Health Updates 6 June 2012

  • Scientists map the tomato’s genome: “Scientists who were the first to fully sequence the tomato genome say their achievement is a critical step toward improving its yield, nutrition, disease resistance, taste and color.  The international group of researchers focused on a ‘Heinz 1706’ tomato and found that it has about 35,000 genes arranged on 12 chromosomes.  ‘For any characteristic of the tomato — whether it’s taste, natural pest resistance or nutritional content — we’ve captured virtually all those genes,’ James Giovannoni, the leader of the US sequencing team and a scientist at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., and the US Department of Agriculture, said in a university news release.  The full genome sequence, as well as the sequence of a wild relative [appeared] May 31 in the journal Nature.  ‘Tomato genetics underlies the potential for improved taste every home gardener knows and every supermarket shopper desires,’ Giovannoni said.  ‘The genome sequence will help solve this and many other issues in tomato production and quality’.  This genome sequence will make it easier and less costly for seed companies and plant breeders to sequence other tomato varieties for research and development, he noted….On average, each American consumes more than 72 pounds of tomato products a year, according to the USDA.  Tomatoes are a $2 billion market in the United States.” (MedlinePlus)
  • Fewer Medicare patients being ‘admitted’ to hospitals: study “Federal government pressure had led to an increasing number of Medicare patients being held for observation instead of being admitted to hospitals, a new study suggests.  Although this push to get hospitals to be careful about admitting seniors as inpatients may reduce costs to Medicare, it can lead to higher out-of-pocket  costs for the patients, according to the researchers from Brown University in Providence, R.I.  ‘The dual trends of increasing hospital observation services and declining inpatient admissions suggest that hospitals and physicians may be substituting observation services for inpatient admissions — perhaps to avoid unfavorable Medicare audits targeting hospital admissions,’ the study’s first author, Zhanlian Feng, assistant professor of health services, policy and practice at Brown, said in a university news release.  The researchers analyzed the records of 29 million Medicare beneficiaries aged 65 and older in 2007, 2008 and 2009, and found that the proportion of those being held for observation increased 34 percent over those three years….and, the number of patients held for observation longer than 72 hours increased from less than 24,000 in 2007 to nearly 45,000 in 2009, according to the study published in the June issue of the journal Health Affairs.  Although a patient’s experience of being held for observation, especially for days, may seem exactly the same as being admitted to the hospital, the difference is apparent when it comes time to pay the bill, the researchers noted.  Patients held for observation are classified as outpatients and, under Medicare rules, outpatients may face higher co-payments for in-hospital services and won’t be covered for subsequent care in skilled nursing facilities.” (HealthDay)
  • Disney to curtail junk food ads aimed at kids: “A new strict set of nutritional standards is being introduced for all products advertised on the Walt Disney Company’s child-focused television channels, radio stations and websites.  The company said its new advertising standards largely follow recommendations proposed last year by federal regulators, The New York Times reported Tuesday.  Under the new rules, a wide range of fast foods, sugared cereal, candy, drinks and other products will no longer be acceptable advertising material for Disney.  In addition to the new advertising standards, Disney will reduce by 25 percent the amount of sodium in the 12 million children’s meals served each year at its theme parks.  The company also plans public service announcements encouraging exercise and healthy eating for children, the Times reported.  According to USA Today, by 2015, all foods and beverages advertised, promoted or sponsored on the Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney, and Saturday morning programming for children on ABC-owned stations will have to meet the new guidelines for limiting calories and reducing saturated fat, sodium and sugar.  The Walt Disney Co. owns the ABC network.”  This follows the move by New York  City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg to ban all sales of large sugary beverages, apparently in a move to combat rising rates of obesity. (
  • Prince Philip: Bladder infection ‘common’ in elderly men: “In the middle of the Diamond Jubliee celebration marking the 60-year reign of England’s Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip — the Queen’s husband — was hospitalized for a bladder infection.  The nearly 91-year-old prince, who holds the title of the Duke of Edinburgh, was taken by ambulance to King Edward VII Hospital in London on Monday as a precaution, according to a brief statement on the British monarchy’s official website.  In an interview, Elizabeth Kavaler, MD,  a urologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said a bladder infection is relatively common in elderly men, who often have difficulty emptying the bladder related to prostate enlargement, which gives the bacteria more chance to reproduce.  If diagnosed in an outpatient setting, bladder infections are typically treated with quinolones, which have ‘very high penetration of antibiotic into the kidneys and the bladder so that we can hit the infection really quickly,’ Kavaler said.  But if the infection isn’t detected soon enough, the patient is typically admitted to the hospital, for a course of IV antibiotics and hydration and maintain electrolytes and nutrition.  ‘Our threshold for admitting somebody in their 90s is very low,’ Kavaler said.  ‘Any question, we admit them because they’re fragile and can wind up septic very quickly’.  Older individuals are more likely to require a hospital stay than their younger counterparts because the initial symptoms — including pain and frequent urinating —  can be less obvious, she said, allowing the infection more time to establish itself….Prince Philip is expected to spend a few days at the hospital for observation…doctors will be looking for signs of sepsis, making sure the infection hasn’t spread to the kidneys and remains in the lower urinary tract, and ensuring that the bladder is emptying completely….Kavaler said the prince’s prognosis is very good, although full recovery may take weeks….’It’s great to get to 90,’ she said, ‘But it’s tough because everything hits hard, even a cold.  Really, it’s debilitating for somebody at his stage in life’.” (Todd Neale, MedPage Today)

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