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    Consumer Data Stolen from Trans Union

    By Martin H. Bosworth
    ConsumerAffairs.com

    November 14, 2005
    A desktop computer containing data on thousands of consumers, including names, addresses, and Social Security numbers, was stolen from a local office of the Trans Union credit bureau.

    The theft took place in October 2005 from a regional sales office in California, according to Colleen Tunney, Trans Union's vice-president for corporate affairs. The bureau sent notices to 3,623 consumers on Oct. 21st warning them of the theft and promising them free credit monitoring for a year.

    Tunney told the Washington Post that Trans Union was investigating why the data was on an individual laptop computer rather than a secured network.

    Trans Union said it is investigating whether the thieves were after the data or the machine. According to Evan Hendricks, editor and publisher of Privacy Times, "the key issue was why that information was on the laptop in the first place."

    Credit bureaus have been criticized for hoarding millions of records on individuals and not protecting them or maintaining their accuracy. Sloppy record-keeping by credit bureau employees can often leave individual consumers vulnerable to fraud and identity theft.

    Although the three major credit reporting agencies have agreed to a unified "data protection standard" for sharing data with lenders, slipshod physical protection of records can lead to data loss and potential identity theft.

    In a recent example, Blockbuster came under fire when a former employee of a store in Manhattan left thousands of membership records in trash bags on the sidewalk.

    And there is the case of the Topeka Credit Bureau, when local businessman Augie Bogina found an office full of abandoned consumer records left behind when the bureau shut down. The Experian credit bureau, a former partner of the Topeka agency, had to personally send representatives to oversee the data's destruction.

    "This is what happens when information leaves your control," Evan Hendricks said. "There's a lot of uncertainty about who has access to your data."

    "This is what happens when information leaves your control," Evan Hendricks said. "There's a lot of uncertainty about who has access to your data."...
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    Eating Out Often May Add to Kids' Cardiovascular Risk


    Children who frequently eat out score worse on measures of cardiovascular disease risk than those who eat more meals at home, researchers reported at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions 2005.

    "As a culture, we say we value physical activity and healthy eating, but in reality we're all about convenience and convenience foods because we have such busy schedules," said study author Karen Olson, R.N., executive director of the Cardiovascular Research and Education Foundation in Wausau, Wis.

    "We are seeing younger and younger patients with more aggressive cardiovascular disease, and we realized we needed to take a closer look at our young people to see when risk factors emerge and why," she said. "We're concerned because we know that children who have cardiovascular risks grow up to be adults who have these risks."

    The project initially included 759 participants, but only 621 completed the diet and exercise surveys. Researchers examined these remaining participants to find out the relationship between the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors and eating outside the home.

    Researchers randomly selected students in the 2nd, 5th, 8th and 11th grades who participated in the Wausau SCHOOL (School Children Have early Onset Of Leading risk factors for CVD and diabetes) Project, an examination of the development of risk factors for CVD and diabetes.

    The SCHOOL project earlier found that 40 percent of the children followed had at least one lipid abnormality.

    Twenty-percent of the students (126) indicated that they had eaten out four or more times weekly, not including lunches in the school cafeteria.

    Compared with the 495 students who ate out less than four times a week, those who dined out often had significantly:

    • Higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure (the top, higher number) measures the force on the arteries when the heart is contracting. Diastolic blood pressure is the pressure when the heart is at rest between beats.

    • Lower levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) -- the "good" cholesterol that protects against heart disease.

    • Smaller LDL particle size. Small, dense LDL particles are associated with atherosclerosis (a build-up of artery-clogging plaque).

    • Lower scores on the quantitative insulin-sensitivity check index (QUICKI). Lower insulin sensitivity is an early sign of progression towards type-2 diabetes.

    • Significantly overall higher dietary intake of starch, sugar, sodium, fat and cholesterol.

    "Children who ate out more frequently were not significantly more overweight than their peers who ate out less frequently," Olson said. "But this might just reflect that the dietary patterns have not yet had their full impact on body weight. However, their diets and exercise patterns differed significantly from the children eating at home more often."

    Researchers questioned children about their activities and, using pictures illustrating portion sizes, asked about their typical diet and what they ate during the last week.

    Compared with the average consumption in the total group of children, those eating at home ate slightly less sugar, sodium, fat and cholesterol, while those eating out ate substantially more foods containing those ingredients.

    "In a 21-meal week, eating out four times shouldn't create the high-sugar, high-sodium, high-fat intake that we saw," Olson said. "We think it's not just the eating out but the way these children are eating all the time, with lots of frozen pizzas and packaged macaroni and cheese on the days they eat at home."

    The study did not include information about take-out foods consumed at home, so it may underestimate the number of fast-food meals consumed by the children, researchers noted.

    Children who ate out more often also drank almost twice as many sodas and other soft drinks, about six cups a week compared with 3.65 cups a week for the children who ate out less often. Punch, sugary juice drinks and diet soda were counted as sodas.

    "For these children, soda is no longer a treat -- it's something you have every day or several times a day," Olson said. Sodas are now banned from Wausau School District public schools but were available at middle and high schools in Wausau during the study (2002-03 school year).

    According to researchers, children who ate out more often were also significantly less active than their peers.

    Not counting school or time spent reading or doing homework at the computer, children who ate out more often spent an average of 3.59 hours a day in sedentary activities such as playing computer games and watching television. Children who ate out less often spent 2.78 hours a day in sedentary activities.

    "I think what we've tapped into here is a whole different lifestyle," said study statistician Bryan Hendricks, Ph.D., of the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

    The researchers are working on interventions to encourage more physical activity and healthier eating for children. "Ideally, we can teach people the skills to consciously include active living and healthy eating in their busy lives," Olson said. Researchers said that there may be other factors besides eating out that may have resulted in higher risk factor scores, noting that the study is retrospective and self-reported information.

