Category Archives: Alcohol

Aug 28 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 28

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EBOLA UPDATE: Death Toll Passes 1,500 as Outbreak Accelerates
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The West African Ebola outbreak continues to accelerate, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which today announced there have so far been 3,069 probable and confirmed cases; 1,552 people have died. While most cases remain concentrated in only a few localities, WHO estimates that more than 40 percent of the total cases have occurred within the past 21 days.

In other Ebola news:

  • Earlier this week, IDV Solutions released an infographic showing how this Ebola outbreak—the largest in history—compares to previous outbreaks of the disease.
  • The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, will begin initial human testing of an Ebola investigational vaccine next week.

Read more on Ebola.

Teens Who Don’t Get Enough Sleep Are at Increased Risk of Obesity
Teenagers who don’t get enough sleep are at increased risk of being obese by age 21, according to a new study in Journal of Pediatrics. Researchers at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health analyzed health information on more than 10,000 teens and young adults at the ages of 16 and 21, finding that the 16-year-olds who reported less than six hours of sleep per night were 20 percent more likely to be obese by age 21. Potential reasons for the link include appetite changes and cravings due to daytime sleepiness and fatigue. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends nine to ten hours of sleep per night for teenagers. Read more on pediatrics.

Study: ‘Rules of Thumb’ on Pouring Help Reduce Excessive Drinking
Curbing a person’s excessive drinking may be as simple as thinking about how much is poured into each glass, according to a new study in the International Journal of Drug Policy. Researchers from Iowa State University and Cornell University had 74 college students pour red or white wine in a variety of settings, finding that those students who use a “rule of thumb” to dictate their pours—such as only filling half the glass or leaving space equivalent to two fingers at the top—poured less, regardless of their BMI or gender. “About 70 percent of the people in the sample used the half-glass rule, and they poured significantly less by about 20 percent,” said Laura Smarandescu, lead author and an assistant professor of marketing at Iowa State, in a release. “It’s a big difference. We would suggest using a rule of thumb with pouring because it makes a big difference in how much people pour and prevents them from overdrinking.” Read more on alcohol.

Aug 22 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 22

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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 8 2014
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New NHTSA Infographic on Safe Summer Driving

Summer is the deadliest time of year to be on the road. In fact, nearly twice as many people are killed in auto accidents during the summer months than are killed during the rest of the year’s months combined, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This increase is linked directly to alcohol consumption. According to NHTSA:

  • There was a drunken-driving fatality every 51 minutes in 2012
  • 35 percent of all drivers in nighttime fatal crashes were alcohol-impaired
  • 24 percent of male drivers involved in fatal crashes in 2012 had a blood alcohol content of .08 or higher
  • A DUI can cost drivers up to $10,000—or more than three months-worth of income for the average working American

NHTSA has created a new infographic to illustrate the need for drivers to stay sober:

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>>Bonus Link: Find more information and resources about drunk driving here.

Aug 6 2014
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Alcohol Abuse Among Returning U.S. Veterans

The focus on military concerns in the last few weeks has understandably been on events in the Middle East, Ukraine and Afghanistan. But a new study from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University is shining a light on the continuing problems faced by returning U.S. military personnel—in particular their increased risk of abusing alcohol.

The study found that regardless of whether they experienced traumatic events during deployment, returning National Guard soldiers were more likely to develop a drinking problem when faced with civilian life setbacks, including job loss, legal problems, divorce, and serious financial or legal problems. The study authors say these are all very common for military families. The study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

Previous studies have shown that alcohol abuse is a major concern for reservists returning home. While almost 7 percent of Americans abuse or are dependent on alcohol, the rate of alcohol abuse among reserve soldiers returning from deployment is 14 percent, or almost double that of the civilian population, according to the Mailman researchers.

The study looked at 1,095 Ohio National Guard soldiers who had primarily served in either Iraq or Afghanistan in 2008 and 2009. The soldiers were interviewed three times over three years via telephone about their alcohol use, exposure to deployment-related traumatic events and stressors such as land mines, vehicle crashes, taking enemy fire and witnessing casualties. They were also questioned about any stress related to everyday life since returning from duty.

More than half (60 percent) of the soldiers who responded experienced combat-related trauma, 36 percent of soldiers experienced civilian stressors and 17 percent reported being sexually harassed during their most recent deployment. The researchers found that having at least one civilian stressor or a reported incident of sexual harassment during deployment raised the odds of alcohol use disorders; combat-related traumatic events were only marginally associated with alcohol problems.

