Category: Uncategorized

Kaiser Health News covers the Repeal of ACA

You couldn’t really make the case that the American health care has ever been easy to follow. Maybe, though, it’s more on your radar now, with the Trump administration’s promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act and impending changes on the horizon. With a very uncertain political climate, the need for effective health communication is evident because transparency and comprehension are key for informed decision-making.

One source that may prove informative is Kaiser Health News. They’re open to would-be health communicators sharing and spreading their stories (for free, so long as you credit them), and they’ve been especially attuned to changes in health care policy of late. In fact, their beat Repeal & Replace Watch monitors the progress of the new administration, providing policy updates peppered with analysis and data to explain them. Some pieces are originals, and others link to reputable sources, allowing for breadth as well as depth of coverage.

Well, so I bet you’re wondering, “What did the cover today?” A lot! But here’s what I read: In an article on the individual health insurance market, they explain legislation discussed in Congress today.  We’ve been hearing for a while that the Trump White House has no concrete plan to roll out a new health care infrastructure, but this is the first tangible sign of what might lie ahead. Basically, as explained by KHN author Julie Rovner,  insurers thought that consumers were taking advantage of the market by only buying coverage when needed it—which makes them a high risk population. The new rule makes it harder to buy coverage for only short periods of time, and gives insurers more flexibility. However, Rovner notes, there is concern as to whether the rule can be implemented in time for 2018 roll-outs, because insurers would need to decide by early may where they will opt to sell insurance for next year.

She goes on with details on how key market players, representing insurers as well as patients, and politicians responded this news (mixed responses, of course).

Along for the (Fluo) Ride

By Arshya Gurbani, M.A. candidate 2018

Fluoridated water, at the right amounts, is beneficial for our dental care. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s one of the ten greatest public health achievements of the 20th century! So why was it necessary for the Orange Water and Sewer Authority to shut down after a fluoridation leak (and water main break) last week? If you’re a resident of Chapel Hill or Carrboro wondering about the risks of “contaminated” water, questioning whether the closing of businesses and workplaces was a necessary loss of income, or if you’re just interested in the water you drink…look no further.

Here are 5 things you should know about the fluoridation of drinking water:

  • Fluoride has proven to be very effective in reducing tooth decay, in children and in adults (Centers for Disease Control)
  • It works by making your tooth enamel stronger which slows decay; it can also help reverse early tooth decay When you consume fluoride, it hangs out in your saliva and is bathes your pearly whites! (American Dental Association)
  • Recommended amounts of fluoride in drinking water are around 0.7 mg/liter—well below the identified danger zone of 2-4 mg/liter (Centers for Disease Control)
  • There’s no evidence that water at recommended levels in drinking water worsens or causes cancer (National Cancer Institute)
  • As of 2012, 75% of the U.S. Population had access to safe fluoridated water (American Dental Association).

On the other hand, there are some who believe that fluoride has no real benefits to adding fluoride to our water, and that in fact it may harm some populations, such as young infants. They note that most developed countries do not add any fluoride to their water, though some counter this by saying speculating that salt or other foods are supplemented.

So there is a bit of a debate on the subject. All things said, I’d be interested in knowing just how high fluoride levels got last week.

OWASA’s website posted this announcement, in case you’re local and are interested as well:

Customers are invited to receive information and to comment and ask questions about the water emergency in the OWASA Board of Directors’ meeting on Thursday, February 9th at 6 PM in the Chapel Hill Town Hall, 405 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

 

 

Hope for Rare Cancers with the Moonshot Program

by Emily Walsh, an advocate of the Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance

January 12th marks the one year anniversary since the start of the Cancer Moonshot Initiative under President Obama and headed by Vice President Joseph Biden. Similar to the “moonshot” that put a man on the moon in 1969, this plan hopes to achieve the seemingly insurmountable by finding a cure for cancer by the year 2020.

Since it was announced, companies and governmental organizations around the country have begun to form partnerships that will be critical to the Cancer Moonshot in the years to come. In September, the Blue Ribbon Panel, a group formed from industry professionals including cancer research, doctors, and patient advocates from both sides of the red tape came together and released their guidelines for the Cancer Moonshot. Their recommendations will pave the way for this initiative moving forward, and rare cancers like mesothelioma stand to benefit more than they usually would.

With an increased focus on immunotherapy, those who suffer from rare cancers that don’t typically react as favorably to traditional treatments will have more windows of opportunity to not only help themselves, but help others. As it stands, more funding for research, and volunteers for clinical trials are critical. Without the cross-organization improvements in communication fostered by the moonshot, this likely wouldn’t be possible.

Already, $4.8 billion has been promised over the next ten years for the National Institutes of Health, much of which will help support the drive for high-risk high-reward cancer research. As a rare disease, mesothelioma receives very little funding. Currently, 95% of rare diseases have no FDA approved treatment or cure. Any cancer, rare or common, stands to gain just as much from the continual support and drive of the Cancer Moonshot Initiative.

