Health Highlights: March 9, 2011

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

More Discharged Hospital Patients Require Home Care: U.S. Report

From 1997 to 2008, the number of U.S. patients who required home health care after being released from hospital increased about 70 percent, from 2.3 million to four million, according to a federal government report released Wednesday.

During the same time, the number of discharged hospital patients who did not require home care grew by less than 8 percent, from 27 million to 29 million, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Among the other findings from the analysis of data from 1997-2008:

  • There was a 35 percent rise in the number of hospital patients discharged to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, from 3.7 million to 5 million.
  • The number of patients who left the hospital against medical advice rose 40 percent, from 264,000 to 370,000.
  • There was a 4 percent increase in the number of patients transferred from one hospital to another hospital, from 846,000 to 878,000.
  • The number of patients who died in the hospital decreased 5 percent, from 852,000 to 811,000.


Hawaii Happiest State: Survey

Hawaii is the happiest state, while West Virginia is the most glum, according to a new U.S. telephone survey of 352,840 people ages 18 and older.

The national poll, conducted between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31, 2010, found that 10 southern states were in the lower range of happiness, while five western states were among the top 10 happiest, Fox News reported.

The Gallup-Healthways Well-Being survey focused on six categories of well-being: life evaluation; emotional health; work environment; physical health; healthy behavior; and basic access (access to health care, a doctor, safe places to exercise and walk, and community satisfaction).

The top five happiest states were: Hawaii, Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska and Colorado. The five least happy states were West Virginia, Kentucky, Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama, Fox News reported.


Use of Pregnancy Hormone in Diet Program Causes Concern

U.S. health officials and some experts are concerned about the popularity of a weight-loss regimen that combines daily injections of the pregnancy hormone hCG and a near starvation diet.

Patients, mainly women, pay upward of $1,000 a month for a consultation, a supply of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) and the syringes needed to inject the hormone, but there is little evidence that the regimen is effective, The New York Times reported.

Many patients are told that the hCG will induce their bodies to eliminate fat from areas such as the upper arms, bellies and thighs. They’re also told the hormone will prevent them from feeling hungry or tired despite their low calorie intake.

The promotion of hCG as a diet tool is “manipulating people to give them the sense that they’re receiving something that’s powerful and potent and effective, and in fact, they’re receiving something that’s nothing better than a placebo,” Dr. Pieter Cohen, a weight-loss supplement researcher and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, told The Times.

Homeopathic forms of hCG, such as lozenges and sprays, that are sold over the Internet and some health food stores are fraudulent and illegal if they claim to promote weight-loss, says the Food and Drug Administration.

The injectable, prescription form of hCG is approved as a treatment for infertility and other uses, and it is legal for doctors to prescribe it “off-label” for weight loss, The Times reported.

However, hCG packaging must carry a warning that it has not been shown to increase weight loss, does not cause a more “attractive” distribution of fat, and does not “decrease hunger and discomfort” from low-calorie diets.

In addition, the hormone carries risks of blood clots, depression, headaches and breast tenderness or enlargement, FDA spokesman Christopher Kelly told The Times.