HEALTH

New study finds students with weight issues purchase weight-loss products found in e-mail ads

BY Michael Johnsen

BROOKLYN, N.Y. According to a study published in the January issue of the Southern Medical Journal, 41% of college students with weight problems opened and read spam e-mail advertising “lose weight fast” weight-loss products with 18.5% ordering these weight-loss products.

“This is of concern as there is no quality control for what is advertised in spam e-mail. These products can range from harmless to potentially dangerous,” stated Joshua Fogel, lead researcher and associate professor of the business program at the department of economics at Brooklyn College. “Some spam e-mail products even advertise and sell prescription medications without requiring proof of a valid prescription.”

In additional analyses considering the impact of a number of relevant variables, those with weight problems as compared to those without weight problems were three times more likely to open/read and also three times more likely to purchase weight-loss products from spammed e-mail.

Fogel analyzed data from a survey of 200 college students, who were asked if they had weight problems and if in the past year they received, opened/read, or purchased products from spam e-mail about weight loss topics.

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Novartis announces merger proposal for Alcon

BY Michael Johnsen

HUENENBERG, Switzerland Novartis is looking to purchase the remaining shares in an eye care company.

The Swiss drug maker said that it wants to purchase remaining shares of Alcon, owned by Nestle S.A., at a weighted average price of $180 per share in cash.

The exercise is pursuant to an agreement between Nestle and Novartis that was executed on April 7, 2008. The option exercise is subject to regulatory approvals and covers approximately 156 million shares of Alcon held by Nestle, representing approximately 52% of Alcon’s outstanding shares. Upon consummation of the purchase, Novartis would own an approximate 77% interest in Alcon.

Novartis also announced that it has submitted to the Alcon board of directors a proposal for a merger of Alcon with and into Novartis to be effected under Swiss merger law. Under the terms of the merger proposal, holders of the approximately 23% of Alcon shares that are publicly-traded would receive 2.8 Novartis shares for each Alcon share.

Based on the Novartis share price and U.S. dollar/Swiss franc exchange rates prior to the announcement, this would value each publicly-traded share of Alcon at approximately $153. The proposed merger would be contingent upon, among other things, approval by the Alcon board of directors, the closing of the purchase and sale transaction related to the Novartis option exercise as well as receipt of required regulatory approvals.

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Mayo Clinic study notes St. John’s wort ineffective in treating IBS

BY Allison Cerra

ROCHESTER, Minn. A Mayo Clinic research study published in the January issue of The American Journal of Gastroenterology found that St. John’s wort is not an effective treatment for irritable bowel syndrome.

While antidepressants are frequently used to treat IBS, to date, no study has examined the success of using the herbal supplement St. John’s wort in treating IBS.

“Our study investigated if herbal antidepressants such as St. John’s wort could benefit irritable bowel disease patients,” says Yuri Saito, M.D., M.P.H., gastroenterologist and lead physician scientist on the study. “Several of the chemical neurotransmitters that are in the brain are also in the colon. Therefore, it’s been thought that antidepressants may affect sensation in the colon in a similar way to how they affect sensation in the brain. Our goal was to evaluate the usefulness of St John’s wort in treating IBS.”

In this placebo-controlled trial, 70 participants with IBS were randomized where half the patients received St. John’s wort and the other half received a placebo for three months. In all, 86 percent of the participants were women, and the median age was 42 years. After three months of observing symptoms such as stomach pain, diarrhea, constipation and bloating, Mayo researchers found that the placebo group had a better response than the group taking the herbal supplement, St. John’s wort.

“Because people tend to struggle with IBS for several years, patients are really looking for inexpensive, over-the-counter treatments such as St. John’s wort,” Saito said. “Unfortunately, our study showed that St. John’s wort was not successful in helping IBS patients.”

St. John’s wort is an herbal supplement derived from the St. John’s wort plant. It has been shown to be helpful in such several medical conditions as depression, as well as other pain syndromes. Research has shown it to be as effective as conventional, prescription antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression.

“The challenge with IBS is that there is no cure, no one treatment tends to be wholly effective and some treatments come with significant side effects,” Saito said. “However, well-designed studies of herbal supplements are important so that physicians and patients can make informed decisions about which supplements to recommend or try. Studies of alternative treatments are generally lacking and patients are forced to use a ‘trial and error’ approach to over-the-counter treatments for their IBS.”

IBS is a common disorder that affects the colon and commonly causes cramping, abdominal pain, bloating, gas, diarrhea and constipation. Approximately 58 million people struggle with IBS, mostly women.

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