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U of M health policy experts talk health reform

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On 6/28/2012, the United States Supreme Court issued their decision on the Affordable Care Act.

Here is a synopsis of how the Supreme Court ruled:

1. The entire ACA was upheld.
2. The Individual Mandate was ruled Constitutional, but individuals who refuse to comply would pay a tax.
3. The Medicaid provision (expansion) was limited but not invalidated.
4. Because the whole ACA was deemed constitutional, the provision requiring insurers to cover young adults until they are 26 survives as well.

Throughout the days and weeks that follow, University of Minnesota health policy experts will discuss the ruling and its impact with regional media.

To catch up on all the latest regional media coverage featuring the University of Minnesota health policy experts you trust visit our Storify page.

Family meals: Good for the kids and good for you!

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A new study published this month in the journal Appetite shows that parents who eat more family meals with their kids eat more fruits and veggies.

To learn more about the results, we talked with Jerica Berge, Ph.D., a University of Minnesota Medical School assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health. Berge is the lead author of the latest study, which is part of the larger, ongoing study Project EAT study examining the eating patterns of middle and high school students enrolled in Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts.

Here's what Berge had to say:

Q: Why research how family meals affect mom and dad?
Berge: We knew that adolescents and children who have regular family meals are less likely to be overweight and obese. They eat more healthfully overall in terms of consuming more fruits and vegetables, consuming less sugar-sweetened beverages, and being less likely to engage in extreme weight control behaviors that often lead to eating disorders. So, we wanted to know if the same was true for parents.

Q: What did your research find?
Berge: More frequent family meals are associated with a higher fruit and vegetable intake for moms and dads. When eating more meals together with family, dads also ate less fast food, while moms participated in less unhealthy dieting and binge eating.

Q: How many more fruits and vegetables were parents eating?
Berge: Overall, moms and dads went from eating 2-3 servings of fruits and vegetables per day to eating 4+ servings per day. In families that ate zero meals together as compared to families that ate meals together 5+ times per week, moms specifically went from 3 to 4+ servings of fruits and vegetables. Dads went from 2 ½ servings to 4. That's a total of 1-2 more servings each day for mom or dad!

Q: So, now I know eating with my family means I'll likely eat more fruits and veggies. What now?
Berge: The take home message is that family meals may benefit everyone in the family. Less fast food for dads, less unhealthy eating for moms and more fruits and vegetables for everyone means better health all around. Don't just plan family meals to help the kids; do it for the whole family, including yourself.

(Photo courtesy of Stefano Chiarelli via creative commons license.)

Supreme Court ruling on the Affordable Care Act will have a big impact

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Later this month, the Supreme Court will hand down its ruling on the Affordable Care Act.

In their ruling, the Supreme Court could do one of three things:

1. Uphold the Affordable Care Act;
2. Uphold the Affordable Care Act in part;
3. Strike down the Affordable Care Act completely.

Regardless of the direction of their decision, the ruling will have big consequences for the general public, hospitals and clinics and health care professionals.

But what would the true impact be at both the state and federal levels? To find out we asked two leading experts within the School of Public Health's Division of Health Policy and Management.

The Impact at the Federal Level
According to health economics expert Jean Abraham, Ph.D., the impact on a federal level could look something like this:

1. Uphold the Affordable Care Act - The federal government will continue on as planned with the mandates set forth in the Affordable Care Act.
2. Uphold the Affordable Care Act in part - The effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act for reducing the number of uninsured will be in question. Many economists believe the individual mandate needs to go hand-in-hand with other types of insurance market provisions.
3. Strike down the Affordable Care Act completely - This will have a negative effect on reducing the number of uninsured people in the U.S. By 2016, there will be an estimated 56 million uninsured Americans and the provisions within the Affordable Care Act could help reduce this number by 30 million.

