1. Home
  2. News
  3. 2014
  4. March

News in March 2014

Browse by year

2014

Browse by month

Get trending consumer news and recalls

    By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

    Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

    Watch out for mudslide relief scams

    Scam artists are profiting on others' misfortunes

    When disaster strikes, you can be sure that scam artists will be close behind. The latest example is the massive mudslide in Washington State. 

    Everyone would like to help but Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson warns that rip-off artists are already out in force.

    “All of us in Washington and around the country have deep sympathy for the victims and their loved ones and friends at this tragic time,” Ferguson said.

    “It is a natural instinct to want to provide assistance right away, but ... I advise potential donors to exercise caution and make sure their hard-earned dollars go for the purpose intended, not to line the pockets of scam artists.”

    Secretary of State Kim Wyman added: “Our hearts go out to everyone affected by this horrific mudslide. So much was lost by so many. I’m heartened that many Washingtonians have a strong impulse to be a part of the relief effort, at least financially, and to help the victims of this tragedy. I support that, obviously.

    “But as the Attorney General and I continue to emphasize in times like these, sadly there always seem to be rip-off artists who take advantage of people. It is shameful, but some so-called charities take advantage of our generous nature. I want people to donate to charities they know and trust, if that’s their desire, and I want no one’s money used to simply line some con-artist’s pocket.”

    Here are some tips to help you avoid being taken in by phony appeals:

    • Be suspicious of solicitors requesting immediate donations. Don’t rush decisions and consider contributing at give.org, a website run by the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
    • Make sure that charities are qualified to provide the type of disaster relief that is necessary.
    • Avoid cash donations. Write a check directly to the charity, not the fundraiser.
    • Never give out credit card numbers over the phone.
    • Be wary of “new” charities with unverifiable background information.
    • Watch out for solicitations from fake “victim” or memorial social media accounts.
    • Don’t be fooled by a name. Be watchful of charities that use sympathetic sounding names or names similar to well-known legitimate charities.

    When disaster strikes, you can be sure that scam artists will be close behind. The latest example is the massive mudslide in Washington State. Every...
    Read lessRead more

    Pending home sales slide again

    Sales in all regions are below a year ago

    For the eighth time in as many months, pending home sales have taken a hit.

    According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the Pending Home Sales Index (PHSI) -- a forward-looking indicator based on contract signings, dipped 0.8% in February -- to 93.9. That's 10.5% below a year earlier and the lowest since October 2011.

    “Contract signings for the past three months have been little changed, implying the market appears to be stabilizing,” said NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Moreover, buyer traffic information from our monthly Realtor survey shows a modest turnaround, and some weather delayed transactions should close in the spring.”

    Sales regionally

    Modest increases in the Midwest and West were offset by declines in the Northeast and South

    • The PHSI in the Northeast declined 2.4% to -- 77.1 in February, and is 7.4% below a year ago.
    • In the Midwest the index was up 2.8%t to 95.3, but is 8.5% lower than February 2013.
    • Pending home sales fell in the South by 4.0% to a reading of 106.3 -- 9.3% below a year ago.
    • The index in the West rose 2.3% in February to 86.1, but remains 16.5% below February 2013.

    The forecast

    Total existing-home sales are expected to reach 5.0 million this year, according to the NAR, compared with nearly 5.1 million in 2013. Housing starts are projected to rise almost 19%, and reach about 1.1 million -- closer to the underlying demand of 1.5 million.

    Analysts believe the gain in new home construction will reduce some of the pressure on home prices, with the national median existing-home price expected to rise in the range of 5.5 to 6% this year, compared with an 11.5% jump in 2013.

    For the eighth time in as many months, pending home sales have taken a hit. According to the National Association of Realtors (NAR), the Pending Home Sale...
    Read lessRead more

    Get trending consumer news and recalls

      By entering your email, you agree to sign up for consumer news, tips and giveaways from ConsumerAffairs. Unsubscribe at any time.

      Thank you, you have successfully subscribed to our newsletter! Enjoy reading our tips and recommendations.

      Incomes and spending head higher in February

      Consumers also managed to tuck away more money for a rainy day

      Both personal incomes and consumer spending posted gains in February, as did the savings rate of consumers,

      Government figures show overall income edged up 0.3%, or $47.7 billion. Disposable personal income (DPI) -- personal income less personal current taxes -- also was up 0.3%, or $42.3 billion.

      Personal consumption expenditures (PCE) rose by $30.8 billion -- or 0.3%.

      Wages and salaries

      Private wages and salaries posted a smaller increase last month than in January -- $13.0 billion versus $17.2 billion. Payrolls of goods producing industries were up $5.2 billion in February, while manufacturing payrolls were down by $0.3 billion. Services-producing industries' payrolls jumped $7.8 billion, and government wages and salaries increased $2.0 billion.

