Don’t Be A Victim Of The “Health Food” Market: Lessons From Yogurt

Source: black dog food blog

I love yogurt.  Admittedly from childhood through adolescences, I thought it was disgusting.  Maybe it was the the tart zing, or the the texture (I couldn’t handle ANYTHING that was smooth with chunks in it), but as the yogurt craze boomed around me, I was not buying in.  It was not until later, when I went abroad to Egypt, that I found a new appreciation for yogurt.  There, fancy individually sold “red velvet cake” flavors and “go-gurt” like containers didn’t exist.  You could buy strawberry and maybe mango flavored (there were also some really delicious strawberry-banana drinkable yogurts) otherwise plain, unadulterated yogurt reigned supreme.

I later came to understand why plain yogurt was so popular: it’s versatile.  Yogurt doesn’t have to be forever relegated as a snack food.  Rather it can be used as a core ingredient to add protein and probiotics to many dishes.  I started using yogurt to thicken my oatmeal, learned how to make the popular Baba Ghanoush which has yogurt as its base, used it to calm the spices in my favorite Maqluba, and found it useful as a base for a lighter hummus.  I now use yogurt as a base in many of the dishes I prepare.  As I plowed through tubs of yogurt, I not only became more conscious of the quality between different brands, but I also became increasingly anxious about the dent it was putting in my wallet.  That’s when I decided to embark on making my own yogurt. You may be pleasantly surprised to know that homemade yogurt is not only incredibly easy, but extremely inexpensive as well!

So what is my point in all of this? The point is that I am a passionate yogurt consumer, but it doesn’t really surprise me that, as this recent article points out, most commercially bought yogurts contain more sugar per serving than a Twinkie.  Sugar has been shown contribute to diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and other complications form obesity. Though soda and sugary drinks are most infamously blamed, it turns out most of our extra sugar comes from our food. So, despite yogurt’s high sugar count, dieters and the health conscious alike continue to consume these snacks enmass viewing them as a healthy alternative.

This is a classic example of the dangers of the “health food” market.  Yogurt, once thought of as a fringe hippie food, moved into the mainstream by being promoted as a “health” and “diet” food.  Interested in expanding sales, marketers asked “What does any dieter crave more than sweets?”, and introduced new lines of dessert flavors.  With saturated fats as the culprit of the day, producers removed fat and added sugar to account for the loss of flavor.  Though yogurt gained a lot of sugar, it never lost its “health food” image and morphed into the perfect, guilt-free snack food.  This ideal world situation, reinforced through a lot of advertising, masked the age old reality: if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.

The reality is the high sugar content of many yogurts shouldn’t be a surprise.  The previously mentioned article isn’t some in-depth, scientific study.  It is merely pointing out what is on the back of any yogurt container.  Yet consumers rarely look at the nutrition labels on the back, and instead make choices based on the marketing food claims on the front.  This can be seen in the amount of food sold using food claims topping out at more than $377 billion per year.  The claims work because they cause consumers to believe that this product is somehow healthier for them.  Take health claims about fat content for example.  This label has sold $64 billion worth of food each year.  Yet few consumers actually know what these food claims mean.  Below is a chart outlining the regulations for each type of claim.

From: Nutrition and You, MyPlate Edition by Joan Salge Blake

To be fair, consuming a high sugar yogurt is still a better choice than a Twinkie.  You still gain the probiotics and protein, that are yogurt’s main benefits, over the empty calories of most junk food.  And sugar is not inherently the enemy.  Yogurt is notorious for having a high natural sugar content, especially low fat varieties.  Original yogurt contains between 12-15 grams of natural sugar and this increases to 17 grams for low fat types. Where the real sugar hike occurs is in what we add to plain yogurt.  Between the candied nuts, sweetened granola and syrupy fruit often mixed into store-bought yogurts, the sugar content can soar up to 29 grams of sugar!  As attention moves from the hazards of saturated fats to added sugars, perhaps we should move to higher-fat varieties of yogurt with fresh fruit and simple granola.  Maybe the hippies had something right.

 

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Butter Is Back, and Sugar….Is Still Out

The New York Times has proclaimed “Butter is Back”. This comes after a publication from researchers who looked at 72 different studies and found no evidence to support the notion that saturated fat increases the risk of heart disease.

