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The 5 Worst States For Women’s Health

The debates currently raging over Planned Parenthood are an unsettling reminder of the precarious state of women’s health care in modern America. Planned Parenthood provides many critical health services to women, especially those who live in poverty or lack adequate coverage.

Many states whose legislators are calling to defund the organization already restrict women’s access to medical care, contraceptives, and abortions. The consequences of these restrictions are visible in teenage pregnancy rates and quality of life across the board. The worst offenders include:

5. Texas

The largest state in the continental U.S. has some of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, reaching 41 pregnancies per 1,000 girls aged 15-19. Texas also has severely restricted access to abortion services, with 93 percent of its counties lacking an abortion provider. Coupled with the fact that the Lone Star State has the highest percentage of uninsured women in the United States (27 percent), it’s safe to say that Texas has really earned its spot on this list.

4. Alaska

Despite having one of the smallest populations in the country, Alaska has one of the highest rates of female homicide, with 2 murders per 100,000 women. Alaska also permits emergency rooms to deny women information and access to emergency contraceptive measures in cases of rape. Teenage pregnancy rates are also high up in the Last Frontier, with 30.3 births per 1,000 girls.

3. New Mexico

With nearly half of female-headed families living in poverty, New Mexico earns the third slot. One-fifth of all women in the state live in poverty, and 24 percent do not have a primary care physician. At 43.4 births for every 1,000 girls, New Mexico has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy. Twenty-two percent of New Mexico’s women lack health insurance.

2. South Carolina

South Carolina takes the top spot for female homicides, with 2.54 murders per 100,000 women. South Carolina also has some of the most stringent laws regarding abortion, including a law that regulates the door width of women’s health clinics. Unsurprisingly, the teenage pregnancy rate in South Carolina is 31.6 births per 1,000 girls, placing it in the top third nationwide. Women in South Carolina also often lack health insurance, with 1 in 5 having no coverage.

1. Mississippi

Topping off the list, Mississippi has the highest rate of women living in poverty in the country, with a staggering 54.7 percent of families headed by women living below the poverty line. The Gulf Coast state also has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy nationwide, with 42.6 births for every 1,000 girls. A staggering 99 percent of Mississippi counties do not have an abortion provider, and emergency rooms are permitted to withhold emergency contraceptives.

Photo: Five-month old Ronan Amador rides in a carrier with his mother, Elizabeth Mahoney, during a Planned Parenthood rally on the steps of the Texas Capitol,Thursday, March 7, 2013, in Austin, Texas. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

3 Diet Trends Explained

As American waistlines continue to expand, so does the number of diet plans promising to shrink them. But many crash diets, juice cleanses, or canned smoothies often fail to deliver long-lasting results. Temporary changes in diet rarely solve the problems caused by years of unhealthy eating. Instead, guidelines that encourage long-term change in diet can make a significant difference in energy, weight, and overall health. To help decode all the health jargon, here are some of the most popular diet guidelines.

The Paleo Diet

A relative newcomer to the health and nutrition scene, paleo (short for Paleolithic) has rapidly gained popularity among fitness experts. Based on what proponents dubiously claim was the human diet during the Paleolithic era, the plan prohibits processed food, alcohol, dairy, legumes, and even salt. The focus is instead on natural, high-fat, high-protein foods such as grass-fed meat, fish, and vegetables. So while white bread might be taboo, bacon can now claim to be a health food.

For those hesitant to give up the occasional slice of cake or glass of wine, the paleo diet also includes the 85:15 rule, meaning that the diet must only be followed 85 percent of the time. This equates to roughly three non-paleo meals each week.

The paleo diet is best suited for weight loss, muscle building, or those prone to iron deficiency. Those suscepitble to high cholesterol levels are better off trying another food plan. More information about the paleo diet can be found here.

