Category Archives: Research

Jul 30 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 30

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U.S. Surgeon General Issues ‘Call to Action’ Warning on Tanning and Skin Cancer
The U.S. Surgeon General has released the office’s first Call to Action on the dangers of tanning as it relates to skin cancer, which the Surgeon General called a “major public health problem.” The Call to Action is designed to increase awareness of skin cancer and presents five strategic goals to support its prevention:

  • Increase opportunities for sun protection in outdoor settings
  • Provide individuals with the information they need to make informed, healthy choices about ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure
  • Promote policies that advance the national goal of preventing skin cancer
  • Reduce harms from indoor tanning
  • Strengthen research, surveillance, monitoring, and evaluation related to skin cancer prevention

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, with nearly 5 million people treated for all types combined annually at a cost of $8.1 billion. Melanoma is responsible for the most deaths and 90 percent of melanomas are estimated to be the result of UV exposure. Read more on cancer.

NIH, 23andMe Partner to Expand Researcher Access to Genetic Disease Data
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has entered into a $1.4 million, two-year deal with home genetics startup 23andMe to open up the company’s stores of genetic data to external researchers. The grant will enable the creation of survey tools and other methods to help researchers access information on thousands of diseases and traits for more than 400,000 people who have use 23andMe’s services. “23andMe is building a platform to connect researchers and consumers that will enable discoveries to happen faster,” said Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, in a release. “This grant from the NIH recognizes the ability of 23andMe to create a unique, web-based platform that engages consumers and enables researchers from around the world to make genetic discoveries.” Read more on research.

Study: Students Increasingly Accepting Healthier School Lunches
Despite initial pushback from students wary of revised school lunch policies implemented to provide heathier meals in 2012, a nationally representative sample of 557 U.S. public elementary schools found that approximately 70 percent of respondents said that students liked the new lunches by the second half of the school year. Researchers also found that school meal sales were up for disadvantaged students, who are more likely than their peers to experience a lack of proper nutrition. Read more on school health.

Jul 25 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 25

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United States, Mexico to Enhance Safety of Certain Agricultural Products
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Mexico’s National Service for Agro-Alimentary Public Health, Safety and Quality and Federal Commission for the Protection from Sanitary Risks have entered an agreement to form a partnership to improve and promote the safety of fresh and minimally processed agricultural products. Each year, Mexico exports approximately $4.6 billion in fresh vegetables; $3.1 billion in fresh fruit, excluding bananas; $1.9 billion in wine and beer; and $1.5 billion in snacks to the United States.

The preventive practices and verification measures will include:

  • Exchanging information to better understand each other’s produce safety systems
  • Developing effective culturally-specific education and outreach materials that support industry compliance with produce safety standards
  • Identifying common approaches for training auditors who will verify compliance with such standards
  • Enhancing collaboration on laboratory activities as well as outbreak response and traceback activities

“To be successful as regulators, the FDA must continue developing new strategies and partnerships that allow us to more comprehensively and collectively respond to the challenges that come with globalization,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, in a release. “The FDA is working with our Mexican government counterparts as well as stakeholders from industry, commerce, agriculture, and academia to ensure the safety of products for American and Mexican consumers.” Read more on food safety.

JAMA: Health Experts Call for End on Blood Donation Ban for Gay and Bisexual MenEx
perts writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association have called for the repeal of a 30-year ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instituted the ban for any man who had sex with another man in 1983, near the beginning of the AIDS crisis. Now, however, the experts said that technological and societal advances mean the ban should be lifted. "We think it's time for the FDA to take a serious look at its policy, because it's out of step with peer countries, it's out of step with modern medicine, it's out of step with public opinion, and we feel it may be legally problematic," said Glenn Cohen, who directs Harvard Law School's Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics, who co-wrote the article with Jeremy Feigenbaum of Harvard Law School and Eli Adashi, MD, of Brown University's medical school. They also noted that the ban is not in line with other FDA policies regarding people considered high-risk donors due to their sexual behavior. Read more on HIV/AIDS.

CDC Re-Opens Clinical TB Lab; Safety Reviews of Other Labs Continues
Less than two weeks after closing laboratories due to two serious lapses with anthrax and avian flu virus and an intensive review by its CDC’s internal Laboratory Safety Improvement Working Group, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has resumed the transfer of inactivated materials out of its high-containment Clinical Tuberculosis Laboratory. The moratorium on material transfers remains in effect for BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratories, with those supporting direct patient care receiving priority review. The working group’s ongoing lab assessments focus on two main areas:

  • Each lab must demonstrate that its protocols for key control points—such as inactivation of a pathogen—are not only being used but that they are being used by appropriately trained and supervised individuals.
  • Each lab is expected to establish redundant controls, similar to the two-key system used in other contexts for critical control points. For example, in the TB lab when heat is used to kill a pathogen, a second trained lab technician will witness the process to make sure the right temperature is used for the right amount of time. Both individuals then sign off on the process.

There will also be unannounced safety inspections by internal auditors. Read more on infectious disease and research.

Jun 30 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 30

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AHA to Fund Research Network for the Prevention of Heart Disease, Stroke
With a $15 million grant from the American Heart Association (AHA), four major medical institutions are coming together to form a research network with the goal of preventing heart disease and stroke. The Strategically Focused Prevention Research Network Centers will include investigators at Northwestern University in Chicago, Vanderbilt University in Nashville, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City and the University of Texas-Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “Heart attack and stroke can strike suddenly, and frequently without warning. The best way to reduce premature mortality from cardiovascular diseases and stroke is to prevent the development of the risk factors that lead to these conditions,” said AHA President Elliott Antman, MD, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a senior physician in the cardiovascular division of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, in a release. “Scientists working in these research centers are helping to discover the mechanisms that will allow all Americans to live healthier lives, helping lead us to a culture of health.” Read more on heart health.

Study: One-Third of U.S. Total Knee Replacements ‘Inappropriate’
Approximately one-third of all total knee replacements in the United States are unnecessary and “inappropriate” under a patient classification system used in Spain, according to a new study in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatology. Researchers said the findings demonstrate a need for the United States to develop similar patient selection criteria so as to limit the unneeded surgeries. There are more than 600,000 total U.S. knee replacements annually—meaning that approximately 200,000 are unnecessary, according to the study—and from 1991 to 2010 the number of Medicare-covered replacements climbed by approximately 162 percent annually. Read more on aging.

Kids’ ADHD Medications Not Linked to Increase Risk of Substance Abuse
While children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) are twice as likely to abuse drugs, the medications prescribed to treat ADHD do not play a role in the increased risk, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. In fact, researchers determined that the combination of behavioral techniques and ADHD medications actually lowers the risk of substance abuse. "Obviously, the medications that are used to treat ADHD have the potential for abuse, but the vast majority of children with ADHD do not develop a substance abuse problem," said Michael Duchowny, MD, a pediatric neurologist at Miami Children's Hospital. "More research has to be done to find out why some children are more susceptible than others." Common ADHD medications include amphetamines such as Adderall or Dexedrine, and methylphenidates such as Concerta, Metadate CD or Ritalin. Read more on substance abuse.

Jun 20 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 20

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Depression Linked to Higher Heart Disease Death Risk in Younger Women
Women age 55 and younger are twice as likely to suffer a heart attack, die or require artery-opening procedures if they’re moderately or severely depressed, according to new research in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Investigators assessed depression symptoms in 3,237 women with known or suspected heart disease who were scheduled for coronary angiography, an X-ray that diagnoses disease in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. After nearly three years of follow-up, researchers found:

  • In women 55 and younger, after adjusting for other heart disease risk factors, each 1-point increase in symptoms of depression was associated with a 7 percent increase in the presence of heart disease.
  • In men and older women, symptoms of depression didn’t predict the presence of heart disease.
  • Women 55 and younger were 2.17 times as likely to suffer a heart attack, die of heart disease or require an artery-opening procedure during the follow-up period if they had moderate or severe depression.
  • Women 55 and younger were 2.45 times as likely to die from any cause during the follow-up period if they had moderate or severe depression.

Read more on heart health.

HUD Provides Additional Funds for Hundreds of U.S. Programs for the Homeless
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has announced a second round of grants totaling $140 million to nearly 900 local homeless assistance programs for both permanent and transitional housing programs. The grants will fund programs including 436 new local projects aimed at providing permanent supportive housing for people experiencing chronic homelessness. Read more on housing.

NIH Launches Public Website on 3D Printing
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has launched the NIH 3D Print Exchange, a public website that lets users share, download and edit 3D print files related to health and science. Among other uses, the files can be used to print custom laboratory equipment, as well as models of bacteria and human anatomy. NIH uses 3D printing—or the creation of a physical object from a digital model—to study viruses; repair and enhance lab apparatus; and help plan medical procedures. The 3D Print Exchange also includes video tutorials; a discussion forum; and tools that convert scientific and clinical data into ready-to-print 3D files. Read more on research.

May 19 2014
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Why Thirdhand Smoke Looks to Be a First-Rate Problem

Data on thirdhand smoke—tobacco smoke left on surfaces, walls and floors—was first published in 2009. The data has raised significant concerns that the smoke can linger for months or longer, as well as combine with indoor air compounds to possibly form new carcinogens. In the last few months researchers from the California Thirdhand Smoke Consortium, funded by the University of California’s Tobacco-Related Disease Research Program (TDRP), have been presenting and publishing data that indicates that thirdhand smoke is linked to serious health risks in animals and humans—though more research is needed to better measure thirdhand smoke constituents and their health impact.

Consortium researchers published the first animal study on thirdhand smoke in January in the journal PLOS One, finding that mice exposed to thirdhand smoke developed a range of medical conditions, including liver damage and hyperactivity. Research published last year, as well as presented at the annual meeting of the American Chemical Society a few weeks ago, finds that thirdhand smoke likely causes damage to human DNA.

And last month several of the Consortium scholars presented their findings at a tobacco conference n California.

“The potential health risks of what we call thirdhand smoke are only now being studied. This is a new frontier,” said Georg Matt, a Consortium member and psychology professor of at San Diego State University who focuses on policies to protect nonsmokers. “We don’t yet know the degree of risk, but we are already finding that indoor smoking leaves a nearly indelible imprint. We need to find out what risk this pollution poses.”

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Apr 30 2014
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Harvard School of Public Health Special Report: The Financial Crisis as a Public Health Crisis

“Five years after the Great Recession officially came to an end, the United States has yet to fully recover from the economic devastation sparked by the collapse of an $8 trillion housing bubble and the ensuing turmoil that saw global financial systems teetering on the brink of collapse. But while the economic costs of the downturn have drawn the lion’s share of attention, the damage to our bodies could end up far surpassing the damage to our bank accounts.”

Those are the opening lines of a new special report from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH), “Failing Economy, Failing Health: The Great Recession’s Toll on Body and Mind,” detailing how poverty and inequality resulting from the economic maelstrom pulled down so many—and what that will mean for public health in the long term.

“Health is a long-run thing, but the methods we use to analyze current data only estimate short-term effects,” says SV Subramanian, HSPH professor of population health and geography. “It may take awhile for the health impact of the Great Recession to kick in, but once it does, it could be dramatic.”

The data is strong on the links between employment and health—people who are unemployed, underemployed or laid off are less healthy and don’t live as long. 

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A 2009 study found that in the 12 months after men lost their jobs in mass layoffs, they saw their chances of dying nearly double. While over time the risk lessened it was still significant two decades later. Another study that same year found that losing a job when a business shuts its doors increases the odds of fair or poor health by 54 percent among workers with no preexisting health conditions while also increasing the risk of new health conditions by 83 percent. The stress of the situation, according to the researchers, heightens the odds of stress-related conditions such as stroke, hypertension, heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and psychiatric problems.

