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Published in Print: May 26, 2004, as Health Update

Health Update

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Federal Analysis Concludes Vaccines, Autism Not Linked

A federal analysis of scientific studies from around the world has found no evidence that childhood vaccines cause autism.

A committee of experts appointed by the Institute of Medicine specifically rejected last week the hypothesis that autism is caused by the measles-mumps- rubella vaccine or any other inoculations that contain a mercury preservative called thimerosal.

"The overwhelming evidence from several well-designed studies indicates that childhood vaccines are not associated with autism," the committee’s chairwoman, Dr. Marie C. McCormick, said in a May 18 statement following the release of the committee’s eighth and final report on vaccines.

"Resources would be used most effectively if they were directed toward those avenues of inquiry that offer the greatest promise of answers," said Dr. McCormick, a professor at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston. "Without supporting evidence, the vaccine hypothesis does not hold such promise."

Twenty years ago, between two and five cases of autistic conditions were reported per 10,000 people nationwide. Now the disorders—which leave children with difficulties communicating and forming relationships—are thought to affect as many as one in 500 people.

A group that advocates more research on the mercury theory blasted the committee’s conclusions.

"This committee and its report clearly chose to ignore groundbreaking, scientific research on the mercury-autism link, and instead the [Institute of Medicine] has issued a flawed, incomplete report that continues to put America’s children at risk," said Lyn Redwood, the president of the Coalition for SafeMinds, in a statement last week.

Still, numerous large-scale research efforts in recent years have cast doubt on the link between vaccines and autism, including a 2002 Danish study of more than a half-million children that found virtually the same autism rate for children who had received the MMR vaccine and those who had not. ("Link Between Autism and Vaccines Is Debated," Feb. 18, 2004.)

Junk Food Sales

See Also...

View the accompanying table, "Snack Sales."

Though some studies show a link between poor nutrition and the availability of vending machines and a la carte foods in schools, federal regulations do little to control those sales, according to the U.S. General Accounting Office.

Competitive foods—defined by the GAO as all foods and beverages sold in schools outside of the federal lunch and breakfast programs—are available at a majority of schools across the country, according to a recent GAO report.

More than 80 percent of school districts reported offering a la carte sales in their middle and high schools in the 1999-2000 academic year. A significant proportion of schools also provided foods through vending machines, school stores, or snack bars that year.

The GAO found that many of the foods and beverages commonly offered in a la carte lines in 2000 were healthy fare, such as fruits and vegetables and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juices.

However, "school food authority officials told us that financial pressures have led them to serve less healthful a la carte items because these items generate needed revenue," researchers for the congressional investigative agency reported.

Similarly, the items most often purchased by students from vending machines are soft drinks, ice cream, and salty, high-fat snacks, according to the report.

—Darcia Harris Bowman

Vol. 23, Issue 38, Page 11

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