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For the third straight year, spending on health care in 2011 grew at a historically slow rate, government researchers report.

According to a study published in the January issue of the policy journal Health Affairs, U.S. health spending rose 3.9 percent in 2011. That's statistically almost identical to the rate of increase in each of the two previous years.

We're living in the golden age of generic drugs.

Eight in 10 prescriptions are filled with generics rather than brand-name drugs these days.

The generics are usually inexpensive. Think $4 for a month's supply of the depression drug fluoxetine (or Prozac) at Wal-Mart. If you have insurance that covers pharmaceuticals, your copay will be lower with a generic than a brand-name drug, too.

Ask any obstetrician, babies want to come out only when they're good and ready.

At least 39 weeks after conception is the goal. But some babies bust out early, and others take longer — sometimes much longer.

Our perceptions about dieting and our attitudes about overweight people are shifting, according to a new survey by the NPD Group.

Miranda Dale had her first breakdown during her freshman year at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. It was 2 a.m. on a Saturday, and she hadn't left her dorm room in days.

"I honestly didn't know what to do," says Dale. "I heard rumors that at a big university you're just a number and you're not going to get through to anyone" at the university counseling center.

It's well known that routine physical activity benefits both body and mind. And there are no age limits. Both children and adults can reap big benefits.

Now a study published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, explores whether certain factors may help to explain the value of daily physical activity for adolescents' mental health.

The bill that prevented the nation from plunging over the fiscal cliff did more than just stop income tax increases and delay across-the-board spending cuts. It also included several provisions that tweaked Medicare and brought bigger changes to other health care programs.

In a surprise, the Obama administration said Thursday that it has given Utah a conditional OK to run its own health insurance marketplace.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, a Republican, has resisted making major changes to the state's existing marketplace, which was built before passage of the federal health law and is geared to small business.

Holidays are typically a festive time, with breaks from the routine, meals with loved ones, maybe even some gifts. But for many families across the U.S., the season comes with intense stress: Roughly 1 in 5 families with children are not getting enough food.

For some, free or reduced-price school meals have become a major source of basic nutrition. When schools close for the holidays, many of those families struggle to fill the gap.

When it comes to testing women for cervical cancer, the nation sure could be doing a better job.

Too many women who don't need them are getting regular Pap tests. Other women who could benefit from the tests aren't getting them, often those are women without health insurance.

When there's a cylinder of medical oxygen in the room, the last thing you want it to do is burst into flames.

So the Food and Drug Administration says Praxair has recalled its Grab 'n Go Vantage portable oxygen units. The product combines an aluminum cylinder with a regulator that releases the oxygen at the right pressure for medical use.

It's a handy combination, but only when the Grab 'n Go is working right.

The promise of genetic medicine is beginning to be fulfilled, but it's been a long, hard slog.

Take the story of Kalydeco. It's designed to treat people with a lung disease called cystic fibrosis. While not quite a cure, the drug is extremely effective for some CF patients.

But the success of Kalydeco has been more than two decades in the making.

Being a little overweight may tip the odds in favor of living a long life, according to a new analysis. Researchers say there may be some benefit to having a little extra body fat.

This isn't the first time researchers have raised questions about the link between body weight and how long someone will live. While there's no debate that being severely obese will raise the risk of all kinds of illnesses and even cut some lives short, it's less clear what happens to people who are less overweight.

The 113th Congress will be the first one in 40 years to convene without California Rep. Pete Stark as a member.

Stark was defeated in November by a fellow Democrat under new California voting rules. Stark may not be a household name, but he leaves a long-lasting mark on the nation's health care system.

Most of us do everything possible to avoid mosquitoes. But one Italian researcher literally sacrifices her right arm to keep the lowly insects alive.

Chiara Adolina is studying a new malaria drug, and she needs the little suckers for her experiments. So she feeds them each day with her own blood.

She extends her arm into a mosquito cage to give the insects "breakfast." Several dozen mosquitoes spread across her forearm and jam their proboscises into her skin. "Can you see how fat they become?" she says. "Look at that tummy."

The millions of Americans who make New Year's resolutions to lose weight often have pictures in mind.

They're pictures that have been repeatedly supplied by the health and beauty magazines at supermarket checkout lines. They feature skinny models in bikinis, or toned guys with six-pack abs, and captions about how you could look like this by summer.

Some people go so far as to tape these pictures onto their refrigerators and cupboards. When they're tempted to reach for a cookie, they reason, the sight of that toned model might dissuade them from breaking their resolutions.

