Category Archives: Violence
Interactive Map Helps Communities Prepare for Peaks in Flu Cases
Flu season for most of the country should peak in January, according to a new website that utilizes modern weather prediction technology to turn real-time influenza estimates into 94 local forecasts of future flu activity. The website was developed by infectious disease experts at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. By predicting when areas are likely to see the highest incidence of flu cases, public health officials can better manage medicine and other supplies.
The website features:
- Interactive U.S. map that displays the relative severity of seasonal flu in cities across the country flu and incidence numbers for each
- Influenza incidence predictions by city for the coming weeks
- Map that illustrates the proportion of flu cases by region
- Charts that compare the timing and severity of the four most recent flu seasons
- Exportable data for each week of the flu season (beginning in 9/29 for the 2013-2014 season)
Read more on influenza.
Minority Children Less Likely to Be in Car, Booster Seats Properly
Minority children are less likely than white children to be put into car seats and booster seats as recommended, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Potential reasons for the disparity include both access to resources and social norms. "We expected that differences in family income, parental education, and sources of information would explain the racial disparities in age-appropriate restraint use and they did not," lead author Michelle L. Macy, MD, according to Reuters. According to a survey of 600 parents with kids ages one to 12, among four- to seven-year-olds, twice as many non-white kids sat in the front seat as white kids; 10 percent of the kids in that age group overall had sat in the front seat. The study also found that 3 percent of kids under age four and 34 percent ages eight to 12 had sat in the front seat, although there were no differences based on race for these groups. Read more on safety.
Study: Access to Firearms Increases Risk of Suicide and Homicide
A person with access to a gun is three times more likely to commit suicide and about twice as likely to be murdered than someone without such access, according to a new study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers analyzed 15 previous gun studies—13 from the United States—looking at intentional acts of violence. They also adjusted the past studies for the likelihood of mental illness. "If you have a firearm readily available and something bad has happened to you, you might make a rash, impulsive decision that will have a bad outcome," said lead author Andrew Anglemyer, a specialist in study design and data analytics in clinical pharmacy and global health sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. "These are just normal gun owners, and we are seeing that gun owners are making very bad, impulsive decisions." Each year the United States sees approximately 31,000 deaths due to firearms. Read more on violence.
Study: School Assaults Lead to Nearly 90,000 ER Visits Annually
Assaults at school account for almost 90,000 emergency-room visits annually, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. In a review of data on students ages 5-19, researchers determined that an average of 92,000 annual emergency visits were a result of deliberate injury, with student-on-student assault accounting for about 88,000. About 40 percent of the injuries were bruises or scratches, with few leading to later hospitalization. "[The number of injuries] appears to be concerningly high, especially when you realize that such a substantial number of injuries are occurring in the school setting, where safety measures are already in place," said lead author Siraj Amanullah, MD, an assistant professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics at Brown University's Alpert Medical School. "There is a need to continue addressing this issue at various levels—at home, at school and in the medical care setting—and there is a need to ramp up our existing prevention and safety strategies.” Read more on violence.
WHO: India Can Now Be Declared Polio-Free
With now three years passed since its last reported cased of polio—January 13, 2011—the country of India can now be declared polio-free, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The certification process should be completed by the end of March. The country’s last victim was a two-year-old girl in West Bengal. This now leaves Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria as the only countries where polio remains endemic. As part of our recent Outbreak Week, NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Sona Bari, WHO’s senior communications officer, about the efforts underway to eradicate polio globally. Read more on infectious disease.
Translation Errors Plague ACA’s Spanish-language Site, Impede Enrollment
Problems with the Spanish-language version of the Affordable Care Act’s website are making it difficult for many of the site’s users to navigate the site and enroll for coverage. In addition to launching late and sending users to English-language forms when they are clearly looking for Spanish-language content, CuidadoDeSalud.gov is also full of grammatical and other language mistakes. "When you get into the details of the plans, it's not all written in Spanish. It's written in Spanglish, so we end up having to translate it for them," said Adrian Madriz, a health care navigator who helps with enrollment in Miami. Several states with large Hispanic populations have fallen short in their goals to enroll Spanish-speakers, with critics pointing to the website as a major impediment. For example, while it’s not know how many of California’s 4.3 million residents who only speak Spanish intend to seek coverage under the Affordable Care Act, through the end of November only 5,500 had successfully enrolled. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.
