Aug 26 2014
Comments

The Walking School Bus: A Safe and Active Way to Get Kids to School

With research indicating that fewer children are walking or biking to school than in decades past—and with the childhood obesity epidemic in full swing—health experts have been brainstorming solutions that would address both issues. In recent years, a simple but effective concept has been gaining traction at the grass-roots level: Why not organize a “Walking School Bus”—a group of kids who walk to school with one or more adults, so that kids can get exercise on their way to and from school?

A Walking School Bus is “just like a regular school bus, but without the walls and seats, and instead of wheels, we use our feet,” explained LeeAnne Fergason, education director for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in Portland, Ore., which has a thriving Walking School Bus program. Other communities around the country that have well-established Walking School Bus programs include Chapel Hill, N.C.; Sacramento, Calif.; Burlington, Vt.; Columbia, Mo.; and Duluth, Ga. In the Fall of 2014, many more schools—including Grand View Elementary in Manhattan Beach, Calif.; Greenacres Elementary in Scarsdale, N.Y.; Madison Elementary in Redondo Beach, Calif.; and several elementary schools in Spokane, Wash.—will be joining the trend.

Created by the National Center for Safe Routes to School, these programs help kids sneak some extra physical activity into their day while also addressing parents’ concerns about getting their kids to school safely. It can be as simple as a few neighborhood families taking turns walking their kids to school. Or it can be more elaborate, with prearranged routes, timetables and stops along the way to pick up more “passengers”; with this model, there’s usually an adult “driver” at the front and an adult “conductor” bringing up the rear. A variation on this theme, the bicycle train, in which two or more adults accompany and supervise kids as they ride their bikes to school, has also become popular.

Viewed as a way to fight childhood obesity, improve school attendance rates and ensure that kids get to school safely, the Walking School Bus concept is garnering positive reviews from public health experts. In July 2013, Michelle Obama voiced her support of these programs in her remarks to mayors gathered at the White House.

“I've heard more and more of this kind of walking school bus happening all over the country—so that kids can get exercise on the way to school, kind of like we did when we were growing up," she said. “It’s about people all across this country coming together to take action to support the health of our kids.”

Besides providing an opportunity for movement, the Walking School Bus also allows kids to socialize with their peers, gain a bit of independence and learn important road safety skills. All of these benefits are also important for children’s health and wellbeing.

Aug 26 2014
Comments

Public Health News Roundup: August 26

file

EBOLA Update: RWJF Gives $1M to the CDC Foundation’s Global Disaster Response Fund
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
In order to assist the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) ongoing efforts to combat the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has given a $1 million grant to the CDC Foundation’s Global Disaster Response Fund. The CDC has activated its Emergency Operations Center and deployed more than 70 public health experts in response to the outbreak, which so far has killed more than 1,400 people. “The spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa represents a global public health crisis,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in a release. “We are privileged to assist CDC in its heroic efforts to contain this outbreak, and we are confident of their ability to control this scourge—provided they have the support required to do the job. Additional resources are urgently needed, and we encourage other funders to respond as well.” Read more on Ebola.

CDC: More than a Quarter-Million Youth Who Never Smoked Used E-Cigarettes in 2013
More than a quarter-million middle school and high school students who had never smoked regular cigarettes used electronic cigarettes—or e-cigarettes—in 2013, according to a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study appearing in the journal Nicotine and Tobacco Research. The study found that youth who had never smoked traditional cigarettes, but had tried e-cigarettes, were twice as likely to intend to smoke traditional cigarettes than were youth who had never used e-cigarettes. “We are very concerned about nicotine use among our youth, regardless of whether it comes from conventional cigarettes, e-cigarettes or other tobacco products. Not only is nicotine highly addictive, it can harm adolescent brain development.” said Tim McAfee, MD, MPH, Director of CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health, in a release. Read more on tobacco.

U.S. Veteran Homelessness Down 33 Percent Since 2010
There has been a 33 percent decline in U.S. veteran homelessness and a 40 percent decline in the number of veterans who sleep on the street since 2010, according to new national estimates from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD); the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA); and the U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness (USICH). The agencies credited evidenced-based practices such as Housing First and other federal programs for the declines. There were an estimated 49,933 homeless veterans in American in January 2014. “We have an obligation to ensure that every veteran has a place to call home,” said HUD Secretary Julián Castro, in a release. “In just a few years, we have made incredible progress reducing homelessness among veterans, but we have more work to do. HUD will continue collaborating with our federal and local partners to ensure that all of the men and women who have served our country have a stable home and an opportunity to succeed.” Read more on the military.

