Sexual Transmitted Disease Awareness

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), also known as sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are on the rise in the United States. Since April is STD Awareness Month, now is the perfect opportunity to have a real conversation with your partner(s) and your kids, because who you have sex with and how it happens affects everyone’s long term health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that there are 20 million new STI cases each year. Half of those new cases occur in young people aged 15 to 24. Some sexually transmitted conditions, like crabs (pubic lice), are annoying, but don’t cause long term health problems. Other STIs, like herpes, there is no cure, but there are medications to prevent or shorten the course. HIV, although there is no cure, there are medications that can slow the progress of the disease or prevent complication and secondary infection.

But even the treatable STIs, like chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, if ignored, have serious and permanent health consequences, including chronic pain, infertility, ectopic pregnancy – and, in the case of syphilis – even dementia and death.

That’s why the 19% increase in syphilis cases between 2014 and 2015 causes the CDC serious concern, and underscores this year’s STD Awareness theme: Syphilis Strikes Back.

Syphilis is caused by bacteria called Treponema pallidum and is spread by contact with a syphilis sore on the penis, vagina, anus or mouth. Syphilis occurs in three phases that, if untreated, can last more than 30 years.

Unfortunately, women who have untreated syphilis can pass the infection to their babies during pregnancy and child birth. A baby born with syphilis is said to have “congenital syphilis” (CS), which, according to the CDC, is rising at an alarming rate. CS causes deformation, blindness and deafness, seizures, stillbirth and miscarriage. Left untreated, babies with CS can have lifelong physical and mental problems, and even die within weeks of being born.

Anyone, regardless of race, age, gender, or class can get an STI. This is where the “how” of having sex is important: use of condoms is vitally important in preventing STIs for you, your partner(s), and even your unborn children. Condoms should be used the right way every time.

Along with condom use, communication with your partner(s) is key to getting the most out of a healthy sex life and protecting yourself: ask if your partner has ever had an STD; talk about what you want or don’t want; make good decisions for yourself.

Learning something new or changing jobs are healthy risks you should pursue for your happiness and well-being. But risking your physical health and that of everyone who has contact with you for the rest of your life to have unprotected sex is too risky. Remember: all forms of sexual activity carry some risk of becoming infected, so take precautions for yourself first, for your partner(s) and for your children.

National Nutrition Month Quick Tips

While medical professionals are taking time to encourage healthy eating habits in the month of March, it’s important to account for communities with limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Whole Foods opened in Englewood and new programs throughout the city are working to dispel food desserts in urban communities. Still, health advocates need to find more culturally and environmentally appropriate ways to make the case for better and more affordable health food – especially in communities of color where high fat and carb dishes feed the body and soul.

We all need that comforting Sunday meal sometimes. But coupling that with unhealthy food choices throughout the week may compound health issues.  Convenient choices may have long-term consequences that are magnified in communities of color that have higher rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

So how do you eat healthy when there isn’t any real food in sight?

1st best thing you can do is make one small change:

  • Drink water! If all you do is change the sugary drinks to water, you have taken a major step toward a healthy lifestyle.

2nd think about healthier alternatives to burgers and fries:

  • eggs (served all day at some fast food restaurants)
  • salad (packed with veggies; add grilled chicken)
  • vegetarian or non-meat meal options (veggie burgers, bean burritos, oatmeal or yogurt)
  • fresh fruit options without the caramel dip (apple slices or fruit cups)

3rd make smart mini-mart choices for basic staples:

  • eggs, cheese, yogurt, lunch meat, peanut butter
  • granola, nuts and dried fruits
  • canned vegetables and fruits
  • fresh fruit, if it’s available and if the price is fair
  • water or milk

Drinking water and selecting healthier alternatives will help you beat the genetic and demographic odds you may face, and will help you build better nutrition and well-being for both you and your family.

Mental Health Month

The stigma of mental illness prevents many people from getting the help they need. Research demonstrates that people often delay, sometimes for decades, getting medical help for mental illness. In some communities, the people seek help even less. African Americans and Hispanics seek mental health services at about half the rate as Caucasians; Asian Americans seek help at about one-third the rate as Caucasians.

We wouldn’t expect our brother to ignore skin cancer, so how can we ask him to ignore his post traumatic stress disorder? Let’s encourage him to seek help. And we don’t make fun of or denigrate people with leukemia, so why do we ostracize people with mental illness? Let’s erase the stigma and help others find professional care.

