Among other issues, physical education programs and recess have been cut back in recent years because of budget cuts, (Getty Images)
By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource
Only one in three California students earned a “fit” rating in the annual physical fitness test given to more than 1 million fifth, seventh and ninth grade students, according to 2012-13 test results released Wednesday.
About 26 percent of fifth graders, 32 percent of seventh graders, and 37 percent of ninth graders scored in the “Healthy Fitness Zone,” a measure defined by the creators of the California Physical Fitness Test, for all six areas: aerobic capacity, body composition, abdominal strength, trunk extensor strength, upper body strength, and flexibility.
In the test, a 10-year-old boy, for example, would be evaluated on his ability to perform a minimum of 12 curl-ups and seven push-ups within a specified time and to run a mile as fast as possible, or run back and forth in a 20-meter distance for as long as possible. Students 13 and older are given the option of walking a mile as fast as possible. Continue reading
Arizona Green Tea is popular with teens, but this 23 ounce can has 51 grams — or more than one-third of a cup — of sugar. (Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)
By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource
As the clock ticks toward a 2014 federal ban on the sale of sports drinks at high schools, California teenagers are showing an increasing fondness for the sugary beverages, with an alarming 23 percent spike in the consumption of sports and energy drinks since 2005, according to a new study.
At the same time, consumption of sugary drinks by young children is declining sharply, according to the study by researchers at the California Center for Public Health Advocacy and the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research. The study tracked youth consumption of the beverages from 2005 to 2012.
Both trends – the surge in teens guzzling sugary drinks and the drop in consumption for younger children – are tied to regulations governing the sale of the beverages in California schools, said Harold Goldstein, executive director of the California Center for Public Health Advocacy.
“Taking sodas out of schools contributed to a precipitous drop in consumption among younger kids,” he said, “while older kids have switched to sports drinks and energy drinks, and those products are available in schools.” Continue reading
Exposure to ultraviolet tanning devices before age 30 increases the risk of skin cancer by 75 percent. (Evil Erin/Flickr)
By Angela Hart
California was the first state to ban people under 18-years-old from using tanning salons, and now new research takes a look at how well the law is working.
In the study researchers, including a team at UC San Francisco, surveyed hundreds of tanning salons and found roughly three-quarters of them were adhering with key aspects of the law, although many also misrepresented health benefits of indoor tanning.
“The good news was that the majority of salons were complying with the law,” said Jack Resneck, the study’s senior author and an associate professor of dermatology at UCSF. “The bad news was that we got rampant misinformation — a lot of which is prohibited by law.”
Resneck said tanning beds can have significant health consequences for young people. Exposure to ultraviolet tanning devices before age 30 increases the risk of skin cancer by 75 percent, and nationally, the tanning industry aggressively targets minors in advertising.
The researchers said that despite what they called clear evidence of cancer risk, “indoor tanning remains popular in the United States.”
Nationwide, more than 3.5 million cases of skin cancer are diagnosed each year, according to the study. Continue reading
Most people can save their money and skip the Vitamin D supplements. (Getty Images)
By Nancy Shute, NPR
It’s not easy being a wonder vitamin these days. Just when it looks like you’re the solution to every health problem, some doctors come along and burst your bubble. Now it’s happening to vitamin D.
The supplement has been widely promoted to prevent osteoporosis and fight a host of other ills. But recent studies haven’t found much benefit, for bones or for general health.
This latest review looks at 23 randomized controlled trials involving more than 4,000 people to study vitamin D’s effect on bones. Vitamin D, which is converted into a hormone by the body, makes it easier for us absorb calcium in the intestines. So it’s easy to presume that more “D” would lead to stronger bones.
But this review found that for middle-aged people, taking vitamin D supplements for two years didn’t affect bone mineral density in the spine, hip, arm bone and skeleton overall. They did find increased bone density in the neck of the femur bone, where it often breaks in the elderly. The review also found no relation between bone density and taking calcium supplements, people’s overall vitamin D levels, length of treatment or age. Continue reading
Intrauterine devices are one of the most effective forms of birth control, but are relatively underutilized, at least in the United States.(Spike Mafford/Getty Images)
By Dana Farrington, NPR
What will it take to make intrauterine devices sexy?
IUDs are highly effective forms of contraception, but fear of side effects, lack of training for doctors and costs can keep women away. Health organizations and private companies are trying to change that by breaking down misconceptions and broadening access.
The contraceptives are inserted into the uterus and can prevent pregnancy for years. And they’re reversible. Shortly after they’re taken out, a woman can become pregnant.
IUDs are more than 99 percent effective. The World Health Organization reports they are “the most widely used reversible contraceptive method globally.” But few women in the U.S. use them; the percentage is only in the single digits, in part because IUDs have a checkered past. The Dalkon Shield IUD, marketed nationwide beginning in 1971, was found to raise the risk of pelvic inflammatory disease. Medical complications and deaths sparked lawsuits with thousands of claimants. Continue reading
(Photo: USDAgov via Flickr)
By Eleanor Yang Su, The Center for Investigative Reporting
Almost everything about a school cafeteria meal has a regulation. The federal government caps the amount of fat and salt in breakfasts and lunches. It sets minimum standards for servings of fruit, vegetables, grains, milk and meat.