HHS Moves to Strengthen Federal Background Checks for Gun Ownership
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is taking steps to strengthen the federal background check system for the purchase of firearms by removing legal barriers under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule that could stop states from reporting information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The NICS is designed to ensure that felons, people convicted of domestic violence and people involuntarily committed to a mental institution cannot purchase firearms. A 2012 Government Accountability Office report found that 17 states had submitted fewer than 10 records of people prohibited from owning a firearm for mental health reasons. “There is a strong public safety need for this information to be accessible to the NICS, and some states are currently under-reporting or not reporting certain information to the NICS at all,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “This proposed rulemaking is carefully balanced to protect and preserve individuals’ privacy interests, the patient-provider relationship, and the public’s health and safety.” Read more on mental health.
CDC: ‘Widespread’ Flu Activity in Almost Half of the Country
Half of the 50 U.S. states are already reporting influenza cases this season, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The majority of the cases have been attributed to the H1N1 virus, which killed an estimated 284,000 people across 74 countries in 2009-2010. Almost half of the country has also classified flu activity as “widespread” this season. Texas, which on December 20 issued an “influenza health alert,” has already seen 25 deaths, according to health officials. "We are seeing a big uptick in disease in the past couple of weeks. The virus is all around the United States right now," said Joe Bresee, MD, chief of Epidemiology and Prevention in the CDC's Influenza Division, adding, "There is still a lot of season to come. If folks haven't been vaccinated, we recommend they do it now.” Read more on influenza.
Slower Eating Leads to Fewer Calories
Normal-weight individuals looking for methods to maintain their healthy weight should consider simply eating slower, according to a new study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Researchers found that both normal-weight and obese or overweight people who ate at relaxed, slow-speed conditions reported feeling less hungry afterward than they did after eating fast-paced meals. However, only the normal-weight study participants consumed “significantly” fewer calories during the slower meals, according to the researchers: 88 fewer calories, compared to 58 fewer calories for obese or overweight participants. Study author Meena Shah, a professor in the department of kinesiology at Texas Christian University, in Fort Worth, said one explanation for the findings could be that “slower eating allows people to better sense their feelings of hunger and fullness.” Read more on obesity.
Infographics, public health news and innovative efforts to improve community health were the topics of the most widely read posts on NewPublicHealth this year.
Take a look back at our most popular posts:
- The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America will release new recommendations on early childhood education and improving community health on Monday January 13. Earlier this year, new city maps to illustrate the dramatic disparity between the life expectancies of communities mere miles away from each other. Where we live, learn, work and play can have a greater impact on our health than we realize.
- Three of the infographics created for the NewPublicHealth series on the National Prevention Strategy, a cross-federal agency emphasis on public health priorities, were among the most popular posts of 2013. Stable Jobs = Healthier Lives, the most widely viewed NPH infographic, tells a visual story about the role of employment in the health of our communities. One example: Laid-off workers are 54 percent more likely to have fair or poor health and 83 percent more likely to develop a stress-related health condition.
- Better Transportation =Healthier Lives, another 2013 infographic, tells a visual story about the role of transportation in the health of our communities. Consider this important piece of the infographic as we head into 2014: The risk of obesity increases 6 percent with every additional mile spent in the car, and decreases 5 percent with every kilometer walked.
- Top Five Things You Didn’t Know Could Spread Disease was the best read of the very well read stories on NewPublicHealth during Outbreak Week—an original series created by NPH to accompany the release in late December of Outbreaks: Protecting Americans from Infectious Disease, a pivotal report released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Trust for America’s Health.
- Better Education=Healthier Lives, another widely viewed—and shared—infographic on NewPublicHealth, shared the critical information that more education increases life span, decreases health risks such as heart disease and—for mothers who receive more years in school—increases the chance that her baby will die in infancy.
- How Healthy is Your County? In 2014 the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will release the fifth County Health Rankings, a data set more and more communities rely on to see improvements—and room for change—in the health of their citizens. NewPublicHealth’s 2013 coverage of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps included posts on the six communities that won the inaugural RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize for their innovative strategies to create a culture of health by partnering across sectors in their communities.
