Posts tagged with Health

Side effects of energy drinks cause spike in E.R. visits

Nasty side effects from drinking too many energy drinks are causing a sharp increase in the number of visits to emergency rooms across the country.

A federal report released last month from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration showed that the number of emergency visits involving energy drinks increased more than tenfold between 2005 and 2009.

Public health officials in Kansas are taking note of the dangers of highly caffeinated drinks. The Poison Control Center at Kansas University receives calls from throughout the state about energy drinks.

“Mostly it’s from concerned parents. The kids are drinking these like sodas. It’s becoming part of their daily routine. And it’s stressing the heart out every time they are doing it,” said Tama Sawyer, director of the poison control center.

Too much caffeine causes the heart to beat faster and stronger, raises blood pressure and causes insomnia. Other side effects are headaches and a jittery feeling that turns to more severe anxiety.

“Many people who use energy drinks are in their teens and 20s, and they don’t think they are in danger until something happens, and then they go to the emergency room,” Sawyer said.

The research, which was reported in the Drug Abuse Warning Network, noted that a can or bottle of an energy drink can have between 80 to 500 milligrams of caffeine. That’s compared with a 5-ounce cup of coffee, which has about 100 mg, or a 12-ounce can of soda, which has 50 mg. The report also noted that certain additives (and the most popular brands have quite a few) may compound the stimulant effects of caffeine.

“The listing of caffeine doesn’t seem so bad, but it’s not giving you the full story,” Sawyer said. “It can be more like three cups of coffee per can.”

Too much caffeine

For young adults drinking several energy drinks a day, the caffeine can add up.

The report noted that most researchers and clinicians consider 100 to 200 mg of caffeine per day to be a moderate intake for adults. And they recommend that children and adolescents abstain from all stimulant-containing energy drinks.

Chad Steele knows that too much caffeine can come with some pretty serious side effects. In 2008, when he was a senior at Kansas University, he was drinking two to three energy drinks a day plus a couple of pots of coffee. All that caffeine helped him keep up with a busy schedule; he worked at night, attended school during the day and taught judo.

He knew he had too much caffeine when his eyes started twitching or when his heart began to beat irregularly or too fast while exercising. “I’d stop drinking caffeine and sleep more,” he said and noted he has since stopped drinking energy drinks.

Janice Early, spokeswoman with Lawrence Memorial Hospital, said LMH doesn’t have any data on people coming to the ER with energy-drink-related symptoms, and she doesn’t think it’s a huge problem here.

Alcohol, drugs and energy drinks

Jenny Donham, a health educator at Kansas University, said students are often taken aback when they hear about the negative side effects of too many energy drinks.

“I think people are extraordinarily surprised because they figure if they can order a Red Bull and vodka together that of course it would be safe for them,” Donham said. “If it’s available to them, why can’t they have it?”

The federal study showed that for 44 percent of the emergency department visits, the energy drink was mixed with a pharmaceutical drug, alcohol or an illicit drug, such as marijuana or cocaine.

It also noted that younger drinkers believed that energy drinks could help “undo” the effects of alcohol, making it safe to drive.

The problem with combining energy drinks and alcohol is that the two are on opposite ends of the spectrum. One is a stimulant while the other is a depressant, Donham said.

The energy drink masks signs the body gives off when someone is drinking too much, such as getting sleepy or sick.

“People are using energy drinks as a way to stay awake longer, so they are more likely to drink more, and they are at a greater risk for acute alcohol poisoning,” Donham said.

Even without alcohol, students have to be wary of energy drinks this time of year as they stay up late cramming for finals, Donham said. While energy drinks might make it easier to stay awake, Donham said that without sleep the information isn’t likely to stick.

“You don’t learn the information until you memorize it. And when that memorization occurs is during the sleep cycle,” she said.

The federal study ended the report by noting the need for a public awareness campaign about the health effects of energy drinks, especially when they are combined with alcohol or drugs.

