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Advice on Health Screenings and Habits for the New Year

HOUSTON FORWARD TIMES — Staying healthy in the New Year is an important resolution, but many adults tend to bypass preventive exams and screenings that would keep them stronger longer.

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By Glenn Ellis

Staying healthy in the New Year is an important resolution, but many adults tend to bypass preventive exams and screenings that would keep them stronger longer. Just as infants and children need to follow an immunization timetable, adults should also regularly schedule certain medical tests. The beginning of a new year is the perfect time to start.

Knowing which tests to get and when to get them can be a challenge, given that screening guidelines are changing frequently, as concerns grow that overusing such tests might lead to unnecessary procedures.

Health screening tests are an important part of medical care. Screening can take the form of simple questionnaires, lab tests, radiology exams (e.g. ultrasound, X-ray) or procedures (e.g. stress test). But just because a test is offered for screening purposes, doesn’t mean that it is a good screening test. Technical accuracy is necessary but not sufficient for a screening test. A combination of the right test, disease, patient and treatment plan makes up a health screening program.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you put together your list of New Year’s Resolutions:

If you don’t check your blood pressure, then you don’t know if it’s high or at goal. Checking your blood pressure about two to three times per week can help you notice any changes.

Diabetes tests should be taken if you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol, as well as every three years after age 45.

A panel created by the American Diabetes Association recommends that every diabetic over age 50 be tested for peripheral arterial disease (PAD) which narrows leg arteries and reduces blood flow. People with diabetes should have their feet examined during regular doctor visits four times a year.

Cholesterol checks should be taken every five years beginning at 20 years of age. Smokers, people with diabetes and those with a family history of heart disease should especially check their cholesterol on a regular basis.

Schedule a tetanus-diphtheria vaccine every 10 years, a flu-vaccine every season beginning at six months of age, and a pneumonia vaccine at age 65 (or possibly younger if you have a suppressed immune system or certain long-term health issues).

Colorectal cancer screenings should begin at age 50. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that adults age 50 to 75 be screened for colorectal cancer. The decision to be screened after age 75 should be made on an individual basis. If you are older than 75, ask your doctor if you should be screened. People at an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer should talk to their doctors about when to begin screening, which test is right for them, and how often to get tested.

Women should begin biennial mammogram screenings at the age of 50, and younger women should ask their health care provider if a mammogram is right for them, based on age, family history, overall health and personal concerns.

Women should have a Pap test every three years if they are sexually active or older than 21.

Women should have a bone density test for osteoporosis at age 65. Most people have no bone loss or have mild bone loss. Their risk of breaking a bone is low so they do not need the test. They should exercise regularly and get plenty of calcium and vitamin D. This is the best way to prevent bone loss.

Men should discuss having a prostate test and exam with their doctors by age 50 and by age 45 for those at high risk for prostate cancer such as African Americans and those with a family history. While high PSA levels can be a sign of prostate cancer, a number of conditions other than prostate cancer can cause PSA levels to rise. These other conditions could cause what’s known as a “false-positive” – meaning a result that falsely indicates you might have prostate cancer when you don’t. The PSA test isn’t the only screening tool for prostate cancer. Digital rectal examination (DRE) is another important way to evaluate the prostate and look for signs of cancer.

Men and women should have their physician check for skin abnormalities when already receiving a physical examination. People of all colors, including those with brown and black skin, get skin cancer. When skin cancer develops in people of color, it’s often in a late stage when diagnosed. The good news is you can find skin cancer early. Found early, most skin cancers, including melanoma, can be cured.

If you wear glasses, have a family history of vision problems or have a disease that puts you at risk for eye disease, such as diabetes, have your eyes checked frequently. A healthy adult with no vision problem should have an eye exam every five to 10 years between 20 and 30 years of age, and every two to four years between 40 and 65 years of age.

This year, resolve to take better care of yourself than before. Be sure to get the screenings you need to prevent and catch potential health problems before they become major concerns. If you are aiming for a more healthful 2019, the most important things to know are your numbers – including your weight, blood pressure, blood sugar, body mass index and cholesterol.

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan. Glenn Ellis, is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. He is a health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, nationally and internationally on health related topics. For more good health information listen to Glenn, on radio in Philadelphia; Boston; Shreveport; Los Angeles; andLos Angeles., or visit: www.glennellis.com.

This article originally appeared in The Houston Forward Times

Activism

East Oakland Community Clean-up

The office of Councilmember Treva Reid invites you to…

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Oakland Clean Up Flyer

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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Community

Many in Black Communities are Choosing Vaccination 

Inequities in health outcomes have always been with us. COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates among African Americans rival or exceed those in heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. Blacks sit atop most bad lists and at the bottom of most good lists. 

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Vaccination/Photo Courtesy of Shutterstock

The trail of illness and death left amid the spread of COVID-19 in Black and African American communities should come as no surprise.

Inequities in health outcomes have always been with us. COVID-19 morbidity and mortality rates among African Americans rival or exceed those in heart disease, diabetes and other illnesses. Blacks sit atop most bad lists and at the bottom of most good lists.

COVID-19 vaccinations offer us an opportunity to better balance the scale.

Unfortunately, even with widely available testing, highly effective vaccines, and extraordinary efforts by health departments to educate and encourage people of color to get vaccinated, many Black Californians remain skeptical.

We can only hope that the FDA’s full regulatory approval of the Pfizer vaccine on August 23 for those 16 and up convinces more to get the vaccine.  It’s worth noting that emergency-use authorization also remains in place for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson shots, as well as Pfizer’s for 12- to 15-year-olds – and that all of these vaccines are safe and effective in protecting against COVID-19 and its highly contagious variants.