We look forward to what 2017 will bring for cancer patients and their families.

Meso Shield

 

 

 

 

 

The Mesothelioma Cancer Alliance is dedicated to sharing valid and up-to-date information with those whose lives have been affected by all types of cancer. Learn more about cancer treatments and potential advancements at their site here.

Take a Hike!

by Arshya Gurbani, M.A. candidate 2018

I know, I know—you don’t need a blog post to tell you that hiking comes with health benefits. No surprises there. Sometimes, though, it’s good to get a reminder to get outdoors and get moving! Consider this your friendly reminder, complete with serene photos, to lure you back outside as the weather warms up.

somewhere in North Carolina (courtesy of Unsplash)

somewhere in North Carolina (courtesy of Unsplash)

Hiking is essentially walking—a low impact sport that improves cardiovascular health, helps fight obesity and anxiety, and improves bone strength, as detailed by this nifty handout by the American Hiking Society.  Plus…you can challenge yourself on nature’s obstacle course of rocky surfaces, steep inclines, and slippery slopes. Just in case you’re not a walk in the park type of person.

A healthy mind is equally as important as a healthy body–being outdoors is restorative to mental and emotional health. When outdoors, you are exposed to fresh air, daylight, and beneficial organic compounds.  In fact, some say that outdoor activity should be medically prescribed!

Stone Mountain, Roaring Gap NC

Stone Mountain, Roaring Gap NC

So, if you can, here are a few suggestions to get hiking:

-Join a MeetUp—it’s a great option if you enjoy hiking in company, are terrified of getting woefully lost (yours truly), or are willing to car pool to a scenic location

-Plan a day out with friends—it’ll keep you accountable, and is a great way to catch up and enjoy the local beauty, without emptying your wallets

-Pack some water and snacks, walk out the door, and just keep walking—you don’t need to go far, chase high mountains or trudge through dense forests…just get outside and let your feet take you somewhere new.

Thanks for reading—now get outta here. Take a Hike!

somewhere near Jordan Lake, NC

somewhere near Jordan Lake, NC

Additional references:

Ewert AW, Mitten DS, Overholt JR. Natural Environments and Human Health. Wallingford, England: CABI; 2014.

Gatterer, H., et al. “Effect of weekly hiking on cardiovascular risk factors in the elderly.” Zeitschrift für Gerontologie und Geriatrie 48.2 (2015): 150-153.

Mitten, Denise, et al. “Hiking A Low-Cost, Accessible Intervention to Promote Health Benefits.” American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine (2016): 1559827616658229.

Wolf, Isabelle D., and Teresa Wohlfart. “Walking, hiking and running in parks: A multidisciplinary assessment of health and well-being benefits.” Landscape and Urban Planning 130 (2014): 89-103.

 

 

Gillings seminar on Advocacy for Public Health

By Arshya Gurbani, M.A. candidate 2018

On January 18th, I attended a timely panel on Advocacy for Public Health: Crafting Richer Message in a Turbulent Political Climate.  The event was hosted by the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health.  With inauguration just two days away and the results of the November election still freshly divisive, the subject drew me in. I was impressed by how well the panel worked together to present a unified theme: that public health unites individuals from various fields—law, faith, policy, and moral philosophy—to frame messages and taken action around shared interests. Each speaker made a point that set up the following speaker, in a way that is sometimes absent from panel-style presentations.

The panel included:

-Scott Buris, JD, Beasley School of Law, Temple University

-Gene Matthews, JD, Network for Public Health, UNC Chapel Hill

-Sue Lynn Ledford, RN BSN MPA DrPH, Director Wake County Public Health Division

-Dr. Gary Gunderson, VP FaithHealth Wake Forest Baptist Health

They spoke about the need for collaboration of ideas even in a technical field like law–inspiration comes from all sorts, even though strategy may be left to lawyers. They spoke to the fact that the political issues that polarize us are a small fraction of the ones around which we can unite. They discussed the spectrum of moral values (based on Jonathan Haidt’s Moral Foundation Theory, which identifies and explains 6 moral foundations that guide human decisions) and how it relates to political liberals and conservatives values and perceptions.

I’ve included a link to the lecture below, so I won’t get into the nitty gritty here. The key takeaway was that a message must resonate within a “moral community in stress” while preserving its institutions and traditions. What struck me most was the animation with which the speakers presented their points. Peppering in personal anecdotes throughout the panel, and staying back after the lecture to speak one-on-one with any curious participants…it was clear how invested each speaker was.

At one point, the novel Girl with a Dragon Tattoo was brought up as an example of the power of subconscious representative models–having never read the book, it went over my head, but I saw folks in the audience nodding in agreement at this revelation! Whether or not you agree with the views presented, it was refreshing to see a passionate panel and engaged audience talk through a nuanced subject.

