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.

California Advocates For Healthy Food in U.S. Farm Bill

California food advocates are hoping to shift national farm policy to support healthier foods for all. (Liji Jinaraj:Flickr)

The U.S. Farm Bill is up for reauthorization in Congress this year and California food and health advocates are eager to use the opportunity to shift national policy towards healthier eating, which would also benefit California farmers.

A panel of food experts that included Michael Pollan, author of bestseller Omnivore’s Dilemma, and Karen Ross, Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture packed an auditorium at U.C. Berkeley Thursday evening.

Budget cuts in Washington D.C. emerged as a big theme. Every panelist recognized the need to play defense in order to keep money in the bill for important programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. Currently, 77 percent of the money in the Farm Bill goes to support food and nutrition programs like SNAP. “One in five of our citizens find themselves food insecure in a month or a year,” said Karen Ross referring to California specifically. “And it’s ironic that we have that need in a state that’s the number one producer of so many of those crops,” she continued. Continue reading

S.F. Doctor New Head of National HIV Office

President Obama has tapped San Francisco’s own Dr. Grant Colfax to head the Office of National AIDS Policy in Washington, D.C. Dr. Colfax is the former director of HIV prevention and research at the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

Dr. Grant Colfax, newly appointed director of the Office of National AIDS Policy and former director of HIV prevention and research at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. (Photo: S.F. Dept. of Public Health)

In an interview on KQED’s Forum earlier this week Dr. Colfax was optimistic about a new phase in the fight against HIV. “We’ve had some striking scientific advances in prevention and care. We really are for the first time talking about an HIV-free generation,” Dr. Colfax told Forum’s Michael Krasny. To achieve that future Dr. Colfax said HIV testing should become a regular part of primary health care. “HIV testing needs to be part of routine primary care and we need to break down the stigma that is still unfortunately associated with HIV testing,” he emphasized.

People who are at higher risk of HIV infection like gay men, people with HIV-positive partners and people with many sexual partners should get tested often. San Francisco recommends gay men get tested every 6 months, especially because gay men represent almost two-thirds of new HIV cases domestically. African-American women are also much more likely to be infected for reasons that are still unclear to researchers. Continue reading

Global Experts Meet in Oakland to Share Ideas on Children’s Health

Malaria, tuberculosis, HIV — these are the communicable diseases many people associate with death in the developing world. But increasingly diseases like diabetes, heart disease and conditions related to obesity have become the ticking “time bomb” that public health experts are desperately trying to prevent form exploding.

Healthier school lunches can help fight obesity and its related diseases. (Photo: USDAgov/Flickr)

The Public Health Institute (PHI) convened the first-ever conference focusing exclusively on children and non-communicable diseases this week in downtown Oakland. Experts from around the world gathered to exchange ideas about how to prevent diseases that were once thought to be illnesses of the developed world from spreading globally. It’s no coincidence that the conference is being held in Oakland. “Poverty is a root cause of a lot of the problems that bring diseases like this to the fore, and it’s something that we grapple with on a daily basis in Oakland,” explained Jeff Meer, PHI’s special advisor for global health. “If we can get a handle on how poverty relates to illness in Oakland, then we can understand it in Bujumbura and Kigali.”

The four most common non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are diabetes, cancer, chronic lung disease and chronic heart disease. “Most of us think of them as illnesses that strike in rich, highly developed countries; but the fact is that there is a tidal wave, an epidemic of non-communicable diseases that is striking populations all over the world, and striking, frankly with great ferocity in very poor places that have fewer resources than we do to deal with them,” Meer told me. A tidal wave indeed — two-thirds of deaths worldwide can be attributed to NCDs according to Meer. Continue reading

Doctors Expect Climate Change to Worsen Lung Diseases

In some parts of California air quality is already a big issue.

Farming in the Central Valley contributes to the poor air quality there. (Photo: Getty Images)

As if there wasn’t already enough to worry about, now doctors are predicting that climate change will harm people’s respiratory health. The American Thoracic Society is so concerned it filed a report with two goals. The Society not only wants to raise awareness with doctors so they can take preventive measures with their patients but also is enticing researchers to take on the question for further study. They found that climate change has a direct impact on air quality. A hotter climate, wildfires, more pollen in the air and rates of airborne diseases are worsening respiratory health worldwide.

Climate change will likely affect different places in different ways, but in California it could mean hotter summers and more wildfires. The itchy eyes and sneeze-inducing allergies that plague many people during pollen season could also hang around longer if weather patterns continue to change. All of that is bad for asthmatics, children and the elderly, but also for poor people – as it turns out.

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