Category Archives: Community Health
Recommended Listening: Baltimore Schools Get First Big Funding Boost for Infrastructure Improvement in 40 Years
Baltimore public schools are receiving a new $1 billion infrastructure investment—the first funding the school district has seen to actually build new schools in almost 40 years, according to a recent interview on the Tom Joyner Morning Show with Bishop Douglas Miles, co-chair of BUILD and co-founding member of Baltimore Education Council. Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley last week signed a law authorizing the funds for school construction and renovation. Eventually, 15 schools will be built and 35 will be repaired and renovated.
“The conditions in the schools have deteriorated,” said Miles. “Boilers breaking down annually in the middle of the winter, buildings lacking windows, water undrinkable because it’s lead-tainted—and our children deserve better than that.”
A growing wealth of data shows a positive relationship between the quality of school buildings and student outcomes. Also, about 85 percent of the 85,000 students in Baltimore schools receive free or reduced-cost lunch, the city has the lowest graduation rates in the state and nearly 140 of its 162 public schools are in very poor condition.
This infusion of funds will help promote academic success for the city’s students by decreasing education disparities. In the long-term it also has the potential to help improve the health of all Baltimore residents, as better education leads to better jobs, higher incomes, and longer, healthier lives. NewPublicHealth has previously illustrated the connection between education and health outcomes in an infographic.
>> Listen to the Tom Joyner Morning Show interview.
Psychiatrist "Bible" Gets a Numeric Overhaul
The American Psychiatric Association will release the latest version of the "Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders" (DSM) this Saturday at its annual meeting, according to Reuters. The current version is the DSM-IV, which was released a full 10 years ago -- the new version will be recast as DSM-5 (not DSM-V), with an eye toward updating the catalog of psychiatric conditions much more frequently with intermediate versions (DSM-5.1, DSM-5.2 and so on). The newest version also aims to introduce more scientific rigor and clinical confirmation of mental illness, such as, "using neuroscience in particular to tell the difference between, say, normal sadness and major depression." Though some criticize that the science just isn't there yet, and that the current version could lead to overdiagnosis. Read more on mental health.
Most Adults Enforce Smoke-Free Rules in Homes, Cars
Four out of five U.S. adults report having voluntary smoke-free rules in their homes and three out of four report having voluntary smoke-free rules in their vehicles, according to a study published in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease, a publication of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Despite the high prevalence of voluntary smoke-free rules in homes and vehicles, the study found that almost 11 million non-smoking adults continue to be exposed to secondhand smoke in their home, and almost 17 million non-smoking adults continue to be exposed to secondhand smoke in a vehicle. The study also showed that voluntary smoke-free rules were more prevalent in states with comprehensive smoke-free laws and tobacco control programs. Read more on tobacco.
Living Near Fast-Food Outlets Might Boost Obesity Risk
Black Americans who live within two miles of a fast food outlet have a higher body-mass index than those living farther away -- and that link especially holds true for those with lower incomes, according to a new study published in the American Journal of Public Health. The study involved more than 1,400 black adults divided into two groups: those making less than $40,000 per year and those making $40,000 or more per year. Read more on what it takes to create healthy communities.
How can we put a stop to violence? Gary Slutkin, MD, believes the key is treating it as we would any contagious disease. The epidemiologist and Founder/Executive Director of Cure Violence recently spoke at TEDMED 2013 about utilizing public health and science-based strategies to prevent violence in communities.
“The greatest predictor of a case of violence is a preceding case of violence,” said Slutkin.
And as with an epidemic such as cholera, the way to stop violence is to find those “first cases” and interrupt the transmission. Cure Violence’s model involves violence interrupters who play a similar role as health workers during epidemics, going into communities to help re-frame issues and cool down situations that could lead to violence. At the same time, outreach workers help people change their behavior and—in time—change the social norms of a community.
>> Watch the full TEDMED presentation.
>>Read more about the public health approach to public safety from Cure Violence.
In February, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation honored six communities with the inaugural RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize, which recognizes outstanding community partnerships that are helping people live healthier lives.
Recently, NewPublicHealth spoke with Claude-Alix Jacob, chief public health officer at the Cambridge, Mass., department of health, one of the six prize-winning communities to be recognized by the Foundation. Mr. Jacob spoke to NPH about how collaborating around and winning the Prize has impacted the community, including resilience in the face of tragedy.
>>Apply to become a winner of the 2013-2014 RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize. This year's application deadline is May 23, 2013.
NewPublicHealth: What did winning the RWJF Roadmaps to Health Prize mean to your community?
Claude Jacob: It has been great and exiting news for our community. Over the course of the last few months and through National Public Health Week last month we’ve had a chance to celebrate. We’ve been able to share our public health plans and community partnerships, but also under the aegis of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we now have more credibility for all of our efforts. The Foundation is associated with promoting important health improvement efforts nationwide and just to be linked to the Foundation will open doors, especially now that we’re one of the six inaugural prize winning communities.
During National Public Health Week we invited our community stakeholders to celebrate to thank them for their hard work in helping us to prepare for the site visit that was required of prize finalists. So it’s been a phenomenal few weeks.
NPH: How has winning the prize impacted the health improvements of your community?
Urban Farming, founded by recording artist Taja Sevelle, is a nonprofit organization with a goal of reducing hunger and increasing access to fresh, healthy foods by encouraging people in urban, rural and suburban areas to plant gardens on unused land. There are now over 66,600 community, residential and partner gardens that are part of the Urban Farming Global Food Chain around the world.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Taja Sevelle about the group and its plans for the future.
NewPublicHealth: How did you become interested in the issue of Urban Farming?
