that many women find this information confusing.

“Even though women are notified usually in writing when they get a report after a mammogram that says, ‘You have increased breast density,’ it’s kind of just tucked in there at the bottom of the report. I’m not sure that anyone is explaining to them, certainly in person or verbally, what that means,” said Dr. Ruth Oratz, a breast oncologist at NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center who was not involved in the study.

“I think what we’ve learned from this study is that we have to do a better job of educating not only the general public of women, but the general public of health care providers who are doing the primary care, who are ordering those screening mammograms,” she added.

Current screening guidelines recommend women of average risk of breast cancer undergo breast cancer screening every one to two years between ages 50 to 74 with the option of beginning at age 40.

Because women with dense breast tissue are considered to have higher than average cancer risks, the authors of the study suggest women with high breast density may benefit from supplemental screening like breast MRI or breast ultrasound, which may detect cancers that are missed on mammograms. Currently, coverage of supplemental screening after the initial mammogram varies, depending on the state and insurance policy.

The authors warn that “supplemental screening not only can lead to increased rates of cancer detection but also may result in more false-positive results and recall appointments.” They say clinicians should use risk assessment tools when discussing tradeoffs associated with supplemental screening.

“Usually, it’s a discussion between the patient, the clinical team, and the radiologist. And it’ll be affected by prior history, by whether there’s anything else of concern on the mammogram, by the patient’s family history. So those are the kinds of things we discuss frequently with patients who are in such situations,” Burstein said.

Breast cancer screening recommendations differ between medical organizations, and experts say women at higher risk due to breast density should discuss with their doctor what screening method and frequency are most appropriate.

“I think it’s really, really important that everyone understands – and this is the doctors, the nurses, the women themselves – that screening is not a one size fits all recommendation. We cannot just make one general recommendation to the entire population because individual women have different levels of risks of developing breast cancer,” Oratz said.

For the nearly one-third of women with dense breast tissue that reported there was nothing they could do to prevent breast cancer, experts say there are some steps you can take to reduce your risk.

“Maintaining an active, healthy lifestyle and minimizing alcohol consumption address several modifiable factors. Breastfeeding can decrease the risk. On the other hand, use of hormone replacement therapy increases breast cancer risk,” said Dr. Puneet Singh, a breast surgical oncologist at the MD Anderson Cancer Center who was not involved in the study.

The researchers add that there are approved medications, such as tamoxifen, that can be given for those at significantly increased risk that may reduce the chances of breast cancer by about half.

Finally, breast cancer doctors say that in addition to appropriate screening, knowing your risk factors and advocating for yourself can be powerful tools in preventing and detecting breast cancer.

“At any age, if any woman feels uncomfortable about something that’s going on in her breast, if she has discomfort, notices a change in the breast, bring that to the attention of your doctor and make sure it gets evaluated and don’t let somebody just brush you off,” Oratz said.

Source link

#women #underestimate #breast #density #risk #factor #breast #cancer #study #shows #CNN

Pediatricians are giving out free gun locks to approach the gun violence epidemic as a public health crisis | CNN



CNN
— 

In a triage waiting room of St. Louis Children’s Hospital in Missouri, a clear basket filled with gun locks sits near the walkway, just noticeable enough to those passing by.

The hospital staff calls it the “No Questions Asked” basket, to encourage gun safety without having to confront gun owners about what can be a sensitive and divisive topic. It holds an assortment of cable gun locks free of charge, available to those who need them, alongside pamphlets explaining how to properly and safely store firearms.

The initiative, aimed at reducing the stigma of addressing gun safety, is part of a growing effort by medical professionals who are treating the country’s gun violence epidemic as a public health crisis.

“It takes standing at the bedside of one child who has been shot to realize that we all have to do more and as the leading cause of death for children in this country, pediatricians need to be front and center of the solution, of all the solutions,” said Dr. Annie Andrews, a professor of pediatrics at the Medical University of South Carolina and an expert on gun violence prevention.

Over the course of two years, thousands of gun locks have been taken from the basket, according to Dr. Lindsay Clukies, a pediatric emergency medicine physician at the hospital.

In the coming weeks, baskets filled with free gun locks will be available at more than 17 locations operated by BJC HealthCare, an organization serving metro St. Louis, mid-Missouri and Southern Illinois, Clukies said. It’s a low-cost and effective way to easily distribute firearm safety devices.