    Eating Out Often May Add to Kids' Cardiovascular Risk...
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      Oil Companies Deny Price-Gouging

      FTC Warns that Price Controls "Do More Harm Than Good"

      Senators berated oil company executives claiming their big profits are the result of gouging U.S. consumers. The senators demanded that oil companies take steps to bring down high gasoline and heating oil prices.

      Members of the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee questioned top executives from five major oil companies including Lee Raymond, chairman of Exxon Mobil Corp.

      Raymond conceded that high gasoline prices "have put a strain on Americans' household budgets" but he insisted that Exxon Mobils huge profits this year are just part of a business cycle where petroleum earnings "go up and down" from year to year.

      Federal Trade Commission Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras testified that her agency is investigating to determine if the price of gasoline is being artificially manipulated by reducing refinery capacity or by any other form of market manipulation or price gouging practices.

      Faced with record profits as the price of crude oil hit $70 a barrel and gasoline prices soared after supply disruptions caused by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, bosses at the five giant oil companies repeatedly defended their industry's profits.

      They told senators that most of the money is re-invested into energy exploration projects.

      Republican Sen. Pete Domenici said many Americans believe the companies are exploiting current conditions to reap excess profits that amount to price gouging.

      ExxonMobil is the worlds' largest privately-owned oil company and earned nearly $10 billion in the third quarter of the year. The five companies as a group earned more than $25 billion in profits in the July-September quarter after the price of crude oil hit $70 a barrel and gasoline spiked at record levels following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

      Raymond told the senators that ExxonMobil tried to minimize the increase in price while at the same time recognizing if the company kept the price too low ExxonMobil would quickly run out of fuel at its service stations.

      Majoras said the FTC is "keenly aware of the importance to American consumers of free and open markets and intends faithfully to fulfill its obligation to search for and stop illegal conduct, which undermines the markets consumer benefits."

      Majoras cautioned, however, that a full understanding of pricing practices before and since Hurricane Katrina may not lead to a conclusion that a federal prohibition on price gouging is appropriate. She said consumers understandably are upset when they face dramatic price increase within a short period of time, especially during a disaster.

      "But price gouging laws that have the effect of controlling prices likely will do consumers more harm than good," she said. "While no consumers like price increases, in fact, price increases lower demand and help make the shortage shorter-lived than it otherwise would have been."

      Even if Congress were to outlaw gasoline price gouging, such laws would be difficult to enforce fairly, based on the difficulty of defining the term price gouging and determining when such laws should be put into effect, she said.

      For all of these reasons, Majoras said, the commission remains persuaded that federal price gouging legislation would unnecessarily hurt consumers. Enforcement of the antitrust laws is the better way to protect consumers.

      To determine whether oil companies have violated antitrust laws, Majoras told Congress that her agency has sent subpoenas to the nations largest oil companies in connection with its probe, and hopes to reach a conclusion by next spring. Among those receiving subpoenas are Exxon Mobil Corp., Chevron Corp. , ConocoPhillips, and the U.S. units of BP Plc. (BP.L) and Royal Dutch Shell Plc.

      FTC Chairman Deborah Platt Majoras testified that her agency is investigating to determine if the price of gasoline is being artificially manipulated by re...
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      Sony Slammed for Hidden CD Software


      It's been a bad few weeks for Sony BMG Music. First was the revelation that their copy-proof compact discs contained software that could hide files on any computer the disc was played on, and could cripple the entire machine if a user tried to remove it. Even a quickly-issued "patch" to the software didn't soothe buyers' outrage.

      Now the entertainment giant is facing a potential class-action lawsuit in California for violation of a state law that forbids "inducing" the installation of spyware or similar utilities on a personal computer in order to use a particular application.

      San Francisco lawyer Robert Green said he is investigating the possibility of a lawsuit against Sony. "We're still investigating the case and talking to different people about what happened to them," Green said.

      Green has been involved in consumer lawsuits accusing Palm Inc. of selling defective Treo cell phones and accusing Trilegiant of deceptive marketing practices.

      Sony's Hidden Surprise

      The issue first came to light when Mark Russinovich, a software designer and Windows expert, found evidence of a "rootkit" on one of his systems. Rootkits are tools designed to camouflage changes to a computer system made after a hacker or spyware vendor has compromised it.

      Russinovich investigated the rootkit and traced it back to a company called First 4, which recently struck a deal with Sony to provide digital rights management (DRM) for its CD music releases. DRM controls the usage of a CD and is often used to block it from being copied onto a computer or to make multiple copies.

      There's no mention of the rootkit in the end-user license agreement (EULA) that a buyer agrees to when they play the disc, and attempting to remove it can cripple Windows computers, which may require a full reformat and reinstall of the computer's hard drive.

      Russinovich had recently bought a new CD by the Van Zant brothers, "Get Right with the Man," which contained a special media player required to play the disc on his computer. By installing the player, he had unknowingly installed the rootkit as well.

      Russinovich posted the findings on his Web site's blog on Oct.31st, provoking a flurry of criticism and complaints against Sony.

      One blogger said that "[t]he most frustrating thing about this is the way in which it punishes the people who've actually chosen to buy the product."

      Another critic pointed out that because rootkits are tools used by hackers, installing one on a machine can leave it vulnerable to access from outside sources. "The purpose of a "rootkit" is to open up one or more access points to administrative ("root") control, letting [hackers] do anything they want with your machine," they said.

      The Fix Is In

      Sony and First 4 hastily offered a "patch" to the software, allowing angry buyers to view the files hidden by the rootkit.

      In an interview with BBC News, First 4's chief executive, Mathew Gilat-Smith, claimed that the Van Zant CD explicitly stated that it was copy-protected on the packaging, and that users were informed that the CD required special software to play.

      Thomas Hesse, president of Sony's global digital entertainment division, was rather flippant when discussing the complaints. In an interview with NPR, he said "Most people, I think, don't even know what a rootkit is, so why should they care about it?"

