Category Archives: Environment
HHS to Form Committee to Address Children’s Needs in Disasters
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is forming a new advisory committee to help meet the particular needs of children before, during and after a disaster or other public health emergency. The committee will seek to bring together experts from the scientific, public health and medical fields. HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) also created the Children’s HHS Interagency Leadership on Disasters (CHILD) working group in 2010, which has so far increased interagency coordination and recommendations to improve lifesaving care for children in disasters; developed ways to mitigate the behavioral and psychological needs of children in disasters; and identification of medications and vaccines for children in emergencies. The deadline for nominations for committee membership is Feb. 14. Read more on disasters.
Study: Cold Weather May Help People Lose Weight
There’s at least one benefit to the frigid air currently blanketing much of the country—regular exposure to mild cold may help people lose weight and sustain healthier weights, according to a new study in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. However, that also means that the during the winter, when most buildings keep their temperature warmer, our body is working less to stay warm, so using less energy. "Since most of us are exposed to indoor conditions 90 percent of the time, it is worth exploring health aspects of ambient temperatures," said first author of the article Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt of Maastricht University Medical Center in The Netherlands. "What would it mean if we let our bodies work again to control body temperature? We hypothesize that the thermal environment affects human health and more specifically that frequent mild cold exposure can significantly affect our energy expenditure over sustained time periods." Read more on obesity.
AHA, NFL App to Encourage Kids’ Physical Activity
The American Heart Association and the National Football League have released a new app, NFL Play 60, to encourage kids to get the full 60 minutes of daily recommended physical activity. In the interactive running experience, players dropped into a virtual world full of obstacles, and have to run, jump, pivot and turn in place to make their app character do the same and navigate the world. “One-third of U.S. children and adolescents are overweight or obese and at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke. Engaging young people in physical activity is one of the best ways to decrease their risk for heart disease,” said Mariell Jessup, MD, President of the American Heart Association. “We’re proud to partner with the NFL in developing an innovative way to reach adolescents, through their schools and now via their smartphones, in an effort to impact their lives earlier to make their lives longer.” The app is available for free download in the iTunes store starting today and will be available for Android on Feb. Read more on physical activity.
A new report from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives urges government at the local, state and federal levels to address noise pollution, which the study estimates impacts 104 million Americans. The researchers say noise not only impacts hearing, but also contributes to heart disease, hypertension, sleep disturbances, stress, learning difficulties and even injuries.
"Everyone complains about noise, yet we do virtually nothing about it in this country," says Richard Neitzel, PHD, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health and a co-author of the new report. “Noise is really up there in terms of health problems it causes, but it gets no attention—especially compared to other common exposures such as air pollution.”
Links between noise and health impacts are still being studied, but stress is thought to be a key factor.
The report suggests that noise be included in the federal public health agenda and recommends areas for regulation to reduce noise levels, including setting emission levels, improving information dissemination about the dangers of noise and a call to conduct more research to better understand the impact of noise on the population. Neitzel’s report includes recommendations for the National Prevention Strategy, a strategy to achieve prevention efforts across federal agencies:
- Exert noise control through direct regulation, setting maximum emissions levels.
- Require emissions disclosure on products, such as children’s toys.
- Improve information dissemination about the dangers of noise.
- Conduct more research to fully understand the impact of noise on the population.
The researchers also suggest ways state and local governments could fill the gaps:
- Enact regulations on sources of noise that aren’t covered by the Environmental Protection Agency or other federal agencies.
- Adopt procurement policies to reduce community noise caused by construction, emergency vehicles and maintenance equipment.
- Take steps to build or renovate housing that protects people from noise health initiatives across the federal government.
>>Bonus Link: Read a NewPublicHealth blog about a study by a visiting attorney fellow of the Network for Public Health Law on the health impacts of environmental noise.
