Category Archives: Global Health

Jul 30 2014
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Recommended Reading: 'National Geographic' on the Recent Ebola Outbreak

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Since March, several African countries have reported more than 1,000 cases of Ebola virus and more than 670 deaths. During a United Nations Foundation briefing in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, public health experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization raised concerns about airline passengers from these countries spreading Ebola well beyond Africa. This week that fear became a reality when a U.S. citizen, Paul Sawyer, who had been in Liberia very recently as a consultant to the country’s finance ministry,  fell ill on a flight from Liberia to Nigeria. Sawyer was  hospitalized in Lagos, Nigeria, and died there of Ebola.

Several West African nations have responded by planning to set up monitoring stations at airports to identify people with fevers before they board planes. On a CDC conference call this week with reporters, Martin Cetron, MD, the CDC's director for Global Migration and Quarantine, said it makes more sense to put checkpoints in West African countries than to scan incoming passengers in the United States because there are few direct flights from West Africa, and fevers found among passengers entering the United States are unlikely to be Ebola.

“Ebola is contagious only when symptomatic, so someone unknowingly harboring the virus would not pass it on, “ said Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, during the conference call, also adding that  even passengers showing symptoms are unlikely to pass the disease on to fellow travelers because blood and stool carry the most viruses. Cetron also said that those at highest risk for Ebola infection are family members who care for sick loved ones and health care workers who treat patients or accidentally stick themselves with infected needles.

"We do not anticipate [Ebola]  will spread in the U.S. if an infected person is hospitalized here," CDC Director Tom Frieden told reporters. "We are taking action now by alerting health care workers in the U.S. and reminding them how to isolate and test suspected patients while following strict infection-control procedures."

The National Geographic recently took an in-depth look at the Ebola virus in Africa and the risk of it spreading to the United States. Read the full article.

Jul 9 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 9

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Study: Global Child TB Rates 25 Percent Higher than Previously Realized
The true number of children who develop tuberculosis (TB) each year in the 22 countries with the worst TB rates is nearly 25 percent higher than the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated as recently as 2012, according to a new study in The Lancet Global Health. Researchers used mathematical modeling to determine that approximately 650,000 children in these countries develop TB each year; the WHO estimate was 530,000. The study also determined that approximately 15 million children are exposed to TB every year and 53 million are living with latent TB infections which can become infectious active TB. While the findings are troubling, they also indicate promising ways to reduce the risk. "Our findings highlight an enormous opportunity for preventive antibiotic treatment among the 15 million children younger than 15 years of age who are living in the same household as an adult with infectious TB,” said lead author Peter Dodd, MD, from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom, in a release. "Wider use of isoniazid therapy for these children as a preventative measure would probably substantially reduce the numbers of children who go on to develop the disease." Read more on global health.

Severe Obesity Can Cut a Person’s Lifespan by Nearly 14 Years
Severe obesity can take nearly 14 years off a person’s life, according to a new study in the journal PLOS Medicine. Using data from 20 previous studies, researchers determined that severe obesity—defined as a body mass index (BMI) greater than 40—can cut lives short by anywhere from 6.5 to 13.7 years, due to increased risk of health problems such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes. "We found that the death rates in severely obese adults were about 2.5 times higher than in adults in the normal weight range," said lead investigator Cari Kitahara, a research fellow at the U.S. National Cancer Institute, according to HealthDay. Approximately 6 percent of U.S. adults are severely obese; severe obesity accounts for approximately 509 deaths per 100,000 men annually and 382 deaths per 100,000 women annually. Read more on obesity.

HHS: $100M for 150 New Community Health Centers
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced approximately $100 million in available funds for communities to expand access to affordable, high-quality primary care through an estimated 150 new community health centers in 2015. Currently there are approximately 1,300 health centers with more than 9,200 service sites providing care to more than 21 million people in the United States and its territories. The centers, made possible under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), have also helped approximately 4.7 million people enroll for ACA coverage. Read more on community health.

