Health Highlights: Sept. 1, 2009

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

2-in-1 Heart Device Cuts Heart Failure

A device that combines defibrillation with a resynchronization of the heart's rhythm did reduce heart patients' odd of developing heart failure, but it didn't save any more lives, a new study found.

Many patients already in serious heart failure are given the dual-purpose devices, which cost up to $40,000 each (not counting the cost to implant), according to the Associated Press.

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But researchers led by Dr. Arthur Moss, of the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, wanted to see if the devices might benefit those with milder illness. "The answer is a clear, unequivocal yes," Moss told the AP. He presented the findings Tuesday in Barcelona, Spain, at the European Society for Cardiology meeting.

In the study, Moss and his team tracked the four-year outcomes of over 1,800 patients with mild heart disease -- half of whom received a defibrillator and half of whom got the defibrillator/resynchronization devices. Patients who got the combo devices had a 41 percent lower risk of developing heart failure, as well as lowered odds for hospitalization, the team said. However, the overall death rate was the same between the two groups.

Given the devices' expense, not all experts are convinced they need to be more widely used. According to the AP, Dr. Douglas Zipes, past president of the American College of Cardiology and now at the Indiana University School of Medicine, said the combination devices are already too widely used. And the AHA's current president, Dr. Clyde Yancy, called the study results "incremental (improvement), not a breakthrough."

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Communities Can Do More to Stop Childhood Obesity: Report

Incentives to increase the local availability of healthy food and better policing to give kids safe places to walk and play are just some things U.S. communities can do to help children stay at a healthy weight, according to a federal report released Tuesday.

The report, drafted by experts appointed by the Institute of Medicine and the National Research Council, notes that almost a third of the nation's children between 2 and 19 are now overweight or obese -- about 23 million kids. Overweight increases a child's odds for type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, sleep apnea and a myriad of other health troubles.

But communities can turn the child-obesity epidemic around by helping kids and their parents make healthy choices easier. According to the report, communities could offer tax and other incentives to get smaller shops (often the only source of groceries in underserved areas) to offer more fruits and vegetables, or to encourage larger supermarkets to settle in the area. Schools should be situated near shops or restaurants that offer healthy food options, and away from fast-food outlets.

Kids might also be encouraged to walk or bike to school if better policing resulted in safer streets, the report said.

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