Jul 14 2014
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Health Beyond Health Care: Greening the Blight - Cities and Towns Take on the Challenge

Earlier this year, when a federal task force convened to look at how to help Detroit pull out of bankruptcy and regain resident and business confidence, one of the first recommendations was to assess the many blighted areas of the city—typically created when residents leave an area in droves, or when a business moves out of a building and isn’t replaced by another—and begin restoring them for residential, business or green space use.

Blight matters. Beyond making a city ugly, abandoned areas become a haven for trash, toxic elements, drug sales and prostitution. In Dorchester, outside Boston, a space sold by the city for a parking lot was left vacant for years and became a trash dump with mounds of cigarettes, and cars and tires—all leaching toxins.

file A woman takes part in the Clean and Green program (Courtesy: Bon Secours Health System)

A growing number of communities are starting to clean up those lots. In Baltimore, flight from the city has left close to a million homes and apartment buildings vacant over the last few decades, leaving in their place empty, dirty spaces that invite crime and trash. Bon Secours Community Works—the foundation of the Bon Secours Health System with hospitals in Baltimore and other cities—supports initiatives aimed at creating stable housing, including a program called Clean and Green, which is a part of Bon Secours' Housing and Neighborhood Revitalization Department.

Clean and Green is a landscaping training program that has transformed more than 85 vacant lots into green spaces, and has also begun to initiate community arts projects such as large public murals and community gardens. The program is designed to teach green job development skills, as well as provide free cleanup and beautification services to Baltimore neighborhoods.

file A man works on landscaping as part of the Clean and Green program (Courtesy: Bon Secours Health System)

Each program team is hired for six months of on-the-job training in green landscaping, during which they learn how to use landscaping and gardening tools and then go out into the field to clean lots, plant trees, pick up trash and do weeding. As part of their training, each individual gives at least three presentations about some aspect of green landscaping that they’ve learned, further preparing them for job interviews and jobs in the field. Each summer, youth employees also join the Clean and Green team for six weeks, working alongside the adults to learn about green landscaping and giving back to a community.

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Jul 14 2014
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Recommended Reading: Health Affairs and RWJF Primer on E-Cigarettes

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The public comment period for rules regulating the sale and use of e-cigarettes proposed in April by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) ends on August 8, after which the agency is expected to release final rules governing the products. Experts say the timing is critical because sales of the products—which weren’t even on the market a decade ago—are heating up, with revenues approaching $1 billion a year, according to Forbes Magazine.

Last week, Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) released a health policy brief about e-cigarettes that sets out key issues concerning the products and provides important background, particularly for people poised to comment on the FDA’s proposed rules.

Among the issues the policy brief addresses are e-cigarette safety; whether the devices ought to be regulated as a medical (smoking cessation) device or as a cigarette; and whether e-cigarettes pose a risk as a “gateway” drug to tobacco products. It notes that the FDA is currently funding close to 40 studies on e-cigarettes.

The issue is especially critical because sales to kids and teens are increasing, and there is still insufficient information on whether the vapor emitted by the devices pose a cancer risk. A 2013 study of 40,000 middle and high school students around the country by researchers at UC San Francisco found that e-cigarette use in that group doubled between 2011 and 2012, from 3.1 percent to 6.5 percent.

Read the policy brief from Health Affairs and RWJF.

>>Bonus Link: Read a NewPublicHealth post on initiatives by major cities to regulate the sale and use of e-cigarettes. 

Jul 14 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 14

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CDC Closes Flu and Anthrax Labs After Serious Lapses
After two serious lapses with anthrax and avian flu virus, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced it was temporarily closing its anthrax and flu laboratories and stopping shipments of all infectious agents. Last month at least 63 CDC employees may have been exposed to live anthrax bacteria after samples were sent to laboratories that were not prepared to handle the infectious agents. Anyone possibly exposed has been offered a vaccine and antibiotics; the CDC says no one was in danger.

In the second incident, technicians in a CDC lab accidentally contaminated a largely benign flu virus with a much more dangerous H5N1 bird flu strain. A lab worker who received a shipment of the strain and realized it was more dangerous than the sample expected contacted the CDC. And, in a third incident, the CDC also announced on Friday that two of six vials of smallpox vaccine recently found stored at the National Institutes of Health since 1954 contained live virus that could have infected people.

CDC has convened an investigation with finding expected later this week, as well as:

  • Established a high-level working group, reporting to the CDC Director, to help accelerate improvements in laboratory safety; review and approve—on a laboratory-by-laboratory basis—resuming transfer of biological materials; and serve as the transition group for accountability on laboratory safety.
  • Established a review group, under the direction of CDC’s Associate Director for Science, to look at the systems, procedures and personnel issues that led to the events, as well as how to prevent similar events in the future.
  • Plans to take personnel action regarding individuals who contributed to or were in a position to prevent this incident.

Read more on infectious disease.

