Category Archives: Health disparities
Help for Keeping Those New Year’s Resolutions from the Federal Government
Losing weight, helping others and quitting smoking are among the top New Year’s resolutions of the American people, according to the General Services Administration (GSA), the agency that oversees the business of the federal government. Links on the GSA site offer strategies, websites and help lines for 2014 resolutions. Click on the quit smoking link on the GSA resolution list for example, and you’ll find yourself at smokefree.gov, which offers tools you can access immediately, even before 2014 begins. Read more on community health.
NIH to Fund Research on Workforce Diversity Programs
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) will establish a national consortium to develop, implement and evaluate approaches to encourage individuals of all backgrounds to start and stay in biomedical research careers. “There is a compelling need to promote diversity in the biomedical research workforce,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins MD, PhD. “A lack of diversity jeopardizes our ability to carry out the NIH mission because innovation and problem solving require diverse perspectives. The future of biomedical research rests on engaging highly talented researchers from all groups and preparing them to be successful in the NIH-funded workforce.” Read a new JAMA study that finds that minority physicians care for the majority of underserved patients in the United States. Read more on health disparities.
Twenty Percent of Drivers Admit They Often Drive Too Fast
A recent survey by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) finds that twenty percent of drivers say they “try to get where I am going as fast as I can." According to NHTSA, speeding-related deaths nationwide account for nearly a third of all traffic fatalities each year, taking close to 10,000 lives. And despite acknowledging the safety benefits of speed limits and reasons drivers should follow them, more than a quarter of those surveyed admitted "speeding is something I do without thinking" and "I enjoy the feeling of driving fast." And sixteen percent felt that "driving over the speed limit is not dangerous for skilled drivers." Most alarming, drivers with the least experience behind the wheel—those 16-20 years old—admitted to speeding more frequently than any other age group. And more than one in ten drivers ages 16-20 reported at least one speeding-related crash in the past five years, compared to 4 percent for the population as a whole. Read more on injury prevention.
Black Women Have Highest Rates of High Blood Pressure
More black women have high blood pressure than black men and white men and women, according to a new study in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.
The study included 70,000 people in the 12 southeastern states that are often referred to as the “stroke belt” because they collectively have a high rate of stroke incidence. Among the study participants, the high blood pressure rate among black women was 64 percent. Among white women the rate was 52 percent and among both black and white men the rate was 51 percent.
“For many years, the focus for high blood pressure was on middle-aged men who smoked; now we know better,” said Uchechukwu Sampson, MD, MPH. MBA, a lead author of the study and assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. “We should look for [high blood pressure] in everyone and it should be treated aggressively — especially in women, who have traditionally gotten less attention in this regard.”
Dr. Sampson’s work was supported in part by the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Award of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read more on health disparities.
Over 40 Million Americans Experienced Mental Illness in 2012
Nearly one in five American adults, or 43.7 million people, experienced a diagnosable mental illness in 2012, a similar number to 2011, according to a new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
SAMHSA also reported that, consistent with 2011, less than half (41 percent) of these adults received any mental health services in the past year. And among adults with mental illness who reported an unmet need for treatment, the top three reasons given for not receiving help were:
- they could not afford the cost;
- they thought they could handle the problem without treatment; and
- they did not know where to go for services.
The Department of Health and Human Services recently launched MentalHealth.gov to help people find easy-to-understand information about basic signs of mental health problems, how to talk about mental health and mental illness, and how to locate help.
The recent SAMHSA report also found that 9 million American adults 18 and older (3.9 percent) had serious thoughts of suicide in the past year; 2.7 million (1.1 percent) made suicide plans and 1.3 million (0.6 percent) attempted suicide. People in crisis or who know someone they believe may be at immediate risk of attempting suicide can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to SuicidePreventionLifeline.org, which provides immediate, free and confidential round-the-clock counseling to anyone in need throughout the country, every day of the year. Read more on mental health.
NHTSA Extends Its Partnership with Auto Makers on Technology to Stop Drunk Drivers
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has extended, for five years, its agreement with the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety (ACTS), made up of 15 auto makers, to continue researching advanced alcohol detection technology that could prevent vehicles from being driven by a drunk driver.
Under the partnership, NHTSA is working with ACTS to develop a car system that could accurately and reliably detect when a driver is above the legal alcohol limit of 0.08 BAC adopted by all 50 States and territories. The automatic system would be enabled every time the car is started, but not pose an inconvenience to a non-intoxicated driver.
