Aug 19 2014
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Google Hangout Convenes Culture of Health Prize Winners to Discuss Lessons Learned in Creating Healthy Communities

This past June, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced the six winners of its 2014 Culture of Health Prize, which honors communities that place a high priority on health and bring partners together to drive local change. Each community, selected from more than 250 across the nation, received a no-strings-attached $25,000 cash prize in recognition of their accomplishments.  

Last week, RWJF brought together representatives from two of this year’s winners and one from last year in an online discussion, “Building a Culture of Health: What Does it Take?” Each community representative spoke about the barriers they’ve faced, how they overcame them and the role partnerships play in their ongoing success.

The discussion was moderated by Julie Willems Van Dijk, co-director of the RWJF County Health Rankings & Roadmaps and director of the RWJF Culture of Health Prize.

Alisa May, executive director of Priority Spokane and representing 2014 winner Spokane County, Wash., said that as a largely rural community of 210,000 people they’ve placed an emphasis on improving education at all levels. And they took a data-centric approach.

“Priority Spokane—which is a collaboration of community leaders—looked at the data, pulled community members together to talk about the issues that were most important to them, and educational attainment rose to the surface,” said May.

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Aug 19 2014
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A Call to Action to Help Caregivers

This week, NewPublicHealth will run a series on new and creative public health campaigns that aim to improve the health of communities across the country through the use of public service announcements, infographics and more. Stay tuned to learn more about a new campaign each day.

As the country turns increasingly gray, more and more adults are experiencing the stresses and strains of caring for aging family members. It has long been a silent struggle for many of the nation’s 42 million unpaid caregivers, but the full impact of family caregiving is starting to come out from the shadows thanks to a major ongoing campaign from the AARP and the Ad Council first launched in 2012. Through a series of ads for television, radio, print media and digital venues, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the ripple effects of family caregiving and to steer overwhelmed families toward resources that may ease the pressure.

The public service advertisements (PSAs) depict the sense of isolation, responsibility and frustration family caregivers often feel as they tend to their loved ones—providing reassurance that they are not alone with these challenges. The ads also highlight a community of experts set up by the AARP to help caregivers take better care of themselves while caring for others and to encourage caregivers to access online tools or call a toll-free hotline (877-333-5885). The website includes resources on planning for long-term care (legally, financially and in other ways) and advice on dealing with emotional issues such as grief and loss.

Nearly 30 percent of caregivers report feeling sad or depressed, and 33 percent isolate themselves by avoiding people or social situations, according to a 2013 AARP report, Caregivers: Life Changes and Coping Strategies. Moreover, 38 percent of those caring for a loved one say they sleep less since they became caregivers, and 44 percent admit they try to squelch their feelings. An earlier survey by the AARP and the Ad Council, involving 500 caregivers between the ages of 40 and 60, revealed that 31 percent describe their caregiving tasks as extremely or very difficult; 21 percent say they don’t feel like they have the support they need; and 26 percent don’t feel confident about knowing where to turn to find support and information for unpaid caregivers.

“Only those who care for others know what it’s really like to care for others—that’s why we created a community where caregivers can connect with experts and others facing similar challenges,” said AARP CEO Barry Rand. “We hope this campaign will help the millions of family caregivers in the U.S. feel heard and supported, in turn, helping them better care for themselves and for the ones they love.”

As an offshoot of the Caregiver Assistance PSAs, the AARP and Ad Council also launched the “Thanks Project”, a digital opportunity for family members and friends to publicly acknowledge and appreciate how much they value the contributions from the caregivers in their lives. The idea is that a note of thanks can mean a lot to caregivers.

>>Bonus link: Read a NewPublicHealth interview with Gail Sheehy, author of “Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence.”

Aug 19 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 19

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EBOLA UPDATE: Death Toll Passes 1,200; Improvement Seen in Three African Doctors Who Received Experimental Treatment
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The death toll in the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa has passed 1,200, according to the World Health Organization, with infection rates continuing to outpace containment efforts. Concerns over the disease also continue to spread, with a 30-year-old woman in Germany isolated and then taken to a specialist medical unit after being found with a high fever. However, the Liberian information minister was also recently quoted as saying that three African doctors treated with the experimental ZMapp treatment are showing “remarkable signs of improvement.” The drug was used to treat two Americans who are now also showing signs of improvement. Read more on Ebola.

Study: Older Americans Receiving Cancer Screenings Against Recommendations
As many as half of older Americans continue to receive cancer screenings despite the recommendation by several professional societies that certain cancers not be screening for in people who aren’t expected to live for another 10 years, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. “There is general agreement that routine cancer screening has little likelihood to result in a net benefit for individuals with limited life expectancy,” wrote Trevor Royce, MD, in the study. Keith Bellizzi of the University of Connecticut‘s Center for Public Health and Health Policy in Storrs added that "Each screening test carries different risks and benefits ... Individuals should be counseled about these risks in order to make an informed decision (sometimes involving caregivers or family members)." Read more on cancer.

