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As Health Incentives Rise, Many Get Paid To Work Out And Eat Kale

Laura Smith uses her Nutrisavings app to check the healthy score of pasta sauce at a Shaw's in Waltham. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

Laura Smith uses her Nutrisavings app to check the healthy score of pasta sauce at a Shaw’s in Waltham. (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

Laura Smith scans a wall of pasta sauce jars at a Shaw’s in Waltham, and reaches for her favorite.

“It looks like it would be fantastic for you,” Smith says, showing off the label. “It looks like someone just plucked a bunch of tomatoes and put them in a jar.”

But when Smith scans the jar’s bar code, using an app on her phone, her smile fades.

“It’s a 33,” she says and then pauses. “Wow, 33?”

The Nutrisavings iPhone app

The Nutrisavings iPhone app

That’s 33 out of 100 on a healthy food scoring system developed by Newton-based Nutrisavings. Not good. Smith types pasta sauce into the Nutrisavings app and finds one that scores much better, at 75.

“Francesco Rinaldi,” Smith says, turning the jar in her hand. “No salt added, it’s a healthier option, that’s what I’m going to go with.”

Nutrisavings scores more than 200,000 foods on a scale of zero to 100. Sodas are typically a zero. Many fresh fruits and vegetables are up near 100. The company has partnerships with 80 supermarket chains around the country, including Shaw’s, where the score for everything Smith buys is totaled when she checks out.

Smith earned $10 this month just for using the program. She’ll get another $10 every month that her average score is 60 or higher.

“That’s $20 essentially free money just by making modestly healthy decisions and going to the store, which are things I’m going to do anyway,” Smith says.

Who pays? Her health insurance plan, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care.

The goal is “to get people to understand the value of what they’re putting in their mouths,” says Sue Amsel, a senior product portfolio manager at Harvard Pilgrim. Continue reading

Addiction Expert Discusses Statewide Surge In Heroin Overdoses

An educational pamphlet and samples of naloxone, a drug used to counter the effects of opiate overdose, are displayed at a fire station in Taunton. (Elise Amendola/AP)

An educational pamphlet and samples of naloxone, a drug used to counter the effects of opiate overdose, are displayed at a fire station in Taunton. (Elise Amendola/AP)

State Police are trying to understand a surge of heroin and opioid overdoses. Authorities tell the Boston Globe that 114 people died of suspected opioid overdoses last month across the state — double the number in November.

That number also doesn’t include the state’s three biggest cities: Boston, Worcester and Springfield.

Dr. Daniel Alford, who oversees the clinical addiction research and education unit at Boston Medical Center, joins Morning Edition to discuss this statewide rise in suspected heroin deaths.

To hear the full interview, click on the audio player above.

Interview Highlights:

On why the heroin is so deadly:

DA: “I think we’re learning a lot from our patients who are seeking addiction treatment. They certainly have talked about a difference in appearance of the heroin that they’re seeing — there seem to be more crystals. It’s being cut with something, and whether it’s fentanyl or, some people have talked about methamphetamine, it seems that it’s being cut with things that are potentially very lethal.”

“I saw a patient just the other day who talked about the heroin now causing them to pass out within minutes of taking it, so they’re very nervous about using dealers that they’ve never dealt with before. And it’s really an opportunity to start talking to patients about overdose risk and making sure they have Narcan available and that they are not using alone.”

On whether restrictions on prescriptions are causing people to turn to heroin:

DA: “As you make one drug less available there is a tendency to start using other drugs, and heroin is certainly readily available, cheap and quite pure.”

On how doctors aim to scale back on issuing pain prescriptions:

DA: “As we start to decrease the amount of prescribing that’s being done, we clearly don’t want to decrease access to these medications to those who benefit from them because of their chronic pain, but clearly we need to be more careful and safer and there is a lot of educational programs that are ongoing to train prescribers how to prescribe these more safely.”

