Category Archives: Q&A
Harold W. “Bill” Kohl, PhD, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health is in the midst of a three-year appointment to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN) Science Board. Kohl’s role is to provide recommendations in the areas of program development and evaluation, which is critical to the Council’s mission to engage, educate and empower all Americans across to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and good nutrition. During his time at the School of Public Health, Kohl has been researching effective uses of social networking to create demand for healthy lifestyles among youth and working with organizations to promote disease prevention, physical activity and exercise as a health priority.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Kohl about the work of the President’s Council.
NewPublicHealth: Is the current mission of the President’s Council different than it was in the past?
Bill Kohl: There has been a shift. The President’s Council started in the 1950s as the result of a small study that suggested that American kids are not as fit as kids in Eastern bloc countries—Russia, primarily. The President’s Council started under President Eisenhower and then President Kennedy’s administrating sought to increase kids’ fitness by doing fitness testing in schools and promoting physical activity and physical education.
That wound its way through the ‘60s and ‘70s. Then in the ‘80s there was a much bigger rush to health-related physical fitness rather than skill-related fitness activities—things that you can actually change and that are related to health outcomes compared to fitness skills you might be born with, such as the ability to run a 50-yard dash.
Then, most recently, the Council has included nutrition in his mission and been renamed.
NPH: How does your background inform your new role?
Kohl: As chair of the science board, my job is to make sure that the President’s Council has the most up-to-date science that’s relevant to its mission and advancing initiatives that are evidence-based.
Helping the Homeless Quit Smoking: Q&A with Michael Businelle and Darla Kendzor, The University of Texas School of Public Health
Not surprisingly, a recent study in the American Journal of Public Health found that homeless smokers struggle with quitting more than economically disadvantaged smokers who have their own housing. The study compared homeless smokers receiving treatment at a shelter-based smoking cessation clinic to people enrolled in a smoking cessation program at a Dallas, Texas, safety-net hospital.
“On average, homeless people reported that they found themselves around about 40 smokers every day, while the group getting cessation care at the hospital reported that they were more likely to be around three to four smokers every day,” said Michael S. Businelle, PhD, assistant professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences at The University of Texas School of Public Health Dallas Regional Campus, and the lead author of the study. “Imagine if you had an alcohol problem and were trying to quit drinking—it would be almost impossible to quit if you were surrounded by 40 people drinking every day. That is the situation homeless folks have to overcome when they try to quit smoking.”
Businelle said research shows that about 75 percent of homeless people smoke and that smoking is a leading cause of death in this population. And although homeless smokers are just as likely to try to quit smoking as are other smokers, they are far less successful at quitting, according to Businelle’s work. He said tailored smoking cessation programs are needed for homeless people, including smoke-free zones in shelters.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Businelle and his wife, Darla Kendzor, PhD, who is a co-author of the recent study on smoking and the homeless, as well as an assistant professor at The University of Texas.
NPH: Why did you embark on the study?
Michael Businelle: The smoking prevalence in this population is so high and homeless people are not enrolled in clinical trials so we don’t know what will work best for them. We’ve developed, over the last 50 years, really good treatments for the general population of smokers, but there are very few treatments that have been tested in homeless populations.
Darla Kendzor: And cancer and cardiovascular disease, which are in large part due to tobacco smoking, are the leading causes of death among homeless adults. So quitting smoking would make a big difference for them.
Late last month, the Bipartisan Policy Center, a think tank based in Washington, D.C., released a new white paper, Teaching Nutrition and Physical Activity in Medical School: Training Doctors for Prevention-Oriented Care, that strongly recommends providing greater training in nutrition and physical activity for medical students and physicians in order to help reduce U.S. obesity rates. The report was jointly published with the American College of Sports Medicine and the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, a nonprofit founded by the American Heart Association and the Clinton Foundation as a response to the growing rate of childhood obesity. The report found that current training for medical professionals and students in nutrition and exercise is inadequate to cope with the nation’s obesity epidemic.
A survey conducted for the new report found that more than 75 percent of physicians felt they had received inadequate training to be able to counsel their patients on changing diet and increasing activity levels. It also found that while some schools have stepped up their performance, fewer than 30 percent of medical schools meet the minimum number of hours of education in nutrition and exercise science recommended by the National Academy of Sciences.
“The health care marketplace needs to place greater value on preventive care,” said Jim Whitehead, Chief Executive Officer and Executive Vice President of the American College of Sports Medicine. “Doing so will provide medical schools with the incentive to train their students accordingly. And it will give medical professionals the leverage they need to address healthy lifestyles with their patients.”