Jun 3 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 3

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FDA Initiative Gives Developers Easy Access to Public Health Data
A new online initiative from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), openFDA, will give mobile application creators, web developers, data visualization artists and researchers access to the agency’s vast public health datasets in order to streamline the creation of their own applications. The structured, computer-readable format allows researchers to determine what types of data they want to search and how they want to present that data to end-users. “The openFDA initiative leverages new technologies and methods to unlock the tremendous public data and resources available from the FDA in a user-friendly way,” said Walter S. Harris, the FDA’s chief operating officer and acting chief information officer. “OpenFDA is a valuable resource that will help those in the private and public sectors use FDA public data to spur innovation, advance academic research, educate the public, and protect public health.” Read more on technology.

Study: 24 Million U.S. Youth Exposed to E-cigarette Advertisements
Unlike with traditional cigarettes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the marketing of e-cigarettes unless they are advertised as a smoking cessation aid. As a result, e-cigarette companies currently market their products to an audience that includes 24 million youth, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers determined that, from 2011 to 2013, youth exposure to e-cigarette advertisements climbed 256 percent and young adult exposure climbed 321 percent. They also determined that approximately 76 percent of the youth exposure came from advertisements on cable networks. Read more on tobacco.

Study: Global Investment in Midwives Needed to Save the Lives of Mothers, Newborns
Investments in midwifery could save the lives of millions of mothers and newborns, according to a new report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The report determined that 73 African, Asian and Latin American countries experienced 96 percent of the world’s maternal deaths, 91 percent of stillbirths and 93 percent of newborn deaths, with lack of access to midwives a significant contributing factor. Those countries have only 42 percent of the world’s midwives, nurses and doctors.

  • Among the report’s recommendations:
  • Increased access to preventive and supportive care from a collaborative midwifery team
  • Immediate access to emergency services when needed
  • Completing post-secondary education
  • And, from a broader perspective, women should delay marriage, have access to healthy nutrition and receive four pre-birth care visits

"Midwives make enormous contributions to the health of mothers and newborns and the well-being of entire communities. Access to quality health care is a basic human right. Greater investment in midwifery is key to making this right a reality for women everywhere," said Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director, in a release. Read more on maternal and infant health.

May 15 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 15

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Study: Kids’ Cereals Average 40 Percent More Added Sugar than Adult Cereals
One bowl of kids’ cereal every morning would total as much as 10 pounds of sugar in a year, according to a new study from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The organization assessed the sugar content of 1,500 cereals. While almost all had added sugar, the levels were higher in the 181 cereals specifically marketed to children—an average of 40 percent higher.  “When you exclude obviously sugar-heavy foods like candy, cookies, ice cream, soft and fruit drinks, breakfast cereals are the single greatest source of added sugars in the diets of children under the age of eight,” said nutritionist and EWG consultant Dawn Undurraga, co-author of the organization’s new report, Children’s Cereals: Sugar by the Pound, in a release.  “Cereals that pack in as much sugar as junk food should not be considered part of a healthy breakfast or diet. Kids already eat two to three times the amount of sugar experts recommend.” Read more on nutrition.

HHS, EU Making Progress in Fight Against Antimicrobial Resistance
This week the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the European Commission released a progress report of the Transatlantic Taskforce on Antimicrobial Resistance (TATFAR), a joint effort to combat antimicrobial resistance. In 2009, TATFAR identified and adopted 17 recommendations; the progress report includes one new recommendation to go along with 15 existing recommendations.

Notable TATFAR activities from 2011-2013 include:

  • Adoption of procedures for timely international communication of critical events that might indicate new resistance trends with global public health implications
  • Publication of a report on the 2011 workshop, “Challenges and solutions in the development of new diagnostic tests to combat antimicrobial resistance” to the TATFAR website
  • Joint presentations to the scientific community to increase awareness about the available funding opportunities on both sides of the Atlantic

There are an estimated 25,000 deaths in Europe and 23,000 deaths in the United States linked to drug-resistant infections each year. Such infection also cost the United States and the European Union billions of dollars annually in avoidable health care costs and productivity losses. Read more on global health.

