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Am Fam Physician. 2005;71(4):659

More lives are lost to racial disparity in medical care than are saved by medical technological advances, according to a study recently published in the American Journal of Public Health. The study estimates that while 176,633 lives were saved between 1991 and 2000 as a result of technology advances, whites were much more likely than blacks to be given the new treatments. The study estimates that 886,202 deaths could have been avoided in that time if the causes of mortality in blacks had been more completely addressed. The study suggests that eliminating racial disparities would save five lives for every one life saved by improved technology.

Physicians have known for years that reducing exposure to lead has huge health benefits, but results from a longitudinal study published in JAMA show that reduced exposure to this metal may also decrease a person’s chance of getting cataracts. The study included 122 men older than 60 years who had cataracts. After adjusting for smoking, diabetes, and vitamin intake, the researchers found that higher patellar lead levels (an indicator of long-term lead exposure) are a significant predictor of cataracts. The good news: researchers found no association between cataracts and blood lead levels, implying that long-term exposure is necessary before the risk for cataracts increases.

Americans are packing their medicine cabinets with more and more prescriptions to manage a long list of symptoms, from headache and arthritis pain to depression and high blood pressure. The Wall Street Journal reports that, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s annual report, 44 percent of Americans take at least one pill per day, and 17 percent rely on at least three pills every day. Nearly one half of women are taking prescription drugs, compared with 39 percent of men. Although the percentage of prescription drug usage increases with age, 35 percent of 18- to 44-year-olds are taking prescription drugs. Experts say that growth in third-party drug insurance coverage, direct-to-patient marketing, and an increase in new drug availability have contributed to the boom in prescription drug use.

A new camera device is making diagnostic screening even easier to swallow, according to a recent USA Today report. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the PillCam ESO, an esophagus-screening tool that is less invasive than endoscopy. Although the pill requires no sedation or recovery time, experts say the device will not replace endoscopy, which does require sedation and hours of recovery. Instead, the device warns of possible serious conditions that require closer scrutiny with endoscopy. During the 20-minute procedure, the patient swallows the vitamin-sized camera, which transmits 2,600 color pictures for the doctor to review. The camera passes naturally within 24 hours of the procedure.

Everyone knows that dieting is easier with moral support, but can you get that support from your dog? recently reported that a 12-month study undertaken by Northwestern Memorial Hospital and Hill’s Pet Nutrition showed that both people and their pets lose weight when they go on a combined diet plan. Researchers gave the pets low-fat dog food and put them on an exercise plan. They provided the dog owners with meal plans and directed them to increase their physical activity. The humans in the study lost an average of 11 pounds, while the dogs lost an amazing average of 12 pounds (approximately 15.6 percent of their initial body weight) over 12 months. With over 60 percent of adult Americans and 25 percent of household pets being overweight, researchers say that a combined diet and exercise plan could be the answer for everyone.

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