      The supposed "patch" does not actually allow a user to remove the rootkit. It only enables users to see the previously hidden files.

      In order to actually remove the files, users have to visit a special Sony Web site. In addition, users of Web browsers such as Mozilla Firefox or Opera are denied from accessing the site, as it requires special "ActiveX" controls found only in Microsoft Internet Explorer.

      ActiveX is derided by experts in the anti-spyware industry for easily enabling hackers and malware creators to get access to a user's machine through Internet Explorer.

      Bizarro World

      Sony and First 4 insist that the hidden software does not empower hackers to take advantage of vulnerable computers, but a strange twist in another case involving unauthorized software installation may prove otherwise.

      Blizzard Entertainment, makers of the popular online roleplaying game "World of Warcraft," recently came under fire for installing a program called "The Warden" on players' machines, in order to verify that they weren't attempting to cheat or hack the game. The program can enable access to anything that's on a user's computer while playing the game, including personal files, spreadsheets, and so on.

      Several enterprising World of Warcraft hackers found they could use the Sony rootkit to cloak their activities from any sort of monitoring, including Blizzard's own program.

      In addition, any discussion of how to circumvent the Sony rootkit can possibly be interpreted as a violation of copyright law. The Digital Millenium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed to prevent illegal content piracy, specifically forbids any attempt "to `circumvent a technological measure' means to descramble a scrambled work, to decrypt an encrypted work, or otherwise to avoid, bypass, remove, deactivate, or impair a technological measure, without the authority of the copyright owner."

      To sum up ...

      • A piece of software designed to prevent illegal copying of a CD can effectively open that computer up to attacks from hackers, and any attempt to remove it can cripple the machine.

      • Further, hackers can use the software to cloak their own activities, and any discussion of how to remove it can be potentially punished with civil or criminal penalties.

      • In order to get help from Sony to remove it, you have to use a set of Web browser applications that are magnets for viruses, spyware, and Trojan horses.

      As one furious commenter on Amazon.com's message board put it, "All of this was bad enough but this new method takes the copy protection madness to a whole new level[y]ou'd never pay anyone to install malware on your computer system, would you? But that's exactly what happens when you buy this CD."

      Sony Slammed for Hidden CD Software...
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      Movies Encourage Teen Smoking, Study Finds


      The first national study to look at the connection between smoking in movies and smoking among adolescents shows that exposure to smoking in popular films is a primary risk factor in determining whether young people will start smoking.

      The study by researchers from Dartmouth Medical School (DMS) and Norris Cotton Cancer Center (NCCC) appears in the November 7 issues of the journal Pediatrics.

      The research, supported by the National Cancer Institute, suggests that exposure to movie smoking accounts for smoking initiation among over one-third of U.S. adolescents. It concludes that limiting exposure of young adolescents to movie smoking could have important public health implications.

      "We found that as the amount of exposure to smoking in movies increased, the rate of smoking also increased." said lead author Dr. James Sargent, professor of pediatrics at DMS and director of the Cancer Control Research Program at NCCC.

      "Part of the reason that exposure to movie smoking has such a considerable impact on adolescent smoking is because it is a very strong social influence on kids ages 10-14," he said.

      "Because movie exposure to smoking is so pervasive, its impact on this age group outweighs whether peers or parents smoke or whether the child is involved other activities, like sports," said Sargent.

      In the study, 6,522 US adolescents aged 10-14 were asked to identify films they had seen from a list of 50 randomly selected titles out of a database of films released in the U.S. from 1998 2000. Researchers found examples of movie smoking in 74 percent of the 532 movies in the database.

      Based on the movies each participant had seen and the amount of smoking in each movie, the adolescents were split into four levels of exposure to movie smoking. Researchers then examined risk for adolescent smoking, comparing adolescents in the higher movie smoking categories with the lowest category and controlling factors known to be linked with adolescent smoking, like peer and parent smoking.

      Even after considering all other factors known to influence the smoking risk, DMS researchers found that adolescents with the highest exposure to movie smoking were 2.6 times more likely to take up smoking compared to those with the lowest exposure.

      All else being equal, the researchers found that of 100 adolescents that tried smoking, 38 did so because of their exposure to smoking in movies.

      The study confirms the results of a regionalized study by the researchers that focused on adolescents in Northern New England, published December 15 in the British Medical Journal.

      The data in that research showed that exposure to smoking in movies had a similar impact on first-time cigarette smoking, but the children interviewed for that study were predominantly Caucasians living in mostly rural areas, and so the results could not be applied to the rest of the country.

      "This is an extremely powerful confirmatory study that shows that kids react the same way to the movies in other places in the U.S. as they do in New England," said Sargent. "It means that no child is immune to the influence of smoking in movies."

      The participants' ethnicity was taken into account as well. This large national research sample found that Hispanic and black youths were exposed to significantly more movie smoking than their white counterparts, so the population impact may be larger in minorities.

      "The finding on minorities is concerning." said co-author of the study, Dr. Linda Titus-Ernstoff, professor of community and family medicine at DMS. "On average, Hispanic and black adolescents are exposed to more movie smoking than whites, so movie smoking may have a greater impact in these populations."

      In the study, the researchers suggest several ways to reduce teens' exposure to movie smoking. "As a pediatrician, I think that parents need to become more aware of what their young children watch and make an effort to shield young children from the messages in PG-13 and R rated movies," said Sargent.

      The team also hopes that, in light of their new research, the movie industry will be persuaded to voluntarily reduce depictions of smoking and cigarette brands.

      They also suggest that the movie industry could incorporate smoking into the movie rating system to make parents aware of the risks a movie with smoking poses to the adolescent viewer, and include an antismoking preview on all DVD movies that depict smoking. "Those measures have a minimal cost to the movie industry," said Sargent.

