Category Archives: Environment
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.
EPA Sets Cleaner Fuel and Car Standards to Cut Air Pollution and Improve Health
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized emission standards for cars and gasoline to significantly reduce harmful pollution and prevent thousands of premature deaths and illnesses. According to the EPA, the new standards will also create efficiency improvements for cars and trucks. The standards go into effect by 2017.
The new standards cut emissions of a range of harmful pollutants that can cause premature death and respiratory illnesses. By 2030, EPA estimates that up to 2,000 premature deaths; 50,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children; 2,200 hospital admissions and asthma-related emergency room visits; and 1.4 million lost school days, work days and days when activities would be restricted due to air pollution will be prevented. Total health-related benefits in 2030 will be between $6.7 and $19 billion annually.
The program will also reduce exposure to pollution near roads. More than 50 million people live, work, or go to school in close proximity to high-traffic roadways, and the average American spends more than one hour traveling along roads each day. Read more on environment.
Study Finds Many Parents Support Flu Shots at School
Half of parents in the United States would agree to have their children get their flu shots at school, according to a survey from the Brown School of Public Policy at Washington University in St. Louis. Researchers at the school conducted a nationally representative online survey of more than 1,000 parents of school-aged children. Convenience was the chief reason for parents supporting flu shots at school. Thirty two percent of parents surveyed were not sure if they would consent to giving the shots at school and 17 percent said they would not consent. Most likely to support flu shots at school were college-educated parents and parents of uninsured children. The study was published in the journal Vaccine.
Flu season can last in the United States through April, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is especially the case in communities where the season started later in the fall or early winter. In a recent report, CDC researchers found that the flu vaccine “offered substantial protection against the flu this [2013-2014] season,” reducing a vaccinated person’s risk of having to go to the doctor for flu illness by about 60 percent across all ages
“We are committed to the development of better flu vaccines, but existing flu vaccines are the best preventive tool available now. This season vaccinated people were substantially better off than people who did not get vaccinated. The season is still ongoing. If you haven’t yet, you should still get vaccinated," said CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, in a recent release. Read more on flu.
Online Ratings Currently Not Used Much to Choose Physicians
Online ratings that review physicians can influence which doctor a patient chooses, but most patients rank insurance acceptance and distance from home or office as more important, according to a new study in JAMA.
- 9 percent of responders said they consider doctor rating websites “very important” in their search for a physician
- 89 percent of responders ranked “accepts my health insurance” as “very important.”
- 59 percent said a convenient office location very important
The study also found that only five percent of those surveyed have ever posted ratings online, although two-thirds of responders were aware of ranking sites, a higher percentage than found in previous studies.
“These may seem useful, but no one is regulating this ‘crowdsourced’ information about doctors. There’s no way to verify its reliability, so online ratings may not currently be the best resource for patients,” David Hanauer, a primary care pediatrician and clinical associate professor of pediatrics at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Detroit. Read more on community health.
FDA’s ‘The Real Cost’ Multimedia Campaign to Graphically Depict the Health Consequences of Smoking
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched a new national public education campaign combating youth tobacco use. “The Real Cost” multimedia campaign—with television, radio, print, online and out-of-home advertising—brings together vivid imagery and compelling facts to graphically depict the health consequences of smoking, such as tooth loss and skin damage. The new campaign, which will run in 200 U.S. markets for at least 12 months, targets the 10 million kids ages 12 to 17 who have never smoked, but are at risk, as well as kids who have experimented with smoking. “We know that early intervention is critical, with almost nine out of every ten regular adult smokers picking up their first cigarette by age 18,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD. Each day, more than 3,200 youth under ages and younger try their first cigarette and more than 700 become daily smokers. Read more on tobacco.
HHS Expands Patient Access to Lab Records
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is expanding patient access to health records by allowing patients, or their designated “personal representative,” access complete test reports from laboratories. The final rule also eliminates the exception under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 Privacy Rule to a patient’s right to access protected health information when it is held by a CLIA-certified or CLIA-exempt laboratory. “The right to access personal health information is a cornerstone of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Information like lab results can empower patients to track their health progress, make decisions with their health care professionals, and adhere to important treatment plans.” Read more on access to health care.
Study: Climate Change Could Mean Significantly More Heat-related Summer Deaths
The combination of climate change and the growing elderly population could mean a dramatic increase in the number of heat-related summer deaths over the next decades, according to a new study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Using data on weather patterns and death rates from 1993 to 2006, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Public Health England, concluded that if no preventive measures are taken then the number of 2,000 annual heat-related deaths in England and Wales will climb 257 percent by the 2050s, while the number of 41,000 deaths related to cold will fall two percent. People ages 75 and older are at the greatest risk. Preventive measures could air conditioning, as well as more sustainable options such as shading and changes in building insulation and construction materials. Read more on the environment.
Obese Children More Susceptible to Air Pollution-Related Asthma
Obese children are more susceptible to air pollution-related asthma, according to a new study in the journal Environmental Research. Researchers followed the health of 311 children, ages 5 and 6, in predominantly Dominican and African-American neighborhoods of New York City, finding that high exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)—a family of air pollutants—was only associated with asthma among obese children The study determined that obese children exposed to the PAH chemicals 1-methylphenanthrene and 9- methylphenanthrene were two to three times more likely to have asthma. PAHs are emitted by vehicles, cigarette smoke, cooking, incense, burning candles and various other indoor sources. Two possible explanations for the disparity are that obese children tend to be less active, so are more likely to be exposed to indoors sources of PAH, and that they may breathe more rapidly than children of healthier weights Better understanding of the risk factors opens the door to more targeted interventions. “These findings suggest that we may be able to bring down childhood asthma rates by curbing indoor, as well as outdoor, air pollution and by implementing age-appropriate diet and exercise programs,” said senior author Rachel Miller, MD, professor of medicine (in pediatrics) and environmental health sciences, and co-deputy director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health. Read more on pediatrics.
Report: Antibiotics Dangerous to Humans Still Used in Livestock
Despite knowing their risk to humans, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to allow the use of certain antibiotics as additives in animal feed and water, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council based on documents acquired under the Freedom of Information Act. In a review from 2001 to 2010 the FDA concluded that 30 such antibiotics posed a significant risk of exposing people to antibiotic- resistance bacteria. The drugs were approved for “non-therapeutic” use in farm animals, such as preventing disease or promoting growth of the animals, instead of treating specific illnesses. In December the FDA announced its intention to combat the spread of antibacterial resistance by prohibiting the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals for food production purposes, while also adding veterinary oversight to therapeutic use of the drugs in animals. Read more on food safety.
Residents of Public Housing Developments, Rental Assistance Units See Significant Gap in Oral Health Care
People who live in public housing developments and rental assistance units are less likely to have routine preventive dental care and more likely to have suffered serious oral health issues related to tooth loss, according to a new study in The Journal of Urban Health. The study was conducted by the Partners in Health and Housing Prevention Research Center (PHH-PRC) at the Boston University School of Public Health. The researchers looked at four indicators for people living in Boston’s publicly supported housing: having had a dental visit in the last year, having had a dental cleaning in the last year, having had six or more teeth extracted, and having dental insurance. They found that people in public housing, despite being as likely to have had a dental visit in the past year, were significantly less likely to have had a cleaning. The gap in health care is especially serious for the seniors in this already vulnerable population: Compared to younger residents, seniors 65-75 years old were 30 times as likely to have had six or more teeth removed. Read more on prevention.
HHS to Form Committee to Address Children’s Needs in Disasters
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is forming a new advisory committee to help meet the particular needs of children before, during and after a disaster or other public health emergency. The committee will seek to bring together experts from the scientific, public health and medical fields. HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) also created the Children’s HHS Interagency Leadership on Disasters (CHILD) working group in 2010, which has so far increased interagency coordination and recommendations to improve lifesaving care for children in disasters; developed ways to mitigate the behavioral and psychological needs of children in disasters; and identification of medications and vaccines for children in emergencies. The deadline for nominations for committee membership is Feb. 14. Read more on disasters.
Study: Cold Weather May Help People Lose Weight
There’s at least one benefit to the frigid air currently blanketing much of the country—regular exposure to mild cold may help people lose weight and sustain healthier weights, according to a new study in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. However, that also means that the during the winter, when most buildings keep their temperature warmer, our body is working less to stay warm, so using less energy. "Since most of us are exposed to indoor conditions 90 percent of the time, it is worth exploring health aspects of ambient temperatures," said first author of the article Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt of Maastricht University Medical Center in The Netherlands. "What would it mean if we let our bodies work again to control body temperature? We hypothesize that the thermal environment affects human health and more specifically that frequent mild cold exposure can significantly affect our energy expenditure over sustained time periods." Read more on obesity.