Link to webinar:

 

 

 

 

 

The ‘battle’ of fast-food vs. fast-casual

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

Taco Bell vs. Chipotle. Subway vs. Panera. Grabbing food on the fly is inevitable. But how do you decide where to go or what to eat? What might make you choose fast-food (think McDonald’s) or fast-casual (think Five Guys)? People often perceive that fast-casual restaurants are healthier than fast-food, but are they? [Note: the true answer to that question depends on how you define ‘healthier’.]

Today we’ll look at a recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics that focused on the caloric content of lunch and dinner entrees at fast-food and fast-casual restaurants to see if there was in fact a difference.

To some people’s surprise, and perhaps disappointment, fast-casual entrees used in this sample were found to contain more calories than the fast-food entrees.

So what?

Calories are not the end-all-be-all to healthy, but they are an important part of the energy balance equation. And with a growing number of people dining out more often, it’s important to recognize that our choices over time add up.

Be wary of those health food halos. Buzzwords, claims, or pictures can make a food appear healthier than it really is.

halo-20817_960_720

Instead – ask questions or look up information. Thanks to legislation in 2010, chain restaurants are required to make their nutrition information available.

If your go-to meal isn’t as healthy or low-calorie as you thought, here are some suggestions of healthier alternatives from 10 of the most popular chains.

 

Resources:

Schoffman DE, Davidson CR, Hales SB, Crimarco AE, Dahl AA, Turner-McGrievy GM. The fast-casual conundrum: fast-casual restaurant eentrees are higher in calories than fast food. J Acad Nutr Diet. 2016 Oct; 116(101):1606-12.

Study Drugs Limitless? More Like Limited: Know the Risks

By: Shauna Ayres MPH: Health Behavior candidate 2017

There has been much attention on the opioid and heroin epidemic in the last several years. Appalachian states in particular have suffered a great deal from a sharp rise in addiction and overdoses caused by opioid drugs. However, like many other addictive behaviors, there is silent rise in rates of “study drugs” on college campuses across the nation. Study drugs are prescription drugs, such as Adderall, Ritalin, and Vyvanse, that are used to treat Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Those with ADHD suffer from a brain abnormality that causes difficulties in concentration and increases impulsivity; but, college students without ADHD are using them to increase focus, sleep less, or do more academic, professional, and/or social activities.

The strong marketing and pressure by drug companies to prescribe and sell new ADHD drugs has resulted in more youth being diagnosed with this disorder and more prescriptions being written. There are currently 2.5 million Americans prescribed ADHD drugs and manufacturing of prescription stimulants has increased by 9 million percent in the past decade! I think the real questions are: Do more Americans suffer from ADHD? Or, has American’s need for drugs increased? The sad reality is that the more drugs available, the more opportunities there are to abuse those drugs.

It is estimated up to one third of college students have used study drugs. Common characteristics of users include being white, belonging to a fraternity or sorority, and having a grade point average of a B or lower. Interestingly, these drugs may keep students awake longer, but do not increase cognitive ability or capacity, or said another way, they do not make students smarter and are not like the magic pills in the movie Limitless. Most college students report getting or buying these types of drugs from a friend or peer with ADHD and a legit prescription.

Just because a drug is approved by the FDA, does not mean it does not have side effects, especially if it was prescribed to someone other than the person actually consuming it–every drug comes with risks. Some of the more common consequences of ADHD stimulant drugs are increased blood pressure, irregular heart rate, restlessness, anxiety, nervousness, paranoia, headache, dizziness, insomnia, dry mouth, changes in appetite, diarrhea, constipation, and changes in sex drive. Hallucinations, cardiac arrest, and death have been reported among people with prior heart conditions. In addition, ADHD stimulants are classified as a schedule II drug due to being highly addictive and the suggested sentence for distribution of schedule II drugs is 20 years in prison and a fine of 1 million dollars.

So, if you are using or considering using these types of drugs, please seek support from Campus Health Services or another health professional.

If you have these drugs for ADHD, do not share them with others. Here is a link to ways to “Protect Your Prescription”.

Resources

Cherney, Kristeen (2014). ADHD Medications List. Healthline. http://www.healthline.com/health/adhd/medication-list#Stimulants2

University of Texas at Austin, University Health Services. HealthyHorns: Study Drugs. https://healthyhorns.utexas.edu/studydrugs.html

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Campus Health Services: Home. https://campushealth.unc.edu/

Drug Enforcement Administration. Federal Trafficking Penalties for Schedules I, II, III, IV, and V (except Marijuana): https://www.dea.gov/druginfo/ftp_chart1.pdf

Center on Young Adult Health and Development (n.d.) Nonmedical Use of Prescription Stimulants: What college administrators, parents, and student need to know. University of Maryland School of Public Health. http://medicineabuseproject.org/assets/documents/NPSFactSheet.pdf

Aberg, Simon Essig (2016). “Study Drug” Abuse by College Students: What you need to know. National Center for Health Research. http://center4research.org/child-teen-health/hyperactivity-and-adhd/study-drug-abuse-college-students/