Community Health

From rural California to urban neighborhoods, where you live affects your health

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FDA Proposes Lifting Lifetime Ban on Gay Blood Donors

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

The Food and Drug Administration is proposing a policy change that would end a 31-year ban on blood donations from men who have sex with men. The ban was put in place at the dawn of the AIDS epidemic when little was understood about the disease. Under the proposed change, gay men who have not had sexual contact in a year would be allowed to donate blood.

In a statement, the FDA said that “it will take the necessary steps to recommend a change to the blood donor deferral period for men who have sex with men from indefinite deferral to one year since the last sexual contact.” Officials say the change is motivated by research. Australia, Japan and the United Kingdom already have similar policies in place.

The FDA has been considering the move for some time. Earlier this month, Ryan James Yezak with the National Gay Blood Drive told KQED that he thought that any ban was discriminatory, but said that the move toward one year, instead of a lifetime ban, was a step in the right direction. Continue reading

Challenges to Mainstream Health Care in Oakland’s Underserved Communities

Sownai Saetern and Jan Tracie check blood pressures as Kimberly Nichole waits in line at the EOLA Health Fair in Oakland. (Adizah Eghan/KQED)

Sownai Saetern and Jan Tracie check blood pressures as Kimberly Nichole waits in line at a health fair in Oakland, put on by nursing students at Samuel Merritt University. (Adizah Eghan/KQED)

By Adizah Eghan

It’s not your normal health care setting: Reggaeton is thumping from a space where people are doing Zumba. Food is available – for free.

“He’s a white doctor, he just wouldn’t understand,” one woman’s grandmother told her.

It’s the annual health fair held at the East Oakland Leadership Academy, a charter school serving inner-city K-8 students. The health fair is organized by nursing students at Samuel Merritt University, and it serves a dual purpose: serving the Oakland community and recruiting people of color to SMU’s nursing programs. The federal government classifies East Oakland as a medically underserved area.

Foot traffic is low, but the fair is filled with liveliness. For the past 11 years, EOLA has provided food and health care to the community through events like this fair.

“Health is always a concern for us” says Laura Armstrong, EOLA’s founder and executive director. “Getting the information out to everybody and providing a local place close in the neighborhood for them to come is just something that we do. It’s all about the community.” Continue reading

Berkeley Recruits ‘Panel of Experts’ for Soda Tax Implementation

(Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

(Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images)

Last month, voters in Berkeley made the city the first in the country to pass a tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. On Monday, the city moved forward on implementing one of the  requirements of the measure, staffing its “panel of experts.”

Berkeley is soliciting applications for people to serve on this panel, which will advise the City Council on “how and to what extent the City should establish and/or fund programs to reduce the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages in Berkeley.”

In other words, the panel will advise the council on how to spend the soda tax revenue. Continue reading

Video: San Francisco Homeless Veterans Get Permanent Place to Live

By Katie Brigham

At 58 years old, Clarence Cook finally has a place of his own to call home.

Living on the streets of San Francisco since 1997, the Army veteran has been in and out of jail for more than three decades while battling a heroin addiction.

Today, Cook has been clean for six months. Earlier this month, he become one of the first 30 residents to move into 250 Kearny — a single-room-occupancy property on the edge of San Francisco’s Financial District that has been newly renovated to house 130 homeless veterans. Continue reading

Video: Meet 72-Year-Old Rollerblader Frank Hernandez


Editor’s note: For seniors, exercise is an important way to prevent injury and retain independence. But it can be difficult to come up with a routine that works for you. Frank Hernandez of the Central Valley town of Delano solved that problem by turning to rollerblading. He’s now 72 and shows no sign of stopping. We visited the skatepark with Hernandez as part of our community health series Vital Signs.

By Frank Hernandez

When I first started I would rollerblade the skate paths, then I said, “I need more than this.”

