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Top 15 crusaders for health in America's food industry

Published: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 @ 10:59 PM
Updated: Tuesday, June 25, 2013 @ 10:59 PM

Wondering how this year's list stacks up against the last? Check out Top 15 Crusaders for Health in the Food Industry 2012.

Amongst all the junk food commercials and donut sandwiches, there are a handful of health heroes. These aren’t just people who eat organic greens for lunch and free-range eggs for dinner; they’re moving and shaking the way we think about our food, including where it comes from, the implications it has on our environment, and what our meals mean for our bodies. Here, we recognize 15 superstars (in no particular order) that have devoted themselves to improving American’s relationship with food.

1. Marion Nestle
Nestle has got her hand in nearly every facet of America’s food industry. Her blog, Food Politics, covers topics from nutrition and biology to health policy and food marketing. She’s been teaching nutrition for nearly four decades and currently teaches sociology, food studies, and public health at NYU. Nestle is the author of many books, but her latest — “Why Calories Count: From Science to Politics” — is all about understanding the intersection of health and food amidst all the mass marketing and misinformation put forth by major food manufacturers. Currently, Nestle updates her blog regularly and presents at universities and conferences on topics such as genetically modified foods and the role food companies play in our food system. (Photo: www.foodpolitics.com)

2. Michael Pollan
As one of the foremost activists for change in the overwrought food industry, Pollan is an outspoken and often controversial figure in the food and farming space. Though probably best known for his book “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” (which hung out on The New York Times Bestseller list for more than three years), Pollan has continued to write. In his most recent book, “Cooked”, Pollan explores how cooking connects us to plants, animals, farmers, and culture (amongst other things). (Photo by Ken Light)

3. Michelle Obama
After launching the Let’s Move! campaign at the start of 2010, the First Lady has made healthifying America’s eating habits (especially for kids) her job. The ultimate goal is to eliminate childhood obesity and help kids live healthier lives with good food and a little extra physical activity. This year, Obama held the second annual “Healthy Lunchtime Challenge,” where she asked children ages eight to 12 to whip up nutritious, tasty, and affordable recipes. Unfortunately, we weren’t invited to the White House kids’ “State Dinner” with the winner of this year’s challenge. (Photo: www.whitehouse.gov)

4. Mark Bittman
As an author and New York Times writer,Bittman likes to weigh in on what’s wrong with the American diet. A part-time veganhimself, Bittman is an advocate for the “flexitarian” diet — which means eating vegan during the day, but allowing for more flexible consumption after 6 pm. His super popular book, “How to Cook Everything”, is a go-to resource for basic kitchen skills. Not only does he push for humans to stay healthy, Bittman relentlessly encourages us to keep the environment happy and healthy, too. Oh, and in his spare time, he runsmarathons(Photo: www.markbittman.com)

5. Mike Bloomberg
As the mayor of New York City, Bloombergtakes his role seriously, making waves in the name of public health. From smoking bans tosoda bans, Bloomberg’s initiatives aren’t without controversy and backlash. Passionate about combating obesity, he’s pushed for salad bars and healthier menus in school cafeterias. Plus, he’s managed to eliminate trans fats from tons of restaurant items, and make it mandatory for chain restaurants to clearly post calorie counts on menus. We’re excited to see what goals Bloomberg sets (and reaches) next. (Photo: www.nyc.gov)

For the full list of 2013's top health crusaders in the food industry, go to Greatist.com.

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Patient blindsided by $17,850 urine test that insurer said was worth $100

Published: Sunday, February 25, 2018 @ 12:22 PM

The GBI is taking more steps to protect lab workers when they test toxic drugs, mandating gloves, closed toed shoes, lab goggles and respiratory masks.

After Elizabeth Moreno had back surgery in late 2015, her surgeon prescribed an opioid painkiller and a follow-up drug test that seemed routine — until the lab slapped her with a bill for thousands of dollars.

A Houston lab tested her urine sample for a constellation of legal and illicit drugs, many of which, Moreno said, she had never heard of, let alone taken.

“I was totally confused. I didn’t know how I was going to pay this,” said Moreno, 30, who is finishing a degree in education at Texas State University in San Marcos and is pregnant with twins.

Her bill shows that Sunset Labs charged $4,675 to check her urine for different types of opioids; $2,975 for benzodiazepines, a class of drugs for treating anxiety; and $1,700 more for amphetamines. Tests to detect cocaine, marijuana and phencyclidine, an illegal hallucinogenic drug also known as PCP or angel dust, added $1,275 more.

» FDA opens investigation after report exposes euthanasia drug in dog food

The lab also billed $850 to test for buprenorphine, a drug used to treat opioid addiction, and tacked on an $850 fee for two tests to verify that nobody had tampered with her urine specimen.

