Author Archives: Catherine Arnst

Special Olympics Holds Lessons, and Inspiration, for All of Us

Jun 24, 2014, 2:30 AM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

 

Let me win, but if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt.”

—Special Olympics motto

The other day I cheered myself hoarse during a swim relay for a team from Maryland that put their all into the race. In fact, the whole viewing crowd cheered on this team. When they finished, the athletes were jubilant, hugging each other and their opponents, thrilled by their performance in this national event. It didn’t seem to bother them much that they finished last.

The 2014 USA Games for the Special Olympics, the world’s largest organization for people with intellectual disabilities, was held in New Jersey June 14-21. Some 3,500 children and adults from all 50 states competed in 16 different sports, and the vast majority took tremendous pleasure in the pure joy of athletics. Sure, plenty were fiercely competitive, but they were also happy and proud to have the opportunity to compete to the best of their ability.

That was pretty inspirational to the 110 staff members from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation who volunteered at the Special Olympics.

View full post

A New Holiday Tradition—Tasty Recipes that are Healthy, Too

Nov 26, 2013, 5:01 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

file

Thanksgiving is almost upon us, ushering in a month-long season of holiday parties, groaning boards of food, favorite family recipes, cookie swaps, and an extra five pounds around the waistline. Instead of just giving in to the excess and making January the month of dieting, perhaps we could make a few adjustments. I’ve asked around the Foundation staff for some healthy holiday recipes instead of the usual green bean casserole and cream-laden sides. Here are some tried and true alternatives, that are kid–friendly as well!

In fact, why not invite any children about the house (or adults who are still kids at heart) to help whip up some of these dishes. Children love to grate, stir, and shake, and the older ones will go at chopping with a vengeance. It’s never too early to teach them to cook, as discussed on this blog a few days ago.

View full post

Get Out of the Drive-Thru Lane. Learn to Cook!

Nov 22, 2013, 1:32 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

060920_Tully_RWJF_ICIC_559_HIRES

Some statistics worth pondering: According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends only 33 minutes a day on food preparation. Just over half of Americans bother to cook every day. On the other hand, 33 percent of children and 41 percent of teenagers eat fast food, every single day.

These fast food children are consuming 126 additional calories, and the teens 310 extra calories, than if they had avoided the chains, says Fast Food Facts 2013, a new report by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity and funded by RWJF. Most of these children are eating adult meals, too, not the smaller-portioned children’s meals on offer. Not that it would matter, since less than one percent of all kids’ meal served at fast food chains meet recommended nutrition standards.

It’s not much of a stretch to link the lack of home cooking, a diet of fast food, and the fact that a third of U.S. children and adolescents are obese. So, what’s a parent to do? Well for one thing, we could learn to cook.

View full post

Scott Simon, His Mom, and Twitter: A Very Public Death

Jul 31, 2013, 4:06 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

NPR Host Scott Simon

Scott Simon is a popular radio host on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Saturday. His mother, Patricia Lyons Gilband, a former actress, died July 29 at 7:17 p.m., in the intensive care unit (ICU) of a Chicago hospital. But you might already know that, if you are one of Simon’s 1.2 million Twitter followers, because he has been live Tweeting her final days since July 23.  

Judging by the many articles, comments, retweets, and reactions bouncing around the web, Simon’s 140-character dispatches from the frontline of death have been moving and inspirational for most—and gag-inducing for some, who believe death should be a private affair. Having lost a parent and a spouse—and both died in an ICU—I’m with the first group.

View full post

Alzheimer's: Let's Search for Better Care Models as Well as a Cure

Jul 9, 2013, 2:00 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

An elderly disabled man walks with a stick on a path in a garden.

The New Yorker recently ran an excellent article by Jerome Groopman MD, Before Night Falls, about efforts to find a drug that can delay or even stop the onset of Alzheimer’s. What struck me most about this thorough piece of reporting, however, is that it covers much the same ground as a feature I wrote for Businessweek—in 2007. Despite the huge amount of money and other resources devoted to Alzheimer’s research, the quest for an effective treatment has moved forward by mere fractions in the past six years.

Almost every drug I wrote about in 2007 has since failed, which means it will be at least a decade, and probably far longer, before an effective treatment wins regulatory approval. Meanwhile, the Alzheimer’s Association recently reported that one in three seniors will die with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia in the U.S. this year, and 5.2 million people are currently living with Alzheimer’s. By 2025, the number of people living with the disease will likely reach 7.1 million. So while we’re waiting for a cure, the medical community should also be developing better methods for caring for the millions of patients who are suffering right now.

View full post

What’s With Our National Donut Worship?

