Category Archives: Environmental health

Jul 8 2014
Comments

Transforming Communities to Reduce Stress and Improve Health

Brita Roy, MD, MPH, MS, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)/U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Clinical Scholar, and Carley Riley, MD, MPP, is an RWJF Clinical Scholar. 

file

You awake to the sound of your alarm, not feeling as rested as you’d hoped. Hurriedly bathing and dressing, you then grab a breakfast bar and stumble over your long-neglected bicycle to climb into your car, joining other anonymous drivers enduring their morning commutes.

file Brita Roy, MD, MPH, MS

Unfortunately, these sorts of mornings, all too common to Americans, create negative stress and worsen health. Under time constraints and other pressures, stressed individuals engage in less healthy behaviors: eating more unhealthy foods, exercising less, smoking more, and sleeping less than their less stressed counterparts. And the persistent assault of low-grade stressors, such as air and noise pollution, constant rush, lack of nature, and social isolation repeatedly trigger our bodies’ stress responses, promote persistent low-level inflammation, and subsequently undermine our cardiovascular and overall health.

file Carley Riley, MD, MPP

Beyond these familiar stressors, emerging research is showing how the nature of our communities and our relationships within them—our social environment—also influence our health. We are learning that living in neighborhoods in which residents do not know or trust each other increases negative stress levels. And how living in communities in which residents do not have confidence in their government or do not believe they can affect change to better their lives also creates stress.

We have greater understanding of how people living in neighborhoods with high crime and violence rates experience more chronic stress. And we are finding that living and working in environments in which we feel powerless augments the negative health effects of stress. 

Read More

Jun 12 2014
Comments

RWJF Scholars in the News: Alzheimer’s disease, violence against women, drug marketing, 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:

Jason Karlawish, MD, participated in the design of new research that offers “an opportunity to study the future of the way we’re going to think about, talk about and live with the risks of Alzheimer’s disease,” he tells the Associated Press. The study is aimed at testing an experimental drug to see if it can protect seniors who are healthy but whose brains “harbor silent signs” of risk, such as a sticky build-up of proteins that can be a precursor to Alzheimer’s. Karlawish is an RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research recipient. Read more about his work on Alzheimer’s disease here and here.

The work of RWJF Scholars in Health Policy Research alumni Ted Gayer, PhD, and Michael Greenstone, PhD, is featured in an Economist article about incorporating into federal cost-benefit analyses the global benefits of regulation to reduce carbon emissions, rather than benefits that accrue only to the United States. Agencies conduct such analyses before promulgating regulations to test whether the estimated benefits of a regulation exceed the estimated costs. Typically, estimated benefits include only those that accrue to the United States, but because global warming reaches far beyond U.S. borders, the Obama Administration’s calculations include global benefits. Greenstone was also recently cited in the New York Times.

Chris Uggen, PhD, an RWJF Investigator Award recipient, writes about the decline in the incidence of sexual violence and intimate partner violence against women since 1993 in a Pacific Standard article. Rates of sexual violence and intimate partner violence decreased from almost 10 per 1,000 in 1994 to 3.2 per 1,000 in 2012, Uggen writes. While those numbers are encouraging, “misogyny and violence against women remain enormous social problems—on our college campuses and in the larger society,” he says. Uggen’s post also appeared on Sociological Images, a Pacific Standard partner site.

Read More

Jun 9 2014
Comments

Seeing the Human Impact of Climate Change in Bangladesh

Sabrina McCormick, PhD, is a sociologist, filmmaker, and an associate professor of environmental and occupational health for 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.

Sabrina McCormick

I spent almost a month in Bangladesh producing a story starring Michael C. Hall for the last episode of the Years of Living Dangerously, a documentary series on climate change. In this blog post, I’m going to tell a story that came up in the research phase and one that highlighted, for me, what is possibly the biggest obstacle to getting anything done on this issue.

As someone who’s been studying social movements for a long time, I’ve seen that social change hinges on the tangibility of an issue and sometimes how well you can prove its existence. Yet, most scientists say climate change is invisible, that no one event can be pointed to and called an impact of climate change.

Working on the Years series highlighted this issue all the more since TV and film must show more than it tells. I was in a particularly difficult position trying to tell stories about climate change as a scientist, being bound by this adage that we can’t see it. Yet, when I went to Bangladesh, that adage stopped making sense. It’s not that my scientific mind retreated, but rather that my imagination was able to connect the dots of science in a way it couldn’t without putting science in a specific context, a place where people might already be affected.

Read More

May 8 2014
Comments

RWJF Scholars in the News: How breast cancer treatment affects patients’ lives, nurses improving mental health care, male victims of sexual assault, 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:

Experts are looking at how treatment for breast cancer affects patients’ lives, HealthDay reports. A study by Reshma Jagsi, MD, PhD, an RWJF Physician Faculty Scholars alumna, finds that women who undergo chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer are more likely to end up unemployed than patients whose treatment does not include chemotherapy. Four years after treatment for early stage breast cancer, the study found, more than one-third of those who had chemotherapy were out of work, compared to just over one-quarter of women who had other treatments. “Many of us realize the chemotherapy is going to knock the wind out of your sails temporarily. We [as doctors] have tended to assume women bounced back, and the results here suggest that’s not the case,” Jagsi said. The HealthDay article was republished in U.S. News & World Report, WebMD, and Medicinenet.com, among other outlets.

In the latest edition of the Health Affairs “Conversations” podcast series, Sherry Glied, PhD, recipient of an RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research, discusses lessons learned from the first open enrollment period of the Affordable Care Act. She and other experts also discuss Medicaid expansion, and payment and delivery reforms.

Children of single mothers who unexpectedly lose their jobs suffer severe negative repercussions well into their adult years, according to a study co-authored by Jennie Brand, PhD, MS, an RWJF Health & Society Scholars alumna. They are less likely to graduate from high school and college, and more likely to endure depression, the LA Times reports. Additionally, “[t]he kids, by virtue of having less education and having some social psychological issues, could themselves be at greater risk of job loss in the future,” Brand said. “That’s a concern too, that we could potentially see an inter-generational transmission of job instability.” 

Read More

Apr 16 2014
Comments

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.

file

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.

Read More

Nov 19 2013
Comments

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.

file

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.

Read More

Oct 31 2013
Comments

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.

Read More

Aug 8 2013
Comments

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.

Read More

Jul 25 2013
Comments

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.

Read More

Jul 18 2013
Comments

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.”

Read More