Category Archives: Faces of Public Health
Harold W. “Bill” Kohl, PhD, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health is in the midst of a three-year appointment to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN) Science Board. Kohl’s role is to provide recommendations in the areas of program development and evaluation, which is critical to the Council’s mission to engage, educate and empower all Americans across to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and good nutrition. During his time at the School of Public Health, Kohl has been researching effective uses of social networking to create demand for healthy lifestyles among youth and working with organizations to promote disease prevention, physical activity and exercise as a health priority.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Kohl about the work of the President’s Council.
NewPublicHealth: Is the current mission of the President’s Council different than it was in the past?
Bill Kohl: There has been a shift. The President’s Council started in the 1950s as the result of a small study that suggested that American kids are not as fit as kids in Eastern bloc countries—Russia, primarily. The President’s Council started under President Eisenhower and then President Kennedy’s administrating sought to increase kids’ fitness by doing fitness testing in schools and promoting physical activity and physical education.
That wound its way through the ‘60s and ‘70s. Then in the ‘80s there was a much bigger rush to health-related physical fitness rather than skill-related fitness activities—things that you can actually change and that are related to health outcomes compared to fitness skills you might be born with, such as the ability to run a 50-yard dash.
Then, most recently, the Council has included nutrition in his mission and been renamed.
NPH: How does your background inform your new role?
Kohl: As chair of the science board, my job is to make sure that the President’s Council has the most up-to-date science that’s relevant to its mission and advancing initiatives that are evidence-based.
Late last month, the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., released a new white paper, Teaching Nutrition and Physical Activity in Medical School: Training Doctors for Prevention-Oriented Care, that strongly recommends providing greater training in nutrition and physical activity for medical students and physicians in order to help reduce U.S. obesity rates. The report was jointly published with the American College of Sports Medicine and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a nonprofit founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation as a response to the growing rate of childhood obesity. The report found that current training for medical professionals and students in nutrition and exercise is inadequate to cope with the nation’s obesity epidemic.
A survey conducted for the new report found that more than 75 percent of physicians felt they had received inadequate training to be able to counsel their patients on changing diet and increasing activity levels. It also found that while some schools have stepped up their performance, fewer than 30 percent of medical schools meet the minimum number of hours of education in nutrition and exercise science recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.
“The health care marketplace needs to place greater value on preventive care,” said Jim Whitehead, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President of the American College of Sports Medicine. “Doing so will provide medical schools with the incentive to train their students accordingly. And it will give medical professionals the leverage they need to address healthy lifestyles with their patients.”
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Lisel Loy, director of the Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, about the report and about how to improve training for medical professionals on nutrition and exercise.
NPH: What was the idea that propelled you to look into making changing to medical school education?
Loy: Well, the technical launching pad was our June 2012 policy report called Lots to Lose: How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens our Economic Future. And in that, my four co-chairs recommended a suite of policy changes that would improve health outcomes and lower costs for families, communities, schools and work sites. Within that community context they called out the need to improve training for health professionals—not just physicians but health professionals much more broadly defined than that—in pursuit of the goal of reducing obesity and chronic disease and cutting costs.
So that’s sort of the technical answer to your question. The more philosophical answer is as we as a country shift toward more preventive care, they really saw a gap in the education and training of health professionals in terms of being able to best support improved health outcomes. So that’s how they determined that that belonged in our report as a policy recommendation, and since we put out that report we prioritized a handful of recommendations, one of which had to do with health professional training.
In 2012, a new campus was constructed for the Buckingham K-5 public school in rural Dillwyn, Va., replacing the original middle and high school buildings that had stood since 1954 and 1962.
The Charlottesville, Va., architectural firm VMDO Inc., which constructed the campus, says the sites were transformed into a modern learning campus with the aim of addressing the growing concerns of student health and wellbeing. New facilities include a teaching kitchen; innovative food and nutritional displays; an open servery to promote demonstration cooking; a food lab; a small group learning lounge; scratch bakery; dehydrating food composter; ample natural daylight; flexible seating arrangements; and outdoor student gardens.
The firm took advantage of the school’s natural setting surrounding a pine and oak forest and wove them into the design and construction to showcase the “active landscape.” The school’s project committee and design team worked collaboratively to create a total learning environment in order to support learning both inside and outside the traditional classroom. Each grade level enjoys age-appropriate outdoor gardens and play terraces, which encourage children to re-connect and spend time in their natural surroundings. Inside the schools, in addition to core classrooms, each grade level has small group learning spaces that transform pathways into child-centric “learning streets” that have soft seating and fun colors that communicate both collaborative and shared learning experiences.