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Listen: Sacra To Return To Liberia As UMass Medical Ups Efforts There

The doctor from Holden who’s affiliated with UMass Medical School and contracted Ebola while working with a missionary organization in Liberia is now returning to that country for the first time since being cured of the disease.

Meanwhile, the medical school is ramping up efforts to train doctors and nurses in Liberia, to build a viable health care system there. Listen to Lynn Jolicoeur’s full report above.

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A Guide To Handling Flu Season

The flu season is upon us, and the Centers for Disease Control has announced that influenza has officially reached epidemic proportions across the U.S.

Dr. Anita Barry, director of the Boston Health Commission’s infectious disease bureau, joined WBUR’s Morning Edition to discuss the flu strain and how the city is coping.

Listen above to Barry’s full conversation with WBUR’s Bob Oakes.

Project Louise: The Project Ends Now … But It Lasts A Lifetime

baby steps, will 668/flickr

baby steps, will 668/flickr

With the end of 2014 comes the end of Project Louise. The official end, that is. My excellent CommonHealth hosts gave me a year of coaching and support to see how much I could improve my health, and that year is now over. But my efforts to keep improving my health will continue, I hope and believe, for the rest of my life.

In part that’s because I haven’t reached all the goals I set for myself a year ago. I lost some weight, but not as much as I hoped; I exercised more, but I still haven’t developed the consistent exercise habit that I know I’ll need in order to make fitness a real and permanent part of my life.

On the other hand, I have made some real changes that I know will last. My diet is much better than it was a year ago – more vegetables, less junk – and, maybe even more important, my relationship with food is less complicated and neurotic. I still sometimes eat “bad” foods, but I don’t hate myself when I do – and that means I don’t go off on a binge.

That change is part of a larger one, one that Coach Allison Rimm urged me to undertake – and one that, frankly, didn’t immediately strike me as relevant to this project. Gently, consistently and with remarkable success, she has encouraged me to speak more kindly to myself, to focus on what I’m doing right rather than what I’m doing wrong.

Gentle Nudging

It turns out that gentle encouragement works much better than relentless criticism – something I knew and practiced in raising my children, yet somehow needed to learn in “raising” myself. In teaching me this lesson, Coach Allison has given me a priceless and lasting gift.

And that newfound sense of patience with myself is connected to the main reason I’ll keep working on this “project,” the single most important thing it has taught me. More than better nutrition, more than motivation for exercise, what Project Louise has shown me is that nothing lasting happens overnight. Change is a continuous process, not an isolated event.

No Overnight Success

We all fantasize about the life-changing moment, the day that divides our imperfect past from our glorious future – isn’t that what New Year’s Eve is all about? But in fact most days are pretty much like most other days; the calendar may change tomorrow, but we all know that Jan. 1 won’t feel much different from Dec. 31. Continue reading

Health Connector Site Handles Last-Minute Signee Load

Massachusetts residents signing up for health plans endured hour-long waits over the phone ahead of Wednesday’s midnight deadline.

But online, the state’s website handled the last-minute load.

The revamped Health Connector website did not suffer the same outages and delays as last year. Thousands of people without insurance through their employers were able to sign up for health plans during the day. To ease the demand on the call center, Connector official Maydad Cohen extended the deadline to pay for those plans.

“Given the heavy interest in signing up for January 1 coverage, we will accept online and paper payments through Sunday, December 28,” he said.

The Health Connector call center will be open on Sunday to help those who did enroll by yesterday’s deadline, but still have to set up payment for their health insurance.

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Teen Birth Rate In Mass. At Historic Low

The birth rate among teens in Massachusetts is at its lowest recorded level in the state’s history, a report out Friday says.

The birth rate of teens ages 15-19 fell 14 percent last year, from 14 births per 1,000 women in 2012 to 12 births per 1,000 women in 2013, the Massachusetts Department of Health reported.

“This is terrific news for all Massachusetts families, and a dramatic indication that our decisions to invest in our young people — through education, support and resources — can have a real and lasting impact on their lives and in their communities,” Gov. Deval Patrick said in a statement.

