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Lead in Toys; Mercury in Fish; TV and Plastic Surgery

Aired August 18, 2007 - 08:30   ET


SANJAY GUPTA, HOST: Thanks, guys. This is HOUSECALL. We're making the rounds this morning of some of the most intriguing medical stories of the week. First up, lead in toys. Are toy makers putting your child in danger? What you as parents need to know.
Then mercury and the fish you eat. How much is too much? And what can you do to find out whether you might be at risk?

Then, would you take medical advice from a TV show? No, not this show. We take a look at the influence of reality TV on plastic surgery.

Finally, taunted, bullies, isolated. Kids missing school with possibly dangerous consequences. Why being overweight puts kids more at risk.

First up, though, another week, another toy recall. Amazing. Concerns about lead paint and loose magnets on 9 1/2 million Chinese made toys prompted Mattel to issue the recall. Some of Mattel's Sarge diecast toys from the Pixar "Cars" movie will be recalled, along with Barbie doll, and Tanner playsets, plus seven million Polypacket dolls and the accessories as well.

This would be the second toy recall from Mattel in two weeks amid concerns about lead paint. The toys, all of them made in China.

Now earlier this month, Mattel Fisher Price division recalled more than a million preschool toys featuring such characters such as Big Bird and Elmo.

So should you be concerned about your kids' toys? Could they be ingesting lead? Well, answering those questions for us is Dr. Ari Brown. She's a spokesman for the American Academy of Pediatrics. She's also author of two books on parenting. The most recent "Toddler 411."

Dr. Brown, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

ARI BROWN, DR., PEDIATRICIAN: Thanks for having me, Sanjay.

GUPTA: So you've been hearing all these stories just like me. You're a doctor. You're a parent as well. Are you concerned?

BROWN: Well, absolutely. I think that the bad news for parents is we're trying everything we can to protect our kids. And some of these things are inevitable. We cannot protect our kids from things that we cannot control. GUPTA: How do you know -- I mean, how would you know if your child has lead poisoning?

BROWN: Well -- and that's the bad news for parents, too is most kids who have mild levels of lead poisoning really don't show any symptoms. So there's no reassurance there. The only good news, I can say, is that really high levels of lead exposure are what are going to cause those serious symptoms that people are scared of, seizures and comas and death. That's really high levels of lead exposure. And that's probably not what we're talking about here.

GUPTA: Right. And it's one of those things because you know, I have a 2-year-old, for example. And she puts everything in her mouth. She has -- she's done this for a long time. And I'm sure part of what she puts in her mouth are her toys. Could she have a too high a level as you're talking about?

BROWN: Right. And you know, the biggest concern is really going to be kids under age 3, particularly kids 1 to age 3 because those are kids who are going to be putting toys into their mouth, exploring toys that way, and even sometimes using them as a teething toy, which is not what they're supposed to be used for, but that's what kids do.

GUPTA: Now let's say you are worried. Let's say a parent is watching this right now. And they're saying, you know what, I'm worried enough. My kid's been putting these toys into their mouths or for some other reason they're concerned. What do they do? They call your office or a pediatrician's office, what happens next?

BROWN: Right. Odds are your child is not going to have a significant exposure. But if you have concerns, talk to your doctor about it. It's very easy to get a blood lead test. I say it's easy for me. It's not so easy for the child. They don't like getting their arm pricked, but it is a very simple test. And if the level is less than 10, no worries. If it's over 10, then it's something that we need to be concerned about to be watching for and potentially even treat.

GUPTA: And the treatment, is that something that's straightforward? Or is that complicated?

BROWN: Well, depending on the level -- and, again, the level is probably not going to be much higher than 10. I'd probably say it'd be 10 to 20 range if it was a significant exposure with these toys. Most of the time, you remove the lead source and then you watch the levels, make sure it goes down. Sometimes we'll treat with iron supplements to prevent anemia. And then, we're just making sure the levels reduce with time.

GUPTA: I know we just got a little bit of your time, but let me ask you also about the magnets because we've talked a lot about lead, but some of these recalls were based on these magnets falling out and possibly getting stuck together in the intestine. Is that a real concern?

BROWN: Sure. The potential there is very concerning. The good news is there have been no cases of incidents that have occurred. But again, these toys with the magnets are intended for kids over the age of 3. So hopefully, those kids aren't putting these toys in their mouths anymore.

GUPTA: And just real quick, did you throw out all the toys? Did you go to the website and throw out your toys?

BROWN: Well, my kids are a little bit older. So they're not playing with so many of those toys. But I think we got a few Polypockets at our house I may get rid of.

GUPTA: OK. Dr. Ari Brown, thank so much, as always. Welcome back to the show as well. Thank you very much.

