Monthly Archives: December 2011

Fighting Childhood Obesity: It Takes a Village

By Sarah Varney

Editor’s note: KQED’s Sarah Varney first reported this story for NPR’s Morning Edition and its Shots blog on November 28. You can listen to her story here.

With more and more children in the U.S. becoming overweight, many parents are wondering how to talk to their children about weight. The Packard Pediatric Weight Control Program for families is remarkably straightforward and successful.

One of the goals of the program is to gradually reduce the amount of junk food kids eat, so it doesn't feel like a big change. (TheFoodJunk: Flickr)

One of the goals of the program is to gradually reduce the amount of junk food kids eat, so it doesn't feel like a big change. (TheFoodJunk: Flickr)

After a long day of school or work, a group of families gather in a Stanford Hospital classroom in Menlo Park, Calif. The children are all in the highest percentile for body mass index, or BMI. They’ve signed up with their parents, often at the urging of a pediatrician, for a six-month healthy eating and exercise boot camp.

Gabriel Rodriguez, an 11-year-old, sparkly-eyed, self-confessed burrito lover, graduated from the program a few months ago. He’s at the meeting with his mom, Gloria Arteaga, for their monthly check-in with their health coach, Thea Runyan.

They meet every month to measure Gabriel’s weight and height and talk about how well he’s sticking to his exercise and healthy eating goals.

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How Texting Can Help Babies

By: Kenny Goldberg

(SparkCBC: Flickr)

Actually, it's the mother who is supposed to be getting the text messages. (SparkCBC: Flickr)

Cells phones are practically ubiquitous and enable people to do everything from pay bills to play games, not to mention plain old phone calls. But a service developed last year has found a new way to use cell phones. It’s called text4baby and the goal is to help mothers-to-be have a healthy pregnancy.

One of those moms is San Diego resident Jeanne Watson. When she was six months pregnant, a nurse at the clinic told her about the text4baby program. Women who sign up for the service get three health-related text messages each week directly to their mobile phone. The service itself is free and the text messages are also free to receive. It didn’t take long before Watson was sold on it.

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The EPA, Mercury and Health Benefits: What is the Cost?

(Salim Virji: Flickr)

(Salim Virji: Flickr)

The E.P.A issued its first ever standards on mercury pollution from coal and oil-burning power plants yesterday, and the topic was the subject of a fervid debate on KQED’s Forum this morning.

Just about the only thing Michael Brune, of the Sierra Club, and Scott Segal, of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, could agree on was that mercury is, indeed, a neurotoxin, a poison that causes reproductive and developmental disorders, including lower IQs. But whether the new standards will net the public health and environmental benefits the EPA claims was in dispute.

The EPA’s new standards seek to reduce not just mercury but also other toxic air pollutants such as arsenic, acid gas, nickel, selenium, and cyanide. 

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Is L.A. Schools’ Healthy Lunch Program Really a Flop?

Reports are that school children are ditching their healthy lunches, which include fresh produce, and sneaking in junk food. (Ali Karimian: Flickr)

Reports say that school children are ditching their healthy lunches, which include fresh produce, and sneaking in junk food. (Ali Karimian: Flickr)

The Los Angeles Times featured a lengthy piece last weekend on L.A. Unified School District‘s apparent failure in its new much-touted school lunch program, overhauled to be more healthful.

Early in the school year, the Times reports, L.A. Unified “got rid of chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and other food high in fat, sugar and sodium.” With roughly 30 percent of school age children now overweight or obese, striking such unhealthy food from school lunches seems like a good place to start to coax kids to eat a healthier diet.

But the Times claims the change has been a “flop” for many students. Stories of a black-market for junk food on certain campuses are reported, including kids sneaking in “Flamin’ Hot Cheetos” and soda.  And the school lunches themselves?

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Are California’s Mental Health Hospitals Hazardous Work Environments?

Napa State Hospital where a health care worker was murdered, allegedly by a patient in 2010. (Lisle Boomer: Flickr)

Napa State Hospital where a health care worker was murdered, allegedly by a patient in 2010. (Lisle Boomer: Flickr)

NPR’s Ina Jaffe has filed a series of reports this year about violence in California’s psychiatric hospitals. The spark was the October 2010 murder of a health care worker at Napa State Hospital, allegedly by a psychiatric patient with a violent history.

Today, Jaffe reports that “thousands of violent incidents occur every year” at the state’s mental hospitals, but few are treated as crimes.

Violence in California’s psychiatric hospitals has been increasing, partly because the kind of patients treated at the hospitals has changed. Generally, people with mental illness aren’t especially dangerous. But these days, about 90 percent of the patients in California’s mental hospitals are committed by the criminal justice system. They’ve been found not guilty by reason of insanity, for example, or incompetent to stand trial.

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7 Things Health Care Reform Has Already Accomplished

(Flickr: Adrian Clark)

(Flickr: Adrian Clark)

Health Care Reform won’t be fully implemented for another two years, but the key here is “fully.” Some changes are already in effect.