By Christine Metz

Reply

Vitamin D could help in fighting pediatric bone cancer

A study by a group of Kansas University researchers found that vitamin D can cause cancerous bone cells to turn to normal bone cells.

The findings, which were published in the Journal of Orthopaedic Research, could lead to a new treatment in fighting pediatric bone cancer, which has a survival rate of 60 percent to 70 percent.

Recent studies have shown vitamin D can inhibit the growth of malignant cells in breast, prostate and colon cancer. Kim Templeton, an orthopedic surgeon at Kansas University Hospital, was among the experts on a panel that discussed vitamin D research and cancer. She was surprised that none of the studies or trials included the effect of vitamin D on osteosarcoma, a malignant bone tumor that mainly affects children and adolescents.

“It’s the most common type of bone cancer in kids and teenagers and vitamin D is critical to bone health,” she said. So an interdisciplinary team at the Kansas University Medical Center came together to study how vitamin D affects bone cancer. The team used cancerous tumor cells to do the research.

“My question was if the tumor recognizes Vitamin D and if it would help control the cells,” Templeton said. In the laboratory tests, not only did the cancerous cells recognize the vitamin D, but it prevented the osteosarcoma cells from replicating as quickly and promoted the growth of normal bone cells.

“What should happen and what does happen (in the lab) is always two different things,” Templeton said. “So, I was happy it turned out the way we thought it would.”

The findings are important for a cancer who hasn’t seen the treatment methods or rate of survival change in the past 20 to 25 years. Most osteosarcoma patients undergo 10 weeks of chemotherapy before the tumor is removed.

The findings suggest that a normal size dose of vitamin D could become another tool in the treatment of osteosarcoma. Unlike chemotherapy, normal doses of vitamin D don’t have any negative side effects and it is inexpensive.

Before clinical trials on humans can began, researchers would have to test the effects of vitamin D on animals, which might include large dogs since they have a high rate of osteosarcoma.

Templeton said the findings don’t suggest people should start taking vitamin D to prevent bone cancer. Although that is a connection researchers might study in the future.

By Christine Metz

Reply

Regents want universities to put together policy on reporting sex abuse

The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday told the leaders of the state’s public universities to put together proposed policies on mandatory reporting of sexual abuse to law authorities.

The directive was in response to allegations of long-running sexual abuse against a former assistant football coach at Penn State University.

Regents Chair Ed McKechnie said he would like the six public universities in Kansas to work on policies and possibly combine them all into one statewide standard.

After the allegations of abuse were made public at Penn State, Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little put out a message to the “KU Community,” saying, “Beyond any legal responsibilities, we each have a moral obligation to look out for the safety of the other members of our community, especially when they are children.

“The state’s mandatory reporting law does not cover institutions of higher education, but we are examining changes to KU’s own policies, which would codify that responsibility for our employees.”

The schools are supposed to report back to the regents in January.

Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky has been charged with more than 50 counts of sexually abusing 10 boys over 12 years. Sandusky has denied the allegations.

Critics said Penn State officials failed for years to do anything about Sandusky.

The scandal led to the recent firing of longtime Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and university President Graham Spanier.

Athletic director Tim Curley and former university vice president Gary Schultz have been charged with perjury and failure to report suspected abuse.

By Scott Rothschild

Reply

Regents want universities to put together policy on reporting sex abuse

The Kansas Board of Regents on Wednesday told the leaders of the state’s public universities to put together proposed policies on mandatory reporting of sexual abuse to law authorities.

The directive was in response to allegations of long-running sexual abuse against a former assistant football coach at Penn State University.

Regents Chair Ed McKechnie said he would like the six public universities in Kansas to work on policies and possibly combine them all into one statewide standard.

After the allegations of abuse were made public at Penn State, Kansas University Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little put out a message to the “KU Community,” saying, “Beyond any legal responsibilities, we each have a moral obligation to look out for the safety of the other members of our community, especially when they are children.

