Category Archives: Environment
This week’s International Making Cities Livable Conference brings together city officials, practitioners and scholars in architecture, urban design, planning, urban affairs, health, social sciences and the arts from around the world to share experience and ideas. We spoke with some of those diverse attendees to find out: what do they want the public health community to know about working across sectors to make communities healthier and more livable?
Alain Miguelez, City of Ottawa, Program Manager for Zoning, Neighbourhoods and Intensification
NewPublicHealth: What do you want public health to know about making communities more livable?
Miguelez: I want public health to know they’re at the heart of what we do. Usually urban planning is a pretty arcane thing. We’ve done a good job of making it tough for people to understand and relate to. They don’t have the patience. Public health brings it home. As we heard in a session this week, it’s not necessarily people who are disabled—it's the built environment that’s disabling.
It comes down to how you see yourself functioning in your daily life. We've made it impossible to function any way other than with a car. For some people that’s okay, but for those who’ve had a taste of something different, there’s no going back. As planners people don't trust us anymore. We’ve done a lot of things in the name of progress. We’ve disconnected people from the built environment and forced them into places that make people fat and depressed and disconnected and not well-functioning. People coo about Portland and its trams and light rail and walkability. That’s how cities are supposed to be. Everywhere else has got to come up to that standard.
When you see statistics on obesity or depression, it becomes critical, especially with kids. I have two kids and I see very clearly how the environment we build around us impacts how they grow up. It gives kids the tools to function as independent human beings. The right type of city building and suburban repair [with an eye toward public health] can do that.
International Making Cities Livable Conference: A NewPublicHealth Q&A with Conference Co-Founder Suzanne Lennard
NewPublicHealth is on the road this week at the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland and the International Making Cities Livable Conference meeting in Portland, Oregon. Watch out for session coverage, Q&As with presenters and other updates from both conferences this week.
The International Making Cities Livable Council is an interdisciplinary, international network of individuals and cities dedicated to making our cities and communities more livable, with a focus on how the built environment impacts the wellbeing of the people who live in a community. This year’s conference focuses on creating healthy suburbs. And though health is an inextricable component of a livable city or suburb, this concept also includes enabling healthy social interaction; fostering a healthy local economy; creating safe spaces where children can grow up successfully; and more. NewPublicHealth coverage will focus on the critical connection between health and livability.
Prior to the conference, we connected with Suzanne Lennard, co-founder of the International Making Cities Livable Conference, who provided critical context on just what makes a city livable, and some of the contextual history on how our nation’s cities and suburbs strayed from livability—and what we can learn from other counties in getting back to healthy, livable places to live, learn and play.
NewPublicHealth: How did you come to found the International Making Cities Livable Conference?
Suzanne Lennard: My husband, who died several years ago, was a medical sociologist and social psychologist and his field was the study of social interaction in different settings and under different circumstances. When I met him, I was studying for a PhD at UC Berkeley in Human Aspects of Architecture and Urban Design and I was interested in how the built environment enhanced well-being. We started working together and since we were both from Europe—he was Viennese and I was from England—we began to look at how some European cities were enhancing well-being.
Less than a month ago cities in Oklahoma were struck by some of the most powerful tornadoes in the state’s history, killing more than 40 people, injuring scores more and destroying thousands of homes and other structures.
As part of an ongoing series on how public health responds to disaster, NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Gary Cox, director of the Oklahoma City-County Health Department.
NewPublicHealth: What roles has your health department had following the tornadoes?
Gary Cox: We do many things. For example, a lot of people are out cleaning up and come into contact with nails and other sharp objects and they get cuts and puncture wounds. We partnered with Blue Cross Blue Shield and we have three mobile vans staffed those vans with nurses who go out into the affected areas and give tetanus shots and minor first aid. Mental health services can also be provided out of the vans. In fact, we put out a call for assistance and many trained professionals signed up within just a couple of days to volunteer their services to work with individuals and with families, particularly over the stress issues related to these tornados and floods. We have a very broad and deep layer of partnerships, and of course we rely on those. And what we try to do is to take a holistic type so that people in need can get a whole range of services from one location.
One important mission has been to deploy food safety inspectors out into all those areas affected to look at each one of those restaurants and to help them assess their food spoilage and food safety and work with them to get back to business if they can and as soon as they can.
