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Courtenay Edelhart covers health care for The Californian. Reach her at, at or on Twitter@TBCHealth.

BETTER PLANNING TO CLEAN AIR: The American Lung Association is calling on urban planners to get people out of their carsand out onto sidewalks by changing the way they design neighborhoods.

Residential designs that wrap homes inside dense, multi-turn neighborhoods don't exactly encourage people to put on their walking shoes. People who live in such areas tend to hop in the car and drive to schools or stores that may be a short distance as the crow flies -- but miles away by road or sidewalk.

In a new report, "Public Health at the Crossroads," the association lays out the public health benefits of "smarter, more compact and walkable development" in the San Joaquin Valley, home to some of the worst air pollution in the country.

In Kern County, in particular, the right decisions could, by 2035, save Kern about $139 million a year in health costs, according to the report.

That's based on a future in which new growth in Kern County is 60 percent more walkable, reducing traffic and pollution.

Such a scenario would lead to 4,829 fewer asthma attacks and other respiratory problems and 759 fewer lost work days, according to the report.

"We really want to refocus the way that we're planning our communities and push people into closer proximity to their jobs, schools, shopping, daily errands and churches," said Will Barrett, the American Lung Association's policy manager.

Walkable neighborhoods not only improve air quality but reduce the incidence of chronic disease, which is a big problem for Kern, Barrett said.

In Kern County, 15.6 percent of residents have asthma, compared to 13.7 percent statewide.

Kern also exceeds the state in obesity -- 28.8 percent of county residents compared with 23.5 percent statewide.

The city of Bakersfield has several policies in place to encourage walking and biking, said Planning Director Jim Eggert.

All new developments have to have sidewalks, for instance, and the city's master plan calls for developments near existing bike and trail systems to include connections to those systems.

NEW STROKE SUPPORT GROUP: Bakersfield Heart Hospital has formed a new support group for stroke survivors and their caregivers.

The goal is to help families problem-solve, cope and understand more about stroke and recovery issues, including lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of another stroke.

The monthly group is open to all adult stroke survivors and their caregivers. For information, contact support group facilitator Jeri Darr at (661) 852-6464 or BHH stroke center coordinator Ryan Allen at (661) 316-6008, or email

VALLEY FEVER LECTURE SERIES: The University of California, Merced, will host a series of wide-ranging talks on valley fever through the end of May.

Most will be presented on the university campus. One will be presented remotely by the founder of and one presentation will be held at the UCSF Fresno Center for Medical Education and Research. All lectures are scheduled from 1 to 3 p.m.

The dates are April 2, 11, 16, 18, 23 and 30, and May 1, 7, 14 and 21.

Lectures are free and open to the public. People unable to attend in person can watch live streaming online or view archives online afterward.

To register or for more information contact Erin Gaab at (209) 228-4803 or visit:

MEASLES ON THE RISE: California has had 32 confirmed cases of measles so far this year, according to the California Department of Public Health. This time last year, only three measles cases had been reported.

The 32 measles cases were in Alameda (1), Contra Costa (4), Los Angeles (10), Orange (6), Riverside (5), San Mateo (1), San Diego (4) and Santa Clara (1) counties.

Measles is a highly contagious viral disease that is spread through the air when someone who is ill with the disease coughs or sneezes. Symptoms begin with a fever lasting for a couple of days, followed by a cough, runny nose, red watery eyes and a rash that usually begins at a child's hairline and spreads down to the face, arms and trunk.

Children should get their first dose of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine at 12 to 15 months. The second dose of MMR is usually administered before children start kindergarten at 4 to 6 years. Immunized adults do not need boosters. However, people born since 1957 who have not had two doses of vaccine may still be vulnerable to measles and should ask their doctor about getting immunized, officials said.

SO GET MARRIED ALREADY! Singles with reluctant partners and empty nesters aching for grandchildren have a new weapon in the fight against marriage holdouts.

There's yet another study out asserting that married people live longer. Published last week, this one comes from the University of Oxford. It's called -- take a deep breath -- "Marital status and ischemic heart disease incidence and mortality in women: a large prospective study."


Researchers surveyed 734,626 women without previous heart disease, stroke or cancer and followed them over time to track socio-economic, lifestyle and health factors.

During 8.8 years of follow-up, women who were married or partnered off had a 28 percent lower risk of death from heart disease than unmarried women even though marital status has no bearing on the likelihood of developing heart disease to begin with. These findings did not vary appreciably between women of different socio-economic groups or by lifestyle and other factors.

The study also found that 81 percent of women who reported being married or living with a partner were less likely to live in "deprived areas," smoke, or be physically inactive.

But don't fret, singles. We have a comeback for the next time we're accosted with, "When are you going to settle down and get married?"

It doesn't take a Ph.D. or years of research to know that men will drive a girl to drink, but now there's scientific proof. Women who were married or living with a partner had "higher alcohol intake" than their single counterparts, according to the study.

My liver is safe.

HEALTH INSURANCE DEADLINE: The federal government is pulling out all the stops to remind the uninsured that open enrollment to sign up for insurance in the Health Insurance Marketplace ends on March 31.

Those who fail to sign up for coverage there or elsewhere will face penalties at tax time.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services took aim at Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, announcing that eight out of 10 of the uninsured among them may be eligible for coverage through the marketplace and could qualify for Medicaid, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), or tax credits to help with the cost of premiums.

WHAT YOU'RE SAYING: Some buzz from The Californian's social media platforms:

Would you take a chocolate pill for heart health, as some experts are now suggesting, or would you just rather eat it the old-fashioned way?

Comment at or tweet at us: @TBCHealth.