Author Archives: Katrina Schwartz

Katrina Schwartz is a journalist based in San Francisco. She's worked at KPCC public radio in LA and has reported, produced and blogged on health, climate change and local news for KQED in San Francisco.

Schools Are at the Front Line of Asthma Fight

Shameka Bibb gives her son Sarquan Holland Jr., age 5, his asthma inhaler at school before she leaves him for the day. Hollands asthma is so severe that he has been on Prednisone since he was three and is on the strongest dose of inhaler, not usually given to children. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

Shameka Bibb gives her son Sarquan Holland, Jr., age 5, his asthma inhaler at school before she leaves him for the day. Holland’s asthma is so severe that he has been on prednisone since he was three and is on the strongest dose of inhaler, not usually given to children. (Deborah Svoboda/KQED)

California’s network of 230 school-based health clinics are set to incubate a new education program meant to address the environmental factors that trigger asthma attacks. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) awarded a $600,000 grant to the Oakland-based Public Health Institute’s Regional Asthma Management & Prevention (RAMP) program. RAMP is now set to design a training program for the state’s school-based clinic staff on how to prevent and manage environmental asthma triggers in school, at home and in the community.

Asthma affects 900,000 children in California and seven million children nationwide. The disease causes airways in the lungs to swell and narrow. This makes breathing difficult. Oakland’s network of school-based clinics have been on the forefront of providing asthma education and treatment to its school-aged children, but will now have an added resource to address the environmental risk factors.

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Quick Read: Young Adults Could Lose Coverage if Health Law Overturned

Even some Republicans who hate most things about the Affordable Care Act admit that they support allowing young people to stay on their parent’s insurance plans. It has become so popular that some insurance companies have said they will keep the policy even if Obama’s healthcare law is overturned by the Supreme Court. But there may be unforeseen tax consequences to both the employee and the employer.

One of the most popular parts of the health overhaul law is a provision that lets parents keep children on their insurance policies until age 26. Several big insurers say they plan to keep that in place even if the Supreme Court strikes down the rest of the law.

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Beverage Companies Blur Line Between Philanthropy & Marketing

Some soda companies have begun using cause marketing to curry public favor in the face of criticism. (La Piazza Pizzeria/Flickr)

If you were watching the Superbowl in 2010 when the Packers beat the Steelers, you may have noticed that Pepsi commercials were absent from the ads that were vying for the attention of millions of viewers. Instead, Pepsi announced Pepsi Refresh, a project to take the $20 million dollars it would have spent on Superbowl advertising and give it to a good cause. They used a vast social media campaign to involve the public in voting for which cause would get the money.

Pepsi’s good deed did put $20 million dollars into the hands of organizations working to solve global problems, but Pepsi got something back too — loyal consumers. The campaign was a splashy example of a new strategy called “cause marketing” that plays off a growing trend of corporate social responsibility. But this money comes directly out of Pepsi’s brand marketing budget, not their philanthropy arm.

“There are some really revealing statements in the industry literature from executives at Pepsi saying very explicitly what they were trying to do,” explained Lori Dorfman, Director of the Berkeley Media Studies Group. “And one of the things they were trying to do is get the attention of and favorability of millennials,” she added.

Dorfman and her colleagues have been digging into the nitty-gritty of the beverage industry to draw comparisons between the marketing strategies of big tobacco and those of soda companies, who have recently come under attack for the role their sugary product is playing in rising obesity rates.

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Quick Read: PTSD in Heart Attack Survivors More Common Than Realized

The emotional effects of heart attacks may be more severe than anyone realized. More heart attack survivors developed post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), than doctors previously realized. Survivors report a lack of faith in the body, paranoia about minor chest pain, sleeplessness and anxiety.

The emotional toll of a heart attack can be so severe that an estimated 1 in 8 patients who survive the experience develop post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that doubles the risk of dying of a second heart attack, according to new research.

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Court Challenge Could Result In Medicaid Cutbacks Instead Of Expansion

By Phil Galewitz, Kaiser Health News

Medi-Cal patients in California stand to lose a lot if Medicaid shrinks. (David McNew/Getty)

The future of the nation’s largest health insurance program — Medicaid — hangs in the balance of the Supreme Court’s decision on the 2010 health law.

The state-federal program which covers 60 million poor and disabled people would be greatly expanded under the health law, adding 17 million more people starting in 2014.

But if the entire law is struck down, states for the first time since 2009 would be free to tighten eligibility and make it more difficult for people to apply. The law had barred such changes.

