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Column: Health

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A study of black teenagers who use crack has concluded that they are at high risk of contracting sexually transmitted diseases, including aids.

The report, published in the Feb. 9 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that 73 percent of 222 black teenage users of the drug surveyed in San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., had engaged in risky sexual behavior. More than one-quarter of the males surveyed said they had had at least 10 sexual partners, and about one-quarter of all the respondents said they had traded sex for crack.

Because the unavailability of condoms may play a role in crack-using teenagers' decision to have unprotected sex, the authors recommend that condoms be widely distributed to such youths.

Preliminary results from a new study support the view that children should eat a low-fat diet as a way of preventing future heart disease.

The findings, presented at a forum sponsored by the American Heart Associaton last month, are the first to show that fat deposits in the arteries of teenage boys can turn into heart-attack-causing lesions by the time they reach their early 30's.

Based on autopsies of about 300 males ages 15 to 34, the study also found that smoking contributes to heart disease at its earliest stages.

In addition, it found that the greater the men's age, the more likely their fatty deposits were to become lesions.

Scientists have developed a genetic test that will allow prospective parents to determine if they are at high risk of having a child with cystic fibrosis.

Cystic fibrosis is the most common genetic disorder affecting the white population, striking 1 in 2,500 children. Those with the disease develop a thick mucous in the lungs that can lead to respiratory problems. About 30,000 people have the disease, of whom half are expected to die by the time they reach their mid-20's.

If both prospective parents are among the 12 millon Americans who carry the gene for the disease, there is a 25 percent chance that any of their children will have cystic fibrosis. The new test, which was described in a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, is supposed to be 76 percent accurate.

In an editorial accompanying the article, Harvey R. Colten, chairman of the pediatric department at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, questioned the value of using the test to initiate widespread screening programs.

He cited the concern that insurance companies would deny coverage to infants whose parents tested positive as carriers of the disease.--ef

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