Total bill: $17,850 for lab tests that her insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, refused to cover, apparently because the lab was not in her insurance network. The insurer sent Moreno an “explanation of benefits” that says it would have valued the work at just $100.92.

Moreno’s father, in a complaint to the Texas attorney general’s office about the bill, identified the Houston surgeon who ordered the costly test as Dr. Stephen Esses. His office said the surgeon would have no comment.

Sunset Labs is part of a network of pain clinics and other medical businesses founded by Houston anesthesiologist Phillip C. Phan, according to Texas secretary of state filings and court records. Court records say Phan’s companies also own the facility where Moreno had her surgery.

Three experts interviewed by KHN said the lab grossly overcharged and doubted the need for the test.

“This just blows my mind,” said Jennifer Bolen, a former federal prosecutor and lab and pain management consultant. “It’s very high and incredibly out of the norm.”

Dan Bowerman, a medical fraud expert, called the lab bill “outrageous” and “unconscionable,” and said it should have prompted an investigation.

“Sounds real fishy,” said Charles Root, a veteran industry adviser. He wondered if the lab had “misplaced the decimal point,” because such a test should cost a few hundred dollars, tops.

The lab disagrees.

» German automakers test toxic exhaust fumes on caged monkeys

Sunset’s billings “are in line with the charges of competing out-of-network labs in the geographical area,” lab attorney Justo Mendez said in an emailed statement.

Mendez said pain doctors agree that extensive urine testing is “the best course of action” and that a lab “is not in the position” to question tests ordered by a doctor.

Urine testing for patients with chronic pain has grown explosively over the past decade as deaths from opioid abuse rose sharply. Pain doctors say drug testing helps them make sure patients are taking the drugs as prescribed and not mixing them with illegal substances.

Yet the testing boom costs billions of dollars annually and has raised concerns that some labs and doctors run urine tests needlessly — or charge exorbitant rates — to boost profits.

Some insurers have refused to pay, which can leave patients like Moreno threatened with ruinously high bills they had no idea they had incurred.

“Surprise bills larded with unexpected expenses and little explanation inflict sticker shock on vulnerable patients,” said James Quiggle, communications director of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, whose members include insurers, consumer groups and government agencies. Quiggle said many “puffed-up bills straddle a fine line between abuse and outright fraud.”

Moreno said her insurance covered the disc removal surgery in December 2015. She said the operation went well and she weaned off the hydrocodone pain pills. To her surprise, on a second return about a month later, the surgeon’s office asked her to leave a urine sample.

“I didn’t think anything of it,” Moreno said of the test. “I said fine, whatever.”

Elizabeth Moreno was billed $17,850 for a urine test. After Moreno's insurer declined to pay any of the bill because the lab was out-of-network, her father, Dr. Paul Davis, paid the lab $5,000 to settle the bill. (Julia Robinson/KHN)(Julia Robinson/TNS)

More than a year later, she said, the lab phoned while she was driving and asked her to pay the $17,850 bill. The lab then sent her an invoice, dated March 10, 2017, which says: “(B)ased upon information from your health plan, you owe the amount shown.”

Luckily, her father, Paul Davis, was visiting her in Texas at the time. Davis, 66, is a retired family practice doctor from Findlay, Ohio.

Davis doubted the need for the test, not to mention what he thought was a sky-high price. He said the University of Findlay, where he helped train physician assistants, gave applicants a basic drug test for $174, while the local juvenile courts in Ohio paid $10 for a simple drug screen.

Fearing it would ruin his daughter’s credit scores, Davis said, he called Sunset and settled the bill in April 2017 by paying $5,000, which he said he now regrets. The lab sent Moreno a receipt that said it discounted her bill because of “financial need/hardship.”

Asked for comment, Blue Cross spokesman James Campbell said he couldn’t discuss a specific case but noted:

“We are disappointed as well as concerned about transparency whenever (any) member is surprised by an excessive charge for a seemingly routine service or received services that may not have been medically necessary.”

Campbell also said the lab was out-of-network and “we do not control how much they charge for services rendered.” The insurer encourages patients to confirm that all medical care they seek comes from medical providers in the Blue Cross network, he said.

Prices for urine tests can vary widely depending upon complexity and the technology used. Some doctors’ offices use a simple cup test, which can detect several classes of drugs on the spot. These tests rarely cost more than $200, and typically much less.

Bills climb higher when labs check for levels of multiple drugs and bill for each one, a practice that insurers argue is seldom medically justified. But even labs sued by insurers alleging wildly excessive testing typically have billed $9,000 or less, court records show. One insurer sued a lab for charging $1,845 for a drug test, for example.