I used to look at the X-Games, and I saw the rollerbladers back then in the 90’s, and I said, “Oh, I’m going to do that someday.” Continue reading

Whooping Cough Infections Unusually High Among Latino Babies

Babies get their first whooping cough vaccine at 2 months. (Kenneth Pornillos/World Bank via Flickr)

Babies get their first whooping cough vaccine at 2 months. (Kenneth Pornillos/World Bank via Flickr)

By April Dembosky

Public health officials are trying to understand why Latino babies are contracting whooping cough at much higher rates than other babies.

California is battling the worst whooping cough epidemic in 70 years. Nearly 10,000 cases have been reported in the state so far this year, and babies are especially prone to hospitalization or even death.

Six out of 10 infants who have become ill during the current outbreak are Latino. Evidence explaining this is inconclusive, but experts have a few theories that range from a lack of Spanish language outreach to Latino cultural practices. Continue reading

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.

Continue reading

Study: Western States Eliminate Race Gap on Key Health Measures

Researchers looked at how effectively patients had their blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol controlled. (Getty Images)

Researchers looked at how effectively patients had their blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol controlled. (Getty Images)

A major new study looking at health disparities across the U.S. finds that significant gaps in managing heart disease and diabetes persist — except in Western states, where the gap has been eliminated.

‘It’s possible to eliminate deeply ingrained racial disparities.’
Researchers at the University of Michigan and Harvard University looked at 100,000 Medicare patients who were enrolled in HMOs, called “Medicare Advantage” plans, from 2006 to 2011. While management of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar improved overall, blacks “substantially” trailed whites everywhere except the Western U.S., an area from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific, as well as Alaska and Hawaii.

“We were certainly hoping we would see indications of progress in eliminating disparities in the country as a whole,” said lead author Dr. John Ayanian, who heads the Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation at the University of Michigan. He said that while it was “disappointing” that disparities persisted, “it’s also heartening to see that … in the West, the disparities had been eliminated, and that was both surprising and encouraging.” Continue reading

Despite New Federal Rules, California Likely to Stay with Healthy School Lunches

Elementary students at a northern California school at the fruit and salad bar. (Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)

Elementary students at a northern California school at the fruit and salad bar. (Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)

By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource

California’s enthusiasm for healthy school lunches appears unlikely to change under a Congressional budget bill headed to President Barack Obama for signature that would allow states to weaken new federal school nutrition requirements.

The changes to the regulations for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 – part of a $1.1 trillion budget agreement passed on Saturday – are the latest in a heated conflict over the new National School Lunch Program menus, which call for increased servings of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and reductions in fats and sodium.

The bill would exempt some schools from the requirement that they serve only breads and pastas that are “whole grain rich,” meaning they are at least 50 percent whole grain. To receive an exemption, schools must show evidence of “hardship, including financial hardship” in obtaining 50 percent whole grain foods that are “acceptable to students.” The bill also would keep sodium restrictions at current levels until “the latest scientific research establishes the reduction is beneficial for children.” The language referring to the exemptions begins on page 99 of the lengthy spending bill. Continue reading

Schools Provide Vision Testing — Eyeglasses A Bigger Challenge

(Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource)

San Jose student receives eye exam from nonprofit “Vision to Learn.” (Jane Meredith Adams/EdSource Today)

By Jane Meredith Adams, EdSource Today

It was a good week for the 90 students at Merritt Trace Elementary School in San Jose who climbed into a mobile eye exam van and emerged with the promise of a free pair of eyeglasses. But for thousands of students across the state who need glasses but don’t have them, it was another blurry week of not seeing the blackboard or the letters in a book.

Effective Jan. 1, two new state laws will clarify and expand the protocol for mandatory vision screening of students. But they don’t address the crux of a major children’s health conundrum: ensuring that students who fail the vision test actually get eyeglasses.

As many as one in four students in kindergarten through 12th grade has a vision problem, but in some California schools, the majority of students in need of glasses don’t receive them, researchers said. One study of 11,000 low-income first-graders in Southern California found that 95 percent of students who needed eyeglasses didn’t have them, one year after their mandatory kindergarten vision screening.

“You would hope that the problems would have been caught,” said Dr. Anne Coleman, a co-author of the study and an ophthalmologist at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute. Continue reading