Health Highlights: March 21, 2018

By on March 21, 2018

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

NIH Investigating Alcohol Companies’ Funding of Study

An investigation has been launched into meetings between the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism staff and alcohol companies to discuss funding a study to assess the benefits of moderate drinking.

The National Institutes of Health will determine if NIAAA staff violated federal policy against soliciting donations, and a panel of outside experts will review the design and scientific methodology of the 10-year government study that has already started, NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins said Tuesday, The New York Times reported.

The NIAAA is part of the NIH. Five large beer and liquor makers promised to provide $67.7 million of the $100 million cost of the study, and their donations are being made through the Foundation for the NIH.

The companies are: Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken, Carlsberg, Diageo and Pernod Ricard.

The NIH announcement comes a few days after The Times revealed that NIAAA scientists and officials met with alcohol industry groups several times in 2013 and 2014.

“I believe the scientific goals of the Moderate Alcohol and Cardiovascular Health Trial are worth pursuing,” and a number of measures are in place to ensure the integrity of the study, Collins said in a statement, The Times reported.

However, he added that he was “concerned” about the meetings between the NIAAA staff and alcohol companies before the Foundation for the NIH became involved. The foundation is a nongovernmental foundation authorized to raise private money for research.

“While N.I.H. officials and scientists routinely discuss and present information on proposed collaborations with outside scientists and other members of the public, NIH policy prohibits employees from soliciting donations of funds or other resources to the NIH or any of its components,” Collins said, the Times reported.

Some observational studies have suggested that moderate drinking may offer some health benefits, including reducing the risk of heart disease. The new study is the first large, long-term randomized clinical trial to investigate if moderate drinking can reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke, and also type 2 diabetes and mental decline.

The trial seeks to recruit 7,800 people worldwide. Half will be told to avoid alcohol while the other half will be told to have one serving of any type of alcohol a day. The health of the participants will be tracked for an average of six years, The Times reported.


U.S. Judge Blocks Mississippi’s New Abortion Law

One day after Mississippi adopted the most restrictive abortion law in the United States, a federal judge on Tuesday temporarily blocked the legislation that bans most abortions after 15 weeks’ gestation.

The state’s only abortion clinic sued six hours after Republican Gov. Phil Bryant signed the law, the Associated Press reported.

The Jackson Women’s Health Organization sought an immediate halt to the law, telling U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves that a woman who is 15 weeks or more pregnant was scheduled to have an abortion Tuesday afternoon.

The new law and the legal challenge set up a confrontation sought by abortion opponents, who hope federal courts will ultimately ban abortions before a fetus is viable. Current federal law does not, the AP reported.

Some legal experts say a change in the law is unlikely unless the makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court is altered to favor abortion opponents, the news service said.

“We certainly think this bill is unconstitutional,” Katherine Klein, equality advocacy coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi, told the AP. “The 15-week marker has no bearing in science. It’s just completely unfounded and a court has never upheld anything under the 20-week viability marker.”

In 2017, the Mississippi clinic performed 78 abortions involving a fetus 15 weeks or older. A total of about 2,500 abortions were performed statewide, mostly at the clinic, the AP reported.

The contested Mississippi law considers pregnancy to begin on the first day of a woman’s previous menstrual period, meaning the abortion time limit begins two weeks before states whose abortion limits begin at conception.

North Carolina, which has an abortion limit of 20 weeks, is the only other state that has the same definition of the start of pregnancy as Mississippi.

The only exceptions to the new Mississippi law are if a fetus has health problems making it “incompatible with life” outside of the womb at full term, or pregnancy threatens a woman’s life or a “major bodily function.” There is no exemption for pregnancies resulting from rape and incest.

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