Our strange acceptance of physical illness as “normal,” while having to hide mental illness as abnormal makes little sense and deepens the pain of families and communities. This vicious cycle of ignore-and-deny must end. We must begin to take steps toward mental health and wholeness.

Men Cancer Screenings

Staying healthy means keeping lots of balls, like exercising and cooking and drinking enough water and managing stress, in the air for a juggling act that can get overwhelming and exhausting, especially when family, work and household responsibilities seem to get bigger and heavier over time.

But cancer screenings should be one small ball you add to your routine to prevent bigger complications down the road.

Last time, we talked about men’s tendency to avoid the doctor, ask for help, take a few too many risks, and how these tendencies work against men’s best interests for their health and well-being. These same tendencies mean some specific concerns – like prostate cancer, lung cancer and colorectal cancer – are often put off for too long.

Prostate, lung and colorectal cancers are the three most common cancers among men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with lung and prostate cancers causing the highest number of men’s cancer-related deaths. Cancer screenings, then, are important tools for detecting problems early.

If you think about it, screening is a good way to get yourself to the doctor for a check-up because you don’t have to wait for something to be wrong to go in. It’s kind of like getting the oil changed on a car or motorcycle – you change the oil when you’re supposed to, not because something is wrong. In fact, you change the oil to prevent something from becoming wrong.

Changing the oil is inconvenient, time consuming and, if you do it yourself, messy. But you do it because it has to be done for the long-term operation of your engine. As a result, you don’t have to wonder if you’re bothering the oil-change guy or if someone will think you’re weak for getting your oil changed, because changing the oil is what good engine-owners do to ensure their engines run for a long time.

Your body is your personal engine and you want it to run for a long time, too. Going to the doctor for regular checkups and cancer screenings is the oil-change cancer-prevention ball that can easily be added to your maintenance routine.

To help you figure out whether and when you should be screened, please talk with your health care provider. Generally speaking, though, the following guidelines from the CDC can point you in the right direction for when you should be screened:

Type of Cancer Screening Method When to Get Screened*
Colorectal (colon) cancer Colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy or fecal occult blood testing (FOBT) If you are 50 to 75 years old, get tested. The schedule depends on the type of test used.
Lung cancer Low-dose CT scan If you are 55 to 80 years old and are a heavy smoker or a past smoker who quit within the last 15 years, get a low-dose CT scan every year.
Prostate cancer Digital rectal exam (DRE) and prostate specific antigen (PSA) test Talk to your doctor.
Skin cancer Periodic total-body exams by a clinician Talk to your doctor


Of course, if you are having symptoms of some kind – for anything, not just cancer – get professional medical advice from your health care provider.

How to Enroll in a Medicaid Managed Care Plan

Medicaid is a health care program for people with low income. Since 2013, Illinois has helped more people to get Medicaid. Now they can take better care of their health.

We can help you with Medicaid benefits.

How to Apply for Illinois Medicaid
Go to to apply for benefits. The application takes about 30 minutes, so make time to finish it.
Then “Start a new application for health care coverage, SNAP, cash assistance, and/or Medicare and Medicaid.”
After you apply, you will get a letter from the State of Illinois Department of Human Services. This letter will tell you if you have been accepted or not. If you are accepted, it will give you a recipient number that you will need to enroll. Please keep this letter.

If you are not sure if you should apply for benefits, click here for answers.

Choosing Your Medicaid Managed Care Plan
If you are accepted, you will get a packet in the mail. It will be from the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services. Your enrollment deadline is included.

Choose from these Medicaid managed care plans:
NextLevel Health
Molina Healthcare
Meridian Health Plan
IlliniCare Health
Harmony Health Plan
Family Health Network
Blue Cross Community Family Health Plan
Aetna Better Health

You must choose one of these health plans. You also have to choose a doctor or a clinic to be your Primary Care Provider. After you make these choices, you can enroll.

Enrolling in Your Medicaid Managed Health Plan

Go to From there, click on:
“Compare Plans” to see the services in each health plan.
“Find Providers” to find a doctor or clinic near you.
“Enroll”, and then type in the recipient number from your acceptance letter.

Illinois Client Enrollment Services will send you information:
• when it is time for you to choose a health plan, and
• during your Open Enrollment period.

