Category Archives: Recommended Reading
“At 10 a.m. on any given morning, the kids at low-income San Francisco schools are starting to fidget. Their teachers report they’re having trouble concentrating, asking how long ‘til they eat...Then the snacks arrive, delivered by volunteers from the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. They serve string cheese one week; baby carrots, mandarin oranges or apple slices the next.”
Because of this and other programs, Marin County, Calif. tops the U.S. News & World Report’s new rankings of “America’s 50 Healthiest Counties for Kids,” part of its annual guide on the nation’s Best Children’s Hospitals. The new rankings, for children 18 and younger, are calculated in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, which also evaluates health data for the U.S. population as part of its County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, a collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).
The rankings analyze U.S. counties according to several key measures, including:
- Infant deaths
- Low birth weight babies
- Deaths from injuries
- Teen births
- Children in poverty
- Percentage of children without health insurance
- Air quality in most states
- Rates of adult smoking and adult obesity
- Access to physicians
- Exercise opportunities
In addition to the rankings, the U.S. News story also highlights six communities that have made significant advancements toward improving the health of their kids, including:
- Santa Clara, Calif., where a policy stipulates that 50 percent of food and beverages sold in countywide vending machines must meet nutrition guidelines.
- Washington County, R.I., where the policy organization Kids Count is dedicated to improving children’s health, education, economic well-being and safety.
- Middlesex County, Mass., which includes the city of Cambridge—one of RWJF’s Culture of Health Prize winners last year—and where fun physical education classes keep kids active while healthy school meals celebrate cultural diversity.
Read the full story, “America's 50 Healthiest Counties for Kids.”
Far too many older people in generally good health find themselves without purpose—which is itself at cross purposes with the natural makeup of humans, according to Linda P. Fried, MD, MPH, an expert on aging and the dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.
“We are a species wired to feel needed, respected, and purposeful,” she wrote in the latest issue of The Atlantic. “The absence of those qualities is actually harmful to our health.”
The new article discusses the current research on the benefits of older people engaging in work that they are good at and enjoy. One example, Experience Corps—which Fried cofounded and which is now hosted by the AARP—seeks to leverage “the investments in one age group in order to benefit many stakeholders.”
Another example is the World Health Organization’s Global Network of Age-Friendly Cities and Communities, which provides a model for developing public-private partnerships. In New York City, the Age-Friendly NYC Commission was established in 2010 in partnership with the New York City Council and The New York Academy of Medicine. The underlying premise, according to Fried, was that the active participation of older residents in all aspects of city life is essential to the growth and health of the city, and that creating the conditions to achieve this is an important investment in public health.
Read the full story from The Atlantic, “Making Aging Positive.”
>>Bonus Link: Read a previous NewPublicHealth post on the Age-Friendly NYC Commission.
Recent decisions by a number of states to legalize, or consider legalizing, marijuana has prompted the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) to update two guides: Marijuana Facts for Teens and Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know.
According to NIDA, marijuana remains the most abused illegal substance among young adults. By the time they graduate high school, about 46 percent of U.S. teens will have tried marijuana at least once. And although marijuana use among teens dropped dramatically in the last ten years, use of the drug is on the upswing again. Approximately 12.4 percent of students reported use in the month before being surveyed in 2007; in 2013, nearly 23 percent of high school seniors reported current marijuana use and 6.5 percent used marijuana daily.
NIDA’s annual Monitoring the Future survey, which has been tracking teen attitudes and drug use since 1975, shows that use of marijuana over time is directly related to how safe teens perceive the drug to be. The most recent survey shows that the number of teens who think marijuana users risk harming themselves is declining, even though studies have shown that the impacts of marijuana use can include a permanently lower IQ, poor school performance, psychosis, panic and impaired driving. A study earlier this month in JAMA Pediatrics found that college-age men dispute the idea that marijuana can impact their driving.
“The subject of marijuana use has become increasingly difficult to talk about—in part, because of the mixed messages being conveyed by the passage of medical marijuana laws and legalization of marijuana in some states,” said NIDA director Nora Volk. “In addition, many parents of today’s teens may have used marijuana when they were younger, which could make talking openly and setting definitive rules about its use more difficult.”
“Sometimes,” he added, “just beginning the conversation is the hardest part. I hope these booklets can help.”
The updated booklets include new data on marijuana use; new evidence-based information on the potential harms of marijuana; and information on the highly dangerous and even lethal K2/Spice, also referred to as synthetic marijuana.
