Posts Tagged ‘health’

Health 2.0 DC/VA/MD Meet-Up & on being a responsible health blogger

Last night I attended the Health 2.0 DC/VA/MD Meet-Up over in Bethesda (at The Barking Dog), which ended up being a really interesting event. I’m basically brand new to the whole adult world of networking events that fall outside of American University, which is now technically my “alma mater,” and I found it to be not at all intimidating and overall very informative. The event was hosted by Aquilent. They picked a pretty perfect venue for an meet-up with six rapid-fire 5-minute presentations from innovators and leaders in the area of health solutions that use Web 2.0 technology. The moderator had a whistle but I think he laid off it when one of the speakers announced he had “mean soccer coach days” issues.

One of my favorite speakers was Nancy Shute, contributing editor for U.S. News & World Report and writer of the OnParenting blog, which for some reason I sometimes read even though I’m not a parent. She talked about the struggles that journalism has faced with regard to a lack of fact-checking and how, when it comes to issues of health and medical care, those sorts of mistakes can be, well, deadly. One thing she pointed out that I found interesting is that for a while it was clear that people wanted to hear from others like themselves when it came to making decisions about their health care, but now the balance between trusting people like you and trusting medical doctors is beginning to level out.

What this presentation really said to me, especially as someone who blogs and potentially puts myself in a place where my advice about health and eating and wellness can be taken seriously, is that, like a journalist, I need to fact-check my sources and trust only reliable sites. I have struggled with this in the past in my personal life when I have turned into what you might call a “cyberchondriac.” (CDC? An acceptable place to find health information; random message boards? Not so much.) While the Web 2.0 age has afforded us the ability to share information and get help quickly and be in touch with sources online that are legitimate, it has also given a voice to a bunch of people that don’t know what the heck they are talking about. And our job, as the writers and re-purposers of that information, is to do so with utmost scrutiny and with an unbiased voice which isn’t swayed by sponsors or advertisers or celebrities (see Jennifer McCarthy and the autism/vaccine connection debate). We, as “citizen journalists” have to be able to discern when information isn’t accurate or useful so that we know not to trust it for ourselves and not to share it with our readers.

Update: See below for the slideshow from Nancy’s presentation. It’s definitely worth a look through.

Anthony LaFauce at Spectrum Science (who took some video at the event and has it posted on his Qik page) posted a great recap of one of the speakers from Infield. They provided interesting information about recent innovations that have allowed doctors to diagnose patients from afar, just based on pictures they take and send with their cell phones in developing nations where doctors are scarce. They’ve also developed ways of reuniting loved ones who are separated during natural disasters. They talked about how the person locator system was set up following the earthquake in Haiti, but that it took three weeks for this first program to start running, and then when the Chile earthquake happened, they were able to get everything set up in just 4 days. So from trial one to trial two, they cut the time it took to get the system up and running by 80 percent. Just think what that could mean for the unfortunate but inevitable next natural disaster.

This segues well into what I really am looking forward to doing with this blog down the line. As you can tell by my last couple posts, I am already moving away from the strictly food topics. But I will wait to get into that in a future post.

Advertisements

D.C. Yoga Week & my plan to get in tip-top yogi shape

OK. I have one confession and one announcement and bit of news.

The confession first…

I have been a bad yogi this year. A very, very bad yogi.

First, a little back story about me. I started getting into yoga my freshman year of college. I really found my groove at the Bikram studio in Tenley, which I loved and still do. Yoga was a hugely important part of my life. I worked at the studio to get free classes and really felt a part of something there. Then, I went abroad to study in Australia. And while I was there I bought a gym membership so I didn’t gain a thousand pounds eating out all the time and having the “I’m on vacation” mentality and what not, and it sort of worked for a little while. I was feeling pretty good.

