Aug 21 2014
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Workplace Wellness: Q&A with Catherine M. Baase, The Dow Chemical Company

We’ve written extensively on NewPublicHealth on the importance of building a Culture of Health—an environment where everyone has access to opportunities to make healthy choices. In June, the Washington Post held a live forum—sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation—titled “Health Beyond Health Care,” which looked at how creative minds in traditionally non-health fields are working together to build a Culture of Health in the United States. As part of our continuing coverage of this issue we spoke with Catherine M. Baase, MD, Chief Health Officer at The Dow Chemical Company, about workplace wellness programs.

file Catherine M. Baase, MD, Chief Health Officer at The Dow Chemical Company

NewPublicHealth: Why do you think workplace wellness is important?

Catherine Baase: I guess it depends on “important” in what way. I’ll tell you two things. One is if you were asking me why it’s important to a business or a corporation, I think it brings critical value to many different corporate priorities—things such as safety, human capital priorities such as attracting and retaining talent, manufacturing reliability, the capacity to positively impact health care costs. So there’s a landscape of corporate priorities where the achievement of healthy people is important, even including drug satisfaction and employee engagement.

But on another lens, I would say that I think workplace wellness is important to society for the achievement of public health objectives. The fact that we’re not doing really well on the achievement of health outcomes for our population as a whole, and the achievement of improved health will depend on a variety of sectors of society getting involved, and one of them is workplaces. Others are schools and communities and things like that, but the achievement of public health objectives depends a bit on workplaces being involved, as well.

NPH: Who it is that benefits from workplace wellness.

Baase: Well I think the individuals, the employees and oftentimes their families, because a lot of workplace wellness program either directly or indirectly impact the family. It’s the community within which folks live because the culture is impacted, and the company certainly.

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Aug 21 2014
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A Campaign to Keep Kids in School

This week, NewPublicHealth will run a series on new and creative public health campaigns that aim to improve the health of communities across the country through the use of public service announcements, infographics and more. Stay tuned to learn more about a new campaign each day.

It’s no secret that getting a better education is linked to having a longer, healthier life. But the flip side is also true: Habitual truancy—an excessive number of unexcused absences from school by a minor—has been identified as an early warning sign that kids could be headed toward delinquency; substance use and abuse; social isolation; early sexual intercourse; suicidal thoughts and attempts; and dropping out of high school, according to a 2009 report prepared for the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

That’s why Hawaii’s Truancy Reduction Demonstration Project and the College of Education, University of Hawaii, launched a series of public service advertisements (PSAs) to try to inspire kids to stay in school. The 30-second spots emphasize that school is where kids’ dreams grow; that education is a gift; and that teachers, families and students are together accountable for kids’ learning. 

Meanwhile, New York City launched the School Every Day Campaign to fight truancy, informing parents that students who miss 20 days of school or more in a single year have a significantly decreased chance of graduating from high school. The outdoor ads—created with support from the Ad Council and AT& T—address a hot topic, considering that one out of five public school students in New York City miss that much school in a given year.

Messages such as these really can make a difference. In 2006, the public school graduation rate in Spokane, Wash., was less than 60 percent; by 2013, it had leaped to nearly 80 percent, thanks largely to the “Priority Spokane campaign. A 2014 winner of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Prize, the campaign emphasizes education as a catalyst for better health and brighter futures.

“We’re using educational attainment as a lens for improving health,” said Alisa May, executive director of Project Spokane. “We’re beginning to see real signs of success in our work.”

Spokane County Commissioner Shelly O’Quinn agrees: “Spokane County’s focus on educational success and other areas is improving the health of our children. Healthy children become healthier students and adults, and everything we are doing now gives them the foundation they need to succeed after they graduate.”

Aug 21 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 21

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Ebola Update: U.S. Doctor Being Treated for Ebola Expected to Be Released from the Hospital Today
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Reuters
and other news outlets are reporting that Kent Brantly, MD, who contracted Ebola in Liberia where he was treating patients for the disease, has recovered from the virus and is expected to be released from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta today. An update on the condition of Nancy Writebol, a health worker who also contracted Ebola in West Africa, is also expected today. Since the start of the current outbreak in West Africa, more than 1,350 people have died of the disease. In an effort to reduce the spread of the disease, officials in Monrovia, the densely populated urban capital of Liberia, began a quarantine to stem the disease outbreak, sparking clashes between residents and troops. Read more on Ebola.

