March 27, 2015

Campaign says cutting sugared drinks can improve your health


The “Rethink Your Drink” campaign tries to get people to cut back on sugar laden drinks.

Almost one in every three Iowans is obese, according to the latest rankings, and what we’re drinking can be just as fattening as what we’re eating.

Carol Voss, a registered dietician and a nutritionist with the Iowa Department of Public Health, says just one 12-ounce soda contains around 150 calories and 40 grams of sugar, which in itself is more than the daily recommendation. It’s much worse for the 20-ounce pops.

“If you were thinking of opening those sugar packets you find at a restaurant table, the 20-ounce bottle would be 16 of those dumped into that plastic bottle,” Voss says. “So, you can see how that might exceed what we’re supposed to be consuming.” A state survey in 2012 found that 72-percent of Iowans consumed between one and three sugar-sweetened beverages daily. For women, it was 67-percent and 77-percent for men.

Voss says a campaign called “Rethink Your Drink” is urging Iowans to consider cutting out at least some of those sweet drinks and trading them for water or a non-sweetened tea. “It’s just a way of being a little more realistic about the calories we’re taking in,” Voss says. “When people are looking at ways to balance your calories, we look at the food we eat rather than the beverages we take in and beverages can be a very easy thing to modify.”

Drinking one soda a day can equal an extra 25 pounds of weight per year. The latest “State of Obesity” report from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation finds 31-percent of all Iowans are obese, the 12th highest rate in the country. Sugar-sweetened beverages are the largest source of added sugar in the American diet, and that contributes to things like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.


Senate committee votes 9-5 in favor of medical marijuana bill

Medical-marijuanaA bill that would legalize the use of marijuana as treatment for certain medical conditions that cause seizures, chronic pain and nausea has cleared a Senate Committee on a 9-5 vote this afternoon, but faces key opposition in the Iowa House. Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, has patterned the bill after laws in other states.

“To give Iowans legal access to medicines that most Americans already have,” Bolkcom said.

An Iowa law that took effect July 1 decriminalized possession of cannabis oil for the treatment of chronic epilepsy, but the parents who lobbied legislators to pass that law say they can’t get the drug for their kids here and can’t travel elsewhere to get cannabis oil and bring it back to Iowa. The bill that cleared the Senate Ways and Means Committee today calls for establishing up to four marijuana production facilities in Iowa as well as up to a dozen separate businesses that would dispense the marijuana.

Iowans with one of the medical conditions listed in the bill or chronic and severe pain caused by an underlying medical diagnosis would have to get a doctor’s recommendation to use marijuana as treatment. They would pay $100 for a state-issued Medical Marijuana License and then they’ve be able to buy a series of products made from the marijuana plant. However, smoking marijuana would still be illegal. Senator Rob Hogg, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, was a “very reluctant” supporter of the bill.

“But because of the…extensive safeguards that are built in at every step of the process, including the safeguard that smoking of marijuana is expressly prohibited under this legislation, I plan on voting for it today,” Hogg said. “…For people who are truly sick, facing debilitating conditions that I can’t even imagine what it’s like to live with, they ought to have the opportunity if they’re working with their medical provider and they think this is an option that they should pursue.”

Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, said marijuana can’t cure “debilitating diseases,” but it can reduce symptoms like seizures, nausea and chronic pain.

“People’s lives, I believe, are at stake,” Dotzler said, “and their health and well-being is at stake.”

Senator Michael Breitbach of Strawberry Point was among the five Republicans on the committee who voted against the bill.

“I’m not ready to vote for it yet, but I think we’re moving in the correct direction,” Breitbach said.

However, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen, the top Republican in the legislature, sees a dim future for the bill.

“I don’t believe that the General Assembly will do anything with medical marijuana this year,” Paulsen told reporters late this morning.

Several Iowans with chronic medical conditions are hoping their stories change the minds of legislators like Paulsen. Forty-four-year-old Madena Burman of De Soto has a rare genetic disease that causes colon cancer. There is no cure and she has read research that suggests cannabis can reduce the number of cancer cells produced by hereditary cancers like hers.

“I guess if their life was on the line, they might have a different opinion,” Burman told reporters after today’s committee meeting. “…I have a problem with someone else’s fear overriding my choice for my life and my body.”

Burman sat through today’s senate committee meeting and plans to return to the statehouse to lobby for the bill. Fifty-year-old Shannon Peterson of Des Moines is another Iowan with chronic pain who has been lobbying for passage of this bill and plans to keep at it.

