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Health Highlights: Oct. 31, 2013

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

Sesame Street Characters Will Promote Fruits, Veggies to Kids

Big Bird and other Sesame Street characters have been recruited to encourage children to eat more fruits and vegetables.

Under an agreement announced Wednesday, Sesame Workshop will allow the Produce Marketing Association and the Partnership for a Healthier America to use Sesame Street characters free of charge to promote produce to youngsters, CBS News/Associated Press reported.

The Partnership for a Healthier America is a nonprofit group that supports Michelle Obama's "Let's Move" campaign to reduce childhood obesity in the U.S.

The produce association will develop guidelines for how members should use the Sesame Street characters, which could start appearing on produce as early as next spring, the CBS/AP reported.

"Just imagine what will happen when we take our kids to the grocery store, and they see Elmo and Rosita and the other Sesame Street Muppets they love up and down the produce aisle," the first lady was to say at Wednesday's announcement. "Imagine what it will be like to have our kids begging us to buy them fruits and vegetables instead of cookies, candy and chips."

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NYC to Raise Cigarette Buying Age to 21

New York City Council voted Wednesday to raise the legal age for buying tobacco from 18 to 21, to set the minimum price of tobacco cigarettes at $10.50 a pack, and to step up law enforcement on illegal tobacco sales.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg has 30 days to sign the bills into law and the minimum age bill will take effect 180 days after enactment, the Associated Press reported.

New York would become the largest city to outlaw the sale of cigarettes to 19- and 20-year-olds, and one of the few places in the U.S. that have tried to reduce smoking among young people by increasing the legal purchasing age.

"We know that tobacco dependence can begin very soon after a young person first tries smoking so it's critical that we stop young people from smoking before they ever start," Mayor Bloomberg said in a statement after the council's vote, the AP reported.

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Insect Parts, Salmonella Found in Some Imported Spices: FDA

U.S. food officials say that about 12 percent of imported spices contain insect parts, whole insects, rodent hairs and other contaminants.

In addition, about 7 percent of spice imports examined by federal inspectors were contaminated with salmonella, according to a Food and Drug Administration report released Wednesday, The New York Times reported.

The agency said that the percentages of imported spices contaminated with insect parts and salmonella were twice that of other types of imported foods.

The findings "are a wake-up call" to spice producers, FDA food and spice official Jane Van Doren told The Times. "It means: 'Hey, you haven't solved the problems.' "

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Latin Americans to Benefit From $74M Gift to Boston Genomics Center

Biomedical research that benefits Latin Americans will get a boost from a $74 million donation made to Boston's Broad Institute by Mexican billionaire and philanthropist Carlos Slim Helu, one of the world's richest people.

The gift is meant to help correct a bias in genomic studies of human disease, which often use DNA from people of European descent. This bias could result in researchers missing important genetic causes of diseases in non-European populations and a lack of treatments for those groups, according to the Boston Globe.

"I try to support this kind of project -- that is for the interest of everyone in the world, but with some focus in Mexico and Latin America," Slim told the newspaper.

While he concentrates his philanthropy in Latin America, Slim said his donation to the Broad Institute is in keeping with that mission because he hopes the money will lead to progress in human health more universally.

"It's very important, when we have public health problems like diabetes, to know the causes and try to find solutions," Slim told the Globe.

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CDC Releases New Food Allergy Safety Guidelines for Schools

The first guidelines outlining how schools should protect children with food allergies have been released by the U.S. government.

Restrictions on nuts, shellfish and other foods that can cause allergic reactions, and making sure that emergency medicines such as EpiPens are available are among the voluntary strategies , the Associated Press reported.

The recommendations were posted Wednesday on the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About 15 states, along with many schools or school districts already have their own policies.

However, experts say that many of these policies are probably not comprehensive, the AP reported.

About 1 in 20 U.S. children have food allergies, according to a recent CDC survey.

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N.D. Woman Will Give Obese Trick-or-Treaters a Letter, No Candy

Instead of treats, overweight children who go to the home of a Fargo, N.D. woman on Halloween will receive a harsh letter to give to their parents.

The letter states: "You child is, in my opinion, moderately obese and should not be consuming sugar and treats to the extent of some children this Halloween season," USA Today reported.

The letter continues: "My hope is that you will step up as a parent and ration candy this Halloween and not allow your child to continue these unhealthy eating habits."

"I just want to send a message to the parents of kids that are really overweight. ... I think it's just really irresponsible of parents to send them out looking for free candy just 'cause all the other kids are doing it," the unidentified woman said in an interview with Y-24 Radio.

The letter could be more emotionally damaging than helpful, said Katie Gordon, an assistant professor of clinical psychology at North Dakota State University.

"It's just that kind of thing that for some kids, if they're vulnerable, might trigger major problems," Gordon told Valley News Live, USA Today reported. "Even if a child is overweight, they might be very healthy because of what they eat and how they exercise. It's ineffective anyway because it's not likely to help the kid."

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1 in 3 Drug Clinical Trials Unpublished After 5 Years: Study

Nearly one-third of drug clinical trials remain unpublished five years after they've ended, a new study says.

The findings may increase pressure on drug companies to be more open about the results of their studies, according to Bloomberg News.

Researchers found that 171 (29 percent) of 585 clinical trials registered on a U.S. website to track drug research remained unpublished five years after completion, said the study in the journal BMJ.

Studies that received drug industry funding were more likely to remain unpublished than those that did not have such funding.

The failure to publish results from clinical trials "contributes to publication bias and also constitutes a failure to honor the ethical contract that is the basis for exposing study participants to the risks inherent in trial participation," study leader Christopher Jones, of Rowan University, and colleagues said in a statement, Bloomberg reported.

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