Category Archives: Environment
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.
What’s the number one littered item on U.S. roadways? Cigarette butts.
And that’s not much of a surprise given a new survey from Legacy, an advocacy group focused on ending youth smoking, and Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics, which found that more than 44 percent of those polled who’ve smoked admit to having dropped a cigarette on the ground. And nearly 32 percent of responders who’ve smoked have dropped a cigarette out of a car window.
Cigarette butts do way more harm than simply adding to unsightly litter. The butts include the cigarette’s plastic filter, which pose risks to animals and biodegrade only under extreme conditions. And cigarette butts contain carcinogens that can leach into soil, as well as chemicals that are poisonous to wildlife and can contaminate water sources.
Legacy and Leave No Trace have developed a suite of materials to help push people to action and reduce the butt litter.
- An infographic on the dangerous materials in cigarette butts
- A toolkit to help spread the word about what people can do to rid the earth of cigarette butts
- Television and radio Public Service Announcement
Watch the PSA "Toxic Litter Everywhere" below.
Study: Chickenpox Vaccine Provides Long-Term Protection
A new study published online in the journal Pediatrics confirmed that the chickenpox (varicella) vaccine is effective at preventing chicken pox, and that the effectiveness does not wane over a 14-year period. One dose provided excellent protection against moderate to severe disease. Consistent protection was important because chickenpox infection in older teens and adults can be much more serious than it generally is in childhood, according to the study author, in an interview with HealthDay. The study data also suggest that the vaccine may also reduce the risks of shingles, another type of infection caused by the chickenpox virus that tends to affect people later in life. The study followed a total of 7,585 children vaccinated with varicella vaccine in their second year of life in 1995 for 14 years to see if they developed either chickenpox or shingles. Read more on vaccination.
EPA Proposes Measures to Cut Air Pollution, Improve Population Health
Based on input from auto manufacturers, refiners, and states, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed new standards for cars and gasoline that will significantly reduce harmful pollution and prevent thousands of premature deaths and illnesses. Once fully in place, experts say the standards will help avoid up to 2,400 premature deaths per year and 23,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children. The measures will also prevent 3,200 hospital admissions and asthma-related emergency room visits, and 1.8 million lost school days, work days and days when activities would be restricted due to air pollution. Total health-related benefits in 2030 are expected to be between $8 and $23 billion annually. The new standards will reduce gasoline sulfur levels by more than 60 percent, which will also enable vehicle emission control technologies to perform more efficiently. Read more on environmental health.
New Jersey Bans Children from Tanning Beds
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie signed a bill into law on Monday banning children under 17 from using commercial tanning beds. Tanning before age 35 has been shown to increase the risk for melanoma by 75 percent. The new law also bans children under 14 from getting spray tans in tanning salons, which could impact social norms around young teens wanting to look tan if their friends look tan. Read more on safety.
NOAA Report Helps U.S. Regions Prepare for Spring Droughts, Floods
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association’s (NOAA) new three-month U.S. Spring Outlook predicts above-average temperatures will strike areas already afflicted by drought—such as Texas, the Southwest and the Great Plains—while places such as North Dakota can expect significant river flooding. The report looks at the likelihood of flooding and predicts temperature, precipitation and drought across the country. "We produce this outlook to help communities prepare for what's likely to come in the next few months and minimize weather's impacts on lives and livelihoods,” said Laura Furgione, deputy director of NOAA's National Weather Service. “A Weather-Ready Nation hopes for the best, but prepares for the worst." Read more on preparedness.
CDC Ad Campaign to Continue to Share the Stories, Troubles of Former Smokers
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has re-launched last year's successful national ad campaign with a second series of ads telling the true stories of former smokers now living with the effects of their addiction—such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, severe adult asthma and heart disease. The campaign will run on television, radio, billboards and online, as well as in theaters, magazines and newspapers. "The Tips from Former Smokers campaign shows the painful effects of smoking through former smokers, in a way that numbers alone cannot," said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. "These are the kinds of ads that smokers tell us help motivate them to quit, saving lives and money." The ads are funded by the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention and Public Health Fund. Read more on the campaign.
