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Personal Health: News and Notes

Eating bacon, sausage, and lunch meats is risky business

Most dietary guidelines recommend eating less meat, but a new analysis by Harvard University researchers says the type of meat is what matters.

The researchers reviewed 20 nutrition studies that followed more than 1.2 million people from 10 countries. People who ate a daily serving of processed meat such as bacon, sausage, and lunch meats boosted their risk of heart disease by 42 percent, and of diabetes by 19 percent.

In contrast, people who ate unprocessed beef, lamb, and pork had no added risk.

The harmful effects of processed meats may be related to high levels of salt and nitrate preservatives, rather than fats, the researchers speculated. They found processed and unprocessed meats in the United States had similar amounts of saturated fat and cholesterol.

The study, published last week on the website of the journal Circulation, concluded that having a single serving of processed meat per week "would be associated with relatively small risk." So keep track of those BLTs. - Marie McCullough

Uninsured get less care in ICUs, die more often, Penn study finds

Americans without insurance tend to wait longer before seeking care and often rely on hospital emergency rooms for routine care.

But uninsured patients in hospital intensive-care units get less aggressive care and die more often than patients with private insurance or Medicaid, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Michigan.

The researchers used billing data to examine 116,995 patients under 65 who came to Pennsylvania ICUs over a two-year period. Those without insurance were 21 percent more likely to die than patients with private insurance, the researchers found.

The findings were presented at the American Thoracic Society International Conference in New Orleans last week.

"We found that even when admitted to the same hospitals, and controlling for other differences between patients, critically ill individuals without insurance are less likely to survive than those with private or Medicaid insurance," said Penn's Sarah M. Lyon, the study's lead author. - Josh Goldstein

Study suggests pesticides linked to ADD in children

A new analysis of U.S. health data links children's attention-deficit disorder with exposure to common pesticides on fruits and vegetables.

While the study couldn't prove that pesticides contribute to childhood learning problems, experts said the research is persuasive.

"I would take it quite seriously," said Virginia Rauh of Columbia University, who has studied prenatal exposure to pesticides and wasn't involved in the new study. More research will be needed to confirm the tie, she said.

In the body, pesticides break down into compounds that can be measured in urine. Such compounds turned up in the urine of 94 percent of the children. The kids with higher levels had increased chances of having ADHD, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, a common problem that causes students to have trouble in school.

The children may have eaten food treated with pesticides, breathed it, or swallowed it in their drinking water. The study, published last week in Pediatrics, didn't determine how they were exposed. People can limit their exposure by eating organic produce, said lead author Maryse Bouchard of the University of Montreal. - Associated Press

Philadelphians to participate in test of antismoking vaccine

If you're still hopelessly addicted to cigarettes and you failed with the patch and the gum, new hope is just over the horizon. Scientists at Nabi Biopharmaceuticals of Rockville, Md., have created a vaccine, called NicVAX, that they hope will make people immune to the pleasures of nicotine.

If it passes a clinical trial, the researchers hope to have it ready to market by 2012. The vaccine actually stimulates the immune system to create antibodies that attack nicotine, binding with it and preventing it from getting into the brain.

Each dose is supposed to last for several months.

A clinical trial involving more than 1,000 patients will test the vaccine against a placebo. One arm of that trial will be in Philadelphia. Participants will get several shots over the course of a year. The trial is for people between 18 and 65 who smoke at least 10 cigarettes a day and want to quit.

"Using a vaccine to treat nicotine dependence is one of the most unique approaches to battling addiction," said Jonathan Henry, a Michigan State University psychiatrist who is leading the clinical trial in Michigan. "We are very hopeful this strategy will help smokers kick the habit."

- Faye Flam