Thursday, March 31, 2011

Documentary Review: 21 Below

I recently had the opportunity to review a documentary called 21 Below. The documentary focuses on a family of three daughters, Sharon, Karin and Laurie. Sharon has married and returned home when she learned that Karin's 14-month-old daughter was dying from Tay-Sachs disease.

Upon returning home, Sharon finds herself acting as a mediator between her mother, Peggy and Karin. Peggy is very disappointed in Karin's lifestyle, especially the choice of her new boyfriend, Courtney. She feels that Courtney is a bad role model for Karin's children, due to his work ethic and drug-dealing activities.

In conclusion, I found this documentary to be an intriguing look at the complex challenges of the contemporary American family.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

States scrambling to address Medicaid costs due to reduction in federal funding

A recent article on CNNMoney discusses how states are bracing for an impending cut in federal funding for Medicaid. Due to the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, states received an average of $2.68 for every dollar they spent on Medicaid. This was up from the original funding level of $1.61, according to the figures provided by the Council of State Governments. Federal funding for the program is decreasing incrementally until July 1st, when funding will reach pre-stimulus levels.

With current enrollment rates at nearly 49 million or almost 1 in 6 people, states are looking to address the shortfall by enrolling program participants into managed care programs, eliminating or charging for certain services and slashing rates to providers.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hispanic population reaches 50 million

An article in CNN indicates that the U.S. Hispanic population now exceeds 50 million. The Hispanic population has grown by 43% since 2000. In contrast, the Asian and African-American populations grew during the same period by 43% and .3%, respectively.

Hispanics now account for nearly one-quarter of children under the age of 18. Link

Monday, March 28, 2011

Feeding 'motel kids'

A recent article on CNN highlights a chef in Orange County that feeds free pasta to the county's 'motel kids'. The county estimates that about 1,000 families in Orange County are living in motels as their families are struggling financially. Chef Bruno Serato, who volunteers to serve these meals, created Caterina's Club to raise money for underprivileged children. He currently serves nearly 200 children in two locations, 7 days a week. While most of the children he serves receive free breakfast and lunch, often the families don't have the resources they need to provide their children with a substantial dinner.

You can view the accompanying video here.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Friday Roundup

Here is a listing of articles of interest published within the last 7-10 days:

1. Drug halts patient progress to Type II diabetes, March 23, 2011,
Brief Intro:"Treatment with pioglitazone (Actos) was able to halt the progression of impaired glucose tolerance to type 2 diabetes in a majority of patients, a randomized trial found."

2. A panel decides Washington state's health care costs, March 21, 2011,
Brief Intro:"While all states, private insurers and the federal Medicare program decide what to cover, this state’s program is attracting nationwide attention, in part because its process is public and open. That provides a living laboratory of the complexities of applying evidence-based medicine, something that is becoming more common as a way to rein in health care costs.

The program is also drawing attention because it explicitly considers the cost of treatments in making its decisions, akin to Britain’s National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence. "

3. Nearly 50 million Americans uninsured, CDC says, March 23, 2011.
Brief Intro: "Almost 50 million Americans are without health insurance– 3 million more than a year ago, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report finds one in five people were uninsured during some portion of the last 12 months."

Vulnerable Populations
1. Census shows Michigan needs immigrants, Snyder says, March 23, 2011,
Brief Intro:"Gov. Rick Snyder today restated his call for increased immigration in the state in the wake of U.S. Census figures released Tuesday showing a steep decline in Michigan's population."

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Will mentors help prevent diabetes?

The BBC recently reported that a five-year project will take a look to see if providing mentors to those who are considered pre-diabetic will help stop the development of diabetes within these patients. Researchers in Norfolk have begun the study that will screen 10,000 people for the disease by having them take a fasting glucose test. The Diabetes Prevention Mentors are members of the public that have already been diagnosed with Type 2 that will call their assigned mentees regularly to help educate and motivate them to meet their goals within the program.

Read more about the Norfolk Diabetes Prevention Study and about the Diabetes Prevention Mentors.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


A recent article in Time magazine details a new study that took a look at the role of exergames in helping children reach their daily recommended levels of moderate to vigorous physical activity. Scientists asked children ages 9-13 to play a variety of exergames that included Dance Dance Revolution, Wii Boxing, and Lightspaces' Bug Invasion. Researchers found that when children played with these games for ten minutes, the children expended at least as much energy as they did walking on a treadmill for a comparative length of time.

