Breastfeeding May Prevent Diabetes in Moms

There's plenty of evidence that breastfeeding makes babies healthier. Now, researchers suggest it may also do the same for mothers, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Researchers from Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital analyzed thousands of mothers who took part in a large nurses' health study. Those who breastfed their babies for one year or longer experienced a 15 percent decreased risk of developing diabetes later in life. For each additional year of breastfeeding, there was an additional 15 percent decrease in risk.

Earlier studies suggested that breastfeeding helped women better metabolize sugar and lose weight. This is the first study to look at breastfeeding and diabetes. Further research is needed to figure out exactly how breastfeeding works to help prevent diabetes. Other studies suggest that breastfeeding may also reduce women's risk of breast and ovarian cancer — and osteoporosis. — Patricia Neighmond

HIV Infection Rates Increase Worldwide

Nov. 21, 2005 — HIV/AIDS infections have increased by 2 million, bringing to 40 million the number of people with the disease worldwide, according to new statistics released by the World Health Organization and the United States.

The hardest hit region continues to be the southern part of Africa, with infection rates among pregnant women increasing. In South Africa — with more than 5 million people infected — nearly 30 percent of pregnant women tested positive for HIV. There were similar figures for Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland.

There was a resurgence of HIV in North America and Western Europe, for a total of 1.9 million people infected. The Caribbean was the only region that saw a decline. Several countries — Haiti, Kenya and Zimbabwe — also saw a slowing of the epidemic.

Asia has the second highest number of cases, and Eastern Europe has the fastest growing epidemic. Three million people around the world died of AIDS in 2005. — Brenda Wilson

Employer Health Care Costs Still Rising

Nov. 21, 2005 — Health care costs for employers are still rising, but at a slower rate than in recent years, according to a new survey by the consulting firm Mercer Health and Benefits.

The annual survey found employer health costs rose by 6.1 percent this year, down from 15 percent just three years ago. Employers are expecting a nearly 7 percent jump next year, to more than $7,000 per employee.

The study's authors attribute at least some of the slowdown to employer efforts to more closely manage the care of patients with chronic, high-cost ailments, such as diabetes and asthma.

But the survey found relatively few companies have adopted so-called consumer-driven health plans, which are supposed to slow cost increases by making patients more cost-conscious. And while backers of those plans hoped they would prompt more small firms to offer health coverage, the category that grew the fastest in providing consumer-driven plans were the very largest companies. — Julie Rovner

FDA Finds Tamiflu Safe

Nov. 21, 2005 — Federal health advisers have concluded that the drug Tamiflu is safe. They analyzed several dozen reports of serious illness, including deaths, among children taking the drug.

Tamiflu is the world's mainstay drug for influenza. If taken soon after symptoms appear, it can shorten the illness and reduce serious side effects. But health experts were worried that Tamiflu might be related to a dozen deaths and several dozen cases of neurologic and skin disorders. All the deaths and all but two of the adverse reactions involved Japanese children.

After going through the evidence, outside experts have told the Food and Drug Administration that the drug did not cause the deaths or neurologic problems. But they say doctors should be alerted to the rare possibility of serious skin reactions

The advisory panel concludes that the Japanese deaths and neurologic problems were caused by the flu — not by the antiflu medicine. — Richard Knox

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