Experts Expect More Severe, Lengthy Spring Allergies
Springtime means allergies for many across the United States, and higher pollen counts means the people who suffer from seasonal allergies can expect this year’s to be more severe and last longer, according to Kevin McGrath, MD, of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. That means more sneezing, itchiness and fatigue. "We've seen record pollen counts for trees and ragweed [the most common fall allergy trigger] for the past few years, and the seasons may be a bit longer—about six to seven more days in the Midwest and a few more days in the Northeast," said McGrath, according to HealthDay. David Lang, MD, section head of allergy and immunology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, recommends beginning medication early and avoiding the triggers as much as possible. Read more on environment.
A high point of the recent New Partners for Smart Growth conference in Kansas City was a demonstration project of “parklets” placed around the conference session break spaces to showcase a burgeoning trend—parking spaces converted to green spaces during warmer weather, or year round, depending on the surrounding climate. The parklets help add an active living feel to urban centers.
“They increase street life, which in turn increases more street life,” says Ariel Ben Amos, senior planner/analyst for the Mayor’s Office of Transportation and Utilities in Philadelphia, who heads the city’s parklet effort and lead the presentation on parklets at the New Partners conference.
New York City, Oakland, Philadelphia, San Francisco and other cities now all have parklets. Some are elaborate block-long spaces with comfortable seating; others aren’t much more than a few large plants and a chair. The concept got a push several years ago in San Francisco when activists created “parking day” by feeding a meter intended for cars, but used the space for seating. Studies of parklets conducted in San Francisco have found they increase foot traffic to the businesses they surround, and in New York they are often oases for weary tourists looking for a patch of home on the parklet strip near Times Square.
When it comes to being healthy, what happens outside the doctor’s office can be just as important as what happens in an examination room—sometimes even more. The environment you call home plays a tremendous role in your health.
But which types of environments and communities will help you stay the healthiest? A series of videos from the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Behavioral and Social Sciences Research highlights ongoing federal research into how to create communities where healthy choices are the easy choices.
Dr. David R. Williams: The Social Factors of Health
Williams, MPH, PhD, is a social scientist at Harvard University who believes that where we live, learn, work and play have more to do with our health than doctor visits. His work focuses on the opportunities and barriers that affect healthy living.
Dr. Ana Diez-Roux: The Science of Environmental Factors of Health
Diez-Roux, MD, PhD, is an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan. Her work looks at the social determinants that influence our health.
Dr. David Schwebel: The Science of Child Safety
Schwebel, PhD, is a Professor of Psychology and Associate Dean for Research and the Sciences at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. His work applies basic psychological and behavioral principles to the real-life problem of preventing children’s injuries.
Concerned by reports that volunteers and New Jersey residents are frequently unaware of environmental dangers when cleaning up homes and communities, the New Jersey Department of Health released an advisory earlier this week with advice on staying safe while scrubbing and rehabbing. Mold and materials containing asbestos and lead-based paint are examples of potential hazards in storm-damaged buildings and the advisory urged those tackling the heavy jobs to wear protective equipment appropriate for the work they are doing such as waterproof boots, gloves, goggles, and face masks.
"Homeowners doing cleanup work and the volunteers assisting them are critical assets in New Jersey's recovery efforts, but making sure they protect themselves is equally important," said New Jersey Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd.
NewPublicHeatlh recently spoke about Hurricane Sandy clean-up safety with Donna Leusner, director of communications for the New Jersey Department of Health; Tina Tan, MD, state epidemiologist and assistant commissioner for epidemiology, environmental and occupational health and Joe Eldridge, director of New Jersey’s Consumer, Environmental and Occupational Health Service.
NewPublicHealth: What kind of environmental concerns specifically are there for those cleaning up the community after the storm?
Dr. Tan: There are concerns about individuals coming into contact with contaminated materials, whether contaminated with chemicals or infectious agents—residuals from flood waters as well as the general debris that might be around. We encourage individuals to take the appropriate precautions to try to avoid any sort of injuries or potential illnesses that could result from contact with these contaminated materials.
NPH: Are people aware of the critical basic information for safe cleanup, such as getting a tetanus shot if they’re injured during the cleanup in such terrible conditions?