Military Servicemembers at Increased Risk of Financial Abuse
Members of the military are at increased risk of financial abuse, according to a new survey from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), and more must be done to help servicemembers protect themselves. An NFCC survey of active duty military personnel found that: 

  •  77 percent of respondents have financial worries
  •  55 percent feel not at all or only somewhat prepared to meet a financial emergency
  •  60 percent say they had to look outside of traditional institutions and utilized alternative, non-traditional lenders to meet their financial needs

In order to answer this need, the NFCC is working to give servicemembers a deeper understanding of personal finance through its Sharpen Your Financial Focus program, which includes materials that address their particular financial literacy challenges. The program presents 10 individual lesson topics, ranging from banking to planning for retirement. “No one should be victimized by financial abuse, particularly the military,” said Gail Cunningham, spokesperson for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC). “One way to avoid financial abuse is through financial education, as an educated consumer is always a better consumer, one more equipped to identify fraud or deception and make wise financial decisions.” Read more on the military.

Study: Confusion Over Spoon Sizes Can Lead to Incorrect Medication Doses for Kids
Confusion over and differences in spoon sizes can lead to frequent medication dosing errors for children, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers observed 287 parents provide medicine to their children using teaspoons and tablespoons, finding that 39 percent incorrectly measured the dose they intended and 41 percent made an error in measuring what their doctor had prescribed. The findings indicate a growing need to change how doctors prescribe medicine for children. "A move to a milliliter preference for dosing instructions for liquid medications could reduce parent confusion and decrease medication errors, especially for groups at risk for making errors, such as those with low health literacy and non-English speakers," said the study's lead author Shonna Yin, MD, an assistant professor of pediatrics at NYU School of Medicine in New York City. Poison control centers receive approximately 10,000 calls each year related to incorrect dosages of oral liquid medications. Read more on pediatrics.

Jul 11 2014
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Recommended Reading: A Refurbished Bus Will Bring Showers to the Homeless in San Francisco

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There are an estimated 7,350 homeless people living in San Francisco, yet there are only eight facilities in the city at which the homeless can shower. At each of these facilities, there are at most two shower stalls—meaning that there is at most one shower for every 460 homeless people.

Lava Mae developed a mobile approach to target this public health issue.

The refurbished San Francisco MUNI bus outfitted with two full-service bathrooms successfully made its first rounds on June 28. The bus will travel around the city providing the homeless with mobile public utilities and giving them much-needed access to clean water and sanitation. Without the limitations of stationary locations, Lava Mae is able to aide people across the city while also staying free from high real estate prices, rising rent and potential eviction.

"For at least a decade, bathrooms have stood in for the city's anxieties about homelessness, public utilities, and the changing economy," wrote Rachel Swan in a piece on public bathrooms in SF Weekly. Lava Mae founder Doniece Sandoval hopes that the program will take big steps in improving the health of the homeless and public sanitation by increasing the number and scope of available public restrooms.

The relationship between the health and wellbeing of the homeless population correlates directly with the health of the community as a whole. As the homeless population strives for a better quality of life, so does the community—one shower at a time.

Read the full story, “A Refurbished Bus Will Bring Showers to the Homeless in San Francisco.”

Jul 11 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 11

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CDC: 60 Percent of Diners Will Use Menu Calorie Counts When Available
Approximately 6 in 10 U.S. adults will choose their restaurant meals in part because of menu label information when it’s available, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest Morbidity and Mortality Report. Researchers analyzed the self-reported usage of 118,013 adults in 17 states in 2012 to determine that about 57 percent will look to the provided calorie information. New York had the highest rate, with 61.3 percent, while Montana had the lowest, at 48.7 percent. Federal law requires calorie information be provided by any restaurant with 20 or more locations; while the regulations are not yet final, many establishments already voluntarily provide menu labeling, according to the CDC. Read more on nutrition.

Depression, Stress, Hostility Tied to Higher Stroke Risk
Depression, stress and hostility may be linked to a higher risk for stroke, according to a new study in the journal Stroke. Using information provided by approximately 7,000 adults who did not have heart disease or a history of stroke at the beginning of the study, researchers followed up nearly nine years later and determined that depression was associated with an 86 percent increased chance of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack, stress was associated with a 59 percent increase and hostility doubled the risk. “[C]hronic stress and negative emotions are important psychological factors that affect one's health, and findings from this study link these factors to brain health in particular," said the study's lead author, Susan Everson-Rose, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, according to HealthDay. "Patients and their health care providers should be aware that experiences of chronic stress and negative emotional states can increase risk for stroke.” Read more on heart health.

Washington State Sees Most Measles Cases Since 1996
A slight decline in Washington State’s mumps and rubella vaccination rate has coincided with the state’s highest number of measles case in 18 years, according to officials. Washington has reported 27 cases so far this year and is currently in the midst of its third outbreak. While homegrown measles was declared officially eliminated from the United States in 2000, infections from people who have travelled overseas remain a threat. There were 554 total cases of measles and 17 outbreaks reported in the United States between Jan. 1 and July 3 of this year. Read more on infectious diseases.

