Category Archives: Prevention

Increased physical activity associated with lower risk of 13 types of cancer

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Running shoes full shotFrom the National Institutes of Health

A new study of the relationship between physical activity and cancer has shown that greater levels of leisure-time physical activity were associated with a lower risk of developing 13 different types of cancer.

The risk of developing seven cancer types was 20 percent (or more) lower among the most active participants (90th percentile of activity) as compared with the least active participants (10th percentile of activity). Continue reading

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Will Seattle’s gun tax survive court challenge?

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Mike Coombs, the owner of an outdoor store in Seattle, opposes the city’s gun tax. But city leaders say it will fund medical research on reducing gun violence.

Mike Coombs, the owner of an outdoor store in Seattle, opposes the city’s gun tax. But city leaders say it will fund medical research on reducing gun violence.

By Elaine S. Povich
Stateline

SEATTLE — To Mike Coombs, owner of the Outdoor Emporium, a hunting, fishing and camping store, Seattle’s gun tax is unfair and aimed at driving him out of the city, if not out of business. To Seattle City Councilor Tim Burgess, the tax is a good way to fund medical research on reducing gun violence injuries.

The two represent the opposing poles in the debate over Seattle’s controversial tax on guns and ammunition that took effect Jan. 1 and puts this city at the center of a dispute over whether municipalities can tax firearms to pay for what they see as a public benefit or states alone have the power to regulate and tax guns.

The dispute, which emerged briefly last year in Baltimore and continues in Cook County, Illinois, involves issues such as whether the taxes are designed to suppress gun sales or drive sales out of a city or county, and whether gun violence is a public health issue that justifies taxes on firearms and ammunition to help pay for their consequences in the same fashion as taxes on cigarettes and alcohol.

Here — where the city collects a $25 tax on every gun sale and between 2 cents and a nickel on every round of ammunition, depending on the caliber — Burgess and Coombs are equally wedded to their positions.

The $300,000 to $500,000 that the tax is expected to raise this year is earmarked to fund a study of gunshot victims, including medical and behavioral interventions, by the University of Washington and Harborview Hospital’s trauma center, which treats most of the city’s gunshot victims. Continue reading

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UnitedHealth tries boutique-style health plan

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Harken Health members get free yoga at the clinic. (Phil Galewitz/KHN

By Phil Galewitz
Kaiser Health News

AUSTELL, Ga. — UnitedHealthcare is betting $65 million that it can profit by making primary care more attractive.

With little fanfare, the nation’s largest health insurer launched an independent subsidiary in January that offers unlimited free doctor visits and 24/7 access by phone. Every member gets a personal health coach to nudge them toward their goals, such as losing weight or exercising more. Mental health counseling is also provided, as are yoga, cooking and acupuncture classes. Services are delivered in stylish clinics with hardwood floors and faux fireplaces in their lobbies.

Harken Health is available only in Chicago and Atlanta, where it covers 35,000 members who signed up this winter on the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchanges. UnitedHealth still sells traditional plans in those cities, too.

The plan spends twice as much on primary care as the average insurer,

Harken’s lush operation might seem puzzling for a cost-conscious company such as UnitedHealthcare, which said in November it lost hundreds of millions of dollars on its Obamacare plans in 2015 and threatened to drop out of the exchanges in 2017.

But it’s not crazy. Health care analysts say Harken demonstrates the insurer’s search for a better way to provide affordable care and attract more customers. Its mission is to prove that convenient, no-cost primary care, delivered with top-notch customer service, can lower hospitalization rates and overall health costs. Harken spends twice as much on primary care as the average insurer, according to the company.

“At the end of the day, United wants to know if this system can better control costs, as it’s a lot cheaper to prevent disease than treat one,” said Liz Frayer, an employee benefits consultant in Atlanta. Continue reading

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As water infrastructure crumbles, many cities seek private help

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Drinking Water WarningBy Mindy Fetterman
Stateline

WOODBURY, N.J. — As city councilors here discussed the local water system recently, Summer Smith, a homeowner, rose to ask a question: “Can you explain in plain English what ‘emergent water conditions’ means? It sounds kind of alarming.”

David Trovato, the council president, acknowledged that any hint of a water quality emergency “would scare the hell out of me, too.” But there is no emergency in Woodbury.

New Jersey has designated Woodbury’s water system as “emergent” because it can’t meet the need for water at peak demand times. So this town of 10,000 across the Delaware River from Philadelphia is considering selling its water system to a private company.

Woodbury isn’t alone.

More than 2,000 municipalities have entered public-private partnerships for all or part of their water supply systems, according to the National Association of Water Companies, which represents private water companies like Veolia North America and American Water.

Partner municipalities include San Antonio; Akron, Ohio; and Washington, D.C. Miami-Dade County is considering partnerships for three water facilities, including one built in 1924. And Wichita, Kansas, is starting to study the issue.