      Spending and saving

      Personal outlays, which includes PCE, personal interest payments and personal current transfer payments, increased by $33.8 billion in February.

      Personal saving -- DPI less personal outlays -- was $544.5 billion in February, compared with $535.9 billion in January. The personal saving rate -- personal saving as a percentage of disposable personal income -- was 4.3% in February, up 0.1% from January.

      The complete incomes and savings report for February is available on the Commerce Department website,

      Both personal incomes and consumer spending posted gains in February, as did the savings rate of consumers, Government figures show overall income edged u...
      Read lessRead more

      GM recalls Cadillac ELRs

      The vehicles may have electronic stability control software problems

      General Motors is recalling 656 model year 2014 Cadillac ELR vehicles not equipped with adaptive cruise control and manufactured September 26, 2013, through February 14, 2014.

      In these vehicles, the electronic stability control (ESC) system software may inhibit certain ESC diagnostics, preventing the system from alerting the driver that the ESC system is partially or fully disabled.

      A driver who is not alerted to an ESC malfunction may continue driving with a disabled ESC system, possibly resulting in loss of directional control, increasing the risk of a crash.

      GM will notify owners, and dealers will recalibrate the Electronic Brake Control Module (EBCM), free of charge. The recall is expected to begin on April 17, 2014.

      Owners may contact Cadillac at 1-800-458-8006. GM's number for this recall is 14087.

      General Motors is recalling 656 model year 2014 Cadillac ELR vehicles not equipped with adaptive cruise control and manufactured September 26, 2013, throu...
      Read lessRead more

      Excel recalls BigDog and Hustler mowers

      The mower may to continue to move without an operator present

      Excel Industries of Hesston, Kan., is recalling about 3,700 Hustler and BigDog riding mowers.

      The seat switch can fail to detect that the rider has left the seat, allowing the mower to continue to operate, posing a risk of injury.

      No incidents or injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves the BigDog and Hustler brand riding mowers. The BigDog mower is red with a grey seat and a black roll bar. The words BigDog Diablo are printed below the front of the seat and on the sides of the mower.

      The Hustler mowers are yellow with grey seats, have “Hustler” on the front of the footrest and say FastTrak, FastTrakSD or RaptorSD in red on the yellow bar below the front of the seat. The FastTrak and FastTrakSD mowers have a black roll bar. All mowers have right and left steering handles.

      The recalled mowers have serial numbers between 13082168 and 14012774 for the BigDog R Diablo, between 13081106 and 14013675 for FastTrak, between 13081129 and 14013689 for FasTrakSD and between 13081376 and 14013882 for Hustler RaptorSD. The serial number appears on a tag located on the left side of the seat platform in front of the fender.

      The mowers, manufactured in Kansas, were sold at BigDog and Hustler dealers nationwide from August 2013, to January 2014, for about $4,600 to $8,050.

      Consumers should stop using the mower immediately and contact their dealers to schedule an appointment to receive a free seat repair.

      Consumers may contact Excel Industries collect at (316) 327-1345 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. CT Monday through Friday.

      Excel Industries of Hesston, Kan., is recalling about 3,700 Hustler and BigDog riding mowers. The seat switch can fail to detect that the rider has left t...
      Read lessRead more

      ThinkPad notebook computer battery packs recalled

      The battery packs can overheat, posing a fire hazard

      Lenovo of Morrisville, N.C., is recalling about 37,000 ThinkPad notebook computer battery packs in the U.S. and Canada.

      The battery packs can overheat, posing a fire hazard.

      The company has received two reports of the battery packs overheating, resulting in damage to the computer, battery pack and nearby property. No injuries have been reported.

      This recall involves Lenovo battery packs sold with the following ThinkPad notebook computers: the Edge 11, 13 and 14 series, the T410, T420, T510 and W510 series, and the X100e, X120e, X200, X201 and X201s series. The battery packs were also sold separately.

      The black battery packs measure between 8 to 11 inches long, 1 to 3 inches wide and about 1 inch high.

      Recalled battery packs have one of the following part numbers starting with the fourth digit in a long series of numbers and letters printed on a white sticker below the bar code on the battery pack: 42T4695, 42T4711, 42T4798, 42T4804, 42T4812, 42T4822, 42T4828, 42T4834, 42T4840 and 42T4890.

      The battery packs, manufactured in China, were sold at computer and electronics stores, authorized dealers and online at www.lenovo.com nationwide from October 2010, through April 2011, for between $350 and $3,000 when sold as part of ThinkPad notebook computers. The battery packs were also sold separately for between $80 and $150.

      Consumers should immediately turn off their ThinkPad notebook computer, remove the battery pack and contact Lenovo for a free replacement battery pack. Consumers can continue to use their ThinkPad notebook without the battery pack by plugging in the AC adapter and power cord.

