Category Archives: Environmental health

Apr 16 2014
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A Behind the Scenes Look at a Documentary Series on Climate Change

Sabrina McCormick, PhD, is a sociologist, filmmaker, and an associate professor of environmental and occupational health for the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University. She is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars program.

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The first episode of Years of Living Dangerously, a new documentary series exploring the human impact of climate change, aired last Sunday on Showtime. I worked on the series as associate producer and producer, but I am also a scientist who has been studying the impact of climate change on human health for almost a decade. In all that time, I’d developed a good grasp of what climate change looks like from a scientific point of view. But working on the series made me learn a lot more about what climate change looks like, not just here in the United States but worldwide.

This documentary television series consists of nine episodes featuring star correspondents as they meet experts and visit ordinary people who have lived through extreme weather events triggered by climate change. James Cameron, Jerry Weintraub, and Arnold Schwarzenegger served as executive producers of the series, along with former 60 Minutes producers Joel Bach and David Gelber. I worked with Matt Damon on an upcoming segment about heat waves and with Michael C. Hall on another story focusing on Bangladesh, a nation already vulnerable to extreme weather.

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Nov 19 2013
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Childhood Lead Exposure: Piling Disadvantage onto Some of the Country’s Most Vulnerable Kids

Sheryl Magzamen, PhD, MPH, is an assistant professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program (2007-2009). She recently published two studies exploring the link between early childhood lead exposure and behavioral and academic outcomes in Environmental Research and the Annals of Epidemiology. She discusses both below.

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Human Capital Blog: What are the main findings of your study on childhood lead exposure and discipline?

Sheryl Magzamen: We found that children who had moderate but elevated exposure lead in early childhood were more than two times as likely as unexposed children to be suspended from school, and that’s controlling for race, socioeconomic status, and other covariates. We’re particularly concerned about this because of what it means for barriers to school success and achievement due to behavioral issues.

We are also concerned about the fact that there‘s a strong possibility, based on animal models, that neurological effects of lead exposure predispose children to an array of disruptive or anti-social behavior in schools. The environmental exposures that children have prior to going to school have been largely ignored in debates about quality public education.

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Oct 31 2013
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Human Capital News Roundup: The cost of disposable diapers, toxins in fish, fast food calories, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast, and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni, and grantees. Some recent examples:

WNYC in New York City broadcast an interview with RWJF Community Health Leader Joanne Goldblum about families reusing disposable diapers due to economic hardship. Goldblum, who is founder and executive director of the National Diaper Bank Network, conducted a study that shows how the practice leads to a range of problems for families living in poverty.

When it comes to digital health and new ways to deliver care, the focus should be on the consumer and improving outcomes, not on the technology, according to experts at a recent Connected Health Symposium in Boston, Massachusetts. Mobile Health News reports that Propeller Health (formerly Asthmapolis) CEO David Van Sickle, PhD, MA, an RWJF Health & Society Scholars alumnus, pressed for greater emphasis on outcomes.  Read more about Van Sickle’s work here and here.

An American Thoracic Society panel of experts, including RWJF Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI) grantee Richard Mularski, MD, is calling for better care for those who suffer severe shortness of breath due to advanced lung and heart disease. The Annals of the American Thoracic Society reports that the panel recommends patients and providers develop individualized actions plans to keep episodes from becoming emergencies, Medical Xpress reports.

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Aug 8 2013
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Human Capital News Roundup: ‘The Machine Zone,’ the nation’s energy future, gender roles in after-school activities, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni and grantees. Some recent examples:

Natasha Dow Schüll, PhD, MA, an alumna of the RWJF Health & Society Scholars program who has studied ways the gambling industry has designed machines to encourage addiction, spoke to The Atlantic about “the machine zone… where the mind goes as the body loses itself in the task.” Those specific behavioral loops also arise when people use social media services like Facebook, The Atlantic reports. Read more about Schüll’s research.

The New York Times’ Dot Earth blog reports on an open letter co-authored by RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research recipient Matthew C. Nisbet, PhD, to Google’s executive leadership about its decision to host a fundraising luncheon for Sen. James M. Inhofe, a longtime, outspoken critic of scientists who warn about climate change. Google has in recent years “gained a green reputation by investing aggressively in renewable energy projects,” the blog reports, so the decision to support Inhofe took many by surprise.