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Lisel Loy, director of the Nutrition and Physical Activity Initiative at the Bipartisan Policy Center, about the report and about how to improve training for medical professionals on nutrition and exercise.
NPH: What was the idea that propelled you to look into making changing to medical school education?
Loy: Well, the technical launching pad was our June 2012 policy report called Lots to Lose: How America’s Health and Obesity Crisis Threatens our Economic Future. And in that, my four co-chairs recommended a suite of policy changes that would improve health outcomes and lower costs for families, communities, schools and work sites. Within that community context they called out the need to improve training for health professionals—not just physicians but health professionals much more broadly defined than that—in pursuit of the goal of reducing obesity and chronic disease and cutting costs.
So that’s sort of the technical answer to your question. The more philosophical answer is as we as a country shift toward more preventive care, they really saw a gap in the education and training of health professionals in terms of being able to best support improved health outcomes. So that’s how they determined that that belonged in our report as a policy recommendation, and since we put out that report we prioritized a handful of recommendations, one of which had to do with health professional training.
Late last month several organizations in Washington, D.C., and suburban Maryland—including CASA de Maryland, the Urban Institute, Prince George’s County Public Schools and other Langley Park Promise Neighborhood partners—released the Langley Park Community Needs Assessment Report, a year-long community assessment supported by the U.S. Department of Education Promise Neighborhoods program.
The assessment found that few of Langley Park’s 3,700 children—nearly all of whom were born in the United States—are currently on track for a strong future and that their lives are severely impacted by poverty; poor access to health care; high rates of neighborhood crime; chronic housing instability and school mobility; and low levels of parent education and English proficiency. Fewer than half of the community’s children graduate high school in four years, often because of high rates of early pregnancy and early entry into the work force to help support their families.
Following the release of the report, NewPublicHealth spoke with Zorayda Moreira-Smith, the Housing and Community Development Manager at CASA de Maryland.
NewPublicHealth: One factor in students not finishing high school in Langley Park is that many high schools students ages 16-19 drop out so that they can go to work and help support their families. Is this especially an issue of concern in the Latino community?
Zorayda Moreira-Smith: There are a number of reasons people drop out at that age. One of them is that 35 percent are working because of family need. The safety nets that are generally there for individuals aren’t there for immigrant communities. Most of the parents in these families probably left school after 8th or 9th grade. And once you reach a certain age, you’re also seen as an adult, so there’s an expectation that you help out with the family needs. For most of the families in the area, there’s a high unemployment rate or they have temporary jobs or are day laborers. So, as soon as children reach a certain age, there’s the expectation to start helping out financially and I think it’s very common.
And most immigrant families not only support the people that make up their household here in the United States, but also support their family in the countries of their origin. And while our data doesn’t show it, some of these individuals and kids in households could be living with family members who aren’t their parents—they could be their aunts or their uncles or what not. So, also as soon as they’re working, they’re often supporting their siblings or their parents or their grandparents in their origin countries.
Allison Larr, 25, graduated from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health a few weeks ago as a member of the 2014 Master’s in Public Health class and will soon start working at Citigroup in New York City as an analyst in the bank’s public finance division, which finances infrastructure projects.
“Infrastructure is central to maintaining a healthy population,” according to Larr. “If you don’t have a sewer system, public transportation and roads, you won’t have a healthy population.”
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Larr about the path she took to her new career.
NewPublicHealth: How did you end up at Citigroup?
Allison Larr: As an undergraduate I studied neuroscience, and I was considering pursuing a career in academia or medicine. After my college graduation, I worked for a psychiatric research organization where I realized that I didn’t want to perform the traditional academic roles of creating and distributing knowledge or devote my life to being a physician, but I still wanted to work in a field related to health. By that time, I had developed quite an interest in the environment and in climate change, and so I thought why not connect these two by studying environmental health sciences and figuring out some sort of way that I could work in that field on large-scale problems related to health from upstream processes.
When I started my Master’s in Public Health at Mailman, I didn’t really have a clear vision of exactly what I wanted to do after graduation. I did know that I wanted to work on some bigger-picture environmental issues related to health, so I chose environmental health policy. I worked on a funding opportunity for electric vehicle infrastructure, and that was really the first time that I considered anything related to finance as related to health, because electric vehicle infrastructure would certainly increase electric vehicle uptake, which would have a positive impact on public health through reduced emissions. And in order to make that happen, you need to be able to pay for it.
That’s when the seed was planted that finance could be health related. Following that I worked at the New York City Department of Environmental Protection in the energy office, and when we were evaluating potential projects, part of my role was to evaluate how much greenhouse gas savings the projects would produce, as well as the payback period—investigating really whether it was a worthwhile investment from a financial point of view.