      Movies Encourage Teen Smoking, Study Finds...
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      Negative Option: When No Means Yes

      Instead of the merchant having to "sell" you a product or service, it starts with the assumption that youve already bought it

      Today, with "negative option" marketing, commerce can be anything but simple, and consumers can end up being charged for products or services they never in..

      Driver Error #1 Cause of Teen Fatalities

      Speeding and alcohol use are close behind

      Driver error is the leading cause (77%) of fatal crashes among teen drivers, a study finds, followed by speeding (38%) and alcohol (less than 25%).

      Despite improvements in highways, safer cars and restrictive driving laws, the number of teen deaths attributed to teen motor-vehicle crashes has remained consistent at nearly 6,000 fatalities per year for the past 10 years, the Allstate Foundation study found.

      In addition, each year, more than 300,000 teens are injured as a result of a teen crash.

      Recent research into adolescent brain development may explain why established teen driver-education programs have not been more effective in reducing teen crash statistics, study suggested.

      "Areas involved in multi-tasking, impulse control and the ability to envision consequences, areas crucial for driving, are still developing until age 25," according to the report.

      Here are some common attitudes the survey found among teen drivers:

      If I'm sober, I'm safe. Teens appear to believe drinking and driving is the major cause of crashes when in fact, drinking is a factor in 13 percent of crashes involving 16-year-olds and less than 25 percent overall. The reality is that 75 percent of teen deaths on the road are due to speeding and driver error.

      More than half (56%) of teens make and answer phone calls while driving. Thirteen percent (an estimated 1.6 million teens) drive while reading or writing text messages. Forty-seven percent said passengers sometimes distract them.

      Speeding is normal. Although speeding causes almost half of all teen-driving fatalities, teens say speeding is part of the daily driving experience. Sixty-nine percent of teen drivers that speed said they do so to keep up with traffic.

      One out of four self-identified aggressive teen drivers (26%) reported speeding by more than 20 miles an hour over the limit. Four times as many males as females (25% vs. 6%) said they speed because it is "fun."

      Sixty-four percent polled speed up to go through a yellow light.

      It's not me, it's them Most teens believe they are good drivers and it's other teens that drive recklessly.

      Forty-three percent classified their own driving as "somewhat" or "very defensive" behind the wheel. Sixty-two percent called their peers "somewhat" or "very aggressive" drivers.

      Nearly 70 percent of teens say they've felt unsafe when someone else was driving but less than half (45%) said they would speak up in such an instance.

      Driver Error #1 Cause of Teen Fatalities...
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      Can Aspirin Prevent Skin Cancer?

      Researchers have already concluded that the common aspirin can be effective in reducing the risk of death from a heart attack

      Researchers have already concluded that the common aspirin can be effective in reducing the risk of death from a heart attack. Now Australian researchers say the often-overlooked over-the-counter medication might actually help reduce the risk of developing skin cancer.

      The study, at the Queensland Institute of Medical Research, says people who regularly take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, also known as NSAIDS, might gain increased protection against skin cancer and sunspots. The findings, presented in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, were compiled after studying 1,600 subjects over a 15-year period.

      Researcher David Whitman said aspirin appears to shut down an enzyme known as cyclo-oxygenase, which is a trigger for development of some skin cancers. The enzymes also serve as a means for cancer cells to stimulate cells in the blood.

      For aspirin to be effective, the research says long-term, consistent use is required. Subjects would need to take at least two tablets a week for five years, according to the study.

      Though promising, Whitman said it's too early to base any firm conclusions on it. The next step, he says, would be clinical trials.

      More than one million people are diagnosed with skin cancer each year. The incidence of melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, is rising faster than any other cancer, according to the Skin Cancer Foundation.

      Can Aspirin Prevent Skin Cancer?...
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      Pennsylvania Suit Challenges State Farm Salvage Title Deal

      A Pennsylvania lawsuit claims State Farm Insurance put together a sweetheart deal with the attorneys general of 49 states after discovering that it had failed to obtain "salvage" titles for cars it had declared to be total wrecks.

      The company is paying $40 million to about 30,000 motorists who bought cars that had been totaled, thinking they were low-mileage cream puffs. The amounts paid to individual consumers range from a few hundred dollars to $20,000, depending on the value of the car.

      The lead plaintiff in the suit filed in Allegheny County court is Robert G. Beaves, 51, of Sewickley. He said he is being offered up to $2,700 for a Honda Civic he bought two and one-half years ago for more than $14,000.

      Beaves said he never would have bought the car had he known it was salvaged. He said Pennsylvania is now demanding that he turn in his clean title to the car and get a salvage title. That will reduce the car's resale value drastically.

      Further, Beaves said, if his vehicle is damaged in an accident, he will be compensated based on its value as a salvaged vehicle. He will also lose his extended warranty.

      State Farm has said that when it discovered it had not been properly retitling totaled vehicled, it approached an assistant to Attorney General Tom Miller of Iowa to see if a settlement could be worked out. Miller's office has defended the settlement because consumers don't have to sue.

      State Farm has not revealed details of how the error occurred but said it was discovered during an internal review.

      Beaves' lawsuit claims State Farm had a financial motive for allowing salvage cars to enter the market without appropriate titles and delayed notifying car buyers in hopes of reducing its payout.

      Beaves' suit seeks damages for the cost of the car, punitive damages and attorneys fees.

      Pennsylvania Suit Challenges State Farm Salvage Title Deal...
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      Weight Loss from a Cactus

      Hoodia Gordonii is a cactus, grown in Africa's Kalahari and eaten by the San Bushmen there. Hoodia Gordonii supposedly curbs your appetite and helps you lose weight. But does it really?

      Look on the Internet and you'll find dozens of ads peddling pills which supposedly contain the product.

      The key word here is supposedly. It is illegal to export the plant from Africa and numerous tests have found no cactus juice in any of the pills.

