Entries in Consumer Reports (13)


Inexpensive Sunscreens Top "Consumer Reports" List 

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Before your trip to a tropical paradise, you may want to stop at Walmart or Target for the best sunscreen protection.

According to Consumer Reports, the top two sunscreens in their tests were Walmart's Equate Ultra Protection SPF 50 lotion and Target's Up & Up Sport SPF 50 spray, both inexpensive brands.

Consumer Reports says sunscreens should block both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays, and should keep working after you've been in the water.

Consumer Reports warns that you can’t always rely on just the SPF number, which is just a measure of UVB ray protection. UVB rays cause sunburn and cancer, while UVA rays tan and age skin, and they contribute to skin cancer as well. The top rated sunscreens protected against both.

Consumer Reports’ sunscreen buying guide notes that top rated sunscreens actually change from year to year. The highest rated one in 2012 came in dead last this year.

“It's hard to explain the changes but our tests did find that there are better choices,” the buying guide reads. “New labeling and test requirements from the Food and Drug Administration could have led sunscreen makers to tweak ingredients, but several manufacturers told us they hadn't changed formulations since our last tests.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Ten Health Hazards Lurking on Your Bathroom Shelf

Comstock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Staples in many American homes, including cotton swabs, mouthwash, eye drops, lip balm and mascara, may have hidden hazards, according to Consumer Reports.

"It's just a reminder that these everyday products, that can seem innocuous, may be harmful if we aren't paying attention to how we're using them," said Jody Rohlena, senior editor of ShopSmart, the Consumer Reports magazine that highlighted the 10 products.  The other five items include hair spray, contact lenses, eye make-up, hydrogen peroxide and vaginal douches.

Take eye make-up for example.  The magazine says women risk a bacterial infection if they hang onto their make-up too long, or moisten that eye pencil with a little water or saliva.  It advises users to wash their hands before putting on make-up and replace mascara every few months.

Even the folks who represent the cosmetics industry don't quibble with the suggestions.  Linda Lorett, chief toxicologist for the Personal Care Products Association, spoke to ABC News and called the recommendations "common sense."

However, Lorett did take issue with a number of the magazine's hidden hazards.  

ShopSmart warned against using propellant hairsprays, and said even pump sprays should only be used with eyes and mouth closed and in a well ventilated space.  Lorett insisted that all types of hair spray are safety tested, and that "any exposure would be low and short-term."  She says the safety testing assumes women will use the sprays in tight spaces, such as a bathroom.

Lip balm is also on the "caution" list, for those people who might develop an allergy or sensitivity to any dyes or fragrances in the product.  Lorett contends such a reaction would be extremely rare, and even Rohlena admits: "I am addicted to my lip gloss and I keep using that."

The magazine points out there are other options for those chapped lips, including petroleum jelly and brands with no added scents or color.

And what about the simple cotton swab?  The magazine warns that a recent study found a "direct link between their use and ruptured ear drums."  The study's author says there's no need to use the swabs to clean out the ears and that a little ear wax won't hurt.

A spokesman for Unilever, the maker of Q-tips, points out that the packaging warns against inserting the swabs into the ear canal, and says if you want to use Q-tips on the ears, stick to the outer surface only.

"Some of these behaviors are just really habits," said Rohlena.  "You've done them for years, and maybe your mother did too.  I urge people to read the fine print, even if you've been using the product for a long time."

Hydrogen peroxide has long been a family favorite to clean out scrapes and cuts, but Rohlena says soap and water works just as well, and might be less irritating to healthy tissue.

As for those who rely on contact lenses, the advice: never rinse the lenses in water, and replace that contact lens case every three months.  The magazine also recommends that consumers go easy on any eye drops or mouthwashes and skip vaginal douches entirely.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


'Consumer Reports' Investigates Mini-Med US Health Plans

PhotoAlto/Frederic Cirou/Thinkstock(YONKERS, N.Y.) -- Consumer Reports is warning against so-called "mini-med" health plans that offer limited protection, usually at lower cost, but with sky-high deductibles that can leave the insured paying thousands out of pocket.

Mini-med health plans tend to appeal to industries such as retail, temporary staffing agencies and food service, according to the consumer group.  The employers want to offer an added benefit to staff, but, in reality the plans offer little to no coverage, said Nancy Metcalf, senior program editor at Consumer Reports.

"There is this persistent dream of consumers that if they only look hard enough, they'll find really good insurance that costs a lot less," said Metcalf.  "It's not going to happen.  There's no such thing as a bargain on health insurance.  If it's cheap, it's cheap for a reason."

Mini-meds offer a limited benefit health plan with extensive restrictions to those under the age of 65.  Most plans cap benefits at a few thousand dollars per year. While many of these companies maintain that these plans are better than no insurance at all, Metcalf argues that some people may be better off without any insurance rather than making monthly payments to a plan that will probably not give adequate coverage when needed.

"In my view, people are better off putting whatever you would have paid to that mini-med in the bank in case something happens in the future," said Metcalf.

Of course, Metcalf said that this is a last resort.

"This is an excellent report," said Jonathan Weiner, professor of health policy and management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. "It's great to see a clear discussion about these type of plans. They are not well-understood or widely publicized."