To study the impact of the healthy design features, VMDO teamed with Matthew Trowbridge, MD, MPH, an associate professor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, with a special interest in the impact of the built environment on public health to study how health-promoting educational design strategies can support active communities and reduce incidence rates of childhood obesity.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Trowbridge about the project.
NewPublicHealth: How did the project come about?
Matthew Trowbridge: Through a collaboration between me and Terry Huang, who was a program officer at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and a leader in that institute’s childhood obesity research portfolio. [Editor’s note: He is now a Professor and Chair of the Department of Health Promotion, Social & Behavioral Health University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health.] Back in 2007, Terry had been thinking about how architecture, and particularly school architecture, could be utilized as a tool for obesity prevention. The thinking behind that is that schools have always been a particularly interesting environment for child health very broadly, but also obesity prevention in particular, partly because children spend so much time at school and because the school day provides an important opportunity to help children develop healthy lifelong attitudes and behaviors.
One of the insights that Terry had was that while public health had done a lot to develop programming for school-based obesity prevention, the actual school building itself had really not been looked at in terms of opportunities to help make school-based obesity prevention programs work most effectively. In 2007, Terry actually wrote a journal article outlining ideas for ways in which architecture could be used to augment school-based childhood obesity prevention programs that was published in one of the top obesity journals. When I met Terry at NIH, we realized we both shared an interest in moving beyond studying the association between built environment and health toward real world translation. In other words, providing tangible tools and guidelines to foster collaboration between public health and the design community to bring these ideas into action.
A new climate change report, Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States, suggests that the American economy could face significant and widespread disruptions from climate change unless U.S. businesses and policymakers take immediate action to reduce climate risk. The report was released by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
The assessment of the committee that wrote and reviewed the report is that communities, industries and properties across the country face profound risks from climate change, but that the most severe risks can be avoided through early investments in resilience, as well as through immediate action to reduce the pollution that causes global warming.
The public health findings of the report were reviewed by Al Sommer, MD, Dean Emeritus of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. NewPublicHealth spoke with Sommer about the report.
NewPublicHealth: How did the report come about?
Al Sommer: The report came about because of the primary interest of the three co-chairs—Hank Paulson, investor Tom Styra and Mike Bloomberg—who felt that there was a need to better understand and better describe the possible public health impacts of climate change on businesses and labor productivity. Their goal is to engage the interest of business leaders so that they begin to think about the ramifications and perhaps see the problems of climate change from a totally different perspective than we usually talk about it.
I think from my own personal perspective that one of the great advantages of this report is that the group that did the analyses stuck with the data and the assumptions, and used sophisticated modeling and statistical analyses to give a range of outcomes. The most important part of the report from my perspective is that it has a granularity that most of the [climate change] reports don’t have, so it looks at likely outcomes in different regions of the country simultaneously.
In some instances, it looks like there is no change. There is reduced mortality in the northern part of the country because there is less freezing. But at the same time in the southern part of the country there’s dramatically increased mortality because of increased heat and humidity.
Earlier this week the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) hosted a daylong Symposium on Child Health, Resilience & Toxic Stress in Washington, D.C. that brought together federal government officials, national thought leaders and medical professionals to discuss the emerging science of toxic stress.
According to the AAP, science shows that adversity experienced in childhood has long-lasting physical and emotional effects that have come be known as "toxic stress.” Toxic stress can occur when a child experiences chronic adversity without access to stable, supportive relationships with caring adults. These adverse childhood experiences can include physical and emotional abuse; neglect; exposure to violence; food insecurity; and economic hardship. An AAP 2011 policy statement found that toxic stress can affect a child's brain development and lead to the presence of many adult diseases, including heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and liver disease.
“[Currently], there are more randomized trials for leukemia than for effects of stress on children,” said James S. Marks, MD, MPH, senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, at the symposium. “This is about more than our children—it’s about our future as a people and a society, and the earlier you invest in children the better the return to society and to those children and families.”
During the symposium, the AAP announced the formation of the Center on Healthy, Resilient Children to launch in the next year or so, which will be a national effort coordinated by the AAP and many partners to support healthy brain development and prevent toxic stress. In addition to prevention efforts to keep children healthy, the Center will focus on ways to help pediatricians and others identify children who have experienced adversity and toxic stress and ensure they have access to appropriate interventions and supports.
"Pediatricians envision a world in which every child has every opportunity to become a healthy, successful adult," said James M. Perrin, MD, president of the AAP. "Achieving this will require strong, sustained investments in the health of the whole child, brain and body. It will require building upon our existing work and forging new partnerships across sectors and fields of expertise.”