See all of our benefits here.

Healthy Eating on a Budget

Healthy eating is an important part of living a healthy life. The USDA says fifty percent of adults have one or more long-term diseases that could be prevented. Many of these illnesses are caused by poor eating habits. (Watch this video about southern cooking.) If you are on Medicaid, it may seem hard to eat well. It is not impossible! Here are some great ideas to eat better on a budget: can help you:

  • Create a grocery game plan by finding the best deals and making healthy, low-cost meals.
  • Learn grocery store tricks like using the unit price of items to make better purchases. Read food labels, too.
  • Use the sample menus, recipes and the list of grocery and pantry items.

Here are 8 Ways to Eat Healthy:

  • Make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.
  • Make half of your grains whole grains.
  • Choose fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk, yogurt or cheese.
  • Drink water instead of sugary drinks.
  • Choose lean sources of protein.
  • Compare sodium in soup and frozen meals; choose ones with less sodium.
  • Eat some seafood.
  • Pay attention to portion size.

The CDC says to:

  • Buy frozen or canned fruits and vegetables. Choose canned fruits packed in water or in their own juice instead of ones with added sugar or syrup.
  • Look for vegetables without added salt, butter or cream sauces.
  • Find information on improving your eating habits, planning meals, cutting calories and healthy recipes. These websites all want you to:
  • Make a plan Goal setting and meal planning help you create a low-cost, healthy shopping list.
  • Learn about food Portion size, calorie counting and food labels help you make better eating choices.
  • Find healthy recipes Match your health needs with heart-healthy, low-sodium and low-sugar recipes.
  • Drink water Water is always a better choice. Add fresh or frozen fruit to give it more flavor.

Healthy eating plays a big part in creating and maintaining your healthy lifestyle. Take these first steps to a healthier you!

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015–2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. December 2015. Available at
Preventable Chronic Conditions Plague Medicaid Population by Elizabeth Mendes – Gallup
President’s Challenge

If you are not a NextLevel Health member and want to know more about what we can offer you, click here: benefits.

Healthcare Innovations That Address The 5 Pillars Of Poverty

Good health is a core pillar of wellbeing in every society, as legislators on both sides of the aisle realized when it came time to vote on the Trump administration’s healthcare package last week.  Yet even with affordable care, access to health care is elusive for many disadvantaged Americans, as The Atlantic reported this week in “The Collapse of the White Working Class.”  Improving health in underserved communities is significantly more complicated than simply expanding access to healthcare providers and facilities.

For healthcare innovators to truly serve disadvantaged communities and improve access to health care, it is critical to recognize the roles that four other significant pillars of wellbeing play in shaping their lives. These are employment, housing, education and transportation, and not surprisingly, weakness in one pillar–or as is often the case, several–creates challenges across every facet of life. Click here for full article: Full Article- Huffington Post

Father’s Day

Loving the father figures in your life often means taking time to talk and encouraging healthy behaviors, like regular check-ups and prompt care. Men need help knowing that they are smart men for being proactive about their health concerns, not weak men.

This last item is especially important because men with more traditional ideas about manhood are less likely to seek help until too late. A recent study found that men do not like to “trouble a doctor” unless they are having a serious problem, which by that point, can be beyond treating. This toughing it out is unfortunate because prostate cancer and heart disease — reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as the two leading causes of death in men – are entirely treatable early on.

Scientists acknowledge that boys and men are hard-wired risk-takers. In this culture, though, men are also raised with the expectation that they laugh in the face of danger to impress their friends, partners or bosses, which means they drink too hard, climb too high or drive too fast. As a result, men are twice as likely as women to die of unintended or accidental injuries, which, according to the CDC, are the third-leading cause of death for men.

Talking about smart health decisions with the men in your life, particularly a father figure, isn’t easy, but it is important. Here are some simple ways to begin that conversation:

  1. Identify in your own mind what you are specifically worried about. Is it his weight? Smoking? Drinking? Depression? If it’s more than one thing, pick the one that seems the most urgent and go from there.
  2. Think about and practice the words you will use and how you are going to tell him your concerns. Make sure you are as respectful and kind as possible so he can understand that you are not criticizing him, that you love him and want him around for a long time.
  3. Consider when you should bring it up. Would a walk together create an easy and relaxed situation for talking? How about talking over a cup of coffee? Regardless of when, ensuring an emotionally safe time and place increases the likelihood he will hear you.
  4. Let him know he doesn’t have to solve the problem alone because you’re there to help. If you live nearby, become fitness buddies and get healthy together. If you live far away, you can still be fitness buddies electronically, but you could also help him find supportive resources and keep in touch with him. Near or far away, you’ve got his back.
  5. Make the first couple of decisions together, which will create good communication experiences between you and will help you know his situation better.
  6. Let him know how proud you are of him and encourage him to keep going!

