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Health Highlights: Feb. 9, 2007

Philadelphia Moves to Ban Trans Fats Brain Tumor Removal Through the Nose Safe for Children Nearly Half of Children in India Underweight: Survey Albuquerque Fittest City in U.S.: Magazine Fertility Treatments May Slightly Increase Risk of Birth Defects Brain Scan Able to Predict a Person's Actions

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

Philadelphia Moves to Ban Trans Fats

It appears likely that Philadelphia will become the second major U.S. city to outlaw artery-clogging trans fats from restaurant food.

On Thursday, city council voted unanimously in favor of the measure and Mayor John F. Street is expected to sign it, the Associated Press reported.

Under the first phase, to take effect Sept. 1, 2007, restaurants would be prohibited from frying foods in trans fats or serving trans fat-based spreads. As of Sept. 1, 2008, trans fats would be banned from all other types of foods served in restaurants.

Prepackaged foods sold in stores and eateries are not covered by the ban.

The ban, which would be enforced by the city's Health Department, does not include penalties for restaurants that break the rules, the AP reported.

New York recently passed a similar ban on trans fats in restaurant food. It will begin to be phased in starting July 1.


Brain Tumor Removal Through the Nose Safe for Children

A type of surgery in which a brain tumor is removed through the nose can be as safe and effective in children as it is in adults, say U.S. researchers who reviewed the results of the first 25 children to have the procedure.

The researchers noted that the procedure, called the "expanded endonasal approach," is often the only medical option available to these children, the Associated Press reported.

The surgery was successful in the all the children, who ranged in age from 3 to 18. There were no cases of vascular injury, central nervous system infection or neurological damage.

The review of the surgeries, which were done from 1999 to 2005, was conducted by doctors at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh in conjunction with the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, the AP reported.

The findings were published in the February issue of the Journal of Neurosurgery.


Nearly Half of Children in India Underweight: Survey

Nearly half (46 percent) of children in India are underweight, but the infant death rate is declining, according to National Family Health Survey data released Friday.

Even though India has made significant economic progress in recent years, its rate of childhood malnourishment puts it in the same league as poorer nations like Cambodia and Burkina Faso, the Associated Press reported.

In neighboring China, which has also experienced rapid economic growth, only 8 percent of children are underweight.

The new survey also found that India's infant death rate has decreased from 68 per 100,000 births in 1998-99 to 57 per 100,000 births. However, that's still much higher than the infant mortality rate in Western nations. For example, the rate in the Netherlands is 4 per 100,000, the AP reported.

The data also reveal that the health of people who live in rural India is far worse than that of city residents. Only certain figures from the survey were released Friday. It's expected that the full report will be released soon.

The findings suggest that leaders in India "should be worried," Werner Schultink of UNICEF, told the AP. "It's going to be difficult for India if it wants to use its human resources to develop the nation but does not make improvements."


Albuquerque Fittest City in U.S.: Magazine

Albuquerque, N.M. moved from 13th place last year to be named American's fittest city this year in the March issue of Men's Fitness magazine.

The other top 10 in the nonscientific survey of 50 cities are: Seattle; Colorado Springs; Minneapolis; Tucson, Ariz.; Denver; San Francisco; Baltimore; Portland, Ore.; and Honolulu, the Associated Press reported.

The magazine said this year's top 10 fattest cities are: Las Vegas, Nev.; San Antonio, Texas; Miami; Mesa. Ariz.; Los Angeles; Houston; Dallas; El Paso, Texas; Detroit; and San Jose, Calif.

The survey results are based on various lifestyle factors in each city, including the availability of bikes paths or gyms, commute times, fast food restaurants per capita, amount of television watching, along with federal statistics on obesity-related illnesses and injuries.

Magazine editor Neal Boulton told the AP that the list is published each year "to motivate folks to look at the simple things in their lives they can do to be healthy."


Fertility Treatments May Slightly Increase Risk of Birth Defects

Babies conceived through fertility treatments have higher rates of birth defects than naturally-conceived infants, concludes a large Canadian study. But the researchers emphasized that the increased risk is so small that couples should not stop using fertility treatments.

The overall risk of birth defects in babies conceived using the treatments is less than 3 percent, compared to just under 2 percent for babies conceived naturally, the University of Ottawa study found.

The more complex the reproductive technology, the greater the risk, the Associated Press reported. For example, in vitro fertilization (IVF) was associated with the highest risk, while the lowest risk was seen in women given medications to prompt their ovaries to produce more eggs.

The study looked at more than 61,000 births in the province of Ontario, making it the largest study of its kind ever done in North America.

The findings were to be presented Friday at a meeting of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine in San Francisco.

Experts said that couples who use fertility treatments and want to lower the risk of birth defects should have only one or two embryos implanted at a time, the AP reported. Compared to fertility treatments themselves, multiple births pose a far greater risk of birth defects.


Brain Scan Able to Predict a Person's Actions

A team of international scientists say they've developed a brain scan that can "read minds," BBC News reported.

The British, German and Japanese researchers said that sophisticated functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and computer programs enabled them to predict with 70 percent accuracy what a person is about to do.

The technique was tested on volunteers who were asked to think about doing math addition or subtraction. While they did this, fMRI was used to monitor their brain activity for a few seconds. That data was fed into a computer programmed to recognize certain brain activation patterns associated with specific thoughts, BBC News reported.

Once the computer is "trained," it can use brain activity alone to predict a person's decisions, the researchers said.

The study appears in the journal Current Biology. This kind of technology may have a number of uses, including helping paralyzed people manipulate prosthetic devices and other equipment, the team said.


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