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Study: Rx oral steroids linked to severe vitamin D deficiency

BY Michael Johnsen

NEW YORK — People taking oral steroids are twice as likely as the general population to have severe vitamin D deficiency, according to a study of more than 31,000 children and adults by scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University released last week.

Their findings, published in the Sept. 28 online edition of The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, suggested that physicians should more diligently monitor vitamin D levels in patients being treated with oral steroids.

“When doctors write that prescription for steroids and they’re sending the patients for lab tests, they should also get the vitamin D level measured,” stated study lead author Amy Skversky, assistant professor of pediatrics at Einstein and Montefiore Medical Center, the University Hospital for Einstein.

The severe vitamin D deficiency assessed in this study (defined as levels below 10 nanograms per milliliter of blood) is known to be associated with osteomalacia (softening of the bones), rickets (softening of bones in children) and clinical myopathy (muscle weakness). While there is much debate on the issue, vitamin D levels between 20 and 50 ng/ml are generally considered adequate for bone and overall health in healthy individuals. Steroids have been shown to cause vitamin D deficiency, possibly by increasing levels of an enzyme that inactivates the vitamin.


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Wellness+ will position Rite Aid to grow

BY Alaric DeArment

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT’S IMPORTANT — Rite Aid’s launch of Wellness+ for Diabetes comes at a time when it looks like the 4,694-store retail pharmacy chain’s fortunes are picking up in a big way.

(THE NEWS: Rite Aid launches Wellness+ for Diabetes. For the full story, click here)

Tucked inside the company’s second quarter 2012 earnings call on Sept. 22, when president and CEO John Standley first mentioned the Wellness+ program extension, was a remark by CFO, chief administrative officer and senior EVP Frank Vitrano, that the quarter’s $6.3 billion in revenues marked the first increase in total sales in 13 quarters, due to higher comps and fewer store closings.

From Wellness+ to Wellness+ for Diabetes, from Wellness stores to virtual clinics, the story of Rite Aid has a new author, and it shows in the company’s results. A year ago, Wellness+ Gold members had basket rings 78% higher than nonmembers; today, that number is 128%. Meanwhile, sales at Wellness stores have trended ahead of the chain’s core stores.

Wall Street has taken note as well.

Analyst John Heinbockel of Guggenheim Partners said that the increase in Wellness+ members to 44 million and the completion of 40 Wellness store remodels — which he estimated to provide a comp lift of 7% to 10% — combined with other factors would drive EBITDA for 2012 to $950 million, “even if the economy remains soft.” EBIDTA in fiscal year 2011 was $859 million.

While saying that momentum was “slowly, but surely, continuing to build,” analysts at Goldman Sachs noted that Wellness+ had been successful in retaining customers, but suggested that it be used to draw new customers as well. “We remain cautiously optimistic that RAD’s ability to draw customers to its stores instead of its competitor’s stores will drive sales growth in the coming year,” the report read, noting that possible competitive responses to Wellness+ could present a risk.

Still, with the boost in membership and the launch of Wellness+ for Diabetes — allowing the chain to tap directly into a 26 million-strong market — Wellness+ is one of the growing number of ways that Rite Aid is positioning itself for growth and opportunities now and in the years ahead.

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Safeway kicks off annual breast cancer awareness campaign

BY Allison Cerra

PLEASANTON, Calif. — Safeway’s annual fundraising initiative to benefit breast cancer research once again has commenced.

Each October, Safeway’s nearly 1,700 stores in the United States and Canada host a variety of breast cancer fundraising activities. In addition to providing customers with opportunities to donate at checkout, Safeway and a number of its suppliers get involved by donating $5-for-every-$30 spent on products with special pink ribbon tags. Safeway also sells special pink breast cancer reusable bags of which a dollar from each sale goes to the cause, the chain said.

The company has raised more than $94 million for the cause since 2001.

"More than 230,000 women in the U.S. alone will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year," said Larree Renda, Safeway EVP, Safeway Health president and Safeway Foundation chair. "Thanks to the engagement and generosity of our employees, customers and suppliers, we are funding projects and programs that will continue to have a meaningful impact on breast cancer cure rates."

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