“The state’s mandatory reporting law does not cover institutions of higher education, but we are examining changes to KU’s own policies, which would codify that responsibility for our employees.”

The schools are supposed to report back to the regents in January.

Former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky has been charged with more than 50 counts of sexually abusing 10 boys over 12 years. Sandusky has denied the allegations.

Critics said Penn State officials failed for years to do anything about Sandusky.

The scandal led to the recent firing of longtime Penn State football coach Joe Paterno and university President Graham Spanier.

Athletic director Tim Curley and former university vice president Gary Schultz have been charged with perjury and failure to report suspected abuse.

By Scott Rothschild

Reply

Vaccine opt outs across state raise concerns

Last year about 1 percent of parents of Kansas kindergartners opted their children out of immunization shots. It’s a number state and local health officials don’t want to see grow.

More than half the states in the country have seen at least a slight rise in the rate of exemptions over the past five years, according to an Associated Press report last week. States with the highest exemption rates are in the West and upper Midwest.

While the 1 percent exemption rate in Kansas doesn’t seem like a lot, state epidemiologist Charles Hunt said the state tends to see exemptions concentrated in certain areas. Among the state’s nearly 800 schools, only 250 reported exemptions.

“This 1 percent is not necessarily evenly distributed throughout the state,” Hunt said.

At a Lawrence-Douglas County Health Board meeting this month, board members and health department director Dan Partridge expressed concern about a Wichita-based group lobbying to parents to opt out of vaccinations.

During the last legislative session, Kansans for Vaccine Rights introduced a bill to the House Health and Human Services Committee to add conscientious exemption to the reasons for parents to opt out of immunizations. Exemptions are already allowed on religious and medical grounds.

The bill never got out of committee, but Partridge said the group’s lobbying efforts have increased since the session ended.

“Our concern this year is they will have gathered enough momentum to get it out of committee and onto the floor for a vote,” Partridge said.

Leaders from Kansans for Vaccine Rights declined to speak to the Lawrence Journal-World but provided written information on their stance.

“Our group is not anti-vaccination, but rather pro-parental rights, pro-informed consent and pro-freedom of conscience,” they wrote. “Parents who are choosing to opt out or delay one, some or all of the required vaccinations have valid concerns and questions that are not being fully answered or resolved.”

The group said the bill will be reviewed again in the 2012 legislative session.

Nineteen states allow parents to exempt out of immunizations for conscientious, philosophical, medical or religious reasons. The group noted these states continue to have high average vaccination participation and low exemption rates. But Partridge said the decision to vaccinate is one that affects more than just the child — it’s a social obligation because a healthy, unvaccinated child could carry a disease to a more vulnerable, unvaccinated person, such as an infant.

“It’s not just about my child, my decision. It’s not an isolated consequence,” Partridge said.

Not that long ago, 450 people a year were dying from measles, Hib meningitis killed 600 children each year and polio caused up to 20,000 cases of paralysis.

Partridge said the risk of going unvaccinated is far greater than the risks associated with vaccines.

“There are risks,” he said. “But there are millions and billions of vaccines given in the world and the vast majority of complications are a sore arm or low-grade fever.”

Hunt said part of the concern has to do with the ever-increasing list of vaccines children are required to have before they can attend school.

“Things have gotten more complicated with the number of vaccines given, new vaccines developed, new schedules. Children are getting a lot of vaccines in the first years of life,” Hunt said.

These are the immunization requirements for children entering Kansas kindergartens this year:

• Four to five doses of diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis.

• Four doses of polio.

• Two doses of measles, mumps, rubella.

• Two doses of chicken pox.

• Three doses of hepatitis B.

• Doses of three other vaccines are required for children under 5 who are in early-childhood programs.

But Hunt also said that parents today are exposed to a lot more information — not all of which is accurate, he said — on vaccines and their effects.

Partridge believes people have forgotten about the devastation these diseases brought before there were vaccinations.