Gluten Free

Though generally prescribed for medical reasons, some believe a gluten-free diet can also prove beneficial to those without gluten allergies or Celiac disease. Proponents of the gluten-free lifestyle argue that gluten — a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye — can have myriad negative effects on those without a diagnosed gluten sensitivity, including weight gain, exhaustion, and even depression.

Starting a gluten-free diet can be intimidating, but there is a wide range of products available to keep restrictions as limited as possible. Gluten-free cereals, pastas, and baking mixes can often be found in the average grocery store, making it easy to make home-cooked gluten-free meals.

A gluten-free diet can be extremely helpful to those with severe food allergies, but it is generally not recommended for those simply looking for a healthier lifestyle. More information on gluten intolerance and a gluten-free lifestyle can be found here.

Vegetarian

As the FDA debates eliminating lean meat from its dietary guidelines, vegetarianism is shedding its hippie image. Though many people choose to eat vegetarian for ethical reasons, the diet also offers a number of health benefits, including higher energy, weight loss, and a stronger immune system.

This diet comes in several shades, ranging from standard vegetarianism to a stringent vegan diet. The differences are simply in the variety of animal products consumed.

Vegetarians choose not to eat animal flesh of any description, though they usually consume dairy and honey. Vegans eliminate all animal products and animal-derived products from their diet. This includes dairy, eggs, and honey. (Self-described “pescatarians” are not, despite popular myth, vegetarians, as they only eliminate meat and poultry from their diets, while continuing to eat fish, dairy, and honey.)

Due to their non-consumption of meat, vegetarians must be careful to ensure they have enough protein and iron in their diets.

All variants of vegetarianism have proven health benefits, including weight loss, reduced cholesterol, and reduced risk for heart disease. More information can be found here.

Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture via Flickr

5 Unexpected Health Benefits Of Golf

Despite a vast professional circuit, an international following, and numerous clubs dedicated to it, golf still has a reputation for being the hobby of businessmen and retirees, rather than a serious, athletic endeavor. But more than just an occasion to strike business deals or pass an idle afternoon, golf has a number of health benefits that justify playing a regular round. Here are just five of them.

1. It reduces stress. As with any physical activity, golf promotes an active lifestyle, which has been shown to reduce stress, improve sleep, and ward off depression. Exercising in an outdoor environment has been shown to increase endorphins, the feel-good” hormones in the brain, which improves mental health.

2. It’s a low-risk workout. Unlike high-impact sports such as running, golf is a great way to stay active without damaging joints. Even when using a golf cart to get around the course, the average golfer burns 411 calories per nine-hole round, going up to 700 calories when walking and carrying clubs. Golfing also helps raise’ heart rates, contributing to cardiac health and reducing cholesterol. In addition, it is a full-body workout that builds mobility and strength in critical areas such as the spine, shoulder, and hips.

3. It keeps the brain active. As much a mental game as a physical one, golf helps improve analytical and strategic thinking. Keeping your mind active has been shown to result in lesser risk of dementia and Alzheimers Disease, even as you age. Given that a full course can take several hours to complete, golf also aids the ability to focus and concentrate.

4. It improves vision. Anyone who has played a round knows the focus and careful eye it takes to follow a tiny golf ball around the vast green course. Golf provides a unique training experience for the eyes that helps develop and maintain hand-eye coordination and the ability to follow motion.

5. It prevents loneliness. Studies have shown that isolation and loneliness can have devastating effects on both mental and physical health, even leading to a shortened lifespan. Golf has been shown to encourage socialization and is a great way to meet new people, preventing isolating behavioral patterns from developing.

Photo: Wojciech Kulicki

Smart Ways To Shop Organic

Once limited to health-food stores, organic products have now become so widespread that they can be found in the average grocery store. They may be ubiquitous, but they’re also more expensive.

According to WebMD, consumers can expect to pay as much as 50-100 percent more for organic foods. Part of this increase can be attributed to higher production costs, as organic products do have to comply with standards set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Another factor is perception: Consumers typically believe organic foods to be healthier, and more sustainable, and so expect to pay a little extra.