Marijuana Facts for Teens is also available in print; Marijuana: Facts Parents Need to Know will be available in print soon.
>>Bonus Link: Read an interview with Alexander Wagenaar, PhD, a Professor in the Institute for Child Health Policy at the University of Florida, who recently moderated a webinar on the public health perspectives of legalizing marijuana.
Hurricane season—which officially starts in two weeks—has become a time of year for individuals, communities and organizations to assess their state of readiness for withstanding and surviving a disaster.
A recent Atlantic Cities article profiled a model to follow: the Providence Baptist Church in the Bayview community of San Francisco. Led by local pastor GL Hodge, who has both big box retail and crisis experience, the church has monthly resiliency meetings to establish a local response, and has provided CPR and disaster training to church members through the American Red Cross. The church has also worked to develop community trust by providing after school programs, weekly dinners, a weekly food bank and a shelter on the church grounds that sleeps more than 100 people every night.
Steps to help try to prevent large scale death and injury if an earthquake or other disaster hits include distribution of plastic bags to seniors to store their medicines and ID if they need to evacuate; placards that fit on door knobs indicating if they’re OK or need help in the event of a disaster; and a proposal that would use community development funds to train young men how to strengthen the foundations of senior’s homes, which would improve the chance that the structures would survive a disaster.
“We’re preparing a culture of preparedness,” says Hodge.
Read the full story here.
>>Bonus Link: Read a previous NewPublicHealth interview with Irwin Redlener, MD, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
After decades of studies demonstrating that poor people and minorities are more likely than their white counterparts to live near health hazards such as toxic waste sites, landfills and congested highways, a new study in the journal PLOS One took a more refined look at a particular aspect in the area of “environmental injustice”: exposure to nitrogen dioxide. The pollutant—which is produced by cars, construction equipment and industrial sources—is linked to higher risk of both asthma and heart attack.
Using data from the 2000 Census, researchers determined that minorities are on average exposed to 38 percent higher levels of outdoor nitrogen dioxide. The gap varies depending where in the country they live, with the upper Midwest and the Northeast seeing the greatest disparities, as well as major cities. All told the disparity accounts for an additional 7,000 deaths due to heart disease annually.
"The biggest finding is that we have this national picture of environmental injustice and how it varies by state and by city," said Julian Marshall, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Minnesota and one of the authors of the study, according to The Washington Post. "The levels of disparity that we see here are large and likely have health implications."
There are a number of possibilities to account for the disparities. For example, according to The Post, many “urban highways...were originally routed through minority communities that were politically easier to uproot than middle-class white neighborhoods” and “highways and landfills also depress nearby property values, meaning that people who can afford to live elsewhere do, while those who can't remain within their influence.”
Read the full story from The New York Times here.
>>Bonus Link: April is National Minority Health Awareness month. Read more of NewPublicHealth’s coverage of the annual event here.
In an effort to combat the growing epidemic of prescription drug abuse and overdose, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a small, easy-to-use injector—similar to an EpiPen—that can be used to revive people who have stopped breathing or lost consciousness from an opioid drug overdose. The device, called Evzio, provides a single dose of naloxone, which is the standard treatment for opioid overdoses but up until now was mostly only available in hospitals and other medical settings.
The device, expected to be available starting this summer, will enable early intervention that increases the chances of survival. According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control , nationally, sales of prescription painkillers per capita have quadrupled since 1999—and the number of fatal poisonings due to prescription painkillers has also quadrupled.
The FDA’s approval comes at a critical time. In October of last year, Trust for America’s Health released a report that found that a very small number of states are implementing more than just a few promising strategies that have been identified to help combat the widespread drug abuse that continues to increase across the United States. The report, Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic, which was funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, showed that only two states—New Mexico and Vermont—have implemented all ten strategies. TFAH also released an interactive tool with state-by-state prescription drug overdose death rates and state scores on the 10 key steps to curb abuse.
Carl R. Sullivan III, MD, director of the addictions program at West Virginia University, said the FDA’s approval of Evzio “is a big deal, and I hope [it] gets wide attention,” according to The New York Times. “It’s pretty simple: Having these things in the hands of people around drug addicts just makes sense because you’re going to prevent unnecessary mortality.”
Read the full story from The New York Times.