      Consumers may contact Lenovo at (800) 426-7378 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday.  

      Lenovo of Morrisville, N.C., is recalling about 37,000 ThinkPad notebook computer battery packs in the U.S. and Canada. The battery packs can overheat, po...
      Read lessRead more

      Retirement account fees getting increased scrutiny

      New web tool tells you if you are paying too much

      With so many Baby Boomers retiring, or getting ready to retire, retirement savings has been been a hot button topic. Right along with it – especially lately – concern about fees paid on retirement accounts is getting some discussion.

      If you have a retirement-related investment account, you are paying something for it. Do you know how much?

      Chances are you don't, because the companies managing these accounts don't always put that information front and center. But a new web-based tool – FeeX – is designed to help you find out what you are paying and whether it is too much.

      Tech heavyweight

      One of the people behind FeeX is Uri Levine, a heavyweight in the entrepreneurial tech world who sold map software provider Waze to Google last year for a cool $1.1 billion. FeeX's position is that some of these fees aren't fair, especially if they aren't readily apparent to the account-holder.

      A free sign-up at FeeX.com shows users in graphic terms how much they’re paying for their investments, providing an estimate of the damage those fees will inflict by the time they retire. The tool then enlists help from others in the community to demonstrate how to reduce those fees before they eat too deeply into retirement savings.

      “If you don’t know how much you’re paying in fees, you’re probably paying too much,” said Yoav Zurel, CEO of FeeX in this video:

      How much is too much?

      But since it's reasonable to assume that you're going to pay something, how much is too much? Many financial experts suggest paying more than 1% of your portfolio is over the limit.

      This video from the U.S. Department of Labor explains the different kinds of fees you may be paying and how they impact your savings.

      Compares your portfolio to others

      To help savers avoid excessive fees, FeeX compares portfolios to a practical ideal, based on what other anonymous users are doing. It's a way of grading on the curve, so to speak.

      FeeX says this crowdsourcing element allows it to remain objective while helping users rescue their retirements – without sacrificing performance or taking on more risk.

      “Again and again we’re seeing that the power of community trumps other more traditional, individual approaches,” Levine said. “Why hold only one piece when together, we can see the whole puzzle?”

      The 2013 Investment Company Factbook reports there is $5.4 trillion retirement dollars invested in IRAs, accounting for 27 percent, the lion’s share of U.S. national retirement savings. As a result, Levine says Americans paid $43 billion in fees in their IRA accounts last year alone.

      Losers

      Who stands to lose if FeeX and other critics of large fees are successful in persuading consumers to be more vigilant? Most likely it's the big brokerage firms that manage these accounts and the large mutual funds, which make up a significant portion of retirement account assets.

      CNBC host Jim Cramer recently went on a tirade against the typical company sponsored 401 (k) account, saying “most of them stink,” adding it sometimes feels like the whole system was set up to benefit the financial services industry, not consumers.

      "They have high management fees and administrative costs that eat into your returns, and worst of all, they typically offer you lousy choices for your investments and not nearly enough control over them," Cramer added. "The 401(k) business is a racket for the managers who get to charge you these fees.”

      With so many Baby Boomers retiring, or getting ready to retire, retirement savings has been been a hot button topic. Right along with it – especially...
      Read lessRead more

      Homeopathic medicines recalled for presence of genuine medicine

      Or, you can't end world hunger with homeopathic beef stew

      A batch of homeopathic medicine is being recalled because it might be contaminated by traces of genuinely effective medicine, specifically the antibiotic penicillin.

      Homeopathic remedies aren't supposed to contain actual active ingredients; instead, homeopathy is based on the erroneous belief that water can not only hold or “remember” the qualities of anything diluted in it, but actually intensify those qualities, so that the more you water something down, the more potent it becomes.

      (At least, that is the belief about homeopathic medicine; thus far, no homeopathic practitioners have tried applying their stated principles to food and ending world hunger by, for example, using a lone soybean, cabbage leaf and bouillon cube to transform the Nile River into a 4,000-mile-long trough of homeopathic beef stew.)

      Might contain penicillin

      But last week the FDA noted in a press release that the Terra-Medica company is voluntarily recalling various batches of homeopathic liquids, capsules, tablets, ointments and suppositories which might contain penicillin or penicillin derivatives.

      The release went largely unnoticed until Wired UK reported it a week later, explaining to its mostly British readership that America's FDA regulates homeopathic medicines only for packaging and purity standards (i.e., making sure there's no penicillin contaminating what's supposed to be an antibiotic-free substance). However, homeopathic drugs are not expected to meet FDA effectiveness standards — in other words, unlike regular drugs and medicines, homeopathic remedies may legally be sold without proving that they actually work.