This Father’s Day, or any day, tell the father figures in your life how much you love them. Show them how much you love them by beginning conversations about their health.

Exercising at Home – Getting Started

Did you know adults need 30 minutes of physical activity every day to stay fit? It can be hard to fit exercise into your day, but it can be done and we’re here to help. Have you thought about exercising at home? Here are some tips to get started:

  • Sign up for the Presidential Active Lifestyle Award (PALA+). Track your fitness online or in a notebook. Read about other activities.
  • The CDC says you need aerobic activity and muscle-strengthening activity, but what does that mean? How much of each do you need every week? Find out here.
  • Find at-home exercises that work for you. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) has 25 at-home exercises you can do using only your body weight. Add these to your muscle-strengthening activities.
  • Take a walk and count your steps. Walking is free and can be an easy addition to your routine. Adults need 8,500 steps a day. Make a playlist or listen to the Surgeon General’s Walking Playlist. Walk with a friend or family member to make it social and fun.
  • Stretch! It helps reduce injuries and can be done anywhere. Check out these basic stretches from the Mayo Clinic.
  • Learn about more ways to add physical activity to your day. If you drive, park your car further away from the entrance. Choose the stairs over the elevator. Take public transportation and add more walking to your route.

Need more motivation? Watch Ashanti’s Master Plan Workout for high energy ideas on creating an exercise routine that works for you. Get started today!


Autism Awareness Month

Today, one in 68 children has autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), a brain development disorder with a range of symptoms, behaviors and conditions.

Early signs of ASD usually appear between two and three years of age, and include: not responding to sounds (you might even think your child is deaf); avoiding eye contact; not speaking by the time most children are able to; repetitive speech or movement, like flapping hands, rocking and spinning; hyperactivity; over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, or even the way things look.

ASD occurs in all kinds of people – rich, poor, black, white, people who live in the city and in rural areas – but males are four times more likely to have autism than females. And people with ASD often have other medical and mental health issues, like stomach and digestive disorders, seizures, sleep problems, anxiety and phobias. Unfortunately, the causes of ASD are unknown and there is no cure.

Currently there is no cure for autism, though with early intervention and treatment, the variety of symptoms related to autism can be greatly improved and in some cases, completely overcome. Examples:

  • Medications: several medications have been tried, but no medication has consistently proven to be of benefit for curing or completely managing autism. However, the following medications have been found to be helpful for aggressive behavior, repetitive behavior and ADHD.
  • Behavior Therapy – sometimes on a daily basis in the home – provide structure, direction and organization;
  • Complementary and alternative treatments (CAM), like special diets, chelation (a treatment to remove heavy metals like lead from the body), or body-based systems (like deep pressure treatments) relieve ASD symptoms.

The first thing to do if you suspect your child has autism is to set an appointment with your child’s doctor right away, because early detection improves treatment effectiveness. In addition, there are things you can do as a parent that will help you, your child and your family:

  • Educate yourself about autism, treatment options and education plans. Ask questions and participate in all treatment and education decisions.
  • Figure out what triggers your child’s problematic behaviors and what gets positive responses to prevent and troubleshoot difficulties.
  • Practice acceptance and unconditional love. Feeling unconditionally loved and accepted will help your child more than anything else.
  • Stick to a schedule with regular times for meals, therapy, school and bedtime. If a schedule must change, prepare your child ahead of time.
  • Reward good behavior by “catching him doing something good,” and tell him about it.
  • Create a safety zone by organizing your home and setting boundaries your child can understand so he can relax and feel safe and secure.

Most important: don’t give up. It’s impossible to predict the course of autism spectrum disorder. Like everyone else, people with autism have an entire lifetime to grow and develop. And while many of ASD’s symptoms are challenging, the child with ASD also has unique strengths and gifts to offer his family and community.