And then, one April morning, I got hit by a car while crossing a street near my apartment. The driver didn’t see me, he was rounding a corner to make a left-hand turn, and I didn’t see him–I ended up with a tooth knocked out, a fractured sternum and lots of cuts and bruises. I don’t think I have ever mentioned that on this blog, but yeah, I got hit by a car while I was studying abroad in Australia. What luck! Getting hit by a car was obviously physically painful, sort of emotionally draining and worse yet because I turned into a paranoid ball of nerves for a month or two after. Only recently have I noticed I’ve let my super extra guard down when crossing streets; I was pretty cautious about it both in Australia and in America after. I guess there are some things worth being cautious about though. Anyhow, after the accident and during all the legal, medical and dental hullabaloo after, I got really bad about working out. I obviously couldn’t exercise for about 3-4 weeks after because I couldn’t even lay down at night and breathe without being in excruciating chest pain. Don’t even think about coughing or sneezing or laughing (yikes. thinking about it now is making me cringe.) After my sternum healed, I was basically able to return to normal, but for whatever reason I never really kicked into high gear again. I was in a fitness rut. I did yoga occasionally, which helped to calm me, and got sort of into a spinning class at my uni’s gym, but generally, I sort of fell out of shape.

On my way home, I did a stopover trip to Fiji and had the opportunity to finally get my open-water certification (a task that had been put on hold after the accident because of my breathing difficulties). While it was hands-down the best experience of my life, there were times I thought to myself, “I wish I was stronger so this equipment wasn’t so impossibly heavy.” I know, it’s supposed to be heavy, but I was also very weak and got the sense that I was struggling diving much more than I would if I were in stronger shape. When I returned to the States, I stepped on a scale at my parents’ house and was like, “Oh-em-gee.” I mean, I don’t ever really weigh myself anymore, because I have a past of being really obsessive about it, to a dangerous level. I should also clarify, it was never actually about the weight, however seeing that “evidence” did help to motivate me, in a healthy way. But when it came down to it, it was about how I felt physically, which was pretty awful.

So, I started running every day in the time between coming back home and starting up school again. And I shocked myself with how I was able to actually run a mile straight without dying. And pretty soon it was three miles straight. But, just like everything, if you don’t keep up a routine, you easily can slip back to square one, and that is what happened once schoolwork piled up and the weather got cooler. Meanwhile, I was writing the health column for my school’s newspaper, but sometimes would feel like a fraud, because I wasn’t really being quite the shining example I wanted to be. I had way too much on my plate this year and I can realize this now. Everything worked out as far as me being able to get through it all, but not really, because I let my fitness suffer.

and the announcement…

OK, so what does this have to do with yoga? Throughout the past year, I have gone through various yoga “phases.” I would get really into it for a couple weeks, then get really busy with school or just get lazy or ditch it for running for a week or it was too expensive or there were three feet of snow on the ground keeping me from getting to the studio, or whatever. I ended up writing my last health column on different yoga studios around my campus, which got me to try a few new styles, and it was awesome. I hadn’t forced my body to do most of that work for so long and it felt great. I decided after that I really need to make yoga a priority in my life and now that school is over, I have basically no responsibilities to speak of aside from bringing home the bacon and dealing with day-to-day life stuff. I have been told that this time after graduation is very strange because you find you have so much free time, and I want to use my free time in the smartest way possible.

This week, my new fave Vinyasa yoga studio in my fave day-time neighborhood in D.C., Dupont, opened up a new location. They kicked off their first week with free classes and I went everyday. I love the instructors there (Katja is my fave). The best part is that their regular prices, even for non-students, are pretty fabulous. Also, they are totally wind-powered, don’t sell bottled water, clean with environmentally friendly supplies, etc. Basically, I love them. And, the studio is right near where I will be interning for the next couple months, so it’s just darn perfect.

Further, starting today and going all week is D.C. Yoga Week! Today from 1-5pm, there is Yoga on the Mall, and I am going to try to get there for at least the tail end of that. But regardless, I am really going to use this opportunity to get myself back in the yogi routine. I am excited to start fresh. I am already feeling better and stronger (and sore!) after just one week.

So I was wondering, have you ever had an injury that threw you off track? How did you deal with it? Do you like to switch up your yoga styles or just concentrate on one (Bikram, vinyasa, ashtanga, etc.)?

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

Allergies everywhere! Or maybe not?

Photo credit: sweenpole2001

Here is a topic that has been getting a little play in the news lately. This week, I decided to focus my health column on food allergies.

Food allergies are a serious matter. Food allergies can become a transformative force in one’s life, they can be painfully annoying and just, well, painful–as they have been for rather well-known food bloggers like Veggie Girl (who suffers from Crohn’s disease and has dairy, egg, gluten, shellfish & soy allergies) and Gluten-Free Girl (who has Celiac disease). The fortunate reality is that food allergies are not all that common. However, they are becoming more common than they have been in the past. I think it is because of this that we are finding more people claiming food allergies that they don’t really have. It’s like people feel tired, have a pain or stomachache and immediately WebMD it to find that those could be symptoms of a food allergy, and then they self-diagnose and try to shape their life around something that isn’t even the culprit.

