Category Archives: Obesity

Jan 28 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: January 28

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Obese Children More Susceptible to Air Pollution-Related Asthma
Obese children are more susceptible to air pollution-related asthma, according to a new study in the journal Environmental Research. Researchers followed the health of 311 children, ages 5 and 6, in predominantly Dominican and African-American neighborhoods of New York City, finding that high exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)—a family of air pollutants—was only associated with asthma among obese children The study determined that obese children exposed to the PAH chemicals 1-methylphenanthrene and 9- methylphenanthrene were two to three times more likely to have asthma. PAHs are emitted by vehicles, cigarette smoke, cooking, incense, burning candles and various other indoor sources. Two possible explanations for the disparity are that obese children tend to be less active, so are more likely to be exposed to indoors sources of PAH, and that they may breathe more rapidly than children of healthier weights Better understanding of the risk factors opens the door to more targeted interventions. “These findings suggest that we may be able to bring down childhood asthma rates by curbing indoor, as well as outdoor, air pollution and by implementing age-appropriate diet and exercise programs,” said senior author Rachel Miller, MD, professor of medicine (in pediatrics) and environmental health sciences, and co-deputy director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health. Read more on pediatrics.

Report: Antibiotics Dangerous to Humans Still Used in Livestock
Despite knowing their risk to humans, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to allow the use of certain antibiotics as additives in animal feed and water, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council based on documents acquired under the Freedom of Information Act. In a review from 2001 to 2010 the FDA concluded that 30 such antibiotics posed a significant risk of exposing people to antibiotic- resistance bacteria. The drugs were approved for “non-therapeutic” use in farm animals, such as preventing disease or promoting growth of the animals, instead of treating specific illnesses. In December the FDA announced its intention to combat the spread of antibacterial resistance by prohibiting the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals for food production purposes, while also adding veterinary oversight to therapeutic use of the drugs in animals. Read more on food safety.

Residents of Public Housing Developments, Rental Assistance Units See Significant Gap in Oral Health Care
People who live in public housing developments and rental assistance units are less likely to have routine preventive dental care and more likely to have suffered serious oral health issues related to tooth loss, according to a new study in The Journal of Urban Health. The study was conducted by the Partners in Health and Housing Prevention Research Center (PHH-PRC) at the Boston University School of Public Health. The researchers looked at four indicators for people living in Boston’s publicly supported housing: having had a dental visit in the last year, having had a dental cleaning in the last year, having had six or more teeth extracted, and having dental insurance. They found that people in public housing, despite being as likely to have had a dental visit in the past year, were significantly less likely to have had a cleaning. The gap in health care is especially serious for the seniors in this already vulnerable population: Compared to younger residents, seniors 65-75 years old were 30 times as likely to have had six or more teeth removed. Read more on prevention.

Jan 23 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: January 23

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HHS to Form Committee to Address Children’s Needs in Disasters
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is forming a new advisory committee to help meet the particular needs of children before, during and after a disaster or other public health emergency. The committee will seek to bring together experts from the scientific, public health and medical fields. HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) also created the Children’s HHS Interagency Leadership on Disasters (CHILD) working group in 2010, which has so far increased interagency coordination and recommendations to improve lifesaving care for children in disasters; developed ways to mitigate the behavioral and psychological needs of children in disasters; and identification of medications and vaccines for children in emergencies. The deadline for nominations for committee membership is Feb. 14. Read more on disasters.

Study: Cold Weather May Help People Lose Weight
There’s at least one benefit to the frigid air currently blanketing much of the country—regular exposure to mild cold may help people lose weight and sustain healthier weights, according to a new study in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. However, that also means that the during the winter, when most buildings keep their temperature warmer, our body is working less to stay warm, so using less energy. "Since most of us are exposed to indoor conditions 90 percent of the time, it is worth exploring health aspects of ambient temperatures," said first author of the article Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt of Maastricht University Medical Center in The Netherlands. "What would it mean if we let our bodies work again to control body temperature? We hypothesize that the thermal environment affects human health and more specifically that frequent mild cold exposure can significantly affect our energy expenditure over sustained time periods." Read more on obesity.

