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Health Highlights: Jan. 24, 2014

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Changes Coming to Food Nutrition Labels

New food product nutrition label guidelines have been created by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, but it's not known what they recommend or when they will released.

Health experts have plenty of suggestions for the first major makeover of the labels in 20 years. For example, they say the number of calories should be more prominent, the amount of added sugar and percentage of whole wheat should be stated, and information about serving sizes should be clearer.

"There's a feeling that nutrition labels haven't been as effective as they should be," Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, told the Associated Press. "When you look at the label, there are roughly two dozen numbers of substances that people aren't intuitively familiar with."

He also noted that most of the nutrients are listed in grams, a unit of the metric system that few Americans understand.

The FDA says knowledge about nutrition has changed since the early 1990s and the new nutrition labeling needs to reflect that, AP reported.

Twenty years ago there was a major focus on fat and little differentiation between types of fats, said Michael Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods. Now, there is greater emphasis on calories and people are being cautioned against saturated and trans fats instead of all fats. Trans fats were singled out on the label beginning in 2006.

"The food environment has changed and our dietary guidance has changed," Taylor told AP. "It's important to keep this updated so what is iconic doesn't become a relic."

Calorie listing is expected to be more prominent on the new label, and that could be useful to consumers, according to Regina Hildwine of the Grocery Manufacturers Association, which represents the nation's largest food companies.

She also told AP that the FDA may be considering removing the "calories from fat" statement on the label.

The anticipated changes come at a timed when more Americans are checking out nutrition labels on food products. An Agriculture Department study showed that 42 percent of working adults read the panel always or most of the time in 2009 and 2010, compared with 34 percent two years earlier, AP reported.


Less Educational Content in Children's Screen Time as They Age: Study

As children get older, their use of educational resources on television and other electronic devices decreases, according to a new study.

Researchers surveyed nearly 1,600 parents and found that what might be considered educational material accounted for less than half of the screen time among youngsters ages 2 to 10. Most of that screen time involved television, The New York Times reported.

The poll also revealed that while children's screen time increases as they get older, there is a decrease in the amount of educational content, according to the researchers at the nonprofit Joan Ganz Cooney Center, a research institute affiliated with the Sesame Workshop.

The survey found that 2- to 4-year-olds had just over two hours a day of screen time, including one hour and 16 minutes of educational content, while children ages 8-10 had more than two and a half hours a day of screen time, but only 42 minutes of that was regarded as educational, The Times reported.

Family income appeared to have an effect. Children in households earning less than $25,000 spent 57 percent of their screen time on educational activities, compared with 38 percent of children in families earning $50,000 to $99,000.


Weight May Reduce Effectiveness of Morning-After Pills

European health officials are reviewing morning-after emergency contraceptives to determine if they're less effective in overweight women.

The European Medicines Agency said Friday that it would evaluate new data suggesting that the effectiveness of morning-after pills could be reduced in heavier women. There is no timeline on when the review will be completed, the Associated Press reported.

"We need to find out what the association is with (body mass index) and if there is a cut-off threshold for when the medicine becomes less effective," agency spokeswoman Monika Benstetter said.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said late last year that it was studying the issue.

In November, HRA Pharma of France revealed that its morning-after pill Norvelo was less effective in women who weighed more than 165 pounds and did not work in women who weighed more than 176 pounds. The company changed its labels to warn patients, the AP reported.

Norvelo contains the same active ingredient -- levonorgestrel -- as other emergency contraceptives such as ellaOne, Levonnelle and Levodonna.


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