Health Highlights: Oct. 25, 2007

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

Study Looks at Tracking of Extremely Low Birthweight Infants

States that fail to follow up on the status of extremely low birthweight infants may be underestimating their infant mortality rates, concludes a study in this week's issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the study, Ohio Department of Health researchers analyzed data on infants born from January to June 2006. They found that seven percent of deaths of infants weighing 750 grams or less were unregistered.

WHAT TO KNOW
    • Study Looks at Tracking of Extremely Low Birthweight Infants
    • Folic Acid Intake Falls Among Some California Women
    • Lead Concerns Spur More Toy Recalls
    • Children May Be Especially Prone to Bird Flu: Study
    • Being Single, Chewing Gum May Help Prevent Weight Gain
    • Study Identifies Brain Areas Tied to Optimism, Pessimism

Due to their small size and sometimes very short lifespans, deaths in extremely low birthweight infants may go unregistered, according to background information in the study. Under-registration of these deaths results in an under-estimation of the overall infant mortality rate, the team said.

Accurate infant mortality rates are important for a number of reasons, including identification of health disparities and emerging trends, and the development of prevention strategies.

-----

Folic Acid Intake Falls Among Some California Women

Folic acid supplement intake is decreasing among Hispanic women and those with lower levels of education, according to findings from the California Women's Health Survey.

Targeted and evidence-based strategies for increasing folic acid intake among these groups of women are needed, recommend the authors of a study in this week's issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

When women of child-bearing age consume 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, they're 80 percent less likely to have infants with serious neural tube birth defects such as spina bifida and anencephaly.

The survey's finding that Hispanic women and those with lower levels of education are of particular concern, since Hispanic women in the state are twice as likely as white women to have neural tube-affected pregnancies, the study authors said.

-----

Lead Concerns Spur More Toy Recalls

A number of new recalls involving children's toys and novelty items that may have high levels of lead were announced Thursday by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. In all cases, consumers should immediately stop using the products.

The recalls include:

  • About 142,000 purple Halloween pails with decorations sold at Family Dollar Stores. Green paint on the pails contains excessive levels of lead.
  • About 80,000 football bobble head cake decorations distributed by DecoPac Inc. of Anoka, Minn.
  • About 97,000 children's toy gardening tools sold by Jo-Ann Stores of Hudson, Ohio. Surface paint on the handle of the toy gardening tools may contain excessive levels of lead paint. Previous recalls in August and September involved 16,000 toy rakes and 6,000 toy watering cans.
  • About 38,000 Fisher-Price Go Diego Animal Rescue Boats. Surface paint on the toys may contain high levels of lead.

------

Children May Be Especially Prone to Bird Flu: Study

The way the H5N1 bird flu virus binds to the respiratory tract and lungs suggest that children may be especially susceptible to bird flu, say Australian and Chinese researchers.

They used a modified technique to identify receptors for influenza viruses in the upper and lower respiratory tract.

Their tests suggested that the H5N1 virus may be especially good at binding to children's cells in the lower respiratory tract, as well as the upper respiratory tract of adults. The findings may explain why bird flu infects children more readily than it does adults and why it can infect the upper respiratory tract, even though tissues there were believed to lack receptors for such viruses.

The study was published online in the journal Respiratory Research.

"Understanding the how and why of avian virus infection of humans is a very complex process involving research into properties of H5N1 virus, the host receptor and the cellular response," study author Dr. John Nicholls said in prepared statement. "We believe that the studies we have done investigating where the receptors are located and their distribution with age is a small step toward unraveling this process and help in findings ways to diminish the potential threat from this emerging infection."

-----

Being Single, Chewing Gum May Help Prevent Weight Gain

Chewing gum and being single may help people keep off extra pounds, according to studies presented this week at an Obesity Society meeting in New Orleans.

A study of 8,000 young Americans found that married women gained an average of nine pounds more than single women over five years, while married men put on six pounds more than bachelors, Agence France Presse reported.

Having children and getting less exercise may be among the reasons why married people put on more weight than single people, said one of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers.

Another study, this time by researchers in Scotland, found that people who chewed gum while they prepared meals had fewer hunger pangs and ate less, reducing their sweet snack intake by 46.5 calories, compared to people who didn't chew gum during meal preparation, AFP reported.

Another study found that slicing and eating a whole apple before lunch reduced total meal energy intake by 15 percent.

-----

Study Identifies Brain Areas Tied to Optimism, Pessimism

For the first time, researchers have pinpointed areas of brain activity associated with feelings of optimism or pessimism, a finding that could help improve understanding of depression.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to observe the brains of 15 people, ages 18 to 36, as they thought about positive and negative events. Heightened activity was detected in the amygdala and the rostral anterior cingulate cortex, areas of the brain known to play an important role in the subjective evaluation of emotions, Agence France-Presse reported.

The findings appear in the journal Nature.

"This work establishes for the first time a correlation between optimistic and pessimistic thoughts with activity of certain brain regions," Marcello Costa, a professor of neurobiology at Flinders University in Australia, wrote in an accompanying editorial. However, he said the study failed to explain how these neural pathways function, AFP reported.

-----