Health Highlights: April 15, 2010

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

Arthritis Hits Minorities Hardest: Study

Black and Hispanic Americans suffer more arthritis-related pain and physical limitations than whites, says a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released Thursday.

Compared to whites, Hispanics were 46 percent less likely to report having arthritis, and blacks were 17 percent less likely to report the condition. However, Hispanics and blacks with arthritis were nearly twice as likely as whites to report that arthritis caused severe joint pain and work limitations.

The study is published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

The reasons for the racial/ethnic differences aren’t clear, but may stem from language barriers, cultural differences and less access to health care, the researchers suggested.

“We must address these stark differences in arthritis impact by using
what we know,” study co-author Jennifer Hootman, an epidemiologist for the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, said in an agency news release. “We can educate those with arthritis about
increasing physical activity and self-management and reducing obesity,
especially those in groups bearing a disproportionate burden from

Arthritis affects one in five adults in the United States and is the leading cause of disability in the country.


Opposition to New Health Law Increases: Poll

About 50 percent of Americans oppose the new health care law, 39 percent support it and 10 percent are neutral, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

Before Congress passed the bill and President Barack Obama signed it, public opinion was about evenly split.

But only 28 percent of respondents in the new poll said they understand the health care reform law extremely well or very well, the AP reported.

Opposition to the law is strongest among seniors — 49 percent are strongly against it, compared with 37 percent of those 64 and younger. Many seniors worry that their care will be affected by Medicare cuts to insurers, hospitals and other health providers.

The level of concern over such a significant piece of social legislation is unusual, according to experts.

“The surprise of this poll is that you would expect people to be more supportive of the bill now that it’s the law of the land — and that’s not the case,” Robert Blendon, a professor in the Harvard University School of Public Health, told the AP.


HHS Preparing Action Plan on Health Care Racial Disparities

The Obama administration is developing an action plan to reduce racial health care disparities, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said Wednesday in an address at the National Action Network convention in New York City.

She said the gap in health services between white and minority communities has been documented by the HHS for 25 years, but this will be the first action plan to address the issue, the Associated Press reported.

Sebelius noted that one in five blacks and one in three Hispanics in the United States lack health insurance.

The secretary also said the HHS plans to address childhood obesity and put more emphasis on disseminating health care information through social networking, the AP reported.


Three-Person IVF Could Reduce Genetic Disorders

English scientists who created embryos containing DNA from a man and two women say this research may help mothers with genetic mitochondrial disorders have healthy children.

The Newcastle University team said the procedure may help prevent damaged DNA in mitochondria (the energy source in a cell) from passing from mothers to their children, BBC News reported.

The new technique may eventually enable replacement of defective mitochondria during in-vitro fertilization, the scientists said.

The research is published in the journal Nature.

About one in 200 children is born with mutations in their mitochondrial DNA, but most of them experience mild or no symptoms. However, about one in 6,500 children has mitochondrial disease, which can cause serious and often fatal problems such as muscular weakness, blindness, and heart failure, BBC News reported.


States Consider Increased Role for Nurse Practitioners

Twenty-eight states are considering giving nurse practitioners expanded powers as a way of dealing with an impending shortage of primary care doctors.

Nurse practitioners are seeking the right to prescribe narcotics and to practice without having a doctor looking over their shoulder, the Associated Press reported.

But many doctors oppose the idea of boosting the authority of nurse practitioners, and the American Medical Association argues that a doctor shortage doesn’t justify putting nurses in charge and endangering patients.

Nurse practitioners counter that they’re highly trained and as skilled as doctors at diagnosing patients during office visits, spend more time with patients, and charge less than doctors, the AP reported.

In recent years, nurse practitioners have assumed a bigger role in U.S. health care, especially in areas with doctor shortages.