“In this age of innovation, smart technology may be the breakthrough we need to prevent drunk drivers from getting behind the wheel and endangering the safety of others on our roads,” said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. “The research program has shown significant promise to date, offering real potential in the future to prevent several thousand deaths annually.”
NHTSA expects to have models ready for testing in 2015. In 2012, deaths in crashes involving drunk drivers increased 4.6 percent, resulting in 10,322 deaths — up from 9,865 in 2011. Read about NHTSA’s “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over" campaign.
AAP Issues Recommendations on Reducing Youth Deaths from Gun Violence
Every day seven U.S. children are killed by gun violence and it remains the second-leading cause of death among youth in the country. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has issued a list of recommendations on how to keep kids safe and hopefully make an impact on these troubling statistics. “Gun violence is a public health issue that profoundly affects children and their families,” said AAP President Thomas K. McInerny, MD, FAAP. “We know what works—strong laws to enforce background checks and safe storage.” Watch a video on the APP recommendations and read more here. Read more on violence.
Study: African-American Men from Single-Parent Homes More Likely to Suffer from Hypertension
African-American men who grew up in two-parent homes are less likely to suffer from hypertension as adults than are their peers who grew up in single-parent homes, according to a new study in the journal Hypertension. The researchers analyzed data on 515 men enrolled in the Howard University Family Study. Possible explanations for the disparity include the fact that children who live only with their mothers are three times as likely to live in poverty, and socioeconomic status has been linked to higher blood pressure. “Family structure is among a slew of environmental influences that, along with our genes, help determine our health as adults,” said Dan Kastner, MD, PhD, scientific director, National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI). “This study makes important observations about home life that may affect susceptibility to complex diseases later on in life.” The National Institutes of Health’s NHGRI and National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities conducted the study. Read more on health disparities.
Excessive Cellphone Use Tied to Higher Anxiety, Lower Productivity in College Kids
Excessive cellphone use is linked to higher levels of anxiety, less satisfaction with life and lower grades in college-age adults, according to a new study in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. Researchers examined data on approximately 500 men and women enrolled at Kent State University in 82 different fields of study. The average student spent 279 using their cellphone each day, sending an average of 77 text messages, and researchers believe that a perceived obligation to stay connected on social media may be behind the increased anxiety and decreased productivity. "At least for some students, the sense of obligation that comes from being constantly connected may be part of the problem,” said Andrew Lepp, lead study author and an associate professor at Kent State University. "Some may not know how to be alone to process the day's events, to recover from certain stressors." Read more on technology.
Today is Public Health Thank You Day 2013, when Research!America and other leading public health organizations recognize the public health professionals working to improve health where we all live, learn, work and play.
Among the biggest names in public health at the moment is Shiriki Kumanyika, PhD, MPH, a University of Pennsylvania professor who earlier this month became the president-elect of the American Public Health Association (APHA). In a recent Q&A on APHA’s Public Health Newswire blog, Kumanyika spoke about the overall landscape of public health and gave her thoughts on particular issues.
One of the big takeaways from the APHA annual meeting earlier this month—where she was named president-elect—was how APHA is shifting its focus to concentrate more on being an action- and goal-oriented organization, according to Kumanyika.
“We are going to be more convincing about the importance of a focus on prevention and wellness, while making better use of scientific evidence and creating a greater sense of urgency around health equity issues,” she said. “I think that, over time, this new positioning in the public arena will really enhance the sense of community among our thousands of diverse members, attract more members and align our combined efforts for greater overall impact.”
Kumanyika also has particular ideas on the greatest opportunities for improving health in African-American communities, especially when it comes to nutrition and obesity prevention. Not only are unhealthy foods too easily available in the average black community but, when compared to other communities, the situation is even more troubling, with black communities seeing more advertising for unhealthy food. The answer is targeted efforts to promote healthier alternatives.
However, she also noted how food and nutrition present their own particular public health obstacles.
“Food is a particularly complex area; we can’t treat it like tobacco and tell people to avoid it altogether. The changes we need are more complicated and will have huge implications across the spectrum from agriculture to environmental sustainability,” she said. “We have to make both a public health case and a business case for a healthier food supply and for marketing healthier foods and beverages. We have a tremendous opportunity to make progress that will change the food and health landscape for the population at large if we do our health diplomacy well.”
Read the full interview on Public Health Newswire here.
