Category Archives: Health and Human Services

May 7 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 7

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Too Few Disabled Adults Participate in Physical Activities
Working-age adults with disabilities who get no aerobic physical activity are 50 percent more likely to have a chronic disease such as cancer, diabetes, stroke or heart disease than are their active peers, according to a Vital Signs report released today by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Most adults with disabilities are able to participate in physical activity, yet nearly half (47 percent) of them get no aerobic physical activity. An additional 22 percent aren’t active enough. However, only about 44 percent of adults with disabilities who saw a doctor in the past year got a recommendation for physical activity.

The key findings of the report include:

  • Working-age adults with disabilities are three times more likely to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes or cancer than are adults without disabilities.
  • Nearly half of adults with disabilities get no aerobic physical activity, an important protective health behavior to help avoid these chronic diseases.
  • Inactive adults with disabilities were 50 percent more likely to report at least one chronic disease than were active adults with disabilities.
  • Adults with disabilities were 82 percent more likely to be physically active if their doctor recommended it.
  • The CDC recommends that adults with disabilities talk to their doctor about how much and what kind of physical activity is right for them, and that doctors and other health professionals recommend options that fit each disabled patients. The agency has created a resource page to help health professionals direct disabled patients to fitness options.

Read more on physical activity.

>>Bonus Link: Read a NewPublicHealth interview with James Rimmer, director of the National Center on Health, Physical Activity and Disability.

HHS: Quality Improvement Efforts Saved 15,000 Lives, $4B in Health Spending
New data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) indicates that quality improvements to the country’s health care system helped prevent nearly 15,000 deaths in hospitals, avoid 560,000 patient injuries and saved approximately $4 billion in health spending from 2011 to 2012. The preliminary data also indicates an overall nine percent decrease in hospital-acquired infections over that period. “We applaud the nationwide network of hospital systems and providers that are working together to save lives and reduce costs,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.  “We are seeing a simultaneous reduction in hospital readmissions and injuries, giving patients confidence that they are receiving the best possible care and lowering their risk of having to be readmitted to the hospital after they get the care they need.” Read more on HHS.

AAP: Drunk Driving Remains a Significant Safety Threat for U.S. Children
Despite improvements in safety efforts and the data, motor vehicle crashes remain a leading cause of death for U.S. children and in approximately 20 percent of the deaths at least one of the drivers is legally drunk, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers examined National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data of children under age 15 who were killed in a traffic crash between 2001 and 2010. The study determined that child deaths with an alcohol-impaired driver decreased by 41 percent over that period, with a total of 2,344 victims. Researchers also determined that 61 percent of impaired drivers were unrestrained at the time of the crash and one-third did not have a valid driver’s license. The researchers said that communities need to “urge states and communities to target efforts at protecting children from impaired drivers and increasing use of age- and size-appropriate restraints for child passengers,” according to a release from the American Academy of Pediatricians. Read more on alcohol.

Apr 29 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 29

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Study: MERS Virus Outbreak Linked to Camels
New evidence strongly implicates camels as the carrier and cause of an ongoing outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) that has infected 300 people and killed approximately 100 since the first documented case in Saudi Arabia in September 2012. According to a new study in the journal mBio, scientists at the Center for Infection and Immunity at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, King Saud University, and EcoHealth Alliance have extracted a complete, live, infectious sample of MERS coronavirus from two Saudi Arabian camels. "The finding of infectious virus strengthens the argument that dromedary camels are reservoirs for MERS-CoV," says first author Thomas Briese, PhD, associate director of the Center for Infection and Immunity and associate professor of Epidemiology at the Mailman School, in a release. "The narrow range of MERS viruses in humans and a very broad range in camels may explain in part the why human disease is uncommon: because only a few genotypes are capable of cross species transmission.” Co-author Abdulaziz N. Alagaili, PhD, director of the Mammals Research Chair at King Saud University, added that the next step is “investigating potential routes for human infection through exposure to camel milk or meat products.” Read more on infectious disease.

This Friday RWJF to Discuss How to Make Sure Patients Are Getting the Right Care
As much as 30 percent of health care delivered in the United States is unnecessary, won’t help improve help or may even harm health, according to some health care experts. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Choosing Wisely effort has, for the past two years, worked to identify more than 250 tests and procedures that that physician groups say are overused in their own field. This Friday, May 2 from 12-1 p.m. ET, Susan Dentzer, senior policy adviser to RWJF, will lead a discussion with physicians and a patient about how to shift the cultural mindset from “more care is better” to “the right care, and no more. Go here to RSVP.

