Category Archives: Health disparities

Jul 23 2014
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From Flyers to Tweets to Apps, Food Programs are Looking for Hungry Kids this Summer

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While more than 30 million children receive free or reduced-cost meals through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National School Lunch Program during the school year, only about 3 million of those kids sign on for summer meals through the USDA’s Summer Food Service Program, according to agency statistics. While not all 30 million need the summer meals—many are enrolled in summer programs that offer food or have parents that are able to take responsibility for providing meals—USDA and hunger experts know that millions are going hungry each summer, impacting their day-to-day lives, the learning gains of the previous year and learning readiness for the next grade.

“Most of the reason eligible kids aren’t getting meals in the summer is simply because parents don’t know about them,” said Audrey Rowe, head of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which runs the meal programs.

Last year, USDA made increasing the number of kids getting summer meals (sites typically serve one meal and a snack or two meals) a top priority, according to a the report Summer Doesn’t Take a Vacation, published by the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit aimed at ending child hunger. According to the report, the summer of 2013 marked the first major increase in the number of low-income children eating sponsored summer meals in 10 years, and the program grew last year to serve nearly three million children, an increase of 161,000 children or 5.7 percent from 2012. This represents the largest percentage increase since 2003.

To reach those increases, the USDA worked with organizations including FRAC, Feeding America, Share Our Strength, the YMCA and other national, state and local stakeholders to target states with high rates of poverty, food insecurity and low participation rates in summer food programs. Efforts ran from high-level conversations with state governors—some of whom had known nothing about summer meal programs—to dozens of webinars to teach officials and private partners the nuts and bolts of running the programs. For example, sites are eligible in communities where more than half the area children receive subsidized school meals. 

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Jul 17 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 17

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Study: Common Asthma Treatment Suppresses Growth in Children
A common treatment for asthma may suppress growth in children, according to a new review of two studies that was published in The Cochrane Library journal. The studies included 45 trials on corticosteroid drugs, which are delivered via inhalers to both children and adults with asthma and generally used as first-line treatments for persistent asthma. "The evidence... suggests that children treated daily with inhaled corticosteroids may grow approximately half a centimeter less during the first year of treatment," said Linjie Zhang at the Federal University of Rio Grande in Brazil, according to Reuters. "But this effect is less pronounced in subsequent years, is not cumulative, and seems minor compared to the known benefits of the drugs for controlling asthma." The World Health Organization estimates that there are approximately 235 million people living with asthma. Read more on pediatrics.

Study: Busiest ERs Often Provide the Best Care
People with life-threatening emergencies have better odds of survival when treated at busier emergency departments, according to a new study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine. The study found that patients admitted to a hospital after an emergency had a 10 percent lower chance of dying in the hospital if they initially went to one of the nation's busiest emergency departments; that people with sepsis had a 26 percent lower death rate at the busiest emergency centers; and that lung failure patients had a 22 percent lower death rate. The researchers behind the study estimate that if all emergency patients received the level of care provided by the busiest emergency departments then approximately 24,000 fewer people would die each year. "It's too early to say that based on these results, patients and first responders should change their decision about which hospital to choose in an emergency," said Keith Kocher, MD, MPH, the lead author of the new study and a University of Michigan Health System emergency physician, in a release. "But the bottom line is that emergency departments and hospitals perform differently, there really are differences in care and they matter." Read more on health disparities.

HHS: $11M Toward Integrating HIV Services into Primary Care
As part of the ongoing National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is making $11 million available for the integration of HIV services into primary care services in Florida, Massachusetts, Maryland and New York. The funds will go toward innovative partnerships between health centers and those states’ health departments. They are part of Partnerships for Care: Health Departments and Health Centers Collaborating to Improve HIV Health Outcomes, a multi-agency project that includes the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Health Resources and Services Administration. Read more on HIV/AIDS.

Jul 11 2014
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Recommended Reading: A Refurbished Bus Will Bring Showers to the Homeless in San Francisco

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There are an estimated 7,350 homeless people living in San Francisco, yet there are only eight facilities in the city at which the homeless can shower. At each of these facilities, there are at most two shower stalls—meaning that there is at most one shower for every 460 homeless people.

Lava Mae developed a mobile approach to target this public health issue.

The refurbished San Francisco MUNI bus outfitted with two full-service bathrooms successfully made its first rounds on June 28. The bus will travel around the city providing the homeless with mobile public utilities and giving them much-needed access to clean water and sanitation. Without the limitations of stationary locations, Lava Mae is able to aide people across the city while also staying free from high real estate prices, rising rent and potential eviction.