RWJF Executive Nurse Fellow Loraine Frank-Lightfoot, DNP, MBA, RN, NEA-BC, chief nursing officer of Wooster Community Hospital, spoke to the Akron Beacon Journal about an agreement that will allow pediatricians at Akron Children’s Hospital to oversee the care of all pediatric patients hospitalized at Wooster.

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Jul 25 2013
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Human Capital News Roundup: Mortality rates for non-drinkers, screening newborns for rare diseases, air conditioners’ impact on climate, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni and grantees. Some recent examples:

Previous research has shown that non-drinkers have a slightly higher mortality risk than light drinkers, and a study co-authored by RWJF Health & Society Scholars alumnus Patrick Krueger, PhD, is the first to examine the characteristics and mortality risks of non-drinker subgroups to explain the phenomenon. The study confirms that some, but not all, subgroups of non-drinkers have a higher mortality rate than light drinkers, and uncovers some of the reasons. Among the outlets to report on the findings: Health Canal, the Aspen Business Journal, Science Daily and the Denver Journal.

The research of Health & Society Scholars alumnus Andrew Papachristos, PhD, is informing a new technique used by the Austin Police District in Chicago to quell gang violence, the Chicago Tribune reports. Papachristos found that much of the violence on the West Side of Chicago involves a relatively small number of victims and offenders. The Austin District has put those people on a “heat list” and will begin visiting them individually to issue warnings to stop the violence.

States that have expanded family planning services under Medicaid have seen an increase in women receiving potentially life-saving Pap tests and breast exams, according to a study led by Health & Society Scholar Laura Wherry, PhD. Health Canal and Medical XPress are among the outlets to report on the findings.

Rather than becoming depressed or anxious, people who find out they have a gene that predisposes them to Alzheimer’s disease often take steps to reduce their risk, including exercise, healthier diets, and vitamins and medications, according to a study led by RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research Jason Karlawish, MD. GenomeWeb reports on the findings.

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Jul 18 2013
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Human Capital News Roundup: Interpreters at pediatric appointments, air pollution’s effect on life expectancy, fast food restaurants near schools, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni and grantees. Some recent examples:

The majority of pediatricians use bilingual family members instead of professional interpreters to communicate with patients with limited understanding of English, according to a study led by RWJF Clinical Scholars alumna Lisa DeCamp, MD. Family members may make errors or withhold sensitive or painful information, DeCamp told Reuters. Two other Clinical Scholars alumnae, who were not involved in the study, also spoke to Reuters about the findings: Lisa Diamond, MD, MPH, and Darcy Thompson, MD, MPH.

Nearly 500 million people living north of the Huai River in Northern China will lose an estimated 2.5 billion life years—or five years each, on average—because of air pollution from widespread coal burning, the Washington Post reports. The data come from a new study co-authored by RWJF Scholars in Health Policy Research alumni Michael Greenstone, PhD, and Avraham Ebenstein, PhD. Greenstone tells the Washington Post he was “surprised by the magnitude of the effect.”

A study led by RWJF Health & Society Scholars alumna Magdalena Cerdá, PhD, MPH, finds New York City saw a sevenfold increase in opioid overdoses from 1990 to 2006, Pain Medicine News reports. The trend has largely been driven by White individuals who live in areas with “high income inequality but lower than average rates of poverty.”

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Jul 15 2013
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RWJF Fellow Named White House "Champion of Change"

Laura Anderko, an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellows (ENF) program (2005-2008), received a prestigious honor from the White House last week for her work to protect health in a changing climate.

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The Robert and Kathleen Scanlon Endowed Chair in Values Based Health Care at the School of Nursing & Health Studies at Georgetown University, Anderko was named a “Champion of Change” by the White House. On July 9, she and 10 other “champions” who work at the intersection of the climate and public health attended an event with top government officials to discuss their work.

Anderko, PhD, RN, said in an interview that she was “honored, thrilled, and surprised” to receive the recognition and added that the honor will help raise awareness of the health implications of climate change. My hope, she said, is that this award helps this issue gain “more prominence in the minds of society, not just in America, but globally.”

The ENF program had a “huge impact” on my career, she added. It allowed me to “really immerse myself in environmental health” and taught me to “think big and consider unusual and unlikely partners”—a theme she addressed during the July 9 event at the White House.