A new climate change report, Risky Business: The Economic Risks of Climate Change in the United States, suggests that the American economy could face significant and widespread disruptions from climate change unless U.S. businesses and policymakers take immediate action to reduce climate risk. The report was released by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson.
The assessment of the committee that wrote and reviewed the report is that communities, industries and properties across the country face profound risks from climate change, but that the most severe risks can be avoided through early investments in resilience, as well as through immediate action to reduce the pollution that causes global warming.
The public health findings of the report were reviewed by Al Sommer, MD, Dean Emeritus of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University. NewPublicHealth spoke with Sommer about the report.
NewPublicHealth: How did the report come about?
Al Sommer: The report came about because of the primary interest of the three co-chairs—Hank Paulson, investor Tom Styra and Mike Bloomberg—who felt that there was a need to better understand and better describe the possible public health impacts of climate change on businesses and labor productivity. Their goal is to engage the interest of business leaders so that they begin to think about the ramifications and perhaps see the problems of climate change from a totally different perspective than we usually talk about it.
I think from my own personal perspective that one of the great advantages of this report is that the group that did the analyses stuck with the data and the assumptions, and used sophisticated modeling and statistical analyses to give a range of outcomes. The most important part of the report from my perspective is that it has a granularity that most of the [climate change] reports don’t have, so it looks at likely outcomes in different regions of the country simultaneously.
In some instances, it looks like there is no change. There is reduced mortality in the northern part of the country because there is less freezing. But at the same time in the southern part of the country there’s dramatically increased mortality because of increased heat and humidity.
Toby Cosgrove, MD, CEO of the Cleveland Clinic, spoke about bringing a business lens to health during a panel discussion this morning at the Spotlight: Health expansion program of the Aspen Ideas Festival. In an article in this month’s Harvard Business Review, he wrote that “Fixing health care will require a radical transformation, moving from a system organized around individual physicians to a team-based approach focused on patients.”
NewPublicHealth spoke to Cosgrove about this transformation just before the Spotlight: Health conference.
Toby Cosgrove: The first thing we did is that for the last decade we’ve been very transparent around our quality, and we’ve released books on quality outcomes which are available both in paperback form and on our website. The second thing that we’ve done is we’ve consolidated services. For example, we started out having six hospitals in the system that provided obstetrics care, and now we’ve got three and are about to have two. And each time we’ve consolidated we’ve increased the volume of patients and improved the quality. We’ve done consolidations with pediatrics, cardiac surgery, rehabilitation, psychiatry, trauma and obstetrics. We think that it’s called the practice of medicine—the more you practice at it, the better you get at it, and every time we’ve done that we’ve seen that happen.
In Cleveland, for example, we partnered with Metro Health, a large network of health providers. We previously had five trauma centers in Cleveland. Now we have three and as we’ve done that, the mortality rate has improved 20 percent. So there are real activities that have begun to drive the business approach.
NPH: What are other ways that the Cleveland Clinic has been able to respond to consumer needs using a business model?
Cosgrove: We think you’ve got to do three things. You’ve got to have improved access, quality and affordability. The access is not just having insurance—the access is actually getting to see a provider, and last year we provided about one million same-day appointments in addition to our scheduled ones. We also took our emergency room wait times from 43 minutes to 11 by changing the system that we use. And in our call center we’ve reduced the number of dropped calls and improved the speed of answers. All of that is aimed at giving patients access to the caregivers. We also reorganized our internal system so that when you, say, have a neurologic problem, instead of coming to see a neurologist and then a neurosurgeon, you come into the neurologic institute where you can be seen in one location under one leadership of neurology, neurosurgery and psychiatry, so that you are seamlessly seen with all the specialties right there in one location.
Earlier this week the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) hosted a daylong Symposium on Child Health, Resilience & Toxic Stress in Washington, D.C. that brought together federal government officials, national thought leaders and medical professionals to discuss the emerging science of toxic stress.
According to the AAP, science shows that adversity experienced in childhood has long-lasting physical and emotional effects that have come be known as "toxic stress.” Toxic stress can occur when a child experiences chronic adversity without access to stable, supportive relationships with caring adults. These adverse childhood experiences can include physical and emotional abuse; neglect; exposure to violence; food insecurity; and economic hardship. An AAP 2011 policy statement found that toxic stress can affect a child's brain development and lead to the presence of many adult diseases, including heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and liver disease.
“[Currently], there are more randomized trials for leukemia than for effects of stress on children,” said James S. Marks, MD, MPH, senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, at the symposium. “This is about more than our children—it’s about our future as a people and a society, and the earlier you invest in children the better the return to society and to those children and families.”
