Health Highlights: Jan. 23, 2014

Health Highlights: Jan. 23, 2014

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

States Consider Labels for Genetically Modified Foods

A number of states are considering laws requiring labels on food products that contain genetically modified ingredients. The states are weighing such action because there is no federal regulation.

Currently, only Connecticut and Maine have such laws, but they won't take effect until other states implement their own rules. Bills to require labels on genetically modified foods are expected in more than two dozen states, the Associated Press reported.

One of those states is Rhode Island.

"I don't know if it's harmful or unhealthy, but it's something people have a right to know about," said Rhode Island state Rep. Dennis Canario, a Democrat sponsoring a labeling bill, the AP reported. "They put calories on a package. They put the fat content. If the ingredients have been genetically altered, shouldn't that be listed on there somewhere?"

In the past two years, voters in California and Washington rejected ballot proposals that would have required labels on genetically modified foods. On Wednesday, New Hampshire lawmakers defeated such a bill.

"If you believe genetic modification produces food that has a health risk, then you're saying the FDA should be the one to label it," said state Rep. Linda Lauer, a Democrat and a retired chemist, the AP reported. "And if there's no health risk, then why are you requiring a label?"

Seventy percent of processed foods contain at least one ingredient made or derived from genetically modified crops, according to the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest, while the Grocery Manufacturers Association says it's between 70 and 80 percent.

Researchers have found no evidence that genetically-modified foods are more harmful than those without genetic modifications, but proponents of labeling laws say consumers have a right to be informed, the AP reported.

Groups on both sides of the issue want a federal standard on how genetically modified foods are labeled. The Food and Drug Administration now allows food producers to voluntarily label their items as genetically engineered or not.

A number of nations, including the members of the European Union, have labeling laws for genetically modified foods and it's likely that pressure from states acting on their own will force the U.S. government to implement labeling requirements, according to Scott Faber, executive director of the pro-labeling organization Just Label It.

"Clearly the FDA has the authority to require labeling, but the states are leading the way," Faber told the AP. "Ultimately, once a number of states act, the federal government will too."

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Slight Decrease in Uninsured Rate: Survey

There has been a slight drop in the number of Americans without health insurance since major coverage expansion under the Affordable Care Act took effect, a new survey finds.

The uninsured rate for adults fell by 1.2 percent in January, to 16.1 percent, according to the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index based on interviews with more than 9,000 people. This means that about 2 million to 3 million people are newly insured, the Associated Press reported.

The 6.7 percent decline in the uninsured rate among unemployed people was the largest, followed by a 2.6 percent decrease among nonwhites. Both groups tend to be far more likely to be uninsured than the U.S. population as a whole.

There was a 1.9 percent drop among women and a 0.6 percent decrease among men. When examined by income, people making $36,000 to $89,999 had the largest decline, at 1.8 percent.

There was little change in the uninsured rate among young adults ages 18-34, who have shown low levels of interest in signing up. The survey also found that Medicare sign-ups are rising, the AP reported.

Major parts of the health care law took effect at the start of the year, meaning that nearly everyone now has to have health insurance or risk fines, and that insurers can't refuse coverage to people with health problems. Middle-class households are being offered taxpayer-subsidized insurance through new state-based markets.

These are early findings and it could take up three months to determine if the decline in the uninsured rate is an actual trend, according to Frank Newport, Gallup's editor in chief. He added that an improving economy and other factors could be behind the fall in the number of uninsured people, the AP reported.

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Pet Treats Tied to Illness in Dogs Are Returning to Stores

Two leading brands of recalled pet jerky treats associated with hundreds of pet deaths and thousands of illnesses will be soon be back on the shelves of U.S. stores.

Next month, a line of Waggin' Train treats for dogs will be reintroduced by Nestle Purina Pet Care and Del Monte Foods Corp. plans to resume selling Milo's Kitchen Chicken Jerky Strips and Chicken Grillers Recipe treats in March, NBC News reported.

The treats were recalled about a year ago and federal officials have not solved the mystery of how the treats were connected to large numbers of pet deaths and illnesses nationwide.

Since 2007, the Food and Drug Administration has received reports of nearly 600 pets, mostly dogs, dying and 4,500 pets becoming ill after eating chicken, duck and sweet potato products made in China. That number of reports has risen by 900 since October, NBC News reported.

The FDA has issued repeated warnings that consumers should avoid pet jerky treats. The news that the recalled treats will soon be back on store shelves was widely criticized by veterinarians, animal advocates and pet owners.

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Higher Levels of Potential Cancer-Causing Chemical in Pepsi One: Report

Pepsi One has higher levels of a potential cancer-causing chemical than other soft drinks, according to a study released Thursday by Consumer Reports magazine.

Researchers looked at levels of a chemical called 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI), which is found in artificial caramel coloring used in soft drinks. There are no federal limits on the chemical's use, but California requires warning labels on foods or beverages that expose consumers to more than 29 micrograms of 4-MeI a day, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The Consumer Reports study said that 12-ounce cans of the low-calorie soft drink Pepsi One bought in California contained as much as 43.5 micrograms of 4-MeI, and that a nonalcoholic malt beverage called Malta Goya had as much as 352.5 micrograms of the chemical, the Times reported.

In contrast, cans of Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper contained 4.3 micrograms and 10.1 micrograms, respectively, of 4-MeI, the Times said.

A person would have to drink more than 1,000 cans of soda a day to reach the levels of 4-MeI linking the chemical and cancer in rodents, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the newspaper reported.

In 2012, both Coca-Cola Co. and PepsiCo Inc. promised to reduce the amount of 4-MeI in their drinks, the newspaper said.

"We are concerned about both the levels of 4-MeI we found in many of the soft drinks tested and the variations observed among brands, especially given the widespread consumption of these types of beverages," said Urvashi Rangan, a toxicologist and executive director of the Consumer Reports Food Safety and Sustainability Center, the Times reported.

Pepsi disputed the study findings. The soda maker said levels of 4-MeI in its drinks did not equal 29 micrograms a day because "the average amount of diet soda consumed by those who drink it is approximately 100 [milliliters] per day, or less than a third of a 12 [ounce] can," the Times reported. Goya Foods Inc. refused comment, the newspaper said.

Consumer Reports has asked the California attorney general to investigate whether Pepsi One and Malta Goya should have warning labels, the Times reported.

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