And under another scenario — if the justices declare unconstitutional just the law’s expansion of Medicaid — the entire program enacted in 1965 as part of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society agenda could be threatened, health experts say. Twenty-six states had challenged the expansion, arguing it was “unduly coercive” because they would lose all of their federal Medicaid funding if they refused to expand the program. Continue reading

Quick Read: Diabetes May Affect Brain Function in Older Adults

Almost a third of the U.S. population over the age of 65 has diabetes, about 11 million people. A study out of UCSF notes a strong association between declining brain function and diabetes in older adults. The study suggests that aggressive management of blood levels in midlife may be even more important than thought before.

A new study adds to growing evidence that the complications of diabetes may extend to the brain, causing declines in memory, attention and other cognitive skills. The new research showed that over the course of about a decade, elderly men and women with diabetes – primarily Type 2, the form of the disease related to obesity and inactivity – had greater drops in cognitive test scores than other people of a similar age.

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Quick Read: Consumers Stuck With Murky Sunscreen Labels Another Summer

This month sunscreen companies were supposed to role out new labels that follow strict guidelines on the claims companies can make about their products. Now consumers will have to wait until next summer. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has delayed the deadline for clearer labeling until December.

Anyone who’s gone to the drug store knows that the labels on sunscreens can be confusing. The sun protection factor, or SPF, numbers are all over the place. Some say “sunblock” others says “sunscreen.” What’s the difference between “water-proof” versus “water-resistant?”

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VA Adds Mental Health Clinicians

The need for mental health services among veterans has increased 35% since 2007. (Getty Images)

The Department of Veterans Affairs has announced that it will add 1,600 mental health clinicians and 300 support staff to veterans hospitals across the country to help contend with the rising demand for mental health care among returning veterans. That’s an almost 10% increase in mental health staff and is sorely needed at hospitals that can’t keep up with the requests for appointments. In some places, wait time for care is much longer than the VA’s 14 day policy, the subject of a report by the department’s inspector general to be released next week.

Northern California may be faring slightly better than the rest of the country on mental health issues. “In Northern California we have many veterans coming back. We also have a lot of staff,” said Robin Jackson, a spokeswoman for the Department of Veterans Affairs Northern California Health Care System. “We’ve tripled our mental health staff in the last 4 years. So we many be ahead of the curve,” she added. Jackson said that staff in Northern California realized that traumatic brain injury and other mental trauma would be the most common illnesses in returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, so they ramped up their staffing to meet the need. Continue reading

California Prison Medical Costs Higher Than Average

By KQED Staff and Wires

California spends three times the national average on inmate medical care. (Getty Images)

As the state prepares to resume control of inmate medical care, it must find ways to reduce costs that are triple the national average, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office said Thursday.

The federal receivership that has been in place since 2006 has greatly improved the medical care of state prison inmates but also has caused costs to soar, according to the report. California spends $16,000 per inmate for health care services, compared to an average of $5,000 in other states.

The analysis was released less than two weeks before the state and attorneys representing inmates must report to a federal judge with recommendations on when the receivership should end and whether it should maintain some oversight role.

The Legislature should create an independent board to monitor prison medical care to make sure conditions do not deteriorate once the state retakes control, the report said. It also recommends that the state experiment with contracting for medical services to cut costs. Continue reading

Report: Fewer Unhealthy Air Days in California

By Bernice Yeung, California Watch

California logged fewer unhealthy air days in 2011 than a decade ago, giving hope that air quality is improving. (Getty Images)

California air pollution reached unhealthy levels less often in 2011 than a decade ago, according to a report released this week by a state association of regional air district officers.

Compared with 2000, there were about 74 percent fewer days of “unhealthy air” statewide last year, data from the report [PDF] showed. Air quality can range from “good” to “very unhealthy,” and it is calculated based on local monitoring of four air pollutants regulated by the federal Clean Air Act.

The report found that ozone pollution has decreased statewide between 1980 and 2011; there have been smaller and more limited reductions in particulate matter emissions during the same time frame.

Dr. John Balmes, a professor of medicine at UC San Francisco, said California is “ahead of the pack with regard to air quality and greenhouse gas control.” He said any reductions in ozone and particulate emissions could have positive effects on public health because these pollutants have been associated with cardiovascular or respiratory disease health risks.

The new report acknowledged that “despite significant improvements, air quality remains a major source of public health concern in large metropolitan areas throughout California,” especially in the San Joaquin Valley and the southern coast area surrounding Los Angeles. California has 35 regional air districts, which regulate businesses and industrial facilities. Continue reading