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Commercial slimming programmes better than GP-run ones, zinc and autism and cot stress

Our roundup of the health news headlines on Friday 4 November.

Several papers report on a study suggesting that diet programmes such as Weight Watchers, Slimming World and Rosemary Conley are cheaper and far more effective than those run by GPs.

Two of them, the Daily Telegraph and the Independent, say dieters lost more weight and kept it off for longer by joining a slimming club than by having counselling from specially trained staff in GP surgeries or pharmacies.

Compared to the NHS programmes, commercially-run ones meant people typically lost an extra 2.3kg.

The research, published online in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), involved 740 obese or overweight men and women recruited from one NHS trust in Birmingham, the Telegraph says.

The Telegraph also reports that a new drug for advanced prostate cancer has been described as being as important for treatment of the disease as Herceptin was for breast cancer, after a trial showed it gave men an five extra months of life.

Professor Johann de Bono, of the Institute for Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, told the Telegraph that the experimental drug MDV3100 was ‘a huge advance' in treatment of the disease, which kills 10,000 men a year in Britain.

Interim results from the global Phase III AFFIRM trial found those given MDV3100 lived, on average, 4.8 months longer than those given a dummy pill.

Also in the Telegraph, researchers claim that putting newborn babies in a nearby cot or nursery to give their mothers some rest immediately after birth can distress them.

Scientists in Cape Town, South Africa, looked at the effect of early separation by monitoring the heart rates of two-day-old babies when they were alone in a cot or being nursed by their mothers skin-to-skin.

The results, published in Biological Psychiatry, showed that stress levels among babies rose 176 per cent when they were alone, and that they were 86 per cent less likely to sleep soundly.

Finally, children who are low in zinc may be at higher risk of autism, reports the Daily Mail.

A Japanese study measured levels of zinc in the hair of almost 2,000 children with autism and related conditions.

They found that large numbers of children with autism and related conditions such as Asperger's syndrome were deficient in the mineral, which is found in meat, bread and dairy products. 

Overall, almost a third of the youngsters were deficient in zinc, according to the journal Scientific Reports.

They concluded: ‘A nutritional approach may yield a novel hope for its treatment and prevention.'

However, British experts quoted by the paper were less enthusiastic, suggesting the research was flawed and that it would be unwise for people to medicate their children with zinc supplements.

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