Health Highlights: Jan. 26, 2012

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

High Heels Affect Biomechanics: Study

Wearing high heels affects a woman’s biomechanics, a new study finds.

Australian researchers compared women who wore high heels for at least 40 hours a week and a control group women who rarely, if ever, wore high heels. The women who wore high heels walked differently than those who wore flats, even when the heel wearers went barefoot, The New York Times reported.

As a result of the heel wearers’ perpetual flexed, toes-pointed position while walking with or without heels, the fibers in their calf muscles had shortened and they put much greater mechanical strain on their calf muscles, said the study published last week in The Journal of Applied Physiology.

Among women in the control group, walking primarily involved stretching and stressing their tendons, The Times reported.

By stretching and straining their already shortened calf muscles, the heel wearers walk less efficiently when wearing heels or not, requiring them to use more energy and probably leading to muscle fatigue, the researchers said.


Fake News Sites for Acai Berry Pills Shut Down by FTC

Six online marketers accused of using fake news websites to convince consumers to buy acai berry weight-loss products have reached settlements with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC accused the marketers of creating websites that falsely appeared to be part of legitimate news organizations. For example, the sites presenting a reporters’ “first-hand experience” with acai berry supplements and featured investigative-sounding headlines, CBS News reported.

The FTC went to court in April to seek temporary restraining orders against the six marketers, all of which have since taken down their sites promoting the acai berry pills.

Under the agreements with the FTC, the marketers will pay about $500,000 to the commission. They are barred from making deceptive claims and must make clear that their messages are advertisements and not objective journalism, CBS News reported.


Groups Urge Obama to Keep Health Plan Summaries Rule

Consumer and health groups are rallying to save a popular provision of the U.S. health care overhaul.

At issue is the requirement that health plans provide simple, standard summaries of coverage and costs to help consumers choose the benefits that best suit them, the Associated Press reported.

Consumer advocates fear the White House may bow to industry complaints that the regulation is too costly, intrusive and burdensome. The provision, due to take effect this year, is currently undergoing final review by the White House.

This week, the American Diabetes Association, the American Cancer Society, the American Heart Association, AARP, and Consumers Union wrote President Barack Obama urging him not to weaken the requirement, the AP reported.


Hospital Stays for C. difficile Level Off After Huge Increase

U.S. hospital stays involving Clostridium difficile infections increased 300 percent between 1993 and 2008 but leveled off between 2008 and 2009, a federal government study says.

There number of hospital stays involving C. difficile rose from 86,000 in 1993 to 349,000 in 2008, and then fell slightly to 337,000 in 2009, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

C. difficile is a type of bacteria that can cause severe diarrhea, colitis and even death.

Among all hospitalized patients with C. difficile in 2009:

  • Patients age 85 and older were at highest risk, with hospital stays of 1,089 per 100,000 people. That rate was more than double the next highest rate, for those ages 65-84, at 465 stays per 100,000.
  • More than 9 percent of hospital stays involving C. difficile ended in death, compared with less than 2 percent for all other hospital stays.
  • The average hospital stay for patients with C. difficile was 13 days, compared with less than 5 days for other patients.


Founder of French Breast Implant Company Arrested

The founder of a breast implant company that used substandard silicone in the implants was arrested Thursday by French police.

A judge ordered the arrest of Jean-Claude Mas in connection with a manslaughter investigation by prosecutors in the city of Marseille. He could be held in custody for up to 48 hours, Agence France-Presse reported.

Police also arrested Claude Couty, another former executive of the PIP breast implant company. It was shut down and its products banned in 2010 after it was discovered that the company had used industrial-grade silicone in its implants, which have abnormally high rupture rates.

French health officials have advised 30,000 women in the country with PIP implants to have them removed. Between 400,000 and 500,000 women worldwide are believed to have received PIP implants, AFP reported.


No Obvious Medical Explanation for Mysterious Skin Disease: CDC

There is no obvious medical explanation for a mysterious skin disease whose sufferers report a crawling sensation under or on their skin and fibers emerging from the skin, says a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.

The study was launched because of intense public interest in Morgellons, as the controversial condition is called by some, beginning in 2002. Researchers analyzed data from 3.2 million people in California and identified 115 patients with symptoms of the condition, USA Today reported.

While 70 percent of sufferers reported fibers or other materials emerging from their skin, the researchers found no evidence of that.

The findings, published this week in the journal PLoS One, reveal that the condition is rare and that it is neither contagious or environmentally based, Mark Eberhard, director of CDC’s Division of Parasitic Diseases, told USA Today.


Experts Call for More Research on Risks of Nanomaterials

Not enough is known about the potential health and environmental risks of nanomaterials and further study is required, says a report released Wednesday by an expert panel of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.

Nanomaterials are tiny substances that have been introduced into the marketplace over the last decade in products such as paint, clothing and cosmetics. The nanotechnology market is expected to grow rapidly in the next decade, The New York Times reported.

The panel said that “critical gaps” in understanding about nanomaterials have been identified but “have not been addressed with needed research.”

They recommended a four-part research effort to find ways to learn more about the potential health and environmental effects of nanomaterials, The Times reported.