You can read more of the study, which was published in the March 7th online edition of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, here.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

NPR Podcast - Segregation in America

I came across a February NPR podcast that focuses on segregation in America. The discussion is an interesting take on the status of neighborhood integration in 2011. Demographer John Logan of Brown University, studied 5,000 census tracts in the country and found only 20-30 that were predominantly minority where Caucasians had established a significant presence.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Pre-existing condition insurance plans - covering the uninsurable

A recent article in the New York Times details the experience of Jerry Garner, a kidney transplant recipient of Michigan, who lost his insurance when he failed to send back a survey sent from his health insurer. When looking for a replacement insurer, his existing kidney condition made that task just about impossible. While continuing to look for new options, his wife came across an ad for Michigan's pre-existing insurance coverage program. Mr. Garner applied and was accepted and is now paying less for his insurance and receives more comprehensive coverage.

Pre-existing condition insurance plans (P.C.I.P's), required by the new health care law, started in July. The federal government set aside $5 billion for these programs. Twenty-seven states run their own plans with federal money with the rest relying on the Department of Health and Human Services to administer their plans. (To learn more about the offerings in each state, go to

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Roundup

Here is a listing of articles of interest published within the last 7-10 days:


1. Diet: Eating fish found to ward off eye disease, New York Times, March 17, 2011
Brief Intro:"A new study reports yet another good reason to eat fish: women whose diet was rich in omega-3 fatty acids found in fish were at significantly lower risk of developing age-related macular degeneration.

2. American life span edges longer, New York Times, March 16, 2011
Brief Intro:"Life expectancy in the United States has hit another high, rising above 78 years. The estimate of 78 years 2 months is for a baby born in 2009, and comes from a preliminary report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention."

3. Mexico puts its children on a diet, New York Times, March 13, 2011
Brief Intro:"One in three children is overweight or obese, according to the government. So the nation’s health and education officials stepped in last year to limit what schools could sell at recess. (Schools in Mexico do not provide lunch.)

The officials quickly became snared in a web of special interests led by Mexico’s powerful snack food companies, which found support from regulators in the Ministry of the Economy. The result was a knot of rules that went into effect on Jan. 1."


1. For Detroit schools, mixed picture for reforms, New York Times, March 13, 2011
Brief Intro:"Since Mr. Bobb arrived, the $200 million deficit has risen to $327 million. While he has made substantial cuts to save money — including $16 million by firing hundreds of administrators — any gains have been overshadowed by the exodus of the 8,000 students a year. For each student who departs, $7,300 in state money gets subtracted from the Detroit budget — an annual loss of $58.4 million."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts

An article in the New York Times discusses a new report on comparative educational systems that suggests raising the status of the teaching profession in the U.S. in order to attract more qualified candidates. Andreas Schleicher, the person who oversees Pisa, an international achievement test, says in the report that top-scoring countries recruit only high-performing college graduates and support them with mentoring.

You can read the report, What the U.S. Can Learn from the World’s Most Successful Education Reform Efforts, here.

Report by Commonwealth Fund - Insurance coverage still tough to get for individuals

According to a recent report by the Commonwealth Fund, 71% of an estimated 26 million people who tried to buy health insurance on the individual market in the previous 3 years had problems purchasing affordable insurance. About 35% said they were turned down or charged higher prices due to their medical history.

You can read more about this on CNN.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Using Google's Fusion Tables to visualize information

Instead of putting up a news article today, I wanted to discuss a Google tool that I recently made use of to help visualize a large amount of information, Google Fusion Tables. I along with a partner made use of this tool for a couple of Health 2.0 challenges. We were looking for a tool that would allow us to create a map of certain data points without requiring programming skills like the Processing visualization tool.

While Fusion Tables may not deliver a visualization product that comes anywhere close to what you could experience with Processing, it does a good job of plotting out your data points on an international, national, state or even local basis. It also allows you to share tables with partners so that they can collaborate on creation and editing. In addition, you can make your table public (to share with all), unlisted (to share with those who have the direct link), or private.

For one competition, we ended up using Fusion Tables to plot out the 2006-2008 birth rate data across the country. This included data that provided information by ethnic group, delivery method and number of Medicaid paid births. You can view that table here:

For another competition, we plotted out organizations that had received diabetes-related grants during 2009-2011. The reason why we did this was because we wanted to provide a new way for professionals working with diabetes in their own communities to seek out potential partners that were already involved in that kind of work. We figured that the best way to do this was to plot on a map those organizations that were successful enough to win a grant to fund their work. You can view the map here: (make sure to select the full address option in the location area so that you can view the information as it was intended).

If you click on each red dot on the diabetes partnership map, you will see the following:
- Organization information (contact information, location, county, website (if available) and phone number).
- 2007-2009 adult diabetes stats for the state in which the organization is located.
- A link to American Fact Finder Census data for each location.
- A link to the County Health Rankings site for each county the organization is located in.

In addition, we created a Google custom search engine for professionals to find the targeted authoritative diabetes-related information they need. We thought this was a good idea as a search for "diabetes" in a regular search engine comes up with over 110 million results.

