Monthly Archives: February 2014

New Autism Designation Likely a Central Topic at Statewide Conference

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By David Gorn, California Healthline

A recurring theme at the annual California Association for Behavior Analysis conference starting today in Burlingame likely will be the new definition of autism in the medical community.

Does the new designation make it harder to get a key treatment covered? 
The national guidelines for doctors and other clinicians was updated last year. DSM-5 is the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, put out by the American Psychiatric Association.

In DSM-5, there is a new category in the autism spectrum — social communication disorder, or SCD. Since there are no clinical guidelines for treating SCD, autism advocates worry the new designation could be used by insurance companies to stop covering applied behavior analysis (ABA therapy) in treating autism disorder.

“It’s likely a small percentage [of SCD children among those with autism spectrum disorder], but it definitely will affect some people,” said Karen Fessel, director of the Autism Health Insurance Project. “There are no guidelines put out by insurance companies yet, so likely there will be no adjustments till October this year.” Continue reading

Life on the Street: Homeless Vietnam Veteran Fights Cancer


John Buckingham, 62, a homeless Vietnam veteran, stands outside of a San Francisco grocery store. He lives on the streets and is fighting cancer. (Nick Arce/KQED)

Editor’s Note: For the nearly three million Americans who served in Vietnam, more likely than death in combat was a post-war life on the street. On a single night in 2013, more than 15,000 homeless Californians were veterans, many of whom served in Vietnam. As part of our ongoing health series called Vital Signs, we’re spending the month hearing from homeless Californians. John Buckingham is a 62-year-old homeless Vietnam vet living with cancer on the streets of San Francisco. He talks to us about his battle with illness. Reporter: Nick Arce

By John Buckingham

You know, I can be walking and all of a sudden I’ll get this real heavy pain in my body. I mean, like an earthquake hitting the ground and my whole body shakes. And then, all of sudden, I won’t feel so hot. I’ll feel like these cold and hot flashes. And I’ll see things.

It’s all because of the war. Because of Agent Orange.

Continue reading

New Food Labels to Focus on Calories, Sugar

Many processed foods, including bottled tomato sauce, have added sugars, which would be required under the proposed label. (Danny Nicholson/Flickr)

Many processed foods, including bottled tomato sauce, have added sugars, which would be required under the proposed label. (Danny Nicholson/Flickr)

By Allison Aubrey, NPR

Ready for a reality check about how many calories you’re eating or drinking?

The proposed new nutrition facts panel may help.

“I’ve been hoping for years that the FDA would list added sugars,” — Marion Nestle, NYU Nutrition Professor 

The Obama administration Thursday released its proposed tweaks to the iconic black and white panel that we’re all accustomed to seeing on food packages.

The most visible change is that calorie counts are bigger and bolder — to give them greater emphasis.

In addition, serving sizes start to reflect the way most of us really eat. Take, for example, ice cream. The current serving size is a half-cup. But who eats that little?

Under the proposed new label, the serving size would become 1 cup. So, when you scoop a bowl of mint chocolate chip, the calorie count that you see on the label will probably be much closer to what you’re actually eating.

Continue reading

How Coverage of Richmond, El Monte Soda Tax Proposals Played Out

Jeff Ritterman, Richmond city councilman who introduced Richmond's soda tax, campaigns for its passage in August, 2012.  (Mina Kim/KQED)

Jeff Ritterman, Richmond City Council member  who introduced Richmond’s soda tax, campaigns for its passage in August, 2012. (Mina Kim/KQED)

In 2012, voters in the California cities of Richmond and El Monte soundly defeated proposed taxes on sugar-sweetened beverages. The ballot measures were widely covered by local, state and national press. Now, 15 months later comes an analysis of that coverage, a look at what themes were covered on both sides.

To be clear, the analysis comes not from a journalism school, but from the Berkeley Media Studies Group, a public health advocacy organization. BMSG looked at more than 200 news stories and opinion pieces — with nearly two-thirds of the coverage focused on Richmond.

Richmond and El Monte proposed similar taxes — a penny per ounce on sugar-sweetened beverages — but for different reasons. In Richmond, the tax was placed on the ballot as a public health measure, to fight childhood obesity. El Monte (Los Angeles County) was facing bankruptcy and saw a soda tax as way to bolster funds for city services. “One of the key takeaways that we saw had to do a lot with how the opposition campaigns differed, based on the unique character of each of the cities that we studied,” said Pam Mejia, lead author of the study. Continue reading

Consumers Will Trade Limited Choice of Doctors, Hospital for Lower Premiums

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Jordan Rau, Kaiser Health News

People buying health insurance through the health law’s new online marketplaces are more willing than the public at large to accept a limited roster of doctors and hospitals in return for lower premiums, a poll released Wednesday finds. But that enthusiasm nosedives if they are told their regular doctor isn’t included in the plan.

But there’s a split between those with employer-sponsored insurance and those who buy it on their own.

As a way to keep costs down and be competitive, insurers across the country have pieced together limited networks of doctors, hospitals and other medical providers. Consumers wanting broader choices of providers are often given the option of buying plans with higher premiums.

The narrow networks have encountered resistance from doctors, patient groups and some insurance regulators, who fear consumers will not grasp their limited options until they seek medical care. Roughly 6 million people this year are expected to buy their own insurance through the health care exchanges that started operation in January.

