Category Archives: Faces of Public Health
“Music hath charms to soothe a savage breast, to soften rocks, or bend a knotted oak.” William Congreve
About twenty percent of students who apply to the Weill Cornell Medical School in New York City are gifted musically, ranging from strong amateurs to students who have trained at conservatories. Giving students a chance to keep up with their music, and discover what benefits that might have for their patients, was the impetus behind the school’s Music and Medicine Initiative, begun several years ago. The initiative includes rehearsal and performance space for students, as well as some partnerships devoted to music and healing. NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Richard Kogan, director of the Music and Medicine Initiative, and himself an accomplished concert pianist.
NewPublicHealth: What’s the goal of the Music and Medicine Initiative?
Richard Kogan: Our original mission was to create the most musician friendly medical center in the country, but we’ve extended it well beyond the students. We want the entire community to feel that music is an essential part of the experience. Our feeling is that music is an underutilized modality in healing. Music has an unparalleled; truly, I think capacity to reduce pain, to soothe anxiety, to lift spirits. Music is an effective medicine for a whole variety of disorders, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, strokes, depression, it can reduce blood pressure. Research is being done that I think demonstrates something we intuitively sense, which is that music has healing properties.
And in addition to forming an affiliation with the Julliard Conservatory of Music in New York City–students at Julliard and our Weill Cornell students and other members of the Weill Cornell community have together hosted concerts to benefit victims of the earthquake in Haiti and to benefit the victims of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan–we’ve had symposia and salons on topics bettering the interface between music and medicine. Topics have included performance anxiety, and perfect pitch.
NPH: What do you think is the intersection between music and medicine?
Dozens of haunting photographs of Americans working at hazardous jobs are currently on display at the David J. Sencer Museum at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s main campus in Atlanta. Called The Quiet Sickness, the exhibit shows just some of the photographs of Americans at work by award-winning photojournalist Earl Dotter. The photographs are drawn from Dotter’s decades-long trove of photographs of workers in industries that can be hazardous, even deadly, including mining, fishing, agriculture and construction. Louise Shaw, the curator for the CDC exhibit, says Mr. Dotter has “put a human face on those who labor in dangerous and unhealthy conditions over a wide range of occupations across the United States. Collectively, [the photographs] make the case for protecting the health of all working people, as well as speak to the dignity and self-respect of the individual worker in America.” NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Earl Dotter about his work.
NewPublicHealth: What has been the main focus of your work during your career as a photojournalist?
Earl Dotter: In 1969 I volunteered to become a Vista volunteer, after attending the School of Visual Arts in New York City, and was stationed in the Cumberland Plateau region of Tennessee. That was a landmark year in coal mine safety and health because of the Farmington mine disaster which killed 78 miners, and resulted in the creation of the Mine Safety and Health Administration and the Occupational Health Safety Administration (OSHA). I was rubbing shoulders with coal miners who were sick with black lung disease, and in those days a coal miner was killed just about every other day. That, along with my art background, gave me an opportunity to begin what has become my life’s work. I started taking photographs during the war on poverty era and that time period was a formative one for me because I was getting to know coal miners and other subjects of my photography in a personal way. The pictures began to have a personal style to them. I was looking at individuals, not subjects. Real people I had come to know and that began to inform what I was doing in a personal way. When people view my images, I hope they can see themselves in those individuals. You may see common ground with someone who is seeking to become all they can be even if they have obstacles, or have not yet succeeded.
NPH: Why is it important to see ourselves?
Earl Dotter: If you can establish common ground, I think that can be a motivating force. It can give you the impetus to take a second look, to not pass by the images. And in that way these individuals who work to build our country command the attention of the viewer in a more personal way.
NPH: The Quiet Sickness has been exhibited before. What is that back story?
March 18-24 is the 50th anniversary of National Poison Prevention Week. More than 2 million poisonings are reported each year to the 57 poison control centers across the country.
In 1972, more than 200 children in the U.S. died as a result of poisoning. By 2007, that number dropped to 39. However, deaths in other age groups have risen dramatically and poisoning is the leading cause of death from unintentional injuries in the United States—ahead of motor vehicle crashes and guns.
Tips to prevent poisonings include:
- Store your medicines in a place that is too high for a child to reach or see.
- Use only rat and mouse control household products that are contained in a tamper-resistant bait station (not loose bait and pellets), to protect children from exposure to the bait.