Jane Brody is the Personal Health columnist for The New York Times. She joined the newspaper in 1965 as a specialist in medicine and biology after receiving degrees in biochemistry and writing for multiple college newspapers, as well as for the Minneapolis Tribune. With her column she has seen and reported on almost 50 years in the evolution of personal and community health.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Brody about her take on the state of community health—and what we can all do to improve it.
NewPublicHealth: Over the years, what efforts have you seen that you think have been most effective at improving community health?
Jane Brody: Well, I think one of the most exciting things that’s happened in New York City, and possibly in other cities as well, is getting better food to people who live in food deserts. For example, collecting food that would otherwise be wasted and bringing it to communities where people get free food that is healthy, fresh, and they even have demonstrations of recipes. In fact, I got one of my favorite recipes—it’s a green bean frittata—from one of their demonstrations that I attended just to see how it all worked out.
We’ve also, as you’ve no doubt heard, been putting in all of these bike lanes and we now have introduced the Bike Share Program, which is not inexpensive, but it does at least give more people an opportunity to get off their butts and get out of their cars and maybe even not even use public transportation in some cases, but to get some exercise to and from work, which is wonderful. I remember during one of the transit strikes that we had in New York City, I rode my bicycle from Brooklyn to Times Square where I work, over the bridges and stuff, and it was just wonderful because I got my exercise in at the same time as I got to work and I didn’t have to spend an extra hour exercising. There have been improvements. We have, of course, public pools that are only open in the summer, but in summer is better than no public pools and nobody has to pay anything for a public pool, which is really great.
CDC Releases Tools to Help People Keep Cool this Summer
A new study in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows that there were 7,233 heat-related deaths in the United States in the decade from 1999 to 2009, with an analysis of 2012 data showing the death rate is climbing. “No one should die from a heat wave, but every year on average, extreme heat causes 658 deaths in the United States—more than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and lightning combined,” said Robin Ikeda, MD, MPH, acting director of the National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “Taking common sense steps in extreme temperatures can prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths.” The CDC has released a series of tools to help people stay cool, hydrated and informed during the extreme that will most likely occur in much of the country over the hot summer months. They include the Extreme Heat and Your Health Website; Environmental Public Health Tracking Data; a Climate Change and Extreme Heat Events Guidebook; and Workplace Solutions Bulletin. Read more on environment.
Study: More than One-third of Designated Drivers End up Drinking
More than one-third of designated drivers end up drinking, according to a new study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. The researchers spoke with approximately 1,100 bar patrons (mostly white, male, college-aged) in an unidentified college town and gave blood alcohol (BAL) tests to 165 who said they were designated drivers. About 65 percent had no alcohol in their systems; 17 percent had a BAL between 0.02 and 0.049; and 18 percent had a BAL of at least 0.05. The legal limit is 0.08. "While more of the designated drivers didn't drink than did drink, which is a good thing, you have people being selected because they're the least drunk, or the least intoxicated or they've driven drunk before," said study author Adam Barry, an assistant professor at the University of Florida. "The only real safe option is to completely abstain." Read more on alcohol.
Sequester to Close all HUD Offices on June 14
Though the schedule could still change, as it stands at the moment every office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will be closed on Friday, June 14 as part of the sequester which is being felt across all of government. The automatic spending cuts took effect March 1. HUD’s plan is to pair its seven required furlough days with holidays and weekends. HUD is encouraging people and businesses that work with the agency to plan around the schedule day of shutdown. Read more on budgets.
“We know PSA campaigns can make a big impact; that they can improve people’s lives.”
The Advertising (Ad) Council has just launched a new version of its digital distribution platform, PSA Central, which is geared toward PSA directors and media outlets, but is also valuable for anyone who wants to share the messages including educators and public health practitioners. The site offers easy access to video, print, radio, online, mobile and outdoor media public service advertisements that range from bullying prevention to food safety education.
Public Service Advertisements (PSAs) may actually date back to the civil war when newspapers offered free advertising space to the U.S. government to advertise bonds whose revenues were used to pay for the war effort. These days, PSAs are much more likely to be public safety messages such as a United Kingdom video PSA, downloaded over 2 million times on YouTube, reminding people just why they should buckle up in a car. And more importantly, these efforts are being measured and tracked to show impact on health behavior change and health outcomes, such as the Ad Council’s drunk driving prevention campaign that has encouraged 70 percent of Americans to take action to stop a friend from driving drunk.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Peggy Conlon, president and CEO of the Ad Council, about the public health messages PSAs can convey and how new media has expanded their reach.
