Category Archives: Safety

May 7 2013
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Bringing Health Into Decisions Across Sectors: HIA on Potential Coal Plant Closure

file The Rise of HIAs in the United States infographic courtesy of the Health Impact Project. View the full infographic below.

The Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, recently announced eight new grant recipients that will receive funding to conduct health impact assessments (HIAs). The projects will bring health considerations into upcoming decisions on topics including education, sanitation infrastructure, and energy.

“Our new grantees will use health impact assessments to uncover opportunities to improve health in a wide range of policy decisions, as well as to identify and avoid potential unintended consequences,” said Aaron Wernham, MD, director of the Health Impact Project. “These eight HIAs are the latest in a fast-growing field, as more cities and states find them a useful way to bring health into decisions in other sectors.”

By the end of 2007, there were 27 completed HIAs in the United States. There are now more than 225 completed or in progress, according to the Health Impact Project map of HIA activity in the United States.

Funding for some of the new proposals was also provided by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation and The California Endowment.

Some of the new HIAs that have received funding include:

  • Partners for a Healthier Community, Inc. will undertake an HIA to inform decisions about a proposed casino in western Massachusetts. Decision-makers—including the state gaming commission, local government officials, and voters—will consider siting options as well as licensing, regulation, design and development of the casino. The HIA will examine health risks that might be linked to gambling—including substance abuse, mental health, and injury—and potential health benefits related to employment opportunity, access to health insurance, and community revenues. 
  • The University of Texas at El Paso, will conduct an HIA on the impacts of proposed water and sanitation improvement projects on the town of Vinton, Texas. Vinton primarily relies on failing septic tanks and cesspools for wastewater removal and domestic wells with poor water quality. Poor water and sanitation are associated with gastrointestinal illnesses and other serious health conditions such as hepatitis, dysentery, and dehydration. Improved systems could not only improve public health but also support economic development and long-term sustainability of local businesses and industry. 
  • An HIA by the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, in collaboration with the Purchase District Health Department, will examine the potential health benefits and risks of the retrofit or retirement of the Shawnee coal plant in Paducah, KY, operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The HIA will analyze environmental health concerns associated with air and water pollution from the plant and the effects of its closure on the community including employment, individual income, and revenue for local services important to health.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with two of the researchers conducting the Shawnee coal plant HIA, Elizabeth Crowe, executive director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, and Deborah Payne, energy and health coordinator for the Foundation.

NewPublicHealth: What is the scope of the HIA you’re conducting? 

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May 7 2013
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Caffeine in Your Jelly Beans?

file Image courtesy of FDA.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced that it will investigate the safety of caffeine in food products, especially the effects of caffeine on children and teens. The FDA’s announcement comes as an increasing number of food companies have introduced food products that contain caffeine—including gum, jelly beans, hot sauce, marshmallows and Cracker Jacks.

Caffeine can be addictive, and can lead to high blood pressure and insomnia, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). AAP discourages the use of caffeine by kids and teens. Caffeine levels vary in the new foods on the market. According to the FDA, a caffeinated version of Wrigley’s gum contains as much caffeine as four ounces of coffee, per piece. The new caffeinated gum packs each contain eight pieces of gum.

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May 6 2013
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Philadelphia Lead Court ‘Gets the Lead Out’ of Older Homes

file Carla Campbell, School of Public Health at Drexel University

While residential use of lead-based paint has been banned in the U.S. since 1978, millions of homes still have the paint, and the health dangers it brings with it, on their walls. Lead paint has been linked to cognitive and behavior issues as well as anemia and even death, especially in young children because their brains are still developing. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about half a million children ages 1 through 5 have potentially dangerous blood lead levels.

In Philadelphia, according to the 2009 American Housing Survey data, 91.6 percent of the housing units were built before 1978. Exacerbating the issue, close to 30 percent of families live in poverty, which can delay household maintenance and lead to peeling paint—a major lead risk to children in older homes. Studies also show that the number of children in Philadelphia with elevated blood levels is higher than the national average.

