Category Archives: Poverty
Report: U.S. Poverty, Uninsured Rates Remain Stagnant
Despite an improving economy that included the creation of more than 2 million jobs last year, the U.S. poverty rate in 2012 remained relatively equal to the previous year, according to a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau, Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2012. About 46.5 million people lived at or below the poverty line in 2012, or about 15 percent of the nation. That’s about 2.5 percentage points higher than 2007, right before the economic recession. About 48 million people were without health insurance in 2012, only slightly lower than the 48.6 million in 2011. While the recession seems to have leveled out, the fact that poverty rates have yet to truly rebound has many experts concerned. “We’re supposed to be in recovery,” said Austin Nichols, a researcher at the Urban Institute. “Poverty rates should be falling because long-term unemployment is falling. And they're not.” Read more on poverty.
Economic, Mental Toll of Economic Crisis Likely Responsible for Global Jump in Men’s Suicide Rates
The economic and mental toll of the 2008 global economic crisis was likely a major contributor to the surprising increase in the U.S. and global male suicide rates in 2009, according to a new study in the journal BMJ. There were about 5,000 more suicides than expected that year. The male suicide rate in the United States climbed almost 9 percent in the United States in 2009; the overall global rate climbed 3.3 percent, with the largest increases seen in the European Union and North and South American countries. Depression and stress can lead to increased alcohol and drug abuse, which are also suicide risk factors. The study concluded that immediate action, such as job-creation programs, may help prevent a continued increase in suicides. "Unemployment appears to lead to an increase in anxiety and depression -- two psychiatric symptoms that might be intermediate steps toward suicide," said Robert Dicker, MD, associate director of the division of child and adolescent psychiatry at North Shore-LIJ, in New Hyde Park, N.Y., who was not a part of the study. "More unemployment, more family distress, more losses [of status and friends] also most likely are involved." Read more on mental health.
Study: Two Simple Questions on Mobility Can Help Assess, Treat Older Adults’ Physical Declines
Two simple questions about mobility could help doctors more accurately assess and treat an older adult’s physical decline, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association:
- For health or physical reasons, do you have difficulty climbing up 10 steps or walking a quarter of a mile?
- Because of underlying health or physical reasons, have you modified the way you climb 10 steps or walk a quarter of a mile?
The answers could help determine whether physical therapy or mobility-assistance devices are needed. The findings emphasize the importance of increased physical activity and exercise in health aging, according to Cynthia Brown, MD, of the division of gerontology, geriatrics and palliative care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "With an increasing older population in the United States, it is incumbent on us to find ways to help older Americans continue to live well and independently,” she said. “The major barriers—lack of physical activity, obesity and smoking—are all risk factors that can be successfully overcome with appropriate treatment and assistance." Read more on aging.
A recent vote by the Washington D.C. City Council requires large retailers to pay a minimum hourly wage of $12.50 an hour—$5.25 more than the current minimum wage of $7.25 nationally and $8.25 in D.C.— and the decision received wide attention, especially when retailers planning to build new stores in the city said they’d pull the plug on the projects if required to pay the higher salaries. But at least two recent magazine articles explain why there’s been a fervent recent push to try to push up the wages of those in low-paying jobs. New York Magazine recently surveyed 100 fast food restaurant employees in that city and asked, among other things, “can you live off your paycheck?” The answer appears to be no. The average pretax monthly pay for the surveyed workers was $984 while average monthly expenses including rent, utilities, groceries and cell phone bills was $1,115—which adds up to $131 more in expenses than pay.
>>Bonus Link: Why does income matter to health? See a NewPublicHealth infographic on how stable jobs and income lead to healthier lives.
And last weeks’ New Yorker Magazine added heft to the need to look at the current minimum wage rate, in light of just how critical that income is to many households. According to the article, while low-wage retail jobs were once squarely aimed at high school students looking for pocket money and those looking for supplemental income, in the last few years of stiff unemployment, studies find that current low-wage workers are responsible for 46 percent of household income. According to the New Yorker article, “Congress is currently considering a bill increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years…still a long way from turning these jobs into the kind of employment that can support a middle-class family.”
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the federal government’s principal program for helping low-income families purchase enough food. More than 47 million Americans currently receive SNAP benefits; approximately half of the beneficiaries are children. As part of the debate over the Farm Bill—legislation that authorizes SNAP and other federal nutrition programs—Congress is considering legislation that would cut SNAP benefits and limit who qualifies for the benefits.