If one’s goal in buying organic is to eat more sustainably, cheaper options, such as buying local or seasonal produce, are just as effective as buying organic. Rather than shell out for organic products that have been shipped in, you can learn more about sustainable, local eating at simplesteps.org

If the goal is to reduce exposure to pesticides, there are steps you can take to determine whether it’s worth the extra cost.

One easy place to save money is on fruits and vegetables that have thick peels or rinds that protect from pesticide contamination. Foods such as avocados, onions, pineapples, sweetcorn, mangoes, kiwis, and even quinoa have all been found to be low in pesticides and are naturally insect resistant, reducing the need for chemical additives. Also save on broccoli, papayas, asparagus, and bananas.

Unlike most foods, the USDA does not regulate use of the term “organic” on seafood labels, so be wary of brands using the term. Instead, choose fish with low mercury contamination that is sustainably harvested, such as herring, flounder, tilapia, trout, wild salmon, or lobster produced in North America.

Avoid shark, farmed salmon, tuna, imported swordfish and canned crab. More information can be found at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.

In order to be certified as organic, eggs, meat, and poultry must be sourced from animals that have never received antibiotics or growth hormones. Truly organic meats can be difficult to find, so be wary of labels and carefully prepare foods at home. This guide can help locate restaurants and grocery stores that carry organic meats and poultry.

To sum up: It’s worth spending a little extra for organic on thin-skinned fruits that absorb pesticides and other chemical additives more easily. Fruits such as peaches, apples, cherries, strawberries, nectarines, and pears have all been found to contain high percentages of chemical contaminants and are not naturally resistant to insects. Vegetables worth splurging on include bell peppers, celery, spinach, potatoes, and lettuce.

Even when buying organic produce, the best way to reduce pesticide exposure is to thoroughly clean and prepare food before consumption. Wash fruits and vegetables under streaming water to remove excess dirt, residues, and bacteria. Remove not only the peels from fruits and vegetables, but the outer leaves of leafy greens as well. For meat and poultry products, trim visible fat and skin, as pesticide residues can collect in fat trimmings.

Photo: Take Back Your Health Conference 2015 via Flickr

The Health Benefits Hidden In Your Spice Cabinet

A healthy diet has innumerable benefits, and you can augment it by finding nutritional value in places you might not expect — like the spice rack.

Turmeric, a brightly colored spice commonly used in Indian cuisine, contains curcumin, a substance that has been shown to aid in weight loss, fight depression, and even treat cancer.

In this article by the Tufts Journal, curcumin was found to boost the metabolism of mice who had been specifically bred to gain weight. Although the mice were fed a high-fat, high-calorie diet, those that had ingested small amounts of curcumin weighed 10 percent less than those that had not.

The same lab also found that curcumin helped prevent atherosclerosis, or inflamed arteries. The scientists conducting the studies believe that the compound inhibits the buildup of fatty tissue to artery walls.

Dr. Minerva Santos, director of integrative medicine at Northern Westchester Hospital in New York, says she uses turmeric to treat her patients’ joint pain—as well as her own. In an interview with the New York Times, she states that for everyday wear and tear, turmeric is “an amazing spice.”

More amazingly, curcumin has been shown to improve mental health, even in cases of severe depression. A study published by the Journal of Affective Disorders finds that a daily dose of curcumin had anti-depressant-like effects on individuals diagnosed with major depressive disorder.

Though turmeric is generally a helpful addition to a healthy diet, it does slow blood clotting and may worsen gallbladder issues, so avoid consumption before surgery or if you have gallstones.

You can of course get it in pill form as a nutritional supplement, but when used in cooking, turmeric adds a fresh twist to many favorite recipes, including roast chicken, corn chowder or even cheese sauce on a big plate of nachos.

Photo: Steven Jackson via Flickr

Conservative Women’s Group Protests Trans Fat Ban

In response to the FDA’s new regulation banning trans fats from restaurants and food manufacturers, a conservative women’s advocacy group has released a statement condemning the ruling.