NewPublicHealth spoke with Perrin following the symposium
NewPublicHealth: How familiar are pediatricians with the evidence surrounding the burden and response to toxic stress in children and families?
James Perrin: I think there is increasing awareness of toxic stress in pediatric practice, not only in community practice, but in our specialty practices, too. I think people are recognizing how critically important toxic stress is to the developing child and developing brain. And the increasing science in this area has been incredibly helpful for us to understand the potential permanent effects of toxic stress. But we also want to focus on positive ways to affect brain development. Reading to children, for example, affects brain development and brain growth in positive ways.
A report from a White House Task Force on sexual assaults on campus several weeks ago found that one in five women have been attacked, but only about 12 percent of the attacks are ever reported, often because of a campus climate that places blame on women and sends messages to men that sexual attacks are manly. The task force is asking colleges and universities to survey their students about sexual assault and other “campus climate” issues, and to track assaults and enforcement of campus policies that govern such assaults.
One idea gaining traction for reducing sexual assaults is called bystander intervention, which not only trains individuals to find safe ways to help prevent assaults, but seeks to change the campus cultures that can condone attacks.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Dorothy Edwards, executive director of Green Dot etc., which provides training for high schools and colleges on bystander intervention.
NewPublicHealth: Where does the name Green Dot come from?
Dorothy Edwards: Well, two different ways. I started my career in the field in Texas and for whatever reason for Sexual Assault Awareness Month green was the color of the ribbons. What was more intentional was the “dots” piece. That came out of one of the challenges in mobilizing bystanders to prevention, which is that this issue feels so big. People have been hearing about it for decades and I think there’s a kind of resignation that has settled in. Because when you hear the same number over and over and programs come and programs go and it’s an issue this big, people can just feel that there’s nothing they can do about it. “I’m one person, I can’t change this.”
So, one of the original challenges when we were playing with this idea of bystander intervention and highlighting more the integral role of this kind of third character—apart from victim and perpetrator—was that we knew in order for it to be effective it wasn’t just about skill and knowledge, it was about giving people a sense of possibility, giving people a sense of manageability. And when you say the word dot, a dot is small. So instead of saying we’ve got to change the whole culture, we’ve got to change all college campuses, we’ve got to change sexual assault—which feels so big—we can say to people, gosh, all we need you to actually deal with is a single green dot, a single moment, a single choice. And suddenly something very big feels very small and manageable
May is Foster Care Awareness Month, an observance aimed at focusing attention on the 400,000 children in foster care, many of whom often are bounced from home to home only to age out of the system at 18 without community or family ties. A report from the General Accounting Office (GAO) released yesterday found that 42 states reported that they face major challenges placing large sibling groups in foster care, 38 states face challenges placing foster students near their most recent school and 31 reported they face challenges providing appropriate housing after a child in foster care ages out of the system.
A second GAO report released this week found that children in foster care group homes were twice as likely to be given psychotropic drugs than children in foster homes, and children in foster care were more likely to be given the drugs than children in the general community. Many of the drugs have serious side effects—including suicidal thoughts—and require oversight by guardians and doctors. However, but often children in foster care—particularly in group homes—who are taking psychotropic drugs are not well monitored. The GAO recommended that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provide improved guidance to state Medicaid, child-welfare and mental-health officials regarding prescription-drug monitoring and oversight for children in foster care receiving psychotropic medications through Managed Care Organizations.
Child advocates say much more needs to be done to effectively place foster children in safe, nurturing homes, as well as to support foster families in adopting children and creating permanent homes and families. NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Dave Roberts, a county supervisor in San Diego, who together with his husband is raising five adopted children, ages 5 to 18, who started their lives with the family as foster children. Roberts has been a health policy advisor to Presidents Bush and Obama and played a key role in developing Tricare, the health insurance system of the U.S. Department of Defense.
NewPublicHealth: What drew you and your husband to consider having foster children grow up in your home?
Dave Roberts: We left Washington, D.C., where we had been living, and moved to San Diego where my husband is from and the first year we were here we went to the Del Mar Fair and the county had a booth there advertising their foster to adopt program. And so we signed up for the program and went through the process, and Robert [almost 19 and planning to enter the U.S. Air Force in the fall] was our first child. He was four going on five when he came to live with us.
Earlier this week the White House honored eleven transportation “Champions of Change” for their roles in ensuring that transportation facilities, services and jobs help individuals and their communities.
- Wanda Vazquez, a mentor and trainer in Chicago who helps Hispanic advocates in the Chicago area become certified child passenger safety technicians, and help families understand the importance of safe transportation for their children.