Study: As Many as 5.3M Americans Have Untreated Chronic Viral Hepatitis
Despite public health efforts over the past several years, untreated chronic viral hepatitis continues to be a serious problem, according to a new commentary being published in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The disease affects between 3.5 and 5.3 million Americans and contributes to the rise of incidences in progressive liver disease, liver failure and liver cancer. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in 2011 unveiled the Action Plan for the Prevention, Care and Treatment of Viral Hepatitis in the United States in order to advance both the prevention and treatment of viral hepatitis. The updated 2014-2016 HHS Viral Hepatitis Action Plan expands on the 2011 plan and will include additional metrics to help monitor the plan’s major goals. Read more on HHS.

Apr 11 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 11

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Sebelius to Step Down as Head of HHS
Kathleen Sebelius is resigning as secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The formal announcement is expected to come at 11 a.m. this morning, with President Obama to name Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell as the replacement for the former Kansas governor. Sebelius assumed the HHS position in April 2009. Read more on the HHS.

FDA Expands Approved Use of Certain Pacemakers, Defibrillators
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has expanded the approved application of certain pacemakers and defibrillators, allowing them to also be used for patients with atrioventricular (AV) block and less severe heart failure. Previously the devices—which provide electrical impulses to the heart through implanted leads in the ventricles—were approved only for people with more severe heart failure as evaluated by their physician using specific criteria. The expansion covers two cardiac resynchronization pacemakers (CRT-P) and eight cardiac resynchronization defibrillators produced by Medtronic. Approximately 5.1 million people in the United States have heart failure. Read more on heart health.

Study: Doctor’s ‘Bedside Manner’ Has Real Effect on Patient Health
The doctor-patient relationship can have a real and significant impact on patient health, with doctors with better “beside manner” also having patients who fare better in efforts to lose weight, lower their blood pressure or manage pain, according to a new study in the journal PLOS One. Researchers reviewed 13 clinical trials, finding that improved patient outcomes were linked directly to doctors who had undergone training to hone their people skills. "I think that intuitively, people think that if you have an open, caring relationship with your provider, that's beneficial," said Helen Riess, the senior researcher on the new study, according to HealthDay. Read more on access to health care.

Apr 8 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 8

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HHS: Significant Improvement on Leading Health Indicators that Influence Reduction in Preventable Disease and Death
A new report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Healthy People 2020, finds that the country’s health is importing in more than half—14 of 26—of the critical measures known to have a major influence in reducing preventable disease and death. The Leading Health Indicators include categories such as access to care; maternal and child health; tobacco use; nutrition; and physical activity. “The Leading Health Indicators are intended to motivate action to improve the health of the whole population,” said Howard Koh, MD, Assistant Secretary for Health, in a release. “Today’s LHI Progress Report shows that we are doing just that.” Among the indicators that been met or are improving:

  • Fewer adults smoking cigarettes
  • Fewer children exposed to secondhand smoke
  • More adults meeting physical activity targets
  • Fewer adolescents using alcohol or illicit drugs

Read more on HHS.

Study: Americans Twice as Likely to Get Food Poisoning from Restaurants than at Home
Americans are twice as likely to get food poisoning from food at a restaurant than they are from food at home, according to a new study from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). The organization analyzed “solved” outbreaks over a ten-year period, finding that 1,610 outbreaks in restaurants sickened more than 28,000 people while 893 outbreaks linked to private homes sickened approximately 13,000 people. The study also determined that of the 104 outbreaks linked to milk, about 70 percent were caused by raw milk—meaning that while less than one percent of consumers drink raw milk, they account for 70 percent of the illnesses caused by milk-borne outbreaks. The researchers also expressed concern over the 42 percent drop in reported outbreaks from 2011 to 2012. "Underreporting of outbreaks has reached epidemic proportions," said CSPI food safety director Caroline Smith DeWaal. "Yet the details gleaned from outbreak investigations provide essential information so public health officials can shape food safety policy and make science-based recommendations to consumers. Despite the improvements in food safety policy in the past decade, far too many Americans still are getting sick, being hospitalized, or even dying due to contaminated food." Read more on food safety.