The Independent Women’s Forum (IWF), which describes itself as a non-partisan educational and research group headquartered in Washington, D.C., states that the ban will “disproportionally hurt small food businesses.”

The new regulation requires the removal of all PHOs (partially hydrogenated oils) from manufactured foods by 2018, unless exempted by special permission of the FDA. Since the FDA has already agreed that trans fats contribute to a variety of heart problems, such as coronary heart disease, they believe that the ban will “reduce coronary heart disease and prevent thousands of fatal heart attacks every year.”

The IWF argues that American consumption of trans fat has already been reduced by 78 percent since 2003, as food producers phased PHOs out of their products by choice, and that those who continue to use them are mainly mom-and-pop shops that will take a financial hit adjusting their recipes to the regulation.

The Forum’s statement also argues that the trans fat ban insults the American consumer, who should be able to make these types of dietary decisions for themselves, and not have them made by agency regulators.

Photo: Michael Stern via Flickr

What You Need To Know About Sunscreen

Summer has arrived, and with it, gorgeous sunny days. As crowds gather outside to welcome the warmer weather, everyone starts slathering on a summer staple: sunscreen.

But not all sunscreens are created equal. According to The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit, non-partisan organization that studies human and environmental health, sunscreen is not nearly as effective as most Americans believe it is — and this is contributing to increasing skin cancer rates.

Sunscreen ingredients and labeling are also not severely regulated in the United States and Europe, which leads to confused customers buying ineffective and possibly harmful sunscreens.

The best thing you can do is get informed. Here are some red flags to look for:

1. High SPF

SPF is short for sun protection factor, and some people just can’t get enough of it. It’s easy to find sunscreens with an SPF of 70, 85, or even 100, but the Food and Drug Administration has attempted to ban SPF values that high, due to increased health risks.

Studies have shown that sunscreens with high SPFs are more prone to misuse and often include ingredients that can damage tissue or trigger allergic reactions. No need to reach that high anyway: an SPF of 50 provides plenty of protection when used correctly.

2. Added Vitamin A

Though additional vitamins may sound like a great thing, common additives used to boost the efficacy of Vitamin A in sunscreens have been shown to actually accelerate the growth of skin cancers. Avoid ingredients such as retinyl palmitate, retinyl acetate, and retinyl linoleate.

3. Avoid Aerosols

The FDA has cautioned against using spray-on sunscreens for several reasons.

First, aerosol sunscreens are difficult to apply sufficiently, leading to thin coverage and increasing the risk for skin damage.

Spray-on sunscreens are also easily inhaled, exposing the lungs to a variety of chemicals can damage tissue, especially in children.

Plus, aerosols are highly flammable. And the idea, you’ll recall, is to avoid getting burned.

All in all, the best way to protect skin in bright summer weather is to limit sun exposure. Sunglasses, hats, and cover-ups are the most foolproof ways to avoid sun damage and painful burns. Wear plenty of sunscreen with an SPF between 15 and 50, and make sure to reapply every two hours.

For more information, check out these resource pages from the FDA and CDC.

Photo: Sacha Fernandez via Flickr

Meet The Duggars: Reality TV Stars And Moral Hypocrites

The Duggar family, of TLC’s popular reality series 19 Kids and Counting, has admitted their oldest son had a undisclosed history of molesting his own sisters. Josh Duggar, now 27 years old and father to three young children, has since made statements regretting his “inexcusable” actions.

The Duggars are known for their unusually G-rated show, in which they espouse a conservative, Christian lifestyle. Birth control is discouraged (obviously), women wear modest clothing, and contact between the sexes is strictly monitored.

Despite their moralizing, Josh, the oldest in the long line of children, has been revealed to have a history of fondling multiple unnamed minors. According to InTouch magazine, which originally broke the story, a female member of the Duggar brood informed her father in early 2002 that Josh had been fondling her while she slept.

