Category Archives: Environment

Nov 17 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 17

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Ebola Patient from Sierra Leone Dies of Virus in U.S.
A doctor from Sierra Leone who arrived in the United States on Saturday for treatment for Ebola has died. The doctor was taken to the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, one of four U.S. hospitals with specialized units prepared to treat patients with the virus. News reports say the physician may have been sicker than other patients treated for Ebola so far in the United States. Read more on Ebola.

Disparities in Treating Black Children for Ear Infections Actually Results in Treatment that Meets Guidelines
Black children are less likely to be diagnosed with ear infections and less likely to receive broad-spectrum antibiotics for ear infections than are white children, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. But the discrepancy in prescribing fewer broad-spectrum antibiotics means black children actually are more likely to receive care in line with recommended guidelines for treating ear infections. Read more on prescription drugs.

Secondhand Marijuana Smoke May Damage Blood Vessels as Much as Tobacco Smoke
Breathing secondhand marijuana smoke could damage heart and blood vessels as much as secondhand cigarette smoke, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014 meeting this week in Dallas. In the study, blood vessel function in lab rats dropped 70 percent after 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke. Even when the marijuana contained no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—a compound in marijuana that produces intoxication—blood vessel function was still impaired. Reduced blood vessel function may raise the chances of developing atherosclerosis and could lead to a heart attack. “Most people know secondhand cigarette smoke is bad for you, but many don’t realize that secondhand marijuana smoke may also be harmful,” said Matthew Springer, PhD, senior author of the study and cardiovascular researcher and associate professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco’s Cardiology Division. Read more on environment.

Nov 14 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 14

More than 1 in 5 High School Students Currently Uses Tobacco
Almost 23 percent of high school students currently use a tobacco product, according to new data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.) “Nine out of ten smokers tried their first cigarette by age 18,” said Tim McAfee, MD, MPH, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. “We must do more to prevent our youth from using tobacco products, or we will see millions of them suffer and die prematurely as adults. Fully implementing proven tobacco control programs would help keep our youth from falling victim to tobacco.” A review by CDC researchers of the agency’s National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) found that in 2013, 22.9 percent of high school students and 6.5 percent of middle school students reported using a tobacco product within the last 30 days and nearly half of all high school students and 17.7 percent of middle school students said they had used a tobacco product at least once in their lifetime. The survey also found that 12.6 percent of high school students say they currently use two or more tobacco products. The researchers found that most young adults who use tobacco believe they will be able to quit, but about three out of four high school smokers continue smoking into adulthood. Read more on tobacco.

Climate Change Expected to Increase Airborne Allergens
Results of a new study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst strongly suggest that there will be increases in grass pollen production and allergen exposure up to 202 percent in the next 100 years, leading to a significant, worldwide impact on human health because of predicted rises in carbon dioxide. The researchers exposed grass plants to different atmospheric gas concentrations and found that high levels of carbon dioxide increased pollen production per flower by 53 percent. Read more on
environment.

Many Asthma Patients Would Like to Talk to Their Doctors about Cost Concerns
Asthma patients concerned about their ability to pay for medical care would like to talk about cost-related concerns with their physicians—but often do not get that opportunity, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. The study, published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, found that less than half of patients who expressed a preference for such discussions with their doctors reported having the conversations. “Financial burden from out-of-pocket health care expenses poses significant safety concerns and risk of poor outcomes to patients and society when patients utilize risky strategies, such as non-adherence, to address these burdens,” said Minal Patel, MD, U-M assistant professor of health behavior and health education and the lead author of the study. “Patients need to communicate with health care providers in order to access affordable options such as free samples, verification to access community assistance programs, and [a prescription change] or to adjust treatment recommendations.” Read more on access to health care.

Oct 14 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: October 14

EBOLA UPDATE: Death Rate Now Stands at 70 Percent; 4,447 Dead
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The World Health Organization (WHO) now puts the Ebola outbreak death rate at 70 percent, up from a previous estimate of 50 percent. WHO assistant director- general Bruce Aylward, MD, who announced the figure at a news conference, said this classifies Ebola as a “high mortality disease.” The global health agency also predicts there could be as many as 10,000 new cases per week within two months. The official toll so far is 4,447 deaths in 8,914 cases. Read more on Ebola.

