December 20, 2014

UNI website helps you figure out what makes holidays matter

Gifts-precycleA website run through the University of Northern Iowa is devoted to helping people have fun and meaningful holidays while offering tips like creative gift ideas, green entertaining and how to reduce waste during the year-end season. Susan Salterberg heads up

“One of the things on there is a tool called The Five Minute Assessment Tool,” Salterberg says. “It asks people to think about what they did last year during the holiday season and then evaluate what kind of pleasure and meaning they got from that activity and whether they’d like to do more or less of that in this coming year.”

Salterberg says what brings most of us joy during the holidays is our relationship with friends and family members. The holidays are also partly about indulgence, she says, indulging in what matters to you the most.

Salterberg says, “Sometimes the amount of busyness and commercialism that we see coming into the holidays, we often think of that as being busy and indulging in stuff as an indulgence but I really don’t think that’s what matters most to us.” The website also offers a “Pick 5″ survey to think about priorities. You’re to pick five things that matter to you from a list of about 20 items, ranging from having wealth to volunteering to being healthy and having a good job. Some people say they don’t need anything at all for the holidays, but Salterberg suggests giving them something anyway, what she calls a “gratitude letter.”

“If I can sit down and write them a note telling them what they’ve done for me in my life and how meaningful they have been, it’s not a thank you note, it’s really more in-depth about what they’ve provided to my life,” Salterberg says. “I think that’s a really kind of cool gift to give.” Salterberg is program manager of the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at the University of Northern Iowa.



Iowa drops in healthiest state rankings


This chart shows Iowa’s annual health rankings.

Iowa has dropped several more notches on the latest report that ranks the states for their health and wellbeing.

Dr. Rhonda Randall, spokeswoman for the United Health Foundation, says the list is compiled by comparing 30 different criteria in four main categories: behaviors, community environment, public policy and the clinical care system.

“This year, Iowa is ranked 24th,” Dr. Randall says. “Last year, they were ranked 18th, so a decrease by six ranks. In 1990, when we started this report, Iowa was ranked number-six, so over the course of the 25 years, it’s an 18-rank decrease and it’s been a fairly slow, steady decrease over the last 25 years.” She says Iowa had poor showings in several categories this year.

“You’re ranked 47th in the nation for binge drinking, where 22% of the adult population is reporting that they binge drink,” Randall says. “You’re also ranked 46th for access to primary care physicians, and then a high incidence of infectious diseases, ranked 41st in the country there.” Iowa also had a poor showing in rates of smoking, obesity and inactivity.

While Iowa now ranks in the middle of the national pack at 24th overall out of the 50 states, she says Iowa still did very well in some categories. “There’s some areas to be very proud of,” Randall says. “(Iowa) ranked 4th in immunization coverage for children, that’s great to see many preventable illness and infectious diseases with vaccinations. Also, a high rate of high school graduation, ranked 5th in the nation there. Those two together show you’re doing right by the kids.”

Iowa also had the 5th highest rank in the country for people with health insurance. Hawaii ranked first this year, Mississippi was last. See the full list of the rankings at:


Winter’s lack of sunlight can lead to health issues


A lack of sunlight can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Cold weather rolled into Iowa weeks early this fall and lingered, forcing many people indoors much sooner than usual. Kevin Gabbert, a social worker and counselor at the Iowa Department of Public Health, says being deprived of exposure to the sun can bring on the blues and make people feel moody and lethargic.

Gabbert says the early onset of winter may bring an uptick in cases of SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder. “It really kind of depends,” Gabbert says. “If it’s a longer winter, if there’s less sunlight, those types of things tend to play a role in SAD and we could experience more cases. It’s a little early for us to say yet.”

On the plus side, Gabbert says a little counseling can go a long ways for SAD sufferers. “Talking about what’s going on with you, talking about your feelings,” Gabbert says. “It may be to the point where counseling would be beneficial. For those symptoms that are a little more advanced, it may be something you want to talk about with your physician. It may be that medication would be beneficial for you. Also, light therapy or phototherapy could be very helpful as well.”

Dr. David Towle, a Cedar Falls psychologist and director of the University of Northern Iowa Counseling Center, says light therapy is a simple solution that really helps some people get through the Midwestern winter. “We typically think about exposure of about 30 minutes per day of a full spectrum light,” Dr. Towle says. “Often, people will get up in the morning and sit and read the newspaper, listen to the radio, drink their coffee, and sit in front of a light for 20 or 30 minutes and that’s a pretty effective intervention.”

Towle says another option is what’s called “negative air ionization,” which uses a device like an air purifier. “It is like that and it’s something that people use while they’re sleeping,” Towle says. “It seems not to be quite as effective as the full-spectrum light exposure but it’s pretty effective for a lot of people.” Studies find that between ten and 20-percent of Americans report feeling tired or sad when there are fewer hours of daylight during the winter months.


Senator Grassley cosponsors bill on university campus safety

Senator Chuck Grassley.

Senator Chuck Grassley.

As University of Iowa police investigate the latest report of a sexual assault on campus, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is taking part in a hearing in Washington D.C. today on legislation he says aims to empower and protect students. Grassley, a Republican, is cosponsoring a bill called the Campus Accountability and Safety Act, which he says would strengthen accountability and transparency for institutions.

“To bring out cooperation between university and law enforcement,” Grassley says, “and to raise issue about the problem of sexual assault.” Colleges need to do a better job of handling reports of sexual assault, Grassley says. He adds, sexual assault is not some code of conduct violation, it is a major criminal offense. Like with any crime, Grassley says, “weak enforcement makes the problem worse.”

