NEWS DAY | Your zip code and your health / MN banks / H1N1 / Afghanistan

stethescope_morguefileYour zip code and your health “Social determinants,” including education, income, race and even where you live affect your health, reports MPR. According to Camara Jones, research director on social determinants of health and equity at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta:

“There are tremendous differences in every single health outcome you look at whether it’s an infectious disease, whether it’s heart disease, whether it’s cancer, whatever, education is a tremendous predictor of health outcomes.”

Better health outcomes are also tied to higher income. And, reports Paul Matessich of the Wilder Institute, the zip coding of health is demonstrated right here in the Twin Cities:

“If you live in certain ZIP codes in the Twin Cities you will live five, seven or eight years less,” said Paul Mattessich, executive director of Wilder Research in St. Paul. “Or say it more dramatically, you will die five, seven or eight years sooner than people who live in other zip codes because of the different community factors.”

The community factors he’s talking about are social determinants of health — things like crime, pollution, the quality of housing, access to full-service grocery stores, jobs and recreation. The presence or absence of any of these conditions can have an enormous effect on health behaviors in a neighborhood.

When Allina Hospitals started the Backyard Project to improve the health of the neighborhoods around the hospitals — Powderhorn, Phillips, Central and Corcoran  — they found that social determinants were at the top of people’s lists of things that affected their health:

“We hear a lot about jobs, we hear about housing, we hear about school, we hear about safe environments for kids to be able to play, about having access to and being able to afford healthy foods, stress, just a lot of the challenges of daily life that really do have a profound impact on a person’s health,” Zuehlke said.

One participant noted that, while he tried to get his family to eat healthier foods, that cost more than 99 cent burgers at McDonalds. A second installment in the MPR series on health and environment focused on availabiilty of healthy food, noting that “poor people, and people of color, often live in neighborhoods without full-service grocery stores.”

The Wilder Foundation’s Compass Project research has zeroed in on disparities, including disparities in health, within the seven-county metro area. Recently, a legislative hearing and a community roundtable with Senator Al Franken have also focused on racial disparities in health and health care.

The legislative hearing circled around to another of the social determinants of health with the testimony of State Demographer Tom Gillaspy:

Gillaspy testified that recent trends show Minnesota’s poverty rate increasing along with the U.S. rate, although Minnesota’s poverty rate of 9.6 percent remains lower than the 13.2 percent national average. Gillaspy said that between 2007 and 2008, the state’s poverty rate increased by 1.9 percent, and added that the rate of people at 100 to 150 percent of the poverty level also went up by 10.1 percent.
Gillaspy said the statistics that are currently available are “frustrating” in that they do not reflect the massive economic changes that have occurred since 2008.

Who’s watching MN banks? The MN Commerce Commission watches Minnesota banks, and right now about one in five state-regulated banks and credit unions are on its watch list, reports AP. That’s 71 banks and 21 credit unions, if you’re counting. Four MN banks have gone under this year, the highest number since 1990. Nationally, 98 banks have failed and 416 are “problems.”

The Star Tribune reports troubling testimony before a legislative committee hearing yesterday. According to James LaPierre, regional director for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation:

Minnesota banks have just 61 cents of cash reserves on hand to cover every dollar in problem loans, down from 81 cents a year ago. Regulators recommend that banks keep at least as much cash in reserves as they have problem loans.

Joe Witt, president of the Minnesota Bankers Association, said MN banks are actually doing well, with 333 making a profit in the second quarter. He said that problem loans come not just from “risky lending,” but more from the national economic recession.

Needle or nasal spray, vaccine is on the way The H1N1 nasal spray — some 2.2 million doses — was released in some states on Monday, reports AP, and the shots will be on their way next week. Meanwhile, a shortage of seasonal flu vaccine has caused the cancellation of two more flu shot clinics at the University of Minnesota. Despite earlier promises, a manufacturer said it could not deliver 14,000 doses of the seasonal flu vaccine this week, as originally promised.

According to the flu.gov website, Minnesota has ordered doses of the nasal spray, but the MN Department of Health website has no information on availability.

Chamber strikes out When the U.S. Chamber of Commerce continued to oppose cap-and-trade and other climate change measures, Apple left. Three big utilities — PG&E, Exelon and PNM Resources — had already left, for the same reason, and Nike resigned from the board of directors.

The departures weaken the Chamber’s influence in Washington. NPR summarizes:

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce bills itself as “the voice of business.” But when it comes to climate change, business no longer speaks with one voice.

But, notes NPR, the Chamber still has three million members and spent nearly $92 million on lobbying last year.

Afghanistan President Obama told a group of Congressional leaders that he will not propose a major troop cut in Afghanistan, but that he has not yet decided whether to ask for more troops, reported the New York Times. The Washington Post noted “bi-partisan concerns over strategy” – big surprise there.

Icasualties, a website tracking U.S. and coalition deaths in Afghanistan, shows the acceleration of deaths in the past two years. Keep in mind that the 2009 numbers are year-to-date, and there are still almost three months left in the year.

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And the most recent (mid-September) CNN poll shows Americans opposed to the war, by a 58  to 39 percent margin. In Minnesota, anti-war activists will mark the eighth anniversary of the war at the weekly peace vigil on the Lake Street bridge Wednesday.

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