Apr 24 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 24

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FDA Proposes Rule for Regulation of E-cigarettes
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) today released its long-expected proposed new rule that would expand its authority to include the regulation of e-cigarettes. Under the proposed rule, FDA would also be able to regulate products that meet the statutory definition of a tobacco product, including cigars, pipe tobacco, nicotine gels, waterpipe (or hookah) tobacco and dissolvables not already under the agency’s authority. “This proposed rule is the latest step in our efforts to make the next generation tobacco-free,” said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Read more on tobacco.

Study: 1 in 13 U.S. Kids Take Prescription Drugs for Emotional or Behavioral Issues
One in 13 U.S. schoolchildren take medication for emotional or behavioral issues, with more than half of the parents of these children reporting that the drugs have helped “a lot,” according to a new report from the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics. Only about one in five parents said the medication had not helped at all. The report also found that among youth ages 6-17 years, a higher percentage of children insured by Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program used such prescribed medication than did children with private health insurance or no health insurance, and that a higher percentage of children in families having income below 100 percent of the poverty level used prescribed medication for emotional or behavioral difficulties than did children in families at 100 percent to less than 200 percent of the poverty level. Read more on prescription drugs.

Study: Genetic Risk for Obesity Rises as Kids Age
The genetic risk for obesity rises as children age, according to a new study in the journal Obesity. Researchers analyzed data on 2,556 pairs of twins in England and Wales at ages 4 and 10, finding that the influence of genetic variants rose as they got older, with genes accounting for about 43 percent of the difference in size among the four-year-olds, but 82 percent of the difference at the age of 10. "Our results demonstrate that genetic predisposition to obesity is increasingly expressed throughout childhood," said study co-leader Clare Llewellyn, MD, of the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London, in a release. "This underlines the importance of intervening at an early age to try to counteract these genetic effects and reduce childhood obesity.” Read more on obesity.

Apr 23 2014
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NewPublicHealth Q&A: Kathleen Hoke, Network for Public Health Law

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Earlier this month U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx kicked off April’s National Distracted Driving Awareness Month by announcing the department’s first-ever national advertising campaign and law enforcement crackdown in states with distracted driving bans. That effort ended last week, but through individual interactions with drivers by law enforcement and through ads on television, radio and online, the effort raised attention to the dangers—and penalties—of distracted driving, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA.) According to NHTSA 3,328 people were killed and an estimated 421,000 were injured in distraction-related crashes in 2012, the latest year for which data is available.

"This campaign puts distracted driving on par with our efforts to fight drunk driving or to encourage seatbelt use," said Foxx.

According to NHTSA, the national campaign built upon the success of federally funded distracted driving state demonstration programs in California and Delaware, “Phone in One Hand, Ticket in the Other.” Over three enforcement waves, California police issued more than 10,700 tickets for violations involving drivers talking or texting on cell phones, and Delaware police issued more than 6,200 tickets. Observed hand-held cell phone use dropped by approximately a third at each program site, from 4.1 percent to 2.7 percent in California, and from 4.5 percent to 3.0 percent in Delaware.

Currently 43 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands ban text messaging for drivers of all ages; 12 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit drivers of all ages from using hand-held cell phones while driving; and 37 states and D.C. ban cell phone use by new drivers.

More state campaigns are expected to be launched, according to NHTSA. To find out more about the ability of public health laws such as laws aimed at reducing distracted driving to improve health and save lives, NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Kathleen Hoke, director of the Network for Public Health Law, Eastern Region. The Network is a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

NewPublicHealth: In his announcement of the campaign, Secretary Foxx said that the national distracted driving reduction efforts show how public health laws can be transformative. What public health does this build on? Could this have been done if there hadn’t been a history of using laws to help improve the public’s health?

Kathleen Hoke: I think there is kind of a cycle that we see in public health using law to effectuate improvements in public health, particularly injury prevention. I know we can’t think today that there was a time that children weren’t in car seats, but there was. And what happened was there was an education campaign much like the Department of Transportation’s current campaign that was all about encouraging folks to put their children in safety seats. The law took it to a certain level, so we went from roughly 20 percent of people putting their kids in car seats to maybe 60 percent of people putting their kids in car seats.

