Monthly Archives: November 2011

Organic Products Must Be … Well … Organic

Manufacturers of these products will have to change their formulation or remove word "organic" from label. (Photo: Center for Environmental Health)

Manufacturers of these products will have to change their formulation or remove word "organic" from label. (Photo: Center for Environmental Health)

In a first-ever test of California’s law regarding organic personal care products (think hair and skincare products, even toothpaste), the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health (CEH) announced today that it has reached settlement with 11 companies, ones that make national-brand products labelled organic, but were not organic under California law. The 2003 California Organic Products Act (COPA) requires products labelled “organic” to contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients.

Earlier this year, CEH spent hours shopping at national retailers, including Target, Walgreens, Whole Foods and others, selecting products labelled “organic.” In June, the CEH filed lawsuits against more than two dozen manufacturers, saying specific products did not meet the standard and were in violation of state law.

In the agreements announced today, 11 companies have agreed to comply with COPA, either by increasing the amount of organic ingredients or by removing the word “organic” from their label. The agreement further requires companies to make their ingredient records available to CEH for inspection.

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Support for Health Care Reform Law Rises … Somewhat

By Jordan Rau

It’s up. It’s down. Americans’ views about the health care law are, well, fluid.

The latest Kaiser Family Foundation monthly poll shows that the law’s popularity rose a bit after hitting a new low last month. (Kaiser Health News is a program of the foundation.) Still, more people don’t like the law than do: 44 percent to 37 percent.  That was a small improvement from October, when 51 percent panned the law, but the law’s popularity remains below where it has been.

Democrats, whose gloominess about the law was responsible for bringing it down in October, got a bit more positive about the law in November, with 62 percent giving it a thumbs up, a 10 percentage point increase.
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How one health system persuaded its doctors to change. Hint: It wasn’t easy.

Women who received an "adhesion barrier" after a cesarian section had no better outcomes. (Brett Neilson: Flickr)

Women who received an "adhesion barrier" after a cesarian section had no better outcomes. (Brett Neilson: Flickr)

By: Emily Bazar

The Banner Health system, which stretches from Alaska to Arizona, delivers about 30,000 babies a year, about a third by cesarean section.

When Banner officials scoured their data, they found wildly different patterns in how those C-sections were performed.

That was the easy part. Getting doctors to change their behavior proved more challenging.

“We realized just asking them was not going to cut it,” said Ken Welch, chief medical officer of Banner Estrella Medical Center in Phoenix.

We described Banner’s efforts to rein in variation in a recent USA TODAYBut we didn’t get into the nitty gritty of how the system convinced doctors to change. It’s an object lesson in the difficulty of getting doctors to change, but also the lengths to which health systems and insurers will go these days to make it happen.

Let’s start from the beginning. In its data analysis, Banner found striking differences in the use of pieces of film or fabric — called adhesion barriers — during C-sections. Some hospitals used the barriers during 79 percent of C-sections, while others used them less than 1 percent of the time.

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Could Acetaminophen Worsen Asthma?

Tylenol is a brand name of the drug acetaminophen. (Flickr/ Allen)

Tylenol is a brand name of the drug acetaminophen. (Flickr/ Allen)

A study published earlier this month in Pediatrics finds a strong association between the use of acetaminophen and asthma, both in symptoms and number of cases, for children and adults.

John McBride, Director of the Respiratory Center at Akron Children’s Hospital, reviewed studies going back more than a decade, one of which looked at 300,000 children around the world. “Looking at the data,” he said, “it’s quite likely that acetaminophen is a problem for patients that have asthma.”

The association between asthma and acetaminophen, which many people know by the brand name, Tylenol, caught him by surprise, he says. “I read the literature and was stunned. I decided the people who really needed to know were primary are physicians and patients.”

“The children who took acetaminophen were twice as likely to be seen for an asthma attack.”
Among the most compelling studies was one done in 2000 at Boston University. Ironically, it was a follow up to research that had established the safety of ibuprofen.

The ibuprofen study followed 84,000 children with a fever who were randomly treated with either ibuprofen or acetaminophen. In 2000, researchers looked at the 1800 children who had previously been diagnosed with asthma. “The children who took acetaminophen were twice as likely to be seen for an asthma attack than kids who got ibuprofen, and the more acetaminophen they took, the more likely they were to be seen for an asthma attack,” McBride learned.
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U.S. Outspends Other Countries on Health

By: Julie Appleby, Kaiser Health News

 

We’re No. 1. In health spending.  Again.

The United States far outpaces other countries in how much it spends on health care, although Americans have a lower rate of doctor visits and hospitalizations than most of the other 34 member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In its Health at a Glance 2011 report, out today, the OECD shows that the United States spent about $7,960 per person on health care in 2009 – about 2.5 times the average of the countries studied.  It also found that health spending in the U.S. has increased faster than in all other high-income OECD countries since 1970, even accounting for population growth.

Why? Generally, prices for medical care are higher in the U.S. – and some services are performed more often. Hospital prices are 60 percent higher than the average of 12 selected OECD countries, and the U.S. also generally pays more for each appendectomy, birth, joint replacement or cardiac procedure.  Americans have more imaging tests, such as CT scans and MRIs, than residents of other countries and are far more likely to have knee replacements, coronary angioplasty or surgery to remove their tonsils.

Even with all that, compared with most of the other developed countries, the U.S. has fewer practicing physicians per person, fewer hospital beds, and patients don’t stay as long in the hospital.

Administrative costs in the U.S. are also high, the report notes, accounting for about 7 percent of total spending.  That is roughly comparable to what is spent in France and Germany, which have universal health coverage. In Canada — another country with national health care – administrative costs are about 4 percent of health spending.

