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Diabetes and heart disease deaths spiked amid coronavirus

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Diabetes and heart disease deaths spiked amid coronavirus

NEW YORK – The US saw remarkable increases in the death rates for heart disease, diabetes and some other common killers in 2020 and experts believe a big reason may be that many people with dangerous symptoms made the lethal mistake of staying away from the hospital for fear of catching the coronavirus.

The death rates — posted online this week by federal health authorities — add to the growing body of evidence that the number of lives lost directly or indirectly to the coronavirus in the US is far greater than the officially reported COVID-19 death toll of nearly 600,000 in 2020-21.

For months now, researchers have known that 2020 was the deadliest year in US history, primarily because of COVID-19. But the data released this week showed the biggest increases in the death rates for heart disease and diabetes in at least 20 years.

“I would probably use the word `alarming,’” said Dr. Tannaz Moin, a diabetes expert at UCLA, said of the trends.

Earlier this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that nearly 3.4 million Americans died in 2020, an all-time record. Of those deaths, more than 345,000 were directly attributed to COVID-19. The CDC also provided the numbers of deaths for some of the leading causes of mortality, including the nation’s top two killers, heart disease and cancer.

But the data released this week contains the death rates — that is, fatalities relative to the population — which is considered a better way to see the impact from year to year, since the population fluctuates.

Of the causes of death for which the CDC had full-year provisional data, nine registered increases. Those included Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, chronic liver disease, stroke and high blood pressure.

Some of the increases were relatively small, but some were dramatic. The heart disease death rate — which has been falling over the long term — rose to 167 deaths per 100,000 population from 161.5 the year before. It was only the second time in 20 years that the rate had ticked up. This jump, of more than 3 percent, surpassed the less than 1 percent increase seen in 2015.

In raw numbers, there were about 32,000 more heart disease deaths than the year before.

Diabetes deaths rose to 24.6 per 100,000 last year, from 21.6 in 2019. That translated to 13,000 more diabetes deaths than in 2019. The 14 percent increase was the largest rise in the diabetes death rate in decades.

The death rate from Alzheimer’s was up 8 percent, Parkinson’s 11 percent, high blood pressure 12 percent and stroke 4 percent.

Patients avoided treatment

The CDC offered only the statistics, not explanations. The agency also did not say how many of the fatalities were people who had been infected with — and weakened by — the coronavirus but whose deaths were attributed primarily to heart disease, diabetes or other conditions.

Some experts believe a larger reason is that many patients did not seek treatment in an emergency because they feared becoming infected with the virus.

“When hospitalization rates for COVID would go up, we would see dramatic declines in patients presenting to the emergency room with heart attacks, stroke or heart failure,” Dr. Donald Lloyd-Jones, a Northwestern University researcher who is president-elect of the American Heart Association.

Other possible explanations also point indirectly to the coronavirus.

Many patients stopped taking care of themselves during the crisis, gaining weight or cutting back on taking high blood pressure medications, he said. Experts said the stress of the crisis, the lockdown-related disappearance of exercise options and the loss of jobs and the accompanying health insurance were all factors, too.

Increases in Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri and West Virginia pushed the four into the group of states with the highest rates of death from heart disease, the CDC data showed. For diabetes, similar changes happened in Indiana, New Mexico, West Virginia and some other Southern and Plains states.

Cancer deaths decline

The death rate from the nation’s No. 2 killer, cancer, continued its decline during the year of COVID-19. It fell about 2 percent in 2020, similar to the drop seen from 2018 to 2019, even though cancer screenings and cancer care declined or were often postponed last year.

Lloyd-Jones’ theory for the decline: Many of the virus’s victims were fighting cancer, “but COVID intervened and became the primary cause of death.”

Earlier research done by demographer Kenneth Johnson at the University of New Hampshire found that an unprecedented 25 states saw more deaths than births overall last year.

The states were Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vermont, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Traditionally the vast majority of states have more births than deaths.

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IKEA Juneteenth menu of watermelon, fried chicken sparks outrage

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IKEA Juneteenth menu of watermelon, fried chicken sparks outrage

An attempt to honor Juneteenth has backfired spectacularly for one Georgia Ikea.

An Atlanta branch of the Scandinavian furniture chain has sparked outrage with what employees are calling an intensely problematic menu curated to celebrate the holiday, which marks the emancipation of the very last enslaved Americans. 

“To honor the perseverance of Black Americans and acknowledge the progress yet to be made, we observe Juneteenth on Saturday, June 19, 2021,” begins an email acquired by TMZ, which was sent to employees at the branch last week. “Look out for a special menu on Saturday which will include: fried chicken, watermelon, mac n cheese, potato salad, collard greens, candied yams.” 

The selection, including items that have historically been used to demean African-Americans through stereotyping, resulted in multiple employees calling out of work in protest, according to a local news channel.

“You cannot say serving watermelon on Juneteenth is a soul food menu when you don’t even know the history. They used to feed slaves watermelon,” an anonymous employee told Atlanta’s CBS 46. “It caused a lot of people to be upset. People actually wanted to quit. People weren’t coming back to work.” 

As many as 33 workers didn’t show up in response, CBS reported, causing the store’s manager to apologize via internal email. 

“She said, ‘I truly apologize. The menu came off [offensive],’” the employee recalled.

But this wasn’t sufficient for forgiveness, and the worker said the controversy could have been easily avoided if only people of color had been included in the team that chose the menu. “None of the co-workers who sat down to create the menu, no one was black,” they added. 