“It follows a whole bunch of other trends in society in kind of forgetting the lessons of the past,” Partridge said.

As for what can happen when children go unvaccinated, Partridge pointed to outbreaks of pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, that occurred in Douglas County this year. In October, six cases were reported, four of which were from unvaccinated children. And in March, seven cases were reported, six of which were from unvaccinated children.

“We can’t let down our guard,” Partridge said.

By Christine Metz

Reply

Sebelius under fire from allies for Plan B decision

Leaders of groups that push for reproductive health rights for women were stunned last week when U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius refused to make emergency contraception more easily available.

Groups frequently allied with Sebelius criticized the decision by the former Kansas governor to keep Plan B One-Step behind the counter at pharmacies and require that girls under 17 continue to need a prescription for the contraceptive.

Sebelius’ decision overruled a recommendation by the Food and Drug Administration that Plan B was “safe and effective and should be approved for nonprescription use for all females of childbearing potential.” Taken within 72 hours of unprotected sex, Plan B can prevent pregnancy by restricting ovulation or blocking the implantation of a fertilized egg.

But Sebelius said she was concerned that the FDA recommendation would have allowed girls as young as 11 to buy the contraceptive. She concluded “that the data provided as part of the actual use study and the label comprehension study are not sufficient to support making Plan B One-Step available to all girls 16 and younger, without talking to a health care professional.”

When asked, President Barack Obama weighed in on the issue, saying he supported Sebelius’ decision.

“I will say this, as the father of two daughters: I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine. And as I understand it, the reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old going into a drugstore, should be able — alongside bubble gum or batteries — be able to buy a medication that potentially, if not used properly, could end up having an adverse effect,” Obama said.

The Guttmacher Institute, whose stated mission is to advance sexual and reproductive health rights, said Sebelius’ example of an 11-year-old girl was specious.

Fewer than 1 percent of 11-year-old girls have had sexual intercourse, but nearly half of girls have had sex by their 17th birthday, the group said. And the Institute noted that if Sebelius is concerned about young girls misunderstanding the labels, there are many over-the-counter medicines that young people can buy that can have fatal side effects.

“Emergency contraception is more effective the sooner it is used, so it is critical that women of all ages are able to get it quickly and easily, without having to jump through unnecessary hoops,” said Sharon Camp, president and chief executive officer of the Guttmacher Institute.

“Secretary Sebelius’ decision to ignore the scientific evidence and keep Plan B One-Step off the shelves of local grocery stores and pharmacies is a huge disappointment,” she said.

And in Kansas, the abortion rights group Trust Women also voiced its displeasure with Sebelius’ decision.

“For a Health and Human Services secretary to overturn a carefully thought out decision by the FDA is entirely unprecedented,” said Julie Burkhart, founder and director of Trust Women. “It’s highly unusual, and in this case, ill-advised. The FDA, through thorough examination, made sure the drug was safe to be issued to young women. It may be safer than aspirin, which we distribute in schools. This decision seems to have been a political one. As a Kansan and longtime supporter of Sebelius, I can’t help but be disappointed in her judgment.”

By Scott Rothschild

Reply

Study finds reusable shopping bags carry bacteria along with groceries

By Christine Metz

My husband is less than enthusiastic about my “enthusiasm” for the use of reusable shopping bags at the grocery story.

So you can imagine his triumph when he sent me a link to a Washington Post article titled “Your reusable shopping bags are full of bacteria.”

As it turns out, The Journal of Food Protection, a trade magazine for the International Association for Food Protection, recently published a study on the potential for these earth-saving totes to be germ-spreading fiends.

Headed by a group of researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University, the study collected reusable grocery bags from customers entering stores in California and Arizona.