      Indeed, if effectiveness tests were required for homeopathic remedies, most probably wouldn't be sold at all; as the National Institute of Health notes on its website, there is “little evidence to support homeopathy as an effective treatment for any specific condition,” most likely because “several key concepts of homeopathy are inconsistent with fundamental concepts of chemistry and physics.”

      A batch of homeopathic medicine is being recalled because it might be contaminated by traces of genuinely effective medicine, specifically the antibiotic p...
      Read lessRead more

      CDC finds more cases of Heartland virus

      It's another good reason to be wary of ticks

      Not long ago, we reported on a newly-discovered food allergy that's spread by ticks. And now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it has found 6 new cases of people sick with Heartland virus, also thought to be spread by ticks.

      Of the latest cases, 5 are in Missouri and 1 in Tennessee.

      Heartland virus was first reported in two northwestern Missouri farmers who were hospitalized in 2009 with what was thought to be ehrlichiosis, a tick-borne disease. However, the patients failed to improve with treatment and testing failed to confirm ehlrlichiosis.

      Working with state and local partners, CDC eventually identified the cause of the men’s illness: a previously unknown virus now dubbed Heartland virus.

      So far, all of the patients have been white men over the age of 50. Their symptoms started in May to September and included fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, headache, nausea, or muscle pain. Of the 6 new cases, 4 were hospitalized and 1 died.

      Of the 6 new cases, 5 reported tick bites in the days or weeks before they fell ill.

      Lone Star ticks

      The CDC says its studies indicate the Heartland virus is carried by Lone Star ticks, which are primarily found in the southeastern and eastern United States. Additional studies seek to confirm whether ticks can spread the virus to people and to learn what other insects or animals may be involved in the transmission cycle. CDC is also looking for Heartland virus in other parts of the country.

      So far, there is no specific treatment, vaccine or drug for Heartland virus disease. Because it is caused by a virus, the disease also does not respond to antibiotics used to treat tickborne bacterial infections such as Lyme disease. However, supportive therapies such as IV fluids and fever reducers can relieve some Heartland disease symptoms.

      To reduce the risk of Heartland and other vector-borne diseases, CDC recommends that people:

      • Avoid wooded and bushy areas with high grass and leaf litter;
      • Use insect repellent when outdoors;
      • Use products that contain permethrin on clothing;
      • Bathe or shower as soon as possible after coming indoors to wash off and more easily find ticks that are crawling on you;
      • Conduct a full-body tick check after spending time outdoors; and
      • Examine gear and pets, as ticks can “ride” into the home and attach to a person later.
      Not long ago, we reported on a newly-discovered food allergy that's spread by ticks. And now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)...
      Read lessRead more

      Microsoft Office for iPads: smart move or too little, too late?

      Keyboards vs. touchscreens is another debate

      It's said that one of the hallmarks of “great art” is its ability to be interpreted different ways by different people.

      If so, then Microsoft's decision to finally create an Office software suite for the iPad is “great art” -- either a brilliant move to rejuvenate Microsoft's sagging business model, or too little, too late to halt the company's seemingly inevitable decline.

      For example: Business Insider's tech coverage headlined the news by saying “Microsoft is about to release its most important product in years,” whereas The New York Times had the more restrained headline “Microsoft's Office suite finally coming to iPad, maybe too late.”

      Optimists and pessimists both agree that the current version of Microsoft Office works very well on a laptop or desktop computer, but not for tablets (the market for which is currently dominated by the iPad).

      And over the past few years, as more and more portable-computer users have switched from laptops to tablets, they grew accustomed to using their tablets without Microsoft Office, producing and sharing documents via Google Docs or other alternatives.

      Fight or switch?

      So the question is: will iPad users eagerly switch to Office, or continue doing without it? That's where the different interpretations come in.

      It also depends on how Microsoft sells the iPad-compatible Office — will it be a one-time software purchase, or a subscription with regular payments?

      Another variable to consider is the inherent difference between touchscreen tablets and keyboard-controlled laptops or desktops — touchscreen typing works well enough for sending brief text messages, but most people find typing lengthier documents (or news articles, even relatively short ones such as you're reading now) much easier on a tactile keyboard.

      InformationWeek alluded to this difference in its analysis of the Office-for-iPad suite, noting that “Given that tablet productivity is unlikely to fully replace mouse-and-keyboard productivity in the first place, it's unclear how many iWork or Google Docs users will revert back to Office on their tablets, especially if subscription costs are involved.”

      Personally, I find tactile keyboard typing vastly easier than touchscreen, and a brief informal survey of friends and colleagues suggests this is a commonplace idea — at least among people who are adults in the year 2014, and presumably came of age typing on QWERTY keyboards. Touchscreen tablets, by contrast, haven't existed long enough for there to be adult professionals who can say “I've been using touchscreens ever since childhood.”

