Monthly Archives: December 2010

Beware of investment opportunities that tug on heartstrings

An Irvine, Cal., man persuaded 40 people to invest $2.4 million in his Newport Beach-based business that claimed to sell a product combating childhood obesity, but instead of making money for them he spent all of their money on himself, according to federal prosecutors.

In an indictment unsealed last week by a federal grand jury, Charles “Chuck” Davis, 53, was charged with 10 felony counts of defrauding investors. He pleaded not guilty in court Monday and was released on a $160,000 bond, according to a story in the Daily Pilot of Newport Beach, Cal.

Between January 2007 and November 2008, Davis operated LifeRight Holdings Inc. of Newport Beach, a company he told customers would air TV infomercials of a product that fights child obesity, according to the indictment.

Instead, prosecutors allege, Davis just gathered together investors and spent the money on himself.

Davis is accused of using the investments — in sums ranging from $25,000 to $50,000 and possibly larger — and paying himself, his family and his girlfriend. He bought clothes and jewels, paid for his rent and utilities, and even paid lawyers’ fees for unrelated lawsuits using LifeRight investors’ money, authorities claim.

He promised his victims a 15 percent return after 13 months, told them that the company already had a significant number of investors and said he wouldn’t take a paycheck until the product started selling, according to the indictment.

A tentative trial date is scheduled for Feb. 22.

Product recalls centered on website

Trying to track recalled products and foods that might be harmful to children is a nightmare for parents because there’s no single place to look.

Until now. The new site http://www.ClickCheckandProtect.org, a Consumer Reports companion site, is the product of a newly formed National School Safety Coalition convened by Consumer Reports, the National Parent Teacher Assn. and the National School Boards Assn.

“The whole idea is to get the information into the homes of school-aged children,” said Don Mays, senior director of safety for Consumer Reports.

The hope, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune, is to encourage parents to check the site regularly.

The coalition will distribute safety alerts and recall notices on such children’s products as toys, food, medicines and furniture.

Recalls by manufacturers are difficult to track, not only because there are so many but also because different regulators handle different recalls. For example, the Consumer Product Safety Commission announces recalls for products, the Food and Drug Administration announces recalls for food and medications and the U.S. Department of Agriculture announces recalls for meat.

A poll by Consumer Reports showed that Americans believe it is important to know about product recalls, but they are not confident that they are getting adequate information. More than half of Americans said they never or rarely filled out the registration cards that come with products. Those registrations are used to notify consumers directly about recalls.

“A child shouldn’t be put at risk of injury or death simply because the information on recalled products didn’t get to schools, caregivers and parents,” said Jim Guest, president of Consumer Reports.

In March, the Consumer Product Safety will launch SaferProducts.gov, a database that will allow consumers to report dangerous products and see what others have reported.

Older workers working longer

In sifting through data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, AARP analysts found that the number of workers ages 75 and older (meaning they’re employed or seeking employment) has grown to about 1.3 million in 2009, from just under half a million in 1989.

That’s still a small sliver of the population over age 75, just 7.3 percent, but a big jump from the 1989 labor force participation rate of 4.3 percent.

A growing proportion of that work force, almost 44 percent, are women.

And a just-released Census Bureau report adds this surprising fact — of workers ages 75 to 84, more than 42 percent hold full-time jobs.

All of which points to more people working more years.

Some foxes have high cholesterol, too

At least one kind of animal appears to suffer from the same problem people do, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune.

A study of San Joaquin kit foxes living in and around Bakersfield, Cal., might have high cholesterol because, as they forage through garbage cans, they’re likely eating the same junk food humans consume.

The study showed the foxes, according to hair samples from people and foxes in that area, had higher cholesterol rates than their country counterparts. Apparently, they enjoy foods rich in corn or corn syrup.

It’s believed other animals living in urban areas like opposums, or around its outskirts, like raccoons, may also have a taste for the “happy meals.”

The study didn’t explain, however, why some bears may get their heads stuck in honey jars.

Echinacea may not be a cold remedy after all

People who swear by the cold-fighting properties of echinacea may want to skip the herbal remedy, and save a few bucks, the next time they feel the sniffles coming on.

In a new study of more than 700 people who came down with colds, echinacea pills were not measurably better than placebo at speeding recovery time or reducing the severity of runny nose, sore throat, cough, and other symptoms, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune.