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Jul 7 2014
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Liquor Ads Taking Aim at Young Binge Drinkers

Binge drinking is an increasing concern in the United States. A recent report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds that one in ten adult deaths is linked to binge drinking through illnesses the binge drinker contracts—such as hepatitis—or accidents that happen to the drinker or that he or she causes—including homicide and domestic abuse. The CDC defines binge drinking as five or more drinks in a row for males and four or more drinks in a row for females.

Binge drinking also remains a concern among young adults. A new report from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and the Boston University School of Public Health finds that liquor now trumps beer as the drink of choice for underage (ages 13 to 20) binge drinkers, likely because of increased marketing by alcohol companies.

“Spirit firms have taken a page from the beer playbook in their marketing to young people,” said David Jernigan, PhD, director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins in a conversation with NewPublicHealth.

The report on youth binge drinking was published in the Journal of Substance Use and found that spirits accounted for 43.8 percent of binge episodes, while beer accounted for less than one-third (31.4 percent) of binge episodes. “The inclusion of some relatively expensive brands in the top twenty-five binge brand list suggests that variables other than price are driving youth brand preferences with respect to binge drinking,” said Jernigan.

“Binge drinking accounts for most of the alcohol consumed by youth in the United States, and is associated with a host of negative consequences, including drunk driving, sexual assaults and suicide,” according to Timothy Naimi, MD, MPH, a lead author of the study and an associate professor at the Boston University School of Public Health.

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Jun 23 2014
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Study: Today’s Drugged Drivers More Likely to Mix Alcohol and Drugs, Have Taken Multiple Prescription Medicines

The profile of a drugged driver has changed substantially since 1993, according to a new study released today in the journal Public Health Reports, which shows that more drivers are now testing positive for prescription drugs, marijuana and multiple drugs.

“While we’ve seen a decrease over the years in motor vehicle fatalities involving people under the influence, the nature of those crashes is changing,” said study author Fernando Wilson, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

The study examines trends in the characteristics of U.S. drivers who were involved in fatal crashes between 1993 and 2010 and tested positive for drugs. The study, funded by the Public Health Law Research program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, was set up to investigate the relationship between state laws and the consumption of alcohol and other drugs in fatal car crashes. It found that the percentage of drugged drivers with three or more drugs in their system nearly doubled from 1993 to 2010, increasing from 11.5 percent to 21.5 percent. 

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“In 1993, about one in eight drivers were using multiple drugs concurrently. By 2010, it was closer to one in five. That’s a large increase in drug use,” Wilson said. “Beyond that, we’re also seeing more and more people using drugs and alcohol together. About 70 percent of drivers who tested positive for cocaine had also been consuming alcohol, and almost 55 percent of drivers who tested positive for cannabis also had alcohol in their systems.”

Additional findings:

  • Almost 60 percent of cannabis-only users were younger than 30 years.
  • Thirty-nine percent of prescription drug users were 50 years old or older, which seems to be in line with an overall increase in the use of prescription drugs by Americans, and the older population in general.

“These trends are likely to continue into the future given the aging U.S. population, an increasing reliance on prescription medications by medical providers and increasing initiatives to legalize marijuana,” said Wilson. “However, it is unclear whether current state policies are completely up to the challenge of addressing the growing issue of drugged driving.”

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Wilson about the study. He said he embarked on the research because of the tens of thousands of motor vehicle crashes each year and the need to figure out the most effective policies to curb distracted driving. According to Wilson, eighteen states have zero-tolerance laws for drugged drivers, but recent studies suggest that these laws may not be effective enough in decreasing traffic deaths.

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May 7 2014
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Could States’ Efforts to Reduce College Campus Drinking Backfire?

This week Maryland became one of more than a dozen states to ban sales of grain alcohol, also known as extreme-strength alcohol. The drink, which includes the brand name Everclear, is 95 percent pure alcohol. It has no color, taste or smell and so easily mixes—without detection—into juices, soda and punch, making it an effective date rape tool, according to college health officials. And it’s cheap.  A whole bottle can cost $15, which is a price easily shared among college or younger students.

Banning extreme-strength alcohol is among several initiatives a growing number of states are taking to try to reduce college student deaths, injuries and assaults linked to campus alcohol use. A report published in September by The Maryland Collaborative to Reduce College Drinking and Related Problems, which was formed in 2013 to address problems associated with excessive alcohol consumption on ten college campuses across the state, found that alcohol use of any kind on campuses across the country each year results in 1,800 deaths; 600,000 injuries; 700,000 assaults by someone under the influence; and nearly 1 million rapes and sexual assaults.

