Category Archives: Public health
NIH Releases Tools to Help Older Adults Quit Smoking
While overall U.S. smoking rates are dropping, approximately 10 percent of adults over the age of 65 still smoke. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has created a new online resource with videos, worksheets, interactive tools, strategies, quizzes and more to help older smokers who are thinking about quitting. “Most older adults know that smoking is harmful, and many have tried unsuccessfully to quit, often a number of times. But stopping smoking is a difficult goal that still eludes many older smokers,” said Erik Augustson, program director of the Tobacco Control Research Branch at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which developed the topic for NIHSeniorHealth. “This new topic, which offers a mix of tips and tools geared to the needs and experiences of older smokers, is an important, easy-to-use resource that can benefit those trying to quit for the first time as well as those who have tried before.” Read more on tobacco.
AHA: Only One-third of Cancer Patients with Heart Problems Seek Proper Treatment
Approximately 12 percent of older breast cancer patients go on to develop heart failure within three years—often as a result of their cancer treatment—but only one-third of those patients sought the help of a cardiologist within 90 days of experiencing heart problems, according to the American Heart Association. Patients who do not see a cardiologist are less likely to receive the standard therapy for heart failure, putting them at risk of lower quality of care and demonstrating an important area where oncologists and cardiologists can collaborate, according to Jersey Chen, MD, MPH, lead author of the study and a research scientist and cardiologist at Kaiser Permanente. “The bottom line is, if you have breast cancer and you’re treated with anthracyclines or trastuzumab, you should know they have side effects,” said Chen in a release. “And if you have symptoms of heart problems like shortness of breath or swelling in the feet or legs, seek attention quickly, preferably with doctors familiar and comfortable with treating heart failure after cancer therapy.” Read more on heart health.
Long Hours Spent Sitting Linked to Higher Risk for Colon, Endometrial Cancers
Previous studies have linked extended time spent sitting to health problems such as heart disease, blood clots, higher blood sugar and even early death. According to a new study in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, you can now add increased risk for colon and endometrial cancers to the list. Researchers analyzed the findings of 43 studies covering 70,000 cases of cancer, determining that:
- People who spent the most time sitting during the day had a 24 percent increased risk of getting colon cancer
- People who spent the most time sitting in front of a television has a 54 percent increased risk for colon cancer
- There was a 32 percent increased risk for endometrial—or uterine—cancer for women who spent the most time seated and a 66 percent increased risk for those who watched the most television
- Every two-hour increase in sitting time was linked to an 8 percent increased risk of colon cancer and a 10 percent increased risk of endometrial cancer
Read more on cancer.
Study: Public Transportation Policy Often Doesn’t Take Public Health into Account
Many officials and planners continue to ignore public health issues such as air pollution, crime and numerous traffic hazards when designing transportation projects, according to a new study in the Journal of Planning Education and Research. This is especially true for non-white and poor neighborhoods, which often find themselves along major roads, making this a social justice issue, as well. “The public health effects of heavy traffic are broad,” said study author Carolyn McAndrews, PhD, assistant professor at the University of Colorado Denver’s College of Architecture and Planning. “Studies have found associations between high-traffic roads and high mortality rates, lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, poor birth outcomes and traffic-related injuries.” The study was based on an analysis of Verona Road near Madison, Wisconsin, which can see nearly 60,000 vehicles per day and is in a neighborhood that is home to approximately 2,500 people. Read more on transportation.
CDC Report Finds Up, Downs in Risky Youth Behaviors
The latest Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that while teens are smoking fewer cigarettes and getting into fewer fights, they’re still texting and driving at dangerous rates. The YRBSS—conducted once every two years—monitors an array of risky teen behaviors at the national, state and local levels. It includes data from 42 states and 21 large urban school districts.