Study: Dramatic Drop in Deaths, Hospitalization for Heart Disease and Stroke
Lifestyle changes, better treatment and effective preventive measures have caused a dramatic drop in deaths and hospitalizations for heart disease over the past decade, according to a new study in the journal Circulation. In a review of data on nearly 34 million Americans covered by Medicare, researchers found that from 1999 to 2011 hospitalizations rates for heart attacks dropped by 38 percent; rates of unstable angina dropped by almost 85 percent; and hospitalizations for both heart failure and stroke dropped by approximately one-third. "The findings are jaw-dropping," said lead researcher Harlan Krumholz, MD, a professor of cardiology at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn, according to HealthDay. "They really show that we have begun to reverse this epidemic of heart disease and stroke." Read more on heart and vascular health.

Aug 18 2014
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A Public Effort to Help Kids Breathe Easier

This week, NewPublicHealth will run a series on new and creative public health campaigns that aim to improve the health of communities across the country through the use of public service announcements, infographics and more. Stay tuned to learn more about a new campaign each day.

In an effort to reduce missed school days, theEnvironmental Protection Agency (EPA), in partnership with the Ad Council, has launched a campaign to teach parents how to prevent asthma attacks in kids by identifying common asthma triggers. The “No Attacks” campaign urges parents to learn how to control factors that make a child’s asthma worse, use asthma medicines effectively and recognize when to call the doctor.

Asthma affects nearly 9 million U.S. children, with poor and minority children suffering a greater burden from the disease. Asthma can be especially serious in kids because of their small airways.

Through a series of Public Service Advertisements (PSAs) featuring a rock band of puppet characters called the “Breathe Easies,” the campaign includes online videos, radio spots and online banners (available in English and Spanish) with songs about asthma triggers at home, at school and outside. These entertaining messages inform viewers about how to prevent asthma attacks by cleaning up mold, vacuuming regularly and eliminating smoking at home; making sure their child’s school has a plan for controlling cockroaches and other pests, banning furry class pets and minimizing the use of chemical irritants in cleaning products, air fresheners and pesticides; and postponing outdoor sports and other high-energy activities to avoid exposure to high air pollution levels.

“Too many Americans, particularly children, minorities and people living in poverty, suffer from asthma, spending their time at doctor visits and hospitals instead of at school, work and play,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. By working with the Ad Council and other partners in communities across the country, we can make a real difference in the lives of millions of Americans dealing with asthma.”

Asthma causes U.S. children to miss 14 million school days each year, which is especially worrisome because more frequent school absences are consistently linked with worse academic performance. The good news: “School absences due to asthma can be avoided by appropriate asthma management, including appropriate use of medications and reduced exposure to triggers,” noted a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since there’s no cure for asthma, preventing attacks—by reducing exposure to environmental triggers and using medications appropriately—is the primary focus of treatment.

The new PSAs stem from The Childhood Asthma Campaign, which was first launched by the EPA and the Ad Council in 2001. Since the debut of that campaign, the percentage of parents who feel they can make “a lot of difference” in preventing asthma attacks has risen from 49 percent to 67 percent, according to the Ad Council’s tracking surveys. The hope is that the new PSAs will improve that percentage even more. 

Aug 18 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 18

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EBOLA UPDATE: Looted Quarantine Center Raises Fears of Ebola’s Spread
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The raid by residents of an Ebola quarantine center in Liberia this weekend sent potentially infected patients fleeing and has raised very serious concerns over spreading the outbreak throughout West Point, Monrovia. Looters—apparently angry that patients were brought to the holding center from other parts of Monrovia—were seen taking items that were visibly stained with blood, vomit and excrement, all of which can spread the Ebola virus. The Washington Post reports that there have been talks about quarantining the entire township if needed. Read more on Ebola.

Study: Mothers in Poorer Health Less Likely to Breastfeed
Mothers who are in poorer health are also less likely to breastfeed their infant children, according to a new study in the journal PLOS ONE. Researchers from the School of Public Health at the University of Minnesota determined that women who are obese, have diabetes or have hypertension were 30 percent less likely to intend to breastfeed than were mothers without health complications. “Statistically we’re seeing an increase in breastfeeding in the U.S., which is great news. Unfortunately, at the same time, rates of obesity and other health problems are increasing. More than a million women each year enter pregnancy with a health problem, and our study shows that these mothers were less likely to plan to breastfeed,” said Katy Kozhimannil, PhD, lead author of the study and assistant professor at the university, in a release. “This is troubling because the families with social and medical risk factors are often those who stand to gain the most benefits from breastfeeding.” Read more on maternal and infant health.