AHA, NFL App to Encourage Kids’ Physical Activity
The American Heart Association and the National Football League have released a new app, NFL Play 60, to encourage kids to get the full 60 minutes of daily recommended physical activity. In the interactive running experience, players dropped into a virtual world full of obstacles, and have to run, jump, pivot and turn in place to make their app character do the same and navigate the world.  “One-third of U.S. children and adolescents are overweight or obese and at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke. Engaging young people in physical activity is one of the best ways to decrease their risk for heart disease,” said Mariell Jessup, MD, President of the American Heart Association.  “We’re proud to partner with the NFL in developing an innovative way to reach adolescents, through their schools and now via their smartphones, in an effort to impact their lives earlier to make their lives longer.” The app is available for free download in the iTunes store starting today and will be available for Android on Feb. Read more on physical activity.

Jan 20 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: January 20

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Arab Countries at Risk of Halting Progress in Life Expectancy, Child Mortality
If left unaddressed, the increasing problems of chronic disease, diet-related risk factors and road injury deaths could hamper the progress that countries in the Arab world have made in life expectancy and child mortality over the past two decades, according to a new study in The Lancet. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME)-led study analyzed data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD), finding that all 22 nations of the Arab League saw life expectancy increase for women from 1990 to 2010, and all but one saw increases for men (Kuwait, which was already at 76.8 in 1990 and dipped to only 76.1). However, societal changes linked to income levels are also bringing with them new issues. For example, higher-income countries where food is more abundant are seeing poorer diets and decreased physical activity. “The Arab countries are in transition from places where infectious diseases are the main cause of concern to places where heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are the main worries,” said IHME Director Christopher Murray, MD. “Right now, in the low-income countries, they are suffering from a double burden of non-communicable and infectious diseases. And that causes an incredible strain on their health systems.” Read more on global health.

Study: Cutting Fast Food Not Enough—Education Nutrition Also Needed to Combat Childhood Obesity
Cutting back or even cutting out fast food alone is not enough to combat the childhood obesity epidemic, with increased focus on the rest of diet also necessary, including proper education on nutrition, according to a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Researchers analyzed data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, looking at information on nearly 4,500 U.S. kids ages 2 to 18 from 2007 to 2010. The study found that nearly 40 percent of kids consumed up to 30 percent of their total calories from fast food, with 10 percent consuming more than 30 percent. They also found that kids who ate more fast food also tended to make unhealthy eating choices outside of fast food restaurants. "The fact that fast-food diners—especially adolescents—tend to choose nutrient-poor foods outside of the fast-food meal demonstrates the need for better nutrition education and a focus on the whole diet to meet health needs," said Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis. Read more on nutrition.

FDA Approves First Post-natal Test to Diagnose Development Delays, Intellectual Disabilities
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted approval for the marketing of a first-of-its-kind test to help diagnose developmental delays and intellectual disabilities in children. The post-natal blood test analyzes the entire genome in search of chromosomal variations of different types, sizes, and genome locations; disabilities such as Down syndrome and DiGeorge syndrome are linked to chromosomal variations. “This new tool may help in the identification of possible causes of a child’s developmental delay or intellectual disability, allowing health care providers and parents to intervene with appropriate care and support for the child,” said Alberto Gutierrez, PhD, director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. Read more on mental health.

Jan 14 2014
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New Institute of Medicine 'Obesity Solutions' Roundtable Begins Its Work

Earlier this week a new Roundtable on Obesity Solutions, established by the Institute of Medicine (IOM), convened its first meeting in Washington, D.C.