BROWN: Thanks, Sanjay. And for a complete list of toys that have just been recalled, go to And if you miss any of today's show, you can also find free transcripts on the HOUSECALL page. Plus, check out for highlights of this week's show on my free podcast.

Now from too much lead in toys to too much mercury in fish. Could your system be overloaded with mercury? CNN's Greg Hunter tells us how to find out, and more importantly, how to avoid it.


GREG HUNTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Before getting pregnant with Baby Alexa, Miami mom Laura Pugliese got her hair tested for mercury. The results startled her. You had high levels of mercury.

LAURA PUGLEISE: Right. Above the recommended levels from the EPA.

HUNTER: Mercury is a toxic element that can be found in pollution released by coal-fired plants and other sources and makes its way into oceans, lakes, streams, and the fish that live there. At high levels, it can damage the brain and immune system in fetuses and young children. After the test, Pugliese put off her pregnancy for more than six months.

PUGLIESE: I was not about to even have a doubt in my mind that I could do something to potentially harm an unborn child. I was just not going to risk it.

HUNTER: She stopped eating albacore tuna and says her mercury levels went down. Pugliese received her $25 home test kit from Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. Samples were sent to the University of North Carolina at Asheville as part of a study that tested 12,000 people and found 1 in 5 had more than the EPA's recommended limit of mercury in their bodies.

STEVE PATCH, UNIV. OF N.C.-ASHEVILLE: Now we know with lead very well at what levels we start to see harm. And they're much, much lower than we used to think. The same thing happened for mercury.

HUNTER: But some doctors are concerned pregnant women worried about mercury will stop eating fish all together. And that's not recommended because fish is rich in protein and other nutrients. But pregnant women should avoid shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tile fish, and cut down on albacore tuna.

LAURA RILEY, DR., OB-GYN: Those fish have the highest mercury content. And so we suggest that pregnant women stay away from those for the nine months of pregnancy.

HUNTER: A seafood industry leader says advocacy groups like Greenpeace are trying to change environmental policy by calling into question the health benefits of fish.

JOHN CONNELLY, NATIONAL FISHERIES INSTITUTE: To try to get people scared about a healthy product like seafood in order to achieve a means to scare them about mercury is irresponsible.

HUNTER (on camera): So here's the takeaway. No matter who you are, how old you are, you should eat fish a couple of times a week. Here's some examples of low mercury fish. Cod, wild king salmon. We have snapper, trout. We have pompano, fluke, clams, all low in mercury. And my favorite, yes, Mr. four-pound lobster, low in mercury.

Greg Hunter, CNN, at the Chelsea Fish Market in New York.


GUPTA: All right, Greg. Thanks for that.

Coming up on HOUSECALL, medical advice from reality TV. Plastic surgery rates are skyrocketing, we know that, but are shows doing more harm than good?

Then strokes or heart disease by age 40. New research shows a dangerous future for overweight children.

And trying to stop smoking? Well, there's a new tool out there that may be heading your way, and it's battery powered. Stay tuned for that as HOUSECALL continues.


GUPTA: Cosmetic surgery has nearly doubled since 2000. Now experts think this trend is driven in part by people watching reality television. CNN's Sibila Vargas reports on what doctors have to say about these Hollywood-style expectations.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Get ready for the most radical transformation ever brought to television.

SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Plastic surgery as entertainment. It's a reality of reality TV. With shows like ABC's "Extreme Makeover," E Entertainment's "Doctor 90210," and the Swan on FOX attracting people who want to showcase their radical transformations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Turning into the beautiful swan will apply to me.

VARGAS: But more and more doctors say they're seeing this televised quest for perfection influence real-life medical decisions.

ERIKA LAMOUREAUX, PLASTIC SURGERY PATIENT: I have had a little bit of lipo. I have a little bit of breast augmentation.

VARGAS: Erica Lamoreaux has had a series of cosmetic surgeries and not just the ones she mentioned. There was a chin implant, a nose job, a face lift, and lip injections. Surgeries, she says, were inspired by makeovers on reality TV.

LAMOREAUGUPTA: My boyfriend says that I'm not allowed to watch Dr. 90210 because it becomes a shopping list.

VARGAS: Erica is not alone. A recent study published in the academic journal "Plastic Surgery and Reconstructive Surgery" sampled 42 people seeking cosmetic surgery and found that 4 out of 5 said they were directly influenced by procedures they'd seen on reality TV shows. And more than half said they watched at least one such program regularly.

GUPTA: And I guess I am influenced because that's how I found Dr. Ellenbogen.

RICHARD ELLENBOGEN, DR. PLASTIC SURGEON: A little bit of icing on the cake, sort of like what we're doing today with the Botox.

