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Published in Print: January 7, 2004, as Health Update

Health Update

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Conn. Asthma Report Shows 1 in 10 Children Lives With the Disorder

A recent federally financed study shows that one in 10 elementary school pupils in Connecticut has asthma.

The research, released last month, looked at asthma-prevalence rates among Connecticut schoolchildren in kindergarten through 5th grade. Paid for by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the study had participation from 698 elementary schools in Connecticut, with a total of 236,471 pupils, representing 81 percent of all public schools in the state with kindergarten through 5th grade.

Study findings were based on data collected from school nurses, who used multiple sources of data. The survey showed that 9.7 percent of the state's K-5 students were known to have asthma by their school nurses.

In a statement to the press, Nancy Alderman, the president of Environment and Human Health Inc., the North Haven, Conn.-based nonprofit health-policy organization that produced the study, said if researchers extrapolate the K-5 numbers to K-12, then about 64,000 Connecticut schoolchildren would be estimated to have asthma.


Youth-Obesity Pill

For the first time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a weight-loss medication for use on young people.

The manufacturer of the popular fat-blocking drug Xenical was given the green light in mid-December to label its product for the management of obesity in 12- to 16-year-olds.

The FDA action comes at a time of heightened public concern about childhood obesity. Among Americans ages 6 to 19, 15 percent—almost 9 million—are overweight, according to 1999-2000 data from the CDC. That is triple the proportion in 1980.

Adults have long been using a wide range of prescription weight-loss medications to trim pounds, but none had been approved for children until now.

Xenical works by blocking the body's ability to digest fat. Experts say known side effects are minimal, but can include problems such as gas and incontinence, particularly after high-fat meals. One study of Xenical's effects on children also showed dips in iron absorption in those patients taking the medication.

The FDA approval for Xenical was based on the results of two studies involving children, according to F. Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd., the Nutley, N.J., maker of Xenical.

The first study involved 357 youngsters with an average weight of 210 pounds who took the drug three times a day, and 182 subjects given placebos.

Twenty-seven percent of the teenagers treated with Xenical and a low-calorie diet saw a reduction in their body-mass index of 5 percent or more over the course of the study, compared with 16 percent of the adolescents assigned a placebo and a low-calorie diet, according to Roche.


Pediatric-Drug Law

Health experts are applauding the enactment of a law that restores the federal government's authority to require drug companies to study the safety and effectiveness of pharmaceuticals before they are used on children.

The Pediatric Research Equity Act, signed by President Bush in early December, restores a 1998 Food and Drug Administration regulation known as the "pediatric rule" that was struck down in October 2002, when a federal judge ruled that Congress hadn't given the FDA the authority to carry out such a mandate.


'Mad Cow' Assurance

National headlines about a case of "mad cow" disease in Washington state should not alarm school officials, a spokesman for the American School Food Service Association said last week.

Erik Peterson of the Alexandria, Va.-based group said he has been in regular contact with the U.S. Department of Agriculture about the issue. Under USDA rules, he said, meat from what the industry calls a "downer cow," because the animal is too sick or injured to stand up, has not been sold to schools.

The USDA announced Dec. 30 that it was extending that ban on the sale of downer-cattle meat to all retail outlets, effective immediately.

The discovery of the disease in a Holstein had prompted a product recall of 10,000 pounds of beef in at least eight states and Guam, as of Dec. 28.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Vol. 23, Issue 16, Page 15

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