On a busy night at the Stamford (CT) Hospital ER on the snowy East Coast this past holiday weekend, wait times for emergencies were just minutes thanks to a system that has a technician take vital signs within moments of patients walking through the entrance. Those metrics are passed to the medical staff to review in a room just a couple of steps from the reception area which, through a back door, opens onto several emergency suites where treatment can begin almost instantaneously. Contrast that with recent reports of hours-long waits, reduced staff and insufficient equipment at many rural hospitals, which often face budget, staff and equipment constraints.
One solution may be sharing those resources, according to a new study in Health Affairs by researchers at the University of Iowa College of Public Health. The researchers evaluated a tele-emergency service in the upper Midwest that provides 24/7 connection between an urban “hub” emergency department and 71 remote hospitals. At any time, clinical staff at the remote hospitals can press a button for an immediate audio/video connection to the tele-emergency hub Emergency Department.
A survey of the staff members at the rural hospitals found that 95 percent of those responding found that that the relationship significantly improve care for their patients in several ways:
- Improved quality of care
- Provided clinical second opinions for the rural medical staff
- Increased the use of evidence based treatment
“Tele-emergency improves patient care through integrated services that deliver the right care at the right time and the right place,” says Keith Mueller, PHD, head of the Department of Health Management and Policy and lead author of the report. “Our country’s health care system is in a massive state of change, and it’s through services such as this that we’ll be able to address patient need and assist in the financial concerns of smaller medical care units.”
Read the Health Affairs abstract.
A recent essay by columnist Nicholas Kristof of The New York Times looked at a critical problem faced by jails across the country, which often double as behavioral health treatment centers. For many inmates, mental health problems have been the significant factor in committing a crime, with some even purposely flouting the law in the hopes of getting into jail where they can get free treatment. As a result, the United States has a national inmate population where half of all male inmates and three quarters of all female inmates have a behavioral health condition.
Solutions are beginning to emerge, though critical problems remain. At a recent health initiatives forum convened by the National Association of Counties and held in San Diego, county health officials talked about the promise of the Affordable Care Act, which will allow jail health specialists to help enroll inmates in coverage in advance of their discharge to help continue care—behavioral and physical—outside of jail.
Read the full column here.
>>Bonus Link: Read NewPublicHealth’s coverage of the recent NACo Health Initiatives Forum.
In reaching teens, crisis hotlines have had to adapt not only to what they say, but how they say it. While counseling teens by phone is still the dominant method of communication, texting has become a popular way for teens to contact crisis centers in their times of need. A recent story in The New York Times takes a look at what Crisis Text Line and other centers have accomplished in the field of helping teens using their preferred medium of communication.
For troubled teens, texting offers a critical element of privacy if they feel threatened by someone nearby and allows them to look and feel more natural if they are in a public space. Benefits for crisis counselors include the ability to deal with more than one person at a time and to introduce experts into the conversation without a lapse in contact. Organizations such as Crisis Text Line that offer text counseling report receiving messages from teens who might not have otherwise contacted the hotline by phone. People who text hotlines for help receive the same services as callers—risk assessment, emotional validation and problem solving—but the interactions are often longer and more direct than phone calls.
In addition to offering an effective way to communicate with teens, texting provides data and trends about people in different types of crises. “My dream is that public health officials will use this data and tailor public policy solutions around it,” says Nancy Lublin, founder of Crisis Text Line. The organization plans to compile the data and make it available to the public this spring.
The use of texting has extended beyond crisis centers. The four largest phone companies in the United States recently promised to make 911 texting possible by May for local response services that request the option.
Read more at The New York Times.
Texting while walking can have a way of changing where we go...such as into a tree trunk or a fountain. However, a recent study in the journal PLOS ONE finds that texting also dramatically changes how we walk.
Researchers from the University of Queensland in Australia analyzed 26 health people while walking normally, while reading texts on a cell phone, and while writing a text themselves. They looked at speed and gait, as well as the positions of their heads, torso and arms.
They found that, essentially, when we walk and text we walk in a way that makes texting easier. That focus has a significant impact on our movements, which limits the health benefits of the physical activity.
“We walk much slower when handling a cell phone (even moreso while texting than reading), and we're not very good at sticking to a straight line. Not surprisingly, we tend to keep our heads down, our necks immobile, and our arms locked at our sides. We don't swing our arms, which can be a crucial part of staying balanced while moving.”
Read more at Atlantic Cities.