VARGAS: Dr. Richard Ellenbogen has been practicing plastic surgery for more than 30 years. He's been featured on several makeover shows and says their popularity has contributed to an increase in real world cosmetic procedures.

ELLENBOGEN: Before extreme makeovers, plastic surgery patients would come in for one thing. They didn't realize they could have two, or three, or four things done at the same time.

VARGAS: That trend concerns Dr. Zee Paul Lorenc, a New York plastic surgeon and co-author of "A Little Work: The Truth Behind Plastic Surgery's Park Avenue Facade."

Z. PAUL LORENC, DR., PLASTIC SURGEON: I don't necessarily think it's healthy for the surgery that we are performing to be in a way trivialized on reality shows.

VARGAS (on camera): Lorenc says not only are the risks and recovery periods associated with plastic surgery minimized on these makeover series, but shows like MTV's "I Want a Famous Face," seen here on youtube can create unrealistic expectations.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I admire Carmen Electra. And I want my body to be more like hers.

LORENC: And I think it's important for patients to realize that, that it will not change their life. It's not going to finish or get rid of all of your worries, all of your financial worries. And so I think it's important for the patient to be realistic about it.

VARGAS: There is an upside to these shows that even Dr. Lorenc can agree with. They provide would-be patients with general information about procedures and innovative techniques before going under the knife. And while some of these series are no longer on the air, it's clear with some viewers they've left a lasting impression. You're a big fan of plastic surgery?

LAMOREAUGUPTA: Oh, plastic surgery is wonderful.

VARGAS: Sibila Vargas, CNN, Hollywood.


GUPTA: All right, Sibila, thanks. And helping us separate reality from fiction is Dr. Mark Yune. He's a plastic surgeon here in Atlanta. He's also spokesman for the American Academy of Facial, Plastic, and Reconstructive Surgery. Thanks for being with us.

MARC YUNE, DR., PLASTIC SURGEON: Thanks for having me.

GUPTA: I've always wanted to watch one of these shows with a plastic surgeon to get your take on it. I mean, do you watch these shows at all?

YUNE: I really don't. I tell you it's interesting because it's kind of sensationalized. And from a practitioner's standpoint, it's -- you tend to get a little critical of things.

GUPTA: Do patients watch these shows, then come to you and say, I have questions or say, I want what this person had?

YUNE: I couldn't tell you the numbers. It probably has affected the practice a little bit. There's actually been some studies done recently showing that patients are influenced by these shows quite a bit. And it's important to understand that it's a little sensationalized. It's a little dramatized. And maybe you should take it with a grain of salt.

GUPTA: Right. What should -- people are watching. Obviously, plastic surgery numbers have increased, as you know. What does someone need to know before they find a plastic surgeon? How do they know they're getting someone who's quality?

YUNE: Well, that's a great question. And frankly, I think a patient needs to do their research, understand something about plastic surgery and their prospective surgeon. It's just such a specialized field nowadays. We're seeing people -- for instance, I prefer to specialize in facial, plastic and cosmetic surgery. In order to achieve that, a fellowship training, which is elective after residency, enabled me to get hundreds of cases under my belt before I went into private practice.

GUPTA: Right.

YUNE: So when you keep hearing this term "board certification," which I think is important, but we have to understand that's sort of the tip of the iceberg. It's one who's passed the minimal amount of testing and training. I think you need to ask your surgeon, are you specialized in the area that you're entertaining? Are you continuing to educate yourself? I mean, there's so much technology nowadays. It's imperative to stay on the cutting edge.

GUPTA: You're a part of the American Board of Plastic Surgery. But there are other boards as well.

YUNE: I'm actually board certified by the American Board of Facial Plastic Surgery. American Board of Plastic Surgery is the largest entity, if you will, for board certification. The specialty again has changed so much that now there are subspecialties within. Facial plastics is its own board certification. And in order to achieve that, just like any residency, you appreciate this because I know you've done a fellowship training program too...

GUPTA: Right, right.

YUNE: ...specializing in certain types of procedures.

GUPTA: Lots of training that you've had for sure.

YUNE: Lots of training.

GUPTA: Hey, one thing that was interesting in that piece that you just watched, they talked about patients getting lots of different procedures at the same time. What are your thoughts on that?

YUNE: Well, it's serious business. You know, plastic surgery is medicine like any other specialty. So I think it's imperative to take it seriously from a patient's standpoint, know that your questions are getting thoroughly answered. Doctors taking the time to inform you about everything related to the procedure. And really, the bottom line is getting informed.

Well, we appreciate you being here. We appreciate you being part of our show, even if you don't watch some of those reality shows. Dr. Yune, thank you very much.

YUNE: Thank you so much.

GUPTA: Just ahead on HOUSECALL, more of this week's medical headlines. Plus kids at risk for having heart attacks in their 30s. What signs parents can watch for?

