Health & Science
Smartphones stunting speech?
Young children who use smartphones and tablets are more likely to suffer speech development delays, a new study suggests. Researchers at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto asked the parents of nearly 900 children between the ages of 6 months and 2 years to track their child’s screen time. They found that 20 percent of the kids were using an electronic device by the time they turned 18 months, for an average of 28 minutes a day. Assessments of the toddlers’ language development showed that every 30-minute increase in screen time wa s associated with a 49 percent higher risk of delayed speech. “Parents aren’t talking to [their children],” said Dr. Lolita McDavid, a pediatrician at Cleveland’s University Hospitals, who wasn’t involved in the study. “You learn your speech from parents.” The American Academy of Pediatrics advises that children under 18 months be given no screen time at all, apart from video-chatting with family, and that 18- to 24-month-olds be limited to “high-quality programming.”
Landmark new ALS treatment
For the first time in 22 years, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a new drug to treat amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The drug, called Radicava or edaravone, is only the second medication for the fatal neurological condition to have been cleared in the U.S., reports CNN.com. Also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, after the 1920s and ’30s baseball player, ALS destroys nerve cells involved in voluntary muscle movements like walking and talking. People diagnosed with the disorder gradually lose their strength, along with the ability to speak, eat, move, and breathe; most die from respiratory failure within five years. Radicava isn’t a cure. But a six-month clinical trial in Japan involving 137 patients showed that the drug could slow the disease’s progression by about 30 percent. “The effect is modest but significant,” says Neil Shneider, director of the New York–based Eleanor and Lou Gehrig ALS Center. Radicava is expected to be available in the U.S. this August, with an annual price tag of about $145,000.
NSAIDs’ link to heart attacks
Many people don’t think twice before taking painkillers to ease everyday aches and pains. But new research adds to mounting evidence that commonly used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—such as Advil, Motrin, and Aleve—could substantially increase the risk of heart attack. Canadian and European researchers pooled information from several large studies on NSAIDs and their health effects, gathering data on 446,000 people ages 40 to 79. They found that taking NSAIDs for just one week increased a person’s risk of heart attack by up to 53 percent. The risk depends on the drug, and climbs over time and at higher doses. The study doesn’t prove NSAIDs cause heart attacks, and the absolute risk of suffering a cardiac episode after taking the drugs remains small. But lead author Michèle Bally says the findings should encourage patients to discuss their needs with a doctor. “People are often not aware of their own baseline cardiovascular risk,” she tells The New York Times. “You may want to stay with NSAIDs, or you may want to consider other treatments.”
Health scare of the week
Safety fears over new drugs
Nearly one-third of drugs cleared by the Food and Drug Administration are later flagged for serious safety issues, reports the Los Angeles Times. In a review of 222 drugs approved by the FDA from 2001 to 2010, scientists found that 71 were later flagged for safety issues that resulted in a recall, a health risk alert, or a new box label warning about life-threatening health risks. On average, the problems emerged about four years after the drugs were approved. Most drugs are tested on fewer than 1,000 patients, who are studied over six months or less; side effects or complications are more likely to be discovered when a drug has hit the market and been used by a more diverse group of people over a longer period. “No drug is completely safe, and during premarket evaluation, we are not going to pick up all the safety signals,” says lead author Joseph Ross, an associate professor of medicine and public health at Yale University. The findings, he says, illustrate the need for a “strong system to continually evaluate drugs and to communicate new safety concerns quickly.”
John Hawks/Wits University, Getty (2) ■