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Health Highlights: Dec. 13, 2012

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Health Highlights: Dec. 13, 2012

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Global Life Expectancy Increasing: Report

Life expectancy worldwide has increased in the past 20 years due to improvements in medical services, access to food and sanitation, along with public health efforts such as vaccine programs, according to a new report.

Developing countries have made especially large gains. For example, the average age of death in Brazil and Paraguay rose from 28 in 1970 to 63 in 2010. In contrast, progress in the United States has stagnated, The New York Times reported.

American women had the smallest gains in life expectancy of all high-income countries between 1990 and 2010. The two-year rise in life expectancy among American women was less than the 2.3 years gained by women in Cypress, or the 2.4 years gained by women in Canada.

As a result, American women fell from 22nd place in 1990 to 36th place in the latest global ranking of life expectancy, The Times reported.

Rising rates of obesity and the health effects of smoking are among the reasons for the slowing increase in American women's life expectancy, according to Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The health research organization, which is financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation at the University of Washington, coordinated the report.

"It's alarming just how little progress there has been for women in the United States," Murray told The Times.

The report also said that infant deaths declined by more than half between 1990 and 2010 and that malnutrition, which was the No. 1 risk factor for death and years of life lost in 1990, had fallen to No. 8.

There's also been a sharp decline in deaths from diseases such as measles and tuberculosis, but chronic diseases such as cancer and heart disease now cause about two out of every three deaths worldwide, up from just over half in 1990, The Times reported.

For example, eight million people died of cancer in 2010, 38 percent more than in 1990. Diabetes killed 1.3 million people in 2010, double the number in 1990.

The report was published Thursday in The Lancet.

Some of the estimates in the report differ substantially from those done by United Nations agencies, while others are similar, the World Health Organization said in a statement.

Falling TVs a Death Risk for Children: Officials

More than 200 children in the United States have been killed by falling TV sets since 2000, but parents are largely unaware of this potential threat, according to a report released Thursday by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The agency said falling TVs killed 29 people, mostly children, in 2011, making it one of the worst years on record for such deaths, USA Today reported.

The CPSC also said that 18,000 people a year, mostly children, are treated for injuries from falling TVs. Old, heavy TV sets can weigh 50 to 100 pounds.

Part of the problem is that people buy lighter flat-screen TVS and take their older, heavier sets out of the family room and put them on unstable bedroom dressers and playroom shelves, according to the agency.

"Children will climb up on furniture to try to turn the TV on and there goes the heavy television as well as the piece of furniture," said CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum, USA Today reported.

Dozens Sue Pharmacy Linked to Steroid/Meningitis Outbreak

Dozens of people have sued a Massachusetts compounding pharmacy that made steroid injections linked to an outbreak of fungal meningitis, but their chances of receiving compensation are low, a lawyer says.

More than 500 people have become ill after receiving steroid injections prepared by the New England Compounding Center (NECC). Thirty-seven people have died in the outbreak.

At least 50 federal lawsuits in nine states have been filed against the NECC and more are being filed in state courts every day, according to the Associated Press.

The lawsuits, which allege that NECC negligently produced a defective and dangerous product, seek millions in compensation for physically painful recoveries, lost wages, mental and emotional suffering, and the death of spouses.

"The truth is the chance of recovering damages from NECC is extremely low," John Day, a Nashville attorney who represents several people who developed fungal meningitis, told the AP.

One of the main issues is that NECC is a small private company that has recalled all its product and laid off it employees. The company has surrendered its pharmacy licenses and it's not known if NECC has adequate liability insurance.

"It's clear to me that at the end of the day, NECC is not going to have sufficient assets to compensate any of these people, not even 1 percent," Day told the AP.

That has led lawyers to seek compensation from other parties. Additional defendants named in the lawsuit include NECC pharmacist and co-founder Barry Cadden, co-founder Greg Conigliaro, sister company Ameridose, and NECC's marketing and support arm, Medical Sales Management.

The clinics and doctors who buy their drugs from compounding pharmacies could be held liable for negligence in such cases because they are better able to assess the safety of a medicine than patients, according to Day, the AP reported.

"Did they use due care in determining from whom to buy these drugs?" Day said.

Pharmaceutical distributors could also be held liable, according to Terry Dawes, a Michigan lawyer who has filed at least 10 federal lawsuits in the NECC case.

"We are looking at any conceivable sources of recovery for our clients including pharmaceutical supply places that may have dealt with this company in the past," Dawes told the AP.

Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown Undergoing Radiation Therapy for Prostate Cancer

California Gov. Jerry Brown has early stage prostate cancer and is undergoing radiation treatment, his office said Wednesday.

The 74-year-old governor's "prognosis is excellent, and there are not expected to be any significant side effects," University of California, San Francisco oncologist Eric Small, who is Brown's cancer doctor, said in the statement, the Associated Press reported.

Brown's radiation treatment will be completed the week of Jan. 7 and he will continue to work a full schedule, according to the statement. No further details were provided.

Typical radiation therapy for early stage prostate cancer is five days a week for four to five weeks, Dr. Ralph de Vere White, urological oncologist and director of the University of California, Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center in Sacramento, told the AP.