- Ask houseguests and visitors to keep purses, bags or coats that have medicines in them up and away and out of sight when they are in your home.
- Keep cleaning supplies and medicines locked up and away from children.
- Call your local poison center right away if a battery is missing from a toy or other household item. A swallowed button battery can be deadly for a child.
- Keep the national Poison Help Line phone number posted in a prominent place in your house and stored in your cell phone. The number is 800-222-1222 and connects you to your local poison center 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and 365 days a year.
- Download the iPhone app from the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
In observance of National Poison Prevention Week, NewPublicHealth spoke with Henry Spiller, MS, director of the Kentucky Regional Poison Control Center.
As the weather gets warmer, parks departments across the country are beginning to ready pools, pavements and pathways for their community residents, many of them simply adding another set of offerings to the fall classes and leagues. The Denver Parks and Recreation Department, for example, offers adaptive fitness classes for people with disabilities as well as a host of other fitness classes including yoga, martial arts and a weekly drop-in basketball game. Parks and recreation departments have long had a history of a commitment to social change and physical fitness in the United States. NewPublicHealth spoke with Bill Beckner, research director of the National Recreation and Park Association about projects and changes within the departments and the communities they have served for more than 100 years.
NewPublicHealth: Tell us a bit about the history of parks and recreation departments.
Bill Beckner: Well, the actual start of the park and recreation movement goes back to the 1800s in the inner cities, which were seeing a great deal of crime and disease and rising numbers of orphans. Settlement houses provided health, social and recreational services including playgrounds. The American Playground Association, a precursor to our organization, formed in 1906 and promoted the idea of giving children healthy outlooks, healthy conditions, air, parks and greenery, which was so different from the environment many of them lived in.
Will The Lorax, a film version of the Dr. Seuss book, which opens tomorrow, prompt kids everywhere to plant gardens and eat healthier? That’s the hope of Kelly Meyer, the founder of American Heart Association Teaching Gardens, a project that teaches kids how to plant seeds, care for their plants and harvest the produce. The Lorax tells the story of a boy in search of his young love’s “heart’s desire,” a truffala tree, only to find that all the trees have been chopped down to create a new invention. A theme of environmental preservation and connection with nature runs throughout the story, and ends with a single seed meant to rebuild the forest.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Meyer, who brought a group of young gardeners to the film’s premiere in Los Angeles last week to showcase a special Teaching Garden that will be donated to local schools.
NewPublicHealth: How did the Teaching Gardens program come about?
Kelly Meyer: For me, it was a wonderful opportunity to address a health issue, childhood obesity, while connecting kids to nature and teaching them about a food source in a real, three-dimensional way. And so, I started the program with just one garden, and had the good fortune to have the program adopted by the American Heart Association. Now we’re in over 100 schools across the country and I have a real infrastructure to help push this program forward.
>>Read more on childhood obesity from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
NPH: What have you seen the kids get out of the experience?
Kelly Meyer: They learn what it takes to grow food that’s healthy for you and they learn teamwork. They have a much more real-life picture of science. We had one child in the program who was tasting a clementine from a tree she helped plant. She had never tasted one before, and when you see the expression on her face—she was prepared for it to be sour and awful, and instead it was sweet and juicy and beautiful. When we harvest the garden and prepare salads, I think the kids are shocked at how good it tastes.
>>Watch a video on the Teaching Gardens program, including footage of the young girl trying a Clementine for the very first time.
And the kids take [the message] home to their parents. I’ve gotten so many photos from kids who’ve gone home and made a little bit of space in the back and planted a tiny garden of their own. They take ownership.
NPH: How did the association with the film come about?
Kelly Meyer: I have a relationship with Universal Pictures and with the producer of the film and they gave us this opportunity to set up a beautiful garden at the premiere, and the kids got to plant and then they went to the movie and they learned it’s ultimately just about that one seed, whether it’s the literal seed for growing the last tree or the seed of an idea and its growth and how important it is to protect that.
When the movie was over, the kids ran and they couldn’t get back to the garden fast enough, and they wanted to plant more. And then, when we left the garden, we sent them all home with seedlings and I got many emails that kids had planted gardens with their parents and now they’re going to be growing vegetables together in their back yard. That was really exciting.
NPH: What’s next for you?