Yet another study, this one in 2010, found that about 4 in 10 Americans with heart disease or diabetes and 1 in 5 with cancer said the stress of the Great Recession made it more difficult to manage their illnesses.

What’s more complex is unearthing the pathways behind why this is the case. The HSPH article outlines some of the mechanisms by which unemployment affects health.

Read More

Mar 27 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 27

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Flu Vaccine Reduces Risk of Child’s Flu-Related ICU Hospitalization by 74 Percent
Receiving a flu vaccine dramatically reduces a child’s risk of flu-related intensive care hospitalization, according to a new study in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) analyzed the medical records of 216 children age 6 months through 17 years admitted to 21 pediatric intensive care units (PICUs) in the United States during the 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 flu seasons, finding that the a flu vaccination reduces the risk of being admitted to a PICU by 74 percent. “These study results underscore the importance of an annual flu vaccination, which can keep your child from ending up in the intensive care unit,” said Alicia Fry, MD, a medical officer in CDC’s Influenza Division. “It is extremely important that all children—especially children at high risk of flu complications—are protected from what can be a life-threatening illness." Kids younger than 5 and those with chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes or developmental delays are at especially high risk of serious flu complications. Read more on influenza.

CDC Releases Expansive Salmonella Report for Researchers
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released an expansive, first-of-its kind report charting the past four decades of laboratory-confirmed surveillance data on 32 Salmonella serotypes. An Atlas of Salmonella in the United States, 1968-2011, includes data and analysis by age, sex, season and geography down to the county level. The report is available both online and in a downloadable format. Salmonella causes an estimated 1.2 million illnesses, 23,000 hospitalizations and 450 deaths each year in the United States. “We hope these data allow researchers and others to assess what has happened and to think more about how we can reduce Salmonella infections in the future,” said Robert Tauxe, MD, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases. “The more we understand Salmonella, the more we can make progress in fighting it all along the farm to table chain.” Read more on research.

GlaxoSmithKline Recalling Alli Non-Prescription Weight-Loss Drug Amid Reports of Tampering
GlaxoSmithKline is working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in recalling all supplies of its non-prescription weight-loss drug Alli in the United States and Puerto Rico, after reports that some bottles had been tampered with and may not contain authentic Alli. The drug comes in a turquoise-blue capsule, but the company has received inquiries from consumers in seven U.S. states about bottles containing a range of tablets and capsules of various shapes and colors. Read more on safety.

Feb 6 2014
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How Do We Help People Who Drop Out of Obesity Clinical Trials?

A surprising piece of information at this week’s AcademyHealth National Health Policy Conference came during a session on what additional evidence is needed to move forward in the prevention and treatment of obesity. Linda Billheimer, PhD, deputy director of the health, retirement and long term analysis office at the Congressional Budget Office, said that one weakness of some obesity clinical trials is that they may not reflect the number of people who drop out during the trial. For example, while a study may show the success rate for 400 participants, it may not account for the number of people who left the trial and have not lost weight—or even gained weight—since their trial participation.

Billheimer noted that retaining patients can be difficult because people who plateau are often frustrated, which can combine with other reasons to lead them to leave.

Attempting to keep participants in the trial can be critical because the modality offered may be a strong opportunity for the participants to lose weight, since the trials often have novel approaches. There is also the support from the clinical trials team. Researchers at the session noted that trial funders might add criteria to the trial on follow up for participants who withdraw to possibly increase participation time among a larger group of patients.

