Monday, March 23, 2009

Red meat linked to risk of earlier death

Eating red meat increases the chances of dying prematurely, according to a large federal study offering powerful new evidence that a diet that regularly includes steaks, burgers and pork chops is hazardous to your health.

The study of more than 500,000 middle-age and elderly Americans found that those who consumed the equivalent of about a small hamburger every day were more than 30 percent more likely to die in the following 10 years, mostly from heart disease and cancer. Processed meats also increased the risk.

The new study is the first large examination of the relationship between eating meat and overall mortality.

In contrast, routine consumption of fish, chicken, turkey and other poultry decreased the risk of death slightly, the study found.

Although pork often is promoted as "white meat," it is believed to increase the risk for cancer because of its iron content, said Rashmi Sinha of the National Cancer Institute, who led the study published today in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

"This would be the Rolls-Royce of studies on this topic," said Barry Popkin, a professor of global nutrition at the University of North Carolina, who wrote an accompanying editorial.

There are many explanations for how red meat might be unhealthy: Cooking red meat generates cancer-causing compounds; red meat is also high in saturated fat, which has been associated with breast and colorectal cancer; and meat is also high in iron, which also is believed to promote cancer. People who eat red meat are more likely to have high blood pressure and cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease. Processed meats contain substances known as nitrosamines, which have been linked to cancer.

The American Meat Institute, a trade group, dismissed the findings, saying they were based on unreliable self-reporting by study participants.

After accounting for other variables such as smoking and physical activity, the researchers found that men who consumed the most red meat -- about a quarter-pound a day -- were 31 percent more likely to die for any reason, 22 percent more likely to die of cancer and 27 percent more likely to die of heart disease than those who ate the least meat. Women who ate the most red meat were 36 percent more likely to die for any reason, 20 percent more likely to die from cancer and 50 percent more likely to die from heart disease.

The Food and Drug Administration let politics cloud its judgment when it denied teenage girls over-the-counter access to the Plan B morning-after pill, a federal judge said Monday as he ordered the FDA to let 17-year-olds obtain the medication. U.S. District Judge Edward Korman blasted the FDA's handling of the issue during the Bush administration, saying it had "repeatedly and unreasonably" delayed issuing a ruling for suspect reasons.

The ruling came in a lawsuit brought by individuals and organizations advocating for wider distribution and access to emergency contraceptives. The FDA, which said it was still reviewing the decision, has 30 days to comply with the order.


Williams recovering in Ohio after heart surgery

Robin Williams was recovering at the Cleveland Clinic after heart surgery that his doctors deemed successful, his publicists said Monday. The 57-year-old actor had an operation to replace an aortic valve on March 13, publicists Mara Buxbaum and Chris Kanarick said. He was expected to make a complete recovery in the next eight weeks.

"His heart is strong and he will have normal heart function in the coming weeks with no limitations on what he'll be able to do," said Dr. A. Marc Gillinov, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the Cleveland Clinic. "A couple of hours after surgery, he was entertaining the medical team and making us all laugh."

Williams was initially treated at the University of Miami Hospital before being transferred to Cleveland. He had been in Florida earlier this month when he was forced to cancel the remainder of his one-man comedy show, "Weapons of Self-Destruction," after experiencing shortness of breath.

Williams, whose sold-out, multi-city tour is expected to resume in the fall, thanked staff at both hospitals.

"I can't thank them enough for their kindness and dedication while I was in their care," he said in a statement. "I must also thank all the people who have expressed their love and concern for me. I have been deeply touched by their support."

Israel army rides out T-shirt row

Israeli officials have described as "tasteless" and inconsistent with army values a popular military past-time of printing violent cartoons on T-shirts.

An investigation in Haaretz daily says the customised shirts are often ordered when troops finish training courses.

One example shows a pregnant Arab women in the cross-hairs of a sniper's sight with the legend "1 shot 2 kills".

Another design shows a child being similarly targeted with the slogan "the smaller they are, the harder it is".

In both images the people being targeted appear to be carrying weapons. A third T-shirt design shows a dead Palestinian baby and the words "Better use Durex" (condoms).

An army statement said the customised clothing was produced outside military auspices, but it pledged to stamp out the use of such imagery by soldiers.

"The examples presented by the Haaretz reporter are not in accordance with IDF values and are simply tasteless," the military statement said.

"This type of humour is unbecoming and should be condemned."

But it admitted that until now there were no military guidelines governing "acceptable civilian clothing" made by its soldiers.

'Callous attitude'

The Israeli military has faced heavy criticism for causing high levels of civilian casualties during its recent Gaza offensive.

The army frequently says it takes care to avoid civilian casualties and blames Palestinian militants for putting them in harm's way.

Israeli soldier leads away Palestinian suspect in Bethlehem (file picture)
Many Israeli combat troops deal with Palestinians in the occupied territories
A sociologist quoted by Haaretz, Orna Sasson-Levy of Bar-Ilan University, warned the designs could strengthen, stimulate and legitimise aggression towards Palestinians in the occupied territories.

"There is... increasing callousness," she said. "There is a perception that the Palestinian is not a person, a human being entitled to basic rights and therefore anything may be done to him."

The Haaretz investigation discovered numerous T-shirts depicting violence against Palestinians and appearing to celebrate sexual assault.

Other designs appeared to bear witness to officially prohibited practices, such as "confirming the kill" (shooting lifeless enemies' bodies in the head to ensure they are dead), or deliberately harming religious sites and non-combatants.

The shirts are often printed up to mark the end of basic training and other military courses.

'Moral army'

The Tel Aviv clothing firm Adiv, which made many of the shirts, did not comment on the Haaretz report.

It prints up about 500 different patterns for military units each month, Haaretz says, mostly jokes about army life and "a handful reflecting particular aggressiveness, violence and vulgarity".

On Monday, Israel's chief of staff defended his troops against a rising tide of criticism.

"I tell you that this is a moral and ideological army," Lt-Gen Gabi Ashkenazi said in a speech to new recruits.

"I have no doubt that exceptional events will be dealt with. We took every measure possible to reduce harm to the innocent [in Gaza]."

The Haaretz report says the T-shirts tend to be worn strictly in private or in barracks because of adverse civilian reactions and are seen by army psychologists as an expression of bonding within a small, tight-knit unit.

Last week several soldiers were quoted anonymously in the media saying troops had killed Palestinians, including women and children, by hastily opening fire under relaxed rules of engagement in Gaza.

Geithner urges overhaul of financial regulations

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says the severe banking crisis shows the U.S. financial system failed a major test and is in need of an overhaul.

Geithner told a Washington conference Monday night that the Obama administration plans to work with Congress to put in place a stronger, more stable system.

He said it is important to get it right because the world is watching to see whether the country can correct the flaws that have been exposed.

Geithner will appear before Congress on Tuesday and Thursday to unveil the administration's proposals to reform and modernize financial regulation.