“This problem requires a public health solution since [preventing childhood] lead exposure…involves multiple stakeholders, including the child and parents, the property owner, and the local authorities who make and enforce laws, ordinances and codes,” says Carla Campbell an associate teaching professor in the School of Public Health at Drexel University. Campbell is the author of a new study on a lead court established in Philadelphia in 2003. The lead court is designed to speed the cleanup of lead hazards in apartments and rented homes. Campbell’s research was funded by the Public Health Law Research, a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based at the Temple University School of Law. Campbell’s study appears in a special issue of the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law focused on public health law research.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Carla Campbell about Philadelphia’s lead court and the implications of its success for other public health issues.

NewPublicHealth: What did your study find?

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May 6 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: May 6

HUD Grants $72M to Improve Local Homeless Programs, Services
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced $72 million in grants to strengthen more than 500 homeless housing and service programs. The grants, which are part of HUD’s Continuum of Care Program, will go toward local programs such as street outreach, client assessment and directing housing assistance. This is the second round of HUD funding this year; the agency gave more than $1.5 billion in grants in March and intends to give a third round later in the year. “We know these modest investments in housing and serving our homeless neighbors not only saves money, but saves lives,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. Read more on housing.

Survey: 90 Percent of Parents Admit to Driving Distracted with Kids in the Car
Approximately 90 percent of parents who drove a child between the ages of 1 and 12 in the past month admit they were distracted by some sort of technology while they were behind the wheel, according to survey findings discussed at the annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Societies in Washington, D.C. The most common distraction was phone calls, with 70 percent. The survey also found that about that same percentage was distracted by either feeding or dealing with the child, or with self-grooming. "A lot of the attention on the distracted-driving issue has focused on teens and new drivers," said author Michelle Macy, MD, a clinical lecturer in the departments of emergency medicine and pediatrics at the University of Michigan. "But our study is showing that most parents say they were distracted an average of four times when driving their child in the last month, which is more frequent than I had expected.” Read more on safety.

Kids Routinely Injured, Killed by Gun Violence; Easy Access a Serious Issue
While it is often the biggest and scariest incidents that garner media coverage, youth are “routinely” injured or killed by gun violence, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers looked at trauma admissions in two Colorado emergency departments over nine years, finding that 129 of the 6,920 children sought treatment for gunshot wounds. “In 14 percent of these cases children managed to get access to unlocked, loaded guns,” said author Angela Sauaia, MD, associate professor at the Colorado School of Public Health and the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “In an area with so much disagreement, I think we can all agree that children should not have unsupervised access to unlocked, loaded guns.” Sauaia noted that as this only includes kids who went to emergency rooms, the actual totals are likely much higher. Read more on violence.

May 3 2013
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Do you know 911’s cousin, 811?

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Did you know that consumers are supposed to call a three-digit number, 811, before starting any digging on residential property? Many would-be diggers don’t, which is why the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) began an 811 public education campaign last month.

PHMSA has good reason for getting the word out. Striking buried lines is a leading cause of pipeline-related death and injury and can lead to service outages in whole neighborhoods. Over the last 20 years, property damage costs were over $500 million nationwide from such strikes.

PHMSA estimated that three out of ten households will begin residential construction or renovation projects this spring. A call to 811, which connects would-be diggers to a local utility’s call center, a few days before planned digging generates a visit from a local representative who will mark the approximate location of nearby underground lines, pipes and cables, so workers can dig safely.

 “We want 811 to become as well-known as 911, because digging without getting your utilities marked is not only dangerous, it can also cut off services to an entire neighborhood and cost you money[in fines],” said PHMSA Administrator Cynthia Quarterman.

Since 811 debuted six years ago, serious pipeline incidents from unsafe digging have decreased by more than 45 percent, according to PHMSA.

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May 1 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: May 1

FDA Approves Plan B One-Step for Women 15 and Older
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved over-the-counter use of the Plan B One-Step emergency contraceptive for women age 15 years or older. The single dose pill previously required a prescription. “Research has shown that access to emergency contraceptive products has the potential to further decrease the rate of unintended pregnancies in the United States,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD “The data reviewed by the agency demonstrated that women 15 years of age and older were able to understand how Plan B One-Step works, how to use it properly, and that it does not prevent the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease.” Last month a federal judge in New York ordered the FDA to make Plan B available to all women and/or make Plan B One-Step available “without age or point of sale restrictions,” according to an FDA release. Read more on teen pregnancy.