- The Five Deadliest Outbreaks and Pandemics in History, was our seventh best read post of the year. Read it again and ask: Are we prepared as a nation for the next big outbreak?
- What does architecture have to do with public health? Visit the Apple Store in New York City’s SoHo neighborhood, Texas’ Red Swing project, or....view our post from earlier this year.
- Less than a month after the shootings in late 2012 at Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut, the Harvard School of Public Health held a live webcast town hall meeting on gun violence on the legal, political, and public health factors that could influence efforts to prevent gun massacres. And toward the end of 2013, NewPublicHealth sat down with former Surgeon General David Satcher, MD, MPH, to talk about the role of research in preventing gun violence.
- NewPublicHealth covered the release of a report by Trust for America’s Health that found that most states are not implementing enough proven strategies to prevent prescription drug abuse. But the year ended with some better news on the critical public health issue. An NPH news roundup post reported on a study funded by the National Institutes of Health which found that rates of prescription drug abuse by high school students have dropped slightly.
Close runners up included How Do You Transform a Community After a Century of Neglect?, which looked at how Bithlo, Fla. is working to bring much-needed services to its main street through the “Transformation Village” initiative, as well as ‘Unprecedented Destruction’: Ocean County Public Health Continues to Respond to Hurricane Sandy, which brought together a NewPublicHealth video and a Q&A to illustrate how public health officials and departments worked together to help their regions recover from the devastating superstorm. Also in the top 20 for year was an interview with New York State Health Commissioner Nirav R. Shah, MD, MPH, on the release of the 2013-17 Prevention Agenda: New York State’s Health Improvement Plan—a statewide, five-year plan to improve the health and quality of life for everyone who lives in New York State.
AAP Issues Recommendations on Reducing Youth Deaths from Gun Violence
Every day seven U.S. children are killed by gun violence and it remains the second-leading cause of death among youth in the country. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a list of recommendations on how to keep kids safe and hopefully make an impact on these troubling statistics. “Gun violence is a public health issue that profoundly affects children and their families,” said AAP President Thomas K. McInerny, MD, FAAP. “We know what works—strong laws to enforce background checks and safe storage.” Watch a video on the APP recommendations and read more here. Read more on violence.
Study: African-American Men from Single-Parent Homes More Likely to Suffer from Hypertension
African-American men who grew up in two-parent homes are less likely to suffer from hypertension as adults than are their peers who grew up in single-parent homes, according to a new study in the journal Hypertension. The researchers analyzed data on 515 men enrolled in the Howard University Family Study. Possible explanations for the disparity include the fact that children who live only with their mothers are three times as likely to live in poverty, and socioeconomic status has been linked to higher blood pressure. “Family structure is among a slew of environmental influences that, along with our genes, help determine our health as adults,” said Dan Kastner, MD, PhD, scientific director, National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). “This study makes important observations about home life that may affect susceptibility to complex diseases later on in life.” The National Institutes of Health’s NHGRI and National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities conducted the study. Read more on health disparities.
Excessive Cellphone Use Tied to Higher Anxiety, Lower Productivity in College Kids
Excessive cellphone use is linked to higher levels of anxiety, less satisfaction with life and lower grades in college-age adults, according to a new study in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. Researchers examined data on approximately 500 men and women enrolled at Kent State University in 82 different fields of study. The average student spent 279 using their cellphone each day, sending an average of 77 text messages, and researchers believe that a perceived obligation to stay connected on social media may be behind the increased anxiety and decreased productivity. "At least for some students, the sense of obligation that comes from being constantly connected may be part of the problem,” said Andrew Lepp, lead study author and an associate professor at Kent State University. "Some may not know how to be alone to process the day's events, to recover from certain stressors." Read more on technology.
Among the best pieces of advice people can look to today, the day before Thanksgiving, is a primer on safe food preparation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, including a video on just how to stuff that turkey.