Kelly Meyer: I’m going to continue to focus on the Teaching Gardens because I want it to be successful. It’s not automatic. You don’t just ship it off and it’s done, it requires a lot of attention. I’d also like to broaden the concept that maintaining your environment and the environment of your body is directly related and connected to our general health.
A look at laws intended to reduce youth sports-related concussions was a focus of the recent Public Health Law Research annual meeting. Public Health Law Research is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation program at Temple University.
The issue is so critical that this year the MacArthur Foundation named a Kevin Guskiewicz, MD, a scientist involved in research to prevent catastrophic youth sports injuries as a MacArthur Fellow, which awards five-year, $500,000 grants to individuals “who show exceptional creativity in their work and the prospect for still more in the future.”
The 2011 fellows just began receiving their grant money last month, and Dr. Guskiewicz is one of several MacArthur Fellows whose works informs critical public health issues. NewPublicHealth will be speaking with these grant recipients over the next few months, and we begin that series with a conversation with Kevin Guskiewicz.
NewPublicHealth: Tell us about the scope of your work.
Dr. Guskiewicz: We’ve been studying recovery curves following concussions. We’re trying to better identify the best tools with which to assess concussions. More recently we’re trying to look at the biomechanics of concussion and the way in which youth athletes often lead with their head inappropriately. So they might predispose themselves to a concussion because they’re tackling incorrectly or hitting a soccer ball incorrectly or blocking incorrectly. I think we’ve done a good job of answering questions on what happens after they’ve had the injury. So now we want to try and focus on prevention.
NPH: How do you prevent concussions?
John Buse, MD, PhD, director of the Diabetes Care Center and chief of the Division of Endocrinology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, was just recently named the new chair of the National Diabetes Education Program (NDEP), a joint program of the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The role of NDEP, established in 1997, is to foster public and private partnerships to improve diabetes management and outcomes, to promote early diagnosis, and to prevent or delay the onset of type 2 diabetes in the U.S. Currently, nearly 26 million Americans have diabetes, and 79 million have prediabetes, which puts them at increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Over the next decade, an estimated forty million more U.S. adults could develop the condition.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Buse recently about his new position at NDEP.
NewPublicHealth: What innovations might you like to try at NDEP?
Dr. Buse: I think the program has been remarkably successful over almost 15 years. NDEP has developed a lot of materials, and the focus now is on working through partnerships to get the materials out there to a greater extent. Our research unit at UNC has done a lot of work with the pharmaceutical industry and clinical trials in diabetes and cardiovascular disease and I do think there’s an opportunity to partner with industry. They provide materials to primary care doctors and health care systems to use in patient education. They generally develop those materials themselves. I think there’s potentially an opportunity to have them use the NDEP materials with the NDEP being sort of an honest broker in developing educational programs free of undue influence from the pharmaceutical industry. So I think that’s a potential opportunity. The resources of NDEP are pretty modest compared to the scope of the diabetes problem, so leveraging our little tiny budget through partnerships is really the way to have an impact.
And as universal health care coverage is slated to come into existence in 2014, the improved access to care will create lots of opportunities to improve diabetes care and the education is really critical in that process. Health care systems and insurance plans and legislatures are looking more and more carefully at diabetes and obesity as major areas of cost and expenditures.
NPH: Can you tell us the key mandates of NDEP?
With the new year and many Spring school semesters starting, NewPublicHealth spoke with Harrison C. Spencer, MD, PhD, president and CEO of the Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) about what he sees ahead in 2012 for public health.
NewPublicHealth: Are you seeing increasing interest in the study of public health?
Dr. Harrison Spencer: Very much so. Both at campuses where there are schools of public health, as well as individual courses where there are not. The reasons for that include interest among students in academia, service and global health. The increasing interest is pushing us to rethink the continuum of public health education. As part of these efforts, in July, we released the final Undergraduate Public Health Learning Outcomes Model. ASPH gathered experts from public health and arts & sciences faculties to define what every undergraduate should know and be able to do to improve health and eliminate disparities in populations around the world.
We also convened the Summit on Undergraduate Education in Public Health in Washington, D.C. The summit brought together over 150 public health professionals and educators involved or interested in undergraduate education in public health to discuss emerging trends, curriculum models, education and career pathways, and more. We are already planning next year’s Summit on Undergraduate Education, which will be held October 27, 2012 in San Francisco.
>>Read more on workforce issues, and potential undergraduate