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Toxic Toys: What to Know When You Go Shopping for Children; How to Get in to See Your Doctor; Organic Food Should Be a Top Priority for Pregnant Women and Children; Inescapable Toxic Air: Innocent Children Being Poisoned in Peru?

Aired December 6, 2008 - 08:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, CNN HOST: Welcome to HOUSE CALL, the show that helps you live longer and stronger.
First up, toxic toys. You know, I have kids. I have to go shopping for them. So, we're going to teach you what we learned when you might go shopping.

Plus, you feel miserable, but you can't get in to see your doctor. Does that sound familiar? We got some insider tips to get you in the door today.

Finally, avoiding DVTs while traveling and dissecting a headache. I'm digging into our mail bag to answer your questions.

We start, though, with some help for your wallet. New research finds generic medications that treat heart disease are just as good as brand name counterparts. Now researchers reviewed almost 50 studies and found no evidence that brand name versions of medications such as statins and beta blockers were any more effective than the generic version.

Now generics, as you know, are much less expensive, but study authors say they're often not used because of a misperception by doctors and patients alike that they're not as effective.

And here's something else. China's toxic milk crisis apparently much larger than government officials originally revealed. As many as six babies may have died from drinking milk powder tainted with the industrial chemical melamine. Chinese government health officials also have dramatically revised their count of the total number of babies sickened to 300,000. That's six times the number that was reported in September.

And also making headlines, toxic toys. A non-profit group called the Ecology Center says it found significant levels of toxic chemicals in one out of three toys that they tested this year. The group is testing more than 1,500 children's toys looking for lead, arsenic and other chemicals. And they're posting all these results on their Web site,

An important note, though. The group did not test whether chemicals can be transferred from the toys to the children. Instead, the group tested how much was in each toy.

Now, in light of all these dire warnings, Judy Fortin has some buying advice before you hit the mall this weekend.


NETTIE BISHOP: Now that's not from China.

JUDY FORTIN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Nettie Bishop has a dilemma. She's shopping for a toy for her 1-year-old nephew. She wants one made with safe, environmentally friendly materials but one that's not too expensive.

BISHOP: $65. Wow.

FORTIN: Pediatrician Alan Greene, author of "Raising Baby Green" has some advice about what to look for.

ALAN GREENE, DR., AUTHOR, "RAISING BABY GREEN": Choose natural toys. And those things might be toys made out of solid wood, especially if it's not finished or it's finished with a non-toxic finish.

FORTIN: Greene says he worries about toxins that may be found in certain plastic toys.

GREENE: (INAUDIBLE) that are plasticizers make things soft, especially things made out of vinyl or PVC. And BPA that's used as a hardening agent in some plastics.

FORTIN: Some parents aren't taking any chances.

STACY URBAN, MOTHER: I will pay more to ensure that my daughter is not playing with something that contains harmful plastics or contains lead in the paint.

FORTIN: That means doing some homework on which manufacturers use safe materials and reading labels, even if they're on the bottom of the box.

Judy Fortin, CNN, Atlanta.


GUPTA: The uninsured, health care costs, stem cell research, President-elect Barack Obama faces some critical health decisions as he enters the White House. So CNN is going in-depth, looking at issues facing the Obama administration in a segment that we call "Memo to the President."

On HOUSE CALL, we're focusing on health care.


GUPTA (voice-over): Mr. President, as a doctor and a parent, I'm more worried than ever about health care in America. Nearly 46 million Americans are uninsured. And even those with insurance often can't get quality care. So a tough diagnosis means even tougher choices. DAN SMITH, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN CANCER SOCIETY: Nearly 100,000 American families this year will end up in bankruptcy because of a cancer diagnosis. That's just not right. When you get cancer, it's hard enough to fight the disease without having to fight for the care you need.

BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT-ELECT: The question isn't how we can afford to focus on health care. The question is how can we afford not to?

GUPTA: He campaigned on the promise of change, but with a failing economy and a health care plan estimated to cost more than a trillion dollars over the next decade, how do you plan to pay for it all? And what about your promise to pursue embryonic stem cell research?

OBAMA: If we are going to discard those embryos, and we know that there's potential research that could lead to curing debilitating diseases, Alzheimer's, Lou Gehrig's disease, you know, if that possibility presents itself, then I think that we should, in a careful way, go ahead and pursue that research.