Jun 18, 2013, 9:50 AM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe

Just last month the Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation claimed significant progress in reaching their goal of removing 1.5 trillion calories from the U.S. food marketplace. This month, a goodly portion of those calories may be back in play—thanks to the Krispy Kreme Sloppy Joe sandwich.

No, I am not making this up. The donut-shrouded sloppy joe is the proud creation of Chicken Charlie’s, food provider to county fairs in California. What’s more, it’s been written up in numerous media outlets, including Time magazine, which also provided the valuable service of informing its readers about Dunkin Donut’s entry into the lunch category, the doughnut bacon sandwich. Time has alerted America to the imminent arrival of the salty caramel pretzel donut as well. Gee, thanks.  

How discouraging that, despite the escalating obesity crisis in the U.S. among adults and, even more scarily, children, America seems to be obsessed with donuts. Or at least the media is. NBC’s Today show,  the BBC, and numerous other outlets have all done fawning features on a baked good hybrid that is evidently the must-have food item in New York City right now—the cronut, a hunk of dough that is a cross between a croissant and a donut. New Yorkers and tourists alike are standing in line for up to two hours to shell out $5 each. Limit, six to a customer. 

Now the cronut has competition from the sconut, a cross between a donut and a scone, discovered recently by intrepid reporters at Newsday and NPR.  In case donuts aren’t your thing, you can keep abreast of the news of the nationwide shortage of Speculoos, cookie butter sold by Trader Joe’s—a national crisis for sure.

None of this is news you can use.  Right now, 30.5 percent of U.S. children between the ages of 10 and 17 are obese. The highest levels of obesity are found in low income and rural neighborhoods where fast food outlets selling donuts and the like are far more common than supermarkets.  I’d like to see some media coverage of some of the many efforts to combat obesity, not add to it, such as the Healthy Food Access Portal, the first comprehensive  web portal designed to help communities launch healthy food retail projects across the country. It was created by PolicyLink, The Food Trust, and The Reinvestment Fund with a grant from RWJF.

Or how about a story on some of the many community gardens where children are learning not only how to grow vegetables, but like them?  More articles like this, about the value of cooking at home, and some easy, affordable recipes, for families with little time to whip up gourmet meals, would also be nice.

In December the New York Times did a page one story about the first declines in the rates of childhood obesity in several cities, after decades of steady increases--the kind of media story it would be great to see more often. Hopefully we won’t see that progress fall to the wayside this summer because of this national celebration of all things donut-related.

We Will Not Let the Superbugs Win!

Jun 3, 2013, 3:57 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

RWJF-Health.Boston-a-9647_RET

Every year some two million people develop infections while in U.S. hospitals and some 100,000 die from them.  U.S  medical centers have been fighting these hospital-acquired infections for decades, yet the virulent bacterial stew that inhabits most medical centers remains stubbornly in place, and increasingly lethal.

Particularly scary is MRSA, a deadly staph infection that is resistant to most antibiotics. In 2002, a strain of MRSA was discovered that is even resistant to vancomycin, usually an antibiotic of last resort. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grantee Extending the Cure has found that the overall share of antibiotic-resistant bacteria increased by more than 30 percent between 1999 and 2010.

These so-called “superbugs” contribute to more deaths than AIDS, traffic accidents and flu combined, according to Extending the Cure. The often-frustrating effort to develop new antibiotics to combat these infections was highlighted in a front-page article in The New York Times on June 3, “Pressure Grows to Create Drugs for Superbugs.” The NYT story describes the U.S. Health and Human Services Dept’s agreement, announced in May, to pay as much as $200 million to drug maker GlaxoSmithkline over the next five years to develop medications to combat antibiotic resistance and biological agents that terrorists might use. As the NYT reports:

 “We are facing a huge crisis worldwide not having an antibiotics pipeline,” said Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the Food and Drug Administration. “It is bad now, and the infectious disease docs are frantic. But what is worse is the thought of where we will be five to 10 years from now.”

But new drugs are not the only weapon against MRSA.  In a report published May 29 by the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers found that scrubbing down every intensive-care unit patient with germ-killing soap and ointment was substantially more effective in reducing MRSA and other infections than screening for the superbugs and then isolating those patients already infected. The study, sponsored in part by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, involved some 75,000 patients in 43 hospitals nationwide and an accompanying editorial recommended that it lead to changes in infection control.

Extending the Cure, based at the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics & Policy, believes that while we can't beat the superbugs, we can slow them down by recognizing that antibiotics are a natural resource that must be used conservatively. By issuing regular research and commentary on topics such as health care-associated infections, trends in drug resistance, and the costs—both human and economic—posed by rising resistance rates, ETC is laying groundwork for the comprehensive solutions needed to combat this problem. 

In fact, ETC just released this clever video suggesting ways to slow down the overuse of antibiotics by all of us. Check it out.

Unstoppable Superbugs: Closer Than We Think?