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Health Highlights: Nov. 23, 2006

Obesity Damages Children's Feet: Studies U.S. EPA to Regulate Germ-Killing Nanotechnology Surgery a Success for Baby with External Heart U.S. Judge Rules Out Class Action for Vioxx Claims New Prostate Cancer Test Available in Europe Mothers with Sick/Disabled Children Report More Health Problems

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

Obesity Damages Children's Feet: Studies

Two British studies find that obesity causes children's feet to grow both longer and wider, affecting their walking ability, the BBC reported Thursday.

In one study, podiatrists examined the feet of 200 Scottish children aged 9 to 12 years. Fifty-four were obese, 15 were severely obese, and another 30 were overweight. The researchers found that severely obese kids had feet that were up to 15 millimeters wider and 18 millimeters longer than normal weight children.

A second study, this time of 44 youngsters aged 9 to 11 -- half of whom were obese -- found that the heavier kids spent more time balancing on two feet when walking and less time on one foot compared to normal-weight kids. They also walked slower than normal-weight children.

"The findings are interesting because previous research suggested that foot problems limit obese children's ability to take part in physical activity -- so encouraging them to carry out exercise might not be the best thing," Dr. Stewart Morrison, a lecturer at the University of East London, told the BBC.

Both studies were presented at a meeting of the Society of Podiatrists and Chiropodists.

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U.S. EPA to Regulate Germ-Killing Nanotechnology

Extremely small particles of silver used in certain products to kill germs are pesticides, and as such will be regulated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the agency announced Wednesday.

Environmentalists are concerned that these "nanotechnology" particles -- which measure one-millionth the head of a pin -- might be released into the environment and kill helpful bacteria or aquatic organisms when products are discarded.

According to the Associated Press, germ-killing nanosilver is already an ingredient in over 200 products marketed to consumers, including shoe liners, food-storage containers, air fresheners, washing machines and other products.

The EPA announcement is a reversal of an agency decision last year that washing machines containing nanosilver were not covered by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act because they were devices.

However, the agency reviewed the evidence and has now decided "that the release of silver ions in the washing machines is a pesticide, because it is a substance released into the laundry for the purpose of killing pests," EPA spokeswoman Jennifer Wood told the AP.

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Surgery a Success for Baby with External Heart

A nearly month-old boy born with his heart lying outside his chest underwent successful surgery in Miami on Wednesday, with doctors easing the organ inside his body, the Associated Press reported.

Naseem Hasni was born Oct. 31 with a condition called ectopia cordis, where the heart develops on the outside of the chest. The heart has been beating normally and its aorta grew under the skin to deliver blood to the body.

In the six-hour operation, surgeons at Holtz Children's Hospital wrapped the boy's heart in Gore-Tex fabric, then added layer of his own skin to replicate the missing pericardium, the sac that normally develops around the heart. They then eased the heart within the boy's chest.

Naseem remained in critical but stable condition Wednesday, doctors said. "He's not going to be able to play certain kinds of sports where a blow to the sternum to you and me wouldn't be a problem, but in him it would be. So I think some competitive sports are going to be out," cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Eliot Rosenkranz told the AP. "But he's going to be able to participate in other sorts of activities."

Ectopia cordis occurs in up to 7.9 per 1 million live births and has a post-surgery survival rate of 50 percent, the boy's doctors said.

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U.S. Judge Rules Out Class Action for Vioxx Claims

A U.S. judge ruled Wednesday that thousands of federal lawsuits involving Merck and Co.'s painkiller Vioxx cannot be grouped into a single national class action, the Associated Press reported.

U.S. District Court Judge Eldon Fallon rejected a proposal by plaintiffs' lawyers to try all the cases under the laws in New Jersey, where drug company Merck has its headquarters.

Fallon said that it makes more sense to apply the law of each plaintiff's home state to the claims, the AP reported.

He did not rule on the issue of separate class-action lawsuits for each state and the District of Columbia.

Fallon has been assigned to handle all pretrial matters for all federal lawsuits involving Vioxx, the AP reported.

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New Prostate Cancer Test Available in Europe

A new prostate cancer test that looks for high levels of the biomarker PCA3 mRNA in urine has been launched in the European Union. The test has not been approved in the United States.

Research has shown that, in more than 95 percent of prostate cancer cases, PCA3 is 60- to 100-fold over-expressed in prostate cancer cells, compared to normal cells.

Preliminary data indicate the PCA3 test may be more specific to prostate cancer than the traditional serum prostate specific antigen (PSA) test, which means the PCA3 test would be less likely to give false positive results.

"Only 25 to 30 percent of men who have a biopsy due to elevated PSA levels actually have prostate cancer; therefore, the majority of elevated PSA tests are the result of non-cancerous conditions," Dr. Mark Emberton, senior lecturer in oncological urology at University College Hospital in London, said in a prepared statement.

"Unnecessary biopsies contribute to patient anxiety and are a burden on the healthcare system. We are optimistic that the Gen-Probe PCA3 test, used in combination with serum PSA, will further identify appropriate biopsy patients and that this will result in better detection and diagnosis of prostate cancer," Emberton added.

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Mothers with Sick/Disabled Children Report More Health Problems

Mothers who take care of children with disabilities or chronic health problems are more likely to report poor health than mothers of healthy children, says a Canadian study.

Researchers looked at the parents of children ages 6 to 15 and found that 11 percent of mothers caring for a chronically sick/disabled child said they were in poor or fair health, compared with just over 5 percent of mothers of healthy children, CBC News reported.

However, no differences were noted among fathers in the study.

"We think that it might be the nature of the responsibilities that the mother has that's stressful for her and leads to lower health," study lead author Shelly Phipps, an economics professor at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, told CBC News.

The findings suggest that more needs to be done to provide support to parents, especially mothers, who take care of sick/disabled children. This would benefit both the parents and the children.

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