Additionally, when it comes to safety this holiday season, there are also ways to help keep yourself and your purchases safe as Thanksgiving morphs into Black Friday. Tech guru Shelly Palmer reported recently that, according to the New York City police department, 14 percent of crime in that city is linked to Apple computer products, while police in other cities note technology thefts of all kinds as the holiday shopping season gets into full swing. Apple is alerting buyers of the latest model iPhones that the devices now come with a security feature that requires a User ID and password to disable the "Find my Phone" feature, which helps police track down stolen phones. Tech experts say widespread use of the Apple feature can help deter theft--and possible harm--during a robbery.
Another thing to be aware of this shopping season, when people will be out and about on busy streets, is what's come to be known as the "Knockout Game," where the goal is knock a random person unconscious with a single punch. CNN and other news outlets have posted stories about reports of random violence in several U.S. and foreign cities, and at least one city is considering punishing juveniles found guilty of the attack as an adult rather than a child--which can mean years of jail time. However, The New York Times recently added its voice to the growing national discussion with a story questioning whether the "game" is in fact an urban myth, saying that it's possible these assaults are random acts of violence, and that even New York City police officials are still trying to determine the truth.
Nonetheless, while questions over the "game" remain, the assaults are very real. According to CNN, a police spokesman in Pittsburgh says people who appear distracted--such as those checking phones or listening to music through headphones--may be more vulnerable to attacks.
>>Bonus Link: The National Crime Prevention Council offers tips on safe holiday shopping, including shopping with a friend for added security.
A presentation at the recent American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting, held last week in Boston, reported on the Gun Shop Project. The program of the New Hampshire Firearm Safety Coalition shares guidelines on how to avoid selling or renting a firearm to a suicidal customer with gun advocates, gun shop owners, mental health professionals and public health professionals. The Gun Shop Project also encourages gun stores and firing ranges to display and distribute suicide prevention materials tailored to their customers
“The science shows us that not only is suicide the leading type of death from a firearm, but having a gun in the home increases the incidence of suicide, femicide [shooting a woman], and the likelihood that people in the community will be shot. Many mass shootings, like those at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, involve the suicide of the shooter,” said David Hemenway, who spoke about the Gun Shop Project at the APHA meeting. “One way to prevent the shootings may be to prevent the suicide.”
He is a member of the Project’s team as director of the Injury Control Center at the Harvard School of Public Health, as well as a recipient of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award in Health Policy Research.
The ultimate goal of the coalition is to change social norms around gun use and to see the Gun Shop Project achieve results similar to the national effort to stop drunk driving.
“We want to work with the gun-owning community to create reasonable norms about when to get the guns out of the house,” Hemenway said. “If a neighbor is also a gun owner, for example, that neighbor could be asked to hold the firearms until another neighbor’s difficult period has passed. It’s the same idea as the ‘don’t let a friend drive drunk’ campaign. This can make a difference…”
Hemenway says the efforts of the Gun Shop Project are a growing national effort and partners include the U.S. Army, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and other groups working to reduce suicides by limiting access to lethal means at critical periods.
Read more about the Gun Shop Project.
Survey: Violence in PG-13 Films Tripled in Past Two Decades
When the movie rating PG-13 debuted, PG-13 movies and R movies tended to have about the same amount of gun violence. Today PG-13 sometimes have more gun violence than R movies, and the overall amount of gun violence in the movies approved for the younger demographic has more than tripled in the past two decades, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. The researchers looked at 945 films sampled from the 30 top-grossing films annually between 1950 and 2012. "It doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out there are going to be disturbed kids who are going to see this kind of content," said Daniel Romer, of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center in Philadelphia. "The problem for parents is they can no longer rely on the PG-13 rating to tell them there isn't a lot of violence in those films.” James Sargent, MD, from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, who was not involved in the study, said the findings demonstrate that the Motion Picture Association of America needs "to go back to the drawing board and fix their rating system so those movies are rated R for violence." Read more on violence.
New Federal Rules Ensure Mental Health Treatment Equal to Physical Health in Health Plans
New rules issued by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury on Friday will ensure that mental health is treated equal to physical health when it comes to co-pays, deductibles and visit limits that are features of health plans. Among the specific protections:
- Ensuring that parity applies to intermediate levels of care received in residential treatment or intensive outpatient settings
- Eliminating the provision that allowed insurance companies to make an exception to parity requirements for certain benefits based on “clinically appropriate standards of care,” which clinical experts advised was not necessary and which is confusing and open to potential abuse
- Clarifying the scope of the transparency required by health plans, including the disclosure rights of plan participants, to ensure compliance with the law
“These rules will increase access to mental health and substance abuse treatment, prohibit discriminatory practices, and increase health plan transparency,” said Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez. “Ultimately, they’ll provide greater opportunities for affordable, accessible, effective treatment to Americans who need it.” Read more on access to health care.