According to the report, there were 2,732 babies born to teen mothers between 15 and 19 years old in 2013, down from 3,219 the previous year. The number of children born to teen mothers in that age bracket is significantly lower than the 7,258 births reported in 1990. Continue reading

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Mass. Officials Say Most Have Yet To Pay For Health Plans

State officials say about 150,000 people have determined eligibility for insurance plans on the state’s overhauled Health Connector website. But less than 1 percent has paid for 2015 coverage with a deadline fast approaching.

The connector rolled out its new website on Nov. 15 to replace the one that was crippled by technical problems, forcing hundreds of thousands of people into temporary Medicaid coverage.

Residents eligible to buy insurance through the connector have until Dec. 23 to make their first payment. The Boston Globe reports that few have sent checks so far, but state officials aren’t worried because people historically wait until the last week to pay.

The head of the Massachusetts Association of Health Plans has expressed concern about the low enrollment and the prospect of many people going uninsured.

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World AIDS Day: A Look At The Gains And Challenges In The Fight Against HIV

A woman adjusts a red ribbon, symbol of the fight against AIDS, during a demonstration on World AIDS Day in Spain on Dec. 1, 2014. (Alvaro Barrientos/AP)

A woman adjusts a red ribbon, symbol of the fight against AIDS, during a demonstration on World AIDS Day in Spain on Dec. 1, 2014. (Alvaro Barrientos/AP)

From ribbons to lights on buildings, you may have seen a lot of red Monday — it’s the symbolic color for World AIDS Day (Dec. 1), which raises awareness about HIV.

The day began in 1988, some years after the AIDS epidemic was first identified in the early ’80s. As the world marks the day with events and vigils, here is a look at the current state of HIV:

Continue reading

Medical Marijuana 101: What Does A Dispensary Worker Need To Know?

As the marijuana industry takes shape in Massachusetts, it will need a trained workforce. What skills will that person behind the dispensary counter have? How about employees who will process marijuana? Who’s training these workers? Here’s a glimpse as the Northeastern Institute of Cannabis (NIC) in Natick opens its doors.

The Northeastern Institute of Cannabis in Natick (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

The Northeastern Institute of Cannabis in Natick (Martha Bebinger/WBUR)

On a sunny fall afternoon, men and women sat at tables in a stark white classroom. For that day, the class was called “patient services.”

“Get a complete list of symptoms, right at the beginning,” instructor Bill Downing said. “Ask your patients, ‘How long have you suffered from this condition?’ It gives you a feeling for what their situation is.”

Downing, who is also a marijuana caregiver, clicks through charts that match the reasons patients use marijuana — relief from pain, depression, nausea and glaucoma, with compounds in the plant that are most likely to help.

CannLabs' breakdown of health benefits specific cannabinoids have for certain diseases. (Courtesy of CannLabs)

Click to enlarge: CannLabs’ breakdown of health benefits specific cannabinoids have for certain diseases. (Courtesy of CannLabs)

He runs through the marijuana-infused products his students would be selling at a dispensary: tinctures, lip balm, bubble bath, salves and lotions.

“Topical applications are great for localized pain,” he said. “And they don’t get you high.”

This is one of 12 classes students must complete and pass tests on to receive a certificate from NIC. It’s a for-profit training center with two classrooms in an office park. The course costs $1,500 and covers growing marijuana, legal, business, science and regulatory issues.

“This industry’s coming, and we need to be ready to train the workers,” said NIC events coordinator Chris Foye. “That’s what we’re going to do.”

NIC opened this fall. So far, 14 students have graduated and 70 more are enrolled. There’s one other classroom program in Massachusetts. The New England Grass Roots Institute says its classes are for person enrichment, not professional training. Foye says NIC is filling a demand from dispensary owners who will be required to pay $500 to register each employee yearly with the state. Continue reading

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