      So this idea that keyboards are better than touchscreens (at least for producing text rather than graphics) -- will that remain the status quo, or is it the future equivalent of “Sure, automobiles have some nice features, but I can't see them completely replacing the horse?”

      The question of whether Office for iPad proves successful should be decided long before the keyboard-vs.-touchscreen debate is resolved.

      It's said that one of the hallmarks of “great art” is its ability to be interpreted different ways by different people. If so, then Microsoft's...
      Read lessRead more

      Insurance study: car recalls make a difference

      Study shows importance of responding promptly to recall notices

      General Motors is taking a lot of criticism for being slow to issue recall notices for models with defective ignition switches. But in many other cases, it's consumers who are slow to respond to recalls, perhaps thinking they're not really important.

      But a new study from the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) shows that at least one type of recall corresponds to higher insurance losses -- and finds that the risk goes down after consumers are notified about the need for repairs.

      HLDI analysts studied losses from noncrash fires from 2007 to 2012 for vehicles up to 8 years old. They compared the rate of noncrash fire claims for vehicles with a known fire-related defect for which a recall was issued with the rate of claims for vehicles without such defects. Defects that can cause fires include such things as electrical problems or fuel system defects.

      They found that in the years prior to a recall, the claim frequency for vehicles with fire-related defects was 23% higher than for other vehicles. After the recall, claim frequency was only 12% higher.

      "As one would hope, recalls mitigate the effect of fire-related defects," says HLDI Vice President Matt Moore. "However, even after recalls are issued, these vehicles continue to have higher claim rates. This may be a result of people not following up after receiving a recall notice."

      "This study shows that recalls are issued for a reason and they are effective at reducing risk," Moore says. "When you get a recall notice, don't put off the repairs."

      How seriously should a vehicle owner take a recall notice? A new study by the Highway Loss Data Institute (HLDI) shows that at least one type of recall cor...
      Read lessRead more

      New York cracks down on Hollywood Tans' health claims

      The tanning chain agrees to stop claiming health benefits for tanning sessions

      It's no secret that getting too much sun -- real or otherwise -- is bad for you, but that doesn't stop tanning salons from hinting or even outright claiming that tanning is healthy.

      But coming clean about tanning is no longer an option for Hollywood Tans salons in New York, where Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has reached an agreement with the salon chain requiring them to stop making health-related representations to promote tanning services.

      The chain has six franchises in New York State and more than 100 franchises across the country. The agreement prohibits all Hollywood Tans and Hollywood Tans NYC franchises in New York from making health claims, from offering “unlimited” tanning packages, and from targeting high school students.

      Misleading claims

      Concerned with the cancer risks associated with indoor tanning, particularly for young people, Schneiderman launched an investigation last year and found that Hollywood Tans NYC made numerous misleading and false representations about the safety and health benefits associated with UV tanning.

      These included health benefits associated with increased vitamin D production, such as: “Tanning booths can be therapeutic. It can help your body create vitamin D to prevent cancer,” and, “More Sun Means Less Cancer: New Study.”

      “There is a clear consensus in the medical and scientific communities on the harms associated with indoor or UV tanning – including significant increases in the likelihood of skin cancer – and especially for young people,” Schneiderman said. “It is important that consumers know the risks of indoor tanning, and that the science isn’t distorted by any advertising or marketing that uses false, misleading, or unsubstantiated health-related representations to confuse consumers.”

      Distorted by advertising

      Hollywood Tans NYC's website, blog and social media outlets advertised using misleading representations including: “The American Cancer Society doesn’t want you to know the truth about tanning booths,” “Sunlight prevents skin cancer and other cancers. It’s absolutely true,” and “Vitamin D prevents brain cancer, bone cancer, liver cancer and other types of cancer.”

      While vitamin D production is frequently promoted as a benefit of UV tanning, research shows that indoor tanning is neither a reliable nor an advisable source, Schneiderman said. Sufficient vitamin D levels can be maintained through diet and supplements without the risks posted by indoor tanning.

      Dr. Sophie J. Balk, attending pediatrician at The Children's Hospital at Montefiore, Professor of Clinical Pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and lead author of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ statement on UV radiation, said, “This is a pediatric issue because first exposures to tanning beds usually occur during the teen years. We need to protect children from false claims that are likely to mislead them into believing indoor tanning is safe because, in reality, it’s harming them."

      Dr. David Fisher, Professor and Chairman of the Department of Dermatology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, said, “Indoor tanning is not a legitimate means of maintaining vitamin D because we do not recommend a cancer-causing agent to obtain a vitamin that can be taken easily as a pill. Additionally, indoor tanning appears to have addictive features, which are deleterious to health in multiple ways.”