NewPublicHealth Q&A: Florence Fulk and Tami Thomas-Burton on the Impact of the Environment on Health
Florence Fulk, MS, BS, a research biologist with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Tami Thomas-Burton, BS, MPH, of the Office of the Regional Administrator-Environmental Justice at EPA, will be speaking at the National Health Impact Assessment meeting this week on HIAs and environmental policy. NewPublicHealth caught up with Fulk and Thomas-Burton ahead of the conference to ask about EPA’s use of health impact assessments.
NewPublicHealth: What steps has the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) taken with respect to health impact assessments?
Florence Fulk: Within EPA is the Office of Research and Development, and within that office we have a Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program which is providing tools, models and approaches to support HIAs across the country. We’re also demonstrating HIA as an approach to integrate and weigh tradeoff in community decision making.
NPH: Why is the EPA investing in health impact assessments?
Fulk: The primary vision for the Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program is to inform and empower communities to look at human health, economic and environmental factors in their decision making, and to do it in a way that fosters community sustainability. And that vision is very closely linked to the values and the function of HIAs. The number of HIAs that are being conducted in the United States and the number of people that are conducting HIAs in the United States has formed this growing community of practice, which can inform our Sustainable and Healthy Communities Research Program by understanding the decisions that communities are facing and how they’re bringing health, economic and environmental information to the process.
We also see that by growing a community of practice as a network to disseminate EPA tools, models, data and guidance, the research that we do to support HIAs also gives us a way to raise awareness about sustainable alternatives in community decisions.
In the 1970s and 80s, residents of the Bronx, one of New York City’s five boroughs, were so anxious to leave the crime-ridden area that many residential and commercial buildings—once majestic and architecturally rich—were torched and empty for decades. Now fifty years later there’s a waiting list of thousands for Via Verde, a new low- and middle-income Bronx housing complex that opened last year. Many features set the complex apart from almost any other housing development in the United States, including an emphasis on greenery from almost every vantage point of the building. This helps create a calming and beautiful atmosphere for the residents, many of whom grew up in crowded housing projects where any nearby parks were usually too dangerous to enjoy.
Why is housing important for health? A lack of affordable rental housing can push more tenants into substandard or overcrowded living situations. Living in unaffordable housing also leaves fewer resources for the things that can keep a family healthy, such as healthy food or preventative health care. Low-income housing also has a reputation for being unhealthy, and for good reason—more than 6 million housing units in the U.S. have deficiencies such as lead paint hazards; allergens, dampness and mold that can trigger asthma; and unsafe structural issues that can cause falls and other injuries. Via Verde and other similar efforts seek to change all that, with housing that is not only affordable but also safe, healthy and even environmentally sound and sustainable (which in turn also saves on costs).
The design for Via Verde was the winner of a 2006 competition hosted by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development; the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects; the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA); and the Enterprise Foundation. It was New York City’s first juried design competition for affordable and sustainable housing.
Who better to offer up advice on summer sun protection than the Los Angeles County Health Department? Recently the department warned its residents to “practice summer sun smarts” to protect themselves from skin cancer, which, at 1 million diagnoses per year according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is now the most common form of cancer among Americans.
July is recognized as "UV Safety Month" to encourage everyone—not just those in Los Angeles—to protect themselves from ultraviolet (UV) rays, a major risk factor for most skin cancers, by using sunscreen and avoiding prolonged sun exposure during peak hours. “Simple sun safeguards can go a long way in protecting the health of you and your family this summer,” says Jonathan E. Fielding, MD, MPH, the departments’ director of public health.
In other summer sun safety news, this week the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and SAFE KIDS Worldwide partnered up to promote National Heatstroke Prevention Day this past Wednesday, July 31. NHTSA and their partners used this opportunity to educate parents on the dangers of leaving children in unattended vehicles in the summer heat, as there have already been over 20 heat-related deaths of children in cars this summer. Children’s body temperatures can spike three to five times faster than an adult’s, and even cool temperatures in the 60s can cause the temperature in the car to rise well above 110 degrees Fahrenheit—so safety steps are critical at all times.
