Health Scan: Pre-army exams provide excellent database

Doctors: Israel is "unique" in that a majority of the country's 17-year-olds undergo medical screening prior to induction.

medical exam 88 (photo credit: )
medical exam 88
(photo credit: )
The thorough medical examinations of 17-year-old boys by the Israel Defense Forces a year before their military service provide an excellent comparative database on medical conditions among Israeli youth. Doctors at the IDF Medical Corps, the Health Ministry's Israel Center of Disease Control and Tel Aviv University's Sackler Faculty of Medicine recently published an article that spans 50 years of such exams. Israel, they write, is "unique" in that a majority of the country's 17-year-olds undergo medical screening prior to induction. Published in the March issue of the Israel Medical Association Journal (IMAJ), the article stated that the prevalence of common diseases among Israeli adolescents has changed over the past half century, but when looking at 17-year-olds today, there is a different pattern for immigrants than for those born in Israel. The rate of tuberculosis has, of course, decreased dramatically compared to decades ago, but the disease is still detected in children of immigrants or young immigrants themselves from countries where the bacterial disease is endemic. The prevalence of heart defects is also significantly higher than it was - but this is probably due not to more defects but to the fact that more of them are routinely detected by echo-cardiogram - a technology that didn't exist before. Epilepsy is also much more commonly reported among Israeli-born teens, but is lower among adolescents born in Ethiopia. Asthma and allergic rhinitis are way up compared to five decades ago, apparently due to increased air pollution. The researchers also found a "significant increase" in type I (autoimmune) diabetes compared to the early years of the state. This, they say, it not due to better reporting but represents a "genuine increase" in the prevalence of the disease. When they looked at ethnic origin, they found both type I and type II (lifestyle) diabetes is higher among adolescents of Western, Asian and former Soviet Union origins than in counterparts born in Israel or Ethiopia. "The difference cannot be explained by genetic changes, and may be due to the dietary habits in Israel or from an environmental factor not yet identified," they wrote. In general, the children of immigrants tend to have a health profile similar to that of the general population due to adopting an Israeli lifestyle and diet. In addition, "As Jews of various origins are intermarrrying more and more, the genetic differences that probably influenced the different disease prevalence are suppressed, and lifestyles and diets are becoming mixes. The recent immigration of adolescents from Ethiopia with their unique health characteristics will most likely also undergo the melting-pot process. It will be interesting to see the trends in their health status in the next generations." ANOTHER WEAPON AGAINST CANCER The Israel Cancer Association (ICA) has welcomed the recent US Food and Drug Administration announcement that it had approved the marketing of Tykerb, a drug for women with metastatic breast cancer that no longer responds to Herceptin. The FDA examined studies showing that when Tykerb (of GlaxoSmithKline) is given along with the drug Xeloda, another breast cancer drug from Roche Pharmaceuticals, the disease is kept under control better than with Xeloda alone. Tykerb is not in Israel's basket of health services, but will probably be proposed for inclusion next year. The ICA said Tykerb, which prevents further decline from cancer in women with metastases, is yet another tool to fight common malignancies and to raise the recovery rate.