Echinacea has flunked similar tests before. Over the past eight years, several high-quality studies in which cold sufferers were randomly assigned to receive echinacea or placebo have arrived at the same conclusion: The herb has no discernible impact on colds. (This type of study is considered the gold standard for medical research.)

“The benefits [of echinacea] were not dramatic,” says Dr. David Rakel, the director of integrative medicine at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine, in Madison, and one of the authors of the new study. “There are quite a few studies done now on echinacea which show that it has a mild effect, at best.”

Study says living near a freeway increases risk of autism

Children born to mothers who live close to freeways have twice the risk of autism, researchers reported Thursday, according to a story in the Chicago Tribune.

The study, its authors said, adds to evidence suggesting that certain environmental exposures could play a role in causing the disorder in some children.

“This study isn’t saying exposure to air pollution or exposure to traffic causes autism,” said Heather Volk, lead author of the paper and a researcher at the Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. “But it could be one of the factors that are contributing to its increase.”

Reported cases of autism cases increased by 57 percent between 2002 and 2006, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, although professionals still debate whether rates have actually risen or a greater proportion of autistic children is being diagnosed.

An estimated 1 in 110 children is diagnosed with autism today. There is no cure, although research has shown that various therapies can mitigate some symptoms, especially if begun early in life.

In the current study, published online in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, researchers looked at 304 children with autism and, for comparison, 259 children who were developing normally.

The children, between the ages of 24 months and 60 months at the start of the study, lived in communities around Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento. Each family was evaluated in person, and all of the children received developmental assessments.

Researchers collected data on where each child’s mother lived during pregnancy and at the time of birth, and the proximity of the homes to a major road or freeway.

Children living about 1,000 feet from a freeway at birth — about 10 percent of the sample — had a two-fold increase in autism risk. The link held up even after researchers controlled for other factors that may influence development, such as ethnicity, parental education, maternal age and exposure to tobacco smoke.

The study did not find a link between autism development and proximity to a major road, as opposed to a freeway. That may be due to the type and quantity of chemicals dispersed on freeways compared with major roads, Volk said.

In Los Angeles, some freeways carry more than 300,000 vehicles daily.

Gayle Windham, chief of the epidemiology surveillance unit with the California Department of Health Services Environmental Investigations Branch, said the study did not directly implicate air pollution as a risk factor for autism because it did not have a way of measuring how much pollution the mothers were exposed to during pregnancy.

“They are using a proxy measure for air pollution, which is distance to a freeway,” she said. “But you still don’t know how much time the women spent at home or working or commuting.”

Windham was not involved in the study.

Report: Life expectancy reversing

Life expectancy soared over the last part of the 20th century as treatments for major diseases improved and infectious diseases were quelled by vaccines and better treatment. The most recent data, however, hint that life expectancy is no longer growing, and, according to a new study, we may spend more years sick than we did even a decade ago.

In a paper published Monday in the Journal of Gerontology, gerontologist Eileen Crimmins and her colleague Hiram Beltran-Sanchez, both of the University of Southern California, suggest that the goal of a long life marked by mostly healthy years may not be possible for most of humanity.

According to the analysis, the average age of morbidity — which is defined as the period of life spent with serious illness and lack of functional mobility — has increased in the last two decades.

For example, a 20-year-old man in 1998 could be expected to live an additional 45 years without at least one of these diseases: heart disease, cancer or diabetes. But that number fell to 43.8 in 2006.

For women, the expected years of life without a major, serious disease fell from 49.2 years to 48 years over the last decade.

The study also found that the number of people who report a lack of mobility, such as not being able to walk up steps or walk a quarter mile, has increased.

“There is substantial evidence that we have done little to date to eliminate or delay disease or the physiological changes that are linked to age,” the authors wrote.

They note that the age of a first heart attack did not change from the 1960s to the 1990s. Some types of cancers have increased and diabetes rates have soared.

“Substantial strides have been made in dealing with the consequences of disease,” they wrote, noting that people live longer with serious illness. But even life expectancy increases may be nearing an end, they wrote.

“We have always assumed that each generation will be healthier and longer lived than the prior one,” they said. “The growing problem of lifelong obesity and increases in hypertension and high cholesterol among cohorts reaching old age are a sign that health may not be improving with each generation. . .

“We do not appear to be moving to a world where we die without experiencing disease, functioning loss, and disability.”