“Show up as often as I can even when it’s hard for me to get up and get going. I’ve had Crone’s Disease for 34 years,” Peterson said after attending today’s meeting. “…It’s just very painful. It’s worse than giving birth.”

She said marijuana could help control her pain and she has considered moving to Denver where she can legally get it.

Monitoring continues for bird flu that has shown up in other states

chicken-pictureState officials are keeping an eye out for signs of a bird flu that has recently been discovered in other states. State Veterinarian David Schmitt says the influenza is highly pathogenic, or has a high death rate, particularly in turkeys and chickens.

“It first appeared in the northwest part of the United States in the Pacific Flyway in some commercial and backyard poultry that were affected. It’s now show up in the Mississippi Flyway here in the central states region — first in Minnesota and then a couple of turkey farms in Missouri, one in Arkansas, and then a backyard group of birds in Kansas,” Schmitt explains.

Schmitt says waterfowl carry different types of influenza across the country. “This one here happens to be an H5N2, it’s highly pathogenic, and birds in this flyway as in other flyways, they commingle in the northern countries and they can bring it back. And when they’re coming through they stop, and they can be shedding it in their feces,” Schmitt says.

There have been some samples taken of snowgeese in Iowa and so far the disease has not show up in the state. “That’s pretty exciting, because it means that hopefully everybody is doing their due diligence as far as in protecting their birds,” Schmitt says.

It’s an important issue to Iowa as the state is a leader in egg laying and a leader also in turkey production. Schmitt says he’s confident those industries are taking the proper steps to keep the disease away.

“In the state of Iowa, our commercial operations are very well in tune in as far as biosecurity operations,” according to Schmitt. “Certainly a lot of those have seen what’s going on and have even intensified and reviewed those biosecurity to make sure that it is not introduced into their populations of birds.”

He says the operations have had such biosecurity measures in place long before this outbreak in other states. The operations don’t allow visitors and those who come in cannot have any contact with birds in the last three days, and he says those who work in the facilities are not allow to own their own private birds. Schmitt says anyone who keeps chickens or other birds privately should take precautions.

“If you are walking through areas where wild waterfowl have been and you have a backyard population — its extremely important to change your shoes, make sure things are clean before you walk in with any poultry,” Schmitt says. Schmitt says the influenza cannot be transferred to humans and is not a health concern in that regard.


DHS chief faces uncertain vote in Iowa Senate for another 4 years

Charles Palmer (DHS photo)

Charles Palmer (DHS photo)

A state senate committee has voted to release the nomination of Iowa Department of Human Services director Chuck Palmer to the full senate for a confirmation vote.

Governor Branstad has nominated Palmer to serve another four years as director of state government’s largest agency. Senator Rich Taylor, a Democrat from Mount Pleasant, will vote no  because of Palmer’s decision to close the Mental Health Institutes in Mount Pleasant and Clarinda.

“I just think that director Palmer’s lost his way,” Taylor says. “He used to have the best interests of the most vulnerable citizens of Iowa at heart and I think he’s lost that.”

Palmer is 76 years old and has served 14 years as the agency’s director. To continue in the job, Palmer must get “yes” votes from 34 of the 50 senators. That is the two-thirds threshold of support in the senate that’s necessary to win confirmation to key jobs in state government.

The Senate Human Resources Committee on Tuesday voted to make Palmer’s nomination eligible for a vote in the full senate, but the committee isn’t recommending whether senators should vote against Palmer or allow him to continue at the department. Taylor was the only member of the committee to express himself as an outright no on Palmer’s nomination.

“I don’t believe that it’s totally his decision to close down these MHIs, but he is taking ownership of it,” Taylor says. “If you’re going to fall on the sword, usually that’s going to kill you and, in my opinion, it has ended his usefulness as our head of the Department of Human Services.”

Other senators say Palmer has one of the toughest jobs in state government and they credit him with providing stable leadership during difficult times. Others, like Taylor, have complained about the “sneaky way” legislators learned the Mental Health Institutes were closing, since there was no public announcement and the closures were discovered buried in Governor Branstad’s proposed budget outline.

Iowa Senate approves teen tanning bed ban

Mark Chelgren

Mark Chelgren

By a slim margin, the Iowa Senate has passed a bill that would ban minors from using commercial tanning beds. Senator Bill Dotzler, a Democrat from Waterloo, said using a tanning bed is a “dangerous practice” that can be “just as dangerous as smoking.”

“As senators, we vote on a lot of bills, but I don’t think there are that many bills that we have an opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives like this one is,” Dotzler said.

