Author Archives: Shuka Kalantari

Shuka Kalantari is a reporter at KQED, focusing on health and culture among immigrant and refugee communities. She formerly produced The California Report's occasional series, Whats Your Story? The series shared perspectives from under-represented communities across the state. She's a Philosophy and Spanish & Latin American Studies graduate from the University of California, Santa Cruz, and received a Masters degree in Multimedia Health and Medicine Reporting from The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism in 2007. You can view her stories shukakalantari.com.

More Californians Visiting ER For Chronic Medical Conditions

Millions of Californians visit emergency departments for help with non-injury related  health problems -- and that number is rising.

Millions of Californians visit emergency departments for help with non-injury related health problems — and that number is rising.

Traditionally people think of a hospital emergency room as a place to go for injuries: someone gets in a car accident, has a heart attack, or falls out of a tree and breaks his leg. But the ER also plays a large role in treating medical patients.

Millions of Californians visit emergency departments for help with non-injury related health problems — and that number is rising, according to a study recently published in the April edition of Health Affairs.

“The study gives you kind of a bird’s eye view of what’s happening in the health care system overall.”

The study, led by the University of California, San Francisco, shows the rate of emergency room visits for non-injury related problems rose 13.4 percent in the state, from 10.1 million visits in 2005 to 11.9 million visits in 2011. The largest increase in non-injury related ER visits were for gastrointestinal diseases, abdominal pain and nervous system disorders.

Renee Hsia is a professor of Emergency Medicine and Health Policy Studies at UCSF, and the lead author of the study. She says hospital admissions rates are a window into California’s health care system.
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Cow’s Milk Found in Breast Milk Sold Online

A recent study shows 10 percent of human breast milk purchased online is contaminated with traces of cow’s milk.

A new study shows 10 percent of human breast milk purchased online is contaminated with cow’s milk. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Most doctors agree that ‘breast is best.’ Breastfed babies have lower rates of respiratory infections, ear infections, asthma, digestive problems, childhood obesity, asthma and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The public health message is being heard: in 2011 almost 80 percent of newborn U.S. infants were initially breastfed.

But sometimes mothers can’t breastfeed. They may not have sufficient milk production, or maybe their child is allergic to the ingredients in infant formula, so they seek an alternative: buying breast milk on the Internet.

“For an infant who is allergic to cow’s milk or failing to thrive because of formula, this is a huge public health problem.”

The FDA doesn’t approve. Breast milk purchased online isn’t always properly screened for infectious diseases, and it has a chance of being contaminated — with things like cow’s milk.

A study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics reveals 10 percent of breast milk purchased online is contaminated with cow’s milk. A team at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Ohio anonymously purchased 102 samples of milk advertised as breast milk online. They found 10 percent of bovine DNA in 10 of the samples.

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Low-Income Latinas Turn to Group Visits for Prenatal Care

Araceli eats fruit during a break following an exercise on healthy eating during a Centering Pregnancy group in San Francisco. (Deborah Svoboda/The World)

During a Centering Pregnancy group prenatal appointment in San Francisco, Araceli (left) eats fruit following an exercise on healthy eating. (Deborah Svoboda/The World)

Once a month, Irma Vásquez goes for prenatal check-ups at a clinic in San Francisco’s Mission District. But her appointment looks nothing like a doctor’s appointment. Instead of getting one-on-one care, she meets with 12 other Latina immigrants for a group visit.

Studies show group prenatal care leads to better birth outcomes.
The women meet at a community clinic and first take their own blood pressure, weigh themselves, and write down the results. Then they take turns seeing a midwife in a makeshift exam area in the corner of the room. The midwife checks each baby’s heart rate and talks privately with each woman.

Afterward they all sit in a circle and talk — in Spanish — about everything from eating healthy to dealing with domestic problems at home. Finally, there’s group meditation. Vásquez says this is her favorite part.

“It clears your mind of all the things that are going on around you, going on outside,” she says in Spanish. “It makes you more relaxed.” Continue reading

Even California’s Pre-School Age Kids Eating Fast Food Regularly

(EvelynGiggles/Flickr)

(EvelynGiggles/Flickr)

Two-thirds of children between the ages of two to five years old eat fast-food at least once a week in California, according to a study released Monday by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

The study gathered data from the 2007 and 2009 California Health Interview Survey and found that 60 percent of children are eating fast food at least once a week, and one in 10 is eating three fast food meals a week.

“That’s too high for me,” says Susan Holtby, the lead author of the study and a senior researcher at the Public Health Institute in Oakland. “To have that many children that young eating fast food every week calls for attention. Those are the years where you really set the pace and set the tone for what a child’s diet will be like going forward to teens years.” Continue reading

Distance a Barrier for Rural Californians with Health Problems

If you live in a small far-northern California town like Susanville, seen here, you may need to travel more than one hundred miles for health care. (ceiling/Flickr)

If you live in a small far-northern California town like Susanville, seen here, you may need to travel more than one hundred miles for health care. (ceiling/Flickr)

Editor’s Note: The barriers to getting health care can be bad enough in urban areas, where poverty, lack of insurance and cultural divides are serious barriers to care. But if you live in rural parts of California there’s a serious barrier of a different kind: distance. As part of our first-person series “What’s Your Story?” we hear from Kelly Frost of Redding about how the care you need may be hours away from your home.