Plus, absent from school and at risk for drugs and teen pregnancy. Find out who's most at risk and why. It may surprise you. All that's ahead on HOUSECALL.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSECALL. Let's check in with Judy Fortin. She's here with this week's medical headlines. Judy?


Yet another reason to watch your weight. Adding extra inches to your waist may increase your risk of heart disease, according to a new study. Researchers looking at more than 2,500 people find having an expanding pot belly increases the risk of unhealthy plaque build-up in arteries of the heart. Risk is elevated even for people at a healthy bodyweight. Authors say waist to hip measurement is a better predictor than measures like the body mass index.

A drug used to prevent one of the most painful types of headaches may cause some problems with your heartbeat. A small study of 108 people suffering with cluster headaches found 37 percent of patients taking Verapamil had slower than normal heartrates. And 19 percent had irregular heart beats. Patients should be monitored for potential development of irregular heartbeats.

Researchers are finding some popular supplements do nothing to help prevent heart disease in women. According to a new study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, middle-aged women taking Vitamins E, C, or Beta Carotene showed no heart benefit. Researchers point out, however, that eating a diet rich in these vitamins does protect the body's cardiovascular system.

Sanjay, back to you.

GUPTA: All right, Judy, thanks. And a new study in The Journal of Pediatrics shows overweight kids with high cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels are much more likely to have heart disease or strokes as adults.

Get this. Researchers say about 1 in 5 kids with risk factors have heart disease or strokes by their 30s or 40s. That's compared to 1 in 67 for kids in the normal range.

Now researchers say the study shows the value of prevention, something we talk about a lot here.

And when HOUSECALL continues, why a battery-powered cigarette could spell relief for those trying to quit. But first, overweight and absent. Some heavier kids are skipping school to avoid their schoolmates' taunts. Find out why that puts them at risk for even more dangerous behaviors.


GUPTA: We're back with HOUSECALL. In a first of its kind study, researchers have found some disturbing news about overweight kids and school. Well, it seems obvious kids who don't fit the average mold might be taunted. That feeling of not fitting in at school is leading to increased absenteeism. And that could put kids on track for some dangerous behaviors.


GUPTA (voice-over): It's the sound of a new school year, as millions of kids head back to class. But for some young people school pressure is more than just reading, writing, and arithmetic. A new study by the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University finds many overweight kids are avoiding school, setting themselves up for other, more dangerous problems, including increased drug use, and pregnancy, and poor grades.

GARY FOSTER, TEMPLE UNIVERSITY: Heavier kids were the most absent among all of the kids in the school. And this is after controlling for other factors that influence attendants.

GUPTA: The study looks at more than 1,000 fourth, fifth, and sixth graders from the Philadelphia school system and finds four main predictors for missing school. Race, age, socioeconomic status, and gender. But in digging deeper, researchers also discovered that overweight children were absent an average of 20 percent more than other kids.

FORTIN: There's a lot of social stigma associated with being an overweight kid from bullying, to teasing, to perhaps even some concerns about how they'll perform athletically in P.E. classes.

GUPTA: Just ask Shawna Rubbeck, who went through constant teasing when she was heavy.

SHAWNA RUBBECK, TAUNTED BY SCHOOLMATES: People would call me cupcake as a joke. And I would just sort of laugh about it because, you know, I knew I couldn't do anything about it.

GUPTA: Doctors say their research shows that being overweight not only causes health problems in children, but psychological ones as well. They say schools need to look at how they can help kids with weight issues overcome these pressures so they'll feel comfortable going to class.


GUPTA: Now some experts we talked to recommended more counseling and perhaps nutrition advice to help kids struggling with their weight and their schoolmates.

Just ahead on HOUSECALL, if you tried to stop smoking and couldn't, there may be another option on the horizon.


GUPTA: Now if you've tried to quit smoking with pills, patches, or gum and are still struggling, you may soon have another option. Get this -- a Chinese company is seeking FDA approval for its battery- powered e cigarette. It's known as the Ruillon. You can see it there. The product looks and feels like a traditional cigarette. It delivers nicotine to users in a smoke like vapor without some of the smells or some of the toxins associated with traditional cigarettes. The device is available in China, Turkey, Israel, and Australia. Costs about $208, not cheap. Plus, you got to pay for the cost of refills.

Now to be fair, Ruillon may come under greater scrutiny from the FDA after recent quality and safety issues with other products exported from China.

Well, unfortunately, we're out of time for this morning. Thanks for watching. Make sure to watch next weekend for another edition of HOUSECALL. E-mail us your questions as well at Remember, this is the place for the answers to all your medical questions.

I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Have a good day and make sure to tune to CNN for all your news, starting with the latest headlines right now in the NEWSROOM.