Senator Mark Chelgren, a Republican from Ottumwa, voted against the bill.

“I believe this is something parents should have some say in,” Chelgren said. “Their opinion on what their kids can do means at least as much as our opinion in this room.”

Chelgren said he’s fair-skinned, but didn’t burn as a kid growing up on the west coast because he got what he calls a “base tan.”

“It is not a case of ‘base tanning’ causing the problem, day-to-day tanning causing the problems. ” Chelgren said. “The case and the problem is the burning. It is the excessive use of ultraviolent light whether it be in the sunshine or whether it be in a tanning bed facility that causes the damage to the skin.”

Bill Dotzler

Bill Dotzler

Dotzler said doctors tell him people who have used a tanning bed before the age of 35 have increased their chances of being diagnosed with melanoma by 75 percent.

“We have an opportunity here, ladies and gentlemen of the senate, to maybe stop a few cases — not all of ‘em — but we can stop a few cases by the passage of this legislation and maybe save some lives in the state of Iowa,” Dotzler said.

The bill passed on a narrow, 26-23 vote. A similar bill has cleared a House committee and is eligible for debate in the full House.

New Ms. Wheelchair Iowa crowned, will focus on business accessibility

Katie Helmers

Katie Helmers

Iowa has a new advocate for people with disabilities. Katie Helmers of Dakota City was crowned in Iowa City over the weekend as Ms. Wheelchair Iowa for 2015.

The 25-year-old Helmers lost the use of her legs in a car crash in March of 2013. As the new titleholder, Helmers says she plans to target a variety of businesses that claim to be handicapped accessible when they’re really not.

“Say, you’re going to stay at a hotel and the room you get is ‘handicapped accessible’ but then you can’t use the sink or the shower,” Helmers says. “It’s pretty frustrating when you can’t even get underneath the sink to brush your teeth or wash your hair.”

Helmers says she’s been surprised by the lack of access in many public restrooms, even in airports, which don’t come close to meeting the required standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“I had to use a stall that was missing part of the stall because that was the only one I could use that I could get my wheelchair in there,” Helmers says. “So, I was exposed for everyone to see. It was slightly humiliating but I had to do what I had to do.”

Helmers had been working at Walgreens prior to her accident and she says her managers and the rest of the staff have been amazing in their response to her crisis and recovery. She still works at the same store as a pharmacy technician. “There is funding that they used to help me get a standing wheelchair that goes from sit to stand,” Helmers says. “I have my own workstation now that better accommodates me and I can also help our patients better as well.”

The Ms. Wheelchair Iowa program is open to any Iowa women between the ages of 21 and 60 who use a wheelchair or a scooter for 100% of their daily mobility. The competition isn’t a beauty pageant. It’s for women who use wheelchairs to advocate for — and showcase the abilities of — people with disabilities. The contestants are judged on their achievements and accomplishments since the onset of their disability.

Helmers will represent Iowa at the Ms. Wheelchair America Pageant this summer. The national event is being held in Des Moines this year — in July.


Poisoning cases prompt reminder on lead issues

Most children are exposed to lead hazards when they play around windows where the paint is in need of repair.

Most children are exposed to lead hazards when they play around windows where the paint is in need of repair.

A few recent incidents are serving as a reminder that childhood lead poisoning continues to be a serious concern in Iowa.

Kevin Officer, with the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH), says one Iowa toddler was recently hospitalized with unusually high blood-lead levels. Health inspectors found several lead-based paint hazards in the child’s home, which was built more than a century ago.

“One of the issues he had was he was actually picking at the paint and putting it in his mouth,” Officer says. In another recent case, a toddler was treated for lead poisoning after biting around windows in a rental home built in the early 1900s. Officer says children could be at higher risk for lead poisoning if they live in homes built before 1960.

Seven years ago, Iowa passed a law requiring kids be tested for lead poisoning before they enter grade school. “There has been, since about 2008, much more awareness of lead poisoning and the need to have kids under the age of six tested,” Officer says. Lead poisoning is a more widespread problem in Iowa, compared to other states, because Iowa has a lot of older homes in rural communities.

“In Iowa, we have a lot of rental properties and those properties aren’t always maintained as well over the years,” Officer says. “Those are a lot of the ones where we do see problems with renters who come and go and the maintenance isn’t always up to where it should be to maintain that paint.” An Iowa law that took effect in 2011 requires contractors and landlords to be “lead certified” to do work in homes and child-occupied facilities built prior to 1978.

More information about lead screening and the proper method for lead paint removal is posted on the IDPH website.