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, where old pipes leached out lead into water supplies, has raised new worries that cities aren’t keeping up with maintenance and improvements. Continue reading

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How to eat healthy: Start with a plan

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SNAP cooking class with Nutrition Educator Golda Simon

SNAP cooking class with Nutrition Educator Golda Simon

By Keith Seinfeld
Public Health – Seattle & King County

People may eat poorly for a variety of reasons, including busy and stressful lives or lack of cooking skills.

Tight budgets may add to the problem, especially if you haven’t learned tricks for stretching food dollars.

For example, what if nobody ever showed you …

  • the value of planning meals ahead for a full week?
  • how to select the healthiest and most affordable option from the shelf?
  • how to cook easy and economical dishes?

To close that skills gap, a team of nutrition educators are bringing a new series of cooking classes to people enrolled in Washington’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as Basic Food or Food Stamps. Continue reading

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Building a ground army to fight heroin deaths

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By Christine Vestal
Stateline

BALTIMORE — A crowd quickly gathers here on one of West Baltimore’s many drug-infested street corners. But it isn’t heroin they’re seeking. It’s a heroin antidote known as naloxone, or Narcan.

Two city health department workers are holding up slim salmon-colored boxes and explaining that the medication inside can be used to stop someone from dying of a heroin overdose. Most onlookers nod solemnly in recognition. They’ve heard about the drug. They want to know more.

Nationwide, more than 150,000 people received naloxone kits from community outreach programs like Baltimore’s between 1996 and 2014, and more than 26,000 overdoses were reversed using those kits, according to a recent survey funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In addition, police, emergency medical technicians and emergency room physicians have used the drug to save tens of thousands of lives. Baltimore police officers started carrying the kits last year.

But as the opioid epidemic seeps into nearly every small town and suburb across the country, state, local and federal officials are trying to make the life-saving prescription drug available everywhere, particularly at local pharmacies. Continue reading

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Zika quarantine? Good idea or bad?

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Public Health — Seattle & King County expert weighs in

By Dr. Jeff Duchin, MD
Health Officer and Chief of Communicable Disease Epidemiology & Immunizations

DuchinExperts are still learning about Zika virus, and in this time of uncertainty, some some are calling for a quarantine on travelers from areas affected by Zika.

I don’t think it’s a good idea.

This is a transmission electron micrograph (TEM) of Zika virus, which is a member of the family Flaviviridae. Virus particles are 40 nm in diameter, with an outer envelope, and an inner dense core. Additional Information:“Zika virus is spread to people through mosquito bites. The most common symptoms of Zika virus disease are fever, rash, joint pain, and conjunctivitis (red eyes). The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Severe disease requiring hospitalization is uncommon.”For more information on the Zika virus, follow the link below.

Zika virus — Cynthia Goldsmith/CDC

Quarantine of travelers exposed to Zika virus is neither appropriate nor feasible, and would likely have no meaningful impact on the spread on the disease – but would result in significant negative unintended consequences on travel, commerce, individuals and families.

Quarantine of returning travelers would be costly and complicated to carry out for no real benefit. Although Zika poses a real threat of continued global spread, continuing measures to protect travelers and control the outbreaks where they are occurring, although imperfect, are more appropriate responses.

This is true for a number of reasons.

  1. There is no practical way to identify or screen for who is infected with Zika and potentially capable of transmitting infection. Most infections are asymptomatic and there is no rapid diagnostic test.
  2. In addition, everything we know suggests the threat to the US is not large. Based on experience with other viruses, like dengue and chikungunya, that are transmitted by the same mosquito vectors and have reached the US after large scale epidemics expanded globally, the risk for ongoing transmission or large outbreaks in the US is thought to be low. (In much of the country including the Pacific Northwest, we don’t have the type of mosquitoes that transmit Zika, dengue and chikungunya.) In contrast, the number of persons traveling to and from Zika-affected areas would be extremely large and enter the US at many points, making implementation of quarantine unrealistic even if it was potentially useful.
  3. And, it’s likely that Zika, as dengue and chickungunya viruses have done, will become established in much of the world, meaning that quarantine would need to be continued on an ongoing basis.

Continue reading

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New Washington State plan outlines impact of suicide, proposes solutions

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From the Washington State Department of Health

Suicide is preventable – and everyone has a role in stopping it

More than 5,000 people in Washington took their own lives during the five-year period of 2010 to 2014.

Washington’s new Suicide Prevention Plan aims to reduce that toll through unified efforts involving people and groups across the state.

For many years, the state’s suicide rate has been above the national average, prompting Governor Jay Inslee to address the tragedy of suicide in an executive order last week.

“We can stop these tragic deaths, but it’ll take coordination and cooperation,” said Washington’s Secretary of Health John Wiesman. “We know there are ways we can make a difference and this plan maps out strategies to save lives in our state.”