Many Older ER Patients Show Signs of Malnutrition
A new study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine found that many patients over age 65 who go to the emergency room for medical care are also found to be malnourished or at risk of malnourishment. The study authors say the reasons behind the insufficient nutrition include dental problems that make it difficult to eat, depression and lack of access to food. The study suggests that all older patients be assessed for malnutrition during emergency room visits. Read more on aging.

Free Online Search Tool from DOT Lets Consumers Check Vehicle Safety
The U.S. Department of Transportation has released a free, online search tool—accessible at www.safercar.gov—that consumers can use to find out whether a vehicle, including a motorcycle, has been recalled by using the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN). Consumers can find their vehicle identification number by looking at the dashboard on the driver’s side of the vehicle, or on the driver’s side door where the door latches when it is closed. After entering the VIN number into the search tool, a message indicating whether the vehicle was recalled will appear, which will let users choose not to buy or rent the car, or if they own it or are planning to buy it, to have it fixed according to the recall specifics. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is working with the National Automobile Dealers Association to make sure that the VIN tool is used by all U.S. car dealerships. Read more on safety.

 

Aug 20 2014
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Recommended Reading: RWJF Culture of Health Prize Winner Spokane County on Health Affairs Blog

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Earlier this year, Spokane County, Wash.,was chosen by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) as a Culture of Health Prize winner for its efforts to improve community health by increasing graduation rates. As part of a new ongoing series, Health Affairs blog has featured a piece by local Spokane leader Ben Smith on the community’s health successes.

Just eight years ago, the high school graduation rate for Spokane Public Schools was below 60 percent and 18 percent of the county’s students lived in poverty. In addition, the students who did attend college or technical school often failed to earn their degree, leaving them unprepared to fill available positions in the county’s more technical fields.

To address these issues, Priority Spokane emerged from a collaboration of local businesses, educators, health organizations and community nonprofits—all committed to improving the future of Spokane County residents by improving education. A report linking lack of education to poorer health helped spur a dramatic change. Over the next several years, the county emphasized increased collaboration and a clear vision to improve the high school graduation rate to 79.5 percent overall.

Spokane County’s efforts include:

  • Training teachers and childcare workers to mentor children who experience traumatic home events.
  • Developing an early warning system for at-risk students.
  • Establishing community attendance support teams that reengage truant students in school.
  • Starting Spokane Valley Tech, a high school designed to help students build careers in science, technology, engineering and math.

To learn more about Spokane’s prize-winning efforts to improve health, read the Health Affairs blog post.

>>Bonus Links: Learn more about the 2014 RWJF Culture of Health Prize winners and read NewPublicHealth coverage of the prize announcement.

>>Bonus Content: Watch a NewPublicHealth video on Spokane's efforts to build a Culture of Health.

 

Aug 20 2014
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Is Your Child In the Right Car Seat?

This week, NewPublicHealth will run a series on new and creative public health campaigns that aim to improve the health of communities across the country through the use of public service announcements, infographics and more. Stay tuned to learn more about a new campaign each day.

Each day in 2010 approximately two children ages 12 and younger were killed in car crashes and another 325 were injured. If the correct child safety seats were used and installed properly, that death rate could be cut by more than 50 percent. Proper use of car seats reduces the risk of death by 71 percent in infants and by 54 percent among toddlers ages one to four, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Use of booster seats decreases the risk of serious injury by 45 percent among kids ages four to eight, compared to just using seatbelts in this age group.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) and the Ad Council’s Child Passenger Safety campaign urges parents and caregivers of children under age 12 to secure their kids in the best possible car restraint system for their age and size.

Through a series of television, radio, print, outdoor and digital PSAs, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the importance of using the correct restraints for children, whether it’s a rear-facing car seat (for babies up to age one), a forward-facing car seat (for kids up to age five), a booster seat (for ages five to 12) or a seatbelt for older kids. The PSAs direct viewers to the Parents Central website, where they can find out whether their children are in age- and size-appropriate car seats and learn how to install the car seats properly.