Several months later, another daughter also confessed that Josh had been sexually abusing her. Other minors complained of ongoing abuse, finally prompting Jim Bob, the Duggar family patriarch, to go to the authorities.

Unfortunately, those “authorities” were, in fact, the church elders — and in their wisdom, they chose not to involve the police. Instead, Josh Duggar was sent to a “Christian program” consisting of “hard physical work and counseling” from March to July 2003.

Michelle Duggar, the family’s mother, later admitted the so-called program was actually just a temporary stay at a family friend’s house. The friend, a contractor, had no counseling experience.

Finally, in 2006, Jim Bob reported the abuse to the police. No other official action was taken and the family says that the victims “forgave” Josh, who had “sought after God and turned back to God.”

Since the molestation came to light, Josh Duggar has resigned his position at the Washington, DC-based Family Research Council, a conservative, religious non-governmental organization considered a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

TLC has canceled all shows featuring the Duggars that were set to air, and the program’s chances of renewal remain questionable.

The family has spoken out in defense of their son, stating, “That dark and difficult time caused us to seek God like never before. Even though we would never choose to go through something so terrible, each one of our family members drew closer to God.”

Josh’s wife, Anna, has also spoken out in support of her husband. She was evidently informed of Josh’s so-called “mistakes” two years before their engagement, and believes he is simply “someone who had gone down a wrong path and had humbled himself before God and those whom he had offended.”

The man at the center of the storm has also issued a statement, released to People magazine, saying, “I sought forgiveness from those I had wronged and asked Christ to forgive me and come into my life. In my life today, I am so very thankful for God’s grace, mercy and redemption.”

As far as Josh Duggar is concerned, God’s grace may let a confessed child molester off the hook, but it does not extend to gays and lesbians, whose sexual orientation Duggar has, not incidentally, frequently linked to pedophilia.

But if God has forgiven Josh and his family, He is not alone. Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee has already declared his support, so at least he’s guaranteed 10 votes from the Duggar household.

Screenshot: Josh Duggar speaking at the Rally for Religious Freedom, 2014. Via Family Research Council/YouTube

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5 Ways To Make Clean Eating Work For You

It may sound like just another trendy diet plan, but clean eating is drawing attention because it’s a set of simple, gimmick-free, and flexible steps to make your diet better for you… and the planet. It focuses on eating organic and sustainable meat, fish, and produce, as well as drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated. Since clean eating encourages keeping food in as natural a state as possible, recipes are quick and easy to prepare.

Here are five simple ways to help make clean eating an effective, manageable solution for you:

1. Eat five or six meals a day. Typically that breaks down to three full meals and two snacks. Meals include a lean protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as a complex carbohydrate such as pasta or bread. Snacks can be anything from yogurt to a handful of nuts. The idea behind this is that eating small, frequent meals keeps the body energized, and prevents overeating.

2. Choose organic and simple. Foods with a long list of ingredients with names you can’t pronounce, are not considered “clean” and are generally discouraged. Organic products, particularly those grown in a sustainable manner, are preferred. Clean eating also includes choosing water over calorie-rich beverages (think soda or sports drinks). Antioxidant-rich red wines are also prioritized.

3. Know your fats. Healthy fats such as those found in avocados, olive, almond, and palm oils are considered clean and have great flavors for cooking. Even butter, though often reviled by diet plans, has been shown to have significant health properties by recent studies.

4. Learn portion sizes. Eating five to six times a day isn’t supposed to leave you stuffed — so portion sizes are critical. An effective way to measure is the Rule of Thumb Guide. Using your hand as a guide, it is easy to keep track of the food on your plate. Two hands together forming a little bowl equals one cup, a good serving size for cereal, soup, and salads. Halve it for grains, fruits, and legumes. Does it fit in the palm of your hand? That’s about three ounces, which is ideal for cooked meats and canned fish. Lastly, two thumbs equals one tablespoon — perfect for peanut butter, mayonnaise, and salad dressings.