CDC: Youth Homicide Rate at a 30-Year Low
The youth homicide rate reached a 30-year low in 2010, though a slowing of the decline since 2000 indicates the increased need for youth violence prevention strategies, according to a new data in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). The 2010 rate was 7.5 per 100,000 U.S. youth, ages 10 to 24. Higher-risk youth, including males and non-Hispanic black youth, have seen slower declines in the homicide rate. “We are encouraged to see a decline in the homicide rate among our youth but unfortunately, homicide continues to rank in the top three leading causes of death for our young people,” said Linda C. Degutis, DrPH, MSN, director, CDC’s National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. “Our youth represent our future and one homicide is one too many. Comprehensive approaches that include evidence-based prevention strategies are essential to eliminate homicide as a leading cause of death of young people.” Read more on violence.
FDA Proposes Arsenic Limit for Apple Juice
The U.S. Food and Drug administration has proposed a limit of 10 parts per billion of inorganic arsenic in apple juice, which is about the same levels permitted in drinking water. Inorganic arsenic, which is both naturally occurring in the environment and a product of arsenic-containing pesticides, is a known carcinogen linked to skin lesions, developmental effects, cardiovascular disease, neurotoxicity and diabetes. The non-profit Consumer Reports called the proposal a "reasonable first step in protecting consumers from unnecessary exposure to arsenic." Now that the FDA has released its proposed guidance, we look forward to analyzing the agency's risk assessment, submitting comments, and continuing the dialogue on this important public health issue," said Urvashi Rangan, Director of Consumer Safety and Sustainability at the organization. Read more on food safety.
Study: Air Pollution Kills 2.1 Million People Each Year
As many as 2.1 million people die every year because of global air pollution, according to a new study in the journal Environmental Research Letters. About 470,000 of those are linked to human-caused increases in ozone, although climate change is only a small factor. Fine particulate matter air pollution can get into the lungs, causing cancer and other respiratory illnesses. "Our estimates make outdoor air pollution among the most important environmental risk factors for health," study co-author Jason West, of the University of North Carolina, said in a release. "Many of these deaths are estimated to occur in East Asia and South Asia, where population is high and air pollution is severe." Read more on environment.
This week’s International Making Cities Livable Conference brings together city officials, practitioners and scholars in architecture, urban design, planning, urban affairs, health, social sciences and the arts from around the world to share experience and ideas. We spoke with some of those diverse attendees to find out: what do they want the public health community to know about working across sectors to make communities healthier and more livable?
Alain Miguelez, City of Ottawa, Program Manager for Zoning, Neighbourhoods and Intensification
NewPublicHealth: What do you want public health to know about making communities more livable?
Miguelez: I want public health to know they’re at the heart of what we do. Usually urban planning is a pretty arcane thing. We’ve done a good job of making it tough for people to understand and relate to. They don’t have the patience. Public health brings it home. As we heard in a session this week, it’s not necessarily people who are disabled—it's the built environment that’s disabling.
It comes down to how you see yourself functioning in your daily life. We've made it impossible to function any way other than with a car. For some people that’s okay, but for those who’ve had a taste of something different, there’s no going back. As planners people don't trust us anymore. We’ve done a lot of things in the name of progress. We’ve disconnected people from the built environment and forced them into places that make people fat and depressed and disconnected and not well-functioning. People coo about Portland and its trams and light rail and walkability. That’s how cities are supposed to be. Everywhere else has got to come up to that standard.
When you see statistics on obesity or depression, it becomes critical, especially with kids. I have two kids and I see very clearly how the environment we build around us impacts how they grow up. It gives kids the tools to function as independent human beings. The right type of city building and suburban repair [with an eye toward public health] can do that.
International Making Cities Livable Conference: A NewPublicHealth Q&A with Conference Co-Founder Suzanne Lennard
NewPublicHealth is on the road this week at the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland and the International Making Cities Livable Conference meeting in Portland, Oregon. Watch out for session coverage, Q&As with presenters and other updates from both conferences this week.