The real problem, it is suggested, is not natural saturated fats, found in butter and meats, but the highly-processed, additive laden foods that have filled our shelves in its place. Many foods that are now “low-fat” became high-sugar as it was added to to make up for the loss of taste after the fats were removed.  There is little disagreement about the negative effects of sugar in our diets, and we don’t need to look much further than the obesity and diabetes epidemics crossing the country.

The key, the nutritionist say, is to eat real-food.  So what do you do when that inevitable sugar craving sets in?  Try fruit.  Rather than the harmful effects of added white sugar, sucrose, the natural sugar in fruit, fructose, will not only satisfy your sweet tooth, but provide additional benefits of vitamins and minerals.

Fruit doesn’t have to be inconvenient.  Here are 5 tips to make fruit easier to eat and to take on the go:

 

Fruit Leather 

Once you get past the name, this is a brilliant idea.  Our friends at EverydayHealth offer an incredibly simple recipe to make fruit leather at home, forgo the additives, and enjoy it on the go.

Source: EverydayHealth

 

Mandarine Orange Strip

The time-consuming, sticky mess of pealing oranges entices no one to enjoy this nutritious fruit, and especially not on the go.  The writers at JewelPie, however, have shared a simple, mess-free method of enjoying mandarine oranges.

Source: JewelPie

They suggest “Cut both sides of the mandarin orange (1, 2). Remember not to cut too much into it to avoid cutting the flesh. Cut a slit (3) and gently roll the orange out in a strip (4).”

 

Pomegranate Wedges 

Another fruit nature has tried so desperately to keep us from enjoying.  Those tasty little seeds can be a real headache to access, but those at Wit & Whistle have discovered a simple way to enjoy this fruit without ruining your favorite shirt.

Source: Women’s Health

They suggest “Cut a small cone out of the top of the fruit with a paring knife (so you’re removing the piece sticking out). Then slice a sliver off of the opposite end, lightly score each of the ridges that run from the top of the fruit to the bottom, and pull the whole thing apart. The seeds will come out easily with no mess.”

 

Kiwi Scoops

Okay, so nature does help us out sometimes.  Like with kiwis that come in a handy, nature-made bowl! Instead of slicing your kiwi, The Kitchn suggests simply slicing it in half and eating the insides with a spoon.

Source: Women’s Health

 

Smoothies

A few days ago, I was searching for a filling snack to take on the go, and I decided to make a smoothie.  My thought after the first sip: “Wow, this is so sweet”, and with no added sugar.  For those moments when you are craving a cold milkshake, reaching for a smoothie can be just as satisfying without the added sugar.  Instead you gain the added benefits of the nutrients found in fruits, as well as the protein in any added milk or yogurt, and fiber from any added spinach or vegetables.

Source: Women’s Health

 

Medvana a FREE website and mobile app that allows users to search for the lowest prices on their prescription drugs at nearby pharmacies.  The average users saves between 15-60% using the Medvana discount.  Use the search bar above or click here to save now!

 

Watch Out Apple: Google Is Taking Food Nutrition By Storm

Boy was I behind! I will admit it was just days ago that I discovered Google’s new(ish) nutrition search tool, released in May 2013, when researching an upcoming post.  As Google continues to develop new tools and shortcuts for searches, I recalled being pleasantly surprised by the ease of finding the information I needed and the specific options that were available.

 

Source: Google

Well, to my surprise, Google has recently released an even newer tool to compare the nutritional information between two foods.  Users simply need to search two food names, preceded by the word “compare” or with “vs.” in between. Google then presents the nutritional content conveniently in an easy-to-read, side-by-side fashion.

 


Source: NPR

You can compare foods within a single food group or between different food groups.  You can also alter how the food is cooked and what ingredients may be added.  For example, bacon can be baked, cooked, microwaved, pan-fried or raw, while mashed potatoes can be plain, with margarine, or with butter and milk.

 

Source: Google

Google spokeswoman Krisztina Radosavljevic-Szilagyi told NPR’s The Salt, ”We noticed that people were doing a lot of food and nutrition searches — multi-step searches on one food and another food. These things are often compared to one another, so we thought, why don’t we make it easy?”

