April 29, 2010

Canadians healthier, outliving Americans

Canadians tend to lead longer, healthier lives than Americans on average, say researchers who point to lack of universal health care in the U.S. as one reason.

The study in Thursday's online issue in BioMed Central's journal Population Health Metrics was based on data from the 2002-03 Joint Canada/United States Survey of Health, which offered comparable data on the health of the population in both countries.

'I think that Canadians can look at these results and get some affirmation that the investments that they have made in reducing inequality and in having a health-care system with universality have paid off.' — David Feeny

David Feeny, a dual Canadian/U.S. citizen and investigator at the Center for Health Research at Kaiser Permanente Northwest in Portland, Ore., and his U.S. colleagues calculated health-adjusted life expectancy, which takes into account not only mortality risk but also the health-related quality of life, such as being free of disability.

The study's authors found a 19-year-old in Canada could expect to enjoy 2.7 more years of perfect health than a 19-year-old in the U.S. In this case, someone in perfect health would have a top score of 1.00 on the Health Utilities Index Mark 3.

The index lowers an individual's score depending on their level of disability in eight areas: vision, hearing, speech, ambulation dexterity or ability to move, emotion, cognition, pain and discomfort. The lowest score is 0.00 for death.

About two-thirds of the gap was because mortality rates in Canada are lower and the remaining one-third was thanks to lower rates of morbidity or disease in Canada —differences Feeny called "quite substantial" with policy implications on both sides of the border.

"I think that Canadians can look at these results and get some affirmation that the investments that they have made in reducing inequality and in having a health-care system with universality have paid off," said Feeny, who worked for more than 30 years in Canada at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., and the University of Alberta in Edmonton.

"I think it underscores the need for additional vigilance on emerging issues such as child poverty in Canada that will eventually affect population health," he added.

The survey itself did not say why Canadians are healthier, but the study's authors pointed to two major potential explanations:

  • Differences in access to care between the "prenatal to grave" health service offered by provinces and territories compared with the non-universal American access that is typically through employee coverage or Medicaid or Medicare for those with low incomes and seniors.
  • The higher degree of social inequity that is more pronounced in the U.S., particularly among seniors.

What the U.S. team found is consistent with what most other studies have also concluded about the cost effectiveness and better outcomes in Canada, said Raisa Deber, a professor in the department of health policy, management and evaluation at the University of Toronto.

Barriers to access care

"I would suspect that a chunk of it is the ability to pick up chronic conditions while they are still treatable," Deber said.

For Canada, the results run contrary to the debate of starting user fees, both Deber and Feeny said.

"I think given that we're back to the debate about should we start having user fees, I would say this is evidence no we shouldn't because we don't have those sorts of gaps," Deber said.

Likewise, Feeny questioned the usefulness of user fees "for anything but raising revenue."

Its not possible to ascribe the differences in health care to the difficulty some Americans may face in trying to receive health insurance coverage because of a pre-existing health condition, but that is an example of a barrier to accessing care, Feeny said.

On Wednesday, three health insurers in the U.S. pledged to limit the circumstances under which they cancel coverage when a customer falls sick. UnitedHealth Group Inc., Humana Inc. and Blue Shield of California all said they will drop or rescind coverage only in cases where a patient has committed fraud or intentional misrepresentation.

For the U.S., the findings offer support for the health-care reform legislation that is coming online, Feeny said.

The study did not include people who are institutionalized, and the researchers consider their findings an underestimate given the poorer telephone response rate in the U.S. survey, 50.2 per cent, versus 65.5 per cent in Canada. People in poorer health may have been less likely to respond.

With files from The Associated Press


April 24, 2010

Obamas hit the spa in North Carolina

Don't call it a vacation, the White House says. It's a "getaway," or a "weekend away" or maybe just a "break."

Whatever you call it, President Obama and the first lady made it clear to their staffs that there would be no interviewing of Supreme Court nominees or big briefing books in advance of long meetings.

Instead, the Obamas took a step off the Washington treadmill from the moment they arrived here. They chowed down on some North Carolina barbecue and escaped for a Blue Ridge Mountain hike within moments of getting off their plane.

That's not to say that real life doesn't always intrude just a bit for Barack and Michelle Obama, even when the White House is temporarily tucked away in the side of a mountain, surrounded by lush forests and rolling green hills.

The president issued a statement on the anniversary of the slaughter almost a century ago of Armenians by the Ottoman Turks, for the second time passing up an opportunity to use the term "genocide," despite promising during his campaign to do so. Activists and officials from across the spectrum were quick to express disappointment.

On Sunday, Obama faces the grim task of eulogizing the 29 miners who died in West Virginia April 5 after an explosion rocked their coal mine.

But at least for a day and a half, aside from a few briefings, the president's usual packed schedule of meetings, speeches, motorcades and public events was replaced with more relaxing activities.

He had hardly checked into the Grove Park Inn Resort & Spa Friday afternoon before he was on the links for a quick nine holes, finishing after nightfall. Saturday morning, he was up at dawn for another round, this time a 5 1/2- hour full 18 holes.