Davis said Sunset Labs ignored his requests for a full explanation of the charges. In May, he filed a written complaint about the bill with the Texas attorney general’s office that included a copy of the bill and accused the lab of “price gouging of staggering proportions.”

“Young people just starting out, such as my daughter, may not have the ability to pay and this could result in damaged credit ratings or even bankruptcy,” he wrote.

Davis got a letter back from Attorney General Ken Paxton, who said the office would “review the information.” A spokesperson for Paxton said: KHN: “We have received complaints about that business, but we can’t comment on anything else.” Sunset attorney Mendez said the lab is “not aware” of any such complaints.

In an interview, Davis also questioned the need for his daughter’s urine test because she received opioids only for a short period and the results would have had no impact on her treatment. In his complaint to the attorney general, Davis said the surgeon told him he ordered the tests because he feared possible retribution from the state medical licensing board for not testing patients who had been prescribed opioids. The Texas Medical Board doesn’t require urine tests for patients receiving opioids for short-term pain, said spokesman Jarrett Schneider. That’s a “question of independent medical judgment as to whether the physician believes a drug test should be required,” he said.

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Drinking this type of tea could ruin your teeth, study says

Published: Sunday, February 25, 2018 @ 7:02 AM

Certain Kinds of Tea Could Ruin Your Teeth, Study Says

Do you love sipping teaBeware of the fruity flavors, because they could be bad for your teeth, according to a new report. 

>> On AJC.com: Drink up: Black tea helps you lose weight with gut bacteria

Researchers from King's College London Dental Institute recently conducted a study, published in British Dental Journal, to determine how certain foods and drinks can affect tooth wear. 

To do so, researchers examined a previous study that compared the diet of 300 people with severe erosive tooth wear with the diet of 300 people with healthy teeth.

>> Read more trending news 

After analyzing the results, they found that eating and drinking acidic foods and drinks, especially between meals, increased teeth erosion risk.

In fact, those who consumed acidic drinks, such as sodas, lemon water and hot flavored teas, twice a day were more than 11 times more likely to develop moderate or severe tooth erosion.

>> On AJC.com: The truth about green tea

Furthermore, scientists discovered that drinking hot beverages and sipping or holding acidic liquids in your mouth before swallowing can increase your chances, too.

While they noted some groups of people, such as wine tasters, are accustomed to swishing liquor around, the habit can still be dangerous. 

“It is well known that an acidic diet is associated with erosive tooth wear, however our study has shown the impact of the way in which acidic food and drinks are consumed,” coauthor Saoirse O’Toole said in a statement

>> On AJC.com: Cancer risk linked to hot tea among smokers, drinkers

Now analysts hope to continue their investigations to create preventative measures to combat the issue. In the meantime, they recommend a change in diet to delay teeth damage. 

“With the prevalence of erosive tooth wear increasing, it is vitally important that we address this preventable aspect of erosive tooth wear,” O’Toole said. “While behaviour change can be difficult to achieve, specific, targeted behavioural interventions may prove successful.”

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NEW DETAILS: Ohio flu hospitalizations soar above 10,000

Published: Friday, February 16, 2018 @ 10:19 AM


            Flu-related hospitalizations in Ohio have topped 10,000 this season. CONTRIBUTED
Flu-related hospitalizations in Ohio have topped 10,000 this season. CONTRIBUTED

More than 10,000 Ohioans have now landed in the hospital because of the flu this season, according to Ohio Department of Health (ODH) data released Friday.

Also, the number of people reporting flu-like-illnesses to doctors continues to rise, trending up three weeks in a row and climbing more than 18 percent during the reporting week.

MORE: Flu season may be worst in years

One bit of good news: the rate of hospitalizations declined for the fourth week in a row ending Feb. 10, according to ODH.

Statewide, 10,785 people have been hospitalized for the flu this season.

In Montgomery County, 715 people have been admitted to hospitals for flu-associated illnesses; 373 in Butler County; 232 in Clark County; 188 in Greene County; 78 in Miami County; and 183 in Warren County.

Three children have died from the flu in the state this season, according to ODH.

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Racino to race despite 450 horses quarantined in Warren County

Published: Saturday, February 10, 2018 @ 11:50 AM


            About 450 horses stabled at the Warren County Fairgrounds are under a quarantine, one of six around the state, declared by the Ohio Department of Agriculture.
About 450 horses stabled at the Warren County Fairgrounds are under a quarantine, one of six around the state, declared by the Ohio Department of Agriculture.

About 450 horses stabled at the Warren County Fairgrounds are under a quarantine declared by the Ohio Department of Agriculture, but racing is on at the local racino.