Study: HPV Vaccine Still Effective After Eight Years
The human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine appears to remain effective at protecting against the sexually transmitted virus for at least eight years, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers randomly assigned 1,781 sexually inactive boys and girls ages 9-15 to either the HPV vaccine or placebo shots, finding that those who received the vaccine still had antibodies against HPV after eight years. “The body's response against HPV by making antibodies looks very good at eight years, and it seems like no booster doses will be necessary," said lead researcher Daron Ferris, MD, director of the HPV epidemiology and prevention program at Georgia Regents University in Atlanta, according to HealthDay. "These are all indications that the vaccine is safe, and it looks like it's effective in preventing genital warts and other diseases caused by HPV.” Read more on vaccines.

Aug 15 2014
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Ebola Roundup: NewPublicHealth Looks at the Latest News on the West African Outbreak

file Image courtesy: CDC

The worst Ebola outbreak in history has now claimed 1,145 lives, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In the two days to August 13, 76 people died and there were 152 confirmed, probable and suspected new cases in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone. NewPublicHealth has been following the outbreak in West Africa closely. You can read our ongoing coverage of the Ebola epidemic here. Below is a look at the latest news on the outbreak:

  • While stating its belief that the magnitude of the outbreak has been “vastly” underestimated, WHO continues to partner with individual countries, disease control agencies, agencies within the United Nations system and other organizations to combat the Ebola epidemic. “Practical on-the-ground intelligence is the backbone of a coordinated response,” the global health organization said in an update, noting that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is providing computer hardware and software that should enable real-time reporting and analysis. The World Food Programme is also delivering food to the more than one million people living in quarantine zones; the food shortage has been compared to a “wartime” situation.
  • The medical charity Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) estimates that it will take public health officials at least six months to bring the Ebola outbreak under control. "In terms of timeline, we're not talking in terms of weeks, we're talking in terms of months,” said MSF President Joanne Lui, according to the BBC. “We need a commitment for months, at least I would say six months, and I'm being, I would say, very optimistic."
  • Kent Brantly, MD, one of two U.S. aid workers infected in Liberia who received an experimental Ebola treatment, continues to improve and hopes to be “released sometime in the near future.” He is being treated at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Ga. The family of Nancy Writebol, a missionary from Charlotte, N.C., said she also continues to improve and doctors remain optimistic.
  • The U.S. Department of State has ordered family members of staff members at the U.S. embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone, to evacuate the country, announcing the order as part of reconfiguring of resources to better respond to the Ebola outbreak. The order stated: “We remain deeply committed to supporting Sierra Leone and regional and international efforts to strengthen the capacity of the country’s health care infrastructure and system—specifically, the capacity to contain and control the transmission of the Ebola virus, and deliver health care.”

>>Bonus Links: You can also find the latest information on the Ebola outbreak at the websites for the CDC and WHO.

Aug 15 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 15

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HHS: $250M to Expand Access to High-Quality Preschools
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced that applications are now available for the $250 million Preschool Development Grants competition, which was established to build, develop and expand voluntary, high-quality preschool programs in high-need communities for children from low- and moderate-income families. “When we invest in early education, the benefits can last a lifetime,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell, in a release. “Children who attend high-quality early learning and preschool programs are more likely to do well in school and secure good jobs down the road. We all gain when our country has a stronger, more productive workforce, lower crime rates, and less need for public assistance. These Preschool Development Grants will help put more children on the path to opportunity.” Read more on education.

Study: Three Common Respiratory Illnesses Linked to Higher Risk of Lung Cancer
Chronic bronchitis, emphysema and pneumonia are all tied to an increased risk of lung cancer, according to a new study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. Researchers analyzed data on more than 250,000 people, concluding that the reason for the increased risk could relate to underlying disease mechanisms. They also said that a better understanding of the respiratory diseases could affect how doctors monitor and help patients. Read more on prevention.

FDA: More Data Needed on Painkiller’s Abuse-Deterrent Capability
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has requested additional study and information to determine the effectiveness of an abuse-deterrent capability in an experimental painkiller. Acura Pharmaceuticals states that its drug, which contains the common painkillers hydrocodone bitartrate and acetaminophen, cannot be abused by snorting. The drug is designed to cause a burning sensation when snorted or form a gelatinous mixture when prepared for injection. However, the drug failed in a mid-stage trial to show a statistically significant likelihood of reducing abuse. Read more on substance abuse.

Aug 14 2014
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Public Health Icon Smokey Bear Turns 70

If you’re reading this, then YOU can prevent wildfires. Also forest fires.

Both are indelible messages from Smokey Bear—an icon of public health and a friendly face from everyone’s childhood—who is celebrating his 70th birthday. Born August 9, 1944, the creation of the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council has over the decades become the center of the longest-running PSA campaign in U.S. history.