The Impact at the State Level
According to health policy expert Lynn Blewett, Ph.D., the impact on the state of Minnesota could look something like this:

1. Uphold the Affordable Care Act in part - It will be a slight setback but the state would likely continue to implement the exchange in an effort to find a large enough pool and healthy pool in the exchange to make the insurance premiums reasonably priced.
2. Strike down the Affordable Care Act completely - It would be a devastating blow to a state like Minnesota because of all the energy, effort and federal funding that went into creating and implementing the programs under the Affordable Care Act.
3. Uphold the Affordable Care Act - The state of Minnesota will continue on as planned with the mandates set forth in the Affordable Care Act.

No matter what side of the issue you're on, one thing is clear: many Americans will be affected by the Supreme Court's decision.

For more on the potential impacts of the Supreme Court's decision at the federal and state levels, watch videos of both Abraham and Blewett. And make sure to check back here for more updates on the Affordable Care Act ruling as they develop.

Photo by Phil Roeder

How to make the most out of your Minnesota summer

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With warm weather upon us, it is tempting to shed all inhibitions and wholeheartedly enjoy the summer sun, but with the summer heat, unfortunately, comes the risk of injury.
But, fear not! There are ways to prepare.

We checked in with Toben Nelson, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota to get the scoop on some simple tips on insuring a safe and healthy summer.

1.Make sure you're using the right equipment, technique and supervision
Having proper instruction and supervision for the young ones is crucial in preventing injuries this summer. "Goofing around" is a common reason for injury, so parents or anyone supervising should make sure that kids are making good decisions, even though that is often easier said than done.

"If involved in any sort of recreational summer fun, it is very important to make sure that the equipment you are using is in working order," recommends Nelson.

It is also important that both children and adults are aware of their surroundings and are paying attention to the quality of their equipment, which can be anything from helmets to life jackets to volleyballs. Always check to make sure your bike helmet is fit appropriately for your head size and that life jackets are worn by all children and are a U.S. Coast Guard-approved Type I, II, III, or V jacket.

2. Protect yourself from the elements
It seems simple, but sunscreen and protective clothing are your best defense when avoiding sunburn. With a son who experienced his first major sunburn, Nelson understands the importance of keeping kids protected from the sun.

Paying attention to the temperature, keeping hydrated and avoiding caffeinated beverages or foods with high sodium content that can dehydrate are good defenses to combating the summer heat when being out and about.

3.Enjoy the Minnesota summer!
The last bit of advice Dr. Nelson had to offer was to encourage people to be out and enjoying everything the summer has to offer, but to also be cautious and prepare in advance for the potential problems that may arise.

"There are so many great things to be involved with in our state, one of the worst things you can do to yourself this summer is not take advantage of them and be active outdoors."

Disney joins the nation's fight against obesity

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Recent news that Disney has put the kibosh on junk food advertisements on their website, TV and radio stations seems on par with other efforts aimed at improving children's health, but will the move really make an impact on children's eating behaviors?

According to Dianne Neumark-Sztainer, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., a University of Minnesota School of Public Health epidemiologist and principal investigator of Project EAT, the answer is yes.

"There's a reason that snack foods and sugary cereals are on the shelf closest to a small child's line of vision," said Neumark-Sztainer. "It's the same reason these foods are advertised during the day. Children - like adults - are influenced by advertising."

Neumark-Sztainer believes that by regulating food advertising on shows targeting children, Disney is taking a role in educating children on making better food choices. Because sugary and high calorie options aren't being promoted, Disney is making a move to expose children to one less promotion of unhealthy food.

With the new criteria, Disney will scrutinize the calorie count of any food advertised on its channels. Though this won't eliminate all junk food from being advertised, it will ensure that the food promoted is within a healthy calorie range for young children.

"I think Disney's self-regulation is a positive move," said Neumark-Sztainer. "While there will be alternative media channels where kids are exposed to advertising of unhealthy food choices and the impact of the company's move is difficult to quantify, the effort is still a positive step."