Many states, including Maryland, have declared college campus drinking to be a public health emergency that goes well beyond the campus because of the noise, vandalism, car crashes and community injuries and deaths linked to campus drinking each year. Banning grain alcohol was the Maryland Collaborative’s first initiative because college students who are binge drinkers—a serious and dangerous issue on campuses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—are 36 times more likely to drink grain alcohol than are non-binge drinkers, according to David H. Jernigan, the director of the Center on Alcohol Marketing and Youth at Johns Hopkins' Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md.

But some research shows that banning extreme strength alcohol can actually exacerbate the problem by raising awareness of the drink to students who may not have been aware of it before. This can push students in search of grain alcohol to find other high-octane sources, such as privately made moonshine, which can be even more highly concentrated than commercially available grain alcohol and can contain other contaminants, said Laura Forbes, an associate professor of health education at the University of Alabama/Birmingham and chair of the American College Health Association’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drugs Coalition.

According to Forbes, what is desperately needed is a campus culture change on alcohol just like the culture change that has reduced smoking on campus; many campuses bans tobacco use outright. Forbes said reaching that goal requires collaborations—such as the one in Maryland—that bring together campus administrators, businesses, student leaders, law enforcement, public health and the community.

“The way to change the culture,” she said, “is to start to have a conversation that with students about why they’re drinking and to include administrations, faculty, alumni and others in the talks.”

Forbes said the culture change won’t be a suddenly dry campus. “It will be incremental over time, but each campus has to start the change to where they want to move.”

>>Bonus Links:

  • The Maryland Collaborative has released a best practices guide for reducing campus drinking that includes both individual and campus-wide interventions.
  • The CDC recently updated its Alcohol and Public Health website, which now includes new infographics and links to videos, webinars, e-cards and podcasts, as well as a fact sheet on preventing excessive alcohol use, which highlights evidence-based strategies such as those recommended by the Community Preventive Services Task Force.
May 7 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 7

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Too Few Disabled Adults Participate in Physical Activities
Working-age adults with disabilities who get no aerobic physical activity are 50 percent more likely to have a chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes, stroke or heart disease than are their active peers, according to a Vital Signs report released today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most adults with disabilities are able to participate in physical activity, yet nearly half (47 percent) of them get no aerobic physical activity. An additional 22 percent aren’t active enough. However, only about 44 percent of adults with disabilities who saw a doctor in the past year got a recommendation for physical activity.

The key findings of the report include:

  • Working-age adults with disabilities are three times more likely to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer than are adults without disabilities.
  • Nearly half of adults with disabilities get no aerobic physical activity, an important protective health behavior to help avoid these chronic diseases.
  • Inactive adults with disabilities were 50 percent more likely to report at least one chronic disease than were active adults with disabilities.
  • Adults with disabilities were 82 percent more likely to be physically active if their doctor recommended it.
  • The CDC recommends that adults with disabilities talk to their doctor about how much and what kind of physical activity is right for them, and that doctors and other health professionals recommend options that fit each disabled patients. The agency has created a resource page to help health professionals direct disabled patients to fitness options.

Read more on physical activity.

>>Bonus Link: Read a NewPublicHealth interview with James Rimmer, director of the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability.

HHS: Quality Improvement Efforts Saved 15,000 Lives, $4B in Health Spending
New data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) indicates that quality improvements to the country’s health care system helped prevent nearly 15,000 deaths in hospitals, avoid 560,000 patient injuries and saved approximately $4 billion in health spending from 2011 to 2012. The preliminary data also indicates an overall nine percent decrease in hospital-acquired infections over that period. “We applaud the nationwide network of hospital systems and providers that are working together to save lives and reduce costs,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  “We are seeing a simultaneous reduction in hospital readmissions and injuries, giving patients confidence that they are receiving the best possible care and lowering their risk of having to be readmitted to the hospital after they get the care they need.” Read more on HHS.

AAP: Drunk Driving Remains a Significant Safety Threat for U.S. Children
Despite improvements in safety efforts and the data, motor vehicle crashes remain a leading cause of death for U.S. children and in approximately 20 percent of the deaths at least one of the drivers is legally drunk, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers examined National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data of children under age 15 who were killed in a traffic crash between 2001 and 2010. The study determined that child deaths with an alcohol-impaired driver decreased by 41 percent over that period, with a total of 2,344 victims. Researchers also determined that 61 percent of impaired drivers were unrestrained at the time of the crash and one-third did not have a valid driver’s license. The researchers said that communities need to “urge states and communities to target efforts at protecting children from impaired drivers and increasing use of age- and size-appropriate restraints for child passengers,” according to a release from the American Academy of Pediatricians. Read more on alcohol.