Among the findings from the 2013 report:
- Cigarette smoking rates among high school students have dropped to 15.7 percent, meeting the Healthy People 2020 objective of reducing adolescent cigarette use to 16 percent or less
- The percentage of high school students nationwide who had been in a physical fight at least once during the past 12 months decreased from 42 percent in 1991 to 25 percent in 2013
- Fights on school property have been cut in half during the past 20 years, from 16 percent in 1993 to 8 percent in 2013
- 41 percent of students who had driven a car or other vehicle during the past 30 days reported texting or emailing while driving
- The percentage of high school students who are currently sexually active has declined from 38 percent in 1991 to 34 percent in 2013
- Among the high school students who are currently sexually active, condom use also has declined from 63 percent in 2003 to 59 percent in 2013
Read more on pediatrics.
More Active Military Personnel Seeking Mental Health Treatments
The percentage of U.S. military personnel being treated for mental health conditions more than tripled between January 2000 and September 2013, climbing from 1 percent to 3.5 percent, according to a new study in the Medical Surveillance Monthly Report. That comes out to approximately 2,698,903 mental disorder-related treatment courses during the period. In 2012, approximately 232,184 individuals with at least one "initial" mental disorder diagnosis spent a total of 18,348,668 days in mental health disorder treatment. Researchers pointed toward the mental health toll of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the war in Iraq and the war in Afghanistan—as well as an increased emphasis on getting soldiers who need help into treatment—as they main reasons for the increase. Read more on the military and mental health.
A report from a White House Task Force on sexual assaults on campus several weeks ago found that one in five women have been attacked, but only about 12 percent of the attacks are ever reported, often because of a campus climate that places blame on women and sends messages to men that sexual attacks are manly. The task force is asking colleges and universities to survey their students about sexual assault and other “campus climate” issues, and to track assaults and enforcement of campus policies that govern such assaults.
One idea gaining traction for reducing sexual assaults is called bystander intervention, which not only trains individuals to find safe ways to help prevent assaults, but seeks to change the campus cultures that can condone attacks.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Dorothy Edwards, executive director of Green Dot etc., which provides training for high schools and colleges on bystander intervention.
NewPublicHealth: Where does the name Green Dot come from?
Dorothy Edwards: Well, two different ways. I started my career in the field in Texas and for whatever reason for Sexual Assault Awareness Month green was the color of the ribbons. What was more intentional was the “dots” piece. That came out of one of the challenges in mobilizing bystanders to prevention, which is that this issue feels so big. People have been hearing about it for decades and I think there’s a kind of resignation that has settled in. Because when you hear the same number over and over and programs come and programs go and it’s an issue this big, people can just feel that there’s nothing they can do about it. “I’m one person, I can’t change this.”
So, one of the original challenges when we were playing with this idea of bystander intervention and highlighting more the integral role of this kind of third character—apart from victim and perpetrator—was that we knew in order for it to be effective it wasn’t just about skill and knowledge, it was about giving people a sense of possibility, giving people a sense of manageability. And when you say the word dot, a dot is small. So instead of saying we’ve got to change the whole culture, we’ve got to change all college campuses, we’ve got to change sexual assault—which feels so big—we can say to people, gosh, all we need you to actually deal with is a single green dot, a single moment, a single choice. And suddenly something very big feels very small and manageable
Older Hispanics Taking their Medicines Because of Medicare Prescription Drug Plans
Hispanics have reduced the gap with whites in taking prescribed heart medicines since the 2006 launch of Medicare’s prescription drug benefit—Medicare Part D. The findings were reported in a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Quality of Care and Outcomes Research 2014 Scientific Sessions earlier this month. Researchers reviewed prescription drug data from Medicare’s national Medical Expenditure Panel Survey for white, African-American and Hispanic Medicare seniors for the years 2007-10. After Part D, adherence rates increased among all racial groups, with the highest increase in whites and Hispanics, but increased only slightly among African-Americans.
- Hispanics’ total group adherence rate improved about 60 percent.
- Whites’ adherence rate improved 47 percent.
- African-Americans’ adherence rate improved about 9 percent.