“We’ve had employees as well as patients take our locks, also their families and even a grandmother who took one for her grandson. It’s for anyone who needs them,” Clukies told CNN. In recent years, a rising number of pediatricians across the country have been engaging with the topic of gun safety in medical settings by focusing on safety and prevention, already a natural aspect of their work.

During patient visits, it’s increasingly common for pediatricians to ask the patient’s parents if there are guns at home, and if so, how they are stored. Some hospitals then offer free gun locks, often sourced from donations or police departments and paired with safe storage education.

Some pediatricians, who bear witness to the effects of gun violence on children in their workplace every day, told CNN they see it as their obligation as medical professionals to be part of the solution to the epidemic.

In 2022, 1,672 children and teenagers under 17 were killed by gun violence and 4,476 were injured, according to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit organization tracking injuries and deaths by gunfire since 2014.

“We have just as an important voice in this conversation as anyone else because we’re the ones who have invested our entire careers to protecting children and ensuring that children can grow up to be the safest healthiest version of themselves,” said Andrews.

“It is only natural that we see these things that we understand that they’re preventable, and we want to get involved in finding the solutions,” she added.

So far in 2023, high-profile incidents of children accessing firearms have heeded calls for stronger, more consistent laws nationwide, requiring adults to safely secure their guns out of the reach of children and others unauthorized to use them. They have also highlighted a lack of public education on the responsibility of gun owners to store their guns unloaded, locked and away from ammunition, CNN previously reported.

In early January, a 6-year-old boy was taken into police custody after he took a gun purchased by his mother from his home, brought it to school and shot his teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Virginia, police said. Just over a week later, a man was arrested in Beech Grove, Indiana, after video was shown on live TV of a toddler, reportedly the man’s son, waving and pulling the trigger of a handgun, CNN previously reported.

Hundreds of children in the US every year gain access to firearms and unintentionally shoot themselves or someone else, according to research by Everytown for Gun Safety, a leading non-profit organization focusing on gun violence prevention. In 2022, there were 301 unintentional shootings by children, resulting in 133 deaths and 180 injuries nationally, Everytown data showed.

Firearm injuries are now the leading cause of death among people younger than 24 in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The American Academy of Pediatrics released an updated policy statement in October 2022, stating firearms are now the leading cause of death in children under the age of 24 in the US.

The Academy’s statement urged a “multipronged approach with layers of protection focused on harm reduction, which has been successful in decreasing motor vehicle-related injuries, is essential to decrease firearm injuries and deaths in children and youth.”

The Academy has free educational modules for pediatricians to guide them on how to have what can be challenging or uncomfortable conversations about firearms with families, according to Dr. Lois Kaye Lee, a pediatrician and the chair of the Academy’s Council on Injury, Violence and Poison Prevention.

“This shouldn’t be considered as something extra; it should be considered as part of the work that we do every day around injury prevention, be it around firearms, child passenger safety and suicide prevention,” Lee said.

Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told CNN the public health approach to addressing gun violence removes the politics from the issue and “puts it into a scientific evidence-based framework.”

“Physicians have a unique opportunity to engage their patients, the parents of kids or the parents themselves as individuals to make their homes safer,” Benjamin said. “We already do this for toxins under our kitchen cabinets, razor blades and outlets in the wall.”

In the emergency department at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, all patients are screened for access to firearms and offered free gun locks, as well as safe storage education, Clukies said. Gun locks can also be mailed to families, free of cost, through the hospital’s website.

“Every patient that comes into our emergency department, whether it’s for a fever or a cold or a broken arm, is asked about access to firearms,” said Clukies, adding 5,000 locks have been given out since the initiatives were started in 2021.

In a collaborative effort between trauma nurses, physicians, social workers, violence intervention experts and family partners, the hospital created a “nonjudgmental” script for doctors to follow as they ask patients about access to firearms, Clukies said.

During the screening process, pediatricians will ask parents or caretakers questions such as: Do you have access to a firearm where your child lives or plays? How is it stored? Is it stored unloaded or loaded?

“When I first started doing this, I would say, ‘Are there any guns in the home? Yes, or no?’ But I have found and learned from other experts that if you just say, ‘If there are any guns in the home, do you mind telling me how they’re secured?’ it takes away the judgment,” said Andrews, a pediatrician whose hospital, the Medical University of South Carolina, also offers free gun locks to patients.