      Then there are the reports of how well it works. Hoodia Gordonii supposedly contains a molecule, P57, which tells the nerves in your hypothalamus, the part of the brain that controls appetite, to stop you from eating.

      The problem is no one seems to be able to find those studies that prove it works in rats or can cut he appetite of obese people by 1,000 calories per day.

      And then there is Pfizer. The big drug company bought the rights to develop Hoodia Gordonii in 1998 and sold them back in 2003.

      Hmmmm. I wonder what they know?

      Until we know more about Hoodia, I'd stick to diet and exercise.

      Weight Loss from a Cactus | Dr. Henry Fishman on Health and Medicine...
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      Waist-Hip Ratio Measures Heart Attack Risk


      Waist-to-hip ratio, not body mass index (BMI), is the best obesity measure for assessing a person's risk of heart attack, concludes a global study published in this week's issue of the British medical journal The Lancet.

      If obesity is redefined using waist-to-hip ratio instead of BMI the proportion of people at risk of heart attack increases by threefold, calculate the authors.

      Previous research has shown that obesity increases the risk of heart disease. However, these studies have mainly been done in populations of European and North American origin. The evidence for other populations is therefore sparse.

      In the latest study, Dr. Salim Yusuf, director of the Population Health Research Institute at McMaster University and Hamilton Health Sciences, and colleagues aimed to assess whether other markers for obesity, especially waist-to-hip ratio, would be a stronger predictor of heart attack than the conventional measure of BMI in different ethnic populations.

      The investigators looked at BMI, waist-to-hip ratio, waist measure, and hip measure in more than 27,000 people from 52 countries.

      Half the participants had previously had a heart attack and half were age and sex-matched controls (individuals who had not had a heart attack and were the same age and sex as cases).

      The team found that BMI was only slightly higher in heart attack patients than in controls, with no difference in the Middle East and South Asia.

      By contrast, heart attack patients had a strikingly higher waist-to-hip ratio than controls, irrespective of other cardiovascular risk factors.

      The researchers found that this observation was consistent in men and women, across all ages, and in all regions of the world.

      The authors state that compared with BMI, waist-to-hip ratio is three times stronger than BMI in predicting the risk of a heart attack. Larger waist size (which reflects the amount of abdominal fat) was harmful, whereas larger hip size (which may indicate the amount of lower body muscle) was protective.

      The waist-to-hip ratio is calculated by dividing the waist measure by the hip measure. The cut off point for cardiovascular risk factors is less than 0.85 for women and 0.90 for men. A higher number denotes more risk.

      Dr. Yusuf concludes: "Our findings suggest that substantial reassessment is needed of the importance of obesity for cardiovascular disease in most regions of the world."

      In an accompanying published comment Charlotte Krageland of the University of Oslo, Norway states: "The main message from the new report is that current practice with body mass index as the measure of obesity is obsolete. For the assessment of risk associated with obesity, the waist-to-hip ratio, and not the body mass index, is the preferred simple measure."

      Dr. John Kelton, dean of the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine and dean and vice-president, Faculty of Health Sciences, McMaster University, said: "The results of this study will change, on an international scope, how we evaluate patients' risks for heart disease. Being able to easily identify the risk will have a beneficial effect on awareness and treatment."

      Larger waist size (which reflects the amount of abdominal fat) was harmful, whereas larger hip size (which may indicate the amount of lower body muscle) wa...
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      U.S. Health Care Most Expensive & Most Error Prone


      Not only do Americans pay much more for medical treatment than anyone else in the world, they also bear the brunt of the most medical errors, according to a survey covering the USA, Australia, Canada, Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. Almost 7,000 patients were consulted.

      The survey supported by The Commonwealth Fund finds that one-third of U.S. patients with health problems reported experiencing medical mistakes, medication errors, or inaccurate or delayed lab results -- the highest rate of any of the six nations surveyed.

      While sicker patients in all countries reported safety risks, poor care coordination, and inadequate chronic care treatment, with no country deemed best or worst overall, the United States stood out for high error rates, inefficient coordination of care, and high out-of-pocket costs resulting in forgone care.

      Americans are the most likely to have to pay out-of-pocket expenses over $1,000, and 34 percent of the American patients surveyed said they had encountered either medication errors, wrong test results, late test results or treatment errors.

      Nation

      Errors

      USA

      34%

      Canada

      30%

      Australia

      27%

      New Zealand

      25%

      Germany

      23%

      UK

      22%

      One-third (34%) of U.S. respondents reported at least one of four types of errors: they believed they experienced a medical mistake in treatment or care, were given the wrong medication or dose, were given incorrect test results, or experienced delays in receiving abnormal test results.

      Three of 10 (30%) Canadian respondents reported at least one of these errors, as did one-fifth or more of patients in Australia (27%), New Zealand (25%), Germany (23%), and the U.K. (22%).

      While patient safety efforts have focused chiefly on hospital settings, most patients (60% or more) said these errors occurred outside the hospitala signal that safety initiatives should also focus on ambulatory care, said Cathy Schoen, the study's lead author and a senior vice president at The Commonwealth Fund.

      Patients receiving complex care may be at even higher risk of medical errors: the incidence of patient-reported errors rose sharply with the number of physicians seen. Despite studies showing patients value discussion about mistakes or errors, most patients (61% to 83%) in each country said the health care providers involved did not tell them about the mistakes.

      Communication issues also adversely affect patients' experiences during hospital stays. At least one-fifth of patients (19% to 26%) in the six countries reported communication gaps between themselves and hospital staff, and one-sixth said they would have liked greater involvement in decisions made about their care.

      Good transitional care -- helping patients transfer from hospital to home -- also relies on clear communication and coordination. In all six countries, however, at least one-third of patients said they did not receive instructions about symptoms to watch for, did not know whom to contact with questions, or were left without follow-up care arrangements.