On the other hand, I know that there are people who see the awareness and recognition for food allergies growing and are taking advantage of it while dining out. I have heard of people claiming to be “allergic to gluten” just because they are trying to eat less bread and carbohydrates. This kind of talk is detrimental to people with legitimate food allergies and takes away from the seriousness of the condition. If you don’t want cheese on your sandwich, just say you don’t want cheese–you have that right as a customer. But don’t try to add some umph to your demand by claiming to be allergic.

My central message with this column was to tell people to get tested if they suspect they might be allergic to a food, because that is the only way you will ever be able to know for sure. And dealing with a food allergy doesn’t have to control your life, but if you are aware of it, avoiding it will definitely improve your quality of life. Also, if you don’t technically have an allergy, but still notice a correlation between certain mild symptoms and certain foods you have eaten, it is likely you have a food intolerance. There is a difference. Food allergies are more life threatening, though not always—it really depends on the individual. Allergy symptoms come on more immediately and have more intense reactions, while intolerances are more mild, and come on an hour or so after eating.

Are you allergic or intolerant of any foods? Do you think it’s right to claim a food allergy you have never actually tested positive for?

I write this post a couple hours after finally deciding to kick these seasonal allergies in the butt with some Zyrtec!  (It feels like it might be working…) The pollen is AWFUL this year! Anyone else struggling?!

Putting “health” back in “health care”

Two weeks ago (geez, has it really been that long?!), Obama signed off on the health care bill. Meaning a whole lot of different things. At the time it passed, I asked my tweeps to give me their two cents on the health care bill.

Some opinions

“It isn’t about you (or me), mostly. Well, not at least until you turn 26, and/or get a job, or are determined to have a pre-existing condition. It’s about people our parents always taught us to help, those less fortunate, those we serve on Christmas Eve morning, at kitchens during the week. People we feel for, and want job training to help. Now, it also helps millions more without work, with cancer, diabetes. It opens a market with a serious competitor, not unlike Sams Club or Wal-Mart, it opens States to competition, it makes insurance companies less greedy.” – Dave

“We were the only rich country that didn’t ensure that its citizens have health insurance; now we’re not.” – John

Katharine at From A to Pink, who suffers with Cystic Fibrosis, directed me to the provisions in the bill that can help those with chronic disorder, like CF. The bill help people like her across the country who previously were denied coverage due to their pre-existing conditions.

“I don’t think insurance companies nor the government need to be involved in health care. Consumers pay doctors directly, costs decrease.” – John

“I do think health reform is needed- costs for doctors, patients and insurance companies are outrageous, but I don’t think this current bill is tackling the main problems like malpractice, the food system and preventative care. Also what scares me more, not just about the bill, but our government system in general, is how the bill got passed. I felt it got pushed too quickly and not thought out for the public, but for the politicians to get re-elected or liked by Obama. If it was written well, with a democratic majority, it should have been passed easily months ago, but even now, it barely passed and that scares me when it’s so expensive and might not comprehensive or helpful to us.” – Jacquie

“We have no money left. One day, someone will have to pay for this. Oh, and Obama’s a socialist.” – Charlie

“Health care bill…meh. It’s passed, so I’m going to have to get over my disagreement and hope it works out for the best!” – Gabrielle, at Une Vie Siene

Photo credit: adrianclarkmbbs

My opinion

At first glance, it appears that Obama’s health care bill has divided Americans into two separate camps: those opposed to it, who are focused on the economic toll it will have on the country—and those for it, who are focused on the obligation we have to make sure everyone has health care, regardless of  inability to pay or pre-existing conditions.

I feel like there are bits and pieces of all of these arguments I can agree with. The moralist in me sees that health care reform is needed while the pragmatist in me sees that it will be expensive and will not get at the heart of the problem. Maybe it’s pointless to talk in hypotheticals. I don’t think it is, though. And I finally have an opinion of my own about this whole thing (and sorry it has taken me so long to get around to posting it!)…

As is customary in this country, the government has focused on dealing with the problem (unaffordable health care and too many uninsured), which always creates more problems, instead of using tactics to prevent health problems in the first place. I know not all health care is treatment care, a lot of it is preventative care or care for illness that could not have been prevented—care such as annual check-ups, vaccinations, insulin injections for people born with Type 1 diabetes, treatment for cancers, autoimmune or other chronic disorders and a slew of other problems, not to mention treatment for accident-related injuries.

