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Health Highlights: Jan. 25, 2016

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

Smokers Want Cigarette Maker to Pay for Lung Scans

A class-action lawsuit filed against Philip Morris USA a decade ago is finally going to be heard by a jury.

The legal action was launched by a group of Massachusetts smokers who want the cigarette maker to pay for lung cancer screenings. The plaintiffs allege that Philip Morris made a defective cigarette knowing it could have made a safer product with fewer cancer-causing ingredients, the Associated Press reported.

The smokers say the company should pay for hi-tech chest scans that can detect early-stage lung cancer that may be too small to be detected on conventional X-rays.

The trial begins in federal court in Boston this week, the AP reported.


41 Million Young Children Overweight or Obese Worldwide: WHO

There are now 41 million overweight or obese children under age 5 worldwide, compared with 31 million in 1990, according to a report released Monday by a World Health Organization panel.

The Commission on Ending Childhood Obesity said that number could continue to rise unless governments, educators, food marketers and agribusiness do more to combat childhood obesity, the Associated Press reported.

The panel called for a number of measures, including school policies to promote healthy eating and physical activity and "effective taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages."

"It's not the kids' fault. You can't blame a 2-year-old child for being fat and lazy and eating too much," commission co-chair Peter Gluckman said, the AP reported.


Some Employee Wellness Plans in Conflict with Federal Agency

A growing number of American companies are playing hardball when it comes to employee health, and some have faced legal action from a federal agency as a result.

In an effort to reduce health insurance costs, more and more workers are being told by employers to have health screenings and enroll in wellness programs, and may be hit with financial penalties -- such as higher premiums -- if they do not comply, The New York Times reported.

Under the Affordable Care Act, businesses can impose significant penalties on employees who do not participate in health and wellness programs. Nearly half of large employers with screening and wellness programs use some form of financial persuasion to get workers on board, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation analysis found.

However, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has taken legal action against a number of workplace wellness programs it alleges violated federal antidiscrimination laws that prohibit businesses from demanding medical information from employees, The Times reported.

The agency has also proposed new rules that would forbid companies from making health screenings a condition of insurance coverage.

"The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission does not like wellness plans, period," Eric Dreiband, a former general counsel for the agency who is now a partner at Jones Day in Washington, D.C., told The Times.

The EEOC has launched a number of lawsuits, but suffered a setback last month when a federal judge in Wisconsin ruled against the agency in one case.

In addition, the agency is under pressure from the White House and Republicans to avoid thwarting the business community's efforts to keep health care costs under control, The Times reported.

But the E.E.O.C. seems to have adopted a different standard, and its proposed regulations do not mesh neatly with the health law. The agency appears to be facing pressure from the White House and Republicans to make sure it does not derail corporate efforts to rein in health care costs.


Death Reported in Dole Salad Listeria Outbreak

A listeria outbreak linked to packaged salads produced at a Dole facility in Ohio has led to the death of a person in Michigan, according to federal health officials.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the salads have been connected to illnesses among 12 people ages 3 to 83 in Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, and 12 people have been hospitalized, the Associated Press reported.

The recalled packaged salads were sold under the names Dole, Fresh Selections, Simple Truth, Marketside, The Little Salad Bar and President's Choice. The salads can be identified by the letter "A" at the start of the manufacuring code on the packages.

Dole has halted production of the salads at it Springfield, Ohio plant and is withdrawing the salads from stores in more than 20 states and three Canadian provinces, the AP reported.

Those most vulnerable to listeria include the elderly, pregnant women, newborns and people with weakened immune systems.


Rio Olympic Sites to be Inspected to Prevent Zika Virus

Daily inspections to prevent the mosquito-borne Zika virus will be conducted at the 2016 Summer Olympic venues in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, according to organizers.

The country is struggling with an outbreak of the virus, which can cause a rare birth defect called microcephaly, in which infants are born with unusually small heads. The virus is also associated with paralysis-causing Guillain-Barre syndrome, the Associated Press reported.

Pregnant women should reconsider travel to Brazil and 21 other countries with Zika outbreaks, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises.

Each day, teams will inspect Rio's Olympic and Paralymic sites for stagnant waters where Zika-carrying mosquitoes breed, the local organizing committee said. The games will be held Aug. 5-21.

"Rio 2016 will continue to monitor the issue closely and follow guidance from the Brazilian Ministry of Health," the committee said in a statement, the AP reported.

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