Here’s what they found:

Reusable bags are seldom if ever washed and often used for multiple purposes A large number of bacteria was found in almost all bags and coliform bacteria was found in half the bags. E. coli was found in 8 percent of the bags. Several opportunistic pathogens were also found. When meat juices were added to the bags and stored in trunks of cars for two hours, the number of bacteria increased tenfold. Gross was the first thing that came to mind after reading the study’s finding. And, then I began thinking of all the things my reusable bags carry besides groceries: work out clothes, dirty smelly sneakers, wet swimsuits, lunches, side dishes to dinner parties.

Then I pictured everywhere they sat: next to my desk at work, on the kitchen counter, more than a dozen of them shoved into a bottom kitchen draw and mostly in the back seat of my car.

And, suddenly it didn’t so impossible that these bags were giant, germ-swapping Petri dishes.

But before you start burning your reusable shopping bag, here’s the good news.

The study found that hand or machine washing the bags reduced the bacteria nearly a 100 percent of the time.

That last part dashed any domestic victory my husband thought he had won with the study – since he does the majority of the laundry at our house.

In closing, the study recommended that the public be educated about the potential for cross-contamination in reusable bags through printed labels or public service announcements.

Consider this your PSA.

Reply

Kansas ranks last in making progress on children's health insurance

Kansas ranked last in the nation in making progress in insuring children, a new study says.

Nationally, the number of children without health insurance coverage decreased from 2008-2010.

But Kansas and Minnesota went in the opposite direction.

The two states had the highest percentage increase of uninsured children during that three-year period, according to the study conducted by the Georgetown University Health Policy Institute's Center for Children and Families.

Kansas' rate of uninsured children in 2010 was 8.2 percent, up from 7.4 percent in 2008. That represents an increase of uninsured children of 7,853 from 51,930 in 2008 to 59,783 in 2010.

Over the same period, even with more children living in poverty, the nationwide rate of uninsured children decreased from 9.3 percent to 8 percent, which meant there were nearly 1 million more children insured. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia experienced a decrease in the uninsured rate of children.

The improvement was attributed to more children getting coverage through states' Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Programs.

So why did Kansas rank at the bottom?

Shannon Cotsoradis, president and chief executive officer of Kansas Action for Children, said Monday it was because Kansas' efforts to provide health care coverage for more children from low-income families were made later than most other states.

An expansion of eligibility and changes in procedures to make it easier to sign up for Medicaid and HealthWave were not fully implemented until 2010.

"We took some steps in the right direction," she said. "We are not seeing the fruits of those labors yet. We need to stay the course."

She added, “KAC has launched a statewide campaign to enroll more children in HealthWave, a program that provides quality, cost-effective health insurance to parents who can’t get or can’t afford private health insurance. Many kids in Kansas are eligible for HealthWave, but their parents may not know it. We aim to change that.”

Joan Aker, co-executive director of the Georgetown Center for Children and Families, said Kansas can learn from other states to reduce the rate of uninsured children.

"No matter where they live, families that are struggling to meet their children’s health care needs during perilous economic times should get the help they need. Overall, on a national level, these data highlight a rare piece of good news at a challenging time for children – poverty has gone up, but across the county more kids are insured," Aker said.

Because of high unemployment rates and increasing cost of private insurance, more families have applied for coverage under Medicaid and Children's Health Insurance Programs. President Barack Obama signed an extension of CHIP and earmarked $87 billion to the states in economic stimulus to help pay for Medicaid.

By Scott Rothschild

Reply

Classic heart attack symptoms often absent in women

Barbara Sufian was preparing lunch when she felt a sharp pain that radiated from her waist, up her back and to her right shoulder.

“I was right in the middle of heart attack and had no idea what was going on,” Sufian said of the Oct. 24 medical emergency.

With a sister who had a heart attack at age 41 and two brothers who underwent heart bypass surgery, Sufian said she was aware of the typical symptoms. But because Sufian didn’t feel any pain on her left side, she didn’t think it was a heart attack. And that almost cost the 62-year-old woman her life.

“Historically, we have been told if you are having a heart attack the pain goes up your arm on the left side to your neck and face,” Sufian said. “If I had one of those symptoms, I would have gone to the doctor.”