The data is not perfect, but Google says it gets most of its data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Nutrient Database.  This means you can compare nearly anything using the tool to either satiate your own curiosity, or to find healthier substitutes and ways of preparation for healthier meals.

 

What foods will you compare?

 

Medvana is a FREE website and mobile app that uses the power of information technology to help users find the lowest prices on their prescription drugs at nearby pharmacies.  The average users saves between 15-60% using the Medvana discount.  Use the search bar above or click here to save now!

 

5 Steps to End Health Disparities: How Nurses Can Help

Across the nation, the extremes in America’s health system are striking.  Disparities between the wealthy and low income, whites and racial minorities, rural and urban residents, the literate and illiterate, long-term residents and newly arrived immigrants, and varying sexual orientations all continue to be displayed through differing health outcomes.

 


Source: Community Commons

David Radley, a health policy expert who has led several studies on geographic disparities in medical care says, ”Being low income doesn’t destine you to poor healthcare. Where you live matters”.  A recent study (en Español) out of the University of Alberta outlines the the current discourse on determinants of health, suggesting that there are four broad health determinants: Personal attributes (biological and genetic endowment); health-care accessibility; acquired health behaviours; and social, economic, and cultural resources and environments (social determinants of health).  The last of which has proven to be key.  The World Health Organization states that health inequities result from the ‘unequal distribution of power, incomes, goods, and services, globally and nationally’.

So what is being done to address the issue?  A little known agency, called the Office of Minority Health (OMH) within the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), is taking big steps forward in reducing inequalities.  Lead by Dr. J. Nadine Gracia, M.D., M.S.C.E., the agency has launched The HHS Action Plan to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities.  The plan outlines 5 Steps:

 

  • Transform health care through more accessible care providers and more complete health insurance coverage.

 

It has been shown time and again that Americans who lack health coverage skip needed medical visits, receive poorer-quality care and suffer more from illness than those with insurance.  The Affordable Care Act is the first major step in addressing this disparity not only by extending healthcare to almost six million Americans, but also by providing the resources and tools to strengthen other aspects of the health sector.

 

  • Strengthen the nation’s health and human services workforce by recruiting students from underserved communities to the health sciences and growing a more culturally competent workforce, including translators.

 

Dr. Gracia and others have noted the unique role nurses can play in implementing the new healthcare law and decreasing inequalities.  As scholar G. Smith puts it, nursing and health disparities are ‘inextricably linked by their vary natures’, because caring is the essence of nursing, and ‘health disparities are, fundamentally, the result of lack of caring within society.’  Indeed, nurses are the on-the-ground players in the healthcare industry working intimately with both doctors and patients.  Public polls show that nurses are the most trusted group of professionals in the country, and a survey by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundations reveals that large majorities of opinion leaders say they would like to see nurses have more influence in a number of key areas, including reducing inequalities.

The University of Alberta study suggests that nurses should not consider their patients as individuals only, but as members of a larger group.  This requires “emancipatory knowledge” of their patients’ life experiences, circumstances and culture.  Understanding the challenges and stressors disadvantaged groups experience gives nurses greater ability to impact their clients and empower them to improve their health.

 

  • Advance the health, safety, and well-being of the American people through wideranging, overarching community health improvement programs targeting such issues as childhood obesity and cardiovascular health.

 

Nurses also play a role in how community health is approached.  The LA Times compared  the health approaches of two community clinics against their health outcomes.  What they found is that collaboration is key in ensuring no one falls through the cracks.  A clinic in Baton Rouge described a “treat and street” approach to provide just enough care for poor patients to avoid the penalties of the federal law that prohibits turning away the sick.  The clinic’s nurse manager Constance McNeely says, ”Patients drift in and out. Sometimes they will go missing for months.”  This approach results in many patients returning to the clinic only after they have discovered they have a serious disease.

By contrast, a clinic in St. Paul conducts daily meetings to discuss patients’ needs, and has fostered relationships between clinics, doctors and hospitals to streamline their patients’ care.  This consistency means nurses can monitor their patient’s progress, change behaviors and implement preventative care.  The nurses assure patients, “We’ll get you set up,” inviting patients back with a sense of ”They always take care of me”.