He says the legislation, before the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, is needed and colleges would face penalties for noncompliance. Grassley says, “To bring attention to the fact a rape is a rape and it ought to be treated as a law enforcement issue and just as soon as it’s treated as the law enforcement crime that it is, people on campuses will soon get the message that you can’t get away with rape.” In a statement, Grassley says the “current system of requiring colleges to report sexual assaults to the federal government results in non-reporting, under-reporting and non-compliance with the already weak standards under current federal law.”

The bipartisan legislation is designed to make it in the schools’ immediate best interest to take proactive steps to protect their students and rid their campuses of sexual predators. In the latest Iowa City case, a female U-of-I student says she was sexually assaulted by a stranger in a residence hall on Friday night.


Activists release list of 24 ‘dangerous’ toys shoppers should avoid

Click on the Trouble in Toyland link to learn why this robot may be dangerous

Click on the Trouble in Toyland link to learn why this robot may be dangerous

As the holidays near, a new report shows dangerous toys may still be sitting on store shelves in Iowa.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group issues its Trouble in Toyland report each year, targeting toys that present choking hazards, use excessive noise or contain unsafe levels of lead and other dangerous chemicals.

PIRG spokesman Peter Skopec says they looked in stores and online: “We continue to find dangerous products that could harm or poison children,” Skopec says. “We found these toys everywhere, at dollar stores but also at big name stores like Walmart and Target and Toys ‘R’ Us but also at online retailers like”

Skopec says the report is a reminder that parents and those shopping for children need to be careful about what they purchase. While federal regulations for toy safety have improved dramatically in the last eight years, Skopec says they continue finding an array of dangerous toys.

“There are still products out there that pose hazards to children that fail to meet these important safeguards,” Skopec says. “In some cases, standards have to be made stronger in order to protect kids from unsafe toys.”

This year’s report highlights 24 toys which the group considers unsafe, which includes toys that put out loud and potentially ear-damaging sounds. One such product is a toy smart phone made by V Tech.

“This is a toy phone we found at Target,” Skopec says. “It’s meant to be held up close to a child’s ear and it’s extremely loud.”

For nearly 30 years, PIRG has done an annual survey on toy safety which has led to more than 150 recalls and other regulatory actions.


Des Moines, Waterloo, Marshalltown police investigate deaths

Police-lights-300x176Police say a Des Moines man was shot to death in his home Sunday night and his live-in girlfriend is now being held in the killing. Officers were called to an eastside home just before midnight on a report of shots fired and found the body of 68-year-old Jack Dennis.

Police says the victim lived in the house with 56-year-old Pamela Bullington, who’s now jailed on a charge of first-degree murder. Police say the two were in a domestic relationship. There’s no word yet on a motive in the shooting. It’s Des Moines’ 10th homicide this year.


Waterloo police are investigating the shooting death of a man early Saturday. The man’s been identified as 23-year-old Orintheo Campbell, Junior. Waterloo Police say they received a shots fired call around 1:30 A.M. Saturday outside Prime Mart at 508 Broadway St. Shortly thereafter, Campbell arrived by private vehicle at Allen Hospital where he died from his injuries. No other details have been made available, no arrests have been made, and the incident remains under investigation. Waterloo Police say this is the fourth homicide of 2014 in the city.


Marshalltown police have made two arrests in connection with what they’re calling a “suspicious death” over the weekend. It happened at a trailer park in Marshalltown back on Saturday night. The Marshalltown Police Department has arrested two men identified as 18-year-old James Head, charged with conspiracy to commit a felony, and 29- year-old Jeremy Lavender, charged with felon in possession of a firearm.

The victim’s name has not been released yet, autopsy results are pending.

Chuck Shockley, KFJB, Marshalltown and Scott Fenzloff, KCNZ, Cedar Falls contributed the information on the Marshalltown and Waterloo shootings.


‘Precycling’ encouraged with holiday gifts


You are asked to think about packaging and recycling when you buy holiday gifts.

The holiday song says this is “the most wonderful time of the year,” but it’s also the most wasteful.

Trash generated by the average Iowa household rises 25-percent during the holidays, but with some planning before shopping, that doesn’t have to be the case. Leslie Irlbeck, at the Des Moines-based Metro Waste Authority, says to “precycle” or consider how those gifts will end up.

“We’re encouraging people to think about the gifts they buy,” Irlbeck says. “Eventually, will they be recycled, will they be re-used or will they end up in the landfill? The same concept should be used when you’re thinking about how to package and wrap those gifts this season as well.” Parents may sometimes go overboard on gifts for younger kids, so Irlbeck says a little forethought can go a long ways.

“Remove a lot of the packaging that goes in our stockings,” Irlbeck says. “A lot of times, there’s cardboard boxes that are part of those gifts. If you unpack the gift before you stuff the stockings, you can recycle them up front and then you don’t have to worry about the madness of the day itself and trying to sort through the garbage from the recyclables.”

While studies find the amount of garbage generated between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day bounds by 25-percent, she says Iowans can reverse the trend with a little effort. “As you’re unwrapping gifts, a lot of things are recyclable,” Irlbeck says. “A lot of the cardboard boxes we use, those are all recyclable and wrapping paper itself. When you head to the store, try and purchase wrapping paper that can be recycled. That means buying the plain wrapping paper and even cards that we send that don’t have glitter, they’re not metallic, they’re just plain paper and those can all be recycled.”

Old garland should go in the trash, not the recycling bin, and she says the same is true for strands of Christmas lights — while they’re metal, glass and plastic, they’re not recyclable. For Iowans with live Christmas trees, many communities offer post-holiday recycling programs so they can be mulched.