The goal of the Roundtable, which plans to meet over the next several years, is to engage leadership from multiple sectors to help solve the U.S. obesity crisis. According to the IOM, more than one third of adults and 17 percent of children and adolescents are obese, and some estimates tag the cost of obesity at almost 10 percent of the national health care budget. Obesity also increases rates of chronic disease and their associated costs. The Roundtable will convene meetings, public workshops, background papers and “innovation collaboratives” with a goal of “accelerating and sustaining progress in obesity prevention and care,” according chair Lynn Parker, formerly with the Food Research and Action Center in New York City.

The overarching themes of the Roundtable will include:

  • Viewing the problem of obesity from a systems perspective
  • Achieving health equity through focused action and research
  • Developing and using effective communication strategies
  • Identifying innovative financing mechanisms
  • Evaluating progress

The opening speaker at this week’s meeting was Bill Dietz, a former Director of the Division of Nutrition and Physical Activity at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and now a consultant to the Institute of Medicine. Dietz pointed to reports last year that found signs of progress in efforts to reverse the obesity epidemic, with decreases in obesity among preschoolers from low-income families in 18 states.

“Change is beginning and change in a positive direction is taking place,” said Dietz. “The challenge is how we, working together, manage to accelerate this progress. How do we make the decline of obesity the norm and the mainstream of the future?”

file From 2008 to 2011, there were widespread decreases in obesity rates among preschool children from low-income families.

Dietz said that research shows that obesity among women has plateaued, which could indicate gains to come if compared with the history of smoking reduction, which showed plateaus in rates of smoking just before major policy changes. Dietz said subsequent initiatives were successful because the public was already aware of the dangers.

Presenters were asked to suggest innovative ideas for preventing obesity and reducing rates overall. Among them were:

  • Making physical activity a core component of the school day
  • Engaging parents
  • Tailoring interventions to culture and audience
  • Sustainable approaches, including businesses working on obesity prevention and sharing what works best for them

Several speakers mentioned the need to account for different community needs when addressing obesity.

“Each community faces different challenges so the multifaceted approach will look different in each community,” said speaker Jeff Levi, PhD, executive director of advocacy group Trust for America’s Health.

“We’ll make change by making the healthy choice the easier choice and a health in all policies approach,” said Howard Koh, MD, MPH, assistant secretary for health at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Jan 6 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: January 6

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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.

Dec 3 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: December 3

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NIH to Direct Additional $100M Toward Research in an HIV Cure
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced plans to invest an additional $100 million over the next three fiscal years in research directed toward a cure for HIV. Over the past three decades, NIH-funded research has led to the development of more than 30 antiretroviral drugs and drug combinations targeting HIV. Anthony S. Fauci, MD, director of the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that growing knowledge about HIV, along with the development of new treatment strategies, makes the moment “ripe to pursue HIV cure research with vigor.” “Although the HIV/AIDS pandemic can theoretically be ended with a concerted and sustained scale-up of implementation of existing tools for HIV prevention and treatment, the development of a cure is critically important, as it may not be feasible for tens of millions of people living with HIV infection to access and adhere to a lifetime of antiretroviral therapy,” he said in a statement. Read more on HIV/AIDS.

Hong Kong Announces First Human Case of H7N9 Avian Flu
H7N9 avian flu appears to have spread from mainland China, with Hong Kong reporting its first human case of the deadly avian flu strain. A 36-year-old Indonesian domestic helper is in critical condition after travelling to Shenzhen and buying, slaughtering and eating an apparently infected chicken. Earlier this year a report of human infection in Shanghai was quickly followed by the confirmation of more than 100 cases. While closing down live poultry markets in the area caused the number of new cases to drop, the World Health Organization has confirmed a total of 139 cases and 45 deaths. Ko Wing-man, Hong Kong's secretary for food and health, said Hong Kong has raised its level of preparedness for an avian flu pandemic to "serious," and the city has suspended the importation of live chickens from certain Shenzhen farms as it also investigates its own stock. Read more on infectious disease.