 

Source: SALUD COMUNITARIA

 

  • Advance scientific knowledge and innovation, largely through implementing more advanced health care data collection and analysis. Increase and improve the efficiency, transparency, and accountability of the HHS through constant evaluation.

 

Nurses represent an important voice seeing first hand what helps and hurts patients.  Their experience can inform and transform the health sector to create better health outcomes.  This requires collaboration not only between clinics, doctors and hospitals, but government leaders and agencies as well.  Many states have stepped up to the challenge of reducing disparities by forming health equity collaboratives. The goal of the various collaboratives is to connect health care providers, researchers, government agencies, and other stakeholders so that they can share resources and best practices.  Nurses can be a crucial component in this mix providing advocacy for their patients.

 

How does your community approach healthcare and health disparities?

 

Medvana uses relevant information to provide low-cost medication to ALL.  Medvana is a FREE website and mobile app that allows users to search for the lowest prices on their prescription drugs at nearby pharmacies.  The average users saves between 15-60% using the Medvana discount.  Use the search bar above or click “Home” to save now!

5 Things to Consider Before Confirming an ADHD Diagnosis

Public concern over the overdiagnosis of ADHD goes back decades, however between Dr. Richard Saul’s public proclamation that ADHD doesn’t exist and a recent New York Times article announcing a 53% increase in adults being prescribed ADHD medication, the issue has been thrust back into the limelight.

Expert opinions span a spectrum.  At one end, it is argued that this rapid increase is evidence of an epidemic that needs to be treated.  Some studies estimate that about 10 million adults have ADHD with the majority being untreated, but this is changing through better medical and societal understanding of the disorder.  The surge in diagnosis, particularly in women, is explained through the missed diagnosis of girls whose symptoms are often inattention turned inward, rather than the disruptive hyperactivity often displayed by boys.  Where 7.8 percent of boys are prescribed ADHD medications, only 3.5 percent of girls are given medication.  At age 18, however, this trend inverts with the number of young men taking prescribed medication plummeting while the number of young women rises to 4.4 percent.  It is suggested that it is not until young women enter young adulthood that their symptoms begin to take more obvious effects such as poor grades and failing relationships.  Another explanation offered is the new availability of treatment. With the continuing emergence of new drugs, patients have new incentive to inquire about their symptoms and receive a diagnosis.

At the other end of the spectrum is the view that this data is “the clearest evidence to date that the disorder is being diagnosed and treated with medication in children far beyond reasonable rates, and that steeply rising diagnoses among adults might portend similar problems.”  Dr. Richard Saul exemplifies this perspective with his argument that what is frequently diagnosed as ADHD is rather symptoms caused by other treatable causes that are often overlooked by this knee-jerk reaction.  He blames the broadening list of symptoms with subjective definitions used to determine a diagnosis.  Dr. Larry Maucieri of PsychologyToday notes the shortcuts many providers have taken looking for two or three “tell-tale” signs to quickly confirm the presence of ADHD.  He stresses the importance of examining long-term patterns of symptoms to determine the true existence of a disorder and not simply a period high stress in life.

The result of these shortcuts is frequent misdiagnosis followed by drug treatments with side-effects that include reduced appetite (dangerous for children, who need a good diet), sleep disturbance (tiredness can exacerbate attention problems), anxiety, irritability, depressed moods, delayed puberty and, in adults, sexual problems (such as erectile dysfunction).  Improper prescriptions for stimulants have fueled the sharing and selling of pills.  This is prevalent not only among high school and college students with almost one out of ten admitting to having misused stimulants, but it could also explain the rise in young women perhaps turning to these medications as a result of keeping up with the multiple demands on their time.  Evidence of this can be seen in the number of emergency room visits involving ADHD stimulant medications increasing from 13,379 to 31,244 between 2005 and 2010 with half being due to non medical use.