However, there are still too many health care dollars that are spent cleaning up messes that should have never been made in the first place. I found this article in Grist recently. Dr. Matthew Nisbet, who actually teaches at AU, was interviewed in a piece called, “Why aren’t climate scientists talking about health care reform?” I found it to be an interesting piece, and it is true. The climate change advocates aren’t really putting as much effort into drawing the connection between our human health and global warming. But I think this issue very similarly mirrors the gap that I see in the health care debate between “health/fitness/wellness” and “health care.” And why is there such a gap? Why is “health” sitting in one corner of the room while “health care” sits in another? It’s almost like when we, as individuals, think of “health” we think of all the personal actions we make to improve our health, while “health care” is the bureaucratic (and therefore often flawed) process we go through for the stuff we can’t take care of on our own. Why isn’t this relationship more interconnected?

My recommendations

  • Gym memberships Apparently, there are some health insurance companies that give rebates, discounts, or even free gym memberships. I doubt mine does. (But I guess I should check before I speak…no matter anyhow, as I have a couple free gym options at my finger tips as it is.) I think this is an excellent idea. How fundamentally smart. I was slightly appalled to read this on Insurance News Net: “…under the new law the government does plan to begin cutting payments to Medicare Advantage, a privatized, managed-care version of Medicare, in 2011. Such plans, in which members often enjoy little or no premium and free gym memberships, may be forced to reduce some benefits or increase premiums for the 10 million people enrolled in them.” Why not require health insurance companies to offer some sort of incentive for people to get active—in the form of free or reduced price gym memberships? Ten percent of the health care dollars we spend per year in this country are spent on obesity-related problems, mostly type 2 diabetes and heart disease. The food people are eating is much to blame, but so is a lack of activity.
  • Healthy eating and cooking workshops Jamie Oliver is making an effort to change the quality and nutrition of food in public schools (as is being documented on Food Revolution—and yes, I will be posting about this show soon. I am waiting to form my opinion after more episodes have aired)—however, children only consume about 16% of their total food from the cafeteria (more if they eat breakfast at school.) As Jamie Oliver’s program has so far revealed, many parents aren’t feeding their children properly at home. Sometimes it is because they don’t know how to cook healthy meals, sometimes it is about lack of time or money. Whatever it is, there is advice for them and that kind of  help should be something the government is interested in providing. Obama’s Let’s Move campaign will hopefully tackle this issue. But why not find a way to weave it into health care? Why not offer people an incentive to attend these workshops through their health care costs? If I was a parent, you better believe I would take my kids to a cooking class once a week if it meant I would get a rebate on my health insurance.
  • Smoking cessation In the U.S., smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death. Oh. My. Goodness. WHY. Honestly, this topic makes my blood boil more than the food system. The cost of medical care and lost productivity related to smoking is (conservatively) estimated to be $150 billion per year. I have a lot of friends and two parents that won’t love that I say this, but I will say it anyway, because I love them: tobacco should be outlawed. Call me a prohibitionist, but that is my opinion and I am sticking to it. Health insurance companies should be required to cover all expenses related to smoking cessation, whether it be in the form of the patch or hypnotism or whatever. If a method has been proven to work, it should be covered. It is an outrage that people are still dying from lung disease and cancer in this country (many from SECOND hand smoke!)
  • Rewarding people for rewarding themselves OK, here is a new-agey little idea. But whatever, I’m a new-agey gal. What if health insurance companies offered a “bonus” to their members if they could prove that they actually took their alloted vacation time? Stress is one of the top causes of heart-related problems, as well as a contributing factor of most other health problems. Taking care of oneself means taking time for yourself. Not enough people are doing this. And their health is paying the toll.

Pick apart my ideas as much as you like. I encourage a healthy debate. But keep in mind that sometimes it is the most radical and different ideas that become innovative solutions for complex problems. Does anyone have any other ideas for ways to incorporate more health into our health care?