Yesterday, the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, released a white paper that provides a rigorous, objective and nonpartisan analysis of the potential health impacts of the proposed changes to SNAP.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Aaron Wernham, MD, director of the Health Impact Project, along with lead researcher Marjory Givens, to learn more about the study’s findings.
NewPublicHealth: What is the goal of the health impact assessment on the potential changes to the SNAP program?
Aaron Wernham: Congress is deliberating reauthorizing the U.S. Farm Bill, and one of the parts of that is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, which was formerly known as food stamps. This is one of the federal government’s main programs for ensuring that people who have low incomes are able to get enough to eat. We did this health impact assessment because so far the public health effects of these proposed policy changes have not really been a part of the political debate. We wanted to make sure that the best available public health evidence was brought to bear to help ensure that everyone has complete information—those affected by the change, the general public and decision-makers in Congress.
NPH: What’s the big picture on what SNAP has to do with health in the first place?
Wernham: Not having enough to eat—or being what’s called “food insecure”—is attached to a higher risk of a lot of diseases. So, adults who are food insecure have a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some other problems. Children who are food insecure are more likely to be reported by their parents as being in poor health, are more likely to be hospitalized and also have a higher risk for a number of health related problems from asthma, to depression and anxiety. We actually have a number of studies that have looked at the health benefits of receiving SNAP and found, for example, that adults who had access to SNAP when they were children are less likely to have problems in adulthood, such as obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease.
NPH: What did the health impact assessment find?
Wernham: We looked at ways in which the House and Senate have proposed to change how eligibility for SNAP benefits is determined and how the amount of benefits is determined. Both the House and Senate have proposed changes, and we found that as many as 5.1 million people could actually lose eligibility under changes proposed by the House. Under the changes in the Senate, about 500,000 people might receive lower benefit amounts. With the House changes, as many as 1.4 million children and nearly 900,000 older adults would be among those five million people who could be affected. So, for those people, they would lose upward of an average of 35 percent of their total income and would be at higher risk for the health problems that relate to food insecurity.
In 2011, Sonoma County in California established the division of Health Policy, Planning and Evaluation (HPPE) in an effort to move the county up in the County Health Rankings, toward a goal of becoming the healthiest in the state by 2020. As the director of the division, Peter Rumble, MPA, has played a critical role in the development of numerous programs and policy efforts to help create opportunities for everyone in Sonoma County to be healthy. Rumble has worked on programs and policies that go beyond traditional public health activities and aim to address the root causes of poor health, including the local food system, education and poverty.
Following his presentation at the International Making Cities Livable Conference, NewPublicHealth was able to speak with Rumble about the ways in which his work with HPPE is pushing to achieve health equity in Sonoma County. Rumble will soon move into a position as Deputy County Administrator of Community and Government Affairs for the County of Sonoma, where he plans to continue his commitment to a vision of health and quality of life for the county.
NewPublicHealth: Sonoma is making a concerted effort to help address the root causes of poor health, like poverty and lack of education. Tell us about some of those efforts.
Peter Rumble: Health Action is our real heartbeat of addressing social determinants of health, and it’s a roadmap for our vision of being the healthiest county in California by 2020. Health Action is a community council that advises the Board of Supervisors. There are 45 seats on the council, including elected officials, individual community leaders, nonprofit leaders, and representative from the business, financial, labor, media, transportation and environmental sectors. If you pick a name out of the hat for all of the sectors in the community, we’ve got somebody who either directly or tangentially represents that sector. That group began talking about needing to do something around health in 2007.
If we’re going to be the healthiest county in California by 2020, what do we need to do to achieve our ten goals based on the best evidence available? We certainly have goals associated with the health system, but predominantly, we’re focused on influencing the determinants of health. Our first goal is related to education. We want all of our children to graduate from high school on time and ready to either enter a thriving workforce or go into college or a technical career academy.
We started with some grassroots initiatives. Being a real strong agricultural community, iGROW was a good place to start. It was a movement to develop community gardens—for people to tear up their front lawns and plant a garden there, and increasing access to healthy food. That was a huge hit. We set a goal of a few hundred community gardens, and we’re up to a thousand now—it’s just caught fire.
That was all great, but a community garden is not going to make us the healthiest county in California, right? You can see the beautiful posters out on shop windows, you can see your neighbor tore up their front lawn and is growing this beautiful zucchini and has an edible lawn now and all that’s wonderful, but we only have a graduation rate of 70 percent. We’ve got nearly one in four kids living in poverty by the federal poverty standards and if you look at what actually it takes to raise a family in Sonoma County, about half of all families can’t make ends meet.
NPH: Does that surprise people to hear about Sonoma?
Just a few metro stops can mean the difference between an extra five to ten years added to your lifespan. Using new city maps, the Commission to Build a Healthier America, which reconvened recently after a four year hiatus, is illustrating the dramatic disparity between the life expectancies of communities mere miles away from each other. Where we live, learn, work and play can have a greater impact on our health than we realize.
For too many people, making healthy choices can be difficult because the barriers in their communities are too high—poor access to affordable healthy foods and limited opportunities for exercise, for example. The focus for the Commission’s 2013 deliberations will be on how to increase opportunities for low-income populations to make healthier choices.
The two maps of the Washington, D.C. area and New Orleans help to quantify the differences between living in certain parts of the region versus others.
Living in Northern Virginia’s Fairfax and Arlington Counties instead of the nearby District of Columbia, a distance of no more than 14 miles, can mean about six or seven more years in life expectancy. The same disparity exists between babies born at the end of the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority’s (known as the Metro) Red Line in Montgomery County—ranked second out of 24 counties in the County Health Rankings, metrics developed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin to show the health of different counties—and those born and living at the end of the Metro’s Blue Line in Prince George’s County, which ranked 17th in the County Health Rankings.
In Doing the Best I Can, Tim Nelson, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard, and his co-author, Kathryn Edin, a professor of policy and management at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, take a close look at the inaccurate stereotypes about low-income fathers and how a different approach could lead to more stable, healthier families. The book also calls for reforms in the U.S. including regularly incorporating visitation into child-support orders and improving systemic approaches to fathers with employment barriers that affect their ability to pay support. According to Nelson, these efforts could result in increased income for single-mother families, social supports for dads, and improved father-child relationships.
Just before Father’s Day, NewPublicHealth spoke with Tim Nelson about the book’s findings.
NewPublicHealth: How did you come to write the book?
Tim Nelson: My co-author, Kathryn Edin, has written several books about single mothers in Camden, New Jersey and in Philadelphia, first in the mid-1990s about how single mothers make ends meet on welfare and low wage work and then in the mid-2000s, she co-wrote a book about how single moms make decisions about marriage and childrearing. Doing the Best I Can, is kind of the companion piece to the book on marriage and childrearing, which is called Promises I Can Keep. The men we interviewed are not the partners of the women in the prior book, but they do come from the same neighborhoods and have the same low income status. It’s aimed at getting the fathers’ perspectives and experiences, which are much less well known than the mothers’.
NPH: What needs correcting about the image of low-income fathers and why is it important to correct it?
Past Decade's Poor Economy Drove Health Declines
More than a decade of research points to the negative impact of the austerity that accompanies a flagging economy on the population's health, according to Reuters. The studies will be detailed in a new book to be released by an interesting research pairing including a political economist from Oxford University and a professor of medicine and epidemiology at Standford University. the researchers say more than 10,000 suicides and up to a million cases of depression have been diagnosed during what they call the "Great Recession" and its accompanying austerity across Europe and North America. For example, more than five million Americans have lost access to health care during the latest recession. Researchers also tie cuts in governmental public health programs to excess disease rates. "In Greece, moves like cutting HIV prevention budgets have coincided with rates of the AIDS-causing virus rising by more than 200 percent since 2011—driven in part by increasing drug abuse in the context of a 50 percent youth unemployment rate," according to the Reuters article. Read more on poverty and health.
What Influences Kids to Smoke (or Not to) Changes Over Time
Peer pressure may have a bigger influence on middle school-aged kids in starting to smoke, but that influence may wane as they get older. On the other hand, researchers said parents seem to remain influential over their children's smoking behavior throughout high school, as reported by HealthDay. Researchers looked at data from the Midwestern Prevention Project, the longest-running substance abuse prevention, randomized controlled trial in the United States, which includes 1,000 teens. Read more on tobacco use.
Facebook Could Help Predict, Track and Map Obesity
The higher the percentage of people in a city, town or neighborhood with Facebook interests suggesting a healthy, active lifestyle, the lower that area's obesity rate, according to a new study. At the same time, areas with a large percentage of Facebook users with television-related interests tend to have higher rates of obesity. The study was conducted by Boston Children's Hospital researchers comparing geotagged Facebook user data with data from national and New York City-focused health surveys.
"Online social networks like Facebook represent a new high-value, low-cost data stream for looking at health at a population level," said study author John Brownstein, PhD, from the Boston Children's Hospital Informatics Program. "The tight correlation between Facebook users' interests and obesity data suggest that this kind of social network analysis could help generate real-time estimates of obesity levels in an area, help target public health campaigns that would promote healthy behavior change, and assess the success of those campaigns." The study was published in PLOS ONE. Read more on obesity.
More than 500 public health legal experts, advocates, practitioners and researchers gathered in Atlanta, Georgia, this week to discuss the top issues facing the field. William Foege, MD, MPH, kicked off the conference with a keynote address at the 2012 Public Health Law Conference. Foege is a celebrated epidemiologist and physician who played a leading role in many of the important public health campaigns of the past half-century, including efforts to eradicate smallpox. Dr. Foege previously served as the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and formed the Task Force for Child Survival and Development.
In his keynote address, Dr. Foege said, “Every public health decision is based on a political decision. The basis for political decisions is law.” He also urged attendees to take action. “Burying our heads is no longer an option. There are solutions, but they require changing the laws that affects what happen to our health.”
We caught up with Dr. Foege to get his take on the critical role of public health law.
>>Follow continued coverage of the Public Health Law Conference.
NewPublicHealth: As keynote speaker, what was important to you to convey to the hundreds of people in public health capacities attending the 2012 Public Health Law Conference?
Dr. William Foege: What I have emphasized is that the law is probably the second best tool we have ever had in public health after epidemiology. We’ve used it for a long time even if we did not have a formal organization, and when one looks at all of the spectrum of things accomplished from fluoridation to school entry requirements for immunization to what’s happened with air quality and water quality, you realize that this has been very important for public health.
NPH: What is one public health issue you’d point to that has been helped significantly by laws to carry it forward?
United Way of North Central Florida is focused on the building blocks that lead to a good quality of life – education, income and health – recognizing that communities are stronger when children are successful in school, families are financially stable and people are healthy. One of their primary roles is as a convener, to bring hundreds of organizations together across diverse sectors to set priorities and create change.
As part of our series looking at the work of United Ways across the nation in creating healthier communities, we spoke with Debbie Mason, President and CEO of the United Way of North Central Florida, and Mona Gil de Gibaja, Vice President of Community Impact, about their community planning process, strategies for effective partnerships, and the role of critical partners such as businesses and the local health department.
NewPublicHealth: What is the planning process you’re engaging in to set priorities around education, income and health?
Debbie Mason: Our major focus is education, but this is so inextricably linked to income and health. No matter where you start, you still wrap into the other two.
Environmental issues are consistently a topic of hot debate. A new study reveals that how we talk about these issues could have a big impact on whether people feel compelled to act on them. According to new research led by two awardees of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research, Matthew C. Nisbet, PhD, MS, and Edward W. Maibach, PhD, MPH, talking about the environmental consequences of climate change may not convince the unconvinced—while talking about the public health consequences might have a better chance.
As the American University and George Mason University professors write in a newly published study in the journal Climatic Change Letters, “Results show that across audience segments, the public health focus was the most likely to elicit emotional reactions consistent with support for climate change mitigation and adaptation.” The study was co-authored with Teresa Myers and Anthony Leiserowitz.
We caught up with Matthew Nisbet to get his take on the latest findings, and how the public health field can do a better job of framing issues in a way that motivates action.
NPH: What is message framing?
Matthew Nisbet: When you frame something as a communicator or as a journalist or as an expert, what you do is you emphasize one dimension of a complex issue over another, calling attention to certain considerations and certain arguments more so than other arguments. In the process, what you do is you communicate why an issue may or may not be a problem, who or what is responsible for that problem and then what should be done. One of the common misunderstandings about framing is that there can be something such as unframed information. Every act of communication, whether intentional or not, involves some type of framing.
NPH: Why is framing so important in communicating about public health issues?