Study: ‘Benign’ or ‘Healthy’ Obesity May Not Exist
Despite what some health professionals believe, “benign obesity” may not exist, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. People who are overweight or obese without health issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes or other metabolic issues are still at increased risk of major health problems when compared with metabolically healthy, normal-weight people. The researchers looked at the results of eight studies covering more than 61,000 people, finding that in follow-ups of at least 10 years later the people who were overweight but without the risk factors were still at an increased risk of 24 percent for heart attack, stroke and even death. One explanation could be that these overweight people without the risk factors actually do have the risk factors, only at low levels that are difficult to detect, and that then become gradually worse. The results indicate that physicians should look at both body mass and metabolic tests when determining a patient’s health. Read more on obesity.

Nov 25 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: November 25

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FDA Approves Vaccine for H5N1 Strain of Avian Flu
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first adjuvanted pandemic influenza vaccine for the prevention of the H5N1 strain of the avian flu, also known as bird flu. While most influenza A viruses do not infect people, H5N1 does and has demonstrated a 60 percent mortality rate when a person becomes infected. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has added the vaccine to the National Stockpile. “This vaccine could be used in the event that the H5N1 avian influenza virus develops the capability to spread efficiently from human to human, resulting in the rapid spread of disease across the globe,” said Karen Midthun, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “Vaccines are critical to protecting public health by helping to counter the transmission of influenza disease during a pandemic.” Read more on infectious diseases.

Study: Excessive Television Watching Equals Excess Weight in Kids
Children and teenagers who spend excessive amounts of time watching television or in front of other screens are also more inclined to be overweight or obese, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers analyzed data on nearly 8,000 boys and girls, ages 9-16, finding that each additional hour a day spent watching television was linked to a body mass index (BMI) scale increase of about 0.1 points, or about half a pound. Kids who watch television or play video/computer games are not only for the most part physically idle, but also more likely to snack. While many parents believe their kids spend a reasonable amount of time in front of screens, the reality is that most kids in the United States and Canada surpass the recommended daily limit of two hours. "We don't pay attention to the fact that it's half an hour here, half an hour there, an hour here, an hour there," said Mark Tremblay, director of Healthy Active Living and Obesity Research at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottawa, Canada, who was not a part of the study. Read more on obesity.

Study: One in 10 U.S. Kids has ADHD
About one in 10 U.S. children have attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a new study in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. A 2011 poll of more than 95,000 parents found 11 percent of kids ages 4-17 had ADHD, up from 9.5 percent in 2007. The number of kids on ADHD medication also climbed about 1 percent, with research showing that half the kids with ADHD are diagnosed before the age of 6. "This finding suggests that there are a large number of young children who could benefit from the early initiation of behavioral therapy, which is recommended as the first-line treatment for preschool children with ADHD," study author and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) researcher Susanna Visser. The study also found that while the number of kids with ADHD is still climbing, it is no longer climbing as fast—the rate was increasing about 6 percent a year in the mid-2000s, but was only 4 percent a year from 2007 to 2011. Read more on pediatrics.

Nov 21 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: November 21

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CDC Releases ‘Winnable Battles Progress Report 2010-2015’
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released its Winnable Battles Progress Report 2010-2015, which details the progress made in key areas where CDC has determined that progress is possible. The individual reports detail what’s been accomplished, and what still needs to be accomplished, to reach these goals by 2015.  They include healthcare-associated infections; tobacco; nutrition, physical activity and obesity; food safety; motor vehicle safety; teen pregnancy; and HIV prevention. “By implementing the programs with the greatest potential impact, we are addressing Americans’ biggest health challenges while we try to get the most health bang for precious resources,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. Read more on the CDC.