Taja Sevelle: I was recording a CD for Sony Records in Detroit, Mich., when I began to see the vast amounts of unused land in the city. I knew that numerous jobs were being shipped overseas and a lot of people who had lost their jobs were suffering. So, in 2005 I put my music career on the back burner and started Urban Farming with three gardens and a pamphlet. It was always a global vision that grew rapidly and started to get international coverage quickly.
Even though this seems like a new idea, it really is just reacquainting people with the age-old act of planting food. The World War II victory gardens, for example, are a great model because during that time, 20 million Americans planted gardens and grew almost half of the U.S. produce supply. Recently, when the economic downfall hit around the world, planting a garden became a necessity for many people who may not have been thinking about it previously.
NPH: What are the key goals for Urban Farming?
Business Coalitions to Receive Funds to Improve Community Health
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and United Health Foundation will award $700,000 in grants to nine National Business Coalition on Health member coalitions. The community health grants will fund resources to help the communities assess their health problems and come up with solutions. The issues include obesity rates, tobacco use, healthy living efforts and pre-term births. “Supporting and nurturing businesses to engage with their communities to identify and address priority local health issues is the first step in solving them,” said Reed Tuckson, MD, senior advisor of the United Health Foundation. Read more on community health.
AHA: Dog Owners at Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
Owning a pet—especially a dog—may help cut a person’s chance of heart disease, according to a new scientific statement from the American Heart Association (AHA). A study of more than 5,200 U.S. adults found a link between owning a dog and being more physically fit, because of the need to talk dogs on frequent walks. There are also calming effects to consider when looking at the lower levels of obesity, blood pressure and cholesterol. Glenn N. Levine, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, said more research is needed to determine whether adopting a pet can help improve pre-existing cardiovascular conditions. Read more on heart health.
HHS: $150M to Help Uninsured Enroll in New Health Insurance Options
Approximately $150 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will go toward community health centers to help uninsured Americans understand and enroll in new health insurance coverage options. The improvements will include hiring new staff, staff training and community outreach. There are about 1,200 health centers serving 21 million people annually. “Health centers have extensive experience providing eligibility assistance to patients, are providing care in communities across the nation, and are well-positioned to support enrollment efforts,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. Read more on access to health care.
Howard County has been the healthiest in Maryland since the Country Health Rankings launched in 2010. NewPublicHealth recently spoke with the county’s executive, Ken Ulman, about how the Rankings have helped drive further progress in improving the health of Howard County. Health initiatives introduced by Howard County have included a program that certifies schools as “Healthy Schools,” if they meet criteria in several areas including nutrition and physical activity, and a smoking ban in all county parks.
NewPublicHealth: Howard County has been consistently been ranked the healthiest county in Maryland. What key factors do you credit for that?
Ken Ulman: We start with some advantages. We have the blessings of a highly educated population that cares deeply about their community and have good jobs, and many, though not all, have [adequate financial] resources and access to care. We also have the advantage of having a nonprofit, the Horizon Foundation, based in Howard County that is dedicated to improving the health and wellbeing of people living and working in our county.
So it’s a combination of policy initiatives coupled with a public that really wants to make progress in these areas.
NPH: Have the County Health Rankings helped drive any of your public health and prevention initiatives?
Municipal mixed-use zoning is a public health strategy to create more walkable neighborhoods by creating integrated, un-siloed access to daily activities—such as going grocery shopping and traveling to school and work. A recent study in a special issue of the Journal of Health, Politics, Policy and Law funded by Public Health Law Research, a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, evaluated municipal zoning ordinances in 22 California cities to see whether the ordinances improved walkability in those communities. NewPublicHealth spoke with the study’s two authors, Sue Thomas, PhD, senior research scientist at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation-Santa Cruz (PIRE) and Carol Cannon, PhD, formerly with PIRE and current associate research scientist at the CDM Group, Inc, a consulting firm in Bethesda, Md.
>>Read the full study.
NewPublicHealth: What was the scope of your study?
Carol Cannon: We looked at ordinances that create municipal mixed use zoning, and whether these laws seem to have an impact on the potential for walking to destinations.
NPH: In what ways were the study and findings innovative?
NewPublicHealth is partnering with Grassroots Change: Connecting for Better Health to share interviews, tools, and other resources on grassroots public health. The project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Group supports grassroots leaders as they build and sustain public health movements at the local, state and national levels.
In this Q&A, conducted by Grassroots Change, Shannon Frattaroli, PhD, Associate Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Center for Injury Research and Policy, shares her perspective on grassroots power and the future of public health. Her research helps answer two critical questions: Why are grassroots movements so important; and what is a public health movement, anyway?
>> Frattaroli’s interview has been edited for NewPublicHealth. View the full interview at GrassrootsChange.net.
Grassroots Change: What do you see as the role of grassroots movements in public health?
Shannon Frattaroli: There’s tremendous potential. Public health at its core is about the public. The public should have a voice in public health, and grassroots movements are one way for that to happen. The public has been very engaged in policy issues or problems throughout the history of public health. When people get engaged and are strategic with regard to policy change, things can happen quickly. And change can happen in a way that feels more legitimate. I think it’s where we should be moving in the future.
GC: What does “grassroots movement” mean? How are grassroots health movements different from other types of advocacy?
While laws to help make it easier for everyone to get their veggies are cropping up all over, some would-be planters get stopped in their carrot tracks by regulations that prohibit use of public spaces for planting, or even limit what can be grown on private property, according to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal [note: subscription required]. In some jurisdictions, according to the article, sidewalk gardeners have been fined and may lack the clout to advocate for changing the laws.
>>Bonus Link: Read about Urban Farming, a nonprofit group with high-profile corporate sponsors that supports gardens on unused land.