“Suicide is a preventable public health problem, not a personal weakness or family failure,” asserts the first core principle in the plan, which the Washington State Department of Health created in response to 2014 legislation. “Everyone in Washington has a role in suicide prevention. Suicide prevention is not the responsibility of the health system alone.”

Other core principles include:

  • Silence and stigma create harm by isolating people at risk and discouraging help- seeking.
  • Suicide prevention requires changing contributing factors such as childhood trauma, isolation, access to lethal means, and lack of access to appropriate behavioral health care.
  • Suicide doesn’t affect all communities equally, so prevention programs need to address local needs and cultures.
  • People experiencing issues associated with suicide deserve dignity, respect and the right to make decisions about their care.

The plan divides the work of suicide prevention into four strategic directions based on the National Strategy for Suicide Prevention.

Those are:

    • Empowering people, families and communities to understand their roles in preventing suicide “upstream,” before a crisis.
    • Directing suicide prevention programs toward those who need them most, helping identify people at risk and keeping them safe.
    • Making treatment accessible, appropriate and respectful for people at risk.
    • Using research, data and evaluation as a basis for suicide prevention work.

Washington has already made headway in battling suicide with a network of coalitions, student- led clubs, support groups, behavioral health treatment, culturally tailored initiatives, trainers, and community leaders.

The state has groundbreaking suicide prevention training requirements for health professionals. The Department of Health has been involved in youth suicide prevention work for more than two decades.The new plan builds on that base to address a problem that claims an average of three lives in Washington each day.

The intent of the plan is to use data and community input to customize short- and long-term prevention and intervention tactics to best serve specific populations, avoiding a one-size-fits-all approach.

Toward that end, a broad range of contributors and steering committee members participated in drafting, reviewing and completing the plan. As the document makes clear, suicide is a serious public health problem that everyone can play a role in solving.

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Advocates push public health campaign to combat gun violence

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GunWhat if we treated gun violence as a public health issue the way there were campaigns against drunk driving? Or safer sex practices during the HIV/AIDS pandemic?

NPR’s Kelly McEvers talks with Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research about what this would look like, and the political and personal challenges to doing research on gun violence.

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Hospital step up to help seniors avoid falls

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By Susan Jaffe
KHN

Daphne Brown, 65, was putting away the dishes in her Washington kitchen when she fell to the floor. Jane Bulla, 82, fell at home in Laurel, Maryland, but managed to call for help with the cellphone in her pocket.

Susan Le, 63, who has trouble walking due to arthritis, hurt her leg when she tripped on a pile of leaves in Silver Spring. And late one night when no one was around, Jean Esquivel, 72, slipped on the ice in the parking lot outside her Silver Spring apartment.

Falls are the leading cause of injuries for adults 65 and older, and 2.5 million of them end up in hospital emergency departments for treatment every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The consequences can range from bruises, fractured hips and head injuries to irreversible calamities that can lead to death. And older adults who fall once are twice as likely as their peers to fall again.

Despite these scary statistics, a dangerous fall does not have to be an inevitable part of aging. Risk-reduction programs are offered around the country. Continue reading

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Inslee calls for public health approach to gun violence

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GunFrom the Office of the Governor

Gov. Jay Inslee today signed an executive order that launches a statewide public health initiative to reduce and prevent gun-related fatalities and injuries.

The order uses the same data-driven public health approach that has significantly reduced motor vehicle deaths over the past two decades.

The initiative will help the state understand the people and places most at risk of gun violence or suicide, determine the best approaches to reducing gun violence and work with its partners to develop strategies and actions to prevent gun violence.

“This will be a data-driven approach that helps us identify the people and places most susceptible to gun crime and suicide,” Inslee said. “Gun crime is a scourge that has scarred thousands of families in every corner of our state. It’s a scourge we can, should and will help prevent.”

Between 2012 and 2014, 665 people died in Washington state from firearm injuries, compared to 497 deaths from automobile accidents. Approximately 80 percent of the firearm deaths were suicides.

Inslee’s order requires the Department of Health and the Department of Social and Health Services, in collaboration with the University of Washington and other state and local agencies to collect, review and disseminate data on deaths and injury hospitalizations related to firearms, as well as recommend strategies to reduce firearm-related fatalities and serious injuries.

Inslee said he also wants to further strengthen the background check law approved by Washingtonians in 2014. He is directing the state Office of Financial Management to analyze the effectiveness of information sharing between state agencies, the courts, local jurisdictions, law enforcement and other entities to determine if there are ways to improve the effectiveness of the system.

He is also requesting the Attorney General’s office to analyze current enforcement practices to make sure those attempting to purchase a firearm illegally are held accountable.

He is also asking them to update a 2007 white paper regarding access to firearms for those with mental illness. The white paper included recommendations that have yet to be implemented such as a centralized background check system.

Inslee is directing agencies to submit recommendations by October of 2016. Continue reading

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