But one widely used and often-overused product has no official limits: sugar.
As Congress faces increased scrutiny over subsidies to the sugar industry, nutritionists and anti-obesity crusaders are focusing on the amount of sugar in school meals – and asking whether regulations governing school lunches deliberately exclude limits on sugar to favor a powerful industry.
Recent research shows that sugar levels in school meals are more than double what is recommended for the general public. Elementary school lunch menus contain 115 percent of the recommended daily calories from added sugars and fats, according to a November study by the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. Middle school and high school lunch menus also are sugar- and fat-heavy, averaging between 59 and 74 percent of the recommended amounts.
About 1 in 5 school lunch menus includes dessert, the federal study said. The most common are cookies, cakes and brownies, some of which are counted as grain requirements. Other popular options are fruit with gelatin, ice cream and pudding. Continue reading
By Angela Hart
Who knew playing video games might be good for you?
A provocative new study from researchers at UC San Francisco shows that playing a specially designed video game increased the ability to multitask for people in their 60s, 70s and 80s.
Adam Gazzaley of UCSF’s Neuroscience Imaging Center led the study. He recruited 174 people over 60 to play NeuroRacer, a custom-built game that forced participants to navigate winding roads, quickly turn left and right, go uphill and downhill — and then click a button whenever a distracting green sign pops up. Take a look:
The participants played the video game three times a week for a month and improved cognitive functions of the brain, not only in multitasking but also in paying attention for longer time spans. In fact, they improved so much that they reached the level of an untrained 20-year-old. This is the first time this kind of improvement has been demonstrated, the researchers noted in their study.
Gazzaley explained more on KQED’s “Forum” recently. He said the idea is to identify the brain’s “plasticity,” meaning its ability to change even as it ages — a concept that brain researchers haven’t always thought possible. Continue reading
The full implementation of Obamacare and (potentially) millions more insured is now just over 100 days away, on Jan. 1. Questions abound: Will young, healthy people really sign up? How much will my premium be? How does the Affordable Care Act work anyway?
Floating around in all those Obamacare discussions is another question: Who is going to treat all the newly insured? After all, we already have a shortage of primary care doctors. Out of 7 million uninsured in the state, Covered California estimates 1.4 million people could sign up for insurance next year. Plus another 1.4 million people will be newly eligible for Medi-Cal.
To address this question, San Francisco’s Commonwealth Club invited me to moderate a discussion about the shortage of primary care providers. Kevin Grumbach, a family physician and co-director at UC San Francisco’s Center for Excellence in Primary Care, started off by defining the subject at hand. Continue reading
By Olivia Hubert-Allen and Lisa Aliferis
Despite the overwhelming medical evidence that childhood vaccinations are exceptionally effective at preventing disease, a growing number of parents are opting out of having their children vaccinated. While state law requires that children be fully vaccinated to enter kindergarten, California parents can get around this requirement simply by filing a personal belief exemption, or PBE, a signed statement saying that vaccines are counter to their beliefs.
PBE rates vary across the state, including by county (Marin has the highest personal belief exemption rate in the Bay Area at 7.8 percent), and also by individual school. The California Department of Public Health compiles vaccination rates and PBE rates statewide. Below, we’ve made it easy for you to look up your own child’s school and see what the PBE rate is. You can also look at the data by county, city or school district. (PBE data for some schools was not provided.)
The column to the far right — “%PBE” — shows the percentage of children at a kindergarten with a personal belief exemption on file. Ideally, that number should be zero, as it is at many schools statewide. Look up your child’s school in the search box:
By Ryder Diaz
Kaiser Permanente wants to know what’s lurking in their hospitals’ mattresses. Mattresses are often treated with brominated flame retardants. And these chemicals usually don’t stay put. They leak into the air or cling to specks of dust and enter our bodies.
“Flame retardants can be quite toxic. They accumulate in the environment and in our fat cells,” said Kathy Gerwig, vice president and environmental stewardship officer at Kaiser.
Certain beds may contain vinyl or other plastics that when produced or destroyed can release toxins into the environment.
The Environmental Protection Agency is currently reviewing the safety of these chemicals, which have been linked to increased cancer risk and other health issues.
Gerwig’s team is trying to figure out what’s in their stock. If they prove to be harmful, swapping out hospital beds is bound to be a big undertaking. “We have a lot of mattress,” she said. But if necessary, it’s a task Gerwig would embrace.
Kaiser hospitals are among more than 100 private and public hospitals in California that are moving toward more sustainable practices for their facilities, said Laura Wenger, executive director of Practice Greenhealth. Continue reading