The Obama health insurance video

Have you seen President Barack Obama’s video reminding us to sign up for health insurance by Sunday’s deadline?

If you enjoy self-deprecatory humor, check it out here:

We can’t match that, but we can remind you that Sunday is the deadline for open enrollment in the private health insurance marketplace. Last-minute free help is available from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in the form of “navigators” at the downtown branch of the Duluth Public Library. No appointment is necessary.

You should bring household income information and Social Security numbers for those applying. It’s not a universal deadline:  If you are eligible for public health programs or have qualifying life-changing experiences, you can apply anytime. Otherwise, Sunday is the last day to get health insurance for 2015 … and if you don’t get insurance, you may face tax penalties next year.

More information is available by calling United Way 2-1-1 or by visiting

You can contact John Lundy at




The smoking minority

Smokers are more of a minority group than ever in Minnesota.

The Minnesota Department of Health and ClearWay Minnesota report today that, based on their annual survey, the state’s adult smoking rate has declined to 14.4 percent — the lowest rate ever in Minnesota. It’s down from 16.1 percent in 2010, the last time the survey took place.

The survey result means about 580,000 Minnesotans continue to smoke, according to a news release from the agencies.

Additional conclusions:

  • More than 60 percent of smokers who quit during the past year indicated the statewide tobacco price increase in 2013 helped them make that decision.
  • Minnesotans with less than a high school education have the highest smoking rate: 28.6 percent.
  • Between the genders, a greater percentage of men smoke (16.5 to 12.4 percent).
  • For the first time, the youngest adults (ages 18-24) aren’t the most likely to smoke. The age group that smokes the most now is adults 25-44.
  • Not surprisingly, the percentage of Minnesotans who have used e-cigarettes within the 30 previous days has risen — from 0.7 percent in 2010 to 5.9 percent last year. Almost two-thirds of e-cigarette users were current smokers.

You can learn more here:

You can contact John Lundy at

Flu numbers down (for now)

Although influenza remains widespread in Minnesota, numbers took a dip during the week that ended Dec. 27, according to Minnesota Department of Health data.

The number of hospitalizations was down to seven during the week, compared with 84 the week before. None of the hospitalizations occurred in Northeastern Minnesota.

School outbreaks, which skyrocketed to 315 the week before, were down to 34 last week. (An outbreak means at least 5 percent of a school population is out with an influenza-like illness or at least three children from anyone elementary classroom.)

Outbreaks in long-term care facilities were down, too, from 33 to 22.

Of course, people and their doctors may have made more of an effort to avoid hospitalization in the week that included Christmas. And most schools weren’t in session most of the week, if at all. A better picture might emerge in a couple of weeks when schools have been back in session.

Still, the data suggest this hasn’t been an unusually harsh year for influenza so far, at least in Minnesota. To date, 577 Minnesotans have been hospitalized in the current influenza season. Compared with the previous five seasons, that’s more to this date only than the 2011-12 season (556) cases. It’s much less than 2009-10 (2,060), 2012-13 (3,068) and last year (1,540).

The seven cases last week can be compared to 382 cases during the same week two years ago.

But influenza always takes a toll, especially among the young and old. Already this season, three Minnesota children have died because of it.

It’s a reminder that such  precautions as staying home when you’re sick, washing your hands zealously and perhaps an elbow bump instead of shaking hands or embracing always make sense.

Contact John Lundy at


And the best place for an active lifestyle is …

Omaha, Neb, is the home of Warren Buffett, the College Baseball World Series, and — take it from me — an above-average tea shop.

It’s also the best place for people with an active lifestyle.

So says Wallet Hub, a website the purports to provide helpful information for consumers and owners of small businesses.

Evaluating categories such as the cost of playing golf, fitness club fees and the percentage of people who are physically active, Wallet Hub says Omaha rose to the top, followed by Portland, Ore.; Pittsburgh; Reno, Nev.; and Orlando, Fla.

Duluth, aka the best outdoors city in the country, wasn’t evaluated. But the city on the other end of Interstate 35 was. Laredo, Texas, ranked last: 100 out of the 100 communities ranked.

Only Minneapolis (15th) and St. Paul (21st) were on the list from Minnesota; and Madison (25th) and Milwaukee (64th) in Wisconsin.

Madison has the highest number of basketball hoops per capita of any city surveyed, and the most “park playgrounds,” the report found. Minneapolis ranked third in the number of tennis courts.

Look for yourself here:

Contact John Lundy at:

Not dependent, just drinking a lot

People who drink too much are alcoholics, or at least are alcohol-dependent.


Usually not, according to a study that appears today in Preventing Chronic Disease, the journal of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nine out of 10 adults who drink too much alcohol are not alcoholics and aren’t alcohol-dependent, the study concluded.

The study found that almost one out of every three of us drinks excessively. Most are binge drinkers, usually on multiple occasions. But only about one in 30 adults is classified as alcohol-dependent.

The study defines excessive drinking as:

  • Binge drinking — four or more drinks on an occasion for women; five or more drinks for men
  • Consuming eight or more drinks within a week for women or 15 or more drinks for men
  • Any alcohol use by pregnant women
  • Any alcohol use by individuals younger than 21.

This doesn’t explain why a lot of people who aren’t alcohol-dependent nonetheless drink more than they should. But whatever the cause, the cost is enormous. Excessive alcohol use is responsible for 88,000 deaths in the U.S. each year, according to the CDC, and it takes a $223.5 billion annual toll on the economy.