DOD Adds Climate Change Threats to its Defense Mandate
Citing its effect on issues such as infectious disease, hunger and poverty, the U.S. Department of Defense has announced its intention to integrate climate change threats into all of its “plans, operations, and training.” The assessment came in the Pentagon’s 20-page Climate Change Adaptation Roadmap. "Rising global temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, climbing sea levels, and more extreme weather events will intensify the challenges of global instability, hunger, poverty, and conflict. They will likely lead to food and water shortages, pandemic disease, disputes over refugees and resources, and destruction by natural disasters in regions across the globe," wrote Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel in the report. Read more on the environment.

Study: Smoking Linked to 14 Million Major Medical Conditions
Cigarette smoking harms nearly every bodily organ and is linked to an estimated 14 million major medical conditions in U.S. adults, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema and is the illness most closely linked to smoking. The study was published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. “The disease burden of cigarette smoking in the United States remains immense, and updated estimates indicate that COPD may be substantially underreported in health survey data,” wrote the study authors. The study also linked smoking to 2.3 million cases of heart attack 1.3 million cases of cancer, 1.2 million cases of stroke and 1.8 million cases of diabetes. Read more on tobacco.

Aug 20 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 20

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Workers with Access to Natural Light Sleep Longer and Better
Natural light in the workplace improves overall health, according to a new study in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine. Researchers from Northwestern Medicine and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that employees with windows received 173 percent more white light exposure during an average work day and slept an average of 46 minutes more per night. They also engaged in more physical activity and reported a better overall quality of life. “There is increasing evidence that exposure to light, during the day—particularly in the morning—is beneficial to your health via its effects on mood, alertness and metabolism,” said senior study author Phyllis Zee, MD, PhD, a Northwestern Medicine neurologist and sleep specialist, in a release. “Workers are a group at risk because they are typically indoors often without access to natural or even artificial bright light for the entire day. The study results confirm that light during the natural daylight hours has powerful effects on health.” Read more on environment.

Public Transportation to Work Linked to Healthier Weights
Public transportation should potentially be added to what we think of as “active commuting” modes because of its related health benefits, according to a new study on TheBMJ.com. People who go to work on public transportation tend to be thinner than people who drive their own cars, according to researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and University College London. The findings are based on data from 7,424 people in the United Kingdom on how much body fat they had and from 7,534 people on their body mass index. “It seems to suggest switching your commute mode—where you can build in just a bit of incidental physical activity—you may be able to cut down on your chance of being overweight and achieve a healthier body composition as well,” said study leader Ellen Flint, according to Reuters. Read more on physical activity.

ACOG: All Pregnant Women Should Receive a Flu Shot
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is now recommending that all pregnant women, no matter how far along they are in the pregnancy, should be vaccinated against influenza. During the 2009-2010 flu season the immunization rate for pregnant women was 50 percent; prior to the 2009 H1N1 pandemic it was only 15 percent. According to the college, flu prevention is “an essential element of preconception, prenatal, and postpartum care” because of immune system changes during the pregnancy and the added need to protect the fetus. “The flu virus is highly infectious and can be particularly dangerous to pregnant women, as it can cause pneumonia, premature labor, and other complications, “ said Laura Riley, MD, chair of the College’s Immunization Expert Work Group, which developed the Committee Opinion in conjunction with the College’s Committee on Obstetric Practice. “Vaccination every year, early in the season and regardless of the stage of pregnancy, is the best line of defense.” Read more on maternal and infant health.

Aug 14 2014
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Public Health Icon Smokey Bear Turns 70

If you’re reading this, then YOU can prevent wildfires. Also forest fires.

Both are indelible messages from Smokey Bear—an icon of public health and a friendly face from everyone’s childhood—who is celebrating his 70th birthday. Born August 9, 1944, the creation of the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council has over the decades become the center of the longest-running PSA campaign in U.S. history.

As part of the birthday celebration, the U.S. Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters have launched a new round of PSAs featuring outdoor enthusiasts thanking Smokey for his years of work.