During the symposium, the AAP announced the formation of the Center on Healthy, Resilient Children to launch in the next year or so, which will be a national effort coordinated by the AAP and many partners to support healthy brain development and prevent toxic stress. In addition to prevention efforts to keep children healthy, the Center will focus on ways to help pediatricians and others identify children who have experienced adversity and toxic stress and ensure they have access to appropriate interventions and supports.
"Pediatricians envision a world in which every child has every opportunity to become a healthy, successful adult," said James M. Perrin, MD, president of the AAP. "Achieving this will require strong, sustained investments in the health of the whole child, brain and body. It will require building upon our existing work and forging new partnerships across sectors and fields of expertise.”
NewPublicHealth spoke with Perrin following the symposium
NewPublicHealth: How familiar are pediatricians with the evidence surrounding the burden and response to toxic stress in children and families?
James Perrin: I think there is increasing awareness of toxic stress in pediatric practice, not only in community practice, but in our specialty practices, too. I think people are recognizing how critically important toxic stress is to the developing child and developing brain. And the increasing science in this area has been incredibly helpful for us to understand the potential permanent effects of toxic stress. But we also want to focus on positive ways to affect brain development. Reading to children, for example, affects brain development and brain growth in positive ways.
A report from a White House Task Force on sexual assaults on campus several weeks ago found that one in five women have been attacked, but only about 12 percent of the attacks are ever reported, often because of a campus climate that places blame on women and sends messages to men that sexual attacks are manly. The task force is asking colleges and universities to survey their students about sexual assault and other “campus climate” issues, and to track assaults and enforcement of campus policies that govern such assaults.
One idea gaining traction for reducing sexual assaults is called bystander intervention, which not only trains individuals to find safe ways to help prevent assaults, but seeks to change the campus cultures that can condone attacks.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Dorothy Edwards, executive director of Green Dot etc., which provides training for high schools and colleges on bystander intervention.
NewPublicHealth: Where does the name Green Dot come from?
Dorothy Edwards: Well, two different ways. I started my career in the field in Texas and for whatever reason for Sexual Assault Awareness Month green was the color of the ribbons. What was more intentional was the “dots” piece. That came out of one of the challenges in mobilizing bystanders to prevention, which is that this issue feels so big. People have been hearing about it for decades and I think there’s a kind of resignation that has settled in. Because when you hear the same number over and over and programs come and programs go and it’s an issue this big, people can just feel that there’s nothing they can do about it. “I’m one person, I can’t change this.”
So, one of the original challenges when we were playing with this idea of bystander intervention and highlighting more the integral role of this kind of third character—apart from victim and perpetrator—was that we knew in order for it to be effective it wasn’t just about skill and knowledge, it was about giving people a sense of possibility, giving people a sense of manageability. And when you say the word dot, a dot is small. So instead of saying we’ve got to change the whole culture, we’ve got to change all college campuses, we’ve got to change sexual assault—which feels so big—we can say to people, gosh, all we need you to actually deal with is a single green dot, a single moment, a single choice. And suddenly something very big feels very small and manageable
Future of Public Health: Q&A with Stephanie Lucas, MPH Candidate at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
Future of Public Health is an ongoing series focused on the emerging faces in the world of public health. We spoke with Stephanie Lucas, a Masters of Public Health candidate in epidemiology and global health at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Lucas spoke about what helped lead her to the field of public health; her work in migrant health and reproductive health in the Philippines; and where she hopes to go from here.
NewPublicHealth: What encouraged you to pursue a degree and a career in public health?
Stephanie Lucas: I came from a wide variety of backgrounds. I taught English for a while and I did lab work because I was a biology major in my undergraduate studies. I also came from a small college that was really oriented in social justice and there were a number of study and volunteer abroad programs. One year, I decided to go to Belize for spring break and help teach a class. I also went abroad to South Africa and worked with an NGO there that helped street children. I think that’s where my interest in public health began because it was so blatant to see what needed to be done. When I was teaching English and doing lab work, I didn’t feel like I was connected to that enough. I felt like public health allowed me to take all of my background information—like biology and education—and intertwine them in a way that I can put them to good use to improve population health.
NPH: Is there a field within public health that’s of primary interest to you?
Lucas: I actually want to take on a broad range of public health topics. When I went to the Philippines, I did two practica there; one in the field of reproductive health and another in the field of migrant health. I didn’t know anything about migrant health, but that was OK because I just wanted to learn about the spectrum of the different issues in an effort to understand that all of those issues are interrelated.