Helping make the health care system work for you

One woman's challenge: Lower cholesterol in 3 months, without meds

Karen Perea Gannon has adopted a heart-healthy diet to lower her cholesterol.

Last month, I asked Impatient readers if their doctors had prescribed them exercise or a healthier diet as an antidote to chronic health problems.

Karen Perea Gannon, of Sherman Oaks, responded. Via email, she told me that her doctor had recently called her with some unsettling news: Her annual blood test showed she had very high cholesterol.

Here's the breakdown: her overall cholesterol count was 267; the preferred number is below 200. Her LDL (the "bad" cholesterol) was 185, while ideally it would be under 130; and her HDL (the "good" cholesterol) was 51, at the lower end of the preferred range.

Her cholesterol level - and creeping weight - were scary, but not necessarily surprising. As she put it, "I knew exactly where my health was: In the toilet!"

Gannon explained that she had been dealing with the stress of work and caring for her aging parents. Along with – or maybe as a symptom of – that, "my gym membership had been forgotten, and my eating habits were terrible," she wrote. "I had put on 15 pounds in a year, when I should have been working on losing 15!" 


NYC requires flu shots for day care, preschool. Should Calif.?

baby vaccine bandaid

Photo by Erik Bishoff via Flickr Creative Commons

During the 2013-2014 flu season, the Golden State lagged behind Connecticut and New Jersey in flu shots for kids.

Has your child received the influenza vaccine during this year's flu season?

Starting this year, children attending New York City-licensed day care centers and preschools must have received at least one dose of the flu vaccine by December 31, or risk being excluded from school, according to this New York Times article. All children should get two doses of the flu vaccine each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

The new regulation requires facilities to track whether kids have received the flu vaccination, according to this FAQ from the city health department.

"The city had been lagging behind the national average in preschool flu immunization rates, and officials are expecting that the new mandate will help," Times reporter Sharon Otterman writes.


On New Year's Day, walking intoxicated may kill you

NTSB Recommends States Reduce Blood Alcohol Level Threshold For Drunk Driving Offenses

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Fifty-nine percent of pedestrians killed on New Year's Day were drunk, compared to 34 percent every other day of the year, according to Mother Jones.

Mother Jones magazine has some cautionary advice for New Year's partygoers: Be careful walking drunk.

The magazine analyzed the most recent pedestrian death available from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA.) It found:

  • Between 2008 and 2012, more pedestrians died in traffic crashes on New Year's Day (and Halloween) than on other days of the year.
  • Almost sixty percent of pedestrians killed on New Year's Day were drunk, compared to 34 percent every other day of the year.

Mother Jones reporter Maggie Oatman attributes this disparity, in part, to the fact that intoxicated walkers are more likely to engage in risky behavior. Another explanation, she says, is that some drivers are also drunk – though, not as drunk as the walkers. She writes:

"In nearly half of the traffic crashes that killed pedestrians in 2012, the driver or the walker (or both) had consumed alcohol, according to the NHTSA. But get this: Pedestrians in these crashes were more than twice as likely as drivers to have had a blood alcohol level greater or equal to 0.08 grams/deciliter, or above the legal driving limit—34 percent of walkers versus 14 percent of the drivers."


Another topic for the holiday table: brain health

Charles Limb & Allen Braun, PLOS One, 2008

Keeping your body healthy is essential to successful aging, and doing the same for your brain is also key to maintaining a good quality of life. That's the message of a new national campaign that urges Americans to share healthy brain tips with elderly loved ones during the holidays.  Among the suggestions:

  • Eat right. In particular, pay attention to portion size and how much sugar, solid fats and salt you eat;
  • Get plenty of exercise.  Being active not only gets your body healthy, but may create more connections among your brain cells;
  • Drink moderate amounts of alcohol, if at all; and
  • Quit smoking. Non-smokers not only have a lower risk of heart attacks and strokes, they also have better circulation and that provides a boost to your brain.

The campaign is sponsored by aging groups, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health.


The government compensates those injured by vaccines. Who knew?

vaccine vaccination immunization shot syringe

Photo by Sanofi Pasteur via Flickr Creative Commons

The program is funded through vaccines: There's a 75-cent charge for each disease that's treated by each vaccine administered.

Last month, the U.S. Government Accountability Office released a report about the federal Vaccine Injury Compensation Program.

Wait… you didn’t know that a program like this existed?  

That's actually one of the issues the report raises. It notes that the Health Resources and Services Administration, which oversees the program, "has acknowledged being criticized for years for not adequately promoting public awareness" of the fund.

The report continues: "Without awareness of the program, individuals who might otherwise receive compensation for a vaccine-related injury or death could be denied compensation because of a failure to file their claim within the statutory deadlines."

I discussed this point – and others – with Marcia Crosse, a health care director at the GAO.

The issue of publicity is tricky, she said, because public health officials "don't want to make a big deal out of the program."