"For at least a decade, bathrooms have stood in for the city's anxieties about homelessness, public utilities, and the changing economy," wrote Rachel Swan in a piece on public bathrooms in SF Weekly. Lava Mae founder Doniece Sandoval hopes that the program will take big steps in improving the health of the homeless and public sanitation by increasing the number and scope of available public restrooms.

The relationship between the health and wellbeing of the homeless population correlates directly with the health of the community as a whole. As the homeless population strives for a better quality of life, so does the community—one shower at a time.

Read the full story, “A Refurbished Bus Will Bring Showers to the Homeless in San Francisco.”

Jul 8 2014
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Langley Park Community Needs Assessment Report: Q&A with Zorayda Moreira-Smith, CASA de Maryland

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Late last month several organizations in Washington, D.C., and suburban Maryland—including CASA de Maryland, the Urban Institute, Prince George’s County Public Schools and other Langley Park Promise Neighborhood partners—released the Langley Park Community Needs Assessment Report, a year-long community assessment supported by the U.S. Department of Education Promise Neighborhoods program.

The assessment found that few of Langley Park’s 3,700 children—nearly all of whom were born in the United States—are currently on track for a strong future and that their lives are severely impacted by poverty; poor access to health care; high rates of neighborhood crime; chronic housing instability and school mobility; and low levels of parent education and English proficiency. Fewer than half of the community’s children graduate high school in four years, often because of high rates of early pregnancy and early entry into the work force to help support their families.

Following the release of the report, NewPublicHealth spoke with Zorayda Moreira-Smith, the Housing and Community Development Manager at CASA de Maryland.

NewPublicHealth: One factor in students not finishing high school in Langley Park is that many high schools students ages 16-19 drop out so that they can go to work and help support their families. Is this especially an issue of concern in the Latino community?

Zorayda Moreira-Smith: There are a number of reasons people drop out at that age. One of them is that 35 percent are working because of family need. The safety nets that are generally there for individuals aren’t there for immigrant communities. Most of the parents in these families probably left school after 8th or 9th grade. And once you reach a certain age, you’re also seen as an adult, so there’s an expectation that you help out with the family needs. For most of the families in the area, there’s a high unemployment rate or they have temporary jobs or are day laborers. So, as soon as children reach a certain age, there’s the expectation to start helping out financially and I think it’s very common.

And most immigrant families not only support the people that make up their household here in the United States, but also support their family in the countries of their origin. And while our data doesn’t show it, some of these individuals and kids in households could be living with family members who aren’t their parents—they could be their aunts or their uncles or what not. So, also as soon as they’re working, they’re often supporting their siblings or their parents or their grandparents in their origin countries. 

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Jun 13 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 13

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Older Hispanics Taking their Medicines Because of Medicare Prescription Drug Plans
Hispanics have reduced the gap with whites in taking prescribed heart medicines since the 2006 launch of Medicare’s prescription drug benefit—Medicare Part D. The findings were reported in a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Quality of Care and Outcomes Research 2014 Scientific Sessions earlier this month. Researchers reviewed prescription drug data from Medicare’s national Medical Expenditure Panel Survey for white, African-American and Hispanic Medicare seniors for the years 2007-10. After Part D, adherence rates increased among all racial groups, with the highest increase in whites and Hispanics, but increased only slightly among African-Americans.

  • Hispanics’ total group adherence rate improved about 60 percent.
  • Whites’ adherence rate improved 47 percent.
  • African-Americans’ adherence rate improved about 9 percent.

Read more on heart health.

USDA Announces Grants to Help Repair Houses in Rural Areas
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced it is seeking applications for grants of about $4 million to preserve and repair housing for very-low- and low-income families living in rural areas. The funds are being made available by the USDA Rural Development's Housing Preservation Grant program. Eligible applicants include town or county governments; public agencies; federally recognized Indian Tribes; and non-profit and faith-based organizations. Applications are due July 28. Examples of previous grants include a 2012 award to Habitat for Humanity Lake County (Calif.), which received a $55,000 Housing Preservation Grant to help 12 low-income homeowners repair their homes. One person helped was a Vietnam veteran who used a wheelchair and could not leave his home without assistance. Habitat for Humanity widened his doorway and installed a wheelchair lift. Read more on housing.