CDC Report Finds Health Disparities, Inequalities Persist across the U.S. Population
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a new report examining the disparities in mortality and disease risk as they relate to income, education level, sex, race, ethnicity, employment status and sexual orientation. CDC Health Disparities and Inequalities Report — United States, 2013 is the second CDC report to take this wide look at the U.S. population. Among its key findings:
- The overall birth rate for teens 15-19 years old dropped 18 percent from 2007 to 2010, although it varied widely from state to state
- People who are Hispanic, are low wage earners, were born outside of the United States, have no education beyond high school, or are male are more likely to work in an occupation in which workers are more likely than average to be injured or become ill
- Binge drinking is most common for people ages 18-34, men, non-Hispanic whites and people with higher household incomes
“It is clear that more needs to be done to address the gaps and to better assist Americans disproportionately impacted by the burden of poor health,” said Chesley Richards, MD, MPH., director of CDC’s Office of Public Health Scientific Services, which produced the report. “We hope that this report will lead to interventions that will allow all Americans, particularly those most harmed by health inequalities, to live healthier and more productive lives.” Read more on health disparities.
HUD Grants to Help Transform Distressed Communities into Thriving Communities
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is granting approximately $4.37 million to help nine areas transform their public or other HUD-assisted housing and distressed neighborhoods into thriving communities. Fifty- two communities had applied for the Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants. The agency’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative supports locally-driven economic developments to create renewed, sustainable communities, with a focus on creating energy-efficient, mixed-income housing that has easy access to high-quality services, education programs, early learning programs, public assets and public transportation. Full details on each community can be found here. Read more on housing.
Study: Certain Health Behaviors Tied to Complication-free Pregnancies
Women who engage in certain healthy behaviors—and avoid certain unhealthy ones—are more likely to have complication-free pregnancies, according to a new study in the journal BMJ. An analysis of health data on more than 5,600 women found that eating fruit, having a healthy weight, having lower blood pressure, having a job, and stopping drug and alcohol abuse at 15-20 weeks of gestation "may increase the likelihood of normal pregnancy outcomes," according to Lucy Chappell, of the Women's Health Academic Center of King's College London. The most common pregnancy-related complications are babies who were too small for their gestational age, high blood pressure, preterm birth and preeclampsia. Read more on maternal and infant health.
HPV Vaccines Less Effective in African-American Women than in White Women
Perhaps because of their lower participation rates in clinical trials, African-American women are less likely to benefit from available human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines that guard against cervical cancer, according to new findings presented at the 12th annual International Conference on Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research. The two most popular vaccines in use protect against infection by HPV 16 and HPV 18, which are responsible for about 70 percent of cervical cancers. However, these two subtypes are half as likely to be found in black women as they are in white women. Researchers found that the most common infections for white women are from subtypes 16, 18, 56, 39 and 66; the most common for black women are 33, 35, 58 and 68. "Since African-American women don't seem to be getting the same subtypes of HPV with the same frequency, the vaccines aren't helping all women equally," said study author Adriana Vidal, Ph.D., assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University School of Medicine. Read more on health disparities.
San Francisco Proposes Tax on Soda, Other Sugary Beverages
In an effort to curb the growing rate of obesity and obesity-related health issues, a San Francisco, California city supervisor has proposed a ballot measure that would impose a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on soda and other sugary beverages with at least 25 calories per ounce. This would be the first and strongest such city measure in the country, amounting to an additional 24 cents for a normal 12-ounce can of soda. Supervisor Scott Wiener said the tax proceeds, which he estimates would be $30 million annually, would go toward physical education and healthy lunch programs in city schools, as well as city parks, recreation programs and community health organizations. The California cities of Richmond and El Monte last year failed to enact similar taxes. A ballot measure requires a two-thirds majority to pass. "We know that this will be a long road," said Wiener. "This type of proposal has occurred in other cities and the beverage industry always comes out full guns blaring, so we're going to need to pull together to make sure that this wins." Read more on obesity.
Study: Young Cancer Patients at Increased Risk for Suicide
The stress of a cancer diagnosis means that teens and young adults who are diagnosed should be carefully monitored for behavior changes and other issues that could be a sign of suicidal thoughts, according to a new study in the Annals of Oncology. While there is an elevated risk of suicide for cancer patients of all ages, “because adolescents and young adults are still developing their coping strategies for stress, they may be more affected than adults when facing major adversity such as a cancer diagnosis," said lead researcher Donghao Lu, from the department of medical epidemiology and biostatistics at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden. Lu and his team found that Swedes ages 15-30 with a cancer diagnosis were at a 60 percent greater risk of suicide or attempted suicide, compared to people in the same age group but without cancer; in the first year after the diagnosis the risk was 150 percent higher. Lu said the findings indicate the need for greater communication and cooperation among medical professionals, psychological professionals, family members and social workers. Read more on cancer.