Study: Antipsychotic Medications for Foster Care Youth Remain High
Use of antipsychotic medications for unlabeled indications such as treatment for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is increasing among youth in foster care, according to a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Psychopharmacology. Researchers from the University of Maryland, Morgan State University and the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions analyzed data on 266,590 youth ages 2-17 years and continuously enrolled in a mid-Atlantic state Medicaid program in 2006, finding that approximately one-third of the ADHD-diagnosed foster care youth included in the assessment received atypical antipsychotics. This study adds critical hard data to our understanding of a persistent and unacceptable trend in pediatric psychiatry," said Harold S. Koplewicz, MD, Editor-in-Chief of Journal of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology, and President, Child Mind Institute, in a release. "Our poorest, most vulnerable children, lacking access to evidence-based care, are receiving potentially harmful treatment with little oversight. The highlight of Burcu et al.'s paper for any reader should be the simple but necessary recommendations for antipsychotic prescribing and monitoring in these populations." Read more on prescription drugs.

Feb 25 2014
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A New Infographic for the National Prevention Strategy

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A new infographic from the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General highlights collaborations within the federal government and between the health and healthcare sectors to help improve prevention outreach. These efforts are part of the cross sector National Prevention Strategy launched by the office several years ago.

Current examples of collaboration include Million Hearts, an initiative of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to prevent one million heart attacks by 2017. The initiative includes a commitment by close to 150 large private medical practices in the United States to get hypertension control rates above 80 percent in their communities.

You can also view the fully interactive infographic here.

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>>Bonus Link: Read interviews and listen to podcasts about the National Prevention Strategy conducted with former and current U.S. Cabinet Secretaries and agency heads.

Aug 26 2013
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Tobacco-Free Campuses on the Rise: Q&A with Dr. Howard Koh, HHS

Howard Koh, MD, MPH, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh, MD, MPH, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health

Many students staring or returning to college this fall may find something missing—exposure to tobacco products.

Last September the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), together with several key partners, launched the National Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative to promote and support the adoption and implementation of tobacco-free policies at universities, colleges, and other institutions of higher learning across the U.S. Initiative partners include the American College Health Association and the University of Michigan. Initiative staff members work closely with academic leaders, public health advocates, students, researchers, and others to help speed up the elimination of tobacco use on college campuses. “This is a lofty goal, but an attainable one, as we are witnessing exponential growth in the adoption of these policies by academic institutions in all regions of the country,” says Howard Koh, MD, MPH, the U.S. Assistant Secretary for Health who helped launch the initiative last year at the University of Michigan, which included an internationally webcast symposium at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

The initiative includes a website created to serve as a clearinghouse of key information to assist educational communities in establishing tobacco-free environments. The University of Michigan’s comprehensive smoke-free policy went into effect in 2011.

Smoke-free and tobacco-free policies are not the same, according to HHS. Smoke-free policies refer to any lighted or heated tobacco or plant product intended for inhalation—including cigars, cigarettes and pipes. Tobacco-free policies cover these and all other forms of tobacco (although e-cigarettes are still exempt on some campuses due to the still-evolving nature of the regulations). HHS officials point out that although some campuses are smoke-free while others are tobacco-free, the ultimate goal is for all campuses to eventually be 100 percent tobacco-free.

With the start of the fall college imminent or already underway at most universities, NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr.Koh about the success of the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative so far, and what’s ahead in tobacco control efforts for young adults by the Department of Health and Human Services.

NewPublicHealth: What success has the initiative seen since it was launched last year?

Dr. Koh: We’re very proud that the Tobacco-Free College Campus Initiative has accelerated rapidly. When we formally announced this in September of 2012, there were 774 colleges and universities that were tobacco or smoke-free and as of right now, the number has risen to 1,159—that’s an increase of more than one-third in less than a year. We are gratified by the positive response from colleges and universities and leaders from across the country who want to make their environments healthier.

NPH: What are the short-term and long-term goals for the initiative?