Women with Unintended Pregnancies Take the Shortest Maternity Leaves
Women with unintended pregnancies also take the shortest maternity leaves, according to a recent study from the University of Maryland School of Public Health published in the journal Women’s Health Issues. “We know that it’s better for women to take time off after childbirth to take care of their physical and mental health,” said Rada K. Dagher, MD, assistant professor of health services administration. “Returning to work soon after childbirth may not be good for these women or for their children.” Dagher’s previous research has indicated that six months of maternity leave is optimal for reducing a woman’s risk of postpartum depression. In addition to policies that enable women to take longer maternity leaves, she said there is also a need to counsel both women and men who are at risk for unintended pregnancies about effective contraceptive methods. Read more on maternal and infant health.

May 14 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 14

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CDC: Half of Americans Reported Prescription Drug Use in the Past Month
A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Health Statistics takes a comprehensive look at the use of prescriptions drugs in the United States from 2007 to 2010. Prepared for the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the report compiled health data from state health agencies, federal health agencies and the private sector. Among the findings:

  • About half of all Americans in 2007-2010 reported taking one or more prescription drugs in the past 30 days
  • Cardiovascular agents (used to treat high blood pressure, heart disease or kidney disease) and cholesterol-lowering drugs were two of the most commonly used classes of prescription drugs among adults aged 18-64 years and 65 and over in 2007-2010.
  • The use of antidepressants among adults aged 18 and over increased more than four-fold, from 2.4 percent to 10.8 percent between 1988-1994 and 2007-2010.
  • Drug poisoning deaths involving opioid analgesics among those aged 15 and over more than tripled in the past decade, from 1.9 deaths per 100,000 population in 1999-2000 to 6.6 in 2009-2010.
  • The annual growth in spending on retail prescription drugs slowed from 14.7 percent in 2001 to 2.9 percent in 2011.

Read more on prescription drugs.

Study: Emergency Department Visits for TBIs Jumped Nearly 30 Percent from 2006 to 2010
Emergency department visits for traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) jumped nearly 30 percent from 2006 to 2010, with researchers pointing to increased awareness as a potential explanation for the increase, according to a new study in JAMA. The past few years has seen growing awareness about the dangers and realities of TBIs, including public campaigns and legislation to help prevent injuries. Researchers used data from the Nationwide Emergency Department Sample database, finding that in 2010 there were approximately 2.4 million emergency department visits for TBIs, up 29 percent from 2006, with children younger than three and adults over the age of 60 seeing the highest increases. Researchers noted that this disparity may indicate that current TBI awareness and prevention efforts do not benefit the very young and the old. Read more on injury prevention.

WHO: MERS-CoV Not Yet a Public Health Emergency of International Concern
While saying that its concerns have greatly increased, the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) does not yet constitute a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, according to a statement released today by a World Health Organization’s emergency committee. According to the statement, their concerns center on the “recent sharp rise in cases; systemic weaknesses in infection prevention and control, as well as gaps in critical information; and possible exportation of cases to especially vulnerable countries.” Thirteen countries have reported cases since December 2013: Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Malaysia, Oman, Philippines, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, United States of America and Yemen. The United States has so far reported two cases—both this month. Read more on global health.

May 8 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 8

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CDC: Parasitic Diseases a Significant U.S. Public Health Issue
Although the perception is that parasitic diseases only occur in poor and developing countries, people in the United States are also at risk for the diseases, which can cause serious illnesses, including seizures, blindness, pregnancy complications, heart failure and even death, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC has designated five neglected parasitic infections (NPIs) as U.S. public health priorities: Chagas disease, cysticercosis, toxocariasis, toxoplasmosis and trichomoniasis. While they can be treated when identified, there remains difficulty in correctly diagnosing the diseases, according to the CDC.

The estimates of the burden of NPIs include:

  • More than 300,000 people living in the United States are infected with Trypanosoma cruzi, the parasite that causes Chagas disease, and more than 300 infected babies are born every year.
  • There are at least 1,000 hospitalizations for symptomatic cysticercosis per year in the United States.
  • At least 14 percent of the U.S. population has been exposed to Toxocara, the parasite that causes toxocariasis, and each year at least 70 people—most of them children—are blinded by resulting eye disease.
  • More than 60 million people in the United States are chronically infected with Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis; new infections in pregnant women can lead to birth defects and infections in those with compromised immune systems can be fatal.
  • Trichomoniasis can cause pregnancy problems and increase the risk of other sexually transmitted infections including HIV.  The Trichomonas parasite is extremely common, affecting 3.7 million people in the United States, although it is easily treatable.

