Predicting childhood obesity

At risk of obesity or just big boned? A tool that calculates a baby's risk of putting on health-threatening amounts of body fat may settle the matter at birth.

Anita Morandi at the University of Verona in Italy and colleagues analyzed data from 4,032 people born in Finland in 1986. They looked for factors that were predictive of obesity and found they included birth weight and parents' body mass index.

They used the most predictive factors to derive a formula, which they tested on birth data from more than 2,500 Italian and U.S. children now aged between 4 and 12. About 75 percent of the babies predicted from the data to be at the highest risk actually became obese. Morandi says the tool could identify children who may be "an appropriate target" for preventative measures.

There are caveats. For example, about 25 percent of babies will be incorrectly highlighted as being at risk. And the formula cannot account for new genetic mutations in the baby that increase obesity risk. Even if you predict obesity risk successfully, it's not clear what measures should be taken, says epidemiologist Neil Thomas at the University of Birmingham, UK. Societal pressures make it difficult for people to make lifestyle changes, he says.

Supergrow salmon

It grows superfast, it's genetically engineered, and it's safe to eat. Salmon is now poised to become the first genetically modified animal approved for the dinner table.

Since 1995, a company called AquaBounty, based in Maynard, Mass., has been seeking U.S. government approval for its AquAdvantage fish. These Pacific salmon have a growth hormone gene from Chinook salmon and so grow twice as fast as ordinary fish.

Now the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has issued preliminary documents declaring the fish safe to eat and environmentally harmless. Their publication came just hours after claims the reports were ready in April 2012 but had been blocked until after the presidential election.

Shelly Burgess of the FDA said the agency is being cautious as the salmon is the first transgenic animal to get this far in the approval process.

Diseases making comeback

A perfect storm of warmer weather, tropical migrants and plummeting health budgets is stoking the resurgence of once-banished, mosquito-borne diseases in Europe.

Several countries have been hit by Europe's financial crisis, and by diseases brought in by human and insect migrants from tropical countries. Now, the Portuguese island of Madeira is in the midst of Europe's first sustained outbreak of dengue fever since the 1920s, with more than 1,600 cases so far.

Meanwhile, Greece warned last May public health cuts might undermine its control of malaria. It has contained sporadic outbreaks since 1990, but local cases surged to 20 in 2011, with eight in 2012. Public health agencies report healthcare and surveillance must be "kept intact" to keep malaria from becoming permanent.