Dr. Koh: The ultimate goal is to have all colleges and universities in the U.S. choose to become 100 percent tobacco-free and we’re making steady progress towards that goal because we fully understand that prevention efforts must focus not just on children, but also young adults. The number of smokers who are starting to smoke after age 18 has increased. That number was a million in 2010 when it used to be 600,000 in 2002. We have figures that show that one out of four full-time college students were current smokers in 2010, which is higher than the national prevalence of 19 percent. These numbers underscore why college is a critical age to influence health habits of young adults.

Read more

Jul 26 2013
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Recommended Reading: HHS Working to Improve Global Health

Even as the global population continues to grow, technological and societal advances mean that our world is constantly getting smaller. Or at least that we are becoming more interconnected.

Understanding this—that a person in a Midwestern U.S. state is better off when a person on the other side of the world has access to quality health care—the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Global Health Strategy is working with partners across the globe to improve the health of everyone.

"Although the chief mission of [HHS] is to enhance the health and well being of Americans, it is critically important that we cooperate with other nations and international organizations to reduce the risks of disease, disability, and premature death throughout the world," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

One of the most powerful initiatives has been the push toward greater immunization rates. Immunizations alone saved 3 million children’s lives in 2011. Over the past decade, premature deaths from measles have been cut by 71 percent and from tetanus by more than 90 percent. And polio is closer and closer to complete eradication.

Still, vaccine-preventable diseases still account for approximately one in four global deaths of children under the age of 5. And of the 22 million children who go without the full benefits of vaccines each year, it is often the poorest that are most affected.

Among the greatest continuing obstacles are the persistent myths surrounding vaccinations, such as the false and repeatedly debunked belief that they cause autism.

“Overcoming these mistaken beliefs has become an integral part of our work towards global vaccine access. Until we reach the day when no lives are lost to vaccine-preventable diseases, we will aggressively continue to develop new and improved vaccines and ensure they are available to everyone in every country.”

>> Read the full “Beyond our borders: Why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services invests in global efforts” at DefeatDD.org.

Jun 28 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: June 28

USDA Issues Rules for Healthy Snacks at School
The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released rules for healthy snacks at school. The program, called Smart Snacks in School and required by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, applies to snack food and a la carte foods sold at meal time. The rules take effect for the school year beginning in 2014. The rules do not apply to foods brought from home or to fundraisers held during after-school hours. The rules promote foods with more whole grains, low-fat dairy, fruits, vegetables and leaner protein, as well as foods lower in fat, sugar and sodium that provide more of the nutrients kids need. New rules also apply to beverages sold at school. Only sports drinks and sodas that contain 60 calories or less per 12-ounce serving will be allowed in high schools. In elementary and middle schools, drink choices will be limited to water, carbonated water, 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice, low-fat milk and fat-free milk.

“The updated standards are critical to addressing the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic and helping our most vulnerable children get the foods and drinks they need to grow up strong and healthy,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “Together with recent efforts to improve school meals, these updates will help to create a culture of health in schools and a better future for millions of children…while the standards will not take effect until the 2014-2015 school year, schools can begin implementation and act now. Let’s seize this opportunity. When it comes to keeping our kids healthy, there is no time to waste.” Read more on obesity.

New York Rebuffs Bloomberg’s Veto, Passes Paid Sick Time Law
New York City lawmakers overrode Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s veto yesterday and passed a law requiring businesses to provide more than one million workers with paid sick time. While other large cities have similar regulations—including Portland, Ore., San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C.—supporters believe this vote will help make paid sick time the norm across the entire country. "The catalyst will have been the successful struggle we waged here in New York City," said Dan Cantor, the national executive director of the Working Families Party. Bloomberg vetoed the measure earlier this month on the grounds that the added costs to businesses would ultimately hurt employees. The ordinance was passed after considerable research and advocacy from Community Services Society of New York, a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Roadmaps to Health Community Grantee, along with other partners. Read more on public health law.

HHS Seeking Private Sector Innovators, Entrepreneurs to Solve Health Challenges
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is now seeking applicants for its second annual HHSentrepreneurs Program. The program is designed to bring together private sector innovators and entrepreneurs with federal groups working to answer major health, health care and human services challenges. This year’s goal is to place up to eight entrepreneurs into six projects:

  • Application of Design Thinking to Grants
  • Cloud-Based GIS Maps Displaying Aggregate Data on Medical Malpractice
  • Health Information Exchange Accelerators
  • Modernizing the National Plan and Provider Enumeration System
  • Predictive Analytics: Merging Innovation and Business Operations
  • Publication Planning and Clearance Process Improvement Project

Read more on Health and Human Services.