AHA, NFL App to Encourage Kids’ Physical Activity
The American Heart Association and the National Football League have released a new app, NFL Play 60, to encourage kids to get the full 60 minutes of daily recommended physical activity. In the interactive running experience, players dropped into a virtual world full of obstacles, and have to run, jump, pivot and turn in place to make their app character do the same and navigate the world. “One-third of U.S. children and adolescents are overweight or obese and at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke. Engaging young people in physical activity is one of the best ways to decrease their risk for heart disease,” said Mariell Jessup, MD, President of the American Heart Association. “We’re proud to partner with the NFL in developing an innovative way to reach adolescents, through their schools and now via their smartphones, in an effort to impact their lives earlier to make their lives longer.” The app is available for free download in the iTunes store starting today and will be available for Android on Feb. Read more on physical activity.
A new report from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives urges government at the local, state and federal levels to address noise pollution, which the study estimates impacts 104 million Americans. The researchers say noise not only impacts hearing, but also contributes to heart disease, hypertension, sleep disturbances, stress, learning difficulties and even injuries.
"Everyone complains about noise, yet we do virtually nothing about it in this country," says Richard Neitzel, PHD, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health and a co-author of the new report. “Noise is really up there in terms of health problems it causes, but it gets no attention—especially compared to other common exposures such as air pollution.”
Links between noise and health impacts are still being studied, but stress is thought to be a key factor.
The report suggests that noise be included in the federal public health agenda and recommends areas for regulation to reduce noise levels, including setting emission levels, improving information dissemination about the dangers of noise and a call to conduct more research to better understand the impact of noise on the population. Neitzel’s report includes recommendations for the National Prevention Strategy, a strategy to achieve prevention efforts across federal agencies:
- Exert noise control through direct regulation, setting maximum emissions levels.
- Require emissions disclosure on products, such as children’s toys.
- Improve information dissemination about the dangers of noise.
- Conduct more research to fully understand the impact of noise on the population.
The researchers also suggest ways state and local governments could fill the gaps:
- Enact regulations on sources of noise that aren’t covered by the Environmental Protection Agency or other federal agencies.
- Adopt procurement policies to reduce community noise caused by construction, emergency vehicles and maintenance equipment.
- Take steps to build or renovate housing that protects people from noise health initiatives across the federal government.
>>Bonus Link: Read a NewPublicHealth blog about a study by a visiting attorney fellow of the Network for Public Health Law on the health impacts of environmental noise.
NewPublicHealth Q&A: Florence Fulk and Tami Thomas-Burton on the Impact of the Environment on Health
Florence Fulk, MS, BS, a research biologist with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Tami Thomas-Burton, BS, MPH, of the Office of the Regional Administrator-Environmental Justice at EPA, will be speaking at the National Health Impact Assessment meeting this week on HIAs and environmental policy. NewPublicHealth caught up with Fulk and Thomas-Burton ahead of the conference to ask about EPA’s use of health impact assessments.
NewPublicHealth: What steps has the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) taken with respect to health impact assessments?
Florence Fulk: Within EPA is the Office of Research and Development, and within that office we have a Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program which is providing tools, models and approaches to support HIAs across the country. We’re also demonstrating HIA as an approach to integrate and weigh tradeoff in community decision making.
NPH: Why is the EPA investing in health impact assessments?
Fulk: The primary vision for the Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program is to inform and empower communities to look at human health, economic and environmental factors in their decision making, and to do it in a way that fosters community sustainability. And that vision is very closely linked to the values and the function of HIAs. The number of HIAs that are being conducted in the United States and the number of people that are conducting HIAs in the United States has formed this growing community of practice, which can inform our Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program by understanding the decisions that communities are facing and how they’re bringing health, economic and environmental information to the process.
We also see that by growing a community of practice as a network to disseminate EPA tools, models, data and guidance, the research that we do to support HIAs also gives us a way to raise awareness about sustainable alternatives in community decisions.