      German patients had the highest rate of coordination deficiencies when discharged from the hospital, with 60 percent reporting failures to coordinate care. According to the authors, poor transitional care can result in complications and increase the likelihood of hospital readmission, raising concerns about costs as well as quality.

      While the U.S. performed better than most countries on the hospital transition measure, it had the highest rate of patients reporting coordination problems during doctor visits.

      One-third (33%) of U.S. respondents said that either test results or records were not available at the time of appointments or that doctors duplicated tests. These delays and duplications are a clear sign of inefficient care, the authors said, and waste both physicians' and patients' time and resources. Rates of care coordination problems in the other survey countries were significantly lower, ranging from one-fifth to one-quarter of patients reporting such problems.

      As was found in past surveys, the U.S. is an outlier in terms of financial burdens placed on patients. Onehalf of adults with health problems in the U.S. said they did not see a doctor when sick, did not get recommended treatment, or did not fill a prescription because of cost.

      Despite these high rates of forgone care, one-third of U.S. patients spent more than $1,000 out-of-pocket in the past year. In contrast, just 13 percent of U.K. adults reported not getting needed care because of costs, and two-thirds had no out-of-pocket costs.

      There were wide and significant variations in access and waiting times on multiple dimensions across the six countries. Respondents in Canada and the U.S. were significantly less likely than those in other countries to report same-day access and more likely to wait six days or longer for an appointment.

      At the same time, majorities of patients in New Zealand (58%) and Germany (56%), and nearly half in Australia (49%) and the U.K. (45%), were able to get same-day appointments. Waiting times for elective surgery or specialists were shortest in Germany and the U.S., with the majority of patients in both countries reporting rapid access.

      The authors say that no country emerges as a clear winner or loser. All survey countries experience high rates of safety risks, failure to coordinate care during transitions, inadequate communication, and a lack of support for chronically ill patients. These areas of shared concern, they conclude, will likely require policy innovations that transcend current payment and delivery systems.

      Facts and Figures:

      • More than one of four patients in each country (28% to 32%) said risks were not completely explained during their hospital stay.

      • In all countries, sizable majorities of patients said physicians had not always reviewed all their medications during the past year, and one-third or more reported infrequent reviews.

      • Across countries, one-sixth to one-fourth of patients said physicians only sometimes, rarely, or never make goals of care and treatment clear or give them clear instructions.

      • Relative to the U.S. and Canada, the four countries reporting comparatively rapid access to physiciansAustralia, Germany, New Zealand, and the U.K.also had significantly lower rates of emergency room use.

      ''What's striking is that we are clearly a world leader in how much we spend on health care," said Cathy Schoen, senior vice president for The Commonwealth Fund, a nonpartisan, nonprofit foundation in New York that commissioned the survey. ''Clearly, we should be doing better."

      Other specialists agreed, saying the results offer the most recent evidence that the quality of care delivered by the U.S. healthcare system is seriously eroding even as health care costs skyrocket.

      U.S. Health Care Most Expensive & Most Error Prone...
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      Cambridge Credit Counseling Fined $4.2 Million

      State charges the company violated consumer protection laws

      A Massachusetts credit counseling agency and its two owners must pay $4.2 million in penalties and consumer restitution to settle allegations that it misled thousands of consumers and funneled millions of dollars to related for-profit companies.

      The consent judgment resolves a lawsuit filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly in April 2004. The suit charged that owners John and Richard Puccio violated Massachusetts charities laws by using Cambridge Credit Counseling to funnel millions of dollars to for-profit companies that they also owned.

      The state also alleges that the company violated consumer protection laws by misleading thousands of consumers about the benefits of credit counseling offered by Cambridge Credit.

      Under the consent judgment, both Cambridge Credit and the Puccio brothers will pay civil penalties and restitution to consumers.

      The Puccios will pay a total of $2 million to the Commonwealth - including a $500,000 civil penalty, $500,000 restitution to consumers, and an additional $1 million in disgorgement of ill gotten gains from the charity.

      Cambridge will pay $2.2 million -- a $500,000 civil penalty and $1.7 million in restitution to consumers. The Puccios also are permanently barred from working with Cambridge, contracting with the charity, or receiving any money from the charity.

      "What is clear is that the owners set up this charity primarily to enrich themselves - funneling millions of dollars to their other for-profit companies - and not to benefit the people using their services," Reilly said.

      "This judgment forces the company to pay a significant fine and consumer restitution. It also removes the owners from the company and fundamentally changes the structure of the organization to help assure that it stays true to its charitable mission."

      Cambridge, minus the Puccios, will continue to service existing credit counseling clients and will continue to operate as a Massachusetts charitable organization, following a comprehensive overhaul of the organization and its charitable operations.

      Cambridge Credit also will overhaul its credit counseling practices and its marketing of credit counseling services. Cambridge Credit will charge no more than a $75 fee to enroll in credit counseling, plus a monthly fee not to exceed 10 percent of monthly payments, capped at $50. Before the lawsuit, Cambridge charged an up-front fee equal to one months payment, which ranged between $100 and $1,500, and on average was around $300.

      A Massachusetts credit counseling agency and its two owners must pay $4.2 million in penalties and consumer restitution to settle allegations....
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      Yamaha Recalls ATVs

      November 4, 2005
      Yamaha is recalling about 70,000 ATVs because of a problem with the tie-rod ends that could cause steering problems. Affected models include the Yamaha Bruin 250, Bruin 350 4WD and 2WD, Big Bear 400, Kodiak 400, Kodiak 450, and Wolverine 450 ATVs.

      The protective boots covering the steering systems tie-rod ends (universal joints) on the recalled ATVs could be pinched during installation or adjustment, cutting a hole in the rubber. If this occurs, grease could escape, and contaminants such as sand or mud could get into the assembly through the hole, causing accelerated wear. This could result in abnormal steering free play.

      If the ATV continues to be operated without repair, the ball and socket portion of the tie-rod end could wear to the point that they separate, resulting in loss of steering control, which could cause a vehicle crash with injury or death.