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Apr 23 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 23

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CDC: American Indians, Alaska Natives Have 50 Percent Higher Death Rates than Non-Hispanic Whites
American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) death rates were approximately 50 percent higher than rates among non-Hispanic whites—for both men and women—from 1999 to 2009, according to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health. The study determined that patterns of mortality were strongly influenced by the high incidence of diabetes, smoking prevalence, problem drinking and health-harming social determinants. Among the findings:

  • Among AI/AN people, cancer is the leading cause of death followed by heart disease. Among other races, it is the opposite.
  • Death rates from lung cancer have shown little improvement in AI/AN populations and AI/AN people have the highest prevalence of tobacco use
  • Suicide rates were nearly 50 percent higher for AI/AN people
  • Death rates from motor vehicle crashes, poisoning and falls were two times higher among AI/AN people
  • Death rates were higher among AI/AN infants

“The Indian Health Service is grateful for this important research and encouraged about its potential to help guide efforts to improve health and wellness among American Indians and Alaska Natives,” said Yvette Roubideaux, MD, MPH, acting IHS director, in a release from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  “Having more accurate data along with our understanding of the contributing social factors can lead to more aggressive public health interventions that we know can make a difference.” Read more on health disparities.

FDA Proposes New Program to Help Patients With Unmet Tech Needs
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has proposed a new program designed to help treat or diagnose people with serious conditions, but whose needs aren’t met by current technology. The proposed Expedited Access Premarket Approval Application for Unmet Medical Needs for Life Threatening or Irreversibly Debilitating Diseases or Conditions (“Expedited Access PMA” or “EAP”) program would include earlier and more interactive engagement with FDA staff, with the goal of providing patients with earlier access to safe and effective medical equipment. “The program allows manufacturers to engage early and often with the agency,” said Jeffrey Shuren, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “We expect most devices that enter this program will be in the pre-clinical trial phase.” Read more on technology.

Study Links Internet Use, Lower Depression Rates in Older Americans
Older Americans who spend more time online are also less likely to suffer from depression, according to a new study in The Journals of Gerontology: Series B. Using data on 3,075 retired men and women who didn’t live in nursing homes gathered by the U.S. Health and Retirement Survey, researchers determined that the 30 percent who were Internet users also had a 33 percent lower probability of depression. "The largest impacts on depression were actually for those people who lived alone, so it's really suggesting that it's about connecting with others, eliminating isolation and loneliness," lead study author Shelia Cotton, according to Reuters. Read more on aging.

Apr 22 2014
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Health is a Human Right: Race and Place in America

file Emerson Elementary School class picture, ca. 1947 Courtesy of Shades of San Francisco, San Francisco Public Library

“Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhuman,” said the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1966 at the Convention of the Medical Committee for Human Rights, which was organized to support civil-rights activists during Mississippi's Freedom Summer. Those words are part of the Health is a Human Right: Race and Place in America exhibit on display at the David J. Sencer Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Museum in Atlanta. The museum, located at the CDC’s Visitor Center, mounts several exhibits each year. The timing for the Health as a Human Right exhibit coincides with National Minority Health Month, observed each April to raise awareness of health disparities in the U.S. among ethnic and racial minorities. 

file “Incidence of Syphilis Among Negroes” chart From Shadow on the Land by Surgeon General Thomas Parran, 1936

The CDC exhibit, curated by museum director Louise Shaw, is organized by social determinants of health such as housing and transportation. Photographs, like those of teeming settlements in urban cities, are a key tool to show museum goers and online viewers the health disparities in U.S. history and present day. 

Among the items in the exhibit:

  • Mexican men sprayed with DDT on their arrival for a guest worker program in the 1950s.
  • A corroded sanitation pipe and bottles of unsafe drinking water from the Community Water Center in the San Joaquin Valley, California.
  • An inventive and cheap air sampler from New Orleans that people used to catalogue pollution levels and share with law makers.
  • A Chinese version of the "Be Certain: Get Tested for Hepatitis B," campaign.
  • A March of Dimes poster depicting an African American child with polio from the late 1950s. (For a long time after the polio epidemic began, many believed African Americans could not contract the virus. As a result, precaution campaigns were rare and late among that population.) 
file “We Shall Survive, Without a Doubt” poster from The Black Panther, August 21, 1971, artwork by Emory Douglas Courtesy of the artist

The exhibition is sponsored by CDC's Office of Minority Health and Health Equity, the CDC's Office of the Associate Director for Communication and the California Endowment.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Louise Shaw in Atlanta.

NewPublicHealth: What made you decide to mount and curate this exhibit?

Louise Shaw: Three years ago the CDC Museum was approached by CDC’s Office of Minority Health and Health Equity (OMHHE) to organize an exhibition to commemorate its 25th anniversary. As curator of the Museum, I was excited by the possibilities and conceived of a project that extended beyond just honoring OMHHE accomplishments. Dr. Leandris Liburd, OMHHE director, and her terrific staff, quickly jumped on board, and we all agreed to develop a historic exhibition framed by the social determinants of health. 

file “Southern Farmer’s Burden” cartoon about the Georgia State Board of Health’s efforts against malaria among African American rural workers, United States Public Health Service, 1923 Courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park, MD, photo no. 90-G-22-4

NPH: What are some of the most striking issues you found in disparities between whites and minorities when it comes to social determinants of health?

