BALTIMORE ( Stockpickr) -- With a new year come new opportunities to profit from over-shorted stocks.

In 2009, health care was one of the big sectors that lagged the S&P 500 by a substantial clip as investors skirted health stocks amid pending reform legislation on Capitol Hill. All told, health care plays made a paltry 7.46% bounceback in 2009, compared with 22% gains for the S&P 500 index.

That leaves health care -- as a sector -- well below levels seen in early 2008. Now that investors are starting to feel more comfortable investing in health care stocks, however, the potential for some profitable short squeezes is coming to a head. That's why this week, we're focusing our short-squeeze picks on health-related stocks of all sorts.

A short squeeze -- the buying frenzy that ensues when a heavily shorted stock starts to look attractive again to investors, causing share price to skyrocket -- is just the catalyst these stocks need right now.

Each week, Stockpickr creates a portfolio of stocks with high short interest ratios and the catalysts to trigger a squeeze. Here's a look at this week's potential plays, which focus on health-related stocks.

Lifeway Foods ( LWAY) isn't a health stock in the traditional sense.

The $201 million company manufactures health food products, including cheeses, spreads and energy bars. Its flagship product is Kefir, a drinkable probiotic yogurt drink that promoted digestive health and comes in both dairy and soy varieties.

What makes this small stock stand out is its incredibly high short-interest ratio, a gauge of how long it would take for short sellers to cover their positions. Lifeway has a short ratio of 77.6 right now -- the higher the short ratio, the higher the potential profits when the shorts get squeezed -- which means it would take nearly 16 weeks of average trading volume for shorts to get out. That's a colossal short-squeeze opportunity.

And there's plenty going for this stock right now that makes shares worth taking a closer look at right now. In addition to making the Fortune Small Business list of fastest-growing companies for four straight years, Lifeway's business has already been deemed attractive to others in the industry. $32 billion yogurt giant Groupe Danone ( DANOY) owns a 20% stake in Lifeway that it's been holding on to since 1999.

While the company's products have traditionally been the domain of health food stores, a distribution deal penned in December gives Lifeway products shelf space at convenience store giant 7-Eleven in 275 stores in the Chicagoland area, with plans to expand to convenience chains nationally by mid 2010. That could be just the catalyst that this stock needs to trigger shorts to run for the hills -- and to rocket Lifeway shares in the process.

Mid-cap biotechnology company United Therapeutics ( UTHR) develops products for patients with infectious and chronic diseases as well as cancer.

The company has seen quarterly sales grow 30% in the last year, and shareholders have been rewarded for their faith as shares gained 66.21% over that same period. But short-sellers continue to tug at United Therapeutics' share price, pushing the company's short ratio to 11 currently.

United Therapeutics benefits from thick margins -- 12.28% as of the company's third-quarter earnings release in late October -- as well as a history of successfully commercializing drugs, something that many micro- and small-cap biotechs are often lacking.

Two catalysts could give this stock a squeeze-induced pop in the next month: a health care conference and upcoming earnings release. On Jan. 11, United Therapeutics will be present at the 28th annual JPMorgan Healthcare Conference, an event that gives the company an opportunity to showcase its therapy pipeline to analysts and institutional investors. More significant is the company's yet-unscheduled fourth-quarter 2009 earnings release, which should be coming up within the next month.

Inverness Medical Innovations ( IMA) is a developer and manufacturer of medical diagnostic products for professionals and consumers.

The company's products focus on everything from fertility testing to infectious disease diagnostics, in addition to a line of vitamins and nutritional supplements.

And while the company's short ratio currently sits at a high 18.7%, Inverness Medical's novel business model could be the key to pushing ahead of competitors. Thanks to business exposure provided by an acquisition, the company plans to combine its diagnostic devices with health-management services in a way that maximizes the profitability of each. As the company continues to integrate its health-management acquisitions into its core diagnostic business, expect to see margins and overall profitability increase.

For the rest of this week's short-squeeze opportunities, including Virtual Radiologic ( VRAD) and Dr. Reddy's Laboratories ( RDY), check out the Health Stock Short Squeezes portfolio at Stockpickr.

And to find short-squeeze plays of your own, be sure to check out the Stockpickr Answers community for insights and investment ideas.

-- Written by Jonas Elmerraji in Baltimore.
At the time of publication, author had no positions in stocks mentioned.

Jonas Elmerraji is the editor and portfolio manager of the Rhino Stock Report, a free investment advisory that returned 15% in 2008. He is a contributor to numerous financial outlets, including Forbes and Investopedia, and has been featured in Investor's Business Daily, in Consumer's Digest and on MSNBC.com.