Aug 25 2014
Comments

Universities Adopt New Initiatives to Prevent Sexual Assaults on Campuses

Sexual assaults on college campuses have grabbed headlines in recent months and for good reason: One in five U.S. women are raped or otherwise sexually assaulted during their college years, often during their freshman or sophomore year and often by someone they know. Last winter, President Obama established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. This marked a call to action to help prevent sexual assaults on campuses; to help schools respond effectively when an assault does occur; and strengthen federal enforcement efforts, including the launch of a website to make with various resources for students and schools.

Meanwhile, various colleges and universities have stepped up their own sexual assault prevention efforts. The Indiana Campus Sexual Assault Primary Prevention Project guides Indiana colleges and universities in the prevention of sexual violence through education and technical assistance; as well as the promotion of bystander intervention skills and healthy, respectful relationships.

Earlier this year, the University of Massachusetts Amherst launched a program called UMatter at UMass, which promotes “active bystander intervention” to prevent sexual assaults. The program uses “Three Ds” to help someone who witnesses a situation where a sexual assault is threatened know what to do:

  • “Direct": Stepping in and confronting dangerous behavior in a direct and clear—but non-confrontational—way
  • “Distract”: Using tactics that will divert behavior before it becomes violent or harmful
  • “Delegate”: Enlisting help from acquaintances or law enforcement professionals to help prevent an assault

“Our simple starting point was our determination to build a more caring community, cementing the idea that we care about each other at UMass and that we demonstrate that care without first having a crisis or tragedy,” said Enku Gelaye, vice chancellor for student affairs and campus life at UMass. “With active bystanders, we want to reinforce a culture of active engagement. This is a very specific concept. The idea is that students have to take an active role in monitoring their environment and being engaged and caring about each other.”

Read more

Aug 25 2014
Comments

Public Health News Roundup: August 25

file

EBOLA UPDATE: Japan Willing to Provide Experimental Treatment Without WHO Approval
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Japan would be open to providing access to an experimental Ebola treatment before the World Health Organization (WHO) rules on whether to approve the drug, known as T-705 or favipiravir. "I am informed that medical professionals could make a request for T-705 in an emergency even before a decision (on approval) by the WHO. In that case, we would like to respond under certain criteria," said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at a news conference. The death toll for the West African outbreak climbed to more than 1,400 over the weekend. Read more on Ebola.

AAP Calls on Later School Opening Times for Students Ages 10 and Older
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is calling for all U.S. schools with students aged 10 to 18 to open no earlier than 8:30 a.m. in order to help kids better manage changes to their body clocks during puberty. Currently only 15 percent of such schools start after that time. “Chronic sleep loss in children and adolescents is one of the most common—and easily fixable—public health issues in the U.S. today,” said pediatrician Judith Owens, MD, FAAP, lead author of the policy statement, “School Start Times for Adolescents,” in a release. “The research is clear that adolescents who get enough sleep have a reduced risk of being overweight or suffering depression, are less likely to be involved in automobile accidents, and have better grades, higher standardized test scores and an overall better quality of life.” Read more on pediatrics.

AHA: E-Cigarettes Should Be Regulated Like Tobacco Products
E-cigarettes should be regulated the same as any tobacco product, according to the American Heart Association’s first policy statement on the products. The statement said that e-cigarettes target young people, can keep people hooked on nicotine and threaten to “re-normalize” tobacco use. “Over the last 50 years, 20 million Americans died because of tobacco. We are fiercely committed to preventing the tobacco industry from addicting another generation of smokers,” said Nancy Brown, CEO of the American Heart Association, in a release. “Recent studies raise concerns that e-cigarettes may be a gateway to traditional tobacco products for the nation’s youth, and could renormalize smoking in our society.” Read more on tobacco.

Aug 22 2014
Comments

Shining a Spotlight on Teen Mental Health Issues

This week, NewPublicHealth will run a series on new and creative public health campaigns that aim to improve the health of communities across the country through the use of public service announcements, infographics and more. Stay tuned to learn more about a new campaign each day.

Mood changes often come with the territory of being a teenager, making it difficult sometimes to distinguish run-of-the-mill angst or feelings of sadness from symptoms that may signal a mental health condition. That’s why the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene recently launched a public service advertisement (PSA) called “Open Up, Be Heard”, with the goal of encouraging teens and young adults to turn to a trusted adult for help with their emotional problems.

Featuring former New York Knick Metta World Peace—who has gone public about his own challenges with managing his emotions—the spot aims to reduce the stigma regarding mental health issues. Promoted on social media as well as the health department’s NYC Teen page, the spot directs viewers to free online resources and personal stories from teens who’ve grappled with depression, anger, stress, suicidal thoughts and other challenges.

“It is critical that young people know it’s OK to reach out for help with emotional issues,” said New York City Health Commissioner Mary Bassett, MD. “By speaking openly about his experience, Metta World Peace is an example for young people who are afraid of talking about their problems. We are so grateful to him for committing his time and insight to this important issue.”