Study: One-third of Kids’ Calories from Schools, Stores, Fast Food Restaurants are ‘Empty Calories’
In the battle to improve nutrition for kids, parents need to look beyond just fast food restaurants and take a closer look at food from grocery stores and at schools. A new study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that roughly a third of the calories consumed from each of these three sources constituted “empty calories” coming from added sugar or solid fat. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends between 8 and 19 percent of calories should be “empty” for both kids and adults; excessive empty calories can lead to weight gain and obesity. While all three sources offered high counts of empty calories, they did so for different reasons, demonstrating the need to tailor health efforts to meet their particular obstacles. "Our study found that 20 percent of pizza and 22 percent of high-fat milk consumed by kids are provided by schools, and 72 percent of sugar-sweetened beverages like sodas, fruit drinks, sports drinks and energy drinks consumed by kids are obtained from grocery stores," said study author Jennifer M. Poti, a doctoral candidate in nutritional epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Read more on nutrition.

American Headache Society: New Guidelines on Treating Migraines, Limiting Unnecessary Treatments
The American Headache Society has issued new guidelines on how physicians can better treat patients with migraines while limiting unnecessary or even risky treatments. For example, because of their serious long-term risks, opiod painkillers such as OxyContin and Vicodin, as well as the barbiturate butalbital, should not be the first treatments prescribed. Also, CT scans should only be limited to non-emergency situations when possible, as MRIs are both able to diagnose more conditions and do not expose patients to radiation. "Our aim is to encourage doctors and patients to think carefully about medical care that can be harmful or unnecessary," said Elizabeth Loder, MD, president of the American Headache Society. "We didn't approach this with cost uppermost in mind. The goal is to help address the problems of low-value care." Approximately 12 percent of Americans are estimated to suffer from migraines. Read more on migraines.

Nov 13 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: November 13

Workplace Injuries Cost U.S. Healthcare System $13.1B in 2011
With nearly the highest injury rate of all U.S. industries, workplace injuries cost the U.S. healthcare system approximately $13.1 billion and more than 2 million lost workdays in 2011, according to a new study in the journal Professional Safety. “Healthcare worker injury rates are only less than outdoor wilderness professions, such as commercial loggers and fishermen. The injury rates are sky high," said report author Scott Harris, PhD, MSPH, the director of EHS advisory services for UL Workplace Health and Safety. The study found that 15.2 million employees were injured that year alone, with the most common injuries coming from slips, trips, falls, violence and chemical exposure; nurses experienced the highest rates. The report concluded that hospitals “would benefit from more rigorous and frequent inspections from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.” Read more on injury prevention.

Even Healthy Overweight People at Increased Risk for Heart Disease
Even overweight people who are otherwise healthy are at increased risk for heart disease, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. Previous research indicated that higher-than-normal risk was linked to a collection of risk factors known as “metabolic syndrome,” including large waist circumference, high blood pressure, high triglycerides, low "good" cholesterol and diabetes. People have metabolic syndrome if they have at least three of the risk factors. However, in a study of 71,527 adults without heart problems, researchers determined that risk went up as weight went up, even if metabolic syndrome factors were absent. "Whether you call someone as having or not having metabolic syndrome as kind of a yes/no variable, is not helpful clinically and it doesn't make sense biologically," said Meir J. Stampfer, from the Harvard School of Public Health, according to Reuters. "It's basically just that the metabolic syndrome is waiting to happen to those people." Read more on obesity.

New Statin Guidelines Call For Greater Use
New guidelines from the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology could dramatically increase the number of people taking cholesterol-lowering statins. The guidelines call for people to take statins if they already have heart disease, if their bad (LDL) cholesterol is extremely high (190 milligrams per deciliter of blood or more) or if they're middle-aged with type 2 diabetes. They also advise statins for people who are 40-75 years old with an estimated 10-year risk of heart disease of 7.5 percent or more. Previous guidelines had advised doctors to follow rigid clinical guidelines that trigger statin use when cholesterol levels reach a certain threshold. The new policy "suggests treatment should be individualized and that, depending on your risk, you may need a higher dose of a more potent statin than if your risk is lower," said Hector Medina, MD, a cardiologist at Scott & White Healthcare in Round Rock, Texas, according to HealthDay. Read more on heart health.