 

Source: The DAWN Report

So what can you do? Whether you think you or your child may have ADHD, there are a number of external and alternative causes to first consider.  These include:

  • Hearing or Sight Loss - Particularly for children in school, this may explain disruptive behavior or inattention that stems from boredom.
  • Learning Disabilities - Similarly, children and adults with learning disabilities may become bored in school settings and thus display disruptive or inattentive behaviors.  It has been suggested that thirty per cent of children diagnosed with ADHD may have learning difficulties.
  • Iron Deficiency - Iron deficiency, or anaemia, causes physical fatigue, poor attention and concentration, and memory problems. In 2004, a study in France found 84 per cent of children diagnosed with ADHD were iron deficient, compared with 18 per cent of ‘non-ADHD’ children.
  • Sleep Deprivation - Lack of sleep can result in poor attention, poor memory and hyperactivity in the daytime.  Adults need a minimum of seven hours a night, and schoolchildren ten to 11 hours.
  • Other Mental Disorders - Other mental disorders such as, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and obsessive compulsive disorder are often mistaken for ADHD.  The stimulants used to treat ADHD can often make these disorders, and the symptoms they produce, worse.

Ask your physician to test these possible causes before accepting an ADHD diagnosis and beginning stimulant treatment.

 

What do you think? Is ADHD being overdiagnosed or underdiagnosed?

 

Medvana a FREE website and mobile app that allows users to search for the lowest prices on their prescription drugs at nearby pharmacies.  The average users saves between 15-60% using the Medvana discount.  Use the search bar above or click here to save now!

Good News for Migraine Sufferers

A headband is the what the future of migraine relief may look like.  Recently approved by the FDA, Cefaly is a plastic headband-like device that uses ”transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation” (TENS) to deliver a small electric current to stimulate the trigeminal nerve, which is tied to migraines.  Developed by the Belgium company STX-Med, the device is said to both treat and prevent migraines and is now available in the U.S. by prescription.

 

Source: The Week

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Could Caffeine Be the Next Treatment Against Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s?



Source: Sprudge.com

This St. Patrick’s day have an Irish coffee and protect your brain too.  Recent studies have found that caffeine not only wakes you up, but has also been shown to improve memory and protect against the destruction of brain cells.  One study, published in Nature Neuroscience, found that people who drank two or more cups of coffee a day had a 40 percent lower risk of developing Parkinson’s.

These findings have fueled a surge in research by drug companies around the world looking to develop a drug that harnesses the benefits of caffeine at a high enough degree without the side effects of headaches, irritability and jitters.  Nouriast from Japan and Tozadenant being developed in Finland and Belgium are two emerging drugs in the process of being cleared by the FDA in the U.S.  While these drugs target the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, other research labs in England have tested the use of caffeine for other cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s and ADHD.

This article in Bloomberg suggests that “until there is a caffeine-like drug to improve the functioning of the mind, people can drink tea or coffee, or eat foods such as chocolate.”

Other drugs currently used to treat Parkinson’s include:

Dopamine Angonists
  • Requip - $12.99 with Medvana
  • Mirapex – $8.40 with Medvana
Anticholinergics
  • Cogentin – $61.50 with Medvana
COMT Inhibitors
Other
  • Sinemet – $21.93 with Medvana
  • Eldepryl – $101.39 with Medvana

 

Other drugs currently used to treat Alzheimer’s include:

Cholinesterase Inhibitors
Other

 

Medvana a FREE website and mobile app that allows users to search for the lowest prices on their prescription drugs at nearby pharmacies.  The average users saves between 15-60% using the Medvana discount.  Use the search bar above or click here to save now!

 

For Seniors: How the Affordable Care Act is Cutting Costs by Providing MORE Care

Increasing coverage means less cost?  It seems counterintuitive, but the Affordable Care Act is expanding coverage for more targeted care, aimed at leaving patients healthier for longer and avoiding the expense of longer-term and frequent trips to the hospital.

 


Source: Aetna

Hospital care is the largest expense when it comes to the national health care budget.  A comparative study conducted by the International Federation of Health Plans found that the average hospital cost for a U.S. patient’s total stay was $15,734.  This is of particular concern to the elderly who, though only comprising 12 percent of the U.S. population, account for one-third of all hospitalizations.  For the average Medicare recipient, hospital visits will represent the bulk of their health care costs.

Source: ACP Internist

Adding to these costs is a high rate of readmission among the elderly with one in five discharged patients being readmitted within 30 days.  Across the country, this adds up to a bill of nearly $329 billion annually.

