Living Healthy

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Vaccine Opt-Out Rate at Son’s School is 32% — ‘Should I Freak Out?’

(Jeff J. Mitchell: Getty Images)

(Jeff J. Mitchell: Getty Images)

Statewide, there has been a dramatic increase in parents choosing not to vaccinate their children. The rate of parents opting out by filing what’s called a “personal belief exemption,” or PBE, doubled over seven years.

Parents check a school’s test scores in advance. Why not vaccine rates?

Earlier this month, State of Health published a chart where people could look up any elementary school in California and see the PBE rate at their children’s schools.

Hours after we published, Cosmo Garvin of Sacramento sent me a tweet. “Really nice work,” the tweet said. “But just found out PBE rate at my kid’s school is 32 percent. Should I freak out?”

Thirty-two percent. That means one in three kids is not vaccinated.

Assessing Risk to Your Own Child Continue reading

At Native American Health Center, the Prescription Is Vegetables

Fresh Approach staffers chop a variety of fruits and vegetables for today’s summer salad. “We tried to choose one of every color,” says Laura deTar, Nutrition Program Manager for Fresh Approach. “We want to expose people to things they may not have had.” (Brittany Patterson, KQED)

Fresh Approach staffers chop a variety of fruits and vegetables for today’s summer salad. “We tried to choose one of every color,” says Laura deTar, Nutrition Program Manager for Fresh Approach. “We want to expose people to things they may not have had.” (Brittany Patterson, KQED)

By Brittany Patterson

In Oakland’s Fruitvale neighborhood, 20 people sit inside a colorful classroom at the Native American Health Center. They listen attentively as Leah Ricci gives a lecture on the merits of fiber and where to get it. As far as lectures on fiber are concerned, this one is pretty rousing.

“I didn’t like vegetables and fruit, but now we’re all eating more of them.”

“Can anyone name some foods that are high in fiber?” she asks.

Immediately the participants begin to throw out suggestions.

“Beans. Apples. Greens. Seeds.”

“What do all of these foods have in common?” Ricci asks.

“They all come from plants,” shouts out Paula Marie Parker.

Parker and the others are all students in a program at the Native American Health Center called VeggieRx, which teaches participants about nutrition and the merits of incorporating more fruits and vegetables and physical activity in their lives and the lives of their families. Continue reading

Oakland Kids to be Offered Free Flu Shots Right at Their Schools

The Shoo the Flu mascot helps spread the word on the importance of the flu vaccine at the Old Oakland Farmers Market earlier this month. (Lisa Alifers/KQED)

The Shoo the Flu mascot helps spread the word on the upcoming school flu shot campaign at the Old Oakland Farmers Market earlier this month. (Lisa Alifers/KQED)

Children at more than 100 Oakland schools are eligible for free flu shots this fall as part of a new program aimed at protecting children and the broader community against influenza. All pre-K students through fifth grade at public, private, charter and parochial schools are eligible. At some schools, students through sixth or eighth grade may participate.

Children at any Oakland school, public or private, are eligible for the free vaccines, if their parents consent.

It’s all part of Shoo the Flu, a collaboration between the Alameda County Public Health Department, the California Department of Public Health and the Oakland Unified School District.

“It’s important to vaccinate young children to help protect the whole community,” said Dr. Erica Pan, deputy health officer with the Alameda County Public Health Department. Last year there were 100,000 illnesses related to flu, she said. Direct and indirect costs of the illness, including parents missing work to care for sick children, range from $123 million to $240 million per year.

Continue reading

S.F. Supervisor Wiener Announces He’s Taking HIV Preventive Drug

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener (left) says he started taking a drug to prevent HIV infection earlier this year. (Lisa Aliferis/KQED)

San Francisco Supervisor Scott Wiener publicly announced Wednesday afternoon that he is taking Truvada, an FDA-approved drug that dramatically reduces the risk of HIV infection. He appears to the be the first public official to make such an announcement.

“My hope is that by disclosing my PrEP use… I can get more people thinking about PrEP as a possibility.”  

Wiener said he began taking the medication earlier this year. This preventive approach is also referred to as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP.

“I am using PrEP as a personal health choice that I made in consultation with my physician,” he said in an interview at his office at City Hall. “My hope is that by disclosing my PrEP use publicly that I can help move the conversation forward and get more people thinking about PrEP as a possibility, and encouraging people to consult with their medical provider.”

Truvada combines two different drugs into a single pill that, when taken daily, can reduce the risk of HIV infection by more than 90 percent. It was approved by the FDA in 2012, and was developed by the Foster City company Gilead. Both the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization recommend its use by people who are at high risk of HIV infection. Still, it is the subject of debate, especially within the gay community. Continue reading

Put Down the Heating Pad: Physical Therapists Say It Doesn’t Help

Physical therapy is about being, well, physical, new guidelines say. (Getty Images)

Physical therapy is about being, well, physical, new guidelines say. (Getty Images)

By Nancy Shute, NPR

I have fond memories of listening to NPR while lounging at the physical therapist’s with a heating pad on my shoulder. Don’t do that, the nation’s physical therapists’ association says.