Medical Groups Issue New Definitions for Stages of Pregnancy
With a goal toward improving newborn outcomes and reducing non-medically related deliveries, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) are recommending four new definitions of ‘term’ deliveries:
- Early Term: Between 37 weeks 0 days and 38 weeks 6 days
- Full Term: Between 39 weeks 0 days and 40 weeks 6 days
- Late Term: Between 41 weeks 0 days and 41 weeks 6 days
- Post term: Between 42 weeks 0 days and beyond
Research over the past several years finds that every week of gestation matters for the health of newborns, and that babies born between 39 weeks 0 days and 40 weeks 6 days gestation have the best health outcomes, compared with babies born before or after this period. ACOG and SMFM encourage physicians, researchers, and public health officials to adopt these new precisely-defined terms in order to improve data collection and reporting, clinical research, and provide the highest quality pregnancy care. ACOG is a partner with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on “Strong Start,” a public awareness campaign to reduce unnecessary elective deliveries before 39 weeks’ gestation. Read more on maternal and infant health.
Poll Shows Americans Strongly Supporting Steps to Reduce Racial and Ethnic Inequality
A new poll conducted by the Center for American Progress and PolicyLink, and funded by The Rockefeller Foundation, finds that Americans are much more open to diversity and supportive of steps to reduce inequalities between racial and ethnic groups than has been previously thought. The poll was conducted by landline and cellphone in June and July among close to 3,000 U.S. citizens across the country. Some key findings of the poll include:
- Positive sentiments about opportunities from rising diversity tend to outweigh negative concerns.
- Sixty-nine percent of responders said that a bigger, more diverse workforce will lead to more economic growth and that diverse workplaces and schools will help make American businesses more innovative and competitive.
- More than 7 in 10 Americans support new steps to reduce racial and ethnic inequality in America through investments in areas such as education, job training and infrastructure improvement. Among Whites, the level of support was 63 percent.
Read more on health disparities.
CDC: Flu Season Slow So Far…But Should Pick Up Soon
While the flu season has seen relatively few cases so far, public health officials expect that to change soon and are heavily recommending that anyone who has yet to be vaccinated go ahead and do so. Joe Bresee, MD, chief of the epidemiology and prevention branch in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention's Influenza Division, said 135 to 139 million doses of vaccine should be available; the number of people who receive the vaccine annually has risen since 2009. "It's edging up in most groups, which is really gratifying, especially in some of the high-risk groups like pregnant women and kids. We are seeing good gains over the last four or five years," he said. "But we have a long way to go. Still only half of Americans get vaccinated. Vaccine is still the single best thing folks can do to prevent flu." Read more on the flu.
On Wednesday October 2nd, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies held its third annual National Health Equity Conference, PLACE MATTERS: Exploring the Intersections of Health and Economic Justice. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies was founded in 1970 and is the only research and public policy institute that focuses exclusively on social justice issues of particular concern to African Americans and other communities of color.
The conference focused on the relationship between community development and the creation of healthy spaces and places, and convened key stakeholders, including grassroots leaders, elected officials, researchers, public health practitioners, policymakers, community development practitioners, and community organizers. The conference had several goals, including to:
- Illuminate the mechanisms through which neighborhood conditions directly and indirectly shape the health of children, youth, and families, and document differences in neighborhood conditions resulting from residential segregation;
- Identify common goals and strategies of individuals and organizations working in the community development sector and the health equity sector;
- Elevate promising strategies to improve and sustain neighborhood conditions for health that draw upon effective approaches employed in the community development and health equity sectors; and
- Explore means to better communicate these strategies to key audiences, such as community-based development and health equity organizations, public health practitioners, planners, and elected officials.
Leaders at the Joint Center say that by convening national and local leaders, including individuals at the forefront of community development and health equity movements, they hoped to raise awareness regarding community conditions that shape health and develop policy solutions at the intersection of place and health, particularly as it pertains to people of color and health equity.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Brian Smedley, PhD, Vice President and Director of the Joint Center’s Health Policy Institute about the critical issues of community health and its relationship to health equity.
NewPublicHealth: What do we know so far about the impact of place on health, and what do we still need to learn?