Reporters were kept away from the action, though a handful were allowed to watch his final hole Friday night. The president took the wheel of a golf cart, steered it up near the green of the 10th hole and made several warm-up swings before putting.

The ball fell a bit short of the hole, but fellow golfers Marty Nesbitt, Eric Whittaker and Marvin Nicholson allowed him to take a gimme.

Asheville was ready to welcome the Obamas as it had previous presidential vacationers. In an eyeglass store in the quaint downtown, a sign read: "Welcome Mr. President. We can help you SEE the way out of the Recession!" A spice store announced: "Hey Mr. President, check out the spice girls. We voted for you."

The local newspaper, the Asheville Citizen-Times, blogged in real time about the president's activities. At one point, the paper noted the Twitter comments from deputy press secretary Bill Burton, whom the paper identified as "the official White House twitter person Bill Burton."

But for most of the weekend, the Obamas stayed within the secure confines of the resort, venturing out only for dinner Saturday night.

Michelle Obama played tennis Saturday morning, aides said. There was no official confirmation that she availed herself of the spa facilities, but several people reported stern-looking Secret Service agents standing outside the spa entrance Saturday.

The Obamas are expected to return to Washington on Sunday evening after the memorial service in West Virginia.


April 8, 2010

April's Organic Facial Giveway

Join Spas of America on Facebook in April for your chance to win an organic skin facial. All fans will be entered to win a 60 minute organic skin facial at Vancouver's belmondo spa studio. Belmondo, a boutique spa in Vancouver's South Granville neighborhood, uses natural and organic skin loving ingredients, including shea butter, cocoa butter, organic sugars, aloe vera, and essential oil. Prize is transferable.


April 7, 2010

Healing Seaweed ~ Halele’a Spa, St. Regis Princeville Kauai

After spending a week on Kauai, I already felt relaxed and rejuvenated. I lounged on the beach, bought and ate fresh fruit (chicos, mountain apples and sweet peas) at the Hanalei Farmers Market (Tuesdays @ 2:00) and chatted with locals, whose demeanors convey a “chill” attitude. Even meeting a woman named Ku’uipo (Sweetheart) who made a fresh plumeria lei for me and a windsurfer named Chester who shared his wisdom as a beekeeper on the island, all gave me a perspective of calm and inspiration.

What a serene and sweet island – the lush environment and joyful people and yet despite my hesitation of getting back to reality, I was even more delighted to spend my last day on Kauai at Halele’a Spa at St. Regis in Princeville, the Northern part of the island.

Although relaxed in my mind and spirit, I arrived wind-blown, a bit sun-burned and dehydrated. I was taken aback simply by arriving to St. Regis; the resort sits on the edge of a cliff overlooking the turquoise-blue waters and I was welcomed with its open-air and sophisticated architecture and atmosphere. It appeared that there was a pleasant rainfall at the entrance of the spa, but it was a crystal, lighting fixture with tear-drop shaped glass which greeted me and got my attention. A meeting of friendly faces walked me through the spa; I noticed instantly the feeling of health and well-being.

I indulged in the Halele’a Signature Treatment – Voyage from the Sea 4 Hands Lomi Lomi Massage and Facial, a 90-minute treatment. As if one practitioner isn’t divine enough, this treatment entails two practitioners – that’s four hands instead of two; that detail alone equals bliss. The treatment started with a scalp treatment using oil and seaweed extract, perfect for wind-blown, dry, sun-damaged hair. By the end of the treatment, my hair was silky soft … softer even than when I started my vacation.

The voyage continued with the Lomi Lomi massage done by both practitioners; Lomi Lomi is a traditional Hawaiian massage in which the therapist uses the forearms to massage as well as their hands. It’s difficult to find words to describe this sensation (yes, you should just fly to Kauai and see for yourself), but it’s a more “complete” and deeper massage healing than just Swedish. And to have four hands instead of two gave me a sense of ultimate relaxation. Along with detoxifying seaweed extracts, aromatherapy was incorporated in the massage oil – clove and patchouli oils gave an invigorating and conditioning lift to my senses and skin.
One therapist continued with massage and reflexology for healing and relaxation; I could tell also that the pressure points and knots from sleeping on the plane were being addressed by the therapist intentionally. At the same time, the other therapist (the esthetician), incorporated a facial using an organic seaweed line – Voya—from Ireland.

Seaweed on the skin is healing, hydrating and detoxifying, which after a week of sun splurging, I could certainly use. The facial cleanse and massage was both thorough and refreshing to my parched skin. The technique and intention of each therapist was noticed and felt by my relaxed muscles and supple, newly hydrated skin.

After the treatment, I indulged in just “being” in the lounge area with a cup of detoxifying tea offered by the therapists as part of the treatment. I was replenished completely; 90 minutes went by fast…just as fast as my short vacation on Kauai, but it did leave me with the knowing “I must return soon and complete my vacation with the Voyage at Hanele’a Spa.”

Halele’a Spa, St. Regis Princeville, Kauai

By Melissa Mellott, M.Ed., L.E., Spa Defined,