The study was conducted by scientists from the CDC and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. They analyzed data on 138,100 U.S. adults ages 18 and older from all 50 states and the District of Columbia who participated in the National Survey on Drug Use and Health in 2009, 2010 or 2011.

Contact John Lundy at


Ebola hysteria

Confusion seems to continue to circle around Ebola. When I interviewed Dr. Johan Bakken, an infectious disease specialist at St. Luke’s, earlier this week, he placed the blame on — ahem — the media.

“As a reporter you know that sensations sell better than plain facts,” he told me.


My guess is that misinformation has been spread much more through the Internet than through traditional media. And since we are here on the Internet, perhaps this is a good place to share some plain facts about Ebola, as provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:

  1. Ebola is NOT spread through casual contact, air, water or food grown or legally purchased in the United States.
  2. Ebola is transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids of someone who is already showing symptoms of the disease.
  3. The symptoms of Ebola include: fever, headache, joint and muscle aches, weakness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach pain, lack of appetite and abnormal bleeding. They may appear anywhere from 2 to 21 days after exposure to the virus.
  4. If a person does not have symptoms, they are not contagious. To receive the virus, an individual would have to have direct contact with an individual who is experiencing symptoms or has died of the disease.

It’s reasonable to conclude from the above that a person riding a bicycle cannot possibly be a public health threat, even if she did recently return from West Africa.

It’s also reasonable to conclude that Dr. Craig Spencer of New York, who later was diagnosed with Ebola, was not a threat to public health  before his symptoms appeared.

“He went bowling, he rode the subway — but he was perfectly well, placing no one at risk,” Bakken said. “And the minute he noticed the onset of fever, he contacted public health officials and put into quarantine, and appropriately so.”

Contact John Lundy at


The salty 10

Question: What are the 10 biggest sources of sodium in the diets of American schoolchildren?

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control Prevention named the salty 10 as part of a “Vital Signs” report, released today, on sodium consumption among U.S. kids.

CDC graphic

The report concludes that more than 90 percent of U.S. children, ages 6 to 18 years, eat more sodium than recommended. This puts them at risk for developing high blood pressure and heart disease later in life, the CDC says.

Those schoolkids consume an average of about 3,300 milligrams of sodium per day even before adding salt at the table, the CDC says. The recommended amount is less than 2,300 mg per day.

About 65 percent of their sodium comes from store foods, 13 percent from fast food and pizza restaurant foods and 9 percent from school cafeteria foods.

So here’s the list of foods responsible for 43 percent of the sodium American children consume, according to the CDC:

  1. Pizza
  2. Bread and rolls
  3. Cold cuts/cured meats
  4. Savory snacks
  5. Sandwiches
  6. Cheese
  7. Chicken patties/nuggets/tenders
  8. Pasta mixed dishes
  9. Mexican mixed dishes
  10. Soups

Contact John Lundy at:

Are residents paid enough?

The website Medscape wondered how medical residents were faring, so it asked them.

To compile its Residents Salary & Debt Report 2014, Medscape used an online survey. More than 1,200 residents representing 25 specialties responded between June 20 and July 7, the website reported in an email.

The bottom line: The average resident is paid $55,300. It’s a bit less in the Great Lakes states — Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio — where the average is $54,000.

But here’s the rub: 36 percent of those residents said they owed more than $200,000 in medical school debt. Another 22 percent owed between $100,000 and $200,000. Those numbers didn’t surprise me, but I was mildly surprised to see that 25 percent of residents reported no debt.

Male residents, on average, make $56,000, compared with $54,000 for female residents. But when asked if they were satisfied with their pay, 57 percent of the women said yes; only 48 percent of the men said yes.

There’s a conclusion to be reached from that, but I’m not sure what it is.

All of this makes me wonder about the pay, debt and satisfaction of medical residents in the Northland. I’m not going to do an online survey, but if any residents would be willing to talk — and to be quoted — I’d be interested in talking to you.

You can respond to this post, email me at, or call me at (218) 624-2906.

The truth about ticks

About the time I wrote my annual story about the Minnesota Department of Health’s annual warning about ticks, an email arrived from someone representing

The company called Insect Shield makes apparel designed to keep ticks and other vermin away.

If this blog were wearing insect-repellant clothing, it wouldn’t have a deer tick attached to it.

But the information they provided was from the University of Rhode Island’s TickEncounter Resource Center.Their website is

Here are their top 10 facts you need to know about ticks, only two of which might lead you to patronize the Insect Shield folks:

  1. Ticks crawl up. They don’t jump, fly, or drop from trees.
  2. All ticks, including deer ticks, come in small, medium and large sizes.
  3. Ticks can be active even in winter. Deer ticks aren’t killed by freezing conditions and will be active any winter day that the ground is not snow-covered or frozen. This, of course, excludes almost all winter days in northern Minnesota.
  4. Ticks carry disease-causing microbes.
  5. Only deer ticks transmit Lyme disease bacteria.
  6. For most tick-borne diseases, you have at least 24 hours to find and remove a feeding tick before it transmits an infection.
  7. Deer tick nymphs look like poppy seed on your skin.
  8. The easiest and safest way to remove a tick is with a pointy tweezer.
  9. Clothing with built-in tick repellant is best for preventing tick bites.
  10. Tick bites and tick-borne diseases are preventable. “Reducing tick abundance in your yard, wearing tick repellant clothing every day, treating pets every month and getting into a habit of doing a quick body scan are all great actions for preventing tick bites,” explains.

You can reach John Lundy at: