Category Archives: Physical activity
With research indicating that fewer children are walking or biking to school than in decades past—and with the childhood obesity epidemic in full swing—health experts have been brainstorming solutions that would address both issues. In recent years, a simple but effective concept has been gaining traction at the grass-roots level: Why not organize a “Walking School Bus”—a group of kids who walk to school with one or more adults, so that kids can get exercise on their way to and from school?
A Walking School Bus is “just like a regular school bus, but without the walls and seats, and instead of wheels, we use our feet,” explained LeeAnne Fergason, education director for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance in Portland, Ore., which has a thriving Walking School Bus program. Other communities around the country that have well-established Walking School Bus programs include Chapel Hill, N.C.; Sacramento, Calif.; Burlington, Vt.; Columbia, Mo.; and Duluth, Ga. In the Fall of 2014, many more schools—including Grand View Elementary in Manhattan Beach, Calif.; Greenacres Elementary in Scarsdale, N.Y.; Madison Elementary in Redondo Beach, Calif.; and several elementary schools in Spokane, Wash.—will be joining the trend.
Created by the National Center for Safe Routes to School, these programs help kids sneak some extra physical activity into their day while also addressing parents’ concerns about getting their kids to school safely. It can be as simple as a few neighborhood families taking turns walking their kids to school. Or it can be more elaborate, with prearranged routes, timetables and stops along the way to pick up more “passengers”; with this model, there’s usually an adult “driver” at the front and an adult “conductor” bringing up the rear. A variation on this theme, the bicycle train, in which two or more adults accompany and supervise kids as they ride their bikes to school, has also become popular.
Viewed as a way to fight childhood obesity, improve school attendance rates and ensure that kids get to school safely, the Walking School Bus concept is garnering positive reviews from public health experts. In July 2013, Michelle Obama voiced her support of these programs in her remarks to mayors gathered at the White House.
“I've heard more and more of this kind of walking school bus happening all over the country—so that kids can get exercise on the way to school, kind of like we did when we were growing up," she said. “It’s about people all across this country coming together to take action to support the health of our kids.”
Besides providing an opportunity for movement, the Walking School Bus also allows kids to socialize with their peers, gain a bit of independence and learn important road safety skills. All of these benefits are also important for children’s health and wellbeing.
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.
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.
NCAA Reaches Preliminary Concussion Settlement, Including $70M Monitoring Program
The NCAA has reached a preliminary settlement in response to a class-action push to revise its head injury policies. The settlement includes a $70 million medical monitoring fund that would provide all former college athletes with the opportunity to receive neurological screenings, as well as a new national protocol which would require assessments by trained professionals and keep athletes from returning to games or practices the same day they suffer a head injury. “This offers college athletes another level of protection, which is vitally important to their health,” said the lead plaintiffs’ lawyer, Steve Berman, according to The New York Times. “Student-athletes—not just football players—have dropped out of school and suffered huge long-term symptoms because of brain injuries. Anything we can do to enhance concussion management is a very important day for student-athletes.” Read more on injury prevention.
Marijuana Legalization Not Linked to Rise in Teen Use
The gradual increase in marijuana use by U.S. teens over the past two decades is not linked to the legalization of medical marijuana in various states, according to a new research paper based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers determined that the probability that a high school student had used marijuana in the previous 30 days was only 0.8 percent higher in states where use was legal. While marijuana is illegal under federal law, it has been legalized for medical purposes in 21 states and the District of Columbia, and legalized for recreational use in Colorado and Washington. "Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana among high school students," wrote D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University, Daniel Rees of the University of Colorado and Benjamin Hansen of the University of Oregon, in the paper. Read more on substance abuse.
Study: 5-10 Minutes of Daily Running Can Add Three Years to Life Expectancy
As little as five to ten minutes of slow running every day can add up to an additional three years of life expectancy, according to a new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Researchers examined data on 55,137 adults 18-100 years of age (with a media age of 44 years), finding that running for the length of time at six miles an hour or slower was associated with markedly reduced risk of death from all causes, including heart disease. Researchers said the results should help drive inactive individuals to take up exercise programs. Read more on physical activity.