Jun 24 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: June 24

HHS Launches Redesigned Website
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has launched a redesigned website to make it easier for public health officials, health care experts and consumers navigate the agency’s diverse collection of resources. The new site emphasizes direct access to the latest news and top areas of interest—including priority websites manages by the large agency—while also highlighting ways to connect with HHS on social media, including Twitter and Facebook. Read more on HHS.

Overuse, Unsafe Methods Increase Serious Injury Risk in Youth Baseball
Non-adherence to pitch counts and general overuse has helped lead to a dramatic increase in youth baseball throwing injuries requiring surgery. The injuries now occur 16 times more often as they did only 30 years ago, according to Joseph Guettler, MD, an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine specialist with the Beaumont Health System in Royal Oak, Mich. Factors include pitching more than one game per day, pitching on back-to-back days, not utilizing pitch counts and throwing curve balls before high school. "It became very clear that dangerous pitching behavior is occurring among pitchers as young as Little League all the way through their high school years,” said Guettler. “And, the blame doesn't usually lie with the leagues or coaches. Most were found to be adhering to nationally recognized guidelines for pitch limits and rest. It seems much of the blame lies with behavior of parents and their kids.” To avoid injuries, he recommends the “Rule of Ones,” which limits how often a kid pitches, how many positions they play, how many teams that play for and other factors that increase serious injury risk. Read more on injury prevention.

CDC Recommends FluBlok Influenza Vaccine for People with Egg Allergies
In a unanimous vote, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended FluBlok for the upcoming influenza season for people ages 18-49 who suffer from egg allergies. The production of FluBok, which was licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in January of this year, does not utilize the influenza virus or chicken eggs. Read more on influenza.

Sep 13 2012
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Public Health News Roundup: September 13

Latinos May Be More Vulnerable to Type 2 Diabetes
A new study in Diabetes Care shows Latinos are more susceptible to type 2 diabetes than other groups due to how they store fat in the pancreas and release insulin into the body. The study was conducted by Cedars-Sinai’s Heart Institute, Biomedical Imaging Research Institute and Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute. “Prevention of diabetes is our goal,” said Richard Bergman, PhD, director of the Cedars-Sinai Diabetes and Obesity Research Institute. “Not all people who are overweight or obese and who have insulin resistance go on to develop diabetes. If we can determine who is most likely to develop diabetes and why, then we can make strides toward preventing it in those individuals. Read more on diabetes.

NIH Expands Safe Infant Sleep Campaign
The National Institutes of Health is expanding its “Back to Sleep Campaign” into the “Safe to Sleep Campaign.” Where before the campaign focused on reducing sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), it will now cover all sleep-related deaths for infants in the United States. The original campaign, founded in 1994, educated parents, caregivers and health care providers on how to prevent SIDS. “In recent years, we’ve learned that many of the risk factors for SIDS are similar to those for other sleep-related causes of infant death,” said Alan E. Guttmacher, MD, Director of the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD). “Placing infants on their backs to sleep and providing them with a safe sleep environment for every sleep time reduces the risk for SIDS as well as death from other causes, such as suffocation.” Read more on infant health.

HHS Releases Common Application for AIDS Drugs to Help Streamline Access for Many Patients
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has started its program to help uninsured HIV patients apply for multiple assistance programs with a single application. The Common Patient Assistance Program Application (CPAPA) is a product of HHS and seven major pharmaceutical companies and foundations. Patient Assistance Programs help approximately 30,000 people in the United States each year. “The last thing someone living with HIV wants to think about is filling out another form,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “This application streamlines and simplifies the process, reduces barriers to medication access, and speeds access to lifesaving drugs.” Read more on HIV.

USC Study Finds Marijuana May Increase the Risk of Testicular Cancer
Recreational marijuana use may increase the risk of certain types of more serious testicular cancer, according to a new study from the University of Southern California published online in CANCER. The study looked at results of recreational drug use in 163 men with the testicular cancer—the most common type of cancer in men ages 15-45—and found they were twice as likely to suffer from non-seminoma and mixed germ cell tumors. The findings support previous studies showing a link between marijuana use and testicular cancer. Read more on cancer.