Monthly Archives: July 2012

‘Youth Speaks’ Against Diabetes

By Grace Rubenstein

Still from Jose Vadi's video-poem "The Corner."

Still from Jose Vadi's video-poem "The Corner." (Courtesy: The Bigger Picture)

So long to the purely pious messages about eating right and exercising to ward off diabetes, Type II diabetes, that is.

A group of Bay Area youth have a new message for their peers about the disease, which afflicts poor people of color in disproportionately high numbers. Their rallying cry: It’s about justice, man.

The spoken-word poetry organization Youth Speaks has teamed up with U.C. San Francisco to train young poets on how living conditions common in poor neighborhoods — unsafe streets, few green spaces, a preponderance of fast-food joints — appear to propel people toward diabetes. (For more on this line of research, see the World Health Organization and this report [PDF] from the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative.)

Twenty poet-mentors have already been trained as part of the program, The Bigger Picture (website under construction). They worked with Oakland-native slam poet and videographer Jamie DeWolf to turn their poems into online videos, delivered in a lyrical and cinematic style that 21st century teens relate to. In the coming school year, they’ll visit 10 Bay Area high schools to perform their poems, educate students on diabetes, and coach them to write health-justice poetry themselves. Continue reading

AIDS 2012: Research, Yes … and also Performances & Protests

By Alvin Tran

Service Workers in Group, "SWING," a foundation that provides information and support to  sex workers and transgender men in Thailand, performs at the International AIDS Conference. (Photo: Alvin Tran)

Service Workers in Group, "SWING," a foundation that provides information and support to sex workers and transgender men in Thailand, performs at the International AIDS Conference. (Photo: Alvin Tran)

As a public health student for the last seven years, I’ve attended my share of research conferences. But the moment I arrived in Washington for the 19th International AIDS Conference, I knew instantly that this one would be different.

Unlike other conferences I’ve attended, the history of the International AIDS Conference is filled with controversy. I could pick many different starting points, but how about the travel ban? The International AIDS Conference had not been held in the U.S. in 22 years because HIV-positive individuals were barred from entering the United States. Congress voted to lift the ban in 2010, and D.C. was promptly chosen as the host city for this year’s conference.

But as the conference began and American speakers took pride in finally having the opportunity to be the hosts, I quickly learned that the travel ban was still in force for some people. HIV-positive sex workers from outside the U.S. are still prohibited from traveling to the U.S.

Activists from across the country, including many from San Francisco, carried red umbrellas and signs, and interrupted sessions in protest of the travel ban and arrest risk from carrying condoms. Continue reading

Can A Freeway Expansion Improve Public Health?

A draft environmental impact report about an expansion to the Los Angeles basin's 710 freeway was issued last month. (DeanTerry: Flickr)

A draft environmental impact report about an expansion to the Los Angeles basin's 710 freeway was issued last month. (DeanTerry: Flickr)

Caltrans issued its draft environmental impact report on a major freeway project in Los Angeles — the 710 expansion. The freeway currently stretches 25 miles freeway from East Los Angeles to Long Beach, but is commonly chokes with traffic of both people and goods. As Bernice Yeung at California Watch reports, Caltrans asserts the expansion could improve public health. As Yeung details:

“The project would improve air quality and public health, improve traffic safety, modernize the freeway design, and accommodate projected growth for population, employment, and economic activities related to goods movement,” the report stated.

Maybe improving congestion can reduce pollution and improve public health, but community activists and longtime researchers are not so sure.

In her piece, Yeung delves into the background of the project. There are several possible iterations of the 710 expansion on the table, ranging from adding 10 lanes all the way down to “no-build” — where the existing freeway is improved, but no lanes are added. Continue reading

Quick Read: Should Junk Food Companies Be Sponsoring The Olympics?

As AIDS 2012 was wrapping up in D.C., the opening ceremonies of London 2012 were getting underway across the Atlantic. Michael Jacobson of the Center for Science in the Public Interest notes the irony of “junk food” companies sponsoring the games to the tune of roughly $4 billion. A global audience will see the fittest people on the planet competing for medals, in between commercial breaks where we learn more about McDonald’s.


The Olympic Summer Games — the quadrennial sports and advertising extravaganza — is now underway. Once again, we’ll be thrilled (and perhaps even inspired) by the graceful gymnasts, the lightning-fast sprinters, and the seemingly inexhaustible swimmers. Less thrilling is the endless drumbeat of ads from long-time sponsors Coca-Cola (since 1928) and McDonald’s (since 1976).

Read more at: www.huffingtonpost.com

GOP Says Coverage For The Uninsured Is “Not The Issue”

By Julie Rovner, NPR

Editor’s Note: This story also appears as part of Kaiser Health News

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace earlier this month.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) on Fox News Sunday with Chris Wallace earlier this month.

For decades, the primary goal of those who would fix the U.S. health system has been to help people without insurance get coverage. Now, it seems, all that may be changing. At least some top Republicans are trying to steer the health debate away from the problem of the uninsured.

The shift in emphasis is a subtle one, but it’s noticeable.

Take this exchange between Fox News Sunday host Chris Wallace and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) earlier this month, just after the Supreme Court upheld most of President Obama’s health law.

Wallace: “What specifically are you going to do to provide universal coverage to the 30 million people who are uninsured?”

McConnell: “That is not the issue. … The question is how can you go step by step to improve the American health care system? It is already the finest health care system in the world.”

