Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Personal Health: Unlabeled food additives can hurt kidney patients

Published on July 27, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

Food-label study: Meat additives could harm kidney patients

Raw meat and poultry products may contain hidden food additives that can be harmful for people with kidney disease, reveals a new study into the potential health risks of incomplete food labeling.

The research, which appears online in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology, focuses on the presence of dietary phosphate and potassium, often injected into fresh meat along with sodium, antioxidants, and flavorings. Too much of both substances can cause death in patients on dialysis.

Researchers purchased 36 uncooked meat and poultry items, most of which listed additives but not amounts, at several supermarkets in northern and central New Jersey. Items were transferred to separate plastic bags to prevent lab technicians from seeing the food-labeling information.

The results showed products labeled as "enhanced" with a 28 percent greater average phosphate concentration than additive-free products. High potassium content was present in 20 percent of the enhanced products.

The authors conclude that more complete food labeling is needed to help an already at-risk group.

- Heather J. Chin

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Philly Region: Summer Camps Deal With Swine Flu

Published on July 16, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.
I contributed some reporting on this.

Some camps report swine flu cases

By Kristin E. Holmes
Inquirer Staff Writer

Camp directors are battling more than unruly youngsters this summer. They have been contending with outbreaks of what they think is the swine flu.

Some area camps, as well as ones outside the region that host large numbers of youngsters from the area, report sending home dozens of campers who have exhibited flulike symptoms.

Pennsylvania health officials say they know of 10 to 20 camps in the state that have had a high-enough incidence of the flu to warrant control measures such as isolating campers or sending them home.

"I'd say we've had a fair number of camps that have clusters of illness," said Stephen Ostroff, acting state physician general and director of the state Bureau of Epidemiology.

In South Jersey, fewer than five cases have been reported to health agencies. Reported cases might be low because officials test for the flu only when patients are hospitalized or clusters of illness occur.

No camps in Pennsylvania or South Jersey have closed, officials said.

Read the full article here...

International and Food: Italian Province Bans Non-Italian Ethnic Food

GlobalPost has a story up today on a ban instituted in the Italian province of Lucca, against all ethnic restaurants and shops that sell goods using non-provincial or non-Italian ingredients. Here's an excerpt:

The law banned the opening of any new ethnic restaurants, “with a view to safeguarding culinary traditions and the authenticity of structure, architecture, culture.” It also prohibited the opening of any commercial premises serving food and drink “whose business is related to different ethnic groups. If an established restaurant owner decided to produce a non-Italian menu, it must include “at least one traditional Lucca dish made exclusively from ingredients commonly acknowledged as being typical of the province.”

On one hand, I understand the desire to keep traditions alive, but on the other, I find it a bizarre and dictatorial thing to do. It's also pretty confounding. Requiring at least one dish per restaurant menu to be made from local ingredients is one thing, but to both give favoritism to established restaurants and to expect locals to only cook and eat in a certain style and method is a rather clear affront to basic freedoms. And, with the allowance of a French restaurant yet not a Sicilian one, could be targeting Middle Eastern cuisine in particular. There have been few concessions, so there's not a lot of ammunition on that front to go by.

Plus, it disregards the human inclination to not want to eat the same thing every day and to resist unnecessary bans. It's not as if the entire province was going to stop eating Italian food.

As a foodie and some time cultural analyst, I also find it interesting, though, how Lucca's governmental leaders have caught on to the idea of food as a gateway to a culture. It makes sense, in a way, with Italian history, culture and identity steeped in the art of joining gastronomic delights and the foundation of a life well-lived.

Then there is the use of "local food" as a cultural cuisine-specific phrase, as opposed to the "grown-here" ideal making the rounds here in the United States. I'd never thought of it like that. And I'm glad that such a ban would never fly in the America I know, thanks to American's wide-ranging palate, diverse backgrounds, and recognition that food of all spices and origins is a huge business. And after all, our country is a melting pot, in both a social and gastronomic sense.

Music: Olympus PEN Camera Ad Campaign

This song, written for the Olympus camera company, is really beautiful and sweet. And the stop-motion animated video is jaw-dropping.

Here are the song lyrics:

Down Below – Johannes Stankowski / prod. & arranged by Michael Kadelbach

Be just who you want to be, my friend
You just got to trust in fate.
Do the things you want to do ‘cause life don’t wait
Take it easy, keep your head up high
No need for sorrow and despair
Just keep on moving, it’s such a wonderous world out there

The years are flashing by and everything will change
But way down deep inside – we all just stay the same
And down below
Old memories come alive and then we know
Down below

It’s a long road we all got to walk
But there’s an awful lot to see
And the sun keeps rising up wherever you may be
Fly the ocean, dive into the blue
No need for sorrow and despair
Just keep moving, it’s such a wonderous world out there

The years are flashing by and everything will change
But way down deep inside – we all just stay the same
And down below
Old memories come alive and then we know
Down below

The years are flashing by and everything will change
But way down deep inside – we all just stay the same
And down below
Old memories come alive and then we know
Down below

Friday, July 17, 2009

International: Asylum for the Domestic and Sexually Abused?

This post is in response to this NYTimes article, which reports on an issue that reveals the indignance presented by the Bush administration and the walking-on-eggshells hesitation by the Obama administration as regards setting asylum criteria that would consider sexual abuse and physical abuse as eligible instances to would trigger asylum.