GUPTA: More research has been promised by politicians for years. Will you put other projects aside to add federal funding for stem cells? How will you convince the critics?

Finally, Mr. President, we can no longer ignore the obesity problem in America. It causes preventable diseases and astronomical costs. About 80 percent of our health care dollars are spent taking care of people who are already sick. It's time to create a culture of prevention, to save lives and to save money.


GUPTA: Now, to see more of the series "Memo to the President," tune in to "AMERICAN MORNING" weekdays starting at 6:00 a.m.

Now, did you know that what women eat during pregnancy could determine their child's taste for food? It's true. Learn the top five foods to be careful with during pregnancy when HOUSE CALL returns.

And later, learn about the hazardous conditions some children are living in and what isn't being done to help.


GUPTA: So we made our way to the school that's closest to this particular refinery plant. See all the I kids here. I mean, they're so cute, but all of them are lead poisoned as well. That's something that we're learning. And there is very little that is being done for them. There are schools in this entire area, 10 of them...


(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: Welcome back to HOUSE CALL. So, you're having strange symptoms, but your doctor is booked. Don't wait around for weeks. We're going to tell you how to get an appointment ASAP. And one town's largest employer, it funds schools, operates health clinics, but it can also be killing thousands. We'll tell you what we're talking about.

Plus, you've heard of skinny jeans, even skinny fries. How about skinny music? Well, this woman says that's how she dropped 40 pounds. HOUSE CALL's back in 60 seconds.


GUPTA: And we're back with HOUSE CALL. So has this ever happened to you? You're feeling under the weather, and you want to schedule an appointment with your doctor. But when you call, you're told there's no availability until the following week.

Well, it's a frustrating scenario many people face, but there are things you can do to see your doctor today. And Elizabeth Cohen is here as she is always with some tips, a frustrating scenario for sure, Elizabeth. What could people do?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Sanjay, you beg, you plead, you jump up and down. Those are a couple of things you could do, but I'll get a little more specific here.

Let me give you some of the list of the things that are on our Web site right now. First of all, if you need to get in to see the doctor soon, when you call the doctor, and you talk to receptionist, be specific. Don't just say, my throat is sore. Say my throat is sore and it feels like it's closing up if that's the case, or I've got a high fever. You need to be real specific.

Second of all, e-mail your doctor. If you're a good Internet sleuth, you can find hopefully your doctor's e-mail. Appeal to them directly. That can help.

Also, just like in a restaurant when the service is bad, ask for the manager. There may be an office manager or a nurse supervisor who has the authority to squeeze you in when you're not feeling well -- Sanjay?

GUPTA: Those are good tips. And a lot of doctors do e-mail back and forth with their patients you nowadays.

COHEN: That's right.

GUPTA: Now, I understand that you've heard some pretty outrageous things that people have done to try and get in to see their doctor. What were some of the things?

COHEN: Yes, there is a woman who was seeing an ear, nose and throat doctor in Massachusetts, Sanjay. And she said she feared she had throat cancer. She didn't, but she feared it. So she called up to get an immediate appointment. And she couldn't get in. And so she called the local TV station and said can you believe it? This doctor won't see me. And I think I have cancer. The TV station called the hospital. And the hospital called the doctor.

And needless to say, he saw her immediately. But he said that he understood that he understood how frustrating it is. And people take things into their own hands when they feel like they can't get something done.

GUPTA: All right, so Elizabeth, still, sometimes everything seems to fail. Nothing seems to work. What can you do if you're at your wit's end?

COHEN: Sanjay, for a last resort, you can just show up at the doctor's office, plant yourself in the waiting room and say, please, can the doctor see me sometime today? It might not work, but you know what? You might get some pity from somebody in the office. And they might be able to squeeze you on in.

GUPTA: All right, Elizabeth, our ultimate empowered patient, thanks so much, as always. Appreciate it.

COHEN: Thanks.

GUPTA: You know, in these tough economic times, families are certainly looking for ways to cut back without compromising their health. So spending a little extra money on organic food may not be a top priority, but for some maybe it should be. An expert we spoke to says for pregnant women and children, paying the higher price may be well worth the additional cost.


GREENE: Some organic things are more expensive than their conventional counterparts. So I've created a list of five that I think are the most important to choose organic during pregnancy.