      It's no secret that getting too much sun -- real or otherwise -- is bad for you, but that doesn't stop tanning salons from hinting or just outright claimin...
      Read lessRead more

      Mediterranean diet linked to lower risk of diabetes

      The diet is beneficial among all groups, especially those at high risk of heart disease

      You've heard that adopting a Mediterranean diet is good for your heart. Now a study shows it is also linked to a lower risk of diabetes, especially among people at high risk for cardiovascular disease.

      "Adherence to the Mediterranean diet may prevent the development of diabetes irrespective of age, sex, race or culture," said Demosthenes Panagiotakos, Ph.D., professor at Harokopio University, Athens, Greece, and lead investigator of this meta-analysis to be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session.

      "This diet has a beneficial effect, even in high risk groups, and speaks to the fact that it is never too late to start eating a healthy diet."

      Reduces diabetes risk

      The study found that adherence to this diet was associated with a 21% reduced risk of diabetes, compared to the control dietary groups. This reduced risk was even more pronounced among people at high risk for cardiovascular disease – among whom diabetes prevention is especially critical. 

      "A meta-analysis captures the limitations of individual studies, and this type of study is important to help inform guidelines and evidence-based care," Panagiotakos said.

      "Diabetes is an ongoing epidemic and its relation to obesity, especially in the Westernized populations. We have to do something to prevent diabetes and changing our diet may be an effective treatment."

      The researchers found that regardless of the study population – European or non-European or high or low risk of cardiovascular disease – the association between the Mediterranean diet and lower risk of diabetes remained.

      While there is no set Mediterranean diet, it commonly emphasizes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, fish, olive oil and even a glass of red wine.

      The number of diabetes cases has doubled worldwide in the past 30 years and has been linked to the growing obesity epidemic. People with diabetes have trouble controlling their blood sugar because they either do not produce the hormone insulin or do not use it properly. If uncontrolled, diabetes can lead to complications including blindness, kidney failure, cardiovascular disease and amputations.

      Panagiotakos said he believes the Mediterranean diet, in particular, lowers the risk of diabetes by helping to guard against obesity. Earlier research has shown that following the traditional Mediterranean diet is also linked to weight loss, reduced risk of heart disease and related death, as well as lower blood pressure and blood cholesterol levels.

      You've heard that adopting a Mediterranean diet is good for your heart. Now a study shows it is also linked to a lower risk of diabetes, especially among p...
      Read lessRead more

      Southerners more likely to die of heart attack

      Lifestyle may play a significant role, study suggests

      If you're looking to live a long life, the South may not be the place to settle. A study of nearly 13 million people finds a higher rate of heart attack deaths in the South.

      Heart attack deaths have been declining across the United States but remain proportionately higher in the South, the study found.

      In the study, to be presented at the American College of Cardiology's 63rd Annual Scientific Session, researchers looked at 12.9 million heart attack cases from 2000 to 2010.

      They found the overall in-hospital death rate per 100,000 cases was highest in the South followed by the Midwest and Northeast, with the least occurring in the West.

      There was a significant discrepancy in heart attack deaths among African-Americans and Hispanics in the South compared to whites in the region (a 50% and 15% higher risk, respectively).

      While the study was not intended to establish cause-and-effect, it did show a "significantly higher occurrence" of risk factors including diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking in the southern states compared to other regions. Median household income was also much lower in this area.

      "We've made great strides in the way we treat our heart disease patients in this country, especially with [advances in] new medication, technologies and treatment protocols, but a gap of this size is unacceptable," said Sadip Pant, M.D., an internist with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and lead investigator of the study.

      "Lower household income in the region may play a role by affecting the type of care people receive, how well they are able to manage their risk factors, how often they see their doctors, and whether they have access to the proper medications," he said.

      If you're looking to live a long life, the South may not be the place to settle. A study of nearly 13 million people finds a higher rate of heart attack de...
      Read lessRead more

      Four Loko agrees to clean up its marketing

      The company will pay $400,000 as part of a settlement with 19 states

      Four Loko has agreed to pay $400,000 and clean up its marketing practices.

      It's part of a multistate settlement of allegations that the company unlawfully marketed its flavored malt beverages, promoted the misuse of alcohol by underage individuals, and failed to disclose the effects of drinking alcoholic beverages combined with caffeine.

      Four Loko has also agreed to change how it markets and promotes its flavored malt beverages and other alcoholic products, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said.

      Public health concerns

      “Binge drinking and underage drinking are public health concerns, and it is essential that companies market their products responsibly, particularly when they are selling alcoholic products that may appeal to minors,” Coakley said. “We are pleased that the company will improve the marketing and promotion of its flavored malt beverages to prevent dangerous drinking behaviors.”

      Coakley joined 19 other attorneys general and the City Attorney of San Francisco in pursuing changes to the marketing and sales practices of Phusion Products LLC, Four Loko's parent compay.