Louise Shaw: Although we have made progress in many areas, we are still tackling similar issues in the 21st century that were debated 100 years ago. For instance, how we provide quality education to all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, or income status, was and is one of the greatest challenges facing our country. As the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has documented, education and the optimum health outcomes are closely linked. Ultimately, education is the pathway to eliminating health disparities. Income equality/inequality is another complex issue that is being hotly debated today. One more specific example: although pre-term birth rates have greatly declined over the past century among all groups, the disparities of those rates between whites and minorities stubbornly remain, and are yet to be eliminated. We need to ask ourselves why that is so. Collectively, we have still not resolved what it means to live in a diverse, multicultural society.  

NPH: Do you know of any outcomes that have come from the exhibit?

Louise Shaw: Internally at CDC, the exhibition has been an important touchstone for discussion and debate. I have received incredible feedback about the honesty of the exhibition, thanking me for connecting the dots visually among race, place, and health. By the time it closes on April 25th, over 30,000 people will have seen the show. I don’t think we have ever mounted an exhibition that has been visited by so many college and university students — some even virtually. A consortium of faculty members from the University of Connecticut, Emory University, and Georgia State University, have developed a formal evaluation tool. In addition, there is a local and national movement underfoot to figure out how the show can live on whether online or in another form. 

Apr 22 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 22

Study: False-Positive Mammograms Have Minimal Effect on Anxiety
Women whose mammograms suggest the presence of breast cancer that is eventually ruled out by further testing experience slightly increased anxiety that does not affect their overall health, according to a new study in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine. Researchers from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College compared 534 cancer-free women whose mammograms initially suggested breast cancer to 494 women whose screenings were negative. The women were interviewed after the first mammogram but before they were cleared of a cancer diagnosis and again a year later. Immediately after their first mammogram, the women who received false-positive results had more anxiety than those who received a clean bill of health but the anxiety leveled off after one year. There was no difference in overall health between the two groups of women. Read more on cancer.

Bullying Victims Feel Psychological Effects into Middle Age
Children who are bullied suffer the psychological affects for years to come, leading to increased risk of depression and other mental health issues, according to a new study in the American Journal of Psychiatry. British researchers have found that children bullied at the ages of 7 and 11 experienced feelings of poor general health at ages 23 and 50 and poor cognitive functioning at 50. The study used surveys that were conducted over 50 years, looking at children who said they were bullied occasionally or frequently at 7 and 11, and comparing the impact at ages 23, 45 and 50. Read more on mental health.

Earth Day: The Impact of the Environment on Health
April 22 is Earth Day and people across the country are taking action to protect and improve our environment. The quality of our environmental has significant effects on our overall health. Air pollution, such as ground-level ozone and airborne particles, can irritate the respiratory system, induce asthma and even lead to lung disease. In addition, UV exposure due to ozone layer depletion can lead to skin cancer, cataracts and suppression of the immune system. Below are tips to help create a healthier planet today:

  • Conserve energy and improve air quality by turning off appliances and lights when you leave a room.
  • Keep stoves and fireplaces well maintained to reduce air pollution.
  • Plant deciduous trees near your home to provide shade from UV rays in the summer.
  • Buy energy efficient appliances produced by low- or zero-pollution facilities. 

Read more on environment.

Apr 21 2014
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Boston Marathon: Disabled Runners Inspired to Join Today’s Marathon

Photo credit: Larry Sillen | Mery Daniels crosses the finish line at the Hope and Possibility race. Photo credit: Larry Sillen | Mery Daniels crosses the finish line at the Hope and Possibility race.

In the wake of disasters communities often share stories of resiliency, not just to show how far they have come, but to model for others the critical need for an infrastructure of planning and preparedness when disaster hits. When the bombs went off at the Boston Marathon last year, Achilles International, a non-profit group that pairs able-bodied runners with disabled people, already had a chapter in place in the Boston area.

The group reached out using social media, as well as bright yellow banners and shirts during twice-weekly training sessions along the Charles River, to help attract attention and encourage Bostonian volunteers and potential athletes to join up. One survivor did. Thirty-one-year old Mery Daniel, a single mother of a five-year-old, who is close to completing her medical boards to become a general practitioner physician, lost one leg and suffered damage to the other during the blast. She joined up with Achilles and ran its 5K Hope and Possibility race—her first race ever—using a hand cycle last June.