And number one on that list is at the top of the food chain, organic milk. If you choose milk, I recommend choosing organic milk during pregnancy. In several studies, organic milk has been shown to have higher antioxidant levels, like beta carotene which is very important for baby's brain growth and eye growth. And also, higher levels of healthier fats, Omega-3s and CLAs.

Number two on my list is organic beef. I'm actually more concerned about the hormones used in beef than I am about the hormones that are used in the production of milk. This is a time I would invest in the best and the safest, when we know it's safe.

Number three on my list surprises people often. It's potatoes. Just by choosing organic potatoes, you can decrease pesticide load considerably.

And number four, for similar reasons, are apples. They have the highest levels of fruits that are eaten commonly.

And then number five on my list is soy. And if you choose soy during pregnancy, I'd recommend organic soy, because the great majority of soy in the United States is genetically modified. And I'm not convinced that those extra proteins aren't contributing to the rise in food allergies and allergies in general in kids.

When you watch a baby grow from birth, this miraculous thing, they go from a little tiny thing, they double or triple in size, they start learning to talk, they start learning to walk, all of that growth is fueled by the food that they eat. So this is the time I really want to choose the best, is pregnancy and very early childhood. So for babies, I think it's one time to actually choose organic baby food across the board. So every bite of food really is an investment in their body.


GUPTA: All right, Dr. Alan Greene, thanks so much.

Now inescapable toxic air, the innocent children it is poisoning. Who is failing to protect them? That's ahead.

Plus, being cramped in a seat on a long flight could put your health at risk. Coming up on "Ask the Doctor", I'm going to show you some exercises to keep you safe in the sky.


GUPTA: Now, checking some of this week's most viewed stories on the health page, fighting AIDS, 20 years later. This country's lead infectious disease doctor updates us on the latest treatments, including progress towards an AIDS vaccine.

Then, might you be looking for an allergy friendly dog? Well, the Obamas are. But experts say there's no such thing.

And struggling with an eating disorder during the holidays, from family gatherings to parties, the pressure can be overwhelming. For more on those stories, visit Also want to tell you that our new health page has a new address and a new look. And we're going to have experts that are going to answer your questions and have in depth coverage of today's medical news. We're even going to have a symptom checker. We're excited about it. Please check it out.

Now, it is an unsettling reality. People around the world forced to live in conditions that are hazardous to their health. But what if a company knew that it was harming people, knew that it could fix the problem, but is simply choosing not to? That's the allegation.


GUPTA (voice-over): The first thing you notice are the smiling faces, the giggles. The second is that something here is not quite right. It's called the Casaraca School. It's located in the town of Laroya, a town nestled high in the Andes mountains of Peru.

There are no entrance exams to get into this school, no interviews. The criteria for enrollment is poisoned blood. Every one of these children has severe lead poisoning.

What you're looking at looks like just a childhood game. But remember, all these children have lead poisoning. What happens a lot of times, they develop neurological problems, which make their motor skills difficult to develop. So simply climbing up these stairs, being able to walk along a little path like this really helps them in the long run.

There you go, sweetie, but these kids are the lucky ones. That's because the school only takes 100 students. And it's miles from the town. This is the reality for the rest of the children of Laroya, schools in the shadows of smokestacks, where poison air is inescapable.

It's no secret where all the lead's coming from. The Doe Run, Peru smelter. The smelter's operators know about the children with the lead poisoning. In fact, Doe Run funds the Casaraca School.

How is it possible then that a company can poison children? Some say even kill them and get away with it? Well, it's complicated. And it's touched off a battle pitting neighbors against each other and against Doe Run.


GUPTA: They already knew around the world how to make people safer, but they weren't doing it here in Peru. Why not?

To see my full report on the special "Planet in Peril: Battle Lines" that's airing Thursday, December 11th. And for a preview, click over to You can see dispatches from the field, amazing pictures, and a behind the scenes look at the making of the documentary.

Well, just ahead, painful headaches. I know I get them. A viewer wants to know what a cluster headache is. My answer for him ahead in "Ask the doctor." Also, maybe you have a pair of these hanging in your closet. Skinny jeans. I'll introduce you to a songwriter who managed to slim down and fit back into her favorite pair, by of all things writing a song about them.

Stay with us.


GUPTA: And it is time for my favorite segment of the show, "Ask the Doctor." We have lots of questions today.