Eddie Fairchild and Steph Sanders were skeptical about the COVID-19 vaccine but came to understand why vaccination benefits our entire community.

Fairchild, a Sacramento insurance agent, said he knew of research that found Black and white people are often treated differently for the same health conditions leading to poorer health outcomes.

“I was hesitant,” he said. “I was going to wait and see how it panned out with everyone else.

But when a Black friend in the health care field told him he’d opted to get vaccinated, Fairchild asked him why.

“He said, ‘Risk-reward, and the risk is death.’ At that point I didn’t have to ask him what the reward was.”

With a finance degree and a belief that numbers don’t lie, Fairchild looked at the data. He learned that until 2020 the average number of Americans who died each year was about 2.6 million, but in 2020 that figure was 3.4 million. There was only one possible explanation for the death rate surge, he said.

“COVID is absolutely real,” he said, adding that three of his cousins died from the virus. “Taking all that into consideration, I decided that it’s risky to engage in the world and not be vaccinated. It made sense for me to get it.”

Racial gaps in vaccination have thankfully narrowed in recent weeks. But as of September 1, while Black people account for 6% of the state’s population, they account for 6.6% of COVID-19 deaths, which is 11% higher than the statewide rate, according to state department of public health data. Only about 55% of Black people in California have had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Reasons for the discrepancies run the gamut, from conspiracy theories like Black people are getting a less effective vaccine than whites or that the vaccine will eventually be deadly, to challenges in health care access. 

Mostly, it’s based on a lack of trust in medical and scientific institutions, which have a long history of racism and mistreating Black people.

So even when it comes to good things like vaccines, which are scientifically proven to be good for the community, it always comes back to trust.

Sanders, a Vallejo school principal, was hesitant because of the Tuskegee syphilis studies in which Black men who had the disease were intentionally not treated with penicillin. And he was dubious that an effective vaccine could be developed so quickly. 

In fact, the science and technology enabling development of the COVID-19 vaccines was in development for a more than decade before the virus emerged in 2020. The FDA authorized three vaccines for emergency use after they underwent a rigorous process and were proven through trials to be safe and effective at preventing severe COVID-19, hospitalization, and death.

He decided to get vaccinated when his school board decided last spring to bring students back into classrooms.

Today, he’s a fervent vaccine advocate. He holds “lunch and learn” forums for educators, encouraging vaccination.

“I’m a leader and people are relying on my knowledge,” he said. “I tell them, ‘Don’t make this about you, but about the people you love and care about. It’s about protecting them.’”

There is still a long way to go before Blacks achieve true health equity, but vaccination against a virus that is taking a terrible toll on our communities is a critical step in the right direction.

 

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Bay Area

New Assemblymember Mia Bonta to Caucus With 3 Legislative Groups

The 18th Assembly District includes a large portion of the city of Oakland and the cities of Alameda and San Leandro. Bonta was elected in a special election on August 31, defeating fellow Democrat Janani Ramachandra.

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Assemblymember Mia Bonta, (third from left), with (left to right) Senator Steve Bradford, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurman, U.S. Congresswoman Barbara Lee, assemblymembers Isaac Bryan Reggie Jones-Sawyer, and Kevin McCarty.

Soon after Assemblymember Mia Bonta (D-Oakland) was sworn in last week to represent California’s 18th Assembly District — which covers parts of East Bay — she signed on as a member of the California Legislative Women’s Caucus (CLWC), the California Latino Legislative Caucus (CLLC), and the California Black Legislative Caucus (CLBC).

Bonta is the 11th member of the Black Caucus and the only lawmaker representing a district in the Bay Area. In the Latino Caucus, she is the 30th member, and out of 120 lawmakers in both houses of the state Legislature, she is the 39th woman.

“Special congratulations to our newest member @MiaBonta, who was sworn into the Assembly this morning! #AD18 has chosen a fantastically fearless representative, and I look forward to working with you Assemblymember Bonta! #CALeg,” wrote Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D- San Diego).

Mialisa “Mia” Tania Bonta, who is Puerto Rican of African descent, earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Yale University in 1993 and a Master of Education (Ed.M.) from the Harvard Graduate School of Education in 1996. Bonta also received a J.D. from Yale University Law School in 1999.

Her work experience includes over 20 years working with nonprofits, including serving as CEO of Oakland Promise, a college and career prep program for Alameda County high school students.  She was also president of the Alameda Unified School District Board from 2018 to 2021.

“Congratulations to @MiaBonta on her election to the Assembly, which not only made her the first Afro Latina in the Legislature, but also raised the number of women in the Legislature to an all-time high,” California Lt. Gov., Eleni Kounalakis stated on Twitter.

The 18th Assembly District includes a large portion of the city of Oakland and the cities of Alameda and San Leandro. Bonta was elected in a special election on August 31, defeating fellow Democrat Janani Ramachandra.

“I am deeply honored to represent the 18th Assembly District. Our district has a long history of bold, progressive, leadership and I plan to continue this work in our diverse district,” Bonta tweeted September 7. “I’m ready to fight for bold solutions to issues like homelessness, housing affordability, climate change, and criminal justice reform for AD-18 and all Californians. I am ready to get to work.”

Bonta steps in to replace her husband, Rob Bonta, who vacated the AD 18th seat in April after Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed him California Attorney General, replacing Xavier Becerra, who is now United States Secretary of Health and Human Services.

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