The community rallying around the Boston Marathon over the last year has resulted in several new competitors joining up to compete in the Boston Marathon. A team of thirty differently abled Achilles runners, each with at least one guide for the race, will be wearing yellow Achilles shirts in today’s marathon. Their disabilities—ranging from Dwarfism and scoliosis to visual impairment—have not held them back.

“The stories about the survivors’ recoveries brought attention to the fact that people with disabilities have opportunities to do things they enjoy and learn new skills,” said Eleanor Cox, director of chapter development for Achilles. “So when the chapter put extra effort this past year into outreach through social media, word of mouth and the bright yellow banners on the Charles—matched up with people wanting to volunteer and people with disabilities wondering what was possible—it turned a previously quieter Achilles chapter into a strong one. Boston Strong.”

>>Bonus Link: Read more from Boston Marathon Survivor Adrianne Haslet-Davis on Recovery, Care, and Collaboration on the RWJF Culture of Health blog.

 

 

Apr 21 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 21

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Study: Monday the Best Time to ‘Reset’ and Improve Personal Health Regimens
People are more likely to think about their health earlier in the week, which could help researchers and officials determine how to better improve public health strategies, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Researchers from San Diego State University (SDSU), the Santa Fe Institute, Johns Hopkins University and the Monday Campaigns analyzed Google searches that utilized the term “healthy” and were health-related in the United States from 2005 to 2012, finding searches for healthy topics were 30 percent more frequent at the beginning of the week than later in the week; Saturday saw the fewest searches. The findings correspond with previous research indicating Mondays offered the opportunity for a “heath reset”—a chance to get back into healthy habits. "Many illnesses have a weekly clock with spikes early in the week," said SDSU's John W. Ayers, lead author of the study. "This research indicates that a similar rhythm exists for positive health behaviors, motivating a new research agenda to understand why this pattern exists and how such a pattern can be utilized to improve the public's health.” Read more on prevention.

Despite Recommendations Against, Codeine Still Prescribed to Many Kids During ER Visits
Codeine is often prescribed by emergency room physicians to treat coughs and other pains for children, even though the powerful opioid is not recommended for use in children by groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP), according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. For the new study, the researchers used data from 189 million ER visits by children and teens between the ages of three and 17 years old. The visits took place between 2001 and 2010. Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco analyzed data from 189 million ER visits for youth ages 3-17, finding that while emergency room prescriptions were down slightly from 2001 to 2010, as many as 877,000 children are still taking the drug each year. Codeine can slow breathing and breaks down differently in children of different ethnicities, increasing the chance of overdose. Read more on prescription drugs.

Rates of Childhood Obesity Keeps Rising, Especially Among the Most Obese
A recent study out of the University of North Carolina (UNC) finds that childhood obesity is up for all classes of obesity in U.S. children over the past 14 years, with more severe forms of obesity—a body mass index (BMI) 120 to 140 percent higher than the averages—seeing the greatest increase. The study appeared in JAMA Pediatrics. “An increase in more severe forms of obesity in children is particularly troubling,” said Asheley Cockrell Skinner, PhD, lead author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics in the UNC School of Medicine, in a release. “Extreme obesity is more clearly associated with heart disease and diabetes risk in children and adolescents, and is more difficult to treat.” Researchers analyzed data on 26,690 children ages 2-19 years from 1999 to 2012 collected as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Read more on obesity.

Apr 18 2014
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Faces of Public Health: Esther Chernak, Drexel University School of Public Health

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The Center for Public Health Readiness and Communication (CPHRC) at the Drexel University School of Public Health in Philadelphia recently re-launched DiversityPreparedness.org, a clearinghouse of resources and an information exchange portal to facilitate communication, networking and collaboration to improve preparedness, build resilience and eliminate disparities for culturally diverse communities across all phases of an emergency. The site had originally been developed by Dennis Andrulis, now at the Texas Health Institute, and Jonathan Purtle, who co-writes a blog on public health for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

>>Bonus Links:

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Esther Chernak, MD, MPH, the head of CPHRC, about the re-launched site and her work in preparedness.

NewPublicHealth: Tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to lead the Center for Public Health Readiness and Communication.

Esther Chernak: I’m an infectious disease physician by training and pretty much have been working in public health since I finished my infectious disease fellowship in 1991 at the University of Pennsylvania. I started working in the Philadelphia Department of Public Health in its city clinic system doing HIV/AIDS care, and then became the Clinical Director of HIV Clinical Programs for the health centers back in the early ’90s when the epidemic was obviously very different. I then moved to working in infectious disease epidemiology as a staff doctor in the acute communicable disease control program and was involved in infectious disease surveillance and outbreak investigations for a number of years.