It’s only when she collapsed that she realized she might be having a heart attack and called 911.

She was taken by ambulance to Lawrence Memorial Hospital, where she had a second heart attack.

“I feel pretty fortunate to be alive,” Sufian said.

What Sufian didn’t know was that signs are different between men and women. According to the Women’s Heart Foundation, women wait longer to go to the emergency room during a heart attack, and physicians are slower to recognize that a heart attack is occurring because often the telltale signs of chest pains and EKG changes aren’t present. Each year more women than men die from heart disease. And, after having a heart attack, women are twice as likely to die within the first couple of weeks.

While heart disease is just as serious in women as it is in men, decades worth of research has been focused on men. One of the reasons is because a large national data set came from patients at veterans hospitals. And those hospitals overwhelming cared for male patients.

For both men and women, the most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. But the health organization warns that women are more likely than men to experience other symptoms, such as shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting or back or jaw pain. Women can also have pain in the arms, neck, jaw and stomach.

Women are beginning to recognize those differences, said Dr. Roger Dreiling, a cardiologist at Lawrence Memorial Hospital.

He pointed to a patient he saw over Thanksgiving. She was out taking a walk when she started feeling pain, but it wasn’t in her chest. She was 54, had no risk factors for heart disease, but knew women’s symptoms for heart attacks could be a bit different than men’s. So she went to the emergency room where an EKG showed she was having a heart attack.

Dreiling said it is more common for women to come in with angina, a pain or discomfort that occurs when the heart isn’t getting enough oxygen, than heart attacks. Angina occurs during everyday physical activities. The pain can show up in unexpected places, like the high back and even right elbow.

One of the reasons women may have a lower threshold for coronary heart disease than men is because their arteries are smaller, so it doesn’t take as much plaque to block them. And, one of the reasons they may have a tougher time recovering from a heart attack is that they are on average older. The average age for coronary heart disease in men is 56 or 57. For women it’s 10 years later.

Looking back, Sufian said she had warning signs even earlier than the day of her heart attack. During the previous two months, she would get a sharp pain in her shoulder while directing choir music for her church. But she just thought it was a sore muscle.

A 2003 report by the National Institutes of Health showed that 95 percent of the women studied often experienced new or different physical symptoms as much as a month before a heart attack. Those symptoms included unusual fatigue, sleep disturbances, shortness of breath, indigestion and anxiety. All of those symptoms were more common than chest pains or discomfort.

Sufian’s recovery wasn’t an easy one. She spent three weeks at LMH and another two and half weeks at a rehabilitation center in Kansas City, Kan. She had two stents put in her heart and a pacemaker.

And there were complications along the way. At one point, her kidneys started shutting down, and she wasn’t taking any oxygen in. Her daughter began spreading word among friends and family that it was time to say their goodbyes.

“I just decided I wasn’t going to die. I was going to live. I was going to walk home,” Sufian said

.Last week Sufian arrived home, where she continues her recovery.

“Pay attention to your body,” she advises women. “If something says it’s not right, it probably isn’t.”

By Christine Metz

Reply

Study sheds light on diabetes among Native Americans

When Kansas University journalism professor Teresa Trumbly Lamsam goes to her childhood home in Oklahoma, she takes sacks of groceries with her. She knows she won’t be able to buy the kind of healthy food she wants on the American Indian reservation where she is from.

Health experts say the lack of food stores on reservations is one factor contributing to the soaring Native American diabetes rate. But lack of food options on reservations is not something you’ll often read about, and that’s something Lamsam wants to change.

She and her research partner, Haskell Indian Nations journalism instructor Rhonda LeValdo-Gayton, are studying how the media portray diabetes among Native Americans. The hope is to shed light on the forces shaping the conversation on Native American diabetes and offer guidance for journalists on how to cover the issue to promote better health.