While we didn't end up winning either of the competitions, the experience helped us think about effective ways to promote partnerships among professionals and grantees and how to effectively promote the use of targeted and authoritative information to those already experiencing information overload.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Farmworker children and educational disparities

A recent article in the New York Times provides a glimpse of the challenges Salinas Valley farm worker children face when it comes to their education and dealing with poverty and the family's mobility. The article focuses on Mr. Ramos, a teacher that has several farm worker children in his classroom at Sherwood Elementary. As a child, Mr. Ramos was a farm worker himself, giving him a unique understanding of the obstacles his students face. Even with such obstacles, the principal of Sherwood, Ms. Terri Dye says that the key to working with this population "was to understand where these students come from but also having high expectations".

Monday, March 14, 2011

Detroit Schools: Proposal to turn 41 schools to charter operators

An article on CNN describes how Detroit Public Schools has proposed turning over 41- low performing schools that were scheduled for a shut-down to charter operators. The Renaissance Plan 2012 would select operators to run the schools as public academies as with DPS as their authorizer.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mediterranean Diet Cuts Metabolic Syndrome Risk

An article on WebMD discusses a recent analysis published in the Journal of The American College of Cardiology. The study analyzed 50 studies comprising more than 500,000 people to show that the Mediterranean diet can reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

U.S. 'diabetes belt' is identified

According to a CNN article, in the April issue of the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, researchers have been able to identify a diabetes belt of 644 counties in 15 U.S. states. Located primarily in the southeastern part of the country, the belt defines where diabetes care and prevention is most needed.

According to the article includes portions of the states of: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia, as well as the entire state of Mississippi.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tight Budgets Mean Squeeze in Classrooms

The New York Times published a story that took a look at an increase in class size due to budget cuts and teacher layoffs. Over the last two years, several states have loosened legal restrictions on class size. While many tend to oppose increased class size, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, has encouraged governors to consider paying bonuses to the best teachers who take on additional students.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Mapping the nation's well-being - Gallup

The New York Times posted a well-being indicators map on their website that was created from data collected from the Gallup Well-Being Index. The survey was completed over the course of a year with the results sorted by congressional districts.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Friday Roundup

Here is a list of articles of interest that have been published in the last 7-10 days:

1. Breast-feeding reduces childhood obesity risks in babies exposed to prenatal diabetes, Medscape Today, March 3, 2011
Brief Intro:"Breast-feeding may protect babies who were prenatally exposed to diabetes against childhood obesity, according to the results of a retrospective cohort study reported in the March issue of Diabetes Care."

2. Potassium levels may explain racial disparity in Type 2 diabetes, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, March 2, 2011
Brief Intro:"Low serum potassium appears to be independently associated with incident type 2 diabetes, and low dietary potassium is more common in African Americans than in whites. "

3. Diabetes takes six years off your life by increasing risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer, study says, Los Angeles Times, March 2, 2011
Brief Intro:"A 50-year-old with Type 2 diabetes will lose an average of six years of life as a result of the disease, only one less than would be lost by a long-term smoker of the same age, researchers reported Wednesday."

4. Gene therapy against HIV not a proven cure, experts say,, March 1, 2011
Brief Intro:"Experts are reacting with cautious optimism to the announcement Monday that researchers reconfigured immune cells so that they became resistant to HIV in six patients infected with the virus."

1. Education secretary cautions districts about layoffs, March 3, 2011
Brief Intro:"Arne Duncan, the federal secretary of education, urged state and local authorities to avoid short-sighted decisions as they cut school budgets, and said laying off teachers based solely on seniority was “a wrong way to cut spending.”

1. House passes Arizona-style bill aimed at illegal immigration, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, March 3, 2011
Brief Intro:"HB 87 would authorize state and local police to verify the immigration status of certain suspects. A federal judge halted a similar provision in Arizona last year after the Obama administration argued it is pre-empted by federal law."

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Do sugary drinks boost blood pressure?

According to a CNN article, a new study suggests that even one sweetened drink per day may contribute to higher blood pressure. The study, published in Hypertension, shows that even one sweetened drink per day may contribute to higher blood pressure. The more of these drinks a person consumes, the higher his or her pressure is likely to be.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Fungus Knocks Out Malaria In Mosquitoes

A recent story on NPR describes how scientists have come up with a new approach to combat malaria. Instead of focusing on killing the mosquito, scientists have found a way to use a fungus to kill the parasite within it. The fungus grows in the mosquito, eventually killing it, but the fungus itself develops an anti-malarial protein, ridding the insect of the disease so that it can't be transmitted to others.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Podcast Interview: Molly McKaughan (Foundation Learning)

This month, I am posting a podcast interview with Molly McKaughan from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. During the interview, Molly discusses some of the foundation's innovative learning techniques and solutions that they have implemented. If your organization is interested in improving its own learning processes and would like to learn from another foundation's experience, this is an excellent podcast to listen to.

Listen to the WAV file or the MP3 version.