Recent novel obesity trials listed by the U.S. National Institutes of Health on ClinicalTrials.gov include

  • A trial comparing low and high financial incentives for weight loss
  • Using virtual reality to help trial participants work on weight loss
  • Community based obesity prevention among black women
Feb 6 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: February 6

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PSA Campaigns Uses Pets to Remind Uninsured People of Deadline to Enroll Under the ACA
With research showing that more than 80 percent of Americans are unaware of the March 31 deadline to sign up for health coverage under the Affordable Care Act, Enroll America has partnered with the Ad Council on the launch of a new national campaign to raise awareness, educate and motivate people to enroll. The “Take Care, People” national multimedia public service advertising (PSA) campaign, which is focuses on women ages 18-34, took a somewhat unusual approach when it came to selecting spokespeople: pets. “We needed a familiar face that would stand out amidst all the noise to communicate to all Americans the benefits of enrolling for health insurance in a way that’s entertaining, relatable and easy to digest,” said Creative Director Rodrigo Butori of La Comunidad, which created the PSAs along with Razorfish. “We thought about pets. Why? Two thirds of American homes have pets. They have been the recipient of people’s love and care for ages. So it’s time for them to return the favor. It’s time for pets to take care of people for a change.” Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

PHLR Online Database Brings Together Experts and Peer-reviewed Publications
Public Health Law Research (PHLR), a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has launched the new PHLR SciVal Expert Community to allow users to discover existing and emerging evidence on laws and legal practices that improve health, to identify experts in the area and to pursue new collaborations. The searchable database currently includes 240 expert public health law researchers and more than 16,000 of their peer-reviewed publications covering a range of topics, from alcohol, tobacco and other drugs to occupational safety and health, oral health and preparedness. Read more on research.

Study: Healthy Eating on Weekdays the Key to Losing Weight
The key to losing weight and keeping it off may be healthier eating on weekdays rather than weekends, according to a new study in the journal Obesity Facts. Knowing that most people tend to gradually lose weight during the week and then gain it back on the weekends, researchers tracked the eating habits of 80 people ages 25 to 62, having them weigh themselves before breakfast every day for anywhere from two weeks to nearly a year. The study found that everyone experienced weight fluctuations, but that the people who consistently lost weight tended to compensate more strictly during the week for their weekend weight gain, with their weight decreasing immediately on Monday and continuing downward until Friday. "The ones who are big winners are those who lose a little bit of weight from Monday to Tuesday to Wednesday to Thursday," said study co-author Brian Wansink, a professor of consumer behavior at Cornell University. Read more on obesity.

Dec 11 2013
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Recommended Reading: ‘Retweet This’—Researchers See Rise in Use of Twitter to Share Scientific Journal Articles

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The top two tweeted peer-reviewed science articles between 2010 and 2012 were about the effect of radiation on humans, according to a study published in the Journal of the Association for Information Science and Technology. Researchers reviewed 1.4 million articles to determine the most tweeted studies. Runners up in the top 15 of the most tweeted articles included studies on acne in teenagers and the link between physical activity and mortality rates. Nature, a highly regarded journal, received the most tweets: 13,430 Twitter mentions of 1,083 papers.

However, the researchers found that a retweet rate doesn’t necessarily correlate with a high rate of citations for an article in other studies, which is a standard measurement of significance for a scientific study. The most tweeted study—on genetic changes during radiation exposure—was tweeted 963 times but was cited in journals only nine times.

"The most popular scientific articles on Twitter stress health implications or have a humorous or surprising component. This suggests that articles having the broadest scientific impact do not have the widest distribution," said Stefanie Haustein, of the University of Montreal School of Library and Information Science, and a co-author of the study.

Still, the researchers say the increase in tweets that include a link or description of scientific studies is important even if the rates don’t correlate with journal citations. For one thing, the number of scientific researchers on Twitter is still low and “the fact that more and more articles are tweeted [at all] is good news because it helps scientific communication [and] regardless of whether non-scientists are sending this information, it proves that science is an aspect of general culture,” said Vincent Larivière, PHD, a co-author of the study and professor at the University of Montreal, who holds the Canada Research Chair on the Transformation of Academic Communication.

Read the full study.