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Health Highlights: Oct. 27, 2006

Smoke in Cars Threatens Kids' Health U.S. Trial Focuses Attention on Female Circumcision British Twins Have Different Skin Color Experts Call for Increased Stenting After Heart Attack U.S. Government to Revise Physical Activity Guidelines

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

Smoke in Cars Threatens Kids' Health

The amount of secondhand smoke created when someone puffs on a cigarette in a car -- even with the windows rolled down -- is equivalent to being in a smoky bar and poses a serious health risk to children, New Zealand researchers say.

When the car windows are rolled up, the pollution is twice as bad as being in the smokiest bar, the Associated Press reported of the study's findings.

Researchers measured the amount of particulate released when a person smoked in the car. Particulate refers to tiny airborne particles that can get into the lungs. Air pollution studies have linked particulate to health problems.

Particulate levels were 199 micrograms per cubic yard when the windows were rolled down and 2,926 micrograms per cubic yard when the windows were rolled up. Researcher Richard Edwards noted that on a very smoggy day in a New Zealand city, particulate levels are between 35-40 micrograms per cubic yard, the AP reported.

The findings were published Friday as a letter in the New Zealand Medical Journal.

Edwards and his colleagues said smoking in a car poses a serious threat to children's health. They called for the New Zealand government to ban smoking in vehicles where children are passengers.

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U.S. Trial Focuses Attention on Female Circumcision

An Atlanta court case is focusing attention on the growing practice in the United States of circumcising girls, the Associated Press reported.

With an influx of immigrants from certain parts of Africa, the ancient practice is slowly becoming more common in the United States, experts say.

The Atlanta case involves Khalid Adem, a 31-year-old immigrant from Ethiopia. He's charged with aggravated battery and cruelty to children for allegedly using scissors to circumcise his daughter, who was 2 years old at the time of the incident in 2001, the AP reported.

It's believed to be the first U.S. criminal case involving the practice, say human rights observers. If convicted, Adem faces up to 40 years in prison.

As many as 130 million women worldwide had undergone circumcision as of 2001, according to the U.S. State Department. The procedure is often done using knives, razors, or sharp stones that, in many cases, have not been sterilized.

Female circumcision is most common in 28 African countries, including Ethiopia, Egypt, and Somalia, experts told the AP.

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British Twins Have Different Skin Color

No need to call Sherlock Holmes. The case of British twin boys who have different skin color is not a mystery, but a rare genetic occurrence, experts say.

The boys were born white but the skin of one of the boys got darker and the other's became lighter as they got older, mother Kerry Richardson told Britain's Sky News.

The mother is of mixed race -- Nigerian and English heritage -- while the twins' father is white.

This kind of situation is rare because the genes responsible for skin color normally mix together, said an Oxford University genetics expert. In the case of these twins, it seems that the genes for skin color didn't combine and the boys may have inherited different genetic codes from their mother, the Associated Press reported.

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Experts Call for Increased Stenting After Heart Attack

Too many Americans are dying because doctors are slow to clear coronary arteries and install stents when heart attack patients arrive at hospitals, experts told cardiologists meeting in Washington, D.C.

They said that while it's true that many thousands of patients may die each year from overuse of stents, many more die because doctors are too slow to clear arteries and use stents, The New York Times reported Friday.

Stents are mesh cylinders that keep arteries open and after they've been cleared of plaque.

Experts at the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics meeting on Thursday said studies have shown that clearing blockages and installing stents increases the survival rates of heart attack patients, compared with relying on clot-busting drugs, the Times reported.

Despite that evidence, tens of thousands of American heart attack patients are treated at hospitals that don't have catheterization labs where stents are implanted. Patients at these hospitals are simply given drugs, rather than being transferred to medical centers that can do stenting procedures.

At many small hospitals that do have catheterization labs, stenting experts are not available during nights or on weekends. That means heart attack patients who arrive outside of weekday hours often receive only drugs, the Times reported.

Experts said the United States needs a nationwide policy of transferring patients, if necessary, so they can be quickly stented, and approach that's been effective in Denmark and Sweden, the Times said.

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U.S. Government to Revise Physical Activity Guidelines

The U.S. government says it will develop new guidelines for physical activity and release them by late 2008. The goal is to help people live healthier lifestyles and slow soaring healthcare costs.

More than half of American adults don't get enough physical activity that offers real benefits, and about one-quarter aren't active at all in their leisure time, according to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt.

He noted that more than 60 million adults are obese and that lack of exercise is a factor in the $2 trillion that Americans spend on healthcare, the Associated Press reported.

The federal government already makes recommendations about exercise but the new guidelines will reflect the latest scientific findings about physical activity.

Establishment of new guidelines was recommended by the U.S. Institute of Medicine's Committee on Childhood Obesity.

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