Being on dialysis is tough enough without having to travel two or three hours each way just to get to the clinic. But when you live in the far reaches of Northern California, that is exactly what you must do. I sometimes sit with my wife when she does her dialysis treatment. We are lucky because we live only about 10 minutes away from the clinic in Redding. But every morning, the “remotes,” people who live on farms or in rural towns, climb into the mini-vans and come from Trinity County to the west; Mount Shasta, Weed, and Alturas to the North; and some from as far away as Susanville, near Reno.

They get up in the middle of the night, travel several hours, sometimes in bad weather, sit for treatment for three hours, and go home. Then in two days they do it all over again. When the weather turns, or there is an accident which closes the interstate, the problem compounds. Sometimes, they can’t get to Redding, or worse yet, they get here and can’t get home. Packing a lunch and three days of meds is standard fare for most. You’ve got to think ahead. Have a plan, a place to stay until the roads open. The dialysis center has some funds to help with a motel or a meal, but not much. Not for everyone, and not for more than a day. Continue reading

After Surviving Shooting, Oakland Youth Works to Prevent Violence

Caheri Gutierrez, before the shooting.

Caheri Gutierrez, before the shooting.

Last weekend was an especially violent one, even for Oakland. On Friday, four people were killed, and over the rest of the weekend, 11 people were shot, though not fatally. There were 126 homicides [PDF] in Oakland last year, cementing the city’s distinction as one of California’s more violent urban centers. Oakland certainly doesn’t have a lock on gun violence. Other cities like Stockton are struggling, too. But the situation in Oakland has been going on for some time now, and locals are giving a lot of thought to what it means to live under the constant threat of violence.

As part of KQED’s occasional series, “What’s Your Story,” Oakland native Caheri Gutierrez (pronounced “Carrie”) shares her story about working with at-risk high schools students after she herself was shot in the face as a teenager. Guiterrez is a Violence Prevention Educator for Youth Alive, an Oakland non-profit with a mission to prevent youth violence. Below are excerpts of my conversation with her:

“‘They shot you. They shot you.’ I touched my face and my hand just went inside of my face.”

“I was just in the car and all of a sudden I started to feel like I was getting electrified. It was really intense shocks from the top of my head to the bottom of my feet. The guy that was driving, my friend, starts screaming that he’s been shot. Continue reading

Quick Read: Elmo Inspires Kids to Eat More Apples

A new study from Cornell University finds that elementary school children were more likely to choose apples over cookies in school lunch lines when the apples had pictures of Elmo on them. My takeaway? I need to put Elmo stickers on beets so my fiance will start eating them.


It works for underwear: Just ask Spider-Man. And it’s “grrrrreat” for cereal, as Tony the Tiger can attest. So why not get Elmo to hawk apples? Turns out it could be good business.

Read more at: www.latimes.com

Bridging the Gap: Disparities in Mental Health Care for African-Americans

(Courtesy: African American Health Institute San Bernardino County)

(Courtesy: African American Health Institute San Bernardino County)

African-Americans in California are less likely than white people to get the mental health care they need. State public health officials have lacked a good road map on how to change those disparities, until now. A statewide study released today looks at ways to reduce disparities in mental health care for black Californians.

The report, commissioned by the California Department of Mental Health, sifted through more than a decade of literature on why African-Americans in California aren’t getting adequate mental health care. A major reason is poverty and all of the barriers to getting health care that come with it.

Diane Woods is the lead author of the study and the founding president of the African American Health Institute of San Bernardino County.

“It is unpleasant to admit, but some people do not receive appropriate services,” Woods said.

The Northern California city of Richmond is nearly 27 percent African American, and has many pockets of low-income neighborhoods. Anne Cevallos is a therapist at Rubicon, a nonprofit in Richmond that offers treatment and housing for people mental illnesses. She says her clients face multiple barriers to treatment.

“From a mental health perspective there could be triggers,” Cevallos said. “Not having enough to eat, domestic violence, neighborhood violence, never learning to cope.”

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Quick Read: California Schools Fall Short on School Lunches

Are California school lunch programs replete with full salad bars and grass-fed beef, or are you more likely to find a blob of Fritos chips with  a scoop of chili and cheese on your lunch tray? That all depends on which school district you’re in. California Watch did an analysis of school lunch programs and found that 60 percent of lunches reviewed by the state in the past five years didn’t meet at least one federal nutritional requirement. For more on school lunches, visit State of Health’s archives, and check out our community correspondent reports on school lunch programs in their cities.


Richard Hartog/California Watch Nearly one-third of California school districts reviewed by the state failed to limit saturated fat to 10 percent of lunch calories, as required. In fall 2008, state regulators began a routine analysis of the school lunches served in Wheatland, a rural community an hour north of Sacramento.

Read more at: californiawatch.org

Quick Read: A Documentary About AIDS In Black America

African-Americans make up about 13 percent of the U.S. population, but they account for almost half of HIV-infection cases in the country. An upcoming documentary by PBS FRONTLINE called Endgame: AIDS in Black America looks at this epidemic. Fresh Air’s Terry Gross spoke with the director, Renata Simone, and Robert Fullilove, a Columbia University professor and chairman of the HIV/AIDS advisory committee at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about the documentary. Fullilove told Fresh Air that when he started his work in the 1980s, about 20 percent people in the U.S. living with AIDS were African-American. “If we continue on the current trend in the year 2015, especially in the South, it will probably be the case that 5 to 6 percent of all African-American adults who are sexually active will be infected with the virus.”


Of the more than 1 million people in the U.S. infected with HIV, nearly half are black men, women and children – even though blacks make up about 13 percent of the population. AIDS is the primary killer of African-Americans ages 19 to 44, and the mortality rate is 10 times higher for black Americans than for whites.

Read more at: www.kqed.org