Apr 16 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 16

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Study: More ‘Masculine’ and ‘Feminine’ Youth at Higher Risk for Cancer-risk Behaviors
The most “feminine” girls and the most “masculine” boys are also the most likely to engage in behaviors that pose cancer risks, according to a new study in the Journal of Adolescent Health. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) analyzed data on 9,354 adolescents in the ongoing Growing Up Today Study, finding that cancer-risk behaviors such as tobacco use, indoor tanning and physical inactivity were significantly more common in adolescents who more closely adhered to the traditional societal norms of masculinity and femininity. "Our findings indicate that socially constructed ideas of masculinity and femininity heavily influence teens' behaviors and put them at increased risk for cancer,” said lead author Andrea Roberts, research associate in the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at HSPH. “Though there is nothing inherently masculine about chewing tobacco, or inherently feminine about using a tanning booth, these industries have convinced some teens that these behaviors are a way to express their masculinity or femininity." Read more on cancer.

Study: Casual Marijuana Use Can Cause Dangerous Changes in Youths’ Brains
Casual marijuana use in young people can lead to potentially harmful changes in the brain, according to a new study in the Journal of Neuroscience. Researchers from Northwestern University's medical school, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School determined that casual marijuana smoking—defined as one to seven joints per week—could lead to changes to the nucleus accumbens and the nucleus amygdale, which help regulate emotion and motivation. "What we're seeing is changes in people who are 18 to 25 in core brain regions that you never, ever want to fool around with," said co-senior study author Hans Beiter, PhD, professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, according to Reuters, adding, "Our hypothesis from this early work is that these changes may be an early sign of what later becomes amotivation, where people aren't focused on their goals.” Read more on substance abuse.

CDC: ‘Herd Immunity’ Helped Reduce H1N1 Flu Strain’s Impact This Season
While the H1N1 influenza strain was the predominant strain in the United States this past flu season, prior widespread exposure and its inclusion in the current flu vaccine meant it did not have nearly the impact it did in 2009, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to Michael Jhung, MD, a medical officer in the CDC’s influenza division, an overall “herd immunity” helped stop this season from turning into the worldwide pandemic seen in 2009. "This year, not only do we have a vaccine that works well, but millions of people have already been exposed to the H1N1 virus," he said, according to HealthDay. The flu strain also hit differently this season, peaking earlier, although once again younger adults were affected more than the elderly. Read more on the flu.

Apr 15 2014
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Recommended Reading: Where Teens Spend Their Time

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A new article from The Atlantic Cities reports on a recent study that finds that restaurants are shifting to become the predominant teen hang-out spot, rather than the malls of the past. According to a recent report on teen behavior, teenagers now spend more money on food and events than on clothes. And while an increase in mall closings may be driving younger people to eateries, the report finds that a greater interest in hanging out at restaurants also drove some of the drop in mall traffic—along with competition from the Internet.

The report doesn’t say what the teens are eating while they mingle, but the trend comes at a good time for them to access information on healthier diets, as under the Affordable Care Act many restaurants must now post nutrition information. Though studies have been mixed about the results of menu labeling, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that, overall, public health studies may be beginning to show that menu labeling may influence consumers to choose healthier options. And while many food outlets have chosen to share that information online rather than on walls, digital-savvy teens may already have the tools to find it—though they may need a push from social media or other educational outreach channels to do so.

Read the article from The Atlantic Cities.

Apr 15 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 15

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Urban Gardeners May Be Unaware of Harmful Soil Contaminants
In their quest to consume healthier foods, urban gardeners may actually be unaware of the presence of soil contaminants and how to deal with the issue, putting both gardeners and consumers at risk, according to a new study in PLOS One. Potential contaminants include heavy metals, petroleum products and asbestos, which can result when urban soil is near pollution sources, such as industrial areas and roads with heavy traffic. “Our study suggests gardeners generally recognize the importance of knowing a garden site’s prior uses, but they may lack the information and expertise to determine accurately the prior use of their garden site and potential contaminants in the soil,” said Keeve Nachman, PhD, senior author of the study and director of the Food Production and Public Health Program with the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. “They may also have misperceptions or gaps in knowledge about how best to minimize their risk of exposure to contaminants that may be in urban soil.” Read more food safety.

Study: 1 in 10 U.S. Adults Have Diabetes
Nearly one in 10 U.S. adults had diabetes in 2010, nearly double the percentage a little more than two decades ago, in 1988, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study determined that 21 million American adults—or 9.3 percent of all American adults—had either type 1 or type 2 diabetes in 2010. As many as 95 percent of diabetes cases are type 2 cases. "This study also highlights that the increase in diabetes really tracks closely with the epidemic of obesity,” said Elizabeth Selvin, the study's lead author and an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “The diabetes epidemic is really a direct consequence of the rise in obesity.” However, the report did find that cases of undiagnosed diabetes were down, indicating new screen techniques are effective. It also found that overall blood sugar control was improved. Read more on obesity.

U.S. Health Care Costs Climbed 3.2% in 2013, to $329.2 Billion
The cost of new medicines, price increases on some branded drugs and patent expirations helped cause the first rise in the overall cost of health services in the United States in three years, according to a new report from IMS Health Holdings Inc., a health care information company. Americans spent a total of $329.2 billion on health services in 2013, up from 3.2 percent from 2012, which had seen a 1 percent decline. However, the report noted that expanded use of cheaper generic drugs—86 percent of all prescription drugs—did help costs from rising even higher. Read more on access to health care.

Apr 14 2014
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Upcoming Webinar: Public Health Perspectives in Regulating Non-Medical Marijuana

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 On Thursday, April 17, from 1-2 p.m. (ET), the Network for Public Health Law, Public Health Law Research and the American Society of Law Medicine and Ethics (ASLME) will be holding a free webinar around public health perspectives on regulating non-medical marijuana in states where it has been made legal or decriminalized. Whatever course a state may take, public health’s expertise and experience in public policy means it should be a major voice in the discussion surrounding legislation from the very start. The issue is a critical one now as Colorado and Washington State have legalized the commercial production, distribution and sale of marijuana for non-medical use and a number of other states are considering similar legislation.

“Policy-makers, advocates and others are grappling with how to process licenses, develop regulations and manage production in an industry that is still largely illegal both in the U.S. and around the world,” said Alexander Wagenaar, PhD, Professor in the Institute for Child Health Policy at the University of Florida who will be the moderator for the webinar.

The webinar’s aim is to provide an overview of issues related to non-medical marijuana regulation through, among other things, the lessons learned from decades of alcohol and tobacco regulation and through insights from Washington State’s recent implementation of a marijuana law with participant Laura Hitchcock, JD, Policy, Research & Development Specialist in the public health department of Seattle & King County in Washington State. Additional speakers include Beau Kilmer, PhD, Co-Director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center and Amanda Reiman, PhD, the Policy Manager of the Drug Policy Alliance of California.

>>Register for the webinar Regulating Non-Medical Marijuana: Lessons Learned and Paths Forward.

Ahead of the webinar, NewPublicHealth spoke with Wagenaar about who in public health will find the webinar important, as well as public health’s role both before and after a jurisdiction considers legalizing non-medical marijuana.

NewPublicHealth: Who is the webinar primarily geared toward?

Alexander Wagenaar: There are lots of different audiences that are interested in this, including the public health research community such as academics, scientists, health department and agency staff who are looking at the issue or will be looking at it in the future.

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Apr 14 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 14

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Study: Mean Devices Approved for Pediatric Use Never Tested on Kids
The majority of medical devices recently approved for pediatric use were never actually tested on kids, but rather only on people ages 18 and older, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers analyzed the clinical data used to get each device approved, finding that 11 of 25 examined devices were not tested on any patient age 21 and younger, and that only four had been tested on patients under the age of 18; three devices were specifically approved for patients under age 18, while the test were approved for people ages 18 to 21. "Children are not simply 'small adults,' and a device found to be safe and effective in adults may have a very different safety and effectiveness profile when used in a pediatric population," said Brigham and Women's Hospital and Harvard Medical School research fellow Thomas J. Hwang, one of the study’s authors, according to Reuters. "Without this data, it is difficult for clinicians and parents to make informed treatment decisions that weigh the risks and benefits of a particular treatment.” Read more on pediatrics.

Kaiser Report Examines Employer-Sponsored Retiree Health Benefits
A new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation on employer-sponsored retiree health benefits for pre-65 and Medicare-eligible retirees finds that the percentage of employers sponsoring retiree health coverage has declined, while employers that offer coverage are redesigning their plans almost annually in response to rising health care costs. The report, Retiree Health Benefits At the Crossroads, also examines the effect of recent legislation on retiree health coverage, such as the Medicare drug benefit and the Affordable Care Act. Read more on aging.

Study: Fewer Blood Transfusions Would Mean Fewer Infections
The increased use of blood transfusions in hospitals also leads to the increased risk of infection, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In a review of 21 randomized control trials, researchers from the University of Michigan School of Public Health determined that for every 38 patients considered for a red blood cell transfusion, the reduction of transfusions would mean one patient did not develop a serious infection, with the elderly undergoing hip and knee surgeries benefiting the most. “The fewer the red blood cell transfusions, the less likely hospitalized patients were to develop infections, “ says lead author Jeffrey M. Rohde, MD, assistant professor of internal medicine in the division of general medicine at the U-M Medical School, in a release. “This is most likely due to the patient’s immune system reacting to donor blood (known as transfusion-associated immunomodulation or TRIM). Transfusions may benefit patients with severe anemia or blood loss; however, for patients with higher red blood cell levels, the risks may outweigh the benefits.” Read more on prevention.

Apr 11 2014
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Faces of Public Health: Q&A with Lynn Goldman, The George Washington University

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Last month The George Washington University in Washington, D.C. announced three gifts totaling $80 million for the university’s School of Public Health and public health initiatives from the Milken Institute, the Sumner M. Redstone Charitable Foundation and the Milken Family Foundation. The public health graduate school is now called the Milken Institute School of Public Health and the university has also established the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness. Redstone is the executive chairman of Viacom and CBS Corp., while Michael Milken is an entrepreneur.

The gifts include:

  • $40 million from the Milken Institute to support new and ongoing research and scholarships
  • $30 million from the Sumner M. Redstone Charitable Foundation to develop and advance innovative strategies to expand wellness and the prevention of disease
  • $10 million from the Milken Family Foundation to support the Milken Institute School dean’s office, including a newly created public health scholarship program

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Lynn Goldman, MD, MS, MPH, and dean of the School of Public Health, about the impact of the gifts for the school and the public’s health both globally and in the United States.

NewPublicHealth: What changes will the recent gifts bring to the school?

Lynn Goldman: It’s no exaggeration to say the gift is transformational for our school. We have the opportunity to recruit the best talent in the country to work with our school, whether that might be students through the increase that we’ve received in scholarship funding or faculty members, and we have the opportunity to support our current faculty to be able to take their work to the next level.

It also allows us to establish the Sumner M. Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness, which is a very exciting enterprise. We recently announced that William Dietz, MD, MPH, formerly the director of the Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), will be the first director of the Redstone Center. The initial focus of the Center will be childhood obesity. That is so exciting because Dietz was doing research on childhood obesity well before that became the flavor of the month. It has been his lifelong mission to prevent childhood obesity, and what we are charged to do with this center is to very directly engage in efforts that will result in reducing the rates of obesity in the United States and globally. The way we are going to be doing that is by bringing together the evidence that people are generating about efforts that are working and also efforts that are not working, and be able to sift through that research. I think Bill is the perfect person to be the leader of an effort such as this because he is very collaborative, and we want to do this in a collaborative fashion.

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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 10 2014
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PHLR Infographics: A Look at How Research is Improving Public Health Laws

Happy National Public Health Week! All week we've been sharing stories on the value of public health across all aspects of life, and all ages and stages.

Public Health Law Research (PHLR), a grantee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has also been participating in the week by contributing graphics and posts on the particular role of public health law—when backed by evidence and grounded in research—to save lives and make a difference. Below, we are highlighting some of the critical statistics PHLR has shared, along with some context on the research behind the numbers.

Child Seat Safety

Today, every state has a law requiring children to be restrained in federally-approved child safety seats while riding in motor-vehicles. These laws differ from state to state based on number of factors (e.g., age, height and weight of the children requiring safety seats). All current child safety seat laws allow for primary enforcement, meaning a police officer can stop a driver solely for a violation of such laws.

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Lead Laws

In 1990 approximately 20 percent of all U.S. children had elevated levels of lead in their blood. However, only a decade later that percentage was down to 1.6 percent, thanks to public health laws researched and crafted to look out for the wellbeing of children. One of the most significant pieces of legislation was The Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988, which was already on the path to improving public health in 1990.

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Watch this video on Philadelphia's lead court.