Study: Amusement Rides Injure 4,000 U.S. Kids Annually
As the weather warms and families start to plan summer vacations, it’s important for parents to remember to use caution when selecting amusement park rides. More than 4,000 kids are injured on an amusement ride each year in the United States, according to researchers at the Center for Injury Research and Policy at the Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, Ohio. Injuries sent about 93,000 children to emergency rooms between 1990 and 2010, with about 70 percent of those coming May through September. Researchers say the numbers demonstrate the need for standardized safety regulations. "Although the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has jurisdiction over mobile rides, regulation of fixed-site rides is currently left to state or local governments, leading to a fragmented system," said senior author Gary Smith, MD, director of the Center for Injury Research and Policy, in a release. "A coordinated national system would help us prevent amusement-ride-related injuries through better injury surveillance and more consistent enforcement of standards." The study includes safety tips for parents. Read more on safety.

Prevention App Wins HHS Challenge
The winner of the a recent mobile app challenge from U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion is the myfamily app developed by Lyfechannel, a company that translates evidence-based health behavior and adherence studies into mobile applications. App users can find prevention information and tips for each member of their family; create personal health alerts; and keep track of medical check-ups and vaccinations. HHS research shows that patients who are better engaged in their own health care have better health outcomes and that electronic tools can help them be better health consumers. Read more on prevention.

Apr 26 2013
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Simple Changes to Prevent Motor Vehicle Injury and Death

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It has been a busy month for the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Car safety innovations released by the organization in just the last few weeks include:  

  • A free app to help consumers find the safest cars when buying or renting, as well as nearby sites for car seat installation services and checks.
  • New guidelines for auto-makers to help reduce the use of electronic devices while driving, and with that reduce the number of people killed and injured by distracted driving every day. A recent NHTSA survey found that 600,000 drivers talk on their cell phones or use electronic devices at any given daylight moment. More than 3,300 people were killed in 2011 and 387,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver, according to NHTSA data. 
  • A reminder that during the spring and summer highway construction kicks into high gear and drivers need to pay attention to road changes and warnings. In 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, 587 people died in highway work-zone fatalities—an increase of 11 fatalities over 2010.

There’s good reason for NHTSA’s steady supply of information and action. Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has designated the high motor vehicle injury rate as a winnable battle, shows that in the United States, motor vehicle-related injuries are the leading cause of death for people age 5 through 34.

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Apr 5 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: April 5

CDC: Nearly 1 in 3 Americans Suffers from High Blood Pressure
Nearly one in three Americans have high blood pressure, according a new study in the journal Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The number climbed 10 percent from 2005 to 2009, demonstrating an increased need to focus on prevention and treatment. "What we are really concerned about as well is that people who have high blood pressure are getting treated. Only about half of those with hypertension have it controlled," said Fleetwood Loustalot, a researcher at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Uncontrolled hypertension can lead to negative health consequences like heart attacks and strokes." A recent study in the journal BMJ found that even a small reduction in sodium intake can significantly reduce blood pressure, which in turn lessens the risk of heart disease. Read more on heart health.

Court Orders FDA to Make ‘Morning-After’ Pill Available to All Without a Prescription
Calling it the agency’s decision "an excuse to deprive the overwhelming majority of women of their rights to obtain contraceptives without unjustified and burdensome restrictions," a U.S. District Court judge has ordered the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to reverse its stance on “morning-after” contraception pills and make them available to all women without a prescription. The pills are currently available without a prescription only to women age 17 and older. "Women all over the country will no longer face arbitrary delays and barriers just to get emergency contraception," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, which was one of the groups that petitioned FDA to remove the restrictions. Read more on sexual health.