Nov 5 2013
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Gaining Traction on Childhood Obesity in New England

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Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation’s work on childhood obesity is driven by one startling fact: one in three Massachusetts children are overweight or obese. To find out why, Executive Director Karen Voci and her colleagues went to the places where children learn and play—schools, after school programs and child care centers— and found that children were sitting for most of the day and foods were heavy on starch and sugar. With a limited budget, Voci and her team found opportunities and partners in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine to improve childhood obesity rates.

“It’s hard to measure what you’re accomplishing,” said Voci at one session during the American Public Health Association (APHA) 2013 meeting. “These environments look and feel different, but it’s hard to capture this feeling in a meaningful statistic that can be used further down the road.”

As a result, most of the results shared focused on process and intermediate outcomes rather than actual health outcomes—for now—but the communities are optimistic that they’re moving in the right direction.

Voci underscored the importance of staying committed, noting that Harvard Pilgrim and its partners had been at this for years and they were in fact moving the needle. Session presenters shared successes from Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine.

Massachusetts

Harvard Pilgrim partnered with the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and other foundations and businesses on the Mass in Motion initiative to combat childhood obesity in its home state. Led by their elected officials, 14 communities developed health improvement plans and received technical assistance to improve local food sources and increase physical activity. The multifaceted initiative included a “call to action” report, as well as a Governor’s Executive order establishing a nutrition standard for the food procured for the state of Massachusetts. In addition, the program implemented a body mass index (BMI) regulation that required schools to screen children’s BMI in order to identify potential issues early. The Department of Public Health worked within these communities to share information on physical activity and nutrition, all culminating in growth of the program to 52 communities in the state.

Communities in Eastern Massachusetts are showing concrete signs of progress on the childhood obesity front. Reports from this summer have shown that the obesity rate for the region’s children under six years of age has decreased by 21.4 percent—likely due in part to initiatives such as Mass in Motion, the Cambridge Healthy Children Task force and Shape Up Somerville.

New Hampshire

CATCH Kids Club is an evidence-based, after-school environment that has been adopted by 117 sites in nine of New Hampshire’s ten counties. The CATCH program promotes exercise and healthy eating in elementary school children with a four-phased approach:

  • Curriculum development
  • Staff and booster training
  • Staff support
  • Environment and policy assessment

In the environment and policy assessment phase, CATCH found that 93 percent of participating after-school programs made four or more changes to improve children’s physical activity and healthy eating. In addition, most sites now offer programs that promote these goals between three and five times a week.

Maine

In Maine, the Let’s Go! 5210 Goes to School program offers resources to help schools create a culture of health. It aims to take the focus off of the highly charged weight management issue and shift it toward four simple and embraceable goals for each day:

  • Eat 5 fruits and vegetables
  • Limit screen time to 2 hours or less
  • Get at least 1 hour of exercise
  • Drink 0 sugary drinks

While each school decides which of these four goals it would like to adopt, they often end up promoting all four points of the program as time goes on. In fact, the 5210 initiative reaches children in all 16 Maine counties in schools, after school programs, early childhood education, doctors’ offices and more locations.

One of the key lessons learned was to engage busy school representatives at a level that made sense for them. “Don’t ask them to do something unrealistic,” said Torey Rogers of the Let’s Go! 5210 Goes to School Program and The Barbara Bush Children’s Hospital at Maine Medical Center.

Representatives from each of these programs offered insights and lessons learned when it comes to working with schools. When speaking with school representatives, organizations are often successful when they relate the goal back to the mission of schools: education. By highlighting the secondary benefits to attendance and active participation of students, organizations can engage teachers as partners in public health initiatives.

>>For more information on the successes of state and community efforts to reduce childhood obesity, view an interactive map on the signs of progress on childhood obesity.

>>NewPublicHealth will be on the ground throughout the APHA conference speaking to public health leaders and presenters, hearing from attendees on the ground and providing updates from sessions, with a focus on how we can build a culture of health. Follow the coverage here.