Read more on heart health.
USDA Announces Grants to Help Repair Houses in Rural Areas
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced it is seeking applications for grants of about $4 million to preserve and repair housing for very-low- and low-income families living in rural areas. The funds are being made available by the USDA Rural Development's Housing Preservation Grant program. Eligible applicants include town or county governments; public agencies; federally recognized Indian Tribes; and non-profit and faith-based organizations. Applications are due July 28. Examples of previous grants include a 2012 award to Habitat for Humanity Lake County (Calif.), which received a $55,000 Housing Preservation Grant to help 12 low-income homeowners repair their homes. One person helped was a Vietnam veteran who used a wheelchair and could not leave his home without assistance. Habitat for Humanity widened his doorway and installed a wheelchair lift. Read more on housing.
Many U.S. Cancer Survivors Face Serious Financial Burdens
Many U.S. cancer survivors face significant economic burdens due to growing medical costs, missed work and reduced productivity, according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Cancer survivors face physical, emotional, psychosocial, employment and financial challenges as a result of their cancer diagnosis and treatment,” said Donatus U. Ekwueme, PhD, a senior health economist at CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. The number of cancer survivors is expected to increase by more than 30 percent in the next decade—to 18 million Americans. Researchers analyzed data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s 2008-2011 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to estimate annual medical costs and productivity losses among cancer survivors aged 18 years and older, and among persons without a cancer diagnosis. Among those employed, more than 42 percent had to make changes to their work hours and duties. The report also found that about 10 percent of survivors aged 65 years and younger were uninsured and likely to have a larger financial burden compared to survivors with some source of payment for medical services. Read more on cancer.
CDC Study Finds No Significant Change in Use of Smokeless Tobacco
From 2005 to 2010 there was no significant change in the percentage of U.S. working adults who used smokeless tobacco, according to the new National Health Interview Survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2005, approximately 2.7 percent of workers reported using smokeless tobacco, with the percentage climbing slightly to 3.0 percent in 2010; males (5.6 percent) and non-Hispanic whites (4.0 percent) reported the highest usage, followed by adults ages 25-44 years, people with no more than a high school education and people living in the South (all 3.9 percent). By industry, smokeless tobacco use was most common in mining (18.8 percent), and by occupation it was most common in construction and extraction (10.8 percent). According to the CDC, these findings indicate opportunities to engage workers with tobacco cessation efforts, such as providing employee health insurance coverage for proven cessation treatments; offering help for those who want to quit; and establishing and enforcing tobacco-free workplace policies. Read more on tobacco.
6,000 Steps Per Day May Improve Knee Arthritis, Reduce Future Disability Risk
Walking 6,000 steps a day—or about one hour at the average person’s pace—may both help improve knee arthritis and prevent further disability, according to a new study in the journal Arthritis Care & Research. In a study of approximately 1,800 adults who either had knee arthritis or were at risk, researchers found that for every 1,000 steps a person took a day, their functional limitations were reduced by 16-18 percent. The study also pegged 6,000 steps as the target to reach to ensure the healthiest results. Approximately 27 million Americans age 25 and older live with osteoarthritis, which is the most common type of arthritis and often referred to as “wear-and-tear arthritis,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Read more on physical activity.
Study: Great Recession Contributed to Additional 10,000 Suicides in North America, Europe
Stress and other health issues resulting from the Great Recession were associated with more than 10,000 additional economic suicides—suicides in response to financial hardship—between 2008 and 2010 in North America and Europe, according to a new study in The British Journal of Psychiatry. While job loss, debt and foreclosure can increase the risk of suicidal thinking, researchers determined that many such suicides could have been avoided. They recommend upstream return-to-work programs, antidepressant prescriptions and other interventions as ways to mitigate the risk of economic suicides if and when another economic downturn strikes. Read more on the prevention.