Brian Smedley: There’s a large and growing body of research that demonstrates the relationship between the places and spaces where people live, work, study, and play and their health status, and what we’ve been able to determine is that there are many characteristics of neighborhoods, schools and work places that powerfully shape health. Just as an example, more and more people are paying attention to this concept of food deserts — many communities in the United States that don’t have geographic access to healthy foods. And not only do people have to travel a long distance to access these foods, but they’re often financially out of reach as well.
UN: Improved Access to HIV/AIDS Treatment Reduces Number of AIDS-related Deaths
The United Nations’ annual report on HIV infections and AIDS related-deaths around the world concluded that increased access to treatment in poorer and middle-income countries has led to positive health outcomes. “AIDS-related deaths in 2012 fell to 1.6 million, down from 1.7 million in 2011 and a peak of 2.3 million in 2005. And the number of people newly infected with the disease dropped to 2.3 million in 2012 down from 2.5 million in 2011.” The executive director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, said that the international community is well on its way to surpass the 2015 goals of expanding access to treatment. Read more on the public health impact of AIDS.
Racism Leads to Negative Effects on Mental Health of Children and Teens
A new report published in the journal Social Science & Medicine examines the link between the mental health and well-being of youth ages 12-18 and racism. The review shows that being a victim of racial discrimination can lead to low self-esteem, reduced resilience, and increased behavior problems. There was also evidence of increased risk of poorer birth outcomes for children when mother experienced racism while pregnant. These types of detriments to children and teen’s mental health and well-being can lead to larger problems in terms of engagement in education and employment later in life, according to study authors. Read more on health disparities.
Positive Relationships May Help Break the Cycle of Maltreatment
In a special supplement released by the Journal of Adolescent Health, investigations on the effects of safe, stable, nurturing relationships found that these types of relationships could help break the cycle of child maltreatment that is often passed along from parents to children. Findings also showed that supportive and nurturing relationships between adults can help protect children as well. This study can provide helpful prevention strategies for breaking the cycle of maltreatment and promoting improved health in the long term. Read more on violence prevention.
Higher Education Linked to Better Obesity Rates for Women in Poorer Areas
Higher education is a key factor that helps protect women in economically disadvantaged areas from obesity, according to a new study in the American Journal of Health Promotion. “It is possible that education is a marker of an individual’s access to health information, capacity to assimilate health-related messages, and ability to retain knowledge-related assets, such as nutrition knowledge,” wrote the study’s authors. Previous studies have shown that women living in area with fewer economic resources have higher body mass index (BMI) than other women. The results indicate that both low education and personal income should be addressed by obesity prevention initiatives. Read more on obesity.
Regular Exercise May Help Decrease Depression
Increases in exercise may be linked to decreases in depression, according to a new review of existing research by The Cochrane Library. The researchers found people with depression who also exercised saw a “moderate” reduction in their symptoms when compared to people who did instead used relaxation techniques or received no treatment. Antidepressant medications and psychotherapy are the most common treatments for depression, which affects about 10 percent of Americans, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More research is needed to better understand the relationship between exercise and depression symptoms. Still, Madhukar Trivedi, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, who was not a part of the study, said one of the keys is making sure patients stick with the exercise regimen. "Once people are prescribed exercise or they choose exercise, the big challenge is to make the exercise real," he said. "If the recommendation from the treating clinician is that you should be exercising with some frequency and intensity…it's important that the patient follow that regimen week after week.” Read more on mental health.
Predominantly Black Nursing Homes Deliver Lower Levels of Care, Perform Worse Financially
Nursing homes that are predominantly populated by black residents deliver overall poorer care and are less successful financially than homes with few or not minority residents, according to a new study in Health Services Research. The study looked at issues such as the ratio of nursing staff to patients, success in preventing pressure ulcers, help with walking, help with getting out of bed, prevention of urinary tract infections, the incidence of medication errors and citations by governmental agencies. However, the study noted that black and white patients living in the same facilities received equal treatments, meaning the disparity is not due to any biases of health care workers. One factor leading to the disparity could be the fact that older black Americans are more likely to rely on Medicaid, which means lower reimbursement rates. Still, Latarsha Chisholm, assistant professor at the University of Central Florida and study author, believes something more must be at play. "It isn't only the financial performance [of nursing homes] that affects performance," she said. "There has to be something else affecting quality. I want to understand what management practices promote improved care in nursing homes with high proportions of minorities that don't have disparities in care.” Read more on health disparities.