Our first one comes all the way from Egypt. Juadad wants to know this. "What exactly is a cluster headache? Well Juadad, cluster headaches come on fast. They usually don't let up for about 30 minutes to 2 hours. The pain is typically on one side of the head or in the eye area. A throbbing sensation that could cause your eye to tear or even droop.

Now, doctors aren't entirely sure why they occur, but here's one theory. Why don't you take a look at this picture? You have a nerve highlighted in yellow here. That is the trigeminal nerve, the fifth nerve. And the theory is that sometimes that nerve gets inflamed. You can see where its location is. It can cause pain on that one side of the head. It's also right behind the eye. It can cause pain there as well.

Now, alcohol use, changes in sleep cycle, even altitude or mountain climbing can cause these sorts of problems. Plane trips as well can trigger a cluster headache.

And speaking of plane trips, I know a lot of you are going to be flying over the holidays, which is why we picked this next question. Nathaniel in Beaufort, South Carolina has this. "Can you please give me some information on what can be done to avoid deep vein thrombosis on a long flight or a car trip?" Well, thanks, Nathaniel.

Sitting in a cramped position for a long time can be down right dangerous actually. DVT occurs when a blood clot or a thrombosis develops in the large veins of the leg or the pelvic area, as you can see there. Sometimes that clot can sort of break off. It's caused by the sluggish blood flow through the vein or an inflammation of the veins inner lining.

Now, a recent study tracked nearly 9,000 airline passengers for five years. It found an increased risk of developing DVT on flights over four hours. That's something to keep in mind. The biggest thing to prevent DVT, get up, walk around during the flight. If you're driving, take some stops along the way.

Now, when you can't just get up because you're stuck in that window seat, there are some simple exercises you can do. And instead of just telling you about it, we want to show you with the help from my friend Petey here, who's our floor manager as well. We got a shot of Petey. We got a shot of his feet, more importantly.

Let's go through some of these exercises. Lift up your feet, hold it up there for ten seconds so the heel's on the ground and your toes are pointed straight up. Ten seconds. You can also do what Petey's doing there. Just trace some of the letters of the alphabet around with your foot. Trace like the letter A, for example. Trace the letter B for example. C, you go on. It gives you something to do and gets you that exercise.

The point is to move your leg around as much as possible. Petey, how does that feel? Feel all right? You lost weight just doing that. I don't know if you knew that or not. You look better already. Get a shoe shine the next time, would you, for this? I appreciate it. Petey, thanks so much.

We're going to have much more on DVTs in shows to come. But you know, when a new album comes out, folks in the music industry say that it has dropped. That's some lingo there for you. This one takes dropping to a whole new level. Could it actually lead you to drop some weight? Well, up next, the aspiring artist who hopes it will.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) GUPTA: You're listening to a so-called skinny song. It's the music of an emerging artist, who hopes that her lyrics about losing weight will empower listeners to get in shape. So do you find it motivating for your next workout?

Take a look.


GUPTA (voice-over): For Silicon Valley entrepreneur Heidi Roizen, the days were long and nutrition was the last thing on her mind. But when she stepped on the scale on her 50th birthday...

HEIDI ROIZEN, CREATOR, "SKINNY SONGS": I hit this number. And it was a real wake-up call for me. And I realized that all those years of being in the fast lane, working hard, not taking care of myself had taken its toll.

GUPTA: So she did what she does best. She started a company, a music company of all things.

ROIZEN: I wanted, you know, chick empowerment music, some upbeat stuff about, you go, girl, you're going to get in your jeans. You're going to wear leopard print again someday. But I couldn't find anything like that. So, one of the things I did to change my life is decided music like that needed to exist and started writing music.

GUPTA: Along with the help of music producers George Daly and David Malloy, Heidi created "Skinny Songs."

ROIZEN: The song I get the most fan mail about is one called "You the Boss."

GUPTA: And the song has been a success.

ROIZEN: As somebody said to me, you can sing songs about lowering your cholesterol but that wouldn't be very motivating. But talking about fitting into your skinny jeans, that's motivating.

GUPTA: Roizen is practicing what her songs preach. She's lost more than 40 pounds and is very much in charge of how she looks and how she feels.

ROIZEN: It was really about permanent changes that I could live with day in and day out.


GUPTA: Well, unfortunately, that's all the time we have for today. If you missed any part of today's show, be sure to check out my podcast on Remember, this is the place for the answers to all your medical questions. Thanks for watching. I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. More news on CNN starts right now.