Most people with private insurance still get their coverage through their employer. Among members of that group, limited networks are unpopular, according to the poll from The Kaiser Family Foundation. Fifty-five percent would rather buy a plan that costs more but allows them to see a wider range of doctors and hospitals, while only 34 percent prefer a less expensive plan with limited providers. Continue reading

Death Cafe: Talking About Death — While Eating Cake

A recent Death Cafe, held at San Francisco's Zen Hospice Project. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

A recent Death Cafe, held at San Francisco’s Zen Hospice Project. (Jeremy Raff/KQED)

By Jeremy Raff

In a dimly lit room decorated with several Buddhas and a large red-and-white Zen illustration, twenty-nine people sat in a circle. Some were eating chocolate bundt cake. It was an unusual setting to be discussing the topic at hand: death and dying. These death cafes have sprung up around the world to address the taboo subject head-on. Organizers hope that increased awareness of death will help people make the most of their lives.

Roy Remer, the group’s facilitator, hushed the room and passed around pieces of cardstock covered in Post-its. Each person wrote intimate words on them — family members’ names, roles they play (mother, mentor), significant relationships and important objects. The Post-its became a boiled-down map of what each person holds dearest. Then, Remer walked the circle, visiting each person with inevitable gravity. He then ripped away Post-its from each one.

Some reflexively clutched their children’s names. But most averted their eyes, looking stunned. It wasn’t easy for Remer either. “It felt violent,” he said. The exercise simulated loss and started the conversation about death and dying. Continue reading

‘Insufficient Evidence’ That Vitamins Prevent Heart Disease, Cancer

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

By Brittany Patterson

Toss those vitamin bottles and instead opt for a well-balanced diet if you’re looking to prevent heart disease or cancer.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released new recommendations Monday regarding both multivitamins and certain supplements — and their potential to help prevent heart disease and cancer. The task force “concludes that the current evidence is insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms” of the use of multivitamins, vitamins, minerals and other dietary supplements to prevent heart disease or cancer.

The task force is, however, recommending against use of beta-carotene and vitamin E supplements. Continue reading

15 Measles Cases Confirmed Statewide; State Officials Urge Vaccination

 prepare an injection of the combined Measles Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccination. Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images

Preparing an injection of the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccination. (Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images)

First the flu, then whooping cough and now measles. State health officials announced Friday morning that the state has 15 confirmed cases, compared with just two at this time last year.

Of the 15 cases, three are in people who traveled to the Philippines, where a large outbreak is occurring, according to the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). Two more cases are in recently returned travelers from India, where measles is endemic. Nearly half of the cases — seven — are in people who were “intentionally not vaccinated,” said Dr. Gil Chavez, state epidemiologist with the CDPH.

Measles is one of the most contagious viral illnesses. 

“Today I am asking unvaccinated Californians who are traveling outside the Americas to get vaccinated before you go,” Chavez said.

The measles vaccine is highly effective. It is administered in two doses, as part of the measles-mumps-rubella shot, or MMR. The first dose is given to toddlers at 12-15 months, and the second is recommended before children start kindergarten. CDC guidelines also clearly state that infants who are being taken for travel internationally can receive the first dose as young as 6 months. Two doses provide about 98 percent protection against measles, said Kathleen Harriman, with the CDPH. If you have had the measles, you are also protected. Continue reading

Homeless Woman Grateful for Support She Finds in Her Pet


For the past two years, Kelly Hall, 42, has been homeless, living on the streets of San Francisco with her 7-year-old dog, Olivia. Hall says Olivia is her sole source of emotional support. (Credit: Mark Rogers Photography)

Editor’s Note: The unconditional love of a pet can help people facing some of life’s toughest challenges. After losing her job five years ago, Kelly Hall found herself homeless. She turned to her dog, Olivia, for comfort. Hall says her first night sleeping on the streets was “terrifying”– she was afraid for her safety and worried about surviving the cold. Pets can benefit the mental health of the homeless but keeping these animals healthy can also be a challenge.

As part of our ongoing health series called Vital Signs, we’re spending the month hearing stories from homeless Californians. We meet up with Hall as she has Olivia’s arthritis checked out at a mobile veterinary clinic called VET SOS, a free service for homeless pet owners in San Francisco. She starts off by describing Olivia’s breed.

By Kelly Hall

She’s a dachshund-chihuahua-terrier mix. She weighs 13-pounds.

I would be so lonely without her. I cannot even imagine being homeless and not having a dog with me, or my best friend with me. Especially because I’m the type of person too, I’m a bit of a loner. I go to school. I try to keep to myself, and so she really is my only friend and my only support system.

Continue reading

HPV Vaccine Prevents Cancer, Yet Parents Slow To Make Sure Kids Get It

Studies show the HPV vaccine is highly protective, but as many as two-thirds of 11 and 12-year-old girls don't get it. (Art Writ/Flickr)

Studies show the HPV vaccine is highly protective, but as many as two-thirds of 11 and 12-year-old girls don’t get it. (Art Writ/Flickr)

By Patti Neighmond, NPR

You would think that a vaccine that could prevent cancer would be an easy sell, but that’s hasn’t proven to be true so far with the vaccine to prevent cervical cancer.

“This is a vaccine that protects against cancer; what could be better than that?”   

Just 33 percent of girls and less than 7 percent of boys in the U.S. have gotten all three recommended doses of the vaccine to protect against the human papillomavirus, which causes cervical and other cancers. Compare that to the tiny African nation of Rwanda, where more than 90 percent of sixth-grade girls were vaccinated in 2011, or Australia, where 73 percent of 12- and 13-year-old girls have gotten all three vaccines.

“This is a vaccine that protects against cancer; what could be better than that?” asks Shannon Stokley, an epidemiologist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She and other public health officials are trying to figure out the best ways to persuade American teenagers and preteens to get the HPV vaccine. Continue reading