“Champions of Change” are recognized by the White House for their work in a wide range of fields. The program was created as an opportunity for the administration to recognize American individuals, businesses and organizations that are “doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities.”

“Laura Anderko is making strong efforts to change her community’s ways on treating the environment and is leading the way on climate and health,” a White House release stated.

Learn more about Champions of Change here.

May 2 2013
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Human Capital News Roundup: Medication errors affecting children with cancer, particulate matter, the needs of urban communities, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni and grantees. Some recent examples:

CBS Evening News profiled RWJF Community Health Leader Roseanna Means, MD, who founded the nonprofit Women of Means in 1988 to provide free medical care to homeless women in the Boston area. Today, 16 volunteer doctors and staff nurses provide care at the city’s shelters to women with unique sensitivities and needs. Read a post Means wrote about her nonprofit for the RWJF Human Capital Blog.

A study led by RWJF Clinical Scholars alumnus Matthew M. Davis, MD, MAPP, finds more than 40 percent of American parents give over-the-counter cough and cold medicines to children under age 4, despite product label warnings to the contrary. Health Day and the Examiner report on the findings.

Helena Hansen, MD, PhD, an alumna of the RWJF Health & Society Scholars program, is the lead author of an analysis that concludes social determinants—rather than changes in the environment or flawed diagnostic criteria—help explain the dramatic rise in the number of Americans diagnosed with mental disorders in recent years. Health Canal and MedPage Today report on the findings.

Forty-seven percent of children with cancer who receive part of their treatment at home have been exposed to at least one medication error, according to a study led by RWJF Physician Faculty Scholars alumna Kathleen E. Walsh, MD, MSc. Those errors had the potential to harm 36 per 100 patients, and actually did cause injury to four per 100, MedPage Today reports.

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Apr 12 2013
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RWJF Scholar Finds Lead in Soil Can Harm Children

Sammy Zahran, PhD, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholar (2012 - 2014). He is assistant professor of demography in the Department of Economics at Colorado State University, assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology in the Colorado School of Public Health, and co-director of the Center for Disaster and Risk Analysis at Colorado State University. This blog is based on his study: "Linking Source and Effect: Resuspended Soil Lead, Air Lead, and Children's Blood Lead Levels in Detroit, Michigan."

RWJF Health & Society Scholars lead the field of environmental health. This is part of a series highlighting their 2013 research.

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Human Capital Blog: Tell us about your recent study, published in Environmental Science and Technology. What questions did you set out to answer? And what did you find?

Sammy Zahran: We sought to understand a mysterious statistical regularity in blood lead (Pb) data obtained from the Michigan Department of Community Health.  The dataset contained information on the dates of blood sample collection for 367,800 children (<10 years of age) in Detroit. By graphing the average monthly blood Pb levels (μg/dL) of sampled children, we found a striking seasonal pattern (see Figure 1). Child blood Pb levels behaved cyclically. Compared to the reference month of January, blood Pb levels were 11-14 percent higher in the summer months of July, August, and September.

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Apr 11 2013
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Human Capital News Roundup: Lead exposure from soil, breast cancer mortality, climate change, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows and grantees. Some recent examples:

Asthmapolis, founded and directed by RWJF Health & Society Scholars alumnus David Van Sickle, PhD, MA, has secured a $5 million investment that will be used to expand operations and further enhance its product, the Milwaukee Business Journal  and Journal-Sentinel report. The company has engineered a GPS-enabled asthma inhaler called the Spiroscout, which sends a signal with the time and location to a remote server every time a patient uses it, allowing patients and providers to track and analyze the onset of asthma symptoms. Read more about Asthmapolis here and here.

Health & Society Scholar Sammy Zahran, PhD, is co-author of a study that finds that children in Detroit are being exposed to lead from an overlooked source: contaminated soil. Zahran and his team examined seasonal fluctuations in children’s blood lead levels and found that levels were highest in the summertime, when contaminated soil turns into airborne dust. The researchers were able to rule out exposure to lead-based paint as the main source of the contamination, NPR’s Shots Blog reports, because blood lead levels were lower in the winter, when children are more likely to be indoors.

A study from the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, which is directed by RWJF Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research recipient Edward W. Maibach, PhD, MPH, finds a majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents think action should be taken to address climate change, United Press International reports. The New York Times Dot Earth Blog also reported on the findings.

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