      Below is a list of make, model and vehicle identification numbers (VIN) involved in the recall.

      Make/ModelVehicle Identification Number (VIN)
      2005 Bruin 250 2WD
      2006 Bruin 250 2WD
      2005 Bruin 350 Auto 2WD
      2006 Bruin 350 Auto 2WD
      2005 Bruin 350 Auto 4WD
      2006 Bruin 350 Auto 4WD
      2005 Bruin 350 Auto 4WD Hunter
      2006 Bruin 350 Auto 4WD Hunter
      2005 Big Bear 400 4WD
      2006 Big Bear 400 4WD
      2005 Kodiak 400 4WD
      2006 Kodiak 400 4WD
      2005 Kodiak 400 4WD/Hunter
      2006 Kodiak 400 4WD/Hunter
      2005 Kodiak 450 4WD
      2005 Kodiak 450 4WD
      2005 Kodiak 450 4WD/Hunter
      2005 Kodiak 450 4WD/Hunter
      2005 Kodiak 450 4WD SE
      2006 Wolverine 450 4WD
      YFM250BT
      YFM250BV
      YFM350BAT
      YFM350BAV
      YFM350FAT
      YFM350FAV
      YFM350FAHT
      YFM350FAHV
      YFM400FT
      YFM400FV
      YFM400FAT
      YFM400FAV
      YFM400FAHT
      YFM400FAHV
      YFM450FAT
      YFM450FAV
      YFM450FAHT
      YFM450FAHV
      YFM450FASET
      YFM450FXV
      AG01Y-0116001 ~ 0120900
      AG01Y-0120901 ~ 0123400
      AH10Y-0012901 ~ 0016600
      AH10Y-0016601 ~ 0020100
      AH09Y-0019301 ~ 0023500
      AH09Y-0023501 ~ 0029400
      AH13Y-0002601 ~ 0003600
      AH13Y-0003601 ~ 0006100
      AH06Y-0055101 ~ 0057600
      AH06Y-0057601 ~ 0059281
      AJ15Y-0000101 ~ 0009600
      AJ15Y-0009601 ~ 0011700
      AJ17Y-0000101 ~ 0002100
      AJ17Y-0002101 ~ 0003200
      AJ14Y-0000101 ~ 0014900
      AJ14Y-0014901 ~ 0018800
      AJ16Y-0000101 ~ 0005300
      AJ16Y-0005301 ~ 0008300
      AJ18Y-0000101 ~ 0002700
      AJ21Y-0000101 ~ 0001400

      Yamaha dealers sold these ATVs nationwide from 2004 to October 2005. The manufacturers suggested retail price for the affected ATVs ranged from about $3,500 to $7,000.

      Registered owners of the affected units were notified directly by mail sent on October 14, 2005. Consumers should stop using their ATV immediately and contact an authorized Yamaha dealer to schedule an appointment for repair.

      Consumer Contact: Call Yamaha at (800) 227-5963 between 8 a.m. and 6 p.m. ET everyday, or log on to the companys Web site at www.yamaha-motor.com.

      The recall is being conducted in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).



      Yamaha Recalls ATVs...
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      Toyota Continues to Sell Faulty Prius Hybrids

      A reader reports to us that his Prius shut down after just three weeks on the road

      While the Toyota Motor Corp. is notifying 75,000 Prius owners of a software glitchthat can cause the hybrid cars to suddenly stall or shut down, the company is apparently continuing to sell the hybrid vehicles that carry the software problem.

      A ConsumerAffairs.com reader in Fredericksburg, Virginia reports to us that his Prius shut down after just three weeks on the road.

      I was driving on October 31 along the highway when the engine shut down and would not restart, writes Gerard. The car had been at the dealership for two days in New Jersey and they didn't know what was wrong.

      The New Jersey dealership apparently was not paying attention to its own service bulletins because Toyota began officially warning Prius owners of the stalling problem on October 13.

      After his brand new Prius shut down on the highway, Gerards research brought him to ConsumerAffairs.com. I found information on this Web site regarding 13 previous cases of the engine shutting down, he told us.

      The most confounding aspect of Gerard's Prius stalling is the age of the vehicle. Being that this car was just shipped I would have assumed that the software issue referred to would have been resolved, he wrote.

      Apparently that is not the case. I had to be towed off of the Interstate at night and this vehicle is only 3 weeks old.

      The Prius was probably in production when the automaker discovered the software glitch and began warning consumers by asking that they take the cars to a dealership for free repairs.

      Gerards letter from the company has not arrived.

      The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened an investigation into the stalling problems. NHTSA has received a number of complaints about the hybrid stalling or stopping unexpectedly, often on the highway as was the case with Gerard.

      Toyota Continues to Sell Faulty Prius Hybrids...
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      Studies Find Autism Not Caused by Vaccinations


      A comprehensive review finds that the MMR vaccine, which protects against mumps, measles and rubella or German measles, does not cause serious childhood illness like autism or inflammatory bowel disease.

      That's the conclusion of a review of 31 studies involving more than 12 million children published online by the Cochrane Library.

      The analysis looked at a variety of studies, including many double-blind studies in which children got fake injections or no injections at all.

      Overall, the authors found that vaccinated children had fewer upper respiratory infections but more irritability, fever and joint aches right after vaccination.

      The study found no association between MMR and autism or other bowel disorders that a lot of parents worry about.

      This study supports the well-established position of all the major pediatric medical societies that autism starts in the womb and has no relationship to any of the childhood vaccinations.

      Studies Find Autism Not Caused by Vaccinations | Dr. Henry Fishman on Health and Medicine...
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      Consumer Reports Unveils Annual Holiday Guide


      Consumer Reports online has unveiled its annual Holiday Giving Guide to provide free expert advice for online shopping as well as Hanukkah and Christmas gift ideas.