The International Making Cities Livable Council is an interdisciplinary, international network of individuals and cities dedicated to making our cities and communities more livable, with a focus on how the built environment impacts the wellbeing of the people who live in a community. This year’s conference focuses on creating healthy suburbs. And though health is an inextricable component of a livable city or suburb, this concept also includes enabling healthy social interaction; fostering a healthy local economy; creating safe spaces where children can grow up successfully; and more. NewPublicHealth coverage will focus on the critical connection between health and livability.
Prior to the conference, we connected with Suzanne Lennard, co-founder of the International Making Cities Livable Conference, who provided critical context on just what makes a city livable, and some of the contextual history on how our nation’s cities and suburbs strayed from livability—and what we can learn from other counties in getting back to healthy, livable places to live, learn and play.
NewPublicHealth: How did you come to found the International Making Cities Livable Conference?
Suzanne Lennard: My husband, who died several years ago, was a medical sociologist and social psychologist and his field was the study of social interaction in different settings and under different circumstances. When I met him, I was studying for a PhD at UC Berkeley in Human Aspects of Architecture and Urban Design and I was interested in how the built environment enhanced well-being. We started working together and since we were both from Europe—he was Viennese and I was from England—we began to look at how some European cities were enhancing well-being.
Less than a month ago cities in Oklahoma were struck by some of the most powerful tornadoes in the state’s history, killing more than 40 people, injuring scores more and destroying thousands of homes and other structures.
As part of an ongoing series on how public health responds to disaster, NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Gary Cox, director of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department.
NewPublicHealth: What roles has your health department had following the tornadoes?
Gary Cox: We do many things. For example, a lot of people are out cleaning up and come into contact with nails and other sharp objects and they get cuts and puncture wounds. We partnered with Blue Cross Blue Shield and we have three mobile vans staffed those vans with nurses who go out into the affected areas and give tetanus shots and minor first aid. Mental health services can also be provided out of the vans. In fact, we put out a call for assistance and many trained professionals signed up within just a couple of days to volunteer their services to work with individuals and with families, particularly over the stress issues related to these tornados and floods. We have a very broad and deep layer of partnerships, and of course we rely on those. And what we try to do is to take a holistic type so that people in need can get a whole range of services from one location.
One important mission has been to deploy food safety inspectors out into all those areas affected to look at each one of those restaurants and to help them assess their food spoilage and food safety and work with them to get back to business if they can and as soon as they can.
Jane Brody is the Personal Health columnist for The New York Times. She joined the newspaper in 1965 as a specialist in medicine and biology after receiving degrees in biochemistry and writing for multiple college newspapers, as well as for the Minneapolis Tribune. With her column she has seen and reported on almost 50 years in the evolution of personal and community health.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Brody about her take on the state of community health—and what we can all do to improve it.
NewPublicHealth: Over the years, what efforts have you seen that you think have been most effective at improving community health?
Jane Brody: Well, I think one of the most exciting things that’s happened in New York City, and possibly in other cities as well, is getting better food to people who live in food deserts. For example, collecting food that would otherwise be wasted and bringing it to communities where people get free food that is healthy, fresh, and they even have demonstrations of recipes. In fact, I got one of my favorite recipes—it’s a green bean frittata—from one of their demonstrations that I attended just to see how it all worked out.
We’ve also, as you’ve no doubt heard, been putting in all of these bike lanes and we now have introduced the Bike Share Program, which is not inexpensive, but it does at least give more people an opportunity to get off their butts and get out of their cars and maybe even not even use public transportation in some cases, but to get some exercise to and from work, which is wonderful. I remember during one of the transit strikes that we had in New York City, I rode my bicycle from Brooklyn to Times Square where I work, over the bridges and stuff, and it was just wonderful because I got my exercise in at the same time as I got to work and I didn’t have to spend an extra hour exercising. There have been improvements. We have, of course, public pools that are only open in the summer, but in summer is better than no public pools and nobody has to pay anything for a public pool, which is really great.