Category Archives: Nutrition
Jane Brody is the Personal Health columnist for The New York Times. She joined the newspaper in 1965 as a specialist in medicine and biology after receiving degrees in biochemistry and writing for multiple college newspapers, as well as for the Minneapolis Tribune. With her column she has seen and reported on almost 50 years in the evolution of personal and community health.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Brody about her take on the state of community health—and what we can all do to improve it.
NewPublicHealth: Over the years, what efforts have you seen that you think have been most effective at improving community health?
Jane Brody: Well, I think one of the most exciting things that’s happened in New York City, and possibly in other cities as well, is getting better food to people who live in food deserts. For example, collecting food that would otherwise be wasted and bringing it to communities where people get free food that is healthy, fresh, and they even have demonstrations of recipes. In fact, I got one of my favorite recipes—it’s a green bean frittata—from one of their demonstrations that I attended just to see how it all worked out.
We’ve also, as you’ve no doubt heard, been putting in all of these bike lanes and we now have introduced the Bike Share Program, which is not inexpensive, but it does at least give more people an opportunity to get off their butts and get out of their cars and maybe even not even use public transportation in some cases, but to get some exercise to and from work, which is wonderful. I remember during one of the transit strikes that we had in New York City, I rode my bicycle from Brooklyn to Times Square where I work, over the bridges and stuff, and it was just wonderful because I got my exercise in at the same time as I got to work and I didn’t have to spend an extra hour exercising. There have been improvements. We have, of course, public pools that are only open in the summer, but in summer is better than no public pools and nobody has to pay anything for a public pool, which is really great.
New ‘Health Affairs’ Brief Looks at Novel Coverage Idea under the Affordable Care Act
A number of states that have decided against implementing the Medicaid expansion program under the Affordable Care Act, which would give Medicaid benefits to many low-income adults who currently don’t have health insurance, may have another idea for coverage. The states are considering providing people eligible for the Medicaid funds with vouchers to purchase private insurance on their state health insurance exchanges. The exchanges, also known as marketplaces, open October 1, 2013 for health insurance that begins January 1, 2014. A new policy brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation looks at whether that option can be cost-effective and still provide benefits equal to those provided by the traditional Medicaid program. Read more on access to health care.
Teen Dating Violence Persists Despite Prevention Efforts
Two recent studies by the University of Maryland School of Public Health examine physical dating violence (PDV) among teens found it persists despite decades of national and local prevention efforts. The research showed that PDV rates have remained consistent for girls since 1999 and that rates for boys' PDV have increased. The study on trends in girls, published in the Journal of School Health, found that approximately one in 10 girls experience PDV annually. Teenage girls who reported being physically abused by a girlfriend or boyfriend were also more likely to report feeling sad and hopeless and have suicidal thoughts, violence-related behaviors and engage in sexually risky behavior. A second study, published in the International Quarterly of Community Health Education, found that the prevalence of male PDV victims increased about 30 percent between 1999 and 2009, and according to the study by 2009 almost one in eight high school males reported having been hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend within the past year. The study also found feelings of hopelessness, physical fighting, multiple sex partners and lack of condom use among male victims of PDV. Read more on violence.
USDA, EPA Launch U.S. Food Waste Challenge
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, which calls on food producers, processors, manufacturers, retailers, communities and government agencies to reduce, recover and recycle food waste. Food waste in the United States is estimated at between 30 to 40 percent of the food supply. In 2010, an estimated 133 billion pounds of food from U.S. retail food stores, restaurants and homes was never consumed. In 2010, the financial value of food waste was pegged at close to $400 for every U.S. consumer. As part of the food challenge, USDA is initiating activities to reduce waste in the school meals program, educate consumers about food waste and food storage, and develop new technologies to reduce food waste. To join the Challenge visit here. Read more on nutrition.
Recession Saw Parents Cut Back on Care for Kids with Special Health Needs
The financial struggles of the recent recession led many families to cut back on health care treatments for children with chronic physical or emotional problems, according to the journal Health Affairs. About one in every five U.S. kids fits these criteria. "Those are children who require health or related services beyond those required by children generally," said researcher Pinar Karaca-Mandic, an assistant professor of public health at the University of Minnesota. "A child with asthma would fit in this category, for example. A child with depression, ADHD or a physical limitation would also fit this definition." Researchers analyzed government data on out-of-pocket costs for families with private insurance from 2001 to 2009, finding expenses climbed steadily until 2007, when spending for generally healthy children jumped but spending for kids with special health needs dropped. Dental care and prescription medications were the services most likely to see cut backs. Christina Bethell, professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health and Science University, in Portland, said the findings demonstrate that "We're not putting a system of care together for kids that appears to be optimal, and families are struggling.” Read more on access to health care.
CDC: Older Americans, Pregnant Women at Greatest Risk for Listeria
Older Americans, pregnant women, newborns and people with weakened immune systems account for approximately 90 percent of all Listeria food poisoning cases each year, according to the a new Vital Signs report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report outlines safety measures to help prevent the bacterial infection, including knowing which foods are highest risk and how to prepare them properly. About 1,600 people contract Listeria annually and it is the third leading cause of food poisoning deaths. Read more on food safety.
Health of Black, Hispanic Teens Most Affected by Fast Food Near Schools
Fast food restaurants near schools have the greatest negative impact on the health of black and Hispanic teens in lower-income neighborhoods, according to a new study in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing. Those teens were more likely than white of Hispanic kids to be overweight or obese. For all students, fast food one mile closer to school basically offset the benefits of one day of exercise per week; for black and Hispanic teens it offset up to three days of exercise. "The findings imply that it is important to examine the behaviors and contexts associated with low-income and ethnic minority status in urban areas," study co-author Sonya Grier, associate professor of marketing at American University, noted in the release. "These populations not only are the fastest growing but also have the highest rates of obesity, and research is relatively limited." Read more on obesity.
Special Family Court Systems Limit Kids' Time in Foster Care, Improve School Performance
With families who went through a special unified family court system that deals with divorce, child custody, juvenile delinquency, drug abuse and alcohol abuse, children spent less time in foster care and performed better in school (also an indicator of better emotional health), according to a new study in Evaluation Review. Kids whose families went through these courts were more likely to be reunited with their parents or other primary caregivers. Researchers found that children spent an average of 29 days fewer in foster care placements in counties with unified family courts, and kids were 11 percent more likely to be reunited with their parents or other caregivers. “The shortened time in foster care seen in this study can be attributed to the efficiency of unified family courts, which translates into savings for the court system and benefits to children seen through improved educational outcomes,” said Frank Sloan, PhD, of Duke University. The study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Public Health Law Research Program. Read more on education.
Diets High in Vegetables and Low in Meats Lead to Fewer Chronic Diseases, Longer Lives
Vegetarians and people with diets low in meat and high in vegetables are less likely to die from heart disease or any other chronic conditions over any particular period of time, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. In a study of more than 73,000 people from 2002 to 2007, researchers found that by December 31, 2009 about seven in 1,000 meat eaters and about five to six in 1,000 vegetarians died each year. However, researchers noted that there were a variety of contributions to this result. "It's important to note that the vegetarians in this study were more highly educated, less likely to smoke, exercised more and were thinner," said Alice Lichtenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University in Boston, who was not involved with the new study, to Reuters Health. About 5 percent of Americans are vegetarian. Read more on nutrition.
CDC: Fewer Americans Struggling with Medical Bills, But Many Skipping Care Altogether
While overall fewer Americans are having difficulty paying their medical bills, the uninsured and other people who would have difficulty paying are increasingly skipping medical care completely, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, the percentage of people under age 65 in families struggling to pay bills dropped from 21.7 to 20.3 percent from the first half of 2011 to the first half of 2012. For families with children up to 17 years old, the share dropped from 23.7 percent to 21.8 percent. Still, families of more than 54 million people are unable to pay their medical bills. "During this time period, those who were uninsured or who had public coverage were about twice as likely as those with private coverage to have problems paying medical bills," said study author Robin Cohen, a CDC health statistician. Read more on access to health care.
Around the Globe Anti-Smoking Ads Work
Awareness of anti-smoking messages on television, radio, billboards, newspapers and magazines significantly increased the odds that current smokers intend to quit in 14 of the 17 countries surveyed, according to a study of thousands of adults smokers published by the by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The survey was released today in observance of World No Tobacco Day. It is sponsored by the World Health Organization (WHO), which is calling on countries to ban all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship to help reduce the number of tobacco users. Tobacco use kills nearly 6 million people every year worldwide. According to WHO, countries that have introduced bans have seen smoking drop by an average of 7 percent. WHO research has found that about a third of youth tobacco use occurs as a result of exposure to tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship. Worldwide, 78 percent of teens ages 13 to 15 say they regularly see some form of tobacco promotion. Read more on tobacco.
Google Adds Nutrition Information to Search Function
Just as the tool includes shortcuts to finding places and even the local time for the sunrises and sunsets, Google is now adding nutrition information to its search function. Simply typing basic questions such as “how many carbs are in an apple?” will bring up not only the answer to that particular question, but also additional relevant nutrition information and the ability to search by different foods and serving sizes. More than 1,000 fruits, vegetables, meats and meals will be covered by the new online tool. Read more on nutrition.
HUD: $32M in Grants to Support Housing for People, Families Living with HIV/AIDS
Thirty local HIV/AIDS housing programs will share $32 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funds to provide more stable living environments. More than 1,300 extremely low-income people and families dealing with HIV/AIDS will helped under the program, which includes housing assistance and access to supportive services such as job readiness and employment training programs. “These grants will provide our local partners with crucial funding that is necessary to provide individuals and families living with HIV/AIDS a place to call home,” said Secretary Shaun Donovan. “The comfort of knowing that you have a roof over your head makes a huge difference in the wellbeing of families and gives hope to those who might otherwise end up living on the streets.” Read more on HIV/AIDS.
Survey: Math, Reading ‘Summer Slumps’ Puts Kids at Disadvantage in Classrooms
A new survey from PBS KIDS shows that while 84 percent of parents say they see the importance of supporting their child’s learning in the home, the average teacher must spend four to six weeks re-teaching forgotten material at the beginning of each school year—with the loss of knowledge even more severe in low-income communities. Parents’ anxiety over math makes them even less likely to support math learning at the earliest ages, and these deficits and deterioration in math and literacy skills can put kids at a distinct disadvantage in the classroom. A Q&A from PBS has tips on how parents can prevent this “summer slump” when it comes to reading. Read more on education.
Legislation Would Dramatically Expand FDA’s Oversight of Compounding Pharmacies
New legislation proposed from Representative Edward Markey of Massachusetts would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authority over compounding pharmacies that make and ship over state lines sterile and non-sterile products. This would be more significant than a bill recently approved by a Senate committee, which would give FDA authority only over sterile products, leaving states with the authority over non-sterile products. This has left some concerned that states would be overtaxed by the effort. “State pharmacy regulators vary widely in their ability to oversee large-scale non-traditional compounding," wrote the Pew Charitable Trusts in comments to the Senate health committee that drafted the legislation, according to Reuters. The calls for increased oversight come in response to a 2012 meningitis outbreak which killed 53 people and was linked to steroids produced by the Framingham, Massachusetts-based New England Compounding Center. Read more on infectious diseases.
Study: Diners Dramatically Underestimate Calories in Fast Food
Diners at fast food restaurants dramatically underestimate their caloric intake, according to a new study in BMJ. "Teens underestimate the number of calories in their meals by as much as 34 percent, parents of school-age children by as much as 23 percent, and adults by as much as 20 percent," study Jason Block, MD, in a release from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Researchers found that the average adult meal was 836 calories—but they thought, on average, it was 175 fewer calories. As many as 1 in 4 of the people surveyed missed the mark by at least 500 calories. "These findings tell us that many people who eat at fast-food restaurants may not be making informed choices because they don't know how many calories they're consuming," Block said. "Having the information is an important first step for anyone wanting to make changes." Read more on nutrition.
FDA Approves Marketing of A1c Test for Diabetes
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is for the first time allowing the marketing of an HbA1c (or A1c) test for the diagnosis of diabetes. A1c tests measure the percentage of hemoglobin A1c bound the glucose; people with diabetes are unable to properly convert glucose. Nearly 26 million Americans are estimated to have diabetes, which untreated can lead to heart disease, stroke and other serious medical conditions. “Providing health care professionals with another tool to identify undiagnosed cases of diabetes should help them provide patients appropriate guidance on treatment before problems develop,” said Alberto Gutierrez, PhD, director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Devices at FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. Read more on diabetes.
March of Dimes Establishes Research Collaborative on Causes of Preterm Births
Three universities and four hospitals in Ohio have joined with the March of Dimes Foundation to establish a collaborative research program aimed at finding the unknown causes of premature birth. According to the March of Dimes, preterm birth is the most common and costly newborn health problem in the United States, affecting nearly half a million babies each year. It is also the leading cause of newborn death, and babies who survive an early birth often face the risk of lifelong health issues, including vision and breathing problems. Even babies born just a few weeks early have higher rates of hospitalization and illness than full-term infants. “The transdisciplinary approach will increase dramatically the rate of progress in understanding why some babies are born too soon. Ultimately our goal is to use this knowledge to develop effective therapies to prevent preterm birth and enable all pregnancies to proceed to full term,” said ” said Sam Mesiano, PhD, Site Director for the Case Western Reserve University, University Hospitals, and MetroHealth component of the collaborative. One of the focus aims of the research includes the sociobiology of racial disparities in preterm birth. African-American and Hispanic mothers have higher rates of preterm births than do whites. Read more on maternal and infant health.
House, Senate Consider Cuts to SNAP in Farm Bill Reauthorization
The U.S. House and Senate are each considering versions of the five-year Farm Bill reauthorization that would save money in part by cutting the budget for the supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which helps nearly 48 million Americans purchase food each year. The House version would cut $2 billion and the Senate version would cut $400 million, according to The Washington Post. The House version would also stop certain forms of automatic SNAP benefits. James S. Marks, Senior Vice President of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health Group, said cutting SNAP benefits would violate the fundamental tenet of medicine to “first, do no harm.” “Cutting SNAP is precisely the wrong prescription for our children and the nation's economic recovery. The notion that SNAP benefits are an overly generous handout could not be further from the truth,” he wrote in The Huffington Post, adding “SNAP has the potential to be a public health tool that can help address the complex problems of hunger and obesity.” Read more on nutrition.
CDC: High Rates of Unhealthy Behavior Persist
A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that, overall, Americans aren’t making much improvement in their health. About 60 percent are overweight or obese, about 60 percent drink, about 20 percent smoke and about 80 percent don’t meet federal guidelines for exercise. "Changes have not been enormous," said report author Charlotte Schoenborn, a health statistician at the CDC's National Center for Health Statistics. "It's been a very, very slow process of changing awareness of personal choices for healthier ways of life.” Added Rich Hamburg, deputy director of Trust for America's Health: "I think we're in a situation now where we're at a crossroads. We have two paths to go. We're hopeful that if we continue to invest in community-based prevention, if we promote healthy eating and active living, these rates will begin to decrease." Read more on CDC.
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?
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?
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.