      The settlement specifically addresses Phusion’s practice of manufacturing, marketing, and selling unsafe and adulterated caffeinated alcoholic beverages prior to the FDA’s November 2010 letter warning Phusion that caffeinated Four Loko is an unsafe product.

      As a result, Phusion ceased producing caffeinated alcoholic beverages, marketed as energy drinks, and removed its caffeinated Four Loko products from retail store shelves. Phusion later reintroduced the malt beverage without caffeine and other ingredients.

      As part of the settlement, Phusion has agreed to reform how it markets and promotes its flavored malt beverages, including Four Loko, and to stop promoting the use of alcohol by minors.

      States joining the settlement include Arizona, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Washington, along with the City Attorney of San Francisco.

      Four Loko has agreed to pay $400,000 and clean up its marketing practices.It's part of a multistate settlement of allegations that the company unlawfully...
      Read lessRead more

      A bit of oomph in the economic growth rate

      But the pace doesn't even come close to what we saw three months earlier

      Government numbers crunchers have finished their work computing the rate of growth for the final 3 months of 2013. And while the third estimate is up a bit -- 0.2% -- from the second estimate, it's nothing to write home about.

      The Commerce Department has real gross domestic product -- the output of goods and services produced by labor and property located in the U.S. -- increasing at an annual rate of 2.6% in the fourth quarter. In the third quarter, it expanded at an 4.1% annual rate.

      Ups and downs

      The increase in real GDP in the fourth quarter primarily reflects positive contributions from personal consumption expenditures (PCE), exports, and nonresidential fixed investment. Those were partly offset by declines in federal government spending and residential fixed investment. Imports, which are a subtraction in the calculation of GDP, rose.

      The drop from the earlier quarter is due to a downturn in private inventory investment, a larger decrease in federal government spending, a downturn in residential fixed investment, and a deceleration in state and local government spending. Those were partly offset by accelerations in PCE and in exports, a deceleration in imports, and an acceleration in nonresidential fixed investment.

      Stern Agee Chief Economist Lindsey M. Piegza notes that while we saw a slowdown from the third quarter, the U.S. economy did grow at a faster pace than previously reported at the end of 2013 as consumer spending rose by the most in three years. The spending rise itself, Piegza adds, reflected “a hearty increase in service spending -- particularly in health care services.”

      The full report may be found on the Bureau of Economic Analysis website.

      Jobless claims

      Meanwhile, first-time applications for state unemployment benefits came in well below analysts expectations.

      The government says initial jobless claims were down by 10,000 in the week ending March 22 -- to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 311,000. The consensus of economist surveyed by Briefing.com was for a total of 330,000.

      Analysts say numbers like this would normally suggest an acceleration in payroll growth and that monthly payroll gains above 200,000 over the next couple of months would not be surprising.

      The 4-week moving average, considered a more accurate gauge of the labor market because it lacks the weekly report's volatility was 317,750 -- down 9,500 from the previous week.

      The complete jobless claims report is available on the Labor Department website.

      Government numbers crunchers have finished their work computing the rate of growth for the final 3 months of 2013. And while the third estimate is up a bit...
      Read lessRead more

      Pure Edge Nutrition recalls Bella Vi brand products

      The weight-loss dietary supplements contain unapproved new drugs

      Pure Edge Nutrition of Toms River, N.J., is recalling one lot each of:

      • Bella Vi Insane Bee Pollen Capsules
      • Bella Vi BTrim Ultimate Boost
      • Bella Vi BTrim Max
      • Bella Vi Extreme Accelerator
      • Bella Vi Insane Amp’d, and
      • two lots of Bella Vi Amp’d Up

      The products have been found to contain undeclared Sibutramine or a combination of both Sibutramine and Phenolphthalein. Sibutramine a previously approved controlled substance. Phenophthalein is used medicinally as a laxative. Therefore, these products are unapproved new drugs.

      All affected products are marketed as dietary supplements for weight loss and were packaged and distributed as follows:

      • Bella Vi Insane Bee Pollen Capsules is packaged in bottles of 60 capsules with lot # 201303 EXP: 14/03/07. Bella Vi Insane was distributed to consumers and distributors nationwide from March 1, 2013 – August 31, 2013.
      • Bella Vi BTrim Max is packaged in bottles of 60 capsules with lot # BTX13 EXP: 2015/08/15. Bella Vi Btrim Max was distributed to consumers and distributors nationwide from August 31, 2013 – September 31, 2013.
      • Bella Vi BTrim Ultimate Boost is packaged in bottles of 30 capsules with lot # BTRM3452 EXP: 2015/07/03. Bella Vi Btrim was distributed to consumers and distributors nationwide from July 1, 2013 – September 31, 2013.
      • Bella Vi Extreme Accelerator is packaged in bottles of 30 capsules with lot # BTRX7654 EXP: 2015/07/08. Bella Vi Extreme was distributed to consumers and distributors nationwide from July 1, 2013 – September 31, 2013.
      • Bella Vi Insane Amp’d is packaged in bottles of 60 capsules with lot # VINA2013 EXP: 2015/06/12. Bella Vi Insane Amp’d was distributed to consumers and distributors nationwide from June 1, 2013 – September 31, 2013.
      • Bella Vi Amp’d Up is packaged in bottles of 60 capsules with lot # AU2013AB EXP: 2015/05/20 and lot #BVAU813 EXP: 2015/08/12. Bella Vi Amp’d Up was distributed to consumers and distributors nationwide from May 1, 2013 – September 31, 2013.

      Pure Edge Nutrition is notifying its distributors and customers by email and arranging for return of all recalled products. Consumers and distributors who have the recalled product should stop using and return them to Pure Edge Nutrition.

      Consumers with questions regarding this recall may contact Pure Edge Nutrition at (888) 417-3613 Monday – Friday 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. EST or by email at info@pureedgenutrition.com.

      Pure Edge Nutrition of Toms River, N.J., is recalling one lot each of: Bella Vi Insane Bee Pollen Capsules Bella Vi BTrim Ultimate Boost Bella Vi BTrim...
      Read lessRead more

      Feds issue public health alert for processed egg products

      The action follows a company's refusal to expand an earlier recall

      The federal Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is taking matters into its own hands.

      The agency is issuing a public health alert because Nutriom LLC of Lacey, Wash., has declined to expand a recall issued in February to include an additional 118,541 pounds of processed egg products. FSIS says there is reason to conclude that they are unfit for human consumption.

      The request for expansion was based on evidence collected during an investigation conducted by FSIS. The company, according to the agency, has refused to recall the additional processed egg products. As a consequence, FSIS intends to take appropriate action to remove the products from commerce.

      Phony test results alleged

      FSIS issued the original recall because the company allegedly recorded false laboratory results. The company also allegedly produced negative laboratory results for Salmonella when the results were actually positive, or reported that sampling had occurred when, in fact, no microbial testing was performed.

      FSIS asked the company to include additional products, but it declined. Because the product was not produced in accordance with FSIS requirements, it has been declared unfit for human consumption.

      The following products were shipped to co-packers for incorporation into consumer-size packages:

      • 3,884-lb. super sack of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg” with the lot code “H0613-B”
      • 1,031-lb. super sack of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg” with the lot code “I0413-A”
      • 958-lb. super sack of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg” with the lot code “I0413-A”
      • 4,422-lb. super sack of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg” with the lot code “L1713-A”

      The following products were packaged in consumer-sized packages:

      • 1.75-lb. packs of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg” with the Julian dates “0374,” “0384,” “2683” and “2693”
      • 66-gram spray bottles of “Bak-Klene Egg Wash” with the lot code “L1013A”
      • 1.17-lb. packs of “OvaEasy UGRA, Reduced Cholesterol” with the Julian dates “3129,” “3228,” “3229,” “3230,” “3231,” “3281,” “3282,” “3283,” “3284,” “3337,” “3338,” “3339” and “3340”
      • 4.5-oz. cans of “OvaEasy Whole Plain Egg” with the Julian date “2883”
      • 571-gram packs of “Vitovo Low Fat” with the Julian date “3193”
      • 1.1-lb. bags of “OvaEasy Boil-in-Bag UGR, Heat & Serve (HS)” with the Julian dates “3161,” “3162,” “3182,” “3183,” “3188,” “3201,” “3202,” “3203,” “3204,” “3205,” “3208,” “3209,” “3210,” “3211,” “3212,” “3213,” “3220,” “3221” and “3222”
      • 2-oz. packs of “OvaEasy Plain Whole Egg” with the Julian dates “0074,” “0084,” “0094,” “0354,” “0364,” “0374,” “2243,” “2253,” “2953,” “2963,” “3463,” “3473” and “3483”
      • 66-gram spray bottles of “Panera Egg Wash” with the Julian dates “0104,” “0154,” “0164,” “0174,” “0214,” “0224,” “0234,” “0244,” “0284,” “0294,” “0304” and “0314”
      • 2-oz. pack of “Wise Company, Wise Blend” with the Julian date “0943”

      The dried egg products were produced from May 2013, through January 2014, and bear the establishment number “INSPECTED EGG PRODUCTS PLANT 21493G” inside the USDA Mark of Inspection. They were shipped nationwide and to U.S. military installations in the U.S. and abroad, and to Mexico.

      The federal Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) is taking matters into its own hands. The agency is issuing a public health alert because Nutriom LL...
      Read lessRead more