As part of the birthday celebration, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters have launched a new round of PSAs featuring outdoor enthusiasts thanking Smokey for his years of work.

Since the campaign’s launch in 1944, the average number of acres burned by wildfires has decreased from 22 million to 6.7 million. However, they still remain one of the country’s most critical environmental issues—as well as one of its most misunderstood. While many people believe that lightning is the cause of most wildfires, the reality is the vast majority—9 out of 10—are manmade. The causes range from unattended campfires and burning debris on a windy day to improperly discarded smoking materials and operating equipment without spark arrestors.

Explore Smokey’s history and messaging at SmokeyBear.com, as well as on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

Aug 14 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 14

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EBOLA UPDATE: 55 CDC Workers Now on the Ground in West Africa
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
There are now 55 disease detectives and other experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on the ground in West Africa in response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak. All told, more than 350 CDC U.S. staff are working around the clock on logistics, communications, analytics, management and other support functions. “We are fulfilling our promise to the people of West Africa, Americans, and the world, that CDC would quickly ramp up its efforts to help bring the worst Ebola outbreak in history under control,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “We know how to stop Ebola. It won’t be easy or fast, but working together with our U.S. and international partners and country leadership, together we are doing it.” Read more on Ebola.

Three Studies Offer Differing Takes on Extremely-Low Salt Diets
Two new studies in the New England Journal of Medicine are calling into question the conventional wisdom that as little sodium as possible is always the ideal. The first study found that extremely low-salt diets may not be as beneficial as believed—and may even be dangerous—and the second found that people with moderate salt intake don’t benefit from reductions as much as people who consume higher amounts of salt. "Previously it was believed that the lower you go the better. What these studies show collectively is that there is an optimal level, and lower is not necessarily better," Andrew Mente, MD, of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, chief author of the blood pressure study, according to Reuters. However, a third study also published in the journal found a direct link between less salt and better health, and no evidence to indicate that extremely-low sodium levels were dangerous. Read more on nutrition.

SAMHSA: States Meeting Goals for Reducing Tobacco Sales to Minors
All states and the District of Columbia continue to meet their goals of preventing tobacco sales to people under the age of 18, according to a new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The report found that only 9.6 percent of inspected retail outlets illegally sold tobacco products to minors in 2013, below the goal of 20 percent set by the Synar Amendment program. The rate was as high as 72.7 percent only 16 years ago. “Tobacco use is still the nation’s leading cause of preventable death. We must do everything we can to deter minors from buying tobacco products,” said Frances Harding, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. “For the past 17 years, the Synar program has made a real difference in lowering the levels of illegal tobacco sales to minors across the nation. However, everyone in the community must continue to work together in eliminating these illegal sales.” Read more on tobacco.

Aug 13 2014
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The Mission of Public Health: Q&A with David Fleming, Seattle and King County in Washington State

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This week, David Fleming, MD, MPH, stepped down as public health director of Seattle and King County in Washington State after seven years leading the public health agency. Over that period, among many other accomplishments, he led the department’s efforts to sign up more than 165,000 residents under the Affordable Care Act and oversaw a 17 percent drop in obesity rates in partnering schools.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Fleming about his views on the mission of public health.

NPH: How has public health changed since you began your career?

David Fleming: The mission of public health has not changed—and that's to prevent unnecessary illness and death—but what has been changing is what the nature of that prevention is. Increasingly, it is in chronic diseases, injuries and, importantly, the driving force of underlying social determinants of health. So public health has changed from being more of a direct service agency where we have frontline public health workers who are out there providing treatment to people and preventing infectious diseases, to really more of a collaborative kind of agency where we need to be working with a wide range of partners outside of the traditional domains of public health to help them implement the changes that need to happen. It's a fundamental shift, I think, in the business model of public health that we're in the process of witnessing today.

NPH: When you point to some of the achievements that you've had, whether they're specific changes in the state or specific models of examples that you've given to other states, what would you point to?

Fleming: First off, I think it's important to say that public health is a team sport, and so when I talk about accomplishments, I'm talking about accomplishments of the department in which I work on this and the staff that work here. I think that we have been successful at pivoting to that future that we were talking about a moment ago, at looking at how health departments can attack the underlying social determinants of health.

Increasingly, it is health disparities that are driving poor health in this country. We have been successful here in beginning to figure out how to partner with other sectors—the education sector to reduce obesity in our poorest school districts, for example. We’ve also worked with the community development sector to begin making investments in our poorest neighborhoods to increase the healthiness of our communities, so that people who live in them can be healthy, as well. At the end of the day, I think that we have been trying to lead this new path where public health is a partner in communities with all of the other entities that are capable of influencing health and figuring out how to make that happen.

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