Heat therapy, electrical stimulation, ultrasound and other “passive physical agents” almost never help, according to a list released Monday by the Choosing Wisely campaign. Instead, they siphon time and money away from what you really want from a physical therapist — an exercise program that will restore strength and mobility.

Well, this is certainly going to make physical therapy less restful.

But seeing as I’ve been to several physical therapists over the years and they’ve all used this stuff, the fact that the American Physical Therapy Association put passive physical agents on top of their list of things not to do seems like big news. Continue reading

Our Vaccine Database Methodology

By Olivia Allen-Price and Lisa Aliferis

Entering kindergarteners in California are required by state law to be vaccinated against a range of diseases. While the overwhelming majority of children are vaccinated, some parents opt-out of vaccines for their children. In California, this “personal belief exemption rate” (PBE) has doubled over seven years.

State of Health published a database where people can look up any school in the state to see the PBE rate for its kindergarteners.

We obtained data from the state from its kindergarten assessment of vaccination rates which is conducted each fall. The data shown in our post cover seven years, from the 2007-2008 school year through the 2013-2014 school year, the most recent year for which survey data are available. More than 500,000 children at 8,220 public, private and parochial kindergartens in California are included in the survey annually. The assessment is done at the school level and reported to local health departments and to the state. Continue reading

Vaccine Opt-Out Rate Doubled in 7 Years; Look Up Your School Online

By Olivia Allen-Price and Lisa Aliferis

California law requires that children entering kindergarten be fully vaccinated against a range of diseases. But despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, the rate of parents opting out of vaccines for their children has doubled since 2007.

To opt out, parents must file a personal belief exemption, or PBE, a signed statement that vaccines are against their personal beliefs. In the 2007-2008 school year, the statewide PBE rate was 1.56 percent. By 2013-2014, the most recent year statistics are available, the rate had jumped to 3.15 percent.

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PBE rates vary by county and by individual school. In the Bay Area, Marin has the highest PBE rate by far — 7.57 percent. (Marin was highest in the Bay Area last year too.) The PBE rate at private schools tends to be higher, overall, then that at public schools. In the 2013-2014 school year, only 85 percent of private school kindergarten students statewide were fully vaccinated when school started, compared to about 90 percent of public school students. Other students enter on “conditional” status, meaning the school is to follow up with these children to make sure they receive all their vaccines.
Continue reading

Searching for Happiness? Look for Meaning, Not Money

Happiness is about social ties, say experts, like hiking in the woods with friends. (Loren Kerns/Flickr)

Happiness is about social ties and experiences, say experts, like hiking in the woods with friends. (Loren Kerns/Flickr)

By Lynne Shallcross

Do a quick search for “happiness” in Amazon books, and you’ll find more than 40,000 results. That’s a lot of people writing about happiness — and, presumably, a lot of people looking to find it.

“It’s typically not things or stuff, but experiences and relationships and the less tangible things in life.”

If you’re one of those people looking, you should know that finding happiness doesn’t mean you have to be cheerful and upbeat all the time. There’s more than one way to get there. Experts say even pessimists can be happy.

“There are a lot of things that we think will make us happy and don’t,” says Christine Carter, a sociologist at U.C. Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and author of the book “Raising Happiness.”

“In fact,” Carter says, “we are, as human beings, particularly bad at predicting what will make us happy. We think that we’re going to be much happier if we’re living in a bigger house or driving a different type of car or those really cute new shoes are going to make us happy.” Continue reading

West Nile Virus Infections in California at All-Time High (Map of Cases by County)

westnilevirus

West Nile virus is hosted primarily by birds — and spread by mosquitos. (Getty Images)

West Nile Virus infections in mosquitoes are at their highest recorded level ever in California. Last week, 52 new human cases were reported, bringing the total to 181.

Eight people have died from the illness.

“If you’re out there at a time of day when the mosquitoes are out — particularly at dawn and dusk — the risk of being bitten with an infected mosquito is higher than it’s been in the past,” said James Watt of the California Department of Public Health. Continue reading

Infants Given Sugar-Sweetened Beverages at Higher Risk for Obesity

Babies should only be given breastmilk or infant formula, unless directed differently by a doctor. (Christopher Lance/Flickr)

Babies should only be given breastmilk or infant formula, unless directed differently by a doctor. (Christopher Lance/Flickr)

By Brian Lau 

Were you at a Labor Day barbecue last weekend? Did you drink soda? Sweet tea? Or maybe vitamin water? Sugar-sweetened drinks are a known risk factor for obesity, and according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one in four American adults consumes at least one sugar-sweetened beverage every day.

Now, two new studies published Tuesday in the journal Pediatrics found that 80 percent of 6-year-olds drank sugar-sweetened beverages on a regular basis. (The studies can be found here and here.)

And here’s the kicker: researchers found that 25 percent of infants also were given sugar-sweetened beverages at some point, and this consumption can be associated with health problems later.

One of the studies’ main findings was that babies given sugar-sweetened drinks during the first 6 months of life had a 92 percent greater risk of obesity by the time they were 6-years-old versus babies who were never given such drinks. Continue reading