The reservation is understandable, but one can be protective without being cold and hard and hypocritical. What, ultimately, makes political or religious asylum any different than asylum based on sexual abuse? Perhaps it reflects our existing willingness and even desire to ignore physical and sexual abuse in domestic situations even of our own citizens.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Personal Health: Excessive Hair-Pulling

Published on July 13, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

An aid in cases of hair pulling
A common dietary supplement containing an amino acid may help people with trichotillomania, also known as compulsive hair pulling, according to a study by researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Medicine in Minneapolis.

The amino acid N-acetylcysteine occurs naturally in the body and is sold in pill form in health-food stores.

Two to four percent of the U.S. population suffer from trichotillomania, a physically, emotionally and socially damaging condition that often coexists with other psychological disorders.

Fifty sufferers - 45 women and five men, with an average age of 34 - were randomly assigned to take 1,200 milligrams to 2,400 milligrams of N-acetylcysteine or a placebo for 12 weeks. Most were also receiving psychotherapy or psychotropic drugs.

After nine weeks, more than half of the supplement-takers reported improvement - such as reduced hair-pulling urges and fewer hair-pulling episodes - compared with 16 percent of those on the dummy pills. The positive response continued for the remaining three weeks.

The study is reported in the July issue of Archives of General Psychiatry.

- Heather J. Chin

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Philly Local: Hospitals Expand Safe Sleep Practices

Published on July 7, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

Hospitals push safe sleep practices for infants

By Heather J. Chin
Inquirer Staff Writer

For the last year, parents have been banned from sleeping with their sick babies at St. Christopher's Hospital for Children.

The hospital instituted the policy after three infants over three months were pronounced dead in the emergency room after bed sharing-related accidents at home.

Babies who sleep with a parent can become overheated, be rolled onto, or be smothered by soft sheets or pillows. They can also lose circulation if wedged between the mattress and furniture.

The hospital's ER typically gets one such death every couple of months. But the "little cluster" of tragedies early last year inspired St. Christopher's nurses to propose that the hospital lead by example.

"Today, people often don't have primary pediatricians," said emergency nursing director Kirsten Johnson-Moore. "So emergency departments, I feel, have a responsibility to educate and prevent."

Read the full story here...

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Personal Health: On Statins and Walking Aids

Published on Monday, July 6, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

Likely benefits to prescribing statins to curb heart disease

Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs, the standard of care for people with heart disease, may also benefit many patients who are merely at risk of developing the disease, researchers report in a review of 10 previous studies involving 70,000 people worldwide.

Prescribing statins as a preventive measure to patients with risk factors such as diabetes and high blood pressure was associated with a 30 percent drop in major heart disease and a 12 percent drop in deaths over an average of four years, researchers said on, an online British medical journal.

Statins are powerful drugs, and the researchers - several of whom reported support in the past from manufacturers - stopped short of recommending their use for all people at risk of developing heart disease.

While men over 65 who have other risk factors and older women with diabetes and other risk factors appear to be most in danger of developing heart disease, they write, "the correct identification of such people remains a challenge," as does prediction of an individual's risk. - Heather J. Chin

Study of falls suggests need to teach safer use of walkers

More than 47,000 older Americans a year - 129 a day - seek treatment at hospitals after falls involving walkers or canes, according to a six-year review of ER records that suggests more time should be spent teaching people how to use walking aids.

Falls are the leading cause of injuries in people over 65. Less than 3 percent involve walking aids, but the researchers, from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said they were the frailest and most vulnerable population. And while twice as many older people use canes than use walkers, the researchers found seven times as many injuries associated with walkers.

Fractures were the most common type of injury. Men injured their head and neck most frequently, while women hit their hip or pelvis. Women, who are more likely to use walkers, made up 77 percent of all falls examined.

The goal now, the authors write in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, is to identify potential risk factors that lead to falls, to design better walking aids, and to provide education on safe usage. Information about falls and how to prevent them: - Heather J. Chin

Friday, July 03, 2009

Pennsylvania: Insuring the Uninsured

Published on July 1, 2009 in THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER.

Bill to expand Pa. health insurance sparks debate

By Michael Vitez and Heather J. Chin
Inquirer Staff Writers

Democratic leaders in Pennsylvania hope to double the number of residents who receive state-sponsored health insurance, known as adultBasic, but Republicans fear the costs may be too high.

The Pennsylvania House on Monday voted, 104-98, in favor of HB 1, to increase the number of individuals receiving adultBasic from 45,000 to 90,000.

Republican leaders in the Senate say they might oppose the effort. Carolyn Scanlan, president and CEO of the Hospital & Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania, also expressed reservations.

Pennsylvania, like the nation, has seen the numbers of uninsured soar in the last year as the economy has declined, making a bad situation much worse.

AdultBasic is designed for people who earn too much to qualify for poverty programs such as Medicaid but can't afford insurance themselves.

An individual is eligible for adultBasic if he or she earns $21,600 or less; a family of four can earn $44,000 or less.

The program can't begin to meet the rising need. The waiting list, officials say, is growing by 20,000 a month and projects 270,000 as of today.

A year ago, it was at 96,000.

Read the full story here...