Since the campaign’s launch in 1944, the average number of acres burned by wildfires has decreased from 22 million to 6.7 million. However, they still remain one of the country’s most critical environmental issues—as well as one of its most misunderstood. While many people believe that lightning is the cause of most wildfires, the reality is the vast majority—9 out of 10—are manmade. The causes range from unattended campfires and burning debris on a windy day to improperly discarded smoking materials and operating equipment without spark arrestors.

Explore Smokey’s history and messaging at SmokeyBear.com, as well as on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

May 23 2014
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This Holiday Weekend, Download a Parking App and Help Reduce Emissions

It doesn’t really matter why you download a parking app this weekend. You might get a perch at the parade faster, make it to the grocery store before the steaks sell out or get that much closer to the restaurant front door. Using any parking app can reduce your driving around time, and, therefore, reduce the emissions from your car.

Studies reported by the Boston University College of Engineering have estimated that, on a daily basis, 30 percent of traffic in the downtown area of major cities is due to searching for parking spots. Over the span of one year in a small Los Angeles business district, cars cruising for parking created emissions equivalent to 38 trips around the world, burning 47,000 gallons of gasoline and producing 730 tons of carbon dioxide.

Smart Parking infographic View the whole infographic at streetline.com

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, vehicle emissions contribute to air pollution and are a major ingredient in the creation of smog in large cities. Pollution has been linked to asthma and other respiratory conditions. In addition, a 2013 study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that 53,000 premature deaths occur each year in the United States because of vehicle emissions.

Visiting a new city or driving around at home? Search for “parking app” and the name of the city and you’ll find apps dedicated to finding parking spaces with ease. For example, the recently released Park Chicago pilot app includes meter rates for various areas of the city and directions to the closest spot, as well as hours, prices and directions for hundreds of parking garages in the city.

Getting familiar with a parking app will put you on good footing for “smart parking,” a growing concept that places sensors in parking spots and lets you reserve and even pay for a spot from your phone. The benefit to the driver is less time on the parking prowl. The benefit to cities is the data collected on how frequently spots are used, which can help cities better allocate space. Parker, an app developed by smart parking company Streetline, can even identify spots for disabled drivers, and share that data with cities to help determine whether the spaces are located where they are most needed.

But you still have to pay the bill, and check the meter. Down the road, parking apps will also be able to alert law enforcement to ticket your car if you run out your clock.

May 2 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 2

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CDC: Many Annual Deaths Are Preventable
Each year, nearly 900,000 Americans die prematurely from the five leading causes of death—yet 20 to 40 percent of the deaths from each cause could be prevented, according to a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The five leading causes of death in the United States are heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke and unintentional injuries. Together they accounted for 63 percent of all U.S. deaths in 2010, with rates for each varying greatly from state to state. The study suggests that if all states had the lowest death rate observed for each cause, it would be possible to prevent:

  • 34 percent of premature deaths from heart diseases, prolonging about 92,000 lives
  • 21 percent of premature cancer deaths, prolonging about 84,500 lives
  • 39 percent of premature deaths from chronic lower respiratory diseases, prolonging about 29,000 lives
  • 33 percent of premature stroke deaths, prolonging about 17,000 lives
  • 39 percent of premature deaths from unintentional injuries, prolonging about 37,000 lives

Modifiable risk factors such smoking and obesity are largely responsible for each of the leading causes of death, according to the CDC. Many of these risks are avoidable by making changes in personal behaviors, while others are due to social, demographic, environmental, economic and geographic disparities in the neighborhoods in which people live and work. Southeastern states had the highest number of preventable deaths for each of the five causes. The study authors suggest that states with higher rates can look to states with similar populations, but better outcomes, to see what they are doing differently to address leading causes of death. Read more on community health.

Cost of Fighting Wildfires Projected to Skyrocket this Year
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) is projecting that fighting wildfires in 2014 will cost $470 more than is currently available."With climate change contributing to longer and more intense wildfire seasons, the dangers and costs of fighting those fires increase substantially," said DOI Assistant Secretary of Policy, Management and Budget Rhea Suh. Drought conditions in the West, especially in California, combine with other factors to predict a dangerous fire season. Last year, 34 wildfire firefighters died and wildfires burned 4.1 million acres and 1,000 homes. The department would have to divert funds from other programs, which it has previously done. Department officials say climate change is a factor in the increase in wildfires. Read more on the environment.