NewPublicHealth: How have PSAs evolved over the years?
Peggy Conlon: PSAs have evolved quite a bit. The Ad Council is 71 years old and back in the earliest days PSAs were seen in newspapers and heard over the radio. Since then they have been showcased on just about all media platforms. In the 90s we were introduced to the Internet and everything changed forever. The Internet added another new dimension to our ability, in a very tangible and personal way, to engage communities around social issues.
NPH: What are some of the most effective and iconic campaigns in public service advertising?
The ‘Nocebo Effect’: Media Reports Can Trigger False Symptoms
News media stories about various disease and syndromes—even those that aren’t real—can lead people to report symptoms, according to a new study in the Journal of Psychosomatic Research. Researchers call it the “nocebo effect” and say it clearly shows the importance of news organizations making sure their stories are based on scientific evidence and presented in a balanced, cautious way. The study uses the idea of a Wi-Fi signal that could cause health problems, finding that 54 percent of participants reported symptoms of the made-up syndrome. "It appears essential to stay critical about any kind of scientific, or pseudo-scientific, information in the media," said researcher Michael Witthoft, with the psychology department at Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz, in Germany. "I would advise consumers not to jump to simple conclusions prematurely, but to critically review several sources of evidence." (See the accompanying cartoon by Politico's Matt Wuerker for a humorous take on the issue.) Read more on environment.
Cedars-Sinai Aims to Involve More Women in Clinical Research
A new initiative from Cedars-Sinai hopes to improve the representation of women in medical research by registering at least 2,000 women with or without a history of breast and gynecologic cancers. Compared to men, relatively few women participate in clinical studies, meaning not nearly enough is known about how the biological differences might factor into disease diagnosis and treatment. This research for her initiative will work to “close this gap.” “What we try to tell women, especially women who do not have cancer or a family history of it, is that they can help make a difference in the fight against women’s cancers in a noninvasive, very simple way,” said BJ Rimel, MD, co-principal investigator of the research for her registry and gynecologic oncologist in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Cedars-Sinai. “We try to tell them how much of a benefit they are to others. That's our strongest weapon in this fight.” Read more on cancer.
Study: Smoking Down, Drinking Up in Popular Movies
While incidents of smoking are down on the big screen since 1998, the number of alcohol brand appearances is up in the top movies rated PG-13 and below and the overall screen time spent drinking is level, according to a new study in JAMA Pediatrics. A 1998 law forbade tobacco companies from paying for ad placements; there is not such law for alcohol products. Researchers looked at the movies with the top 100 box offices each year from 1996 to 2009, finding a drop in the appearances of tobacco. However, they also saw alcohol brand appearances in youth-rated movies rise from 80 to 145 per year. "Children who see smoking in the movies are more likely to initiate smoking," said Elaina Bergamini from the Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, to Reuters. "I think there is some concern that that may hold true for alcohol as well. The notorious thing you find in movies and in TV is heavy drinking without consequences. It leaves it up to parents to tell the consequences story." Read more on alcohol.
Urban Farming, founded by recording artist Taja Sevelle, is a nonprofit organization with a goal of reducing hunger and increasing access to fresh, healthy foods by encouraging people in urban, rural and suburban areas to plant gardens on unused land. There are now over 66,600 community, residential and partner gardens that are part of the Urban Farming Global Food Chain around the world.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Taja Sevelle about the group and its plans for the future.
NewPublicHealth: How did you become interested in the issue of Urban Farming?
Taja Sevelle: I was recording a CD for Sony Records in Detroit, Mich., when I began to see the vast amounts of unused land in the city. I knew that numerous jobs were being shipped overseas and a lot of people who had lost their jobs were suffering. So, in 2005 I put my music career on the back burner and started Urban Farming with three gardens and a pamphlet. It was always a global vision that grew rapidly and started to get international coverage quickly.
Even though this seems like a new idea, it really is just reacquainting people with the age-old act of planting food. The World War II victory gardens, for example, are a great model because during that time, 20 million Americans planted gardens and grew almost half of the U.S. produce supply. Recently, when the economic downfall hit around the world, planting a garden became a necessity for many people who may not have been thinking about it previously.
NPH: What are the key goals for Urban Farming?
The Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, recently announced eight new grant recipients that will receive funding to conduct health impact assessments (HIAs). The projects will bring health considerations into upcoming decisions on topics including education, sanitation infrastructure, and energy.