Read more on global health.

Study: Many People Who Believe They Are Sensitive to Gluten Do Not Get Tested for Celiac Disease
Despite the increasing number of gluten-free products on grocery store shelves, many people who believe they are sensitive to gluten do not undergo tests to rule out celiac disease, according to a new study in the journal Nutrition in Clinical Practice. The autoimmune disorder damages the lining of the intestines, resulting in digestive symptoms and potential complications, and left untreated can lead to significant health problems. “There is a great deal of hype and misinformation surrounding gluten and wheat allergies and sensitivities. The group of so-called ‘non-celiac gluten sensitivity’ remains undefined and largely ambiguous because of the minimal scientific evidence,” said study author Jessica R. Biesiekierski, according to Reuters. “This non-celiac gluten sensitivity entity has become a quandary, as patients are powerfully influenced by alternative practitioners, Internet websites and mass media who all proclaim the benefits of avoiding gluten- and wheat-containing foods.” Read more on nutrition.

Study: ECGs Should Be Added to Health Screenings for High School Athletes
Electrocardiograms should be added to the health screening programs for high school athletes, according to a new study presented at the Heart Rhythm Society's annual meeting in San Francisco. The test would increase the odds of detecting medical conditions that could lead to sudden cardiac arrest and death. Researcher used data on approximately 5,000 athletes, ages 13-19, who underwent standard American Heart Association screening and also received an electrocardiogram, finding that while 23 were found to have significant heart abnormalities that required further evaluation, seven would not have been detected without an electrocardiogram. Read more on heart health.

May 6 2014
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My App Says I Can’t Eat This

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If you’re planning on foreign travel then the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wants to help you find foods that won’t bite you back. Can I Eat This? is a free app from the agency that lets users search country-by-country for what’s safe to eat and drink. Once you choose the country you’ll be eating in—or where you already are, perhaps standing in line deciding what to order—simply tap the food or drink icon and wait for questions specific to that country.

For example, tapping “eating” in Argentina prompts the app to ask whether you’ll be buying from a street vendor or a store, and your answers prompt even more questions about the food ‘s storage and handling. In Bulgaria, tap “drinking” and you’ll be asked if there’s ice in the drink. Tap “yes” and a scary X will pop up with a warning of “probably not,” because the ice is likely made with tap water, which the CDC has identified as a poor safety choice in that country.

Can I Eat This? is available in the Google Play and iOS App stores.

>>Bonus Link: Find more travel health information from the CDC here.

May 5 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 5

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CDC Confirms First U.S. Case of MERS Virus
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has confirmed the first U.S. case of MERS, a respiratory virus first identified in the Middle East two years ago. The virus was diagnosed in a U.S. patient who recently traveled from Saudi Arabia. The patient is being treated at a hospital in Indiana and people who traveled with the patient on an airplane from the Middle East are being contacted and told to see a doctor if respiratory symptoms develop. In some Middle Eastern countries, the virus has spread from person to person through close contact, but the CDC says there is no evidence of the sustained spread of the virus in general settings. "The virus has not shown the ability to spread easily in a community setting," said Ann Schuchat, MD, director of CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, during a telephone press conference on Friday.

"In this interconnected world we live in, we expected MERS to make its way to the United States....We have been preparing since 2012 for this possibility,” said Tom Frieden, MD, director of the CDC in a statement.

The CDC says that anyone who experiences respiratory illness within 12 weeks of traveling to Saudi Arabia, or becomes ill after contact with someone who recently traveled to Saudi Arabia, should contact their doctor. The CDC has not recommended that anyone change their travel plans based on the MERS virus. So far there have been 401 confirmed cases of the MERS virus in twelve countries, including the United States; 93 people have died of the virus. Camels have been identified as carriers of MERS, but it's not known how the virus is being spread to people. Read more on infectious disease.