Wallace: “But you don’t think that 30 million people who are uninsured is an issue?” Continue reading

Stigma An Apparent Barrier in Achieving AIDS-free Generation

By Alvin Tran

Researcher Glenn-Milo Santos of Oakland's Global Forum on MSM & HIV presents data on homophobia at the 19th International AIDS Conference. (Photo: Alvin Tran)

Researcher Glenn-Milo Santos of Oakland's Global Forum on MSM & HIV presents data on homophobia at the 19th International AIDS Conference. (Photo: Alvin Tran)

Research presented this week at the 19th International AIDS Conference shows how homophobia may be a major barrier to achieving the “AIDS-free generation” — the optimistic tagline underlying much of the conference.

A new survey of young men who have sex with men (MSM) shows that “experiencing homophobia” may put them at greater risk of contracting and spreading HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

The study was conducted by Oakland’s Global Forum on MSM and HIV (MSMGF). Researchers surveyed more than 5,000 MSM globally. Nearly 1,500 were age 30 or younger, with about two-thirds of these young men from Asia and six percent from North America. According to the study, young MSM who experienced homophobia more frequently said they had less access to a variety of services including free HIV testing and condoms. Experiencing higher levels of homophobia equated with less access to medical treatment for HIV-positive gay men.

Young MSM who experienced homophobia more frequently said they had less access to a variety of services including free HIV testing and condoms.

“Our findings really underscore the importance of also addressing the larger structure and social factors that are associated with HIV infection especially among young men who have sex with men,” said Glenn-Milo Santos, an epidemiologist and MSMGF researcher.

In addition to highlighting the possible relationship between experiencing homophobia and having less access to HIV preventive services and care, Santos also presented results about respondents’ overall experiences with homophobia. Continue reading

Where You Live Matters to Your Health — Again Backed Up by Data

By Emily Bazar, CHCF Center for Health Reporting

Sunset over Santa Cruz -- the area has the lowest rate of avoidable emergency room admissions in the nation. (Steve Marchi: Flickr)

Sunset over Santa Cruz -- the area has the lowest rate of avoidable emergency room admissions in the nation. (Steve Marchi: Flickr)

Medicare users in the Santa Cruz area boast the lowest rate of avoidable emergency room visits in the state. They also happen to have the lowest rate in the nation.

This statistical tidbit comes from the health-focused Commonwealth Fund’s “Scorecard on Local Health System Performance,” released earlier this year, which offers a treasure trove of data on numerous health measures, from rates of uninsured residents to infant mortality. The data can be compared across states and regions.

Interesting, right? But so what?

Health data geeks say the “so what” is momentous: such data can identify problems or successes in public health across regions, and the findings can be used to develop solutions and create healthier places to live.

Lower use of emergency rooms reduces not only health care spending but also complications.

On Wednesday, some of those geeks convened at the Capitol for a briefing hosted by the California Health Policy Forum on using data to improve population health. The Forum organizes presentations on pressing health issues. Continue reading

Primary Care Efforts to Involve Patients in Decision Making

(Mercy Health: Flickr)

(Mercy Health: Flickr)

All day, every day, people make medical choices that have repercussions for common yet dangerous conditions like asthma, heart disease and diabetes.  Although chronic disease takes a greater toll [PDF] on people with lower socioeconomic status, chronically ill patients are part of every community. In California and across the country, public health officials and physicians keep searching for the best way to get patients involved in improving their health.

Some patients naturally want to be involved with their care. Other times it’s doctors and nurses who must try to encourage more engagement by their patients. “Whether to exercise or change their diet, take medication,” Dr. David Thom told me recently, “those are the bread and butter decisions that go into primary care.”

Thom, director of research in the UC San Francisco department of Family and Community Medicine, is launching a new study, exploring how patients make decisions when they work with a “health coach.” Often health coaches are trained medical assistants who join the primary care team. “Our belief is that health coaches are going to have a fairly different relationship with patients than providers do,” he says. “Their role in helping the patients make decisions will be clearly different than the providers’ role.” Continue reading

Quick Read: Health Insurance Rebates Due Next Week Across California

While the term “medical-loss ratio” may be health care jargon to consumers, they’re about to find out what it means in the form of a check from their insurance company next week. This “MLR” provision of the federal health care overhaul requires insurance companies to spend a minimum of 80 percent of their revenue (85 percent for large groups) on health care costs, as opposed to marketing, administrative costs or other non-medical fees.


Consumers across California will be getting rebate checks from their health insurers next week – one of the first tangible results of the federal health care overhaul. About 1.8 million Californians will be getting money back, either directly or through a reduction in their monthly premium. The average California rebate: about $65 a family.

Read more at: www.sacbee.com

Children’s Well-Being Low in California

New report shows California ranks 41st in the nation

(JasonHickey: Flickr)

(JasonHickey: Flickr)

Together with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Oakland-based nonprofit Children Now released their 2012 report on children’s well-being. The report looks across four broad categories: economic well-being; education; health; and family and community. California children had one bright spot — health — where the state ranked in the middle, at 23rd. But in the other three categories, the state ranked near the bottom in each, earning a combined score of 41st in the country.

In an interview with KQED’s Joshua Johnson, Ted Lempert, president of Children Now, expressed deep concern. “Our kids are not faring well and it’s a real tragedy that we’re in the bottom 10 among the 50 states in just about every indicator other than health. Kids are really bearing the brunt of the economic downturn we’ve been in.”

No kidding. According to the report, more than one-third (36 percent) of California children live in families where no parent has a full-time, year-round job. More than one in five children in the state (22 percent) are living in poverty.

At the other end from these low numbers was the one seeming bright spot for California children: health. Overall, California ranked 23rd, but that comparatively higher ranking is in part due to the state’s lower percentage of low-birthweight babies — less than 7 percent, making California #11 among the 50 states. California’s First Five program targets both prenatal care, infant health and child development up to 5 years of age. “The health stats show that if you Continue reading