Adolescents ages 12-17 in foster care are significantly less likely to talk to a parent or guardian about the dangers of substance use compared to other adolescents, according to a report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). The report found that while 58.9 percent of adolescents living with biological parents have these discussions and 57.6 percent of adolescents living with adoptive parent have the talks, that percentage drops to 51.1 for adolescents in foster care. “Youth in foster care may face special challenges that make it essential that they, like other youth, get effective substance use prevention messaging,” said Frances M. Harding, director of SAMHSA’s Center for Substance Abuse Prevention. “We need to explore innovative approaches to providing this prevention messaging to them—especially in ways that also engage parents and guardians. That’s why we’re very excited about our new national public service campaign, Talk. They Hear You....[which] empowers parents and caregivers to talk to their children as young as nine years old about the dangers of underage drinking.” Read more about substance abuse.
DOT Announces Grants to Improve Transportation that Gets People to Job Training and Other Services
The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced about $100 million in competitive grant funds through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) new Ladders of Opportunity Initiative. The funds can be used to modernize and expand transit bus service specifically for the purpose of connecting disadvantaged and low-income individuals, veterans, seniors, youths and others with local workforce training, employment centers, health care and other vital services.
Proposals from organizations seeking grants must directly address ladders of opportunity for riders, including:
- Enhancing access to work for individuals lacking ready access to transportation, especially in low-income communities
- Supporting economic opportunities by offering transit access to employment centers, educational and training opportunities, and other basic needs
- Supporting partnerships and coordinated planning among state and local governments and social, human service and transportation providers to improve coordinated planning and delivery of workforce development, training, education and basic services to veterans, seniors, youths and other disadvantaged populations
“Over half of the roughly 10 billion transit trips taken each year in the United States are by bus—and nearly half the buses people depend on are in marginal or poor condition,” said FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan. “This new initiative will help ensure that millions of riders can count on safe, efficient, reliable bus service that connects them with opportunities and services so and services so essential to daily life.” Read more on transportation.
Study Finds Link Between Risk of Breast Cancer and Number of Moles
In the future, physicians may be able to improve early breast cancer screening and treatment with a quick count of the number of moles on a patient’s arm, according to a two new studies in the journal PLOS Medicine. American and French researchers, in two separate studies, found a link between the number of moles on a woman’s arm and their risk of breast cancer—one study found that women with 15 or more moles on a single arm were 35 percent more likely to develop breast cancer than were women with no moles. The scientists said one plausible reason for the link is that these women have higher estrogen levels; estrogen can feed the growth and spread of many breast tumors, and research also connects the hormone to moles. However, researchers also noted that more study was needed to reach a definitive conclusion. "Don't panic,” said Barbara Fuhrman, an assistant professor at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences in Little Rock, in an editorial accompanying the studies. “This is very interesting biologically, but it probably doesn't tell us a lot about an individual woman's risk of breast cancer. It probably tells us more about the general etiology [causes] of breast cancer." Read more on cancer.
FDA: Pregnant Women Should Eat More Fish Lower in Mercury
Pregnant women should be eating more fish that is lower in mercury, according to new draft advice from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). According to the FDA, pregnant women should eat 8-12 ounces (2-3 servings) per week of fish that are lower in mercury to support fetal growth and development. “For years many women have limited or avoided eating fish during pregnancy or feeding fish to their young children,” said Stephen Ostroff, MD, the FDA’s acting chief scientist. “But emerging science now tells us that limiting or avoiding fish during pregnancy and early childhood can mean missing out on important nutrients that can have a positive impact on growth and development as well as on general health.” The draft advice also includes new guidelines for breastfeeding women, those who might become pregnant and young children. Read more on maternal and infant health.
Study: Direct, Indirect Costs of Autism are Substantial
It costs an average of $2.4 million to support a person with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and an intellectual disability throughout the course of their life in the United States and $1.4 million to support someone with an ASD but without an intellectual disability, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. With children, the largest contributors to that total are special education services and parental productivity loss. For adults, the largest contributors are residential care or supportive living accommodation and individual productivity loss; adult medical costs are also much higher. According to the researchers, these substantial direct and indirect economic effects illustrate the need to develop more effective interventions to alleviate the strain on families. Read more on pediatrics.