Child Passenger Safety Week, from September 14-20, will also feature free car seat inspection events throughout the country to help people learn how to install and use them properly.

>>Bonus Links: Read previous NewPublicHealth coverage on child car seat safety:

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 19 2014
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Google Hangout Convenes Culture of Health Prize Winners to Discuss Lessons Learned in Creating Healthy Communities

This past June, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) announced the six winners of its 2014 Culture of Health Prize, which honors communities that place a high priority on health and bring partners together to drive local change. Each community, selected from more than 250 across the nation, received a no-strings-attached $25,000 cash prize in recognition of their accomplishments.  

Last week, RWJF brought together representatives from two of this year’s winners and one from last year in an online discussion, “Building a Culture of Health: What Does it Take?” Each community representative spoke about the barriers they’ve faced, how they overcame them and the role partnerships play in their ongoing success.

The discussion was moderated by Julie Willems Van Dijk, co-director of the RWJF County Health Rankings & Roadmaps and director of the RWJF Culture of Health Prize.

Alisa May, executive director of Priority Spokane and representing 2014 winner Spokane County, Wash., said that as a largely rural community of 210,000 people they’ve placed an emphasis on improving education at all levels. And they took a data-centric approach.

“Priority Spokane—which is a collaboration of community leaders—looked at the data, pulled community members together to talk about the issues that were most important to them, and educational attainment rose to the surface,” said May.

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Aug 19 2014
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A Call to Action to Help Caregivers

This week, NewPublicHealth will run a series on new and creative public health campaigns that aim to improve the health of communities across the country through the use of public service announcements, infographics and more. Stay tuned to learn more about a new campaign each day.

As the country turns increasingly gray, more and more adults are experiencing the stresses and strains of caring for aging family members. It has long been a silent struggle for many of the nation’s 42 million unpaid caregivers, but the full impact of family caregiving is starting to come out from the shadows thanks to a major ongoing campaign from the AARP and the Ad Council first launched in 2012. Through a series of ads for television, radio, print media and digital venues, the campaign aims to raise awareness of the ripple effects of family caregiving and to steer overwhelmed families toward resources that may ease the pressure.

The public service advertisements (PSAs) depict the sense of isolation, responsibility and frustration family caregivers often feel as they tend to their loved ones—providing reassurance that they are not alone with these challenges. The ads also highlight a community of experts set up by the AARP to help caregivers take better care of themselves while caring for others and to encourage caregivers to access online tools or call a toll-free hotline (877-333-5885). The website includes resources on planning for long-term care (legally, financially and in other ways) and advice on dealing with emotional issues such as grief and loss.

Nearly 30 percent of caregivers report feeling sad or depressed, and 33 percent isolate themselves by avoiding people or social situations, according to a 2013 AARP report, Caregivers: Life Changes and Coping Strategies. Moreover, 38 percent of those caring for a loved one say they sleep less since they became caregivers, and 44 percent admit they try to squelch their feelings. An earlier survey by the AARP and the Ad Council, involving 500 caregivers between the ages of 40 and 60, revealed that 31 percent describe their caregiving tasks as extremely or very difficult; 21 percent say they don’t feel like they have the support they need; and 26 percent don’t feel confident about knowing where to turn to find support and information for unpaid caregivers.

“Only those who care for others know what it’s really like to care for others—that’s why we created a community where caregivers can connect with experts and others facing similar challenges,” said AARP CEO Barry Rand. “We hope this campaign will help the millions of family caregivers in the U.S. feel heard and supported, in turn, helping them better care for themselves and for the ones they love.”

As an offshoot of the Caregiver Assistance PSAs, the AARP and Ad Council also launched the “Thanks Project”, a digital opportunity for family members and friends to publicly acknowledge and appreciate how much they value the contributions from the caregivers in their lives. The idea is that a note of thanks can mean a lot to caregivers.

>>Bonus link: Read a NewPublicHealth interview with Gail Sheehy, author of “Passages in Caregiving: Turning Chaos into Confidence.”