Starting Antidepressant Treatment at Highest Doses Increases Suicide Risks for Kids and Teens
Children and young adults who start antidepressant therapy at high doses, rather than at the typically prescribed doses, appear to be at greater risk for suicidal behavior during the first 90 days of treatment, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine. The rate of suicidal behavior among children and young adults who started antidepressant therapy at high doses was about twice as high compared with a control group of patients who received a typically prescribed dose. Read more on mental health.

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.

Mar 11 2014
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Why Chipotle’s Guacamole Scare Really Matters

Lost in the late night guffaws over Chipotle’s report to investors last week that future weather changes could impact the price of avocados—and in turn the availability of guacamole—is that those changes may impact far more than just chips and dips.

The Chipotle annual report told investors that “Increasing weather volatility or other long-term changes in global weather patterns, including any changes associated with global climate change, could have a significant impact on the price or availability of some of our ingredients...[and] we may choose to temporarily suspend serving menu items, such as guacamole or one or more of our salsas...”

The chain’s concern comes from scientists’ predictions for hotter temperatures and less rainfall in upcoming decades, which could reduce the yields of crops such as avocados. But a drop in rainfall impacts so much more than guacamole. Several times this year multiple communities in California, which has faced a severe drought, issued water restrictions as stringent as how frequently people could flush their toilets.

Recently The Atlantic Cities published an online quiz about how much water it takes for common activities such as showers and laundry. The quiz was developed by an Indiana University professor who was surprised by the many wrong answers he got from the thousand people he surveyed.

Do you know how much water it takes to water the lawn? Check out the quiz here.

Mar 4 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 4

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Army, NIH Studies Look at Mental Health Risks, Resilience in U.S. Soldiers
JAMA Psychiatry
has released a collection of three articles detailing the findings of a large-scale study of mental health risk and resilience in members of the U.S. Military. Among the findings of  The Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS):

  • The rise in suicide deaths from 2004 to 2009 occurred not only in currently and previously deployed soldiers, but also among soldiers never deployed.
  • Nearly half of soldiers who reported suicide attempts indicated their first attempt was prior to enlistment.
  • Soldiers reported higher rates of certain mental disorders than civilians, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), intermittent explosive disorder (recurrent episodes of extreme anger or violence), and substance use disorder.

“These studies provide knowledge on suicide risk and potentially protective factors in a military population that can also help us better understand how to prevent suicide in the public at large,” said National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D.

The emphasis on mental health in the military comes at the same time as a small group of Vietnam veterans has filed suit against the U.S. government, alleging they received other-than-honorable discharges for violations that the psychiatric community and Army now understand were attributable to post-traumatic stress. The veterans say the government has resisted their attempts to upgrade the discharges. Read more on mental health.

NIH: Allergy Prevalence Consistent Across U.S. Regions, Although Type Varies
Allergy prevalence of allergies is consistent across all regions of the United States in every demographic except for children age 5 years and younger, according to a new study from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Researchers analyzed blood serum data from approximately 10,000 Americans between 2005 and 2006. “Before this study, if you would have asked 10 allergy specialists if allergy prevalence varied depending on where people live, all 10 of them would have said yes, because allergen exposures tend to be more common in certain regions of the U.S.,” said Darryl Zeldin, MD, scientific director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of NIH, in a release. “This study suggests that people prone to developing allergies are going to develop an allergy to whatever is in their environment. It’s what people become allergic to that differs.” The comprehensive study also examined and outlined risk factors that would make a person more likely to develop an allergy. Read more on the environment.

Study: SNAP for Just 6 Months Increases Kids’ Food Security Significantly
Children in households that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—previously known as the Food Stamp Program—for just six months experience significant increases in their “food security,” according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Food insecurity—or lack of easy access—is tied to a range of health and developmental problems. The study concluded that “SNAP serves a vital role in improving the health and well-being of low-income children by increasing food security” and that “Future research is needed to determine whether specific groups of children experience differential improvements in food security.” SNAP provided assistance to approximately 47 million people in 2013, with about half of those children. Read more on nutrition.