Health Highlights: Jan. 25, 2012

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

Psychiatrists Debate Classifying Grief as Treatable Disorder

Grieving could become a treatable psychiatric disorder if proposed changes to the American Psychiatric Association’s standard diagnostic manual get adopted.

Work on the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, has launched a debate about the definition of depression. The current wording excludes bereavement, which some psychiatrists say hurts people who need help coping with their loss.

The DSM, last revised in 1996, is the major resource for psychiatric professionals and a source of many insurance decisions, affecting millions of people.

“There is the potential for considerable false-positive diagnosis and unnecessary treatment of grief-stricken persons,” said New York researchers on one side of the debate, according to the New York Times.

Dr. Alan Hilfer, chief of psychology at Maimonides Medical Center, New York City, agreed. In a statement, he said that “Grieving is a healthy process. Sometimes we need to treat those who have suffered a loss with sleep aids or other medications, but to make this process a medical condition that would enable large scale prescribing of drugs would be a travesty,” he said.

However, another expert supports the new terminology. “Depression can and does occur in the wake of bereavement, it can be severe and debilitating, and calling it by any other name is doing a disservice to people who may require more careful attention,” Dr. Sidney Zisook, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Diego, told the newspaper.

Currently, to qualify for a diagnosis of depression, five of nine symptoms are needed for at least two weeks. These include loss of concentration, sleeping too much or too little, feelings of worthlessness and recurrent thoughts of suicide.

Other proposed changes to the manual have also stirred controversy. Experts last week argued against a proposal to tighten the autism definition, noting that the change would bar many currently diagnosed with an autistic spectrum disorder from receiving important services.


No Whooping Cough Deaths in California Last Year

For the first time in two decades, there were no whooping cough (pertussis) deaths in California last year, officials announced Tuesday.

Ten babies in the state died of whooping cough in 2010. The last year in which there were no whooping cough deaths in the state was 1991, reported.

The number of whooping cough cases in California also fell by two-thirds, from a high of 9,000 in 2010 to less than 3,000 in 2011.

The decrease in cases and deaths is due to wider availability of vaccines, quicker diagnosis, greater awareness of the disease, and a new law requiring booster shots for middle- and high-school students, said Dr. Gil Chavez, the California Department of Public Health epidemiologist and deputy director for infectious diseases, reported.


Cancer Vaccine Trial Begins

An early-stage clinical trial of an experimental cancer vaccine is being conducted at the Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo.

Reseachers say the vaccine is designed to harness the power of the immune system to kill cancer cells. The vaccine will be made at Roswell in a specially designed production unit that’s been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the Associated Press reported.

To create the vaccine, immune system cells called dendritic cells are taken from the patient’s body, bonded with a protein, and then re-injected into the patient. Patients also receive a compound found to prolong the vaccine’s effectiveness.

The phase 1 study will include about 18 to 20 patients with different types of cancers, the AP reported.


Less Salt, More Grains, Veggies in School Lunches: USDA

School lunches subsidized by the U.S. government will have less salt, more whole grains, and more fruits and vegetables as sides under new guidelines expected to be announced Wednesday.

The new rules are the first major nutritional overhaul of school meals in 15 years. Some of the changes could take place soon as the next school year, while others will be phased in over time. A child nutrition bill signed by President Barack Obama in 2010 would help school districts pay for some of the increased costs, the Associated Press reported.

Due to strong opposition from Republicans and the food industry, the new nutrition rules won’t be as strong as initially proposed by the Obama administration.

First lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack were scheduled to announce the new guidelines at an elementary school in Alexandria, Va.


Studies Show Link Between Brown Fat and Cold and Exercise

A form of brown fat that’s switched on when people are cold sucks fat out of the rest of the body to fuel itself, while another type of brown fat can be created from white fat by exercise, according to two new studies.

The findings suggest that being able to achieve this without making people cold or forcing them to exercise all the time could offer a highly-effective way to lose weight, The New York Times reported.

In one study, researchers found that the metabolic rate of men who were kept chilled increased by 80 percent due to effects of brown fat. On average, the brown fat burned about 250 calories over three hours.

The study was published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

In the other study, researchers conducted experiments with mice and found that exercise causes white fat to turn into brown fat. Exercise causes muscles to release a hormone that converts white fat cells into brown fat cells, which burn extra calories, The Times reported.

The researchers suspect this also occurs in humans.


Insulated Lunch Boxes and Thermal Food Carriers Recalled

About 248,000 expandable insulated lunch boxes with freezer gel packs are being recalled because the gel can leak out of damaged packs and pose a poisoning hazard, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission says.

The lunch boxes were made in China, imported by California Innovations Inc. of Toronto, Canada and sold at Costco Wholesale Clubs, Leon Korol and Cost U Less stores from May 2007 through September 2008, the Associated Press reported.

The gel in the gel packs contains diethylene glycol and ethylene glycol. California Innovations has received two separate reports of dogs chewing the packs and ingesting the gel. One dog died and the other received treatment and recovered.

The CPSC said the recalled lunch boxes have a logo and the words “Ci Sport” on the upper left corner, the AP reported

Concerns about the freezer gel packs have also led to the recall of about 55,000 Travelin’ Chef Expandable thermal food carriers also made in China and imported by California Innovations. They were sold at Walmart from August 2008 through December 2011.

For more information, contact California Innovations at 1-800-722-2545 Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST.