Health Highlights: Dec. 29, 2006

Friday, December 29, 2006; 12:00 AM

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

Bill Mandating Equal Coverage for Mental Health Could Pass

With Democrats winning both houses of Congress, health advocates say they have high hopes that legislation requiring equal insurance coverage for mental and physical illnesses will finally pass in 2007.

A 1996 law already prohibits health plans that offer mental health coverage from setting lower annual and lifetime spending limits for mental treatments than for physical ailments. Backers of the new legislation want to see that expanded to co-payments, deductibles and limits on doctor visits.

"I'm very optimistic that 2007 will finally be the year that our health care system recognizes that the brain is, in fact, a part of the body," said Rep. Patrick Kennedy, a Rhode Island Democrat who sponsored the bill in the last Congress. "We've had majority support for this legislation six years in a row, and now we have a chance to bring it to the floor and pass it," theAssociated Pressreported on Friday.

The legislation has strong support in Congress but has run into GOP roadblocks. In the last session, 231 House members -- more than half of the members -- signed on as co-sponsors. The GOP leadership, which in the past had expressed concern that the proposal would drive up health insurance premiums, wouldn't bring it up for a vote, theAPsaid.

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Universal Studios Parks Ban Trans Fats

Universal Parks & Resorts, home to movie-inspired thrill rides, is the latest theme park operation to ban artery-clogging trans fats in junk foods and offer healthier choices at its three U.S. attractions in California and Florida.

Walt Disney Co. announced in October that it will also serve more nutritious kids' meals and phase out the artificial fats at its resorts. Customers will now also have more healthy side options to choose from, including salads and fruit bowls.

Trans fats are made when manufacturers add hydrogen to vegetable oil in a process called hydrogenation. Although they're cheaper to produce and give food a longer shelf life, trans fats also increase the risk of heart disease by raising the level of bad cholesterol in the blood, theAssociated Pressreported Friday. The average American eats almost 5 pounds of trans fats a year.

Besides Disney and Universal, SeaWorld Orlando also pledged earlier this year to limit fats and calories in some meals and to create healthier menus. Earlier this month, New York City became the first U.S. city to ban artificial trans fats in restaurant foods, theAPsaid.


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