- Daphne Izer, head of the twenty-year-old Parents Against Tired Truckers.
- Marilyn Golden, a senior policy analyst with the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, based in Berkeley, California, where she has advocated for greater access to public and private transportation for people with disabilities.
Research from the U.S. Department of Transportation has found that poor transportation access is a factor preventing lower income Americans from gaining higher income levels than their parents. “Transportation plays a critical role in connecting Americans and communities to economic opportunity through connectivity, job creation, and economic growth,” said U.S. Secretary of Transpiration Anthony Foxx at the event recognizing the Champions. “Recognizing social mobility as a defining trait of America’s promise, access to reliable, safe and affordable transportation is critical.”
Following the awards ceremony, NewPublicHealth spoke with Marilyn Golden about her work.
NewPublicHealth: How much more is there to be done to help people with disabilities to get easier access to transportation to take them where they need to go, whether it’s recreational, medical, or work?
Marilyn Golden: We should acknowledge that a lot has been done under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by transit agencies, with a lot of thank you to the U.S. Department of Transportation, particularly the Federal Transit Administration for enforcing the ADA in a sufficiently robust manner that transit agencies do respond.
I shouldn’t suggest that every transit agency only acts because of an enforcement action. It’s much more diverse than that, and some are very proactive on their own and really leaders in the industry, and then there are transit agencies that trail behind. We do have many challenges that remain.
The American Red Cross recently announced the opening of its second Digital Operations Center—the first one outside of its national headquarters in Washington, D.C.—in the organization’s North Texas Region. Both centers are funded by the Dell Computer Corporation. The new center, along with others to be opened in the next few years, expands the ability of the American Red Cross to engage in social media, especially during regional disasters.
The Center will “allow us to build a center of expertise through our digital volunteers who help provide social data for regional responses,” said Laura Howe, vice president of public relations at the American Red Cross. NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Howe about the impact of using social media to respond during disasters.
NewPublicHealth: How did the Red Cross social listening program begin?
Laura Howe: We started a social listening program for emergencies and disaster in a fulsome way after the Haiti earthquake. I walked out of my office and I had a bunch of staff members who were in tears. They were getting Twitter and Facebook messages from members of the Haitian diaspora community here in the United States giving them the exact locations of where people were trapped under rubble and where people needed help in Port au Prince. We were able to move that information to the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Defense to hopefully get people help on the ground. But, it showed us two things. It showed us the power of individuals to provide information that can help responders, but it also showed that there was a tremendous gap in the response system for being able to take in information and respond specifically to people who had an urgent emergency rescue need, and there really is no infrastructure to be able to do that.
But I do want to make clear that the Red Cross as an organization and Red Cross disaster workers are not going to be able to take in information off of social media and then send one of our people to come get you out of the rubble or to come rescue you. We are not acting as a 911 dispatch here. We are using social media platforms to provide people with preparedness information, emotional support and information that they can take action on. We’re also listening for information that can help us in our disaster response generally and help us better hone where we’re putting our resources during a disaster.
NPH: What are the criteria for an optimal American Red Cross digital volunteer?
Laura Howe: We want someone who is comfortable in a social space; understands social media platforms and how social communities work; and is comfortable engaging with the public, having done that previously. Volunteers don’t necessarily have to have professional experience with social media, but do have to have a personal comfort level. Our training follows up on those prior skills about how to engage on behalf of the Red Cross. We train the digital volunteers about how we take in the information and then move it to our decision makers in order to make operational decisions.
The Network provides assistance and resources to public health lawyers and officials on legal issues related to public health, including health reform, emergency preparedness, drug overdose prevention, health information privacy and food safety. More than 3,500 public health practitioners, attorneys, researchers, policy makers and others have joined the Network since it was formed in 2010 as a national initiative of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).
“We are delighted that Ms. Levin, an experienced leader in public health law, will be joining a stellar Network team,” said Michelle Larkin, JD, assistant vice president for RWJF. “Laws and policies that help people lead healthier lives are among the cornerstones for building a culture of health. Through Ms. Levin’s leadership, we look forward to continued growth in the Network—a strategic resource for state and local public health officials.”
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Levin about her new position with the Network.
NewPublicHealth: How does your previous work as the general counsel for a state health department help inform your goals for the Network for Public Health Law?
Donna Levin: During my decades at the Massachusetts Department of Health I saw the responsibility of the state health department grow exponentially. We were trusted by the legislature and given many new initiatives. So public health grew and grew and public health law has grown alongside it. So what informs my view is that the range of issues is so incredibly broad. And so I really know firsthand how the availability of technical assistance from the Network is so valuable both to lawyers working in the field and to practitioners.