While Metcalf maintains that people should never purchase such plans, Weiner disagrees saying some may benefit despite the limited benefits.

"In almost all instances, consumers would be far better off if they are able to get coverage from other types of more conventional health plans," said Weiner. "But if there are no other options, and consumers understand what is and is not covered by these mini-meds, then the extra coverage would be helpful to those lucky enough to have only modest healthcare expenses during the year." 

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Infections More Likely in Pediatric ICUs, Research Finds

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(YONKERS, N.Y.) -- Parents whose children are ill enough to spend time in an intensive care unit may have something else to worry about on top of that serious medical condition, according to new research published in Consumer Reports.

The risk of a serious bloodstream infection contracted in hospitals, the report says, is 20 percent higher in pediatric intensive care units (ICUs) than in adult intensive care units.

The Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center also rated pediatric ICUs across the country based on how well they prevented a certain type of dangerous infection that affects central lines -- long tubes inserted into veins that go directly to blood vessels feeding the heart used to administer medication and fluids.


Based on data from 92 ICUs gathered in 2010, researchers discovered that only five earned the highest possible rating of 5, meaning they reported no central line infections.  Twenty-four ICUs received a 2, the second-lowest rating.  Their infection rates were higher than the national average of 1.5 blood infections per 1,000 days children had central lines.  Two hospitals scored a 1, the lowest rating, with rates more than twice the national average.

The report cites data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that estimated 27,000 to 65,000 central line bloodstream infections in U.S. hospitals in 2009. Between 12,000 and 28,000 of them occurred in ICUs, and about 25 percent of them were fatal.

"These are serious infections that can lead to the death of a patient and are preventable, but hospitals are not doing enough to prevent them," said Dr. John Santa, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center.

The infections, he explained, often occur because health care personnel don't take enough precautions to ensure the lines are inserted under absolutely sterile conditions or make sure they are kept very clean so bacteria can't enter the bloodstream.

Santa also said that despite the fact that there are more than 400 hospitals with pediatric ICUs nationwide, only 92 made it into the analysis, because more than half of them did not make their infection data public and the others did not utilize enough central lines to make a fair comparison.  Hospitals are not required in every state to report their data on infections.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Arsenic in Juice: New Study Prompts Action

Schnare & Stief/StockFood Creative(YONKERS, N.Y.) -- An investigation into trace amounts of arsenic found in bottled juice has prompted advocacy group Consumers Union to urge the Food and Drug Administration to lower its standards for arsenic levels in juice drinks.

The results of the study released Wednesday indicate that 10 percent of juices tested had total arsenic levels greater than the FDA's standard for drinking water of 10 parts per billion (ppb), while 25 percent of juices also had lead levels higher than the FDA's bottled water limit of 5 ppb.

Consumer Reports tested 88 samples of popular brands of grape and apple juice sold in the United States, including Mott's, Minute Maid and Welch's.  Most of the arsenic detected in Consumer Reports' tests was a type known as inorganic, which is a human carcinogen.

The testing and analysis has led Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, to urge the federal government to establish a standard of 3 ppb for total arsenic and 5 ppb for lead in juice.

"We're concerned about the potential risks of exposure to these toxins, especially for children who are particularly vulnerable because of their small body size and the amount of juice they regularly consume," said Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., director of safety and sustainability at Consumer Reports.

Although federal standards exist for arsenic and lead levels allowed in bottled and drinking water, there are no limits defined for fruit juices, a mainstay of many children's diets.

In a statement to ABC News regarding the new Consumer Reports data, the FDA -- which stated in September 2011 amid public controversy that apple juice consumption poses little or no risk -- said it is now gathering further information.

"A small percentage of samples contain elevated levels of arsenic.  In response, the FDA has expanded our surveillance activities and is collecting additional data," the agency said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Want a Lower Medical Bill? Just Ask

Comstock/Thinkstock(YONKERS, N.Y.) -- The economy has left millions unemployed and mounting medical costs have put millions in debt. With financial hardships in mind, a new Consumer Reports column suggests ways to become a savvy health care buyer and haggler.

"I have become impressed with how often American households are unable to afford their medical bills and medications, and they're doing various things, like not taking their medications or taking someone else's, because they can't afford them," said Dr. John Santa, director of the Consumer Reports Health Ratings Center and author of the column.

Because of this, Santa noted that the best time to talk to doctors about medical bills and financial limits is before a patient has incurred any costs.

"It helps to know from folks the degree to which financial issues are a stress for them, especially related to health," Santa said.  "This works best if the physician is aware of this from the start.  If you're struggling to keep your head above water, tell the doctor anything he can do to moderate cost is appreciated."

For many medical conditions, there is a wide range of ways to diagnose and treat the problem and the treatments can vary "enormously" in cost, experts said.

"This recommendation makes sense to me in today's world," said Alan Sager, professor of health policy and management at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  "In a more reasonable world, of course, all patients would be insured and all would pay the same price for the same care.  And doctors and hospitals would be financially neutral, liberating them to recommend care in light of its clinical value."

