Health Updates 31 August 2012

  • GOP outlines post-election healthcare plans: Mitt Romney will completely repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and start a bit-by-bit approach at his own reforms if he’s elected president, his top health policy advisor said here [Tampa, Florida] this week.  While some conservative policymakers agree there are reforms in the ACA worth keeping, a piecemeal approach is a better solution both legislatively and in implementation, Matt Hoffman, senior policy adviser for the Romney campaign, said at a healthcare town hall held at the Republican National Convention.  The ACA was a 2,700-page bill that was jammed through Congress without bipartisan support, Republicans complain.  ‘When you take that approach, all of a sudden things get lost in the mix’, Hoffman said.  Even if Republicans win only a slim majority in the Senate this November, conservative lawmakers could repeal the ACA with Romney in the White House.  Democrats currently hold a 51-47 advantage in the Senate, with 2 independents.  ‘I actually wonder if we couldn’t get a Democratic senator or two who is up for reelection in 2014 to vote with the Republicans on the Senate side and that bill could be ready for Gov. Romney as soon as he comes in from the inauguration,’ said Rep. Mike Burgess, MD (R-Texas) said.  Speaking at the same town hall meeting, Burgess said that the first bill Romney could sign into law would repeal ‘large portions’ of the ACA.  That begs the question which reforms are worth keeping.  Mandates for insurance companies to cover preexisting conditions and keep dependents on plans up to age 26 are some proposals that have gained bipartisan support.  Hoffman said Romney also supports allowing interstate shopping for insurance and caps on medical liability claims.  The Romney campaign is also now championing the transformation of Medicare into a premium-support system, which congressman and vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has proposed.” (David Pittman, MedPage Today)
  • Softer restaurant music, lighting can help cut calories: study “Just as music and lighting can influence what shoppers buy, toning down the tunes and dimming the lights in a fast food restaurant can help diners enjoy their meal more and eat less, according to a US study.  After transforming part of a fast food restaurant in Illinois with milder music and lighting, researchers found that customers ate 18 percent fewer calories than other people in the unmodified part of the restaurant.  ‘When we softened the lights and softened the music in the restaurant it didn’t change what people ordered, but what it did do was lead them to eat less and made them more satisfied and happier,’ said Brian Wansink, a professor of marketing and consumer behavior at Cornell University in New York….Wansink and his co-author…said the bright lights, stimulating colors, sound-reflecting surfaces and loud music in fast food restaurants are not designed to be relaxing.  So they improved the mood in a section of a Hardee’s restaurant for the study, adding plants, paintings, indirect lights, tablecloths, candles and instrumental music.  After seating customers in both the original and restyled sections of the restaurant, they timed how long their meal lasted and how many calories they consumed.  Customers in the modified section ate longer than those in the main dining area, consumed fewer calories and rated the food more enjoyable….’These results suggest that a more relaxed environment increases satisfaction and decreases consumption,’ [Wansink] added….’If softer music and softer lighting seem to get people to eat less in a fast food situation, why not try the same thing at home?’…”. (Reuters Health)
  • Tiny batteries pose growing threat to kids: “As the use of small button batteries has become more widespread to power devices such as toys, watches and hearing aids, more young children have swallowed them, resulting in choking and even deaths, a new US report says.  From 1997 to 2010, as many as 40,000 children under 13 years old have been treated in emergency rooms for ingesting the tiny batteries, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.  ‘This is a problem we have known about because of all the electronic devices people have,’ said Dr. Amanda Porro, a pediatrician at Miami Children’s Hospital, who was not involved with the report.  ‘Parents have to keep these devices away from small children,’ she said, adding that one of the most dangerous consequences of swallowing a button battery is having it become lodged in the child’s esophagus.  ‘The child may just have vague symptoms,’ Porro said.  ‘Unless you have seen the child swallow the battery it’s very hard to diagnose and you have to have an x-ray to see the battery,’ she said.  Porro suggests keeping the batteries locked away from children.  ‘If a parent sees a child swallow a battery, they need to go to the emergency room straight away because within two hours there can be significant damage — it’s a real emergency,’ she said.  This report was published in the Aug. 31 issue of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention‘s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.  Over the years the number of children treated for ingesting batteries has increased 2.5-fold, from 1,900 in 1998 to 4,800 in 2010.  In most cases children were treated and released, but 10 percent were hospitalized, according to the report.  Thirteen children died from ingesting batteries from 2002 to 210, compared with one in 1998.”  The deaths are generally caused by the toxic contents of the batteries leaking into a child’s esophagus, where it had become lodged.  Serious burns can occur in under two hours; fatal bleeding can happen after two weeks.  The cases can be very challenging to diagnose and treat. (HealthDay)
  • Heart attacks, strokes jumped after Japan earthquake, study finds: “A sharp increase in heart attacks, strokes and other heart events followed the devastating earthquake that struck Japan in March 2011, a new study finds.  Researchers examined ambulance records in the Miyagi prefecture — close to the epicenter of the earthquake and where the greatest damage occurred — for the four weeks before the disaster and the 16 weeks after the disaster and for the same weeks in the previous three years.  The analysis showed a sharp increase over previous years in the weekly occurrence of five conditions — heart failure, acute coronary syndrome (including unstable angina and heart attack), stroke, cardiopulmonary arrest and pneumonia — in the 16 weeks after the earthquake.  The significant rise in the incidence of heart failure and pneumonia lasted for more than six weeks after the earthquake.  The upsurges in stroke and cardiopulmonary arrest followed the pattern of seismic activity, including major aftershocks.  The rapid increase in the rates of acute coronary syndromes and cardiopulmonary arrest was followed by a sharp, significant decline….’To the best of our knowledge this is the first report to describe the midterm course of major cardiovascular events and pneumonia after a great earthquake in a large population,’ said Dr. Hiroaki Shimokawa, a cardiologist at Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine in Sendai, in a society news release.  ‘In particular, our findings provide the first evidence that the incidence of heart failure was markedly increased over a long period afterwards’.  The researchers also found that people’s blood pressure was significantly elevated after the earthquake, and that transport disruptions interrupted delivery of medications such as high blood pressure and anti-clotting drugs.  This may have contributed to the increase in heart problems after the disaster.  There was also an increase in heart rhythm problems…in people with implantable cardiac defibrillators.  ‘Taken together, we consider that discontinuation of drugs, activated sympathetic nervous systems, rising blood pressure, and the increased occurrence of tachyarrhythmia and infections were all involved in the increased occurrence of cardiovascular events’ after the earthquake, Shimokawa said.” (NIH/

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