Apr 9 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 9

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One in Four Teen Births Are Among Younger Teens Ages 15 to 17
While births to younger teens ages 15 to 17 years have declined, they still represent over a quarter of teen births and nearly 1,700 births a week, according to this month’s Vital Signs, the monthly health indicator report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Although we have made significant progress reducing teen pregnancy, far too many teens are still having babies,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “Births to younger teens pose the greatest risk of poor medical, social and economic outcomes. Efforts to prevent teen childbearing need to focus on evidence-based approaches to delaying sexual activity and increasing use of the most effective methods of contraception for those teens who are sexually active.” Read more on sexual health.

Study: Rural Girls Get More Daily Exercise than Those in Suburban, Urban Communities
While the level of urbanicty—whether they live in rural, suburban or urban communities—does not seem to affect boys’ levels of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity, there is a noticeable effect for girls, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Researchers determined that girls from rural areas are 4.6 times more likely than those in suburban areas and 2.8 times more likely than those in urban areas to exceed the national physical activity recommendation of 60 or more minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity each day. The study tracked the daily activity of a random selection of 1,354 youth in 20 counties in North Carolina. Read more on physical activity.

Study: Mentions of Alcohol Brands in Popular Music Increase Youth Alcohol Use
The average young person in the United States hears approximately eight alcohol brand names each day while listening to music, increasing the risk they will use and abuse alcohol, according to a new study in the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research. Using information collected from more than 3,400 males and females ages 15 to 23, researchers determined that the average youth in that age group listens to 2.5 hours of music per day, with 3-4 brand mentions each hour. Lisa Henriksen, senior research scientist at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, called the findings “worrisome” in a release. "It would be foolish to think that the alcohol industry is unaware of and uninvolved with alcohol-brand mentions in music," said Henriksen. "The strategy of associating products with hip culture and celebrities who are attractive to youth comes straight from a playbook written by the tobacco industry." Approximately 39 percent of U.S. teens are current drinkers and about 22 percent are binge drinkers, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more on alcohol.

Mar 24 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 24

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Some Will Be Able to Enroll After March 31 Affordable Care Act Deadline
Some people will be able to enroll for coverage under the Affordable Care Act after the official enrollment deadline of March 31, according to new guidelines expected to be issued by the Obama administration. The new guidelines would allow people had previously tried to enroll by were prevented by systems problems such as technical difficulties, according to Reuters. "Open enrollment ends March 31. We are preparing for a surge in enrollment, and if consumers are in line on the 31st and can't finish, we won't shut the door on them. To be clear, if you don't have health insurance and do not start to sign up by the deadline, you can't get coverage again until next year," said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters in a statement. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Study: Alcohol-Related Vehicle Crashes Greatly Underreported
Alcohol is a far greater factor in U.S. motor vehicle deaths than has been reported, according to a new study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Using  Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, researchers determined that in the decade from 1999 to 2009 while only a little more than 3 percent of the death certificates for traffic deaths included alcohol as a contributing cause, about 21 percent of the deaths were legally drunk. Approximately 450,000 Americans were killed in traffic crashes during the period. The time that it takes coroners to take and process blood alcohol tests could be a reason for the underreported figures. Ralph Hingson, Sc.D., of the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said the vast discrepancy demonstrates the need for more reliable data. "We need to have a handle on what's contributing to the leading cause of death among young people," he said in a release. "You want to know how big the problem is, and if we can track it. Is it going up, or going down? And what policy measures are working?" Read more on alcohol.

NIH Identifies Genetic Markers Tied to Stroke, Cardiovascular Disease
Researchers and the National Institutes of Health have identified a genetic variant linked to increased risk for stroke, as well as a metabolic pathway tied to several common diseases, which taken together could improve how doctors identify and treat major diseases. “Our findings have the potential to identify new targets in the prevention and treatment of stroke, cardiovascular disease and many other common diseases,” said Stephen R. Williams, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia Cardiovascular Research Center and the University of Virginia Center for Public Health Genomics, Charlottesville. The genetic markers were found through the analysis of nearly 5,000 genomes. The results were published in the journal PLoS Genetics. About 600,000 Americans die of heart disease each year—one in every four deaths—and stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States. Read more on heart health.