Roundup: Heart Attack Rate Drops in Older Adults; Pediatricians Call for Taxing Sugary Drinks; and CDC Confirms 314 Measles Cases

Heart Attack Rate Among Adults 65 and Older Drops by One-Third, Researcher Say

Since the mid-1990s, the number of older adults who have suffered a heart attack or died from one decreased significantly, according to a major new study by Yale University researchers.

The study looked at data for more than 4 million Medicare patients and found that hospitalizations for heart attacks fell 38 percent between 1995 and 2014. Meanwhile, deaths within 30 days of a heart attack reached an all-time low of 12 percent, down more than one-third since 1995, according to the study published this month in JAMA Network Open.

Medicare patients, who are age 65 or older, carry higher heart attack risks, and they represent as much as two-thirds of such cases.

However, since the 1990s, the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid, the American Heart Association (AHA), the American College of Cardiology — along with primary care physicians and cardiologists — have stressed the importance of controlling or preventing heart disease risk factors.

The heart disease prevention campaign over the past three decades has focused on lifestyle modifications, including healthy eating habits and regular exercise. Doctors have also helped patients reduce their blood pressure and cholesterol, two key contributors to heart attack.

Moreover, more heart attack survivors are being prescribed blood pressure drugs, aspirin and cholesterol medications, which help prevent a repeat heart attack.

Nonetheless, researchers caution that the current U.S. obesity epidemic, along with its associated increase in type 2 diabetes, threatens to undermine the reported gains seen in the study. Obesity and diabetes are major risk factors for heart attacks, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

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Pediatricians, American Heart Association Urge Strict Public Policies Against Sugary Drinks

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American Heart Association (AHA) have endorsed a set of public health measures to reduce children’s consumption of sugary drinks, including imposing excise taxes, limits on marketing to children, and financial incentives for purchasing healthier beverages

The policy statement, “Public Policies to Reduce Sugary Drink Consumption in Children and Adolescents,” says children and teens now consume 17 percent of their calories from added sugars—nearly half of which comes from drinks alone.

“On average, children are consuming over 30 gallons of sugary drinks every year,” says Natalie D. Muth, M.D., lead author of the policy statement. This is enough to fill a bathtub, and it doesn’t even include added sugars from food.”

Pediatricians are concerned that these sweetened drinks “pose real – and preventable – risks to our children’s health, including tooth decay, diabetes, obesity and heart disease,” she adds. Teens who drink more than 10 percent of their daily calories from added sugars are more likely to have abnormal cholesterol levels, including higher “bad” LDL cholesterol, higher triglycerides, and lower heart-protective HDL cholesterol, says Dr. Muth.

Healthy drinks, such as water and milk, should be the “default beverages on children’s menus and in vending machines” states the AAP and the AHA. Additionally, federal nutrition assistance programs should ensure access to healthy food and beverages and discourage consumption of sugary drinks.

The groups’ top recommendation is for local, state and national policymakers to “consider raising the price of sugary drinks, such as via an excise tax, along with an accompanying educational campaign.”

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U.S. Confirmed Measles Cases This Year Surpasses 300, Higher Than 2016, 2017, CDC Says

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported this week that there are 314 confirmed measles cases across the nation so far this year as of March 21, which surpasses the annual totals for both 2016 and 2017.

At the current rate, this year’s total will likely surpass 2018’s mark of 372 confirmed cases.

The disease was nearly eliminated in the U.S. in 2000, but is common in many other countries. Carriers of the disease usually spread measles to unvaccinated Americans when they travel to the U.S. from countries with lower vaccination rates. The year 2014 saw the highest number of confirmed cases — 667 — since 2000, the CDC says.

Nancy Messonnier, M.D., director the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said the recent increase in measles cases represents a “new normal” for the U.S.

The states that have reported cases to CDC are Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington. Two of the larger outbreaks are in Washington State and New York.

This week, New York’s Rockland County declared a state of emergency and banned children who are unvaccinated against the measles from public places. New York officials said its current outbreak, which is in its 26th week, is the longest since the disease was thought to be eradicated in 2000.

“We believe this to be the first such effort of this kind nationally and the circumstances we face here clearly call for that,” said Rockland County Executive Ed Day at a Tuesday press conference. “Rockland will lead the way in service and safety to the people here.”

Measles is considered one of the most contagious viruses in the world. Beyond flu-like symptoms and a rash that begins in the head area and moves downward, measles can develop serious or deadly complications, such as pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain).

“Vaccination is the best prevention,” said Fernando Mendoza, M.D., medical director of the Children’s Emergency Center at Baptist Children’s Hospital and associate medical director of Pediatric Emergency Services at West Kendall Baptist Hospital. “Absolutely, 100 percent, that’s the best way to prevent it. Vaccinated kids don’t get the measles. There are reams and reams of data that show these vaccines are appropriate and effective.”

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