CDC: 29M People in the U.S. have Diabetes—and One in Four Don’t Realize It
More than 29 million people in the United States have diabetes—and one in four don’t even realize it, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The total estimate is up from 26 million in 2010. According to the CDC, one in three U.S. adults (86 million) have prediabetes, meaning their sugar levels are high, but not high enough to be classified as type 2 diabetes; an estimated 15-30 percent of these people will develop type 2 diabetes within 5 years unless they lose weight and increase their physical activity. “These new numbers are alarming and underscore the need for an increased focus on reducing the burden of diabetes in our country,” said Ann Albright, PhD, RD, director of CDC’s Division of Diabetes Translation. “Diabetes is costly in both human and economic terms. It’s urgent that we take swift action to effectively treat and prevent this serious disease.” Read more on diabetes.
NIH Researchers Publish Review of Key Marijuana Adverse Health Effects
As more states consider legalizing marijuana, researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—a division of the National Institutes of Health—have published a review of adverse health effects of the drug, including impaired driving. The review was published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine and the study authors consider a number of key concerns including:
- Rising marijuana potencies
- Possible health consequences of secondhand marijuana smoke
- Long-term impact of prenatal marijuana exposure
- According to the reviewers, research suggests that marijuana impairs critical thinking and memory functions during use and that these deficits persist for days after using
- A long-term study showed that regular marijuana use in the early teen years lowers IQ into adulthood, even if users stopped smoking marijuana as adults.
“It is important to alert the public that using marijuana in the teen years brings health, social, and academic risk,” said lead author and NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, MD. NIDA offers additional information on the consequences of marijuana here. Read more on substance abuse.
Social Media is a Largely Untapped Communications Tool for Health Policy Researchers
As social media use continues to expand, it also presents a growing opportunity for health policy researchers to communicate with both the public and policy makers. However, few of these researchers appear to be using social media to the best of its potential in this field, according to a new study in the journal Health Affairs. The study, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, examined 325 health policy researchers, finding that only 14 percent of participants reported tweeting and only 21 percent noted blogging about their research in the past year. Many cited fears that social media would not be compatible with their research, the creation of professional risks and the lack of respected it is given by their peers or their academic institutions as obstacles to social media use. “Historically, the communication gap between researchers and policy makers has been large,” concluded the authors. “Social media are a new and relatively untested tool, but they have the potential to create new communication channels between researchers and policy makers to help narrow that gap.” Read more on technology.
Study: Many Preschool-aged Children Spending Too Much Time in Front of TVs, Computers
Many three- and four-year-olds are spending more than twice the recommended amount of time—two hours—in front of computers and television screens, according to a new study in the journal Child Indicators Research. Utilizing data on 2,221 preschool-aged children from the 2007 Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey, researchers found that 55.7 percent of children had a television in their bedroom and 12.5 percent had high home screen time, defined as more than four hours each weekday. They also found that 56.6 percent of children had access to a computer at home and 37.5 percent had used it on the last typical weekday. In addition, 49.4 percent of children used a classroom computer for more than one hour each week and 14.2 percent played computer games at school for more than five hours each week. “This research should be used as a foundation for additional studies-- particularly those that look at educational screen time versus entertainment screen time,” said Erica Fletcher, a PhD student at Ohio State’s College of Public Health and lead on the project. “It’s a critical time to dive deeper into that. Since the data were collected, devices with screens like tablets and smart phones have become more affordable and are increasingly being used in the classroom. That has helped narrow the economic ‘digital divide’ on accessibility.” Read more on pediatrics.
