Health & Medicine
Plump and Precocious
Add one more to the growing list of concerns about too-heavy children: Researchers now find that overweight girls begin puberty about a year ahead of schedule. A study published last week in Pediatrics found that by age 9, about 80 percent of obese girls had begun to develop breasts, compared with 58 percent of those who were overweight and 40 percent of those who were within the normal weight range. Those whose body mass index increased most rapidly over time were far more likely to have gotten a period by age 11. The finding is particularly troubling given that the number of overweight children in the United States has doubled in the past two decades, and early menstruation is a risk factor for breast cancer. What's clear, says study leader Joyce Lee, assistant professor of pediatric endocrinology at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, is that parents need to focus early on their daughters' diet and exercise habits.
To Scan or Not? Good Question
It seems like a no-brainer: Use a computed tomography scan to screen heavy or once heavy smokers for early lung cancer so as to intervene before it becomes life threatening. Last fall, a study suggested that the practice would save lives. But not so fast. A study in last week's Journal of the American Medical Association found that CT screening did indeed pick up many cancers in very early stages-and resulted in 10 times the number of surgeries typical in a similar population-but that it didn't actually seem to cut the number of deaths from the disease. One possible explanation: Many of the early tumors might never have progressed to a deadly form. Until larger and more rigorous studies explain the divergent results, says Len Lichtenfeld, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, anyone considering a CT scan should discuss the matter carefully with his or her doctor.- Katherine Hobson
Medication Goofs in the Surgery Suite
Going under the knife is scary enough. Now surgery patients have a new reason to worry. A study of medication mix-ups in the hospital released last week found that 5 percent of patients prepping for, undergoing, or recovering from an operation experienced drug errors that resulted in mental or physical impairment, pain, or death, compared with just 1.6 percent of all hospital patients. Kids in for surgery fared the worst, with a 12 percent error rate. Antibiotics and painkillers were the most commonly misused drugs, according to the research by U.S. Pharmacopeia, which sets drug quality standards. Typically, the meds were given at the wrong dose or the wrong time or were omitted altogether. To avoid becoming a drug error statistic, bring a complete list of your medications to the hospital, inform surgical staff of any allergies, and make sure your medical chart travels with you to the operating room and back.- Michelle Andrews
It's Probably Safe to Make a Call
At restaurants and the movies, it's a question of courtesy; on airplanes and at hospitals, it's been one of safety. But a new study published in the current Mayo Clinic Proceedings finds that using a cellphone at the hospital won't pose a risk to patients. Two types of Nokia phones were tested at varying frequencies in such equipment-rich areas as the intensive care unit and echocardiography lab, where patients were depending on feeding pumps, ECG monitors, and external pacemakers, for example. In 300 tests, researchers found no evidence that cellphones interfered with the life-saving machinery. (Two areas not tested: the operating room and the pediatric intensive care unit.) Lead author David Hayes thinks it's safe for hospitals to revise their no-use policies-and doctors welcome the news. The technology is a key way for the medical team to stay in contact, says Miguel Gomez, a cardiovascular surgeon at Memorial Hermann Memorial City Medical Center in Houston who places many cell calls a day while at work.- Matthew Shulman
This story appears in the March 19, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.