Women of Limited Financial Means Often Wait to Seek Help with Breast Lumps
High costs of examination and treatment may be keeping younger women with limited finances from seeking early medical attention for breast lumps, according to a new study in the journal Cancer. Researchers found in a survey of women aged 40 and younger that while 80 percent found an abnormality in their breast on their own, 17 percent waited at least three months before seeing a doctor, with 12 percent of those who delayed treatment also having to wait at least 90 days between their appointment and receiving a diagnosis. Kathryn Ruddy, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said that future development of interventions should focus on this financial disparity that is also a health disparity. "The findings may lead to research focusing on whether reducing co-pays and hidden costs of seeking medical care—such as parking charges, child-care expenses and lost wages—may improve the timeliness of diagnosis in this population," she said. Read more on cancer.
David Satcher, MD, PhD, was a four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and served as the 10th Assistant Secretary for Health and the 16th Surgeon General of the United States—at the same time. He was Surgeon General from 1998 through 2001, and under his tenure he tackled disparities in tobacco use and overall health equity, sexual health and—critically—youth violence.
Satcher was a key speaker in a recent American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting Town Hall Meeting on a global approach to preventing violence. NewPublicHealth spoke with Satcher about approaches to preventing violence as a public health issue.
NewPublicHealth: How do you take a public health approach to preventing violence?
David Satcher: When you take a public health approach, public health experts pose four questions:
- First, what is the problem and what is the magnitude, the nature and distribution of the problem?
- The second question is: what is the cause of the problem or the major risk factors for the problem?
- The third question is: what can we do to reduce the risk of the problem?
- And finally, how can we then implement that more broadly throughout society?
So, when we say we’re taking a public health approach, that’s what we’re talking about.
What we’ve tried to do and what we need more of is to really study the different causes of violence and violent episodes. They’re not all the same. I’ve dealt with a lot of the mass murders; I was Surgeon General when Columbine took place and the Surgeon General’s Report on Youth Violence in part evolved from that. And obviously there, as in most mass murders, we’re dealing with, among other things, mental health problems and easy access to weapons combined. I don’t think the same is necessarily true for gang violence, which causes thousands of deaths each year. With youth violence and gangs, I think there you’re dealing with a culture of insecurity where young people feel that in order to protect themselves they need to be members of gangs and they need to be armed.
“We live in a culture of violence,” said Larry Cohen, MSW, founder and executive director of the Prevention Institute, in a morning session on violence prevention at the American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting, held this year in Boston, Mass.
“Just as air, water and soil affect our health, the social environment affects the spread of violence through our communities,” said Cohen.
One of the most important factors in the environment that influences the perpetration of violence is actually more violence. Basically, violence begets violence. It spreads like a disease.
“It’s like the flu,” said Gary Slutkin, MD, PhD, Founder and Executive Director of Cure Violence. “The greatest predictor of a case of the flu is a preceding case of the flu. It’s the same thing with violence. Violence is an infectious disease.”
Slutkin shared a study of one community that found that exposure to community violence in one form or another was associated with a 30 times increased risk of committing violence—but what was most striking is that statistic held true, even controlling for poverty, race, crowded housing and other factors that could have an impact on violence. The effect is also “dose dependent,” according to Dr. Slutkin. That is, the more violence you witness or experience, the more likely you are to perpetrate violence.
The good news is that “we know how to prevent epidemics,” said Slutkin. “We need to recognize that this is a preventable problem. We need to build a movement,” agreed Cohen.
Cure Violence focuses on the very same steps used to prevent the spread of infectious disease in their work to help prevent the spread of violence:
- Detect and interrupt the transmission of violence, by anticipating where violence might occur.
- Change the behavior of those most at risk for spreading violence.
- Change community norms to discourage the use of violence as an acceptable and even encouraged way to handle conflict.