When an unexpected exorbitant bill gets handed to a patient, Santa recommends speaking with the doctor who recommended the procedure or treatment to understand why the costs are so high.

And don't ever assume the price on the bill is set in stone.  On average, the hospitals' total charges to patients and insurers are triple the average cost of actually delivering hospital care to the patient, Sager noted.  Uninsured patients are usually charged the highest price, which is the hospital's list price for different treatments and tests.

"That's because no big insurance company or Medicare plan is available to negotiate a lower price," Sager said.  "Hospitals usually offer to discount their initial bill by 10 to 20 percent from those very high charges when the patient simply asks.  That can be offered by the billing or patient accounts department."

For patients hit with an extremely high bill, Sager recommended bypassing the billing department and calling the hospital CEO's office directly.  Explain the problem and ask for help, he said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Hospitals Still Have a Way to Go in Reducing Infections, Study Finds

Pixland/Thinkstock(YONKERS, N.Y.) -- Little progress has been made in U.S. hospitals to reduce the number of deadly infections, according to a new study by Consumer Reports.

Dr. John Santa, director of Consumer Reports Health, says one finding that surprised him was the slow rate of improvement at teaching hospitals.

"These are hospitals that we normally expect to be on the cutting edge, to be most successful at implementing what we all know to be important things that work in health care and that does not appear to be the case," says Santa.

"Brand is not a tried and true indicator of good performance when it comes to preventing hospital infections," he adds.

Santa advises patients and their families to be aware of the care they are receiving and to let someone know if it isn't up to par.

"It's important that consumers speak up and if they have concerns about the procedures that are being followed, about physicians and nurses washing their hands, about whether they or their family member is being taken care of appropriately, they need to speak up," he says.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'Consumer Reports' Releases Its Top Picks for Sunscreen

Comstock/Thinkstock(YONKERS, N.Y.) -- Just in time for the start of the beachgoing season this Memorial Day weekend, Consumer Reports released its top picks for sunscreens Tuesday.

After testing 22 sprays, creams, and lotions, the magazine identified nine sunscreens that offered "Excellent" protection from sunburn-causing UVB rays and "Very Good" protection from UVA rays, which cause the skin to tan and age.  Three were designated "Best Buys:" Target's Up & Up Sport SPF 30, No-Ad with Aloe and Vitamin E SPF 45, and Equate Baby SPF 50.

Out of the top three picks, one -- Target's Up & Up Sport SPF 30 -- is a spray.  In fact, Jamie Hersh, a senior editor for Consumer Reports, says "a lot of our top rated ones this time around are sprays."

Hersh says that while sprays aren't necessarily better than lotions, they're just as good.

"The important thing with the spray is making sure that you apply it properly and that you get enough of it on," he says.

He also advises consumers to watch out for a key ingredient: Retinyl palmitate.  Hersh says "it is an antioxidant and animal studies have actually linked it to an increased risk of skin cancer."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Report: Jenny Craig Tops List of Best Diets

Tim Boyle/Getty Images(YONKERS, N.Y.) -- Jenny Craig reigns queen of popular diets, according to a new report from Consumer Reports Health.

Researchers based the overall scores on adherence to the 2010 U.S. Dietary Guidelines and results of published randomized clinical studies that analyzed the short- and long-term weight loss and drop-out rates of seven popular diets.

Jenny Craig topped the list with 85 points.  Slim-Fast came in second with 63 points and Weight Watchers, a popular diet for many Americans, came in third with 57 points.

"We were pleased to be rated as Consumer Reports' best-rated diet," Jenny Craig CEO Patti Larchet said in a statement.  "This news confirms what we have always known: that Jenny Craig's clinically proven, comprehensive approach to weight management works."

The Jenny Craig diet offers its own brand of food, including single-serving entrees, snacks and desserts, which are sent to the dieters' homes.  Prices vary, but the cost of the food can range between $400 and $600 per month.  The company also offers weekly counseling sessions in-person or by phone.

Here are the seven popular diets ranked by Consumer Reports Health:

1. Jenny Craig
2. Slim-Fast
3. Weight Watchers
4. Zone
5. Ornish
6. Atkins
7. NutriSystem 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


What's For Breakfast? How About Lower Blood Pressure

George Doyle/Thinkstock(YONKERS, NY) --  Consumer Reports brought to light a new fact about men and high blood pressure on Thursday.  According to a study presented at an American Heart Association meeting in Atlanta, men who start the day with a bowl of cereal are 19 percent less likely to have high blood pressure than those who don't.   And if you’re talking about cereals high in fiber,  that percentage only increases.  Even with less consumption -- two to six servings per week -- men were still 11 percent less likely to have high blood pressure. 

Another benefit the study highlights is the importance of breakfast in one's daily meal routine as it has been linked to other health benefits, including better weight control, healthier cholesterol numbers and triglyceride levels and improved sensitivity to insulin.

Consumer Reports adds that you should look for products with at least three grams of fiber and no more than four grams of sugar per serving.

Consumer Reports also says that while the whole study hasn't yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, it is part of the respected Physicians' Health Study and includes approximately 17 years of follow-up with some 13,400 participants.


ABC News Radio