Aug 19 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 19

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EBOLA UPDATE: Death Toll Passes 1,200; Improvement Seen in Three African Doctors Who Received Experimental Treatment
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The death toll in the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa has passed 1,200, according to the World Health Organization, with infection rates continuing to outpace containment efforts. Concerns over the disease also continue to spread, with a 30-year-old woman in Germany isolated and then taken to a specialist medical unit after being found with a high fever. However, the Liberian information minister was also recently quoted as saying that three African doctors treated with the experimental ZMapp treatment are showing “remarkable signs of improvement.” The drug was used to treat two Americans who are now also showing signs of improvement. Read more on Ebola.

Study: Older Americans Receiving Cancer Screenings Against Recommendations
As many as half of older Americans continue to receive cancer screenings despite the recommendation by several professional societies that certain cancers not be screening for in people who aren’t expected to live for another 10 years, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. “There is general agreement that routine cancer screening has little likelihood to result in a net benefit for individuals with limited life expectancy,” wrote Trevor Royce, MD, in the study. Keith Bellizzi of the University of Connecticut‘s Center for Public Health and Health Policy in Storrs added that "Each screening test carries different risks and benefits ... Individuals should be counseled about these risks in order to make an informed decision (sometimes involving caregivers or family members)." Read more on cancer.

Study: Dramatic Drop in Deaths, Hospitalization for Heart Disease and Stroke
Lifestyle changes, better treatment and effective preventive measures have caused a dramatic drop in deaths and hospitalizations for heart disease over the past decade, according to a new study in the journal Circulation. In a review of data on nearly 34 million Americans covered by Medicare, researchers found that from 1999 to 2011 hospitalizations rates for heart attacks dropped by 38 percent; rates of unstable angina dropped by almost 85 percent; and hospitalizations for both heart failure and stroke dropped by approximately one-third. "The findings are jaw-dropping," said lead researcher Harlan Krumholz, MD, a professor of cardiology at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn, according to HealthDay. "They really show that we have begun to reverse this epidemic of heart disease and stroke." Read more on heart and vascular health.

Aug 18 2014
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A Public Effort to Help Kids Breathe Easier

This week, NewPublicHealth will run a series on new and creative public health campaigns that aim to improve the health of communities across the country through the use of public service announcements, infographics and more. Stay tuned to learn more about a new campaign each day.

In an effort to reduce missed school days, theEnvironmental Protection Agency (EPA), in partnership with the Ad Council, has launched a campaign to teach parents how to prevent asthma attacks in kids by identifying common asthma triggers. The “No Attacks” campaign urges parents to learn how to control factors that make a child’s asthma worse, use asthma medicines effectively and recognize when to call the doctor.

Asthma affects nearly 9 million U.S. children, with poor and minority children suffering a greater burden from the disease. Asthma can be especially serious in kids because of their small airways.

Through a series of Public Service Advertisements (PSAs) featuring a rock band of puppet characters called the “Breathe Easies,” the campaign includes online videos, radio spots and online banners (available in English and Spanish) with songs about asthma triggers at home, at school and outside. These entertaining messages inform viewers about how to prevent asthma attacks by cleaning up mold, vacuuming regularly and eliminating smoking at home; making sure their child’s school has a plan for controlling cockroaches and other pests, banning furry class pets and minimizing the use of chemical irritants in cleaning products, air fresheners and pesticides; and postponing outdoor sports and other high-energy activities to avoid exposure to high air pollution levels.

“Too many Americans, particularly children, minorities and people living in poverty, suffer from asthma, spending their time at doctor visits and hospitals instead of at school, work and play,” said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. By working with the Ad Council and other partners in communities across the country, we can make a real difference in the lives of millions of Americans dealing with asthma.”

Asthma causes U.S. children to miss 14 million school days each year, which is especially worrisome because more frequent school absences are consistently linked with worse academic performance. The good news: “School absences due to asthma can be avoided by appropriate asthma management, including appropriate use of medications and reduced exposure to triggers,” noted a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since there’s no cure for asthma, preventing attacks—by reducing exposure to environmental triggers and using medications appropriately—is the primary focus of treatment.

The new PSAs stem from The Childhood Asthma Campaign, which was first launched by the EPA and the Ad Council in 2001. Since the debut of that campaign, the percentage of parents who feel they can make “a lot of difference” in preventing asthma attacks has risen from 49 percent to 67 percent, according to the Ad Council’s tracking surveys. The hope is that the new PSAs will improve that percentage even more.