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Health Highlights: May 16, 2012

Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by the editors of HealthDay:

Only 1 in 4 Sunscreens Effective and Safe: Report

A new report claims that only 25 percent of 800 tested sunscreens provide protection for your skin without using potentially harmful ingredients.

The Environmental Working Group's 2012 Sunscreen Guide defines safe sunscreens as those that are free of the chemical oxybenzone and retinyl palmitate (a type of vitamin A), don't have SPF above 50, and protect against UVA and UVB sunrays, CNN reported.

"The results are slightly better than previous years, but it continues to surprise us that we can recommend such few products," said Nneka Leiba, a senior analyst with the group.

Fifty-six percent of beach and sport sunscreens contain oxybenzone, which absorbs ultraviolet light. However, some research shows that the chemical can be absorbed through the skin and the Environmental Working Group and other experts believe that oxybenzone in linked to hormone disruption and possibly to cell damage that may lead to skin cancer, CNN reported.

Oxybenzone is safe, according to the American Academy of Dermatology, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the chemical in sunscreen for use on children older than six months.

Retinyl palminate is another potentially harmful ingredient found in many sunscreens, according to the Environmental Working Group. Government-funded studies in mice have found that this type of vitamin A may increase the risk of skin cancer when used on sun-exposed skin, CNN reported.

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Sharp Drop in Maternal Deaths: U.N.

The United Nations says the number of women worldwide dying from complications of pregnancy and childbirth fell 47 percent in the last two decades, from 543,000 in 1990 to 287,000 in 2010.

The U.N. said the decrease in maternal deaths is due to increases in contraception and in antiretroviral drugs for mothers with AIDS, as well as a greater number of births attended by nurses, doctors, or midwives with medical training, The New York Times reported.

While maternal deaths are falling quickly in East Asia, they are declining slowly in Africa. The overall reduction in Asia is largely due to China, which has a one-child policy, high rates of contraceptive use, and an improving health care system.

Two countries -- India and Nigeria -- account for one-third of maternal deaths worldwide, the U.N. said. Others with high numbers of maternal deaths include: Democratic Republic of Congo, Pakistan, Sudan, Indonesia, Ethiopia, Tanzania, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, The Times reported.

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One-Third of Adults Worldwide Have High Blood Pressure: WHO

High blood pressure affects one in three adults worldwide, according to a World Health Organization report released Wednesday.

Effective, low-cost treatment has led to a drop in rates of high blood pressure in wealthy nations but many people in poor countries remain undiagnosed and untreated. For example, less than 20 percent of adults in Canada and the United States have high blood pressure, compared with nearly 50 percent in Niger, Agence France-Presse reported.

The WHO data also showed that one in 10 people worldwide have diabetes and that 12 percent of the world's population is obese. The Americas have the highest rate of obesity (26 percent) while Southeast Asia has the lowest rate (3 percent).

"This report is further evidence of the dramatic increase in the conditions that trigger heart disease and other chronic illnesses, particularly in low and middle-income countries," said WHO director general Margaret Chan, AFP reported.

The WHO also said that deaths in children younger than five years fell from almost 10 million in 2000 to 7.6 million a decade later.

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