The spot is much needed, given that 27 percent of public high school students in New York City reported they felt sad or hopeless every day for two or more weeks sometime in the previous year, according to the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In addition, 15 percent of the city’s public high school students reported intentionally hurting themselves (by cutting or burning themselves, for instance) and 8 percent said they had attempted suicide.

Read more

Aug 22 2014
Comments

Public Health News Roundup: August 22

file

EBOLA UPDATE: WHO Planning 6-9 Month Treatment Strategy
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The World Health Organization (WHO) is putting together a draft strategy to combat the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa, with a spokesperson saying that while the strategy acknowledges the estimate that the Ebola response will continue into 2015, "Frankly no one knows when this outbreak of Ebola will end." "WHO is working on an Ebola road map document, it's really an operational document how to fight Ebola," WHO spokesperson Fadela Chaib told a news briefing in Geneva. "It details the strategy for WHO and partners for six to nine months to come." Read more on Ebola.

HHS Launches ‘Million Hearts’ Challenge to Identify Successful Blood Pressure Reduction Efforts
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has for the third straight year launched a nationwide challenge to identify and celebrate practices, clinicians and health systems working to reduce high blood pressure and improve heart health. Nine public and private practices and health systems were recognized as Hypertension Control Champions in last year’s “Million Hearts Hypertension Control Challenge”; they cared for more than 8.3 million adult patients overall. “Controlling blood pressure prevents heart attacks and strokes and saves lives,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “Providers and health care systems that focus on improving hypertension control with their patients get great results. It’s important that we recognize those providers and patients that been successful and learn from them.” Read more on heart and vascular health.

Study: Counseling Has Little Effect on Young People with Drinking Problems
Motivational interviewing, a common counseling technique used to help people with drinking problems, may have little effect on young people who abuse alcohol, according to a new study in The Cochrane Library. Researchers looked at 66 studies covering almost 18,000 people age 25 and younger, finding that people who underwent counseling had only an average of 1.5 fewer drinks per week than those who did not (12.2 vs. 13.7), had only slightly fewer drinking days per week (2.57 vs. 2.74) and their maximum blood alcohol level fell only slightly (0.144 percent vs. 0.129 percent). "The results suggest that for young people who misuse alcohol there is no substantial, meaningful benefit of motivational interviewing," said lead researcher David Foxcroft, from the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at Oxford Brookes University, United Kingdom, in a release. "There may be certain groups of young adults for whom motivational interviewing is more successful in preventing alcohol-related problems. But we need to see larger trials in these groups to be able to make any firm conclusions.” Read more on alcohol.

Aug 21 2014
Comments

Workplace Wellness: Q&A with Catherine M. Baase, The Dow Chemical Company

We’ve written extensively on NewPublicHealth on the importance of building a Culture of Health—an environment where everyone has access to opportunities to make healthy choices. In June, the Washington Post held a live forum—sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—titled “Health Beyond Health Care,” which looked at how creative minds in traditionally non-health fields are working together to build a Culture of Health in the United States. As part of our continuing coverage of this issue we spoke with Catherine M. Baase, MD, Chief Health Officer at The Dow Chemical Company, about workplace wellness programs.

file Catherine M. Baase, MD, Chief Health Officer at The Dow Chemical Company

NewPublicHealth: Why do you think workplace wellness is important?

Catherine Baase: I guess it depends on “important” in what way. I’ll tell you two things. One is if you were asking me why it’s important to a business or a corporation, I think it brings critical value to many different corporate priorities—things such as safety, human capital priorities such as attracting and retaining talent, manufacturing reliability, the capacity to positively impact health care costs. So there’s a landscape of corporate priorities where the achievement of healthy people is important, even including drug satisfaction and employee engagement.

But on another lens, I would say that I think workplace wellness is important to society for the achievement of public health objectives. The fact that we’re not doing really well on the achievement of health outcomes for our population as a whole, and the achievement of improved health will depend on a variety of sectors of society getting involved, and one of them is workplaces. Others are schools and communities and things like that, but the achievement of public health objectives depends a bit on workplaces being involved, as well.

NPH: Who is it that benefits from workplace wellness?

Baase: Well I think the individuals, the employees and oftentimes their families, because a lot of workplace wellness programs either directly or indirectly impact the family. It’s the community within which folks live because the culture is impacted, and the company certainly.

Read more

Aug 21 2014
Comments

A Campaign to Keep Kids in School

This week, NewPublicHealth will run a series on new and creative public health campaigns that aim to improve the health of communities across the country through the use of public service announcements, infographics and more. Stay tuned to learn more about a new campaign each day.