Teen Vogue, Toyota Campaign to Emphasize Safe Driving for Teenage Girls
With automobile collisions the leading cause of teenage deaths, Teen Vogue and Toyota are partnering on the “Arrive in Style” safe driving campaign targeting teenage girls and their mothers. The print, digital, video and social media campaign is set to run through early next year. Teen Vogue will also have monthly features with advice on safe driving. “Teen Vogue’s influential young readers are the perfect ambassadors not only to participate in this initiative, but also to help build awareness and educate their peer groups on the importance of driver safety,” said Jason Wagenheim, Teen Vogue Vice President and Publisher. Read more on safety.

Apr 2 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: April 2

Study: Chickenpox Vaccine Provides Long-Term Protection
A new study published online in the journal Pediatrics confirmed that the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine is effective at preventing chicken pox, and that the effectiveness does not wane over a 14-year period. One dose provided excellent protection against moderate to severe disease. Consistent protection was important because chickenpox infection in older teens and adults can be much more serious than it generally is in childhood, according to the study author, in an interview with HealthDay. The study data also suggest that the vaccine may also reduce the risks of shingles, another type of infection caused by the chickenpox virus that tends to affect people later in life. The study followed a total of 7,585 children vaccinated with varicella vaccine in their second year of life in 1995 for 14 years to see if they developed either chickenpox or shingles. Read more on vaccination.

EPA Proposes Measures to Cut Air Pollution, Improve Population Health
Based on input from auto manufacturers, refiners, and states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new standards for cars and gasoline that will significantly reduce harmful pollution and prevent thousands of premature deaths and illnesses. Once fully in place, experts say the standards will help avoid up to 2,400 premature deaths per year and 23,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children. The measures will also prevent 3,200 hospital admissions and asthma-related emergency room visits, and 1.8 million lost school days, work days and days when activities would be restricted due to air pollution. Total health-related benefits in 2030 are expected to be between $8 and $23 billion annually. The new standards will reduce gasoline sulfur levels by more than 60 percent, which will also enable vehicle emission control technologies to perform more efficiently. Read more on environmental health.

New Jersey Bans Children from Tanning Beds
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill into law on Monday banning children under 17 from using commercial tanning beds. Tanning before age 35 has been shown to increase the risk for melanoma by 75 percent. The new law also bans children under 14 from getting spray tans in tanning salons, which could impact social norms around young teens wanting to look tan if their friends look tan. Read more on safety.

Mar 15 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: March 15

CDC: Distracted Driving a Major Danger in U.S., Younger Populations
About 69 percent of U.S. drivers talk on their phone while behind the wheel and approximately one in three use text messaging or email, according to a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The rates were higher than those seen in several European countries. The study also found that younger men and women were, on average, more likely to engage in the risky behavior. No significant difference in behavior between men and women was found. “Everyone, of every age and generation, has the ability to make a decision to drive distraction-free,” said Linda C. Degutis, DrPH, MSN, director of CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “It’s especially risky for young, inexperienced drivers—who are already extremely vulnerable to crashes—to be distracted when they are behind the wheel. Answering a call or reading a text is never worth a loss of life.” Read more on safety.

High-fat Dairy Foods Increase Breast Cancer Survivors Change of Death
Breast cancer survivors who consume high-fat dairy foods are at higher risk of dying of cancer than those who consumer little or none of the food type, according to a new study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Researchers found that they were at a 49 percent higher risk of death. High-fat dairy foods include ice cream, butter and certain kinds of cheeses. While the risk in absolute terms is a 12 percent risk of dying of breast cancer, researchers said this “modest” increase justifies the relatively easy lifestyle change of cutting out high-fat dairy foods. Read more on cancer.

National Salmonella Outbreak in Kids Linked to Type of Frog
A 2008-2011 outbreak of Salmonella Typhimurium in kids has been linked to African dwarf frogs kept as pets, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. There were 376 cases in 44 states and 29 percent of the cases led to hospitalizations, though no one died. Most victims were less than 10 years old. The researchers said too few parents are aware of the salmonella risk from reptiles and amphibians, which require diligent handwashing and careful maintenance of their habitats. Children under age 5 are at especially high risk and should have no contact with African dwarf frogs or their environments. Read more on infectious disease.