During Hurricane Katrina, volunteers at American Red Cross shelters in the Gulf region noticed a pattern among some of the young children settling in as the storm began: They had brought pillowcases from home filled with some of their most precious items, such as a favorite book or a devoted stuffed animal. Other volunteers learned that evacuating college students also carried their belongings in pillowcases.
Following the storm, chapters along the Gulf launched a pilot called the “Pillowcase Project” that earlier this year became a national program of the American Red Cross, sponsored by the Walt Disney Company. Chapters across the country and in several pilot countries are now adapting the project to teach preparedness to children in grades 3 to 5 at school, after school and in camp settings.
“We’re working hard to get kids involved in preparedness,” said Jim Judge, a member of the American Red Cross Scientific Advisory Council. Judge said getting kids involved helps dispel some of the fear they may face as they evacuate to avoid a disaster, “but we’ve also found that if you get the kids involved, often times they go home and get the parents involved [as well].”
But why a pillowcase? “Just about every home has a pillowcase, it’s inexpensive, you can decorate it and it’s a simplified way of getting kids involved,” he said.
In the pilot programs, kids get the pillowcases and supplies such as a mini first-aid kit, a glow stick, an activity book and crayons, all of which they use to start their own personalized disaster kit and preparedness plan. As part of the program, they learn about the types of emergencies that can impact their community and then they do a physical activity—such as leaving the building—to reinforce what they’ve learned. Afterward they talk about the lessons in small discussion groups.
“The hands-on activities will also help to build confidence so that kids are prepared to take action during an emergency,” said Francisco Ianni, who oversees Red Cross youth readiness programs throughout Oregon and Southwest Washington State.
>>Bonus Link: Watch a pillowcase presentation to a group of young students
Overly Clean Homes Can Increase Child’s Risk of Asthma, Allergies
Living in an overly clean home can actually increase an infant’s risk of developing allergies or asthma as they grow older, as their bodies are not given the chance to develop appropriate responses, according to a new study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The researchers behind the study were surprised by the results, as they had been looking deeper into data that found that exposure to roach, mouse and pet droppings and other allergens increased asthma risk. "What we found was somewhat surprising and somewhat contradictory to our original predictions," said study co-author Robert Wood, MD, chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore, according to HealthDay. "It turned out to be completely opposite—the more of those three allergens you were exposed to, the less likely you were to go on to have wheezing or allergy." Approximately 40 percent of the allergy- and wheeze-free children in the study were raised in homes with high amounts of allergens and bacteria, while only 8 percent who suffered from both conditions had been exposed to allergens and bacteria while infants. Read more on pediatrics.
Study: Prenatal Medicaid Policy Reduces Smoking, But Doesn’t Improve Preterm Birthweights
While a Medicaid policy that fast-tracks applications of pregnant women helps reduce smoking during pregnancy, it has no significant effect on improving preterm birth rates or low birth weights, according to a new study in the journal Health Affairs. The study specifically looked at Medicaid’s presumptive eligibility and unborn-child option, which provides coverage for prenatal care. “Although the prevalence of prenatal smoking in the United States has declined in recent decades, it is nearly twice as high among low-income women enrolled in Medicaid than it is in the U.S. population as a whole,” said Marian Jarlenski, PhD, lead author of the paper. “Our research shows that Medicaid’s presumptive eligibility policy led to a nearly 8 percentage-point decrease in smoking during pregnancy, but neither policy significantly improved rates of preterm birth or babies born small for their gestational age.” Read more on maternal and infant health.
CDC: Watercress Tops ‘Powerhouse’ Fruits and Vegetables List
With a “nutrient density score” or 100.00, watercress tops the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new list of “powerhouse” fruits and vegetables. The list of 41 foods was created as a tool for nutrition education and dietary guidance. The study defined “powerhouse” as foods most strongly associated with reduced chronic disease risk, which are often green leafy, yellow/orange, citrus and cruciferous items. Chinese cabbage, chard, beet green and spinach rounded out the top five. The full list is available here. Read more on nutrition.