Jul 10 2014
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Health Beyond Health Care: Housing

Planners, public health experts, community development leaders, architects and many others have come together over the past decade to focus on housing as a framework for a healthy life. A report released earlier this year by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Commission to Build a Healthier America made the link between health and housing clear:

“Living in unhealthy homes and communities can severely limit choices and resources. Healthy environments—including safe, well-kept housing and neighborhoods with sidewalks, playgrounds and full-service supermarkets—encourage healthy behaviors and make it easier to adopt and maintain them.”

Housing also impacts health when people spend so much on their rent or mortgage that they don’t have enough left over to pay for critical expenses such as food and medicine. According to the MacArthur Foundation—which released its second annual “Housing Matters” survey last month—during the past three years more than half of all U.S. adults have had to make at least one sacrifice in order to cover their rent or mortgage, including:

  • Getting an additional job
  • Deferring saving for retirement
  • Cutting back on health care and healthy foods
  • Running up credit card debt
  • Moving to a less-safe neighborhood or one with worse schools

Ianna Kachoris, a MacArthur Foundation program officer who oversees its How Housing Matters to Families and Communities research initiative, said that the quality and safety of a home make a significant impact on a person’s overall quality of life. Among the housing specifics that can impact health are lead or mold; the need to move frequently; having to live with many other people to make housing affordable; and concern over being able to afford the rent, the mortgage or needed housing repairs. The survey also found that accessing affordable quality housing in their communities is difficult for many people, including families with average income, young people just getting started in the labor force and families who want to live in quality school districts.

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Jul 10 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 10

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HHS, DOJ Release ‘Roadmap’ to Prevent Elder Abuse
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have announced a new Elder Justice Roadmap to enhance elder abuse prevention and prosecution, while also highlighting the issue of elder abuse. An estimated one in 10 Americans over the age of 60 have experienced elder abuse or neglect. The Roadmap includes the DOJ’s development of an interactive, online curriculum to teach legal aid and other civil attorneys to identify and respond to elder abuse, as well as the HHS’ development of a voluntary national adult protective services data system. “Elder abuse is a problem that has gone on too long, but the Roadmap Report released today can change this trajectory by offering comprehensive and concrete action items for all of the stakeholders dedicated to combating the multi-faceted dimensions of elder abuse and financial exploitation,” said Associate Attorney General Tony West, in a release. “While we have taken some important steps in the right direction, we must do more to prevent elder abuse from occurring in the first place and face it head on when it occurs.” Read more on aging.

Study: Health Care Providers Must Do More to Ensure Pregnant Women Receive the Flu Vaccine
A new study finds that health care providers (HCPs) must do more to ensure pregnant women are vaccinated against influenza. After a review of 45 research papers, researchers determined that HCP influenza vaccine recommendations and on-site services would both help increase the current suboptimal vaccination rate. The study pointed to inadequate knowledge of the risks of influenza; doubts about vaccine safety, efficacy and benefits; and fear of adverse reactions for both the pregnant women and their unborn fetuses as barriers to vaccination. Many of the women in the review were also unaware that their pregnancies placed them at higher risk of complications from influenza. Read more on maternal and infant health.

Study: Younger Pro Pitchers at Higher Risk of Needing ‘Tommy John’ Surgery
Stephen Strasburg. Matt Harvey. Kerry Wood. All were or are hard-throwing Major League Baseball (MLB) pitchers who underwent “Tommy John” surgery early in their careers. Now, a new study from researchers at the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine indicates that entering the MLB at a younger age increases the risk of needing Tommy John surgery—which is a reconstruction of the ulnar collateral ligament in the elbow—at some point in a career. In a study of 168 pitchers who had Tommy John surgery and 178 age-matched pitchers who did not, approximately 60 percent of those who needed the surgery had it in the first five years of their career. They also had statistically more Major League experience, indicating that arm stress at a younger age heightens the risk of damage. “Having athletic trainers and team physicians closely look at when players’ pitching performance stats start to decrease may allow for steps to be taken before a surgery is needed. Our study also further highlights the need for kids not to overuse their arms early in their pitching careers,” said lead author Robert Keller, MD, of Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, in a release. Read more on injury prevention.

Jul 9 2014
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Recommended Reading: The Washington Post and ‘Health Beyond Health Care’

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Last month the Washington Post held a live event, Health Beyond Health Care, that brought together doctors, bankers, architects, teachers and others to focus on health beyond the doctor’s office. The goal of the Washington, D.C., event—which was co-sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and others—was to showcase examples of novel places that are working to create cultures of health, such as a newly designed school that promotes physical activity and healthy eating in Virginia, and free outdoor exercise classes in Detroit.

Videos from the Post event are now online and include conversations with:

The Post's continuing coverage also includes articles about how city design can open up new opportunities for health; how greenways and complete streets can get people moving; and how workplaces can get a makeover for healthier employees.

Over the next few days, NewPublicHealth will report on additional efforts across the country to promote a culture of health across neighborhoods, schools, homes and workplaces.

Explore the Post’s special report on “Health Beyond Health Care” here.

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.

Jul 8 2014
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Langley Park Community Needs Assessment Report: Q&A with Zorayda Moreira-Smith, CASA de Maryland

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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. 

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