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.
More than half of youths in the United States have access to parks or playground areas; recreation centers; boys’ and girls’ clubs; and walking paths or sidewalks in their neighborhoods, according to a new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), State Indicator Report on Physical Activity, 2014.
While that information might conjure up images of newly built, dedicated playgrounds, the reality is different...and less expensive. Thousands of communities have created physical activity opportunities by developing shared use agreements with schools to allow the use of facilities after school hours and on weekends.
In 2011, for example, the nonprofit Partners for Active Living (PAL), in Spartanburg, S.C., met with the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and learned that while the city did have access to defunct school facilities, it had no shared use agreements that would let PAL use school facilities for exercise. With help from a board member (who was also a member of the city council) and online resources for shared use agreements, PAL was able to move the concept forward by showing that:
- Under South Carolina law, school districts and third parties would be protected under the recreational user statute.
- The South Carolina Tort Claims Act imposes the same liabilities and protections both during and after the school day.
- The school district may be liable for negligent supervision of a student only if a duty is executed in a grossly negligent manner.
After about a year of discussions with parents, activists, policymakers, school officials and others, agreements were worked out in 2012 for school soccer fields, basketball courts, trails, playgrounds and football fields to remain open to the community on weekends and from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on non-school days and after school until 6 p.m. on school days, with supervision by the Parks and Recreation Department to deal with damage, vandalism and other concerns. The agreement is automatically renewed every five years unless amended. To promote the continued usage of school playgrounds, the department will offer regularly scheduled programming at each site and PAL will be tracking usage.
‘I Got Tested’ Campaign Promotes Importance of Knowing Your HIV Status
A new public information campaign from Greater Than AIDS is using real-life stories to advocate the importance of knowing your HIV/AIDS status. The “I Got Tested” campaign will place materials in clinics to support providers in HIV outreach; provide free HIV testing in select Walgreens pharmacies; and promote hotlines and online resources provided by departments of health and agencies, as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Despite overwhelming evidence that early diagnosis and treatment play an important role both in the health of those who are positive and in reducing the spread of HIV, many Americans at highest risk for infection still have not been tested,” said Tina Hoff, Senior Vice President and Director of Health Communication and Media Partnerships at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a co-founding partner of Greater Than AIDS, in a release. “This campaign is about helping to reduce the stigma surrounding HIV testing, to encourage patients to ask their providers to get tested, and to connect people with services in their communities.” Read more on HIV/AIDS.
Court: NYC’s ‘Soda Ban’ is Illegal
New York City’s ban on large sugary drinks—often referred to as former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “soda ban”—is illegal, according to a 4-2 ruling from the state Court of Appeals. The court found that the local health board that passed the regulation overstepped its authority. "By choosing among competing policy goals, without any legislative delegation or guidance, the Board engaged in law-making and thus infringed upon the legislative jurisdiction of the City Council of New York," wrote Judge Eugene Pigott for the majority. The soda ban was one of several public health initiatives pushed by Bloomberg, along with a ban on cigarettes in certain public spaces and a ban on trans fats from restaurants. Read more on nutrition.
Study: 3 Hours of Television Per Day Can Double Risk of Early Death
Watching more than three hours of television per day may double a person’s risk of an early death, compared to someone who watches less than one hour per day, according to a surprising new study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Researchers tracked more than 13,000 seemingly healthy adults in Spain, finding that for every two additional hours a person spent watching television, their risk of death from heart disease climbed 44 percent, their cancer death risk climbed 21 percent and their risk of premature death climbed 55 percent for all other causes. The study found no such link for other sedentary causes, including working at a computer and driving. Read more on physical activity.
