Monday, June 15, 2009

Are you too salty?

After attending the CSTE annual conference and hearing a plenary on reducing sodium levels in our foods, it got me thinking... how much sodium is actually in my diet? I think I eat relatively normal foods with the occasional processed foods. I always choose the low-sodium or sodium-free soups from the grocery store but is that enough of an effort?

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal in April, nearly 70% of the US population is hypertensive and should follow a stricter guideline of 1,500 mgs a day. You can cut your risk of hypertension by lowering your salt intake early on in life. So, why is it so difficult for Americans to regulate their sodium levels? Because Americans eat enormous amounts of processed foods and restaurant meals. We don't cook at home anymore as a nation (and in fact, neither do I) and this is resulting in higher blood pressures and expanding waist lines.

What suprised me about the article is that even raw chicken is enhanced with salt water to make it plumper and heavier ($$ cha ching!) AND that bakery goods and breakfast bars have higher sodium levels than you would expect.

"Even low-sodium labels have different meanings: "Sodium free" means less than 5 mg per serving; "very low" has less than 35 mg; "low" is less than 140. "Reduced sodium" just means that it's down 25% from what an earlier formulation was -- but could still be high in sodium, just like "No added salt" doesn't mean salt free."

What to do? You can ask restaurants to use less salt when you order, experiment with natural herbs and spices, use half the salt the recipe calls for and just get used to consuming less salt. Actually, those are all REALLY EASY things to do.

"It may take a while to get accustomed to less salt, but once your tastes adjust, you may not want to go back. Commissioner Frieden likens reducing salt to switching from whole milk to skim milk. "If you go back, whole milk tastes like heavy cream," he says."

I'm in favor for people taking ownership of their diet. Not enough people are 'active eaters' and really consider what they are eating before they buy or eat it. People with diabetes have had to monitor their diets for years. But I argue (and the article does too) that we ALL need to monitor our intake of sodium, sugar and other minerals and vitamins. If our nation is going to collectively reduce our belt size, we need to be mindful of what we put in our mouths. Perhaps reducing salt is the first step to putting the consumer back in control of their diets.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Vaccine safety

This post has been on my mind since the inception of this blog: vaccine safety. Vaccines have been around for over 200 years, starting with the smallpox vaccine in the late 18th century, continuing through influenza, polio, measles, and now the full schedule of recommended vaccinations. There has been speculation since the beginning about the safety of vaccines, and I'm here to tell you and give you information about how vaccines are safe and should absolutely, positively, 100% be given to children.

The links below have information that says it all. However, in a nutshell, those unvaccinated through exemptions are overwhelmingly more likely to contract a vaccine preventable disease. Disease incidence corresponds to exemption increases, according to Kris Ehresmann of the Minnesota Department of Health as explained during the CSTE Annual Conference. "Saying 'no' to vaccines is saying 'yes' to disease," said Tina Tan, state epidemiologist of New Jersey.

Vaccine safety is monitored in several ways by the government through passive and active surveillance (VAERS, VSD, NVAC, etc.) Large issues with vaccines are overhyped by the media; however, most adverse events are minor and vaccination is far more safe than not.

Look for information about the safety of the forthcoming H1N1 vaccine. Stay tuned to this issue but know that there are several groups working together to ensure the safety of the vaccine. They are already working on the challenges associated with this vaccination campaign.

Don't forget that pediatricians are always willing to answer questions and provide information. They will give you trustworthy information about vaccines. Be wary of anti-vaccine websites that look legit. Your physician is the best source of medical information.

CDC - always a good source of public health information
Vaccine Safety Datalink (VSD) publications
Sound Advice audio interviews from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP)
Vaccinate Your Baby
Pictures of vaccine preventable diseases - Many parents these days are too young to remember the days of measles, polio, and other vaccine preventable diseases. The likelihood of an adverse event is very, very low. The likelihood of your child contracting a vaccine preventable disease if she or he is unvaccinated is much, much higher. - a California campaign

Monday, June 8, 2009

New links

Here are 2 new links for the day. The first is about a new electronic reporting system by Orion Health Inc. The second discusses lessons from the H1N1 outbreak. It is by my favorite writer! (Ok, it's my dad. But he is qualified to write such an article as a practicing pediatrician who is involved with the American Academy of Pediatrics and the public health community.)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Some headlines ... briefly

See below for more details, but this blog will be light this week due to our Annual Conference. But here are a few headlines to peruse:

Tom Frieden to take over CDC Monday
State public health laboratories in the spotlight
This article highlights how much states and counties are hurting.
A general public health opinion/human interest piece.
Is FDA regulation of tobacco a good idea or a bad idea? Hard to say, there are lots of arguments (which I cannot get into now with my current time contraints) but this article has quite an opinion!
I told you - H1N1 has not gone away. Click here.

CSTE Annual Conference

Why is the Epi Cafe so quiet? Why do you not hear the sound of espresso machines whirring and scholarly epidemiology discussion?

We're at the CSTE Annual Conference, of course! Follow us on Twitter during the conference, taking place in Buffalo, NY, at or by using the hashtag #cste2009.

Our agenda includes plenaries from Richard Besser, Jeffrey Levi and Joseph Perz, dozens of breakout sessions, and hundreds of poster presentations. The topics range from healthcare associated infections to health disparities to food safety to chronic disease to influenza and much much more!

Friday, June 5, 2009

H1N1 - out of media spotlight but not gone

For those of you who think that because media coverage of H1N1 has dropped off, the scare is over, think again!

This article summarizes the U.S. preparations for a second wave of H1N1 that is expected to hit the U.S. (and the Northern Hemisphere in general) in the fall. The article mentions a Trust for America's Health report that finds that "while the investment in pandemic planning and stockpiling of antiviral medications have paid off, recent cuts in public health departments have meant many did not have adequate resources to carry out flu plans."

So, the bottom line is stay vigilant and encourage your lawmakers to invest in public health! Click here and enter your zip code to find your lawmakers' contact information.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Food safety tips for the summer

Summer is here (at least in Atlanta), and with summer brings picnics, BBQs, and lots of other fun outdoor socializing. A peril that comes with such socializing, however, is foodborne illness. In order to avoid getting sick, try these tips from And if you have some spare time, check out this food safety crossword puzzle! And here's some information courtesy of Food Safety Education Month (which is in September).
  • Clean: Wash hands & surfaces often.
  • Separate: Don't cross-contaminate.
  • Cook: Cook to proper temperature.
  • Chill: Refrigerate promptly.