CIGAR SMOKING LINKED TO CARDIAC DEATHS

Smoking one cigar a day appears to increase the risk of death from coronary heart disease by 30 percent in men aged 75 and younger, according to a new study by the American Cancer Society.

The study of 121,738 men aged 30 and older began in 1982 and continued until 1991. Men who had smoked cigarettes or pipes were excluded from the study as were individuals who had been diagnosed with heart disease or diabetes when the study began. All raise the risk of premature death from heart disease.

During the study, 2,508 participants died from coronary heart disease. Men who smoked at least one cigar a day were 30 percent more likely to die of heart disease than their nonsmoking counterparts, the study found. No increased risk of premature death was found among cigar smokers aged 75 and older or for men of any age who had given up smoking cigars. The findings, which were published last week in the Archives of Internal Medicine, "suggest that smoking cigars increases risk of early death from coronary heart disease," said lead author, Eric J. Jacobs, senior epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society.

Like cigarettes, cigars appear to accelerate development of heart disease through harmful substances contained in cigar smoke. Most cigar smokers say that they don't inhale, but studies suggest that "even inhaling a small amount of cigar smoke could conceivably have important effects," Jacobs said.

Among the changes linked to cigar smoke is clumping of blood platelets, which in turn increases the risk of blood clot formation, thereby setting the stage for a possible heart attack.

Cigars have become very popular in recent years in the United States. Consumption increased by nearly 50 percent between 1993 and 1996, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. That increase is particularly striking because from 1964 to 1992 cigar usage declined 66 percent.

"The myth that cigar smoking is relatively safe has probably contributed to the massive increase in cigar smoking in this country," Jacobs said.

--Sally Squires

DIETERS EATING FISH FIND ADDED BENEFITS

A weight-loss program that included one fish meal a day helped 69 obese men and women with high blood pressure slim down and improve their basic metabolic balance as well, according to a report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

The weight loss in the fish-eating group was equal to the loss in a traditional calorie-restricting diet. But the improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride levels were significantly greater among the daily fish eaters, as was the decrease in risk for diabetes.

"The present study showed that the incorporation of fish into an energy-restricted, fat-reduced diet has significant beneficial effects on glucose, insulin and lipid metabolism," the study concluded.

The research, which continued for 16 weeks, was conducted by a team at the University of Western Australia in Perth.

The patients, who all suffered from high blood pressure, were placed on four different diets that either sought to maintain or lose weight and included a little or a lot of fish. The results showed equal weight loss on low-fat diets both with and without fish, but found significantly improved body chemistry with the low-fat fish diet.

The research supports earlier investigations into the effects of omega-3 fatty acids, compounds found in cold-water fish. Large-scale studies in France and Italy reported that patients with heart disease are less likely to have recurring problems if they eat a diet high in fish and other foods with omega-3 fatty acids. High concentrations of the omega-3s are also believed to increase production of "good" cholesterol in the blood.

--Marc Kaufman

BABY WALKERS MAY SLOW DEVELOPMENT

Baby walkers may be keeping the little one occupied and out of trouble, but a recent study indicates they could also be slowing down the tot's physical and mental development.

Babies who were placed in walkers were slower to sit up, crawl and walk than those raised without walkers, researchers report in last month's edition of the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

And the mental development of the children also appeared to be slowed, said the report by Andrea C. Siegel of Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland and Roger V. Burton of the State University of New York at Buffalo.

The problem, the researchers reported, appears to be that the opaque trays placed on the newer walkers as a safety device prevents the children from seeing their legs--blocking the feedback they get from moving a limb and seeing it move.

In addition, while crawling infants are stimulated in their environment, those in walkers are restricted from exploring.

Burton and Siegel studied 109 suburban infants, mostly white, including 53 who did not use walkers, 37 using newer walkers with opaque trays and 19 who used older walkers with narrow trays or no trays.

On average, they found the infants who did not use walkers were able to sit up at age 5.39 months, crawl at 5.84 months and walk at 10.82 months.

Those with the older walkers sat up at 5.99 months, crawled at 6.23 months and walked at 10.70 months. And those with new sight-blocking walkers sat up at 6.73 months, crawled at 6.68 months and walked at 11.66 months.

They also found that the infants without walkers scored higher on the Bayley test of mental development given infants. But they also found that walker children tended to begin catching up to their no-walker contemporaries after they began crawling.

--Associated Press