An assortment of cable gun locks offered free of charge by the Medical University of South Carolina.

Families are asked about firearms in the “social history” phase of a patient visit, during which pediatricians will ask who lives in the home, what grade the child is in, what activities they engage in and where the child goes to school, according to Andrews. When parents indicate their firearms are not safely stored, like on the top of a shelf or in a nightstand drawer, Andrews said those are important opportunities for intervention and education about storage devices such as keypad lockboxes, fingerprint biometric safes and other types of lock systems.

It’s also important for pediatricians to understand the parents’ or caretakers’ motivation for owning a firearm to “inform the conversation about where they’re willing to meet you as far as storage goes,” she added.

Andrews and Clukies said they were pleasantly surprised by the willingness of families to discuss firearm safety, most of whom recognize it is an effort to protect their children.

“I expected more pushback than we received, which is attributed to us really focusing on how we properly word these questions,” Clukies said. “I think it’s because we turn it into a neutral conversation, and we focus on safety and prevention.”

Andrews added it is uncommon for medical schools or residencies to discuss gun violence prevention, which she says is due to the “politics around the issue.”

“Thankfully, that has evolved, and more and more pediatricians are realizing that we have to be an integral part of the solution to this problem,” Andrews said.

At the St. Louis Children’s Hospital, pediatricians followed up with patients who received a free gun lock in a research study roughly two months after they launched the initiative in the fall of 2021 to see if their storage practices changed.

The study found two-thirds of families reported using the gun lock provided to them by the hospital and there was a “statistically significant decrease” in those who didn’t store their firearms safely, as well as an increase in those who stored their firearms unloaded, according to Clukies.

But there is still much more work to be done in the medical community to fight the gun violence epidemic and scientific research on the issue is “woefully underfunded,” Andrews contended.

According to the American Public Health Association’s Benjamin, a multidisciplinary approach by policymakers, law enforcement and the medical community is essential to fostering a safer environment for children.

“Injury prevention is a core part of every physician’s job,” Benjamin said. “It’s clearly in our lane.”

Source link

#Pediatricians #giving #free #gun #locks #approach #gun #violence #epidemic #public #health #crisis #CNN

Flu, Covid-19 and RSV are all trending down for the first time in months | CNN



CNN
— 

A rough respiratory virus season in the US appears to be easing, as three major respiratory viruses that have battered the country for the past few months are finally all trending down at the same time.

A new dataset from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that the number of emergency department visits for the three viruses combined – flu, Covid-19 and RSV – have dropped to the lowest they’ve been in three months. The decline is apparent across all age groups.

Measuring virus transmission levels can be challenging; health officials agree that Covid-19 cases are vastly undercounted, and surveillance systems used for flu and RSV capture a substantial, but incomplete picture.

But experts say that tracking emergency department visits can be a good indicator of how widespread – and severe – the respiratory virus season is.

“There’s the chief complaint. When you show up to the emergency room, you complain about something,” said Janet Hamilton, executive director at Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists. “Being able to look at the proportion of individuals that seek care at an emergency department for these respiratory illness concerns is a really good measure of the respiratory disease season.”

In the week following Thanksgiving, emergency department visits for respiratory viruses topped 235,000 – matching rates from last January, according to the CDC data.

While the surge in emergency department visits early in the year was due almost entirely to Omicron, the most recent spike was much more varied. In the week ending December 3, about two-thirds of visits were for flu, about a quarter were for Covid-19 and about 10% were for RSV.

Grouping the impact of all respiratory viruses together in this way offers an important perspective.

“There’s a strong interest in thinking about respiratory diseases in a more holistic way,” Hamilton said. “Transmission is the same. And there are certain types of measures that are good protection against all respiratory diseases. So that could really help people understand that when we are in high circulation for respiratory diseases, there are steps that you can take – just in general.”

Now, Covid-19 again accounts for most emergency department visits but flu and RSV are still the reason behind about a third of visits – and they’re all trending down for the first time since the respiratory virus season started picking up in September.

More new data from the CDC shows that overall respiratory virus activity continues to decline across the country. Only four states, along with New York City and Washington, DC, had “high” levels of influenza-like illness. Nearly all states were in this category less than a month ago.

Whether that pattern will hold is still up in the air, as vaccination rates for flu and Covid-19 are lagging and respiratory viruses can be quite fickle. Also, while the level of respiratory virus activity is lower than it’s been, it’s still above baseline in most places and hospitals nationwide are still about 80% full.

