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A study of what's eating Americans has crowned Eureka, Calif., as the nation's heartburn capital.

The National Rolaids Heartburn Index blames that searing sensation on sociology, not spices. It says Eureka is full of newcomers with a burning desire for economic success.El Paso was named the most heartburn-free city in America, despite its Tex-Mex cuisine. The reason: a stable population and a rebounding economy.

Or "maybe they're stoics," said Jack Levin, sociology professor at Northeastern University in Boston.

However, his heartfelt study points to other factors.

"I think there is a tendency on the part of Americans to blame heartburn on spicy foods - Mexican or Szechuan, for example," said Levin. "From a sociological standpoint, it appears heartburn levels can be easily linked to the amount of population growth that a city is experiencing."

To reach his conclusions, Levin digested sales figures for various antacid brands, tablet and liquid, from 197 metropolitan areas. Then, he ranked the nation's heartburn hotbeds.

While the sales statistics were not revealed, he found that, on average, Americans experience heartburn twice a week. In contrast, the 25,000 folks in Eureka are plagued an average of four times a week.

Other Americans left their heartburn in San Francisco; Chico, Calif; Santa Barbara, Calif.; Sacramento, Calif.; Boise, Idaho; Reno, Nevada; Fresno, Calif.; Bakersfield, Calif., and Seattle.

The happiest tummies were found in El Paso; Fort Smith, Ark.; Ada, Okla.; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Columbia, Mo.; St. Joseph, Mo.; Lubbock, Tex.; Panama City, Fla.; Springfield, Mo.; and Albany, Ga.

"The most startling result in this analysis was that the Northeast region did not have high heartburn on the Rolaids index," said Levin. New York City ranked 135th.

"These results say heartburn occurs wherever there's `gold-rush fever,' where you get large numbers of newcomers, transients, rootless people, who move to an area to make their fortune, for a new beginning or a last resort."

Perhaps to prove a point, Levin and company officials planned to belch forth their findings at a luncheon of chicken marinaded in tequila, shrimp marinaded in chilli, salad with cilantro dressing, tacos and refried beans.

It wasn't clear whether Eureka citizens were pained by the study results. However, the mayor planned to be at the luncheon.