Platelet E-News – May 18, 2005


  • Merck Plans Discount Drug Program
  • Chondroitin Sulfate May Cause Bleeding Problems
  • Food Pyramid Revised
  • Religious Services May Benefit Health
  • How Did You Find Our Jell-O?
  • Fake Drugs are a Problem Worldwide
  • NIH Moving to More Public Access to NIH-Funded Research
  • Physical Activity Benefits Mental and Physical Health
  • Physical Activity in Midlife Aids Fitness Later On
  • Farm-raised Salmon Poses Increased Health Risks for Consumers



On April 25, 2005 Merck & Co. launched a discount drug program for uninsured Americans without drug benefits and incomes greater than $19,000. Merck's discounts range from 15% to 40% and are on par with other competitive discounts. They are similar to discounts available through other Merck programs such as one that provides discounts to Medicare recipients without drug coverage. The cholesterol drug Zocor is discounted by 40% from retail prices. The current average price for one month of Zocor at Walgreens is $150; the discount of $60 lowers the price to $90. Fosamax, an osteoporosis medication is discounted by 21%, at Walgreens, that drops the cost from $85 to $67.

B. Martinez, Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2005, p5.


The new food pyramid was issued in January by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture (USDA). It follows the 2005 Dietary Guidelines and is drawing wide acclaim. For the first time, it provides an individual the opportunity to customize the pyramid by age, gender, and activity level and to make decisions about his or her own fitness and diet goals. The drawback, however, is that the new pyramid can only be accessed through the Internet (, thereby missing a significant segment of the population. Still, outreach efforts are underway from both the government and private sector. General Mills will be putting the pyramid on some of its food product labels. And Weekly Reader Corp., the publisher of the schoolchildren magazine, will feature the pyramid in their fall issues. Government-sponsored food programs will also include the pyramid information for lower-income individuals who may not have access to the Internet. The new pyramid represents the same categories as the old horizontal version, using colorful stripes that run vertically to illustrate what food groups an individual should eat. It also has a staircase running up one side, to remind people to be more active.

S. Squires, The Washington Post, April 26, 2005, pF1.


New studies are showing that those who attend religious services at least once a week are generally healthier and less prone to a multitude of illnesses, including depression. Additionally, regular attendance appears to lower the mortality risk of an individual over time. These studies have found that religion helps females more than males. There are many skeptics who say that it's not religion but the social aspect of the attendance that appears to improve health. One expert suggested that attending a bingo club or socializing at the local library might confer the same advantages. Studies have shown that watching a religious program on television doesn't improve health at all. Similarly, some professionals say that a strong religious belief might actually work the opposite way, if someone believes that God has abandoned them in their time of need. Nonetheless, certain aspects of religious services – praying and/or meditation – are an effective way of lowering negative emotion, and some doctors believe that this can only be a good thing.

K. Helliker, Wall Street Journal, May 3, 2005, pD1.


The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services will soon launch a national survey of hospital patients in an effort to study the current quality of hospital care. The 27-question survey, known as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Health Plans Survey, asks patients how hospital staff treated them, and it is expected in the long run to hold hospitals more accountable to the patients they serve. Currently, only a few states and hospitals provide information about patient satisfaction. While the survey is voluntary for hospitals, experts believe most will join the effort because participation is a factor in Medicare reimbursement. There are concerns from groups such as the American Hospital Association. Certain groups fear the survey still will not give a clear picture of the state of hospital care because people's standards are so subjective. Current Medicare studies have found that hospital patients value doctor communication skills, a responsive hospital staff, and a clean and comfortable room more than anything else.

L. Landro, Wall Street Journal, April 20, 2005, pD1.


In 2001, about 192,000 patients in China died from taking counterfeit drugs. A report published in PloS Medicine found that up to 15% of all drugs sold worldwide – worth about $35 billion – are fake. That is significantly greater than the 6% that the World Health Organization had previously estimated. More than half of the drugs purchased in parts of Asia and Africa are counterfeit. The report suggested that pharmaceutical companies and governments aren't doing enough to monitor the increasing production of counterfeit drugs, which is vastly underreported. It also accused the pharmaceutical industry of keeping information about counterfeits secret in fear that it would affect sales of name-brand drugs in a highly competitive industry. The report suggested the best way to counter this fraud is for pharmaceutical companies to provide more accessible, effective and inexpensive drugs, and more information about counterfeits. And governments should better enforce regulation of drug manufacturers.