Source: HealthWorks Collective

The new health care law is introducing some important, new features to combat the issue.  The first is free preventative care for seniors to keep them out of the hospital and living independently for longer.  Known as the  “free annual wellness benefit,” the appointment includes free cholesterol and diabetes screenings, consultations about diet, lifestyle and mental health, a review of medications, as well as a free mammogram or colonoscopy if necessary.

If seniors do find themselves in the hospital, the new law is promoting faster discharges with better support during the transition-at-home recovery phase.  After being discharged from the hospital, seniors need assistance in settling into a new medication regime, keeping track of follow-up visits, and emotional support to cope with the changes.  Those hospitalized for a medical or surgical condition were found to have about a 40% greater risk of dementia, and a 60% greater risk of depression.  Additionally, the 3 Ds—dementia, depression, and delirium—are thought to both lengthen the stay of older patients who are already hospitalized and contribute to re-hospitalization.

Transition coaching is a new approach being implemented to help break this cycle.  When family members and loved ones can not provide the time and energy needed for a successful transition from the hospital, transition coach professionals can be a constant line of support to a senior throughout discharge to recovery process.  If patients are moving into a senior care facility, the industry is now realigning itself to ensure better communication between the hospital and post-acute care givers. Increased transparency under the new law means hospitals and nursing homes must now work together, to avoid penalties for readmission and improve ratings posted to consumers. The government’s Community Care Transitions Program (CCTP) is helping connect seniors to these services and select the care most beneficial to them.

With less time in the hospital and more efficient care, these targeted programs can help reduce seniors overall healthcare costs.

 

Medvana is combating the cost of healthcare!  Medvana a FREE website and mobile app that allows users to search for the lowest prices on their prescription drugs at nearby pharmacies.  The average users saves between 15-60% using the Medvana discount.  Use the search bar above or click here to save now!

 

Technology Helps Combat the Risks of Loneliness for Seniors

A recent study conducted by a professor at the University of Chicago, found that extreme loneliness can increase an older person’s risk of premature death by 14%.  This makes loneliness twice as dangerous as obesity in causing early death, and nearly as deadly as disadvantaged socioeconomic status, which has an increased risk of 19% for seniors.

The researcher who conducted this study, John Cacioppo, says he found dramatic differences in the rate of decline in both physical and mental health between lonely and socially engaged older people.  Physical effects included changing immune systems, disrupting sleep, elevating blood pressure and increasing morning rises in the stress hormone cortisol.  Mentally, extreme loneliness can lead to depression, which affects nearly 6 million seniors in the U.S.

 


 

Depression is a serious problem among older adults and, unfortunately, many cases go undiagnosed and untreated because the symptoms are assumed to be a natural part of aging.

 

Prof. Cacioppo notes that it is not physical solitude itself that produces the negative effects of loneliness, rather it is a “subjective sense of isolation” experienced by many seniors.  He emphasizes the importance of spending time with those they trust and care for, suggesting that simply moving to a retirement community filled with strangers is not always the solution.   Activities such as taking part in family traditions, keeping in touch with former work colleagues and making time for family and friends are important opportunities to connect with the people older individuals care about.  Much like physical touch from a trusted friend, older people who have satisfying relationships have much more physical and mental resilience than lonely older people in times of adversity.

Technology is helping to strengthen and maintain these relationships in order to avoid the negative effects of loneliness.  VideoCare is one such product specifically designed to help seniors stay connected with family and friends.  A simple, user-friendly touch screen allows seniors to instantly opens a two way video connection with a professional caregiver, family member or friend.  By providing “face-to-face support and companionship,” these types of emerging technology are having significant impacts in both preventing loneliness and easing the concerns of family members.

 

Medvana is a FREE website and mobile app that allows users to search for the lowest prices on their prescription drugs at nearby pharmacies.  The average users saves between 15-60% using the Medvana discount.  Use the search bar above or click here to save now!

 

Why are Latino and Black Communities Disproportionately Affected by HIV/AIDS?