      Complete with useful shopping tips in areas including Games & Recreation, Home, Health, and Shopping & Spending, the guide also features e-Ratings, unbiased evaluations of online shopping sites.

      To ensure that people are prepared for the holidays with the latest information, the guide will be updated throughout this Hanukkah and Christmas holiday season with new postings.

      "Early holiday shoppers can consult the ConsumerReports.org Holiday Giving Guide for a wide variety of gift selections," said Helen Popkin, Associate Editor of ConsumerReports.org. "The holiday section is easy to navigate and empowers online users to shop smarter and faster, while knowing that they are getting expert advice on products, services, and great tips for the holiday season."

      In this year's guide, shoppers will find valuable information from the best suggested Hanukkah and Christmas gift ideas to the finest online shopping sites, as well as invaluable tips and advice for the holidays.

      Among Consumer Report's advice for tending to your physical - and emotional - health during the holiday season:

      • Be selective about food -- decide on what you want to indulge in and keep portions small.

      • Drink up -- drink plenty of water throughout the day -- at least eight glasses -- to keep from eating when you are actually thirsty.

      • Go easy on the alcohol -- try not to drink too much at holiday.

      • Make exercise a group effort -- take a walk around your neighborhood to admire holiday decorations with your family and loved ones.

      • Enjoy the great outdoors -- remember, your body burns extra calories just keeping warm.

      • Cut everyone some slack; the holidays are a time to be more tolerant and understanding towards your friends, family, coworkers and yourself.

      • Expect less of yourself -- skip the less important holiday rituals and focus on activities that lighten your heart and bring out the deeper meaning of the holidays.

      Additionally, the guide provides useful guidance on extended warranties, Hanukkah and Christmas gift return policies and holiday tipping.

      Among Consumer Report's advice for tipping at the holidays:

      • Reward those who make a difference -- see who makes the biggest impact on you and reward them accordingly.

      • Think about those whose services you frequently use -- these people may include beauticians, barbers, or the newspaper carrier.

      • Tip those who go out of their way for you -- these people may include water-delivery people who lug heavy jugs for you and giving non-cash gifts to postal service workers and schoolteachers.

      Consumer Reports Unveils Annual Holiday Guide...
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      Power Survey: Hurricanes Destroy Consumer Satisfaction with Their Insurance

      Amica Mutual Ranks Highest in Overall Satisfaction


      Major hurricanes, such as the ones that have ravaged the Gulf Coast states in the past two years, have had a significant negative impact on consumers' feelings about their homeowners insurance in those states, according to the J.D. Power and Associates 2005 Homeowners Insurance Study.

      For the homeowners insurance industry overall, customer satisfaction has remained stable compared with the 2004 study. However, satisfaction levels differ significantly from state to state.

      For example, in Florida, where four major hurricanes occurred in 2004, claims satisfaction is almost 10 percent lower than the rest of the nation.

      Recent catastrophes coupled with serious underinsurance of properties create the potential for disappointed customers as claims are settled. Although study respondents indicate theyve owned their primary residence for an average of 16 years, only about one-half of homeowners have had their homes replacement cost value updated in that time.

      Compounding the problem for consumers and carriers alike, home improvement projects often increase a homes value. According to the study, while 41 percent of homeowners reported they made significant structural changes to their home, 37 percent did not notify their insurer of these changes.

      "As many hurricane victims are unfortunately learning, a homes replacement cost value can change greatly over the years," said Kevin Keegan, insurance practice leader at J.D. Power and Associates. "Homeowners need to take an active role in reading and understanding their policy, and make changes if necessary, to make sure theyre sufficiently covered for the value of their home and its contents."

      The study finds that 25 percent of homeowners do not know which type of homeowners insurance policy they have, and another 24 percent mistakenly believe that they have a guaranteed replacement cost policy that would pay for whatever it costs to rebuild the home without any limits.

      Furthermore, 59 percent of homeowners insurance customers dont feel responsible for the coverage limits, but rather believe the insurance provider or their agent bears the responsibility in determining the replacement cost needed to rebuild their property.

      "This presumption that the agent or carrier is responsible for determining replacement costs no doubt influences many customers to believe that they bear no exposure, even if their propertys replacement cost value has increased," Keegan said.

      "While the agent or representative should carefully educate clients regarding property valuation, ultimately, it is the customers responsibility to understand the nature and limits of the coverage being offered. The homeowner and the insurance company must work together to make sure the right policy and coverage is in place, he added.

      The 2005 study reveals that customers whose coverage is periodically reviewed are significantly more satisfied, even though it may be accompanied by an increase in premium.

      Provider Rankings

      Among homeowners insurance providers, Amica Mutual ranks highest in overall homeowners insurance customer satisfaction for a fourth consecutive year. Amica is followed by State Farm, which records a 14 index point improvement from 2004. Erie Insurance Group, MetLife and The Hartford, respectively, round out the top five providers in the study.

      USAA achieved a higher satisfaction score than Amica, but is not included in the ranking because it is an insurance provider only open to the U.S. military community and their families.

      "With satisfied customers comes customer loyalty," said Keegan. "Amica Mutuals customers have been with the carrier for an average of 18.6 yearsmuch higher than the industry average of 12.7 years."

      Bundling Services

      The ability to bundle two or more insurance policies with the same carrier, such as homeowners and auto, also leads to increased customer loyalty. The average satisfaction index score among customers who bundle is 13 percent higher than non-bundlers.

      "Bundling makes it very easy for the customer, essentially providing one-stop shopping," Keegan said. "One risk to the provider is that if a customer becomes dissatisfied and shops for another homeowners provider, they likely will switch their other insurance policies at the same time."

      The 2005 Homeowners Insurance Study is based on responses from 9,040 homeowners insurance policyholders across the country.

      Power Survey: Hurricanes Destroy Consumer Satisfaction with Their Insurance...
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