Many U.S. Cancer Survivors Face Serious Financial Burdens
Many U.S. cancer survivors face significant economic burdens due to growing medical costs, missed work and reduced productivity, according to a study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Cancer survivors face physical, emotional, psychosocial, employment and financial challenges as a result of their cancer diagnosis and treatment,” said Donatus U. Ekwueme, PhD, a senior health economist at CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. The number of cancer survivors is expected to increase by more than 30 percent in the next decade—to 18 million Americans. Researchers analyzed data from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s 2008-2011 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey to estimate annual medical costs and productivity losses among cancer survivors  aged 18 years and older, and among persons without a cancer diagnosis. Among those employed, more than 42 percent had to make changes to their work hours and duties. The report also found that about 10 percent of survivors aged 65 years and younger were uninsured and likely to have a larger financial burden compared to survivors with some source of payment for medical services. Read more on cancer

Jun 3 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 4

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Study: Medicaid Patients Receive Poorer Cancer Care
People on Medicaid receive poorer cancer care than people with private insurance, according to three new studies presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago. Researchers determined that Medicaid patients are less likely to have their cancer caught at an earlier, more treatable phase, as well as far more likely to die from cancer. One of the factors contributing to this disparity is the fact that Medicaid patients have less experience navigating the health care system. "Research has shown that we can screen more patients, but that they get dropped along the way to treatment. We don't give them full access into curative therapy," said Jyoti Patel, MD, an oncologist at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University in Chicago, who's also a spokeswoman for the American Society of Clinical Oncology. "We need to do a better job to make sure that people who aren't savvy or can't advocate for themselves have that helping hand." Read more on health disparities.

CDC: Norovirus is the Leading Cause of Disease Outbreaks from Contaminated Food
Norovirus is the leading cause of disease outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States, according to the latest Vital Signs report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Approximately 20 million people in the United States are sickened by norovirus annually. According to the CDC, because infected workers are often the source of these outbreaks, the food service industry can help prevent outbreaks by enforcing safety practices, including:

  • Making sure food service workers practice proper hand washing and use utensils and single-use disposable gloves to avoid touching ready-to-eat foods with bare hands
  • Certifying kitchen managers and training food service workers in food safety practices
  • Establishing policies that require food service workers to stay home when sick with vomiting and diarrhea and for at least 48 hours after symptoms stop

Read more on food safety.

N.C. Program Successful in Expanding Dental Care to Young, Low-income Children
A North Carolina program to reduce cavities in young, low-income children, has significantly increased the number of children under the age of four receiving preventive dental care  since the program began in 2000, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. The program works to train physicians in basic dental screening and preventive techniques that can be provided quickly and effectively during regular office visits. “Evaluation studies conducted since the initiation of the program in 2000 have found it to substantially increase access to preventive dental services for young, high-risk children who otherwise would be unlikely to use these services in dental offices, reduce caries-related treatments and costs, avert hospitalizations and improve oral health status,” said study was co-author R. Gary Rozier, DDS, MPH, professor of health policy and management at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, in a release. Read more on pediatrics.

May 22 2014
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Postcards from the Edge: Foster Care and Health Issues

“I don’t miss my family. I miss the family I never had.” That’s the text of a postcard written by a former foster child—one of hundreds of postcards that are a project of the Foster Care Alumni of America to help create a better understanding about life in foster care. May is National Foster Care Month—an annual effort to raise attention about the 400,000 children in foster care.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), most of those 400,000 children will be reunited with their families or find a permanent home with relatives, guardianship, or adoption. But each year 24,000 youth “age out” of foster care without a permanent legal family and many of them have shared their lives in a postcard.

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New initiatives on foster care announced by the HHS Children's Bureau in 2014 include:

  • Awards for agencies to test new strategies for recruiting resource families for children in foster care.
  • Grants to states, localities and tribes to build the capacity of child welfare systems to prevent long-term homelessness among youth and young adults who have been involved with child welfare.
  • Funding for states, localities and universities to develop initiatives that will improve the social and emotional well-being of children who are involved with child welfare and have mental and behavioral health needs.
  • The National Foster Care Month initiative. This year’s theme is “Building Blocks Toward Permanent Families” in order to promote awareness of children in foster care.
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The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) defines children in foster care as children with special health care needs because of the very high prevalence of physical, mental, developmental, educational, dental and family relationship problems. Children in foster care have many of the same health problems as other children—they just seem to have more of them more often, according to the AAP.

Among the reasons why medical conditions are so prevalent in foster children:

  • Health conditions might be the direct result of trauma or medical neglect.
  • Birth parents may seek foster care because they are unable to care for the child’s health problems.
  • Emotional stressors may precipitate flares in underlying conditions, such as asthma.

According to the AAP, treating and improving these conditions also improves the chances for reunification with parents or adoption, and is therefore a priority for foster children.

>>Bonus LinksView a slideshow and gallery of dozens of post cards by former and current foster children.

