HEALTH

New findings conclude U.S. children may lack healthy level of vitamin D

BY Michael Johnsen

BOSTON As many as 20% of children in the United States between the ages of 1 and 11 years may suffer from suboptimal levels of vitamin D, according to a large nationally representative study published in the November issue of Pediatrics, Children’s Hospital Boston announced Monday.

The study, led by Jonathan Mansbach of Children’s Hospital Boston, is the most up-to-date analysis of vitamin D levels in U.S. children. It builds on the growing evidence that levels have fallen below what’s considered healthy, and that black and Hispanic children are at particularly high risk.

Both the optimal amount of vitamin D supplementation and the healthy blood level of vitamin D are under heated debate in the medical community, the hospital suggested. Mansbach and collaborators from the University of Colorado Denver and Massachusetts General Hospital used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to look at vitamin D levels in a nationally representative sample of roughly 5,000 children from 2001-2006. Extrapolating to the entire U.S. population, their analysis suggests that roughly 20% of all children fell below the recommended 50 nmol/L. Moreover, more than two-thirds of all children had vitamin D levels below 75 nmol/L, including 80% of Hispanic children and 92% of non-Hispanic black children.

“If 75 nmol/L or higher is eventually demonstrated to be the healthy normal level of vitamin D, then there is much more vitamin D deficiency in the U.S. than people realize,” Mansbach said.

In the study, children taking multi-vitamins that included vitamin D had higher levels overall, but this accounted for less than half of all children. Mansbach recommended that all children take vitamin D supplements, especially those living in high latitudes, where the sun is scarce in the wintertime.

“We need to perform randomized controlled trials to understand if vitamin D actually improves these wide-ranging health outcomes,” Mansbach said. “At present, however, there are a lot of studies demonstrating associations between low levels of vitamin D and poor health. Therefore, we believe many U.S. children would likely benefit from more vitamin D.”

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Pfizer reports 3Q profit rise, revenue drop

BY Alaric DeArment

NEW YORK Job cuts helped raise Pfizer’s third-quarter 2009 profits by 26% over third-quarter 2008, even though the company had lower overall sales, according to an earnings report released Tuesday.

The world’s largest drug maker reported profits of $2.9 billion, compared with $2.3 billion a year ago, though revenues were $11.6 billion, a 3% decrease from $12 billion in third-quarter 2008. The company said the decrease in revenues and the rise in the value of the dollar kept profits from increasing further.

Pfizer’s $68 billion acquisition of Wyeth, while giving the company a leg up in vaccines, biologics and OTC drugs, helped offset profits by requiring it to pay higher interest rates on its bonds, according to the report. The company incurred $22.5 billion in debt through the acquisition, prompting Standard & Poor’s to lower its bond rating from AAA to AA.

Such drugs as the pain drug Lyrica (pregabalin) and the cholesterol-lowering drug Lipitor (atorvastatin calcium) had strong sales overseas, but primary-care drugs in general had a mediocre performance thanks to lower sales of Lipitor in the United States. Cancer drugs, likewise, had lackluster performance, despite growth in recent years in the cancer drug market in general.

Though the drug Sutent (sunitinib malate) sold well, the company lost market exclusivity in Europe for the drug Camptosar (irinotecan), and had lower sales overseas due to the strengthening of the dollar, helping to drive sales down from $389 million in third-quarter 2008 to $371 million this quarter.

Meanwhile, sales of specialty drugs — drugs prescribed by specialist doctors rather than primary-care physicians — were $1.6 billion, a 3% increase over third-quarter 2008, thanks largely to strong sales of such drugs as the multiple sclerosis treatment Rebif (interferon beta-1a) and the pulmonary arterial hypertension drug Revatio (sildenafil citrate).

“The completion of the Wyeth acquisition represents a significant milestone in the transformation of Pfizer,” Pfizer CEO Jeffrey Kindler stated. “We are beginning to implement our integration plan in order to quickly maximize the value of our expanded and more diversified global product portfolio in key high-growth areas. With customer-centric businesses, supported by research organizations, Pfizer is now well positioned to deliver greater value to patients and shareholders.”

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Pfizer returns to consumer care with Wyeth buy

BY Michael Johnsen

NEW YORK The approval last week of the Wyeth acquisition by Pfizer marks the return of a consumer-care division to Pfizer, and a considerable one at that.

Pfizer in 2006 sold its then OTC division to Johnson & Johnson as part of an initiative to capitalize on its pharmaceutical pipeline. Then the recession hit, and the need for a significant cash-flow generator like an OTC division again became paramount to pharma companies. So in addition to the pharmaceutical symmetries inherent in the deal — biologics and vaccines — the return of an OTC division to Pfizer is consequential.

There will be a degree of continuity as Wyeth Consumer Healthare is exchanged for Pfizer Consumer Healthcare on all OTC packaging — former president of Wyeth Consumer Healthcare, Cavan Redmond, remains in charge of the division as group president, diversified businesses at the new Pfizer. In addition to OTCs, animal health and nutrition, Cavan also picks up responsibility for capsule manufacturer Capsugel.

Pfizer’s new OTC division is strongest in internal analgesics behind its venerable Advil brand — comprising 16.8% dollar share of the category, the pain reliever generated $340.8 million in sales across food, drug and mass (minus Walmart) outlets for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 4, according to Information Resources Inc., down slightly by 2.5% in an economy that continues to skew toward private label.

Other areas of significance include dietary supplements, with $189.7 million in Centrum sales (down 1%) and $53.4 million in Caltrate sales (up 3.8%); cold and allergy, where in addition to Advil Cold, Wyeth fields Alavert and Robitussin. Indeed, almost $1-out-of-every-$3 spent on cough syrups is used to buy a Robitussin product, which generated $91.5 million for the 52 weeks ended Oct. 4, up 27.2%. Across the digestives aisle is Preparation H, with more than $75 million in annual sales, and Fibercon, which generates more than $10 million annually. And in lip care, the new Pfizer division will field Chapstick, a brand with more than $80 million in annual sales.

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