Sodium Laws

Eating too much sodium can cause high blood pressure, which raises the risk for heart disease and stroke—the first- and fourth-leading causes of death in this country. A variety of laws and legislatively enabled regulations attempt to reduce sodium in the food supply, including lowering the amount of salt in foods served in schools and child care facilities or purchased by state-regulated elder and health care facilities and prisons. Almost half of all U.S. states have laws to help reduce tghe sodium in processed foods.

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Sports-Related Traumatic Brain Injuries

As many as 300,000 kids suffer traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) from playing sports each year. TBIs can have serious short- and long-term health effects. Can public health law make a difference? The latest study finds that while all 50 states have laws in place to combat this problem, they haven't helped stop kids with concussions from playing. However, the research does help provide some context on how those laws have been implemented and how they might be revamped to work better.

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Apr 10 2014
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Future of Public Health: Q&A with Erin Yastrow, BSPH Candidate at Tulane University

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Future of Public Health is an ongoing series focused on the emerging faces in the world of public health. We spoke with Erin Yastrow, a Bachelor of Science in Public Health candidate at the Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, about what helped lead her to the field, her work as a leader in Tulane’s undergraduate student government and where she hopes to go from here.

NewPublicHealth: What encouraged you to pursue a degree and career in public health?

Erin Yastrow: I’ve always been interested in the field of health. I was actually thinking about going into nutrition when I first started looking at undergraduate schools and I had a family friend at one school who had worked in nutrition, but then ended up working at the School of Public Health. When I met with her, she encouraged me to pursue public health with an emphasis on nutrition because it would give me more opportunities. From there, I started my exploration into what public health was and I realized how interesting and fascinating it was and how it was applicable to so many more areas besides just nutrition.

In the meantime, I had also applied to Tulane. I wasn’t really considering it that much because I didn’t know that much about it. My mom was looking through their brochure and told me that they have a great public health program. So, I started looking and I realized how established the Bachelor’s and graduate programs were. They also had an option where you could pursue a combined degree and it was really appealing to me.

NPH: Are you pursuing a Master’s as well?

Yastrow: Not currently, but I’m actually attending Johns Hopkins next year for a Master’s in Public Health. Tulane does have a really great program where you can do a combined degree with your Bachelor’s and Master’s. Part of my undergraduate core, which has now changed, included taking five graduate classes, so I took some classes at that School of Public Health here.

NPH: Within the field of public health, what are your primary interests and why?

Yastrow: That has also sort of shifted as I’ve learned more about public health. As I mentioned, I started out really interested in nutrition and obesity prevention. As I took more electives and did some internships, I became more interested in the similar patterns of risk factors that exist in obesity and other epidemics that aren’t always considered to be health problems, such as violence. That has developed into an interest about addressing inequalities in health and the social determinants, such as socioeconomic status, education and race and how those, to me, are unjust reasons that people are more likely to develop further health conditions.

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Apr 10 2014
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National Public Health Week: Healthy Eating—There’s an App for That

Eat well. That’s today’s theme for National Public Health Week—and it’s good advice. After all, according to the American Public Health Association, Americans are now eating 31 percent more calories than we did 40 years ago, including 56 percent more fats and oils and 14 percent more sugars and sweeteners. The average American eats 15 more pounds of sugar a year today than in 1970. 

There are new food-oriented websites and smartphone apps (many free) that can help people keep track of what foods they’re eating and what’s in those foods.

At the Milk Street Café in Boston, for example, the restaurant’s ordering site lets you filter the full menu into just the categories you want. Click low “fat” and the tailored breakfast menu leaves off the breakfast pastries and zooms in on the yogurt parfaits.

Other recent apps include:

  • Locavore, which points to farmers’ markets and produce stands in your neighborhood.
  • Harvest, which offers tips for choosing ripe produce.
  • Fooducate, a food database on your smartphone that includes basic nutrient and calorie information, plus high points of each food such as the fiber quantify of crackers.
  • Substitutions, an app finds alternatives when you can’t use the ingredient in the original recipe because of an allergy or other dietary restriction. Popular tip: Swap in fat-free yogurt when the recipe calls for fat-free sour cream to save calories.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture hosts the Food Access Research Atlas, which presents a spatial overview of food access indicators for low-income and other census tracts using different measures of supermarket accessibility. The app is valuable for community planning and research.