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Health Highlights: April 4, 2002

Pregnant Women Drinking Less, But Binge Drinking Still a Problem: CDC Abortion Training Becomes Requirement at NYC Hospitals South Africa Must Distribute HIV Pregnancy Drug: High Court Sun May Prevent Some Kinds of Cancer Journal Backs Off Claim of Engineered-Corn Contamination A Vested Interest in Athletes

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

Pregnant Women Drinking Less, But Binge Drinking Still a Problem: CDC

The good news from a new report on pregnancy and alcohol consumption is that overall drinking by expecting mothers is decreasing, but the bad new is rates of binge drinking among such women have hardly changed.

The findings are from a survey of women by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that overall drinking among pregnant women dropped from 16.3 percent in 1995 to 12.8 percent in 1999.

But binge drinking - - defined as having five or more drinks at a time - - fell only slightly, from 2.9 percent to 2.7 percent over the same period, reports the Associated Press.

CDC experts say the binge drinking is in fact the more concerning of the drinking patterns because it is more associated with birth defects and brain disorders in children.

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Abortion Training Becomes Requirement at NYC Hospitals

Residents training in the fields of obstetrics and gynecology at New York City public hospitals will be required to receive abortion training under a new program beginning in July, reports the Associated Press.

Such training was previously offered only as an elective for those enrolled in the four-year OB-GYN program, but the training will now be required of all residents, with the exception of those who choose not to participate due to moral or religious reasons.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg supported the new requirement, which was initiated by the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League.

The league argued that the training could improve access to abortion nationwide, since one in seven of the nation's doctors is trained in New York City.

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South Africa Must Distribute HIV Pregnancy Drug: High Court

South Africa's Constitutional Court has upheld a ruling that will require the government to immediately begin distributing an HIV drug to pregnant women, reports the Associated Press.

The government had resisted creating a widespread program for distributing the drug nevirapine, which has been shown to drastically decrease pregnant women's chances of passing the HIV infection along to their babies.

Under the ruling, issued today, the government no longer can make an appeal and must make the drug available to women immediately.

South Africa has received international criticism for its approach to fighting AIDS. With an estimated 4.7 million South Africans, or one in nine people, HIV positive, the nation has the highest AIDS rate in the world.

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Sun May Prevent Some Kinds of Cancer

For years, the message from the medical community has been to stay out of the sun if you want to prevent skin cancer.

While that advice hasn't changed, a new study suggests sun exposure may not be all bad. In fact, the study found the sun might actually help prevent death from some cancers, reports HealthDay.

In the report, published in this month's Occupational and Environmental Medicine, researchers from the National Cancer Institute found people who worked outdoors and lived in a sunny part of the country were less likely to die from breast or colon cancer than those who worked indoors or lived in less sunny climates.

In the study, the authors suggest vitamin D may play a role in reducing the risk of death from these cancers. Sun exposure causes the body to produce vitamin D, and the authors explain that previous studies have shown vitamin D may slow cancer cell growth.

However, they caution the results from this latest study are preliminary, and it's simply too soon to tell anyone it's OK to get more sun.

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Journal Backs Off Claim of Engineered-Corn Contamination

The British journal Nature is distancing itself from a study it published last November that claimed that genetically modified corn had contaminated the native crop in parts of Mexico, the Associated Press reports.

Researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, claimed that lab-altered corn strains had contaminated the indigenous crop in rural Oaxaca. In a statement pubished today on the journal's Web site, editor Philip Campbell says Nature "has concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper."

The journal did not retract the study outright. Instead, it published two criticisms of the research, along with a rebuttal by the study's authors. At least four groups of scientists, some with ties to Berkeley itself, had blasted the journal for publishing the study, according to the AP.

University of Washington researcher Matthew Metz, who wrote one of the criticisms, called the original research "dubious and empirical." Its authors, Ignacio Chapela and David Quist, say they stand by their findings, conceding only minor interpretive errors, the AP says.

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A Vested Interest in Sports Medicine

A British doctor has developed a lightweight vest that can monitor an athlete's heart rate, temperature and other vital signs while he or she is out on the playing field, BBC News Online reports.

Dr. Chris Bayber's wireless device, dubbed the SensVest, weighs no more than a Sony Walkman. The invention, which transmits the information to a remote computer, could make it easier for coaches to determine when players' bodies have had enough.

But Bayber concedes that it probably would be used more during training exercises than during actual athletic contests. "What we are doing is taking the laboratory out onto the playing field," he tells the BBC.

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