Health Highlights: Aug. 26, 2009

HealthDay SHARE
  • Extreme Obesity Takes Years Off Life: Report
  • Circumcision Won't Shield Gay Men From HIV: Study
  • Herbicide in Drinking Water May Pose Hazard
  • Many Doctors Unfamiliar With Proper 'Off-Label' Use of Drugs: Report

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

Extreme Obesity Takes Years Off Life: Report

People who are extremely obese -- 80 pounds or more heavier than a normal weight -- die three to 12 years sooner than normal-weight individuals. But people who are just overweight or moderately obese tend to live a normal life span, a new study found, according to USA Today.

The finding mirrors earlier research that found that being slightly overweight may have no impact on life expectancy, but being severely overweight can shorten life spans dramatically, the newspaper said.

According to U.S. health officials, an estimated 66 percent of adult Americans are either overweight or obese. About one-third are obese, meaning they have a body mass index (BMI, a ratio of weight to height) or 30 or more. About 6 percent of people are extremely obese, with a BMI of 40 or greater.

The study, done by economists at RTI International, a non-profit research organization in Research Triangle Park, N.C., analyzed national data on 366,000 people.

Study lead author Eric Finkelstein said being moderately overweight may not shorten life spans because there are many effective treatments to manage the health problems often brought on by excess weight, including high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, the newspaper reported.


Circumcision Won't Shield Gay Men From HIV: Study

While circumcision may help protect heterosexual men in Africa from contracting HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, it does not appear effective in doing so for American gay men, according to the largest study yet on the issue.

The finding could affect future recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which is considering advocating the routine circumcision of baby boys, to help cut their odds for HIV infection.

Circumcision "is not considered beneficial" for gay men concerned about lowering their risk of becoming infected with HIV, Dr. Peter Kilmarx of the CDC told the Associated Press. He released the study findings at a conference on Tuesday.

The finding are at odds with some studies conducted in Africa, which have suggested that circumcised males may be less prone to HIV infection during heterosexual sex. But circumcision may not offer the same protection when it comes to anal sex, Kilmarx said.

In the study, the CDC team tracked the HIV infection rate of nearly 4,900 men who had anal sex with an HIV-infected partner. The researchers found an HIV infection rate of 3.5 percent -- whether the men were circumcised or not.

The U.S. government is still devising its recommendations on circumcision, which are expected to be released in 2010, the AP said. Already, more than 80 percent of American males are circumcised, one of the highest rates in the world, and Kilmarx acknowledged that the issue is fraught with cultural and religious meaning. "It's seen by many as more than just a medical procedure," he said.


Herbicide in Drinking Water May Pose Hazard

A common herbicide tied to reproductive disruptions in humans may be occurring at higher levels in U.S. drinking water than is being detected by the Environmental Protection Agency, according to a report issued Monday by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The council claims that the EPA may miss "spikes" in water levels of atrazine, especially in the Midwest and South, where it is applied to a variety of crops. In use since the 1950s, atrazine is a known "endocrine disruptor" and can interfere with the body's hormonal and reproductive development, according to the Washington Post.

The EPA typically checks for atrazine in water at four set times each year -- potentially missing spikes in concentrations that occur after rain or the springtime use of the herbicide, the council said.