May 20 2014
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Hypertension ‘Kills More People Around the World than Anything Else’

“Hypertension affects nearly one in three adults and kills more people around the world than anything else. It is both too common and too often poorly controlled.”

So said Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during a panel discussion at the annual meeting of the American Society of Hypertension (ASH) this past weekend. The panel was convened by ASH, the American Heart Association and the CDC to launch a project supporting improved control of hypertension worldwide. According to the panel an estimated 970 million people have hypertension worldwide, and the disease is responsible for more than nine million deaths, as hypertension can lead to heart disease and stroke.

Data from the groups finds that rates of hypertension have increased in both developed and developing nations, due in part to an aging population and lifestyles that include high salt diets and low physical activity.

For the developing world, the CDC; the Pan American Health Organization; and other regional and global stakeholders are identifying both cost effective medicines and inexpensive delivery strategies for the drugs to help patients afford and receive them.

In the United States, the Affordable Care Act is expected to increase the number of people on hypertension medications, but despite the availability of coverage for hypertension diagnosis and treatment there remains concern over disparities. A study of more than 16,000 members of the Hispanic community published in the American Journal of Hypertension earlier this year found that while the prevalence of hypertension among Hispanics is nearly equal to that of non-Hispanic whites, diagnosis of the disease is much lower, as is general awareness of its symptoms and treatment options.

"Given the relative ease of identifying hypertension and the availability of low-cost medications, enabling better access to diagnostic and treatment services should be prioritized to reduce the burden of cardiovascular disease on Hispanic populations,” said Paul Sorlie, MD, the lead author of the study and an epidemiologist with the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. “This study gives us the information needed to support the development of policies that can improve this access and, subsequently, the overall health of countless US citizens.”

>>Bonus Links:

  • A new infographic from the Measure Up/Pressure Down initiative of the American Medical Group Association provides some key patient information about hypertension, including normal and dangerous ranges of blood pressure—numbers patients should be familiar with.
  • A map from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington shows hypertension levels for 2001 to 2009 by race and gender.
May 5 2014
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Place Matters: Eliminating Health Disparities in Alameda County, California

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Despite certain positive shifts in overall health outcomes for residents in Alameda County, Calif., significant inequities exist, particularly among African-Americans, Latinos and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, as well as low-income residents.

The Alameda County Place Matters team works throughout Alameda County, including the City of Oakland, the largest city in the county.

Team Objectives include:

  • Affordable housing
  • Quality education
  • Access to economic opportunities
  • Criminal justice reform including reducing the incidence of incarceration
  • Improvements to land use
  • Accessible, safe and affordable transportation

Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson initiated the Alameda County Place Matters team. The team is currently housed within the Alameda County Public Health Department and supported by health department staff. The initiative has numerous community partners that include community-based organizations; city and county government agencies; and nonprofits.

Among the critical issues the Place Matters team is currently focused on are displacement, the built environment, and development and how those impact health, according to team communications lead Katherine Schaff.

The team is working with community partners and planners on a healthy development checklist that the city of Oakland can use to take health considerations into account during city permitting and decision making to try to ensure more transparency and accountability to residents in that process. She said the goal is to have city planners go through the checklist before projects are approved. The checklist, said Schaff, might have allowed for more time for community comment before plans were authorized for a new crematorium that is expected to add to pollution and exacerbate asthma cases.

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May 2 2014
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Place Matters: Eliminating Health Disparities in Cuyahoga County, Ohio

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The Cuyahoga County, Ohio Place Matters team's focus is on ensuring health implications and equity considerations are at the forefront as policy makers and others make decisions that substantially impact the county’s residents and the neighborhoods in which they live.

Key Team Objectives:

  • A broader definition of health. Health is not simply the absence of disease—health begins where people live, work, learn, age and play. Health includes the social conditions one lives in, such as the jobs we do, the money we're paid, the schools we attend and the neighborhoods we live in, as well as our genes, our behaviors and our medical care.
  • Inform, influence and engage policy makers and community members to develop policies—using an overarching health equity lens—that have long-term impacts, create conditions for optimal health and reduce inequities.
  • Utilize "place-based" interventions to engage and empower residents in under-resourced communities to revitalize their communities.

East Cleveland is one of the most densely settled communities in Cuyahoga County. The city has a poverty rate of 32 percent, while its heart disease mortality rates (355/100,000) are higher than in the county (10 percent higher) and the nation (32 percent higher).

Team objectives include building effective partnerships; striving for equal opportunity for all; equity; recognition that neighborhood condition is the context in which health and wellbeing begins; health in all policies; mobilizing the community for action; and measuring indicators of social determinants of health.

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