The work is personal for both women. Lamsam is disturbed by research indicating that if nothing changes, diabetes could help wipe out Native Americans in 100 years. LeValdo-Gayton has lost several family members to the disease and has two young children. She is determined to make sure the damaging cycle of diabetes does not touch them.

“I feel like we just really got to step this up,” LeValdo-Gayton said. “I feel like we’re going to lose people that we don’t want to lose.”

Irreplaceable knowledge

Nationally, about 16 percent of Native Americans have diabetes, more than double the rate found in Caucasians. Native Americans are three times more likely to die from diabetes than the general population, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The disease is also striking more young people. The number of Native Americans ages 15 to 19 with diabetes increased by 68 percent from 1994 to 2004.

“If that doesn’t scare you, I don’t know what will,” Lamsam said. “What does that do to the lifespan of the population?”

Locally, there are at least three people under 40 on dialysis for diabetes, according to Dr. Dee Ann A. Deroin, a family physician in Lawrence.

“It stems from our change in lifestyle, the unavailability in healthy food and the decrease in healthy activity,” Deroin said.

For those with diabetes, the disease can mean blindness, amputated limbs, heart disease and kidney failure.

In Native American communities, diabetes is taking elders far too young, forcing adults in their 20s and 30s to become the keepers of the culture.

“We shouldn’t be at this point. We should be having them around us a lot longer to teach that next generation,” LeValdo-Gayton said.

She has lost three uncles and worries about what their absence means for her children’s cultural education.

“I am just floored by everything I still have to learn, and I have to seek it from somebody else now,” LeValdo-Gayton said. “I don’t want to see our next generation of people having to deal with death like this.”

Who you blame matters

Studies have shown the federal government is more likely to invest in fighting a disease if the public views the victims of the disease not at fault for contracting it.

Sixty years ago, smoking was seen as an individual’s choice. If you smoked, that was your business, and if smoking destroyed your body, that was your business, too.

But the conversation about smoking changed in the 1960s, when public health officials and the media began to emphasize nicotine’s powers to addict and smoking’s power to destroy. All of the sudden, perhaps smokers weren’t completely to blame. Major public policy changes followed, from surgeon general’s warnings to lawsuits draining hundreds of millions of dollars from the tobacco industry.

That model of framing a health issue — everything from HIV to obesity — as not just being the responsibility of the individual has been pushed by public health officials. It could be a way to combat diabetes.

“Mainstream news does influence public opinion and public policy in this country,” Lamsam said. “How they’re telling the story of diabetes makes a difference to what happens in D.C.”

In their pilot study completed this summer, Lamsam and LeValdo-Gayton found that during the past 14 years, news articles have framed Native Americans as being responsible for contracting diabetes because of bad eating habits or sedentary lifestyles.

Most articles did not look at the larger issues that might contribute to diabetes.

“We find predominately that the media frame the story to place responsibility for having diabetes on the individual,” Lamsam said.

But there are no magic words to make a person live healthier or lose weight.

“Weight loss requires fairly intensive management. We think about it like managing other chronic diseases,” said Christie Befort, an associate professor of preventive medicine and public health at KU’s School of Medicine.

There is a lack of nutritious food available on many reservations. For example, the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota has just one grocery store for a population of 8,000 spread over 3,500 square miles.

“The grocery store is very far away,” LeValdo-Gayton said. “It’s OK, but if you look at the selection of vegetables or fruit, it’s very minimal.”

Ultimately, Lamsam would like to see more success stories in tribal newspapers. There have been healthy living programs on reservations, and coverage of those types of things could make a difference.

“We’re talking about a collective culture, not an individualistic culture,” Lamsam said. If people on a reservation see their friends and neighbors are living more healthy, it would probably make it easier for them to live healthy lives as well.

“You don’t have to do it all at once. Just change one bad habit, one at time,” LeValdo-Gayton said. “Then you slowly understand how it can affect you.”

By Aaron Couch

Reply