It’s no secret that getting a better education is linked to having a longer, healthier life. But the flip side is also true: Habitual truancy—an excessive number of unexcused absences from school by a minor—has been identified as an early warning sign that kids could be headed toward delinquency; substance use and abuse; social isolation; early sexual intercourse; suicidal thoughts and attempts; and dropping out of high school, according to a 2009 report prepared for the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

That’s why Hawaii’s Truancy Reduction Demonstration Project and the College of Education, University of Hawaii, launched a series of public service advertisements (PSAs) to try to inspire kids to stay in school. The 30-second spots emphasize that school is where kids’ dreams grow; that education is a gift; and that teachers, families and students are together accountable for kids’ learning. 

Meanwhile, New York City launched the School Every Day Campaign to fight truancy, informing parents that students who miss 20 days of school or more in a single year have a significantly decreased chance of graduating from high school. The outdoor ads—created with support from the Ad Council and AT& T—address a hot topic, considering that one out of five public school students in New York City miss that much school in a given year.

Messages such as these really can make a difference. In 2006, the public school graduation rate in Spokane, Wash., was less than 60 percent; by 2013, it had leaped to nearly 80 percent, thanks largely to the “Priority Spokane campaign. A 2014 winner of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Prize, the campaign emphasizes education as a catalyst for better health and brighter futures.

“We’re using educational attainment as a lens for improving health,” said Alisa May, executive director of Project Spokane. “We’re beginning to see real signs of success in our work.”

Spokane County Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn agrees: “Spokane County’s focus on educational success and other areas is improving the health of our children. Healthy children become healthier students and adults, and everything we are doing now gives them the foundation they need to succeed after they graduate.”

Aug 21 2014
Comments

Public Health News Roundup: August 21

file

Ebola Update: U.S. Doctor Being Treated for Ebola Expected to Be Released from the Hospital Today
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Reuters
and other news outlets are reporting that Kent Brantly, MD, who contracted Ebola in Liberia where he was treating patients for the disease, has recovered from the virus and is expected to be released from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta today. An update on the condition of Nancy Writebol, a health worker who also contracted Ebola in West Africa, is also expected today. Since the start of the current outbreak in West Africa, more than 1,350 people have died of the disease. In an effort to reduce the spread of the disease, officials in Monrovia, the densely populated urban capital of Liberia, began a quarantine to stem the disease outbreak, sparking clashes between residents and troops. Read more on Ebola.

Many Older ER Patients Show Signs of Malnutrition
A new study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine found that many patients over age 65 who go to the emergency room for medical care are also found to be malnourished or at risk of malnourishment. The study authors say the reasons behind the insufficient nutrition include dental problems that make it difficult to eat, depression and lack of access to food. The study suggests that all older patients be assessed for malnutrition during emergency room visits. Read more on aging.

Free Online Search Tool from DOT Lets Consumers Check Vehicle Safety
The U.S. Department of Transportation has released a free, online search tool—accessible at www.safercar.gov—that consumers can use to find out whether a vehicle, including a motorcycle, has been recalled by using the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Consumers can find their vehicle identification number by looking at the dashboard on the driver’s side of the vehicle, or on the driver’s side door where the door latches when it is closed. After entering the VIN number into the search tool, a message indicating whether the vehicle was recalled will appear, which will let users choose not to buy or rent the car, or if they own it or are planning to buy it, to have it fixed according to the recall specifics. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working with the National Automobile Dealers Association to make sure that the VIN tool is used by all U.S. car dealerships. Read more on safety.

 

Aug 20 2014
Comments

Recommended Reading: RWJF Culture of Health Prize Winner Spokane County on Health Affairs Blog

file

Earlier this year, Spokane County, Wash.,was chosen by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) as a Culture of Health Prize winner for its efforts to improve community health by increasing graduation rates. As part of a new ongoing series, Health Affairs blog has featured a piece by local Spokane leader Ben Smith on the community’s health successes.

Just eight years ago, the high school graduation rate for Spokane Public Schools was below 60 percent and 18 percent of the county’s students lived in poverty. In addition, the students who did attend college or technical school often failed to earn their degree, leaving them unprepared to fill available positions in the county’s more technical fields.

To address these issues, Priority Spokane emerged from a collaboration of local businesses, educators, health organizations and community nonprofits—all committed to improving the future of Spokane County residents by improving education. A report linking lack of education to poorer health helped spur a dramatic change. Over the next several years, the county emphasized increased collaboration and a clear vision to improve the high school graduation rate to 79.5 percent overall.

Spokane County’s efforts include:

  • Training teachers and childcare workers to mentor children who experience traumatic home events.
  • Developing an early warning system for at-risk students.
  • Establishing community attendance support teams that reengage truant students in school.
  • Starting Spokane Valley Tech, a high school designed to help students build careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

To learn more about Spokane’s prize-winning efforts to improve health, read the Health Affairs blog post.

>>Bonus Links: Learn more about the 2014 RWJF Culture of Health Prize winners and read NewPublicHealth coverage of the prize announcement.

>>Bonus Content: Watch a NewPublicHealth video on Spokane's efforts to build a Culture of Health.