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Health Highlights: Feb. 4, 2002

State Programs Help Reduce Numbers of Uninsured Children, Survey Shows Burgers and Fries Raise Diabetes Risk Portable Defibrillators May Soon Be in Homes Bacteria May Hold Clues to Alzheimer's Pentagon Noncommittal on Resuming Anthrax Vaccine Fat Babies Likely to Be Obese Kids A Dust-Busting Lung Test

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

State Programs Help Reduce Numbers of Uninsured Children, Survey Shows

A new government report indicates that Congressionally-mandated state insurance programs for children have decreased the numbers of children without health insurance, the Associated Press reports.

According to the National Health Interview Survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the numbers of uninsured children in the United States dropped from 13.9 percent in 1997 to 11.2 percent by the first half of 2001.

The report attributes much of the decrease to the State Children's Health Insurance Program, (CHIP), which was set up by Congress to help children of the working poor.

The survey results, which are considered preliminary, also showed that the overall numbers of uninsured Americans dropped from 15.4 percent in 1997 to 14.1 percent during the first six months of 2001, to about 38.9 million people.

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Burgers and Fries Raise Diabetes Risk

A new study says the typical American diet of burgers and fries increases your chances of getting Type II diabetes, even if you don't have other risk factors like obesity or a family history of the disease, reports HealthDay.

The latest study, which with 42,000 men was the largest of its kind, compared a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and grains to a "western" diet consisting heavily of red and processed meats, french fries, high-fat dairy products and sweets.

Those men on the "western" diet found themselves at a 60 percent higher risk for Type II diabetes, according to the Harvard University study, which appears in the latest issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.

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Portable Defibrillators May Soon Be in Homes

Portable defibrillators can be found on airplanes, in malls and casinos. If the makers of the devices have their way, there will soon be one in every home where cardiac arrest is a concern.

The Associated Press reports that portable defibrillator maker Philips Medical Systems plans to seek approval from the Food and Drug Administration within a few months to market a defibrillator specifically designed for at-home use.

The device will be slightly smaller than those currently used by professionals and would cost a bit less, selling for about $2,300.

Defibrillators save lives by sending a shock to the heart in people whose hearts have stopped beating. The shock is only delivered if the device senses no heartbeat and can buy precious time if the heart has stopped.

Some doctors worry that in the wrong hands, defibrillators may actually cost lives as untrained consumers fiddle with the device rather than calling 911, but others cite research indicating that 11-year-olds can be taught to use a portable defibrillator.

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Bacteria May Hold Clues to Alzheimer's

Some strains of E. coli bacteria can cause serious illness if you eat contaminated foods.

But according to new research, related bugs associated with ailments like urinary tract infections may harbor clues to treating an even deadlier menace -- Alzheimer's disease.

Washington University School of Medicine researchers say some strains of E. coli produce amyloid fibers called curli. The curli tend to join together in clusters, which are similar to those that collect in the brains of Alzheimer's patients. These clusters often resist treatment with antibiotics.

The St. Louis scientists hope future experiments will help them realize how to prevent the fiber clusters from forming. Their findings are published in the most recent issue of the journal Science.

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Pentagon Noncommittal on Resuming Anthrax Vaccine

Though the government cleared the US's sole maker of anthrax vaccine to resume production last week, the Pentagon isn't charging ahead with the program to inoculate the nation's 2.4 million service men and women, the Associated Press reports.

Four years of factory violations by pharmaceutical maker BioPort had put the troubled vaccination program on hold. But pressure to resume shipments had grown after last fall's deadly mail attacks, which killed five people.

Vaccinations will resume only for a small number of special units while the military decides whether to re-start the full program, the Pentagon said in a statement quoted by the AP.

It's not clear how the Pentagon's decision may affect the previously announced program to vaccinate ordinary civilians who volunteer for the shots.

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Fat Babies Likely to Become Obese Children

Babies who gain weight rapidly in the four months after birth are likely to become obese as children, HealthDay reports.

New research indicates that those who put on lots of pounds in the first four months are more likely to become overweight 7-year-olds. The findings, reported by doctors at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia and the University of Pennsylvania, appear in today's issue of Pediatrics.

The study's lead author, Dr. Nicolas Stettler, does not recommend putting babies on diets. He urges women to breast-feed their babies for the first six months, echoing a recommendation made by the American Association of Pediatrics. Breast-fed children gain weight more slowly, he says.

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A Dust-Busting Lung Test

Talk about sucking up to your doctor.

British patients at risk of lung disease are using vacuum cleaners to test the strength and endurance of their breathing muscles, BBC News reports. Lung disease is known to put an excessive load on these muscles.

The test, developed at the Royal Brompton Hospital, requires a patient to breathe against the negative pressure supplied by the vacuum. Doctors hope the program will help them understand how the muscles cope under long-term stress.

The research is published in the European Respiratory Journal.

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