Health Highlights: Feb. 15, 2010

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

Well-Being Highest in Western Cities, U.S. Survey Shows

Seeking a happier, healthier life? Go west, according to a new survey of more than 350,000 Americans. It finds that Rocky Mountain cities such as Boulder, Colo., or California towns like Santa Rosa have the highest concentrations of generally happy residents, USA Today reported.

The Gallup-HealthWays Well-Being Index, conducted in 2009, asked respondents to assess their finances, physical health, mental outlook, jobs and communities.

"Most of our highest-scoring cities are found out West and most of our lowest-scoring cities are in the South," Gallup-HealthWays research director Dan Witters told USA Today.

According to a news release from the pollsters, the Top 5 cities in terms of well-being are Boulder, Colo.; Holland, Mich; Honolulu, Hawaii; Provo, Utah; and Santa Rosa, Calif. The nation's capital, Washington, D.C., also made the Top 10, placing at number 8.

Most of the cities placing in the bottom 10 of the list of 162 medium- or large-sized cities were in regions facing tough economic conditions, such as the Alleghenies and the Rust Belt, USA Today said.

The survey found that people living in cities with over a million or more residents tended to report better well-being than those living in smaller centers, but residents of small cities (250,000 people or less) felt safer walking at night and were more likely to report having sufficient money for housing. Having a major university, large military base or a state Capitol also seemed to boost a city's well-being index, the pollsters said.

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At-Home Stool Tests Boost Colon Cancer Screening

Cheap, simple stool tests conducted by patients at home and mailed back to a lab may be one way to improve colon cancer screening rates among Americans, according to some experts.

In recent years, the emphasis has been on colonoscopy screenings. But many people are reluctant to undergo colonoscopy and, therefore, don't get any type of colon cancer screening, the Associated Press reported.

But when California health care giant Kaiser Permanente started mailing stool tests to patients, colon cancer screening rates rose from 40 percent to 75 percent, well above the national average of 55 percent for people over age 50. The stool tests cost about $20 each.

Kaiser and the Veterans Affairs health system, which also emphasizes stool tests, are being looked at by specialists for clues on how to improve colon cancer screening rates, the AP reported.

Each year, about 150,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with colorectal cancer and about 50,000 die from the disease, making it the No. 2 cancer killer. Proper screening could eliminate many new cases, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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California Meat Recall Expanded: USDA

A recall of ground beef and veal in California that may be contaminated with E. coli has been expanded to 4.9 million pounds of products from the original recall of 864,000 pounds of meat, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The recall includes Huntington, Imperial Meat Co. and El Rancho products made by Huntington Meat Packing Inc. of Montebello, Calif. The beef and veal was sold to distribution centers, restaurants and hotels in California between Jan. 4 and Jan. 22, 2010, the Associated Press reported.

The USDA said there have been no reports of illnesses associated with the products, which include ground beef patties, diced beef, veal patties and beef burrito filling mix.

The original Jan. 18 recall was expanded after new evidence was uncovered during an ongoing criminal investigation, according to the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service, the AP reported.

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Grandparent Care Increases Tots' Weight Risk: Study

Young children are more likely to be overweight if they're regularly looked after by their grandparents, a British study contends.

University College London researchers studied 12,000 three-year-olds and found that those who received full-time care from grandparents were 34 percent more likely to be overweight than those who went to nursery school or were looked after by a babysitter, BBC News reported.

Children looked after by grandparents part-time were 15 percent more likely to be overweight for their age than those who received full-time care by parents. The study appears in the International Journal of Obesity.

Overindulgence and lack of physical activity may be among the reasons why grandparent care increases children's risk of being overweight, said study leader Prof. Catherine Law, BBC reported.

"One of the ways forward would be to talk to small groups of grandparents to see the challenges they face," she said. "Some of the things that might help would be educating the population in general about healthy lifestyles but also things like avoiding food as a reward and suggestions for building activities into daily life."

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Individual Health Insurance Holders Face Large Rate Hikes

Steep premium increases for Americans with individual health insurance policies will become increasingly common, according to experts.

"You're likely to see rate increases of 20, 25, 30 percent," in the near term, Sandy Praeger, chairwoman of the health insurance and managed care committee for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, told the Associated Press.

She added that most states don't have the legal power to prevent or limit health insurance rate increases.

Anthem Blue Cross in California recently announced that about 800,000 individual policyholders in that state will see rate increases of up to 39 percent March 1. Anthem Blue Cross in Maine is seeking a 23 percent increase this year for some individual policyholders, after an increase of up to 32 percent last year, the AP reported.

In Kansas, one insurer boosted rates by 10 to 20 percent, while a number of insurers in Oregon were granted individual policy rate hikes of 15 percent or more this year, after increases of about 25 percent last year.

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