The way I see it, health care reform doesn’t come down to health–it comes down to money. It comes down to the have’s and the have-not’s and the question of how we can provide health care to more people, but it doesn’t address how we can make people healthier. If we can implement ways to keep Americans from getting sick in the first place, we can save billions on health care, which will lower premiums for everyone.

Because we all need health care. But some of us aren’t doing our job of taking care of ourselves the way we should in the ways that we can. That is where the government should be focusing its efforts—helping people help themselves so costs for all can go down. That way, the people who need doctors’ help more than others can get the coverage they deserve.

When local food serves as preventative care

This week, I finally got to writing about a topic in The Eagle that I have been waiting to cover all semester. The stars aligned perfectly for my column on how we as consumers can make changes to better our health, contribute to “protesting” industrial food as much as possible and help the environment at the same time. In the last few days, this has all happened:

  • On Sunday, the House narrowly passed the health care bill that has been been dividing our country over the past months. On Tuesday, President Obama officially signed the bill,  a monumental event in our nation’s history, however divisive it may be.
  • Sunday night, Chef Jamie Oliver’s new series, “Food Revolution,” previewed on ABC. Chef Oliver will tackle the poor eating habits of the unhealthiest town in the country. I am excited to see what happens.
  • I’ve been working more with our chef/restaurant liaison at Food & Water Watch, Rocky Barnette, who really wants to help us get the word out and connect with people. I was working on editing some of footage of an interview we had with Rocky last week. Should be online soon, so stay tuned.

Anyhow, check out my health column from this week and let’s get a conversation happening. I would love to have your feedback–did I miss anything? AU’s Eco-sense mentioned the community garden in the comments already, which is great. I didn’t mention our garden on campus but hope to be a part of it this year.

Anyhow, this photo is sort of random, but the backstory is that today I tried this new tea at work, Yerba Maté, and it tasted (well, not very good) but also like the kava drink they gave to us when I was in Fiji last July. And I don’t know, I guess I am just feeling beach-sick and reminiscent . Photos like this remind me how much there is worth saving.

PS – Thanks everyone who gave me their feedback on the health care bill via twitter. You can also direct message me or send me an email or write in the comments. I am compiling them all and will post in the next day or two. There’s still time to throw your two cents in the mix. The reason I wanted to do this was to get a sense of how the people around me are feeling, as opposed to what all the talking heads are saying. I will write a post soon about my feelings on health care, which I think is important, since health is half of what I do here.

Have a great Thursday!

Get real, Obamas: “Let’s Move” campaign offers few real solutions

By now, we’ve all heard about Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. Some think it’s great. Some dislike it for its focus on the Obama daughters, Sasha and Malia.

Some think President Obama should lay off calling his daughters “chubby” and quit smoking if he is going to pretend to care so much about their health. I won’t even throw out that stones-and-glass-houses quote, since it doesn’t really apply here, considering Sasha and Malia clearly have nowhere near a weight problem. Not to mention, none of us know what these comments are doing to their self-esteem, and fear-mongering isn’t really going to do any good.

http://blogs.suntimes.com

from the Chicago Sun-Times

I feel it was irresponsible for them to involve their daughters in this campaign, especially in a not-so-positive way. You can read about my full take on this in my column in today’s Eagle.

And, I’m not “condoning” obesity in anyway. Weight-related problems are costing us billions, and obesity-related health problems such as heart attacks and diabetes are killing hundreds of thousands of Americans every year. Not to mention, obesity-related deaths are the number two cause of preventable death. (But guess what’s still got number one? Yep, cigarettes.) I think maintaining a healthy weight is important, but being a little overweight does not an unhealthy person make. If you are chain smoking cigarettes to suppress your appetite, you are doing more damage to your health than a non-smoker who has a few extra pounds on them.

Childhood obesity is a problem, and it is important to tackle because crucial eating and exercise habits are formed at a young age.

from the Cape Cod Times

However, how about reforming our food system, and getting at the root of the problem, Mr. and Mrs. Obama? Mr. President, you picked on Sasha and Malia, and now, I’m picking on you. Yeah. What are you gonna do about it?

I’m addressing this issue in my next column, and hope to incorporate some possible solutions that deal with fixing our broken food system. Replacing the crappy food we eat with real food will allow people to maintain a healthy weight more naturally.

Leave me a comment with one suggestion you think would get at this issue without singling out our already body-conscious youth and turning the attention back to eating real food.