The quarantine is one of a handful around the state declared because horses have tested positive for Equine Herpes Virus (EHV), most of which have been traced to a horse brought into the state from Pennsylvania, according to officials.

RELATED: Horse that raced at Warren County racino tested positive for horse herpes

Still, Miami Valley Gaming in Warren County is expected to hold racing — events were to begin Friday night — using horses from other locations in the region not under quarantine.

“You’re not going to get it under control unless they shut down Miami Valley for 21 days,” horse owner James Schulte said during a meeting Friday at the fairgrounds in Lebanon. “This is a major epidemic.”

The American Association of Equine Practitioners recommends a minimum of 21 days in quarantine.

State officials advise against moving horses because of the growing number of horses testing positive.

“We want owners to move their horses as little as possible,” said Mark Bruce, a spokesman for the Ohio Department of Agriculture. “Every time you do, you’re putting your horse at risk.”

However, Bruce said the state could not prevent the movement of horses necessary to pull off the harness racing meet at the track at the racino in Turtlecreek Twp., just east of the Ohio 63 interchange at Interstate 75.

“Our actions are in step with those taken in nearby states, especially for a virus that does not pose a threat to human health,” Bruce added in an email.

Miami Valley Racing released a statement Friday:

“After serious deliberation and research, Miami Valley Gaming & Racing has decided to continue racing despite the fact that we will expect over 100 scratches this weekend due to the unfortunate Lebanon quarantine. We have been and will continue to work directly with the Ohio Department of Agriculture and Ohio Harness Horsemen’s Association regarding the Equine Herpes Virus situation.”

The first line was also part of a text message sent to trainers, owners and others connected to the race meet at the track operating in conjunction with the racino.

The “scratches” reference comes from the horses on the race cards for the meet that are barred from the races by the quarantine.

The racing moved from the fairgrounds in Lebanon to the Miami Valley Racing complex after racinos were legalized in Ohio. But many of the owners racing at the new location stable their horses at the fairgrounds.

MORE: Grandstands demolished for event center

At Friday’s meeting in Lebanon, horsemen warned that a big part of the problem with preventing the spread of horse herpes was with horses claimed in races outside the state, but then brought into Ohio — like Endeavor’s Pride, the horse brought in after being claimed at the Meadow Track in Pennsylvania.

They also indicated the problem had turned up in other surrounding states and warned a failure to stop its spread could have wide-ranging implications for the horse industry and beyond.

“This could affect the Triple Crown,” Schulte said.

Jerry Abner, spokesman for Miami Valley Gaming, declined to comment on a statement by Dr. Heather Plum, a local veterinarian at the meeting in Lebanon, that “it was recommended” that Miami Valley Gaming cancel the race meet.

Last week, the state said positive tests had been received on four horses at separate locations around the state, including Endeavor’s Pride, which had raced at Miami Valley Gaming in Warren County twice in January.

The quarantine in Lebanon was called this week after another horse at the fairgrounds, “Believe in the Spirit,” tested with a score high enough to indicate it was “shedding” the virus, Bruce said Friday.

MORE: Harness driver at Hollywood Dayton Raceway overcame adversity

”It’s producing virus that can be contracted by other animals,” he said.

The quarantine could end in 14 days, after “Believe in the Spirit” is retested, officials said.

But Dr. Rick Rothfuss, a veterinarian from Grove City, said at the Lebanon at the meeting that other cases could develop, extending the quarantine in 21-day multiples.

So far, six quarantines have been reported in Ohio due to positive tests for the virus, according to Bruce.

Horses at the University of Findlay farm are under quarantine, but not due to exposure to Endeavor’s Pride, the horse from Pennsylvania believed to have originally carried the virus into Ohio.

In addition, horses were in quarantine at a building at the veterinary college at The Ohio State University in Columbus, a stable in Ross County and the Tuscarawas County Fairgrounds, Bruce said.

The Larry Finn Stable outside Xenia, where Endeavor’s Pride, was stabled, remained under quarantine, he said.

However, Bruce said there had been “no other serious clinical signs.”

EHV can spread quickly from horse to horse and can cause three different forms of disease: rhinopneumonitis (a respiratory disease of mostly young horses), abortions in pregnant mares, and the neurologic disease EHV-1 myeloencephalopathy, which can be fatal to horses.

“Everything so far in the State of Ohio has not shown up neurological,” Rothfuss said.

EHV can be spread through the air or by contaminated clothing and equipment. It’s important that horse owners practice strict biosecurity measures in order to protect their animals and prevent any further spread of the disease. Veterinarians may submit nasal swab samples to the ODA’s Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory for testing.

“Every state is different how they handle it,” Plum said.

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