CDC Study Finds No Significant Change in Use of Smokeless Tobacco
From 2005 to 2010 there was no significant change in the percentage of U.S. working adults who used smokeless tobacco, according to the new National Health Interview Survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2005, approximately 2.7 percent of workers reported using smokeless tobacco, with the percentage climbing slightly to 3.0 percent in 2010; males (5.6 percent) and non-Hispanic whites (4.0 percent) reported the highest usage, followed by adults ages 25-44 years, people with no more than a high school education and people living in the South (all 3.9 percent). By industry, smokeless tobacco use was most common in mining (18.8 percent), and by occupation it was most common in construction and extraction (10.8 percent). According to the CDC, these findings indicate opportunities to engage workers with tobacco cessation efforts, such as providing employee health insurance coverage for proven cessation treatments; offering help for those who want to quit; and establishing and enforcing tobacco-free workplace policies. Read more on tobacco.
6,000 Steps Per Day May Improve Knee Arthritis, Reduce Future Disability Risk
Walking 6,000 steps a day—or about one hour at the average person’s pace—may both help improve knee arthritis and prevent further disability, according to a new study in the journal Arthritis Care & Research. In a study of approximately 1,800 adults who either had knee arthritis or were at risk, researchers found that for every 1,000 steps a person took a day, their functional limitations were reduced by 16-18 percent. The study also pegged 6,000 steps as the target to reach to ensure the healthiest results. Approximately 27 million Americans age 25 and older live with osteoarthritis, which is the most common type of arthritis and often referred to as “wear-and-tear arthritis,” according to the Mayo Clinic. Read more on physical activity.
Study: Great Recession Contributed to Additional 10,000 Suicides in North America, Europe
Stress and other health issues resulting from the Great Recession were associated with more than 10,000 additional economic suicides—suicides in response to financial hardship—between 2008 and 2010 in North America and Europe, according to a new study in The British Journal of Psychiatry. While job loss, debt and foreclosure can increase the risk of suicidal thinking, researchers determined that many such suicides could have been avoided. They recommend upstream return-to-work programs, antidepressant prescriptions and other interventions as ways to mitigate the risk of economic suicides if and when another economic downturn strikes. Read more on the prevention.
Census: Bicycle Commuting Up 60 Percent in Past Decade
U.S. cities across the country are seeing increases in bicycle commuters, according to a recent report from the U.S. Census Bureau. The report found that the total number of people who use a bike to get to work jumped by approximately 60 percent in the past decade, to about 786,000 during the 2008-2012 period, making the largest percentage increase of all commuting modes tracked by the 2000 Census and the 2008-2012 American Community Survey. Portland, Ore. had the highest bicycle-commuting rate at 6.1 percent; the overall national rate was 0.6 percent. "In recent years, many communities have taken steps to support more transportation options, such as bicycling and walking," said Brian McKenzie, a Census Bureau sociologist and the report's author, in a release. "For example, many cities have invested in bike share programs, bike lanes and more pedestrian-friendly streets." Read more on physical activity.
May 19 is ‘Hepatitis Testing Day’
Approximately 5.3 million Americans live with chronic viral hepatitis, although many don’t even realize they’re infected, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Today, May 19, marks the third national Hepatitis Testing Day, founded to work to increase the number of people who know their hepatitis B and hepatitis C status; what severe—or even fatal—complications they may face if they’re infected; and their risk of spreading it to others. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers an online Hepatitis Risk Assessment, which utilizes brief questions to determine risk, and then prints out recommendations based on CDC’s testing and vaccination guidelines to discuss with their health care provider. Read more on prevention.
Current, Former Smokers May Have Harder Time Becoming Pregnant
Current and former smokers may face more difficulty when trying to become pregnant, according to a new study in the journal Fertility and Sterility. Researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health (BUSPH) analyzed the chances of getting pregnant among 686 current smokers, 741 former smokers and 2,346 women who never smoked, finding that among the former smokers with the highest level of exposure, the chance of getting pregnant was reduced on average by 26 percent per menstrual cycle. “Pregnant women are already encouraged to quit smoking because of the risks to the mother and baby. Some women might not be aware that current regular smoking also harms female fertility, as concluded by the U.S. Surgeon General based on observational studies and animal studies,” said Rose Radin, a doctoral student in the BUSPH Department of Epidemiology and the lead author of the study, in a release. “Our study also found that current regular smokers take longer to get pregnant than never smokers.” Read more on tobacco.
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.