Health Buzz: Fast Food Chains Should Offer Free Statins, Researchers Say

Decoding food labels to shop like a pro; what makes a 'best' heart hospital?

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Fast-Food Chains Should Offer Free Statins, Researchers Say

Would you like a statin with your fries? Fast-food joints should distribute for free the cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins, taken by 24 million Americans to prevent heart disease and strokes, to offset the effects of a fatty meal, a new study suggests. The researchers, at Imperial College London, concluded that the cardiovascular toll of a daily meal consisting of a Quarter Pounder with cheese and a small milkshake would be neutralized by a statin pill served as a side order. The findings of the clinical trial, which involved 43,000 participants, will be published Sunday in the American Journal of Cardiology. "In terms of your likelihood of having a heart attack, taking a statin can reduce your risk to more or less the same degree as a fast-food meal increases it," lead researcher Darrel Francis told reporters. And providing the pills would cost less than 7 cents per customer, about the same as a packet of ketchup. A fast-food statin may not be enough, however. The British Heart Foundation, stressing that the drugs are not a "magic bullet," recommends exercise and a healthy diet as the best bet for staving off heart problems, Reuters reports.

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  • How to Decode Food Labels and Shop Like a Pro

    Food labels can be confusing, even for seasoned shoppers. Does "trans fat-free" mean guilt-free? Is "organic" more healthful? Not always, says Bonnie Taub-Dix, nutrition expert and author of the upcoming book Read It Before You Eat It: How to Decode Food Labels and Make the Healthiest Choice Every Time. She's created a guide that breaks down label lingo and shows how to detect misleading enticements, U.S. News's Hanna Dubansky writes. Among the terms the book cautions to be wary of:

    Serving Size. Isn't a small package of cookies or a can of soup a single serving? No, says Taub-Dix—one serving is whatever the numbers on the label say it is. "You have to multiply the fat and calories by the number of servings listed on the label." That can of soup showing 800 milligrams of sodium? Check the label. With the blessing of the Food and Drug Administration, the manufacturer defines the amount as two servings. Mistaking it for a single serving will have you downing 1,600 milligrams of sodium, higher than the American Heart Association's recommended maximum of 1,500 milligrams for an entire day. She also wishes serving sizes reflected the manner in which people eat. Take cereal, for example. "The serving size is one ounce, which is good information," says Taub-Dix. "But what does one ounce mean?" A one-ounce serving of Grape-Nuts is 3 tablespoons; an ounce of Cheerios fills one cup. Unless you're measuring out cereal on a scale, she says, it's hard to visualize what an ounce of cereal looks like. [Read more: How to Decode Food Labels and Shop Like a Pro.]

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    • What Makes a 'Best' Heart Hospital?

      If you needed a good hospital for especially high-quality heart-related care, what would you do? Would you go wherever your doctor sends you, figuring she knows best? That's what most people do, writes Avery Comarow, U.S. News's health rankings editor. But your doctor might not know best. Patients with challenging heart problems are routinely referred to hospitals with limited experience in dealing with them—situations like diagnosing and treating a rare heart rhythm, or inserting a stent in a tortuous coronary artery, or replacing a dangerously leaky aortic valve. By contrast, patients with thorny problems are not at all uncommon at the heart and heart surgery centers ranked in the latest edition of Best Hospitals, released last month by U.S. News & World Report. The bigger the problem, the more urgent the need to seek out a hospital like those in the rankings. One or more is likely to be within a short flight or a reasonable drive. The 50 heart hospitals in the latest heart rankings are scattered across 24 states and the District of Columbia, and the top 10, are in nine different pockets of the country.