Both the Latino and Black communities face similar obstacles in tackling HIV/AIDS that disproportionately affects them.  According to SaludToday, while Latinos comprise 16% of the U.S. population, they account for 22% of all new HIV infections in the U.S.  Similarly, Ebony.com reports that Blacks represent only 14% of the United States’ population, but account for 44% of all new infections according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Both groups site similar reasons for the disproportionate numbers.  Among these include limited awareness and misinformation regarding the risk and transmission of HIV/AIDS, forgoing HIV testing due to negative stigma, and limited accessibility to testing and treatment.

Since the epidemic first hit in the early 80′s, HIV/AIDS has primarily been regarded as “a white gay man’s disease”.  Even as the face of HIV/AIDS has changed to include minority groups, the conversation has always remained incomplete with heterosexual men being largely ignored.  For both the Black and Latino communities, the center of the message has focused on men who have sex with men (MSM) and women, both of whom represent the largest affected subpopulations within each community.  When rates of HIV among women began to spike in the Black community, this was explained through the “Down-Low” myth, a term for black men who are in committed relationships with women and nevertheless sleep with men, on the down low.  However, in a report published for National Latino AIDS Awareness Day, it is reported that Black women constitute the highest percent of those infected with HIV/AIDS through heterosexual contact at 75%.  The report also notes that “the majority of Latinas living with HIV/AIDS were infected through heterosexual contact—approximately 71% of Latinas.”  As Kellee Terrell aptly points out, if this many minority women are infected through heterosexual sex, then there must be a significant portion of heterosexual minority men with the disease as well.

The public health realm and the HIV/AIDS industry are partially to blame. As concern for the epidemic has spread, they have set the tone for much of the activism and awareness campaigns that continue today. Among the campaigns put forth by the Center for Disease and Control, large pharmaceutical companies and most recently President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy, none have targeted heterosexual minority men specifically and addressed their distinct concerns.

This exclusion from the conversation has only reinforced and continued the stigmas associated with HIV/AIDS.  Both communities identify homophobia has a significant barrier in tackling the disease.  Part of this stems from religious beliefs potent throughout both communities.  Another factor is a dominance of “machismo” values.   In the Latino community, machismo values regard gay men as “failed men”.  In the Black community, some have suggested that the prevalence of machismo values descends from the emasculating times of slavery and the disenfranchisement experienced in the eras since.  In both cases, the shame associated with a “gay” disease means heterosexual men are resistant to get tested and often hide in the shadows once diagnosed.  With such a large portion of the community alienated from both the conversation and efforts to address HIV/AIDS, it is no surprise that infection rates continue to rise.

Each community faces its own distinct challenges as well.  For the Latino community, many have avoided getting tested or treated out of fear of needing to disclose legal status.  In the Black community, high rates of incarceration have increased the spread of HIV/AIDS due both to prisons acting as a breeding ground for the disease, and those left on the outside having a more limited choice in partners.

Still socioeconomic status remains one of the largest factors in why the numbers are skewed.  Low rates of insurance and limited access to facilities and doctors across both communities accounts for a general disengagement with the healthcare system.  With less time spent at the doctors, this mean less health education and awareness, generally poorer health making members more susceptible, larger numbers of undiagnosed cases, and inconsistent care after being diagnosed.  For the Black community, Ebony.com reports that only “about one third of African Americans have never been tested.”  Among those who have, ”only 75 percent of all Blacks who were diagnosed with HIV/AIDS in 2010 were linked to care,” and “only 35 percent of HIV positive Black Americans achieved viral suppression.” The Latino community fairs a bit better with about half of its members having been tested, but diagnosis has often been in the later stages of the disease with only 26% achieving viral suppression in 2006.

The effects of the changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act have yet to be determined.  It is estimated that nearly 50,000 HIV patients will gain coverage under the Act and extended Medicaid.  However for those in some states who receive care and assistance through the federal Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, they have been left in limbo with third-party checks being denied by the new health plans.  Others have voiced concerns about preserving the quality of treatment.  As drug formularies shrink some worry that newer, preferred regimens will be replaced by older, less effective drugs.

One thing is for certain, however, without every piece of the puzzle being addressed, the HIV/AIDS crisis, particularly within minority communities, will continue to spread.

 

How is awareness being spread in your community?

 

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