In the 1970s and 80s, residents of the Bronx, one of New York City’s five boroughs, were so anxious to leave the crime-ridden area that many residential and commercial buildings—once majestic and architecturally rich—were torched and empty for decades. Now fifty years later there’s a waiting list of thousands for Via Verde, a new low- and middle-income Bronx housing complex that opened last year. Many features set the complex apart from almost any other housing development in the United States, including an emphasis on greenery from almost every vantage point of the building. This helps create a calming and beautiful atmosphere for the residents, many of whom grew up in crowded housing projects where any nearby parks were usually too dangerous to enjoy.
Why is housing important for health? A lack of affordable rental housing can push more tenants into substandard or overcrowded living situations. Living in unaffordable housing also leaves fewer resources for the things that can keep a family healthy, such as healthy food or preventative health care. Low-income housing also has a reputation for being unhealthy, and for good reason—more than 6 million housing units in the U.S. have deficiencies such as lead paint hazards; allergens, dampness and mold that can trigger asthma; and unsafe structural issues that can cause falls and other injuries. Via Verde and other similar efforts seek to change all that, with housing that is not only affordable but also safe, healthy and even environmentally sound and sustainable (which in turn also saves on costs).
The design for Via Verde was the winner of a 2006 competition hosted by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development; the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects; the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA); and the Enterprise Foundation. It was New York City’s first juried design competition for affordable and sustainable housing.
Who better to offer up advice on summer sun protection than the Los Angeles County Health Department? Recently the department warned its residents to “practice summer sun smarts” to protect themselves from skin cancer, which, at 1 million diagnoses per year according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is now the most common form of cancer among Americans.
July is recognized as "UV Safety Month" to encourage everyone—not just those in Los Angeles—to protect themselves from ultraviolet (UV) rays, a major risk factor for most skin cancers, by using sunscreen and avoiding prolonged sun exposure during peak hours. “Simple sun safeguards can go a long way in protecting the health of you and your family this summer,” says Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, the departments’ director of public health.
In other summer sun safety news, this week the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and SAFE KIDS Worldwide partnered up to promote National Heatstroke Prevention Day this past Wednesday, July 31. NHTSA and their partners used this opportunity to educate parents on the dangers of leaving children in unattended vehicles in the summer heat, as there have already been over 20 heat-related deaths of children in cars this summer. Children’s body temperatures can spike three to five times faster than an adult’s, and even cool temperatures in the 60s can cause the temperature in the car to rise well above 110 degrees Fahrenheit—so safety steps are critical at all times.
CDC: Youth Homicide Rate at a 30-Year Low
The youth homicide rate reached a 30-year low in 2010, though a slowing of the decline since 2000 indicates the increased need for youth violence prevention strategies, according to a new data in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). The 2010 rate was 7.5 per 100,000 U.S. youth, ages 10 to 24. Higher-risk youth, including males and non-Hispanic black youth, have seen slower declines in the homicide rate. “We are encouraged to see a decline in the homicide rate among our youth but unfortunately, homicide continues to rank in the top three leading causes of death for our young people,” said Linda C. Degutis, DrPH, MSN, director, CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “Our youth represent our future and one homicide is one too many. Comprehensive approaches that include evidence-based prevention strategies are essential to eliminate homicide as a leading cause of death of young people.” Read more on violence.
FDA Proposes Arsenic Limit for Apple Juice
The U.S. Food and Drug administration has proposed a limit of 10 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic in apple juice, which is about the same levels permitted in drinking water. Inorganic arsenic, which is both naturally occurring in the environment and a product of arsenic-containing pesticides, is a known carcinogen linked to skin lesions, developmental effects, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity and diabetes. The non-profit Consumer Reports called the proposal a "reasonable first step in protecting consumers from unnecessary exposure to arsenic." Now that the FDA has released its proposed guidance, we look forward to analyzing the agency's risk assessment, submitting comments, and continuing the dialogue on this important public health issue," said Urvashi Rangan, Director of Consumer Safety and Sustainability at the organization. Read more on food safety.
Study: Air Pollution Kills 2.1 Million People Each Year
As many as 2.1 million people die every year because of global air pollution, according to a new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters. About 470,000 of those are linked to human-caused increases in ozone, although climate change is only a small factor. Fine particulate matter air pollution can get into the lungs, causing cancer and other respiratory illnesses. "Our estimates make outdoor air pollution among the most important environmental risk factors for health," study co-author Jason West, of the University of North Carolina, said in a release. "Many of these deaths are estimated to occur in East Asia and South Asia, where population is high and air pollution is severe." Read more on environment.