5. Keep it green. Look for products that are sustainably harvested and have a reduced carbon footprint. For more information on environmentally friendly seafood choices, visit www.seachoice.org.

Clean eating is not designed to be a strict diet plan. It’s meant to be a guide to a healthier, more sustainable lifestyle. Even adopting just one of the changes above can make a positive difference in your health, and the environment.

Photo: threelayercake via Flickr

The Greatest Moments From The Bernie Sanders AMA

Senator and presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders (D-VT) ran an AMA (Ask Me Anything) — a kind of open-source mass interview — on the popular social site reddit.com Tuesday.

Highlights included discussions about election reform, funding higher education and research, federal wiretapping, and even marijuana legalization. Despite a long career in Washington, DC, Sanders was not overtly cynical, and offered a message of hope for the future of politics in America, openly stating his goals for system-wide change.

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When asked about election reform, the senator focused on campaign financing. He mentioned the increasing importance of corporations and mega-wealthy in political races, stating:

Right now, we are at a moment in history where the Koch brothers and other billionaires are in the process of buying politicians and elections. We need to overturn Citizens United with a constitutional amendment. We need to pass disclosure legislation. We need to move toward public funding of elections.

He later went on to say how critical he believes voter engagement is, citing that a voting rate of just 40 percent will need to double to truly create change. In the short term, Sanders encouraged contacting elected officials to make public opinion heard, as well as grassroots organizing.

When asked about controversial security measures such as the PATRIOT Act and federal wiretapping, Sanders said he understands the threats from both sides of the issue. While acknowledging the serious dangers posed by terrorist groups, he followed up with:

I believe strongly that we can protect our people without undermining our constitutional rights and I worry very very much about the huge attacks on privacy that we have seen in recent years — both from the government and from the private sector.

Unafraid to defend what has proven to be an unpopular opinion in the Senate, Sanders also stood by his anti-war record. As a statesman who has voted against almost every war since Vietnam, Sanders resolutely argued that the United States needs to change its aggressive stance on international relations and work with the global community to “not only [try] to create peaceful resolutions to conflict, but to address the underlying causes of war.”

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In the same vein, Sanders opposed sending U.S. soldiers to combat the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Instead, he said that he believes peace will only come to the Middle East when Muslim countries unite to fully engage with and defeat ISIS. Western nations, he added, cannot lead the efforts. Unfortunately, he also said, he believes that a number of Republicans do not want to see a calm Middle East, but “perpetual warfare.”

Turning towards domestic issues, Sanders addressed the much-debated Affordable Care Act and the broader Social Security system. Though he admits the Act is far from perfect, he explains: “I voted for the Affordable Care Act, not because I think it is the end place as to where we should be, but because I was able to get a major provision in it that greatly expanded primary health care — which is helping many millions of people today.” He also cited earlier legislation he co-wrote, saying it was the most comprehensive legislation for helping veterans passed in years.

Continuing with his views on health care, Sanders also agreed that further investment in medical research is necessary to confront the serious health challenges facing the American population, including Alzheimer’s Disease, diabetes, and cancer.

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In terms of job creation and economic growth, Sanders said that America needs workers to rebuild a crumbling infrastructure, as well as preschool educators and medical personnel. To address these needs, and to raise overall living standards, he advised, “We have to move toward universal health care, making higher education available to all, a social safety net which is strong and a tax system which is progressive.”

Overall, the open interview was a bold move for a presidential candidate. The general tone of the responses seemed positive and grateful for the chance to directly engage with a national political player. Sanders, despite a challenging race ahead, appeared optimistic and enthusiastic about the change he believes his candidacy can bring for the American people.

A fitting final quote: “The truth is that we are in a very difficult political moment. But despair of giving up is just not an option. My strong belief is that it is imperative that we maintain our vision of what American can be, and that we fight hard to make that happen. DO NOT GIVE UP.”

Photo: truthout.org via Flickr