RSV activity started to pick up in September, reaching a peak in mid-November when 5 out of every 100,000 people – and 13 times as many children younger than five – were hospitalized in a single week.

RSV particularly affects children, and sales for over-the-counter children’s pain- and fever-reducing medication were 65% higher in November than they were a year before, according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association. While “the worst may be over,” demand is still elevated, CHPA spokesperson Logan Ramsey Tucker told CNN in an email – sales were up 30% year-over-year in December.

But this RSV season has been significantly more severe than recent years, according to CDC data. The weekly RSV hospitalization rate has dropped to about a fifth of what it was two months ago, but it is still higher than it’s been in previous seasons.

Flu activity ramped up earlier than typical, but seems to have already reached a peak. Flu hospitalizations – about 6,000 new admissions last week – have dropped to a quarter of what they were at their peak a month and a half ago, and CDC estimates for total illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths from flu so far this season have stayed within the bounds of what can be expected. It appears the US has avoided the post-holiday spike that some experts cautioned against, but the flu is notoriously unpredictable and it’s not uncommon to see a second bump later in season.

The Covid-19 spike has not been as pronounced as flu, but hospitalizations did surpass levels from the summer. However, the rise in hospitalizations that started in November has started to tick down in recent weeks and CDC data shows that the share of the population living in a county with a “high” Covid-19 community level has dropped from 22% to about 6% over the past two weeks.

Still, the XBB.1.5 variant – which has key mutations that experts believe may be helping it to be more infectious – continues to gain ground in the US, causing about half of all infections last week. Vaccination rates continue to lag, with just 15% of the eligible population getting their updated booster and nearly one in five people remain completely unvaccinated.

Ensemble forecasts published by the CDC are hazy, predicting a “stable or uncertain trend” in Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths over the next month.

And three years after the first Covid-19 case was confirmed in the US, the virus has not settled into a predictable pattern, according to Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, the World Health Organization’s technical lead for the Covid-19 response.

“We didn’t need to have this level of death and devastation, but we’re dealing with it, and we are doing our best to minimize the impact going forward,” Van Kerkhove told the Conversations on Healthcare podcast this week.

Van Kerkhove says she does believe 2023 could be the year in which Covid-19 would no longer be deemed a public health emergency in the US and across the world, but more work needs to be done in order to make that happen and transitioning to longer-term respiratory disease management of the outbreak will take more time.

“We’re just not utilizing [vaccines] most effectively around the world. I mean 30% of the world still has not received a single vaccine,” she said. “In every country in the world, including in the US, we’re missing key demographics.”

Source link

#Flu #Covid19 #RSV #trending #time #months #CNN

Millions have the same ‘bendy body’ disease as my daughter. Why isn’t the medical profession paying more attention? | CNN



CNN
— 

One day in July 2021, my then 15-year-old daughter Poppy stumbled and fell while walking down some stairs, grazing her knee. It wasn’t a serious wound, but over the weeks it didn’t heal.

Around the same time, her wrists and knees became sore; her ankles started rolling when she walked; her hands began shaking; her headaches and stomach aches became more frequent and intensely painful. She was always exhausted.

Before her health declined, Poppy had enjoyed horse riding and gymnastics, she’d competed in cross country races and been a fearless goalkeeper for the school hockey team.

But within a couple of months, as walking became increasingly difficult, she asked me for a walking stick. We found one that folds up and fits neatly in her school bag.

I took Poppy to doctors who conducted tests, but they couldn’t find out what was wrong with her. Then, in October, a breakthrough.

A podiatrist who was measuring Poppy for insoles to support her aching feet asked if Poppy could bend her thumb to reach her forearm. She could. Could she pull her little finger back to form a 90-degree angle with the back of her hand? She could do that, too.

“Have you heard of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome?” the podiatrist asked me. I hadn’t – so as soon as I got home, I went looking on the internet.

There are 13 types of Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS), according to research and advocacy organization The Ehlers-Danlos Society. Most types are very rare, and can be diagnosed using genetic tests. However, the genes that cause hypermobile EDS (hEDS) – the most common form, accounting for about 90% of cases – are unknown, so diagnosis is based on a checklist of symptoms. The list includes a hypermobility rating, known as the Beighton Score.

Poppy had enough symptoms to qualify for hEDS, and the diagnosis was confirmed by a doctor one year ago, on Christmas Eve. He told us that although we can do our best to alleviate some symptoms, there is no cure.

Poppy reacted to the news better than I did. She had known for some time that something was fundamentally wrong. The diagnosis was upsetting but identifying her illness also gave her a sense of relief. I felt shocked and overwhelmed, and I cried for weeks.

Reading about EDS was like a dreadful slow reveal.

I learned that it’s a genetic disorder that causes the body to make faulty connective tissue, and connective tissue is everywhere – in the tendons, ligaments, skin, heart, digestive system, eyes and gums.

Weak connective tissue leads to hypermobility, which may sound like a good thing, but some people with bendy bodies suffer a mind-boggling array of symptoms, including joint dislocations and subluxations (like a mini dislocation, when the joint partially slips out of place), soft stretchy skin, abnormal scarring, poor wound healing, gastrointestinal disorders, chronic pain and fatigue.

The severity of symptoms varies wildly. Patients with milder cases can lead relatively normal lives, while others become housebound, and some can’t digest food and must be fed through tubes.

What’s more, people with hEDS are prone to other conditions, including POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome, which makes you dizzy when you stand up) and MCAS (mast cell activation syndrome, which gives you allergy-type symptoms).

I learned a lot of new acronyms and they all spelled bad news.

I initially thought hEDS was rare, because all forms of EDS are commonly referred to as rare. But within a few weeks, I felt like I was seeing references to hEDS everywhere. Actor, writer and director Lena Dunham; actor and presenter Jameela Jamil; and drag queen Yvie Oddly live with it. I deep dived into EDS Twitter and EDS Instagram, while Poppy found it comforting to watch TikTok videos made by teenagers with the condition.

I discovered multiple patient groups on Facebook, each with tens of thousands of members, which turned out to be great sources of support. I asked questions (what kind of shoes are best for weak ankles? Which knee braces are easiest to pull on and off?) and kind strangers sent helpful advice. At the same time, scrolling through countless personal stories of pain, despair and shattered dreams made me feel terrified about what might lie ahead.

I noticed common themes. Many EDS patients had spent years seeking the correct diagnosis; others felt they’d been neglected and gaslit by doctors.

There was also a lot of talk of zebras.

Linda Bluestein, a Colorado-based physician who specializes in EDS and other hypermobility conditions, and has hEDS herself, explains why.

“I was told in medical school, ‘when you hear hoofbeats think horses, not zebras,’” she says. Many trainee doctors receive the same advice – when a patient presents with symptoms, “look for the common thing.” That’s why EDS patients commonly refer to themselves as zebras – and also use the fabulous collective noun “dazzle.” The name represents rarity and evokes the stripy stretch marks that are a common feature on EDS skin.

But if people with hEDS are medical zebras, why am I encountering so many of them?

Bluestein says that for many years it was thought that one in 5,000 people had Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. But she says the limited research that’s been carried out into the prevalence of hEDS suggests the true number of cases is “much, much higher” than that.

Dr. Linda Bluestein has treated hEDS patients  who have been searching for a diagnosis for decades.

Bluestein points me to a 2019 study carried out in Wales – a country of 3.1 million people. An examination of primary care and hospital records from 1990 to 2017 found that one in 500 people there has either hEDS or joint hypermobility syndrome (a similar condition with a slightly different set of symptoms). She says it’s “a good study” but believes it’s still an underestimate. The Ehlers-Danlos Society says more population studies need to be done to give a more accurate view of its incidence elsewhere.

But despite this possible prevalence, and how debilitating hypermobility disorders can be, the average time to diagnosis from the onset of symptoms is 10 to 12 years, according to The Ehlers-Danlos Society.

Bluestein has firsthand experience of this. Growing up, she wanted to become a ballet dancer and trained six days a week. When puberty hit, she started experiencing joint pain and migraines, and at 16 had her first orthopedic surgery. She realized she wouldn’t succeed in the ballet world and instead pursued her “back-up plan,” to become a doctor. But despite her career choice, Bluestein only received her hEDS diagnosis when she was 47 – more than 30 years later.

“I told my doctor on numerous occasions, ‘there is something wrong with me, I don’t heal well, I get injured more easily than other people’,” she says. “And he just never, never listened.”

Why, for so many patients, does it take so long to get diagnosed?

In 2014 a leading EDS expert, Professor Rodney Grahame, remarked at a conference that “no other disease in the history of modern medicine has been neglected in such a way as Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.”

Far more women than men are diagnosed with EDS, which could help to explain the neglect, because the medical profession has a long history of overlooking health complaints made by women.

A 2009 study, conducted by the European Organisation for Rare Diseases, surveyed 414 families of EDS patients from five countries and found that the average delay to an EDS diagnosis was four years for men – but 16 years for women.

The report states that women with EDS tend to be “diagnosed later because their pain and hypotonia (poor muscle tone) aren’t considered as physical symptoms but rather as psychological symptoms or common complaints.”

“We tend to get dismissed a lot more easily,” says Bluestein. “People jump to the conclusion that we’re histrionic females.”

Anxiety is very common in patients with hypermobility issues, says Bluestein, which can cloud the picture. “When people with anxiety present to a physician, it can suck all the air out of the room, so that the physician almost can’t see anything else.”

This can ramp up the patient’s anxiety further “because people aren’t validating our symptoms, and then we start to doubt ourselves,” she says.

What’s more, medicine is divided into silos which creates the “worst possible model” for EDS patients, says Bluestein.

VIDEO THUMBNAIL Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome 1

‘We’re born with this and will never be free:’ Hear stories from people with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome

She explains that undiagnosed patients might consult a neurologist for their migraines, a rheumatologist for joint pain, a cardiologist for palpitations, a gastroenterologist for digestive issues and a urologist for bladder symptoms. Each doctor focuses on the symptoms that fall within their specialty but doesn’t consider the other ailments. “Nowhere along the way does somebody realize that there are certain conditions that could tie all of these things together and explain everything,” says Bluestein.

The 2009 rare diseases study found that during the quest for a diagnosis, 58% of EDS patients consulted more than five doctors, and 20% consulted more than 20.

The consequences of not getting diagnosed for years can be devastating.

Melissa Dickinson, a psychotherapist in Atlanta, Georgia, says she experienced symptoms of a “mystery illness” since childhood. Then in 2013, she “went on honeymoon to Mexico, relatively healthy, and came back disabled and with a dislocated neck.”

While on vacation, Dickinson says she got food poisoning and was prescribed ciprofloxacin, an antibiotic that can pose a serious risk of aortic aneurysm to people with EDS. Instead, she says it triggered significant nerve damage, digestive issues that almost made her go blind because her body wasn’t absorbing nutrients, and put her in a wheelchair.

Dickinson, who finally received her hEDS diagnosis in 2014, says taking the wrong medication “wrecked me from head to toe.” Now that she’s receiving treatment, “I can walk with mobility aids, but most of my body has to have constant support to function.”

Lara Bloom, president and CEO of The Ehlers-Danlos Society, who herself has hEDS, says many patients have “medicalized PTSD.”

“They have had to stop their careers, they’ve had to drop out of school, their relationships have broken down.” The delay inevitably results in worsening symptoms and a declining quality of life, she says. In worst-case scenarios, patients “are dying by suicide, they’re self-harming.”

Sometimes, the failure to diagnose EDS has led to children being taken away from their parents.

In 2010, Americans Rana Tyson and her husband Chad were falsely accused of harming their 4-week-old twin daughters, who had unexplained fractures in their legs.

Along with their older sister, the baby girls were taken by state authorities in Texas and sent to live with relatives. “It was the worst day of my life,” Tyson tells me in a phone call.

Five months later, a geneticist identified the twins as having a connective tissue disorder, and they were subsequently diagnosed with EDS and a vitamin D deficiency. The family was reunited but “12 years later, it still hurts,” says Tyson.

Bloom says some other parents of children with EDS have been wrongly accused of “fabricated or induced illness (FII)” – a rare form of abuse, formerly known as Munchausen’s syndrome by proxy, in which a parent or care giver deliberately causes symptoms or tries to convince doctors that a healthy child is ill.

Ellie Pattison, who has hEDS, has been repeatedly misdiagnosed as having an eating disorder.

Ellie Pattison, a 19-year-old student who lives in County Durham, England, suffers from severe digestive issues linked to hEDS.