So what are Americans getting for their money? The U.S. has the best five-year survival rate for breast cancer and comes in second, behind Japan, in terms of colorectal cancer survival.  But the U.S. ranks 27th in life expectancy at birth, 31st in premature mortality, and 25th in the rate of cardiovascular mortality. The U.S. has the second worst rate of adult diabetes, behind Mexico, and has the highest rate of adult obesity, at 34 percent.

 

Being Healthy on Thanksgiving: A Must-Read

While doctors say you should get some Thanksgiving Day exercise, it's a question of timing. (Rene Schwietzke/Flickr)

While doctors say you should get some Thanksgiving Day exercise, it's a question of timing. (Rene Schwietzke/Flickr)

It’s Thanksgiving week and that means extra helpings of stories to keep you healthy, despite the fact that you’re about to eat the biggest meal of the year.

This post is no exception, but don’t click away yet! This one is easy. Midway through a great article from The Wall Street Journal (with everything you want to know about your triglyceride levels after a meal, the so-called “postprandial” period) comes a morsel of easy-to-implement health info.

It’s simple: get some exercise hours before the big meal:

Light exercise like a slow walk, done continuously for 30 minutes or more, appears to reduce the peak in triglycerides that occurs after eating a meal some 12 to 16 hours later, according to research led by Peter Grandjean, director for the Center for Healthy Living at Baylor University in Waco, Texas.
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Exactly How Does Pepper Spray Cause Harm?

pepper spray

(Lauri Rantala/Flickr)

This video of UC Davis campus police dousing protesters with pepper spray has close to two million views on YouTube and counting. UC Davis student David Busco was one of the students sprayed that day, saying the pain felt like “thousands of pieces of glass shooting into your eyes.”

Busco says the pepper spray was all over his face and mouth, meaning he could not avoid inhaling it, unless he stopped breathing. Concerned students poured bottled water over him, but this only worsened the problem by further spreading the pepper spray around his face and body. Busco says friends soon carried him to the nearest house and, after a quick Google search about pepper spray removal, washed him with dishwasher soap in the shower.

Pepper spray is legal for use in most states by anyone over age eighteen who is not a convicted felon. It is frequently being used during Occupy protests nationwide. We’re told it hurts (it look likes it hurts), but what exactly are the health effects? And what’s the best way to treat it?

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Breath of Fresh Air on San Joaquin Valley Air District Board

Sunset through a Polluted Bakersfield Sky. (Andy Castro: Flickr)

Sunset through a Polluted Bakersfield Sky. (Andy Castro: Flickr)

Earlier this month, KQED’s Sasha Khokha reported Central Valley residents’ concerns that the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District was not effectively communicating public health warnings on poor air quality days.

Just hours after that report aired, State of Health brought news that the Valley Air District had issued an air quality alert using significantly stronger language than it had used before. Air quality activists were pleased with the new tone.

Today, air quality activists are cheering again. California Governor Jerry Brown appointed a new member to the Valley Air District board. And not just anyone, but a physician with a long background in public health.  The new appointee, Dr. Alex Sherriffs, is a professor at UCSF-Fresno in the Department of Family and Community Medicine. He also has been in private practice in Fowler since 1983.

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Bay Area Kids Get a Little Fatter … Except in San Mateo County

Woman's feet on scale.

(Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Health advocates heaved a sign of relief this month over a new report showing that the obesity epidemic may be leveling off. In the past five years, the percentage of overweight and obese kids in California dropped by one percent. Not a screaming success, but a lot better than the gains seen since the 80s … or even in the past decade. The rate of overweight kids in California increased by six percent between 2001 to 2004 alone.

Some individual counties saw drops in obesity levels while others, like Del Norte County, saw massive increases. The report, aptly named “A Patchwork of Progress,” reflects on these discrepancies. The Bay Area itself is somewhat of a patchwork, too. In nearly all Bay counties, childhood obesity rates are on the rise. The single exception was San Mateo county, which saw 5.6 percent decrease.

So why are San Mateo County kids getting thinner while the rest of the Bay is getting fatter?

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Something’s Been Bugging Me

By: Pat Mastors

Editor’s Note: Pat Mastors is CEO of Pear Health, LLC. She formed the company after her father’s death, due to complications following a surgical procedure. CBS correspondent Andy Rooney’s death earlier this month prompted her to write this in his voice.

Andy Rooney, the CBS News Correspondent, died following complications from minor surgery. (Flickr: Stephenson Brown)

Andy Rooney, the CBS News Correspondent, died following complications from minor surgery. (Flickr: Stephenson Brown)

“I died last week, just a month after I said goodbye to you all from this very desk. I had a long and happy life – well, as happy as a cranky old guy could ever be. 92. Not bad. And gotta say, seeing my Margie, and Walter, and all my old friends again is great.

But then I read what killed me: ‘serious complications following minor surgery.’

Now what the heck is that?

Nobody gets run over by a ‘serious complication.’ You don’t hear about a guy getting shot in the chest with a ‘serious complication.’ Sure, I didn’t expect to live forever (well, maybe only a little bit), but I was sorta going for passing out some Saturday night into my strip steak at that great restaurant on Broadway. Maybe nodding off in my favorite chair, dreaming of reeling in a 40-pound striper. You know, not waking up. This whole ‘death by complication’ thing is just so, I don’t know … vague and annoying.

But then I read what killed me: ‘serious complications following minor surgery.’ Now what the heck is that?
Here’s something else that bothers me. This note I got a few days ago from a lady who says she’s a fan. She talked to a reporter at a national newspaper the other day. Asked the reporter, basically, what kind of complication ‘did me in’? The reporter said, ‘No idea what killed him. Unless someone dies unusually young, we don’t deal with the cause of death.’

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