“Our new grantees will use health impact assessments to uncover opportunities to improve health in a wide range of policy decisions, as well as to identify and avoid potential unintended consequences,” said Aaron Wernham, MD, director of the Health Impact Project. “These eight HIAs are the latest in a fast-growing field, as more cities and states find them a useful way to bring health into decisions in other sectors.”
By the end of 2007, there were 27 completed HIAs in the United States. There are now more than 225 completed or in progress, according to the Health Impact Project map of HIA activity in the United States.
Funding for some of the new proposals was also provided by the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota Foundation and The California Endowment.
Some of the new HIAs that have received funding include:
- Partners for a Healthier Community, Inc. will undertake an HIA to inform decisions about a proposed casino in western Massachusetts. Decision-makers—including the state gaming commission, local government officials, and voters—will consider siting options as well as licensing, regulation, design and development of the casino. The HIA will examine health risks that might be linked to gambling—including substance abuse, mental health, and injury—and potential health benefits related to employment opportunity, access to health insurance, and community revenues.
- The University of Texas at El Paso, will conduct an HIA on the impacts of proposed water and sanitation improvement projects on the town of Vinton, Texas. Vinton primarily relies on failing septic tanks and cesspools for wastewater removal and domestic wells with poor water quality. Poor water and sanitation are associated with gastrointestinal illnesses and other serious health conditions such as hepatitis, dysentery, and dehydration. Improved systems could not only improve public health but also support economic development and long-term sustainability of local businesses and industry.
- An HIA by the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, in collaboration with the Purchase District Health Department, will examine the potential health benefits and risks of the retrofit or retirement of the Shawnee coal plant in Paducah, KY, operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The HIA will analyze environmental health concerns associated with air and water pollution from the plant and the effects of its closure on the community including employment, individual income, and revenue for local services important to health.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with two of the researchers conducting the Shawnee coal plant HIA, Elizabeth Crowe, executive director of the Kentucky Environmental Foundation, and Deborah Payne, energy and health coordinator for the Foundation.
NewPublicHealth: What is the scope of the HIA you’re conducting?
New York City Moves to Ban Cigarette Sales to People Under 21
A bill introduced to the New York City Council would ban cigarette sales to anyone under the age of 21. The current age limit is 18. "Too many adult smokers begin this deadly habit before age 21," City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said. "By delaying our city's children and young adults access to lethal tobacco products, we're decreasing the likelihood they ever start smoking, and thus, creating a healthier city." Though not introduced by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, he does support the bill. New York City also has the highest taxes on cigarettes of any U.S. city, with a city tax of $1.50 on top of a state tax of $4.35. Read more on tobacco.
Insurance Authorization Delays Trap Psychiatric Patients in ERs
Thousands of hours of physician time is lost each year caring for emergency department patients in need of psychiatric care, but waiting for insurance authorization to be admitted into the hospital, according to a letter to be published in the May issue of Annals of Emergency Medicine. Researchers found that about half of authorizations were completed in less than 20 minutes, but 10 percent took at least an hour. About 2.5 million people are admitted to hospitals for psychiatric care each year. "Psychiatric care is really the poor stepchild in the world of insurance coverage," said lead author Amy Funkenstein, MD, of Brown University in Providence, R.I.. "Insurance carriers reimburse poorly and as a consequence, hospitals often have inadequate resources for patients who urgently need this care. The situation is so dire that ERs are now being designed and configured to house psychiatric patients awaiting placement as inpatients. These patients deserve better." Read more on mental health.
Report Finds Positive, Negative News on U.S. Air Quality
Areas across the country have seen a mix in terms of improvement of air quality over the past decade, according to a new report from the American Lung Association (ALA). "The long-term trend is positive and headed to much cleaner air," said author Janice Nolen, ALA's assistant vice president of national policy and advocacy. "[However], there is an uptick in some areas that are a concern and some areas where the problem remains very, very serious." Approximately half of the 25 most polluted cities in 2000 saw improvements in air quality, with the others seeing declines. And some of the “improved” cities still were highly polluted, such as Los Angeles and Bakersfield, Calif. Houston, Dallas, Oklahoma City, Cincinnati, New York City and Washington, D.C. were the other cities with the highest levels of ozone. Overall, the report found that 132 million people were living in 254 counties with unhealthy levels of ozone or particle pollution. Read more on environment.