The following day, the store manager told CBS a new, revised menu was released. The updated version included collard greens, cornbread, mashed potatoes and meatloaf. And Sunday’s menu? “Fried chicken, mac ’n’ cheese, collard greens,” the employee said.

Ikea did not return The Post’s request for comment. 

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Serbian Roma girl band sings for women’s empowerment

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Zlata Ristic, 27, center, Elma Dalipi, 14, left, Silvia Sinani, 24, 2nd left, Dijana Ferhatovic, 18, 3rd left, Zivka Ferhatovic, 20, 2nd right, and Selma Dalipi, 14, members of the Pretty Loud band, practice at a music studio in Belgrade, Serbia, Wednesday, June 16, 2021.

BELGRADE, Serbia — Their songs are about “women chained” in abuse witnessed by generations, or teenage brides being forced into marriage by their fathers. And they tell women to seek love, fight back and stand up for their right to be equal with men.

A female Roma band in Serbia is using music to preach women’s empowerment within their community, challenging some deeply rooted traditions and centuries-old male domination.

Formed in 2014, “Pretty Loud” symbolically seeks to give a louder voice to Roma girls, encourage education and steer them away from the widespread custom of early marriage. The band has gained popularity and international attention, performing last year at the Women of the Year Festival in London.

“We want to stop the early marriages … we want the girls themselves and not their parents, to decide whether they want to marry or not,” said Silvia Sinani, one of the band members. “We want every woman to have the right to be heard, to have her dreams and to be able to fulfil them, to be equal,”

Sinani, 24, said the idea for an all-female band was born at education and artistic workshops run for Roma, or Gypsies, by a private foundation, Gypsy Roma Urban Balkan Beats. The girls initially danced in GRUBB’s boys’ band and then decided they wanted one of their own, she said.

“They (GRUBB) named us ‘Pretty Loud’ because they knew that women in Roma tradition are not really loud,” she said.

The band’s music, a combination of rap and traditional Roma folk beat, mainly targets a younger generation of girls who are yet to make their life choices — the band itself includes 14-year-old twin sisters. The songs tackle women’s position in their community and seek to boost their self-awareness.

The quest is essential in a community where early marriages are widespread — a UNICEF study published last year showed that over one-third of girls in Roma settlements in Serbia aged 15-19 are already married. Of them, 16 percent were married before they were 15.

Alarmed, Serbian authorities, too, have formed a state commission to try to reverse the trend.

“I am an example of early marriage,” said band member Zlata Ristic, 27, who gave birth to a baby boy at 16. “Nobody forced me into it but I have realized I should not have done it.”

Now a single mother, Ristic said she wants other women in similar situations to know that their lives are not over once they have children and that they can still pursue their dreams.

“My biggest reward is when 14-year-old girls write to me and say they want to become one of us, that they now attend school thanks to us, that they have improved their grades,” she said.

Among the most underprivileged ethnic communities in Serbia and Europe, the Roma largely live in segregated settlements on society’s fringes, facing poverty, joblessness and prejudice.

Activists have warned that the COVID-19 pandemic has further fueled the social isolation of marginalized groups and increased their poverty. Disruptions of regular schooling due to the virus lockdowns have made it even harder for Roma children to stay in the system.

At the GRUBB center in Belgrade’s Zemun district, several children could be seen working with young instructors in an improvised classroom. The girls from “Pretty Loud” teach at music and dance workshops run by GRUBB, which was established in Serbia in 2006.

Diana Ferhatovic, 18, first came to the center four years ago, initially seeking help with school lessons before joining the music program and finding her way into “Pretty Loud.” Their performance in London last March — just as the COVID-19 pandemic was starting — was unforgettable, she said.

“I had a kind of positive jitters, we all did at first, the whole group,” Ferhatovic said. “Then we blew them off their feet.”

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Screen all kids for heart problems, pediatricians say

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Screen all kids for heart problems, pediatricians say

All children, regardless of their athletic status, should be screened for risk of cardiac arrest, the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a policy statement Monday. The group included four questions to incorporate into the screenings, including two pertaining to family history of heart issues. 

“The unexpected death of a seemingly healthy child is a tragedy not only for the family but for the family community as well,” the AAP said in a statement regarding the policy, which will be published in the July issue of Pediatrics. “Multiple studies have looked at sudden deaths in young people either as a whole or by individual disease processes. However, most of these studies are published in cardiology journals. The goal of the AAP-PACES policy is to present expanded information to pediatricians and other primary care providers.” 

The guidelines suggest screening for sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) and sudden cardiac death (SCD) should be performed during the preparticipation physical evaluation or at least every three years or on entry into middle/junior high school and high school. In addition to family history, the group recommends physicians inquire about fainting, passing out, or unexplained seizures without warning, especially during exercise, or in response to loud noises such as doorbells, alarm clocks and telephones, or if a patient has ever had exercise-related chest pain or shortness of breath. 

“Realizing that primary prevention methods are less than perfect, the policy soldiers secondary prevention, including the creation of a cardiac emergency response plan for schools and the role of the primary care provider as an advocate for CPR and automated external defibrillator training. It also provides information on the family evaluation following a cardiac arrest/death, including addressing bereavement, autopsies and genetic testing. Lastly, there is a section for survivors of cardiac arrest on returning to activity after recovery.” 

The group also advises that an ECG be the first test ordered when there is concern for SCA risk. 

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