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Health Headlines - November 27

Posted Oct 23 2008 2:22pm

Doctors Check Cheney for Irregular Heartbeat

Vice President Dick Cheney experienced an irregular heartbeat Monday while being examined by doctors for a lingering cold.

Cheney, who has a history of heart problems and has an implanted defibrillator, was to be evaluated later in the day at George Washington University Hospital, in Washington, D.C., the Associated Press reported.

"During examination, he was incidentally found to have an irregular heartbeat, which on further testing was determined to be atrial fibrillation, an abnormal rhythm involving the upper chambers of the heart," said spokeswoman Megan Mitchell.

She said that, if necessary, Cheney would be receive cardioversion, a procedure that involves the delivery of an electric impulse to the heart.

According to the American Heart Association, atrial fibrillation affects an estimated 2.2 million Americans. During the condition, the heart's two small upper chambers -- the atria -- quiver instead of beat effectively. Blood isn't pumped completely out of them, so it may pool and clot. If a piece of a clot in the atria leaves the heart and lodges in an artery in the brain, a stroke can occur. About 15 percent of strokes occur in people with atrial fibrillation, according to the heart association.

Typical treatments for the condition include drugs and electrical cardioversion.

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Children's Low Self-Esteem Linked to Materialism: Study

Low self-esteem in youngsters can increase their desire for consumer goods, says a U.S. study that found that materialism increases from age 8 or 9 to age 12 or 13, but then decreases by the time children are ages 16 to 18, CBC News reported.

"The level of materialism in teens is directly driven by self-esteem," study author Deborah Roedder John, a University of Minnesota marketing professor, said in a prepared statement. "When self-esteem drops as children enter adolescence, materialism peaks. Then by late adolescence, when self-esteem rebounds, their materialism drops."

John and a colleague asked 50 children in different age groups what makes them happy and found that those aged 12 to 13 were most likely to say materialistic items such as money and brand-name clothing. Younger and older children were more likely to say that friends or not having any homework made them happy, CBC News reported.

Physical changes that occur in early adolescence can cause low self-esteem in youngsters. That often coincides with entry into high school where the children are "the youngest and least important members of the school," John noted.

The study is published in the December issue of the Journal of Consumer Research.

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Rotary International, Gates Foundation Donate $200M to Fight Polio

Rotary International and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation have pledged $200 million to the global campaign to eradicate polio. Monday's announcement by both organizations will help fund the final stages of two decades of work to wipe out the infectious disease that can paralyze and sometimes kill patients, the Associated Press reported.

The $200 million will be distributed over three years and will pay for immunization campaigns, polio surveillance and public education.

"This investment is precisely the catalyst we need as we intensify the push to finish polio," Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, said in a prepared statement.

Since global efforts to eliminate polio began in 1988, there's been a 99 percent reduction in the incidence of the disease. However, polio is still a threat in Afghanistan, India, Nigeria and Pakistan, the AP reported.

Two deadlines -- in 2000 and 2005 -- to eradicate polio were not met, even though the effort has received more than $5 billion. Some experts are concerned that if polio is not soon eliminated, donor patience and funding may disappear.

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Scans Reveal OCD-Related Brain Structure Patterns

British researchers say brain scans may be able to identify people with a genetic risk of developing obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), which is characterized by irrational fears and thoughts that cause people to repeat seemingly pointless actions over and over again, BBC News reported.

The Cambridge University researchers scanned the brains of 100 OCD patients and close relatives of OCD patients and found they all had distinctive patterns in their brain structure. It appears that as-of-yet unidentified genes cause changes to the brain's anatomy.

In addition, OCD patients and relatives of OCD patients did worse than volunteers in a control group on a test designed to measure the ability to halt repetitive behaviors, BBC News reported.

"Impaired brain function in the areas of the brain associated with stopping motor responses may contribute to the compulsive and repetitive behaviors that are characteristic of OCD," researcher Lara Menzies said. "These brain changes appear to run in families and may represent a genetic risk factor for developing the condition."

Menzies said the new information in this study, published in the journal Brain, may help lead to improved diagnosis and treatment of OCD, BBC News reported.

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U.S. Children Don't Shun Healthy School Meals: Study

Contrary to common belief, American children may be quite happy to eat nutritious school meals, says a University of Minnesota study that found that school lunch sales don't decline when children are offered healthier lunches.

The researchers also concluded that more nutritious lunches don't necessarily increase costs for schools, the Associated Press reported. The study appears in the December issue of the journal Review of Agricultural Economics.

The three economists who conducted the study analyzed five years of data from 330 Minnesota public school districts and found that schools that served the healthiest lunches did not suffer a decline in student demand for meals.

"The conventional wisdom that you can't serve healthier meals because kids won't eat them is false," said researcher Benjamin Senauer, the AP reported.

While preparation of more nutritious meals does result in higher labor costs, that increase is offset by lower costs for healthy offerings such as fruits and vegetables compared with processed foods.

The researchers noted that many school districts need to upgrade their kitchens and train their staffs to prepare more nutritious meals for students, the AP reported.

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Mental Health Hot Lines Help Farmers

American farmers in a number of states can call free mental health hot lines to help them cope with the stress and other mental and emotional challenges caused by drought and other difficulties, the Associated Press reported.

The confidential help lines offer a wide range of services, including vouchers for therapy sessions and referrals to mental-health experts and specialists who can analyze a farmer's financial status.

Some of the hot lines are operated by nonprofit or religious groups while others are offered through a university's agriculture department, the AP reported.

For example, the nonprofit organization Agriwellness Inc. coordinates hot lines in Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. On average, those hot lines get a total of 12,000 to 14,000 calls a year, the news service said.

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