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Health Highlights: July 9, 2015

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

Menu Calorie Labeling Rules Delayed a Year: FDA

U.S. restaurants and other food retailers will now have until Dec. 1, 2016, before they must comply with new federal government calorie labeling rules, the Food and Drug Administration announced Thursday.

The one-year extension over the original deadline was granted after restaurants and other establishments said they needed more time to meet the requirements, the Associated Press reported.

Businesses are in the process of installing menus, training workers and developing software and technology for more efficient and specific calorie label displays, according to the FDA.

The new rules apply to businesses that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations. They are required to post the calories of food items "clearly and conspicuously" on their menus, menu boards and displays, the AP reported.

Along with restaurants, the new calorie labeling rules will apply to grocery and convenience stores, bakeries, coffee shops, pizza delivery stores, movie theaters and amusement parks.


Medicare Will Pay for End-of-Life Counseling

A plan to pay doctors to counsel patients about end-of-life care was announced Wednesday by Medicare.

The policy change will take effect Jan. 1 and counseling will be voluntary for patients, the Associated Press reported.

Some doctors already provide end-of-life counseling without billing extra, and some private insurers have started offering reimbursement for such services. However, Medicare covers 55 million seniors, so this decision could make end-of-life counseling much more common, the wire service reported.

The counseling -- which Medicare calls advance care planning -- is meant to enable patients to decide about the type of treatment they want in their final days. Choices will range from an emphasis on comfort rather than extending life to all-out efforts to keep a dying patient alive.

"As a practicing physician, and a son, and someone who has dealt with this in his own family, I would say these are discussions . . . that are critical to high-quality care," said Patrick Conway, Medicare's chief medical officer, the AP reported.

"I would want any American who wanted to have this conversation with their clinician to have the opportunity to do so," he added.

The new policy was welcomed by the American Medical Association (AMA).

"This issue has been mischaracterized in the past and it is time to facilitate patient choices about advance care planning," Andrew Gurman, president-elect of the AMA, told the AP.

Cost of care will not be part of the end-of-life counseling approved by Medicare. However, many experts believe it could lead to lower medical costs for dying patients, the wire service reported.

An Institute of Medicine report released last year said that few people make their end-of-life wishes known and that too many dying patients have more unpleasant and painful deaths than necessary due to the use of feeding tubes, powerful drugs, breathing machines and other intensive treatments.

"End-of-life discussions should be part of the life cycle," report co-chair Dr. Philip Pizzo, former dean of Stanford University medical school, told the AP. "Beginning Medicare is one of those times, since it can be a point of awareness and reflection."


Many People Stop Using Fitness Trackers Within a Few Months

Many Americans buy fitness trackers, but their enthusiasm for the devices tends to be short-lived, a new report shows.

About one-third of fitness trackers are no longer used by people six months after they get them, according to the research firm Endeavour Partners, the Associated Press reported.

Fitbit is a popular brand of fitness tracker, but only half of Fitbit's nearly 20 million registered users were still active as of the first quarter of 2015, according to regulatory filings by the company, the wire service reported.

Fitness trackers cost about $100 and are often given as gifts. However, fitness trackers now have competition from smartwatches that do what fitness trackers do and more, the AP reported.

Fitbit -- which has 76 percent of the U.S. market share of fitness trackers by revenue -- started trading publicly last month.

"The question for investors is how long the market will continue to grow at this rate, and whether Fitbit can execute on growing engagement before . . . the number of devices sold per year reaches saturation," Malay Gandhi, a managing director at Rock Health, wrote on a blog, the AP reported.

Fitbit intends to remain a market leader through new features and services, the company said in a statement. It didn't discuss owners who've stopped using the device, according to the AP.

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