For scientists who study a dangerous form of bird flu, 2012 is ending as it began — with uncertainty about what the future holds for their research, but a hope that some contentious issues will soon be resolved.

Voters in Massachusetts were the latest to weigh in on whether it should be legal for doctors to prescribe drugs to help terminally ill patients end their lives.

The measure was controversial, and on Election Day it fell just short.

It's well-known that chemotherapy often comes with side effects like fatigue, hair loss and extreme nausea. What's less well-known is how the cancer treatment affects crucial brain functions, like speech and cognition.

For Yolanda Hunter, a 41-year-old hospice nurse, mother of three and breast cancer patient, these cognitive side effects of chemotherapy were hard to miss.

"I could think of words I wanted to say," Hunter says. "I knew what I wanted to say. ... There was a disconnect from my brain to my mouth."

About a month ago, Declan Procaccini's 10-year-old son woke him early in the morning in a fright.

"He came into my bedroom and said, 'Dad, I had a horrible, horrible dream!' " Procaccini says. "He was really shaken up. I said, 'Tell me about it,' and he told me he'd had a dream that a teenager came into his classroom at his school and shot all the kids in front of him."

The Consumer Products Safety Commission is fed up with the Nap Nanny.

Three models of the infant recliners — Nap Nanny Generations One and Two, and the Chill — are being recalled voluntarily by some of the nation's biggest retailers, including Amazon.com and Buy Buy Baby. Consumers can get refunds or credit toward another purchase.

The consumer agency says the recliners "contain defects in the design, warnings and instructions, which pose a substantial risk of injury and death to infants."

In the aftermath of Christmas, a parent could be forgiven for thinking that materialism has trumped human kindness.

Take heart. Children can easily become kinder and more helpful. And that behavior makes them more positive, more accepting and more popular.

At least that's how it worked for fourth- and fifth-graders in Vancouver, Canada. Researchers there have been studying empathy and altruism in schoolchildren for decades.

The McDonald's at the Truman Medical Centers' main campus in Kansas City, Mo., has closed, ending an epic, two-decade stint inside the hospital and making it the fifth health facility in the past few years to give the Big Mac the boot.

Katie Alonzo was stunned when doctors told her they couldn't get a drug her 10-year-old daughter, Abby, was taking to fight lymphoma.

"When a doctor says, 'This is what you need to take.' And then all of a sudden somebody tells you, 'Well, that is what you need to take but this isn't available so we're going to try this instead,' it's very scary," say Alonzo, who lives in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

It's been a mixed year for Alzheimer's research. Some promising drugs failed to stop or even slow the disease. But researchers also found reasons to think that treatments can work if they just start sooner.

Scientists who study Alzheimer's say they aren't discouraged by the drug failures. "I actually think it was a phenomenal year for research," says Bill Rebeck, a brain scientist at Georgetown University.

This is a story about loss and meaning. It's the story of a boy who died and a mother who tottered at the precipice of despair. It's about faith — not in God, but in the ability to build from ashes.

A young, pregnant woman went for a routine doctor's visit to find out her due date. As she was leaving the office, she got a text message from her husband:

Husband: So what's the deal?

Wife: Every where thinging days nighing

Wife: Some is where!

Husband: What the hell does that mean?

Husband: You're not making any sense.

Turns out the woman was having a stroke. And her garbled texting — something doctors are now calling 'dystextia' — was an early clue to the problem.

When Sarah Gardner was 34, she started getting really worried about whether she'd ever have kids.

"I bought this kit online that said that they could tell you your ovarian reserve," Gardner, now 40, says. These kits claim they can tell women how long their ovaries will continue producing eggs and how much time they have left to get pregnant.

"Well, mine said, 'we advise really you have a baby now.' Well, sadly that letter arrived three weeks after I just split up with my long-term partner. So, yeah, it opened a massive can of worms really," she says.

Turn 50, and you can pretty much count on an invitation to join the AARP and a referral to the gastroenterologist to be screened for colon cancer.

Two-thirds or less of people ages 50-75, the target range for colorectal cancer screening, are up-to-date on testing, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

That's better than it used to be, but still isn't up to par. The national screening goal is 70.5 percent of eligible people in 2020.

Connecticut's chief medical examiner, Wayne Carver, has raised the possibility of requesting genetic tests on Adam Lanza, the man responsible for the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Carver hasn't said precisely what he may want geneticists to look for, but scientists who study the links between genes and violence say those tests won't reveal much about why Lanza did what he did.

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