WHO: World Polio Threat an ‘Extraordinary Event’ That Requires a Coordinated International Response
Despite the near cessation of the international spread of wild polio virus in the low transmission seasons (January to April) from January 2012 through 2013, a new report from the World Health Organization (WHO) finds that the current international spread of polio can now be considered an “extraordinary event.” WHO experts say the public health risk—the WHO Emergency Committee unanimously agreed that the conditions for a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC) have been met—requires a coordinated international response. So far in 2014 there has already been international spread of wild polio virus from 3 of the 10 States that are currently infected: in central Asia (from Pakistan to Afghanistan), in the Middle East (Syrian Arab Republic to Iraq) and in Central Africa (Cameroon to Equatorial Guinea). Pakistan, Cameroon and the Syrian Arab Republic pose the greatest risk in 2014, according to the WHO. Read more on global health.

Study: Even Outbreaks May Not Change the Minds of Parents Opposing Childhood Vaccines
Parents who choose not to have their children receive mandatory immunizations may not change their minds even in the face of outbreaks of childhood illnesses, according to a new study. Researchers studied a pertussis outbreak in Washington State from October 2011 through December 2012, finding “no significant increase” in the vaccination rates of approximately 80,000 infants ages 3 to 8 months, according to HealthDay. Paul Offit, MD, chief of the division of infectious diseases at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said parents using “personal belief” exemptions to not have their children vaccinate is likely beyond the resurgence of diseases that were once all but eradicated in the United States. "The problem is not theoretical,” he said. "You are starting to see eroding of herd immunity with outbreaks of measles and pertussis. The main reason is people are choosing not to vaccinate their children. It's becoming a more dangerous world from the standpoint of infectious diseases. Measles and pertussis are back. These are serious diseases that before vaccine caused a lot of death.” Offit was not a part of the recent study. Read more on vaccines.

Apr 29 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 29

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

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

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

Apr 7 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 7

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CDC Identifies Rare U.S. Case of Lassa Fever
A severe viral disease common in West Africa has been confirmed in a person returning to the United States from the region, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). The patient was admitted to a Minnesota hospital for Lassa fever on March 31, with the CDC confirming diagnosis on April 3 and the patient now recovering and in stable condition. The last case of Lassa fever in the United States, of which there have been seven confirmed and all related to travel, was in Pennsylvania in 2010. The virus is not transmitted through direct contact with a sick person’s blood of bodily fluids and cannot by transmitted by casual contact; there are up to 300,000 cases and 5,000 deaths each year in West Africa. “This imported case is a reminder that we are all connected by international travel. A disease anywhere can appear anywhere else in the world within hours,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. Read more on infectious disease.

Public Health Officials in Developing Countries Use Social Marketing to Promote Health Behaviors
Public health officials in developing countries are successfully using social marketing strategies to educate people about the importance of behaviors related to water and sanitation, according to a new study in the journal Social Science & Medicine. In a systematic review of 32 studies, researchers led by W. Douglas Evans, PhD, a professor of prevention and community health at Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University, looked at how public health officials utilized social marketing tools such as door-to-door visits and public education campaigns for school children to promote behaviors such as regular hand washing and water purification. Read more on global health.

Depression, Anxiety Linked to Poor Diabetes Management
Depression and anxiety can be significant impediments to proper management of diabetes, according to a new study in the journal BioMed Central. Researchers from The University of Texas School of Public Health examined 500 Mexican-American adults from the Cameron County Hispanic Cohort in Brownsville, Texas, each of whom had been diagnosed diabetes and were taking medication for diabetes. Each t was interviewed about symptoms of depression and anxiety, and researchers also took measurements for body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, physical activity, fasting glucose and average blood sugar levels over time. “Unfortunately, greater depression and anxiety are associated with higher BMI and greater waist circumference, both indicators of obesity, as well as engaging in less physical activity and having less favorable indicators of glycemic control,” said Darla Kendzor, PhD, principal investigator and assistant professor at the School of Public Health Dallas Regional Campus, part of The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Eighty one percent of Mexican-Americans are obese or overweight nationwide, with a nationwide diabetes rate of 16.3 that climbs to 30 percent for those who live along the U.S.-Mexico border. Read more on obesity.