The problem, as a recent poll from the Kaiser Family Foundation highlighted, is a lot of Americans are confused about some of the most basic elements of the plan, even those things that are already in effect.

Health policy consultant Linda Bergthold set out to inform people under the amusing headline “Holiday Gifts from Health Reform” in the Huffington Post last week. There’s something for the old, the young, some of the uninsured and even small business owners.

1. If you are 65 or older — (and eligible for Medicare) — seniors who are enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans (that’s Part C or the managed care part of Medicare) may have seen their premiums reduced this year. Some may even have access to ZERO premium health plans. Seniors also now receive free preventive treatments and a rebate of $500 if their drug coverage hits the “donut hole” in 2011.

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Congress Delays Guidelines to Limit Junk Food Marketing to Children

One of the 29,000 public comments in response to food marketing guideline proposal submitted to the federal government.

Scan of one of the 29,000 public comments in response to food marketing guideline proposal submitted to the federal government.

Score another round for junk food marketing. Just weeks after Congress turned back US Department of Agriculture efforts to make the school lunch program more healthful, today Congress delayed attempts at finalizing voluntary guidelines for food marketing to children.

Some background — a year and a half ago, the Obama administration set in motion an effort to establish guidelines around the kinds of foods and drinks that can be marketed to children. The effort was to be voluntary, not regulatory, and the goal was to help combat childhood obesity, now hovering around 20 percent for six to 19-year-olds. But, not surprisingly, the food and beverage industry has been fighting hard against the proposal. Today, public health advocates were set back when Congress asked for a cost/benefit analysis of the proposed guidelines.

“What’s frustrating here is that Congress listened to industry instead of parents and the American public.”

As The Washington Post reports, the cost-benefit requirement is buried in the huge spending bill Congress was debating today, the omnibus bill needed to keep the federal government running.

The administration’s proposal aims to tackle childhood obesity by having the industry market to children only those foods and drinks that make a “meaningful contribution” to a healthful diet and limit sodium, fats and added sugars. Foods that do not meet the guidelines could not be advertised to children.
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Bed Sharing With Infants: Dangerous or Not?

(Flickr: Megan Myers)

(Flickr: Megan Myers)

A children’s advocacy group in Santa Clara County has launched a campaign to discourage parents from sleeping in bed with their infants. As the San Jose Mercury News reports, advocates say bed sharing is not just dangerous, but can be lethal. The Mercury News cites statistics showing 20 babies in Santa Clara County have died since 2005 due to “unsafe sleeping practices.” But critics argue that bed sharing can be safe, under the right circumstances.

Yesterday’s press conference from First Five Santa Clara County included the emotional story of Karma Sunshine King, the mother of an infant who died while sleeping in bed with her.

The 33-year-old Santa Clara mother said she crawled into her bed last November with her 3-month-old son, Cash, and when she woke up, “my son did not wake up with me.”

“That was the worst day of my life,” King said. “It changed me forever.”

King said she grew up in a Filipino family where bed sharing is the norm.

That’s until Cash died, and Dr. Michelle Jorden, a county medical examiner, came to her home and conducted a baby death re-enactment with her.

Jorden strongly argues against bed sharing because children can have blankets and pillows accidentally placed on their faces.

But critics say each case must be looked at in detail.
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The Health Care Reform Interactive Cartoon

You’ve heard the partisan back and forth on health care reform for months. But if that still hasn’t helped you figure out how health care reform will affect you, maybe these cartoon characters from the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation can.

(Courtesy: Kaiser Family Foundation)

(Courtesy: Kaiser Family Foundation)

What you see above is a jpeg, because I can’t capture the interactivity in this blog, but if you click on the graphic or right here you can pick one of these “YouToon” characters or businesses that comes closest to matching your life.  Are you Cat Clark, 33, single? Or Sue and Stu Santos, married with a baby? Or maybe you’re a small employer that can’t afford to provide health insurance to your employees?  The interactive graphic (again, click here) provides clear, concise information about what health care reform will do in each of these situations.

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How Child Care Budget Cuts Affect Children and Families

(Ijiwaru Jimbo: Flickr)

(Ijiwaru Jimbo: Flickr)

In the nearly one billion dollars in budget cuts Governor Jerry Brown put into place on Tuesday were $23 million to child care financing. That’s on top of a $110 million reduction in child care from 2010 to 2011. What all these cuts mean is more low income children losing access to child care, making it more difficult for their parents to continue working.

If you’re wondering what a child care story is doing on a health blog, consider this perspective, provided by the Child Care Resource Center in Los Angeles. After earlier budget cuts, CCRC surveyed its clients. Carissa, a northern Los Angeles County woman who lost her child care subsidy told CCRC she had no choice but to leave her two younger children with her teenage daughter, who quickly become overwhelmed.

“It’s very sad when you have a 15-year-old saying ‘I can’t take it anymore.’ Mentally and emotionally, it was too much for her. She had to take care of the children and then be on top of them to do their homework. The two youngest went from being in the honor roll to almost failing.”

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