Throughout her childhood, Ellie was repeatedly misdiagnosed as having an eating disorder, she says, while her mother Caroline was accused of FII on three separate occasions. Caroline successfully fought to keep her daughter at home, says Ellie, but the ordeal has left the whole family with “an unimaginable amount of trauma.” Ellie says she suffered from PTSD and endured years of horrific nightmares, triggered by living with the fear from a young age that she could be forcibly separated from her family.

This underlines why prompt diagnosis is so important, says Bloom. “Our hope and dream is for people to get diagnosed when their symptoms begin.”

In the case of hEDS, a crucial first step is to find out what causes it.

Cortney Gensemer, a biomedical scientist in the Norris Lab at the Medical University of South Carolina’s department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology, is trying to solve this mystery. She and research mentor Russell Norris, head of the lab, have been studying a gene mutation they believe causes hEDS (the results of the study are currently under peer review).

Like Poppy, Gensemer was diagnosed with hEDS as a teenager. She says the disease affects every aspect of her work. Looking down a microscope is particularly painful at times – her neck is unstable because of her hEDS, and she’s had metal screws put into some of her neck vertebrae to fuse them.

Cortney Gensemer working in the Norris Lab and recovering from neck surgery earlier this year.

Norris kitted the lab out with special equipment, including motion sensor doors (standard lab doors are very heavy), adjustable chairs and ergonomic pipettes that are gentle on the hands. “If I didn’t have all that stuff, I don’t think I’d be able to do it,” says Gensemer.

To find a hEDS-causing gene, Gensemer says she and Norris sampled DNA from a large family with cases spanning four generations and looked for a mutation that appears only in relatives who have the disease. They identified a “strong candidate gene” and inserted it into mice using gene editing tools.

Gensemer and Norris found that the hEDS mice had significantly more lax tissues, and floppier tails than regular rodents. “You can tie a loose knot into the mutant mouse tail. With a normal mouse tail, you can (only) bend it into a circle,” Gensemer says.

The gene that Gensemer and Norris found won’t account for all hEDS cases, she says. They believe that eventually multiple genes will be identified, and hEDS may be split into different subtypes. This would help to explain why different patients have different symptoms. Crucially, if genetic information sheds light on how the connective tissue is “messed up,” it could lead to effective treatments, says Gensemer.

The Ehlers-Danlos Society is also looking for genes as well as blood markers, working with a team of experts to sequence and analyze the DNA of 1,000 hEDS patients from around the world. And at the UK’s University of Warwick, Ph.D. candidate Sabeeha Malek, another scientist with hEDS, has proposed that EDS might be caused by a fault in the way that collagen binds to cell membranes in connective tissue. If she’s right, she hopes her work will lead to a skin biopsy test that could identify all forms of the disease.

Sabeeha Malek is working to identify biomarkers that could make EDS diagnosis easier.

Progress is being made but on a very small scale. “If you look at any major academic institution, there are multiple labs studying cancer, multiple labs studying heart disease. When you look at a disease that affects one in 500 people, and probably more than that, there should be a lab studying it at every single academic institution,” says Gensemer.

Gensemer hopes that as more discoveries are made and data is accumulated it will “change the way the medical community looks at the disease” – and that it will be taken more seriously.

A year has passed since Poppy’s diagnosis. The initial shock has subsided, and while I’m still grieving the loss of her health, we’ve both learned to accept our new reality and have adjusted to living with EDS.

I’ve assembled a team of supportive doctors and therapists and acquired an arsenal of paraphernalia to fight pain and manage symptoms, including braces and kinesiology tape to hold her joints in place; ice packs, heat pads, tiger balm and arnica gel for sore muscles; and a cupboard full of medications and supplements.

With Poppy often stuck at home, I also got her a giant kitten that she calls Bagel, and he provides the best therapy.

Poppy with Bagel.

Writing this article has taught me a lot more about EDS: It’s been upsetting to report on the terrible experiences some have suffered, but I’ve been awestruck by the dedication of people, many with the condition themselves, who are working to find solutions.

I don’t know what the future holds for Poppy. Some patients’ symptoms improve with age; others experience an increase in pain and a loss of mobility. I’ve learned there’s a limit to what we can control but there’s a lot we can do, to tackle symptoms and make life easier. And I believe that change is coming.

With a better understanding of the condition and diagnostic tools on the horizon, my biggest hope is that there will be a cure one day – and that it will come in time for Poppy.

Source link

#Millions #bendy #body #disease #daughter #isnt #medical #profession #paying #attention #CNN