Hematology Oncology News & Issues, April 2005, p8.


Due to pressure from Congress and groups such as the Public Library of Science, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will be asking the scientists it funds and supports, starting May 2, to begin voluntarily submitting an electronic copy of all their scientific reports – within one year of publication – to PubMed Central ( All reports and articles would be available without charge, and registration is not required. PubMed Central will differ from PubMed, the National Library of Medicine's current database of citations and abstracts, which is also free, in that it will provide the full text of the articles. The NIH currently funds 212,000 researchers worldwide, and they publish about 10% of the articles in the nearly 5000 journals indexed at PubMed. The NIH itself hopes to use PubMed Central to track research progress and to determine priorities in funding. Some publishers are concerned about the NIH's new public-access policy because it would take away from their subscription revenues. Additionally, if after a researcher has submitted copies of a final manuscript to both the NIH and the publisher, and the publisher makes more changes, then the NIH's copy is no longer current. The NIH insists it can accommodate corrections, though timing issues crop up especially with articles about patient care. This effort is encouraging the United Kingdom to look into similar policies for its Wellcome Trust and the National Library of Medicine to begin providing public access to scientific research for the UK public as well.

R.Steinbrook, M.D., New England Journal of Medicine, April 28, 2005, p1739.


More and more scientific research is showing that exercise and physical activity yield both physical and mental-health benefits across several diseases and diverse subpopulations. Physical activity is most generally defined as regular light or vigorous exercise, or even household chores. While most studies have documented benefits in cardiovascular disease, recent work has begun to focus on people with other physical illnesses. Researchers have reported benefits among those with type 2 diabetes and cancer patients who also suffer from other co-morbid conditions such as obesity of cardiovascular disease. Benefits were also observed among sedentary men and women over age 60 with knee-hip osteoarthritis who experienced reduced pain. People suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome showed benefits. On the mental health side, those diagnosed with major depression while adhering to a regular exercise regime showed significant improvement in depression.

Physically active older adults were reported to be less likely to develop cognitive impairments. There are limits, however, to what the current research can undoubtedly claim about the benefits of physical activity. Though it seems universal that exercise can improve physical and emotional well-being, experts advocate more studies with bigger sample sizes, and letting more time pass in order to qualify and quantify just what the long-term benefits are. Additionally, the types of exercises vary greatly for a great variety of people. Between yoga and chair exercises, some sort of consensus with regards to how to measure proper treatment or dosage for an individual with a specific ailment needs to be addressed.

F. J. Penedo and J.R. Dahn, Current Opinions in Psychology, 2005; 18 (2): 189-193


An ongoing study of the physical fitness of London-based civil servants in the United Kingdom, known as he Whitehall Project II, found that the most physically active participants had least number of limitations in physical ability as they aged. Nearly nine years of information has been compiled so far regarding fitness levels, chronic disease, and lifestyle habits of the over 6,000 participants between the ages of 39 and 63 via questionnaires and medical screenings. From this information, the participants were classified as “sufficiently active” if they got at least 2 hours of moderate activity or 1 hour of vigorous activity a week, “insufficiently active,” or sedentary. Studies found that the “sufficiently active” participants were less likely to report limitations in physical function. Even those who started the study already having a chronic illness but were considered “sufficiently active” enjoyed better mobility and physical ability, in spite of their illness.

Women's Health Advisor, Weill Medical College of Cornell University. May 2005


The National Academy of Sciences Institute of Medicine and the American Heart Association promotes the consumption of fish rich in healthy omega-3 fats, consumers should be aware that farmed salmon has been found to contain a number of toxins that might actually counteract the benefits of eating the fish. Experts believe farmed salmon tend to contain more PCBs and dioxin because of dioxin-like compounds and other organic contaminants in the feed. Since certification of American fish farming is not yet established, the safest option for consumers is to eat wild fish – provided they can be certain of its wild origin and afford it. Consumers are encouraged to be vigilant, ask questions and find a trusted retailer.

Report in Environmental Health Perspectives recommends further curtailing salmon consumption, May 3, 2005.

D.Wortman, COOL Labeling: Helping Us Make Healthy Salmon Choices?, The Green Guide, May 3, 2005.

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