Then in 1999, I took a job with the City Health Department in what was then called bioterrorism preparedness. That was the time when major cities in the country were just beginning to be funded to do bioterrorism response plans. Groups that were involved in bioterrorism preparedness recognized relatively quickly that despite the fact that we were dealing with planning for novel strains of influenza and pandemic preparedness and SARS and smallpox, we were also dealing with many, many really significant infectious disease outbreaks, and then ultimately non-infectious disease related issues that had huge impacts on public health, such as earthquakes and hurricanes. Those links helped prepare me for my role at the Center.

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Apr 18 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 18

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CDC: Mixed Progress in Food Safety Efforts
A new food safety progress report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows mixed results for the country’s safety efforts. While the rate of salmonella infections was down approximately 9 percent in 2013 compared to the previous three years, campylobacter infections—often linked to dairy products and chicken—are up 13 percent since 2006-2008. The CDC also found that vibrio infections, which are often linked to raw shellfish, were at the highest level since tracking began in 1996. “This year’s data show some recent progress in reducing salmonella rates, and also highlight that our work to reduce the burden of foodborne illness is far from over,” said Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases. “To keep salmonella on the decline, we need to work with the food industry and our federal, state and local partners to implement strong actions to control known risks and to detect foodborne germs lurking in unsuspected foods.” The report’s data comes from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet), a group of experts from CDC; ten state health departments; the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS); and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Read more on food safety.

FDA: Common Procedure to Remove Uterus, Uterine Fibroids Can Spread Cancer
A common procedure to remove the uterus or uterine fibroids can unintentionally spread cancerous tissue—such as uterine sarcomas—according to a new safety communication from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which is discouraging the use of laparoscopic power morcellation. The procedure divides the uterine tissue into smaller fragments in order to remove them via a small abdominal incision. “The FDA’s primary concern as we consider the continued use of these devices is the safety and well-being of patients,” said William Maisel, MD, MPH, deputy director for science and chief scientist at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. “There is no reliable way to determine if a uterine fibroid is cancerous prior to removal. Patients should know that the FDA is discouraging the use of laparoscopic power morcellation for hysterectomy or myomectomy, and they should discuss the risks and benefits of the available treatment options with their health care professionals.” Read more on cancer.

Approximately 12M U.S. Outpatients Misdiagnosed Each Year
Approximately 12 million U.S. adults are misdiagnosed each year in doctors’ office and other outpatient settings, with an estimated half of those mistakes potentially leading to serious harm, according to a new study set to be published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety. The overall total means about one in every 20 patients are misdiagnosed. For the study researchers used data from three studies covering a sample pool of approximately 3,000 medical records. "It's important to outline the fact that this is a problem," said Hardeep Singh, MD, the study's lead author and a patient safety researcher at Baylor College of Medicine and at the Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, both in Houston, according to Reuters. "Because of the large number of outpatient visits, this is a huge vulnerability. This is a huge number and we need to do something about it.” Read more on access to care.

Apr 17 2014
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Recommended Reading: ‘Pollution is Segregated, Too’

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After decades of studies demonstrating that poor people and minorities are more likely than their white counterparts to live near health hazards such as toxic waste sites, landfills and congested highways, a new study in the journal PLOS One took a more refined look at a particular aspect in the area of “environmental injustice”: exposure to nitrogen dioxide. The pollutant—which is produced by cars, construction equipment and industrial sources—is linked to higher risk of both asthma and heart attack.

Using data from the 2000 Census, researchers determined that minorities are on average exposed to 38 percent higher levels of outdoor nitrogen dioxide. The gap varies depending where in the country they live, with the upper Midwest and the Northeast seeing the greatest disparities, as well as major cities. All told the disparity accounts for an additional 7,000 deaths due to heart disease annually.

"The biggest finding is that we have this national picture of environmental injustice and how it varies by state and by city," said Julian Marshall, a professor of environmental engineering at the University of Minnesota and one of the authors of the study, according to The Washington Post. "The levels of disparity that we see here are large and likely have health implications."

There are a number of possibilities to account for the disparities. For example, according to The Post, many “urban highways...were originally routed through minority communities that were politically easier to uproot than middle-class white neighborhoods” and “highways and landfills also depress nearby property values, meaning that people who can afford to live elsewhere do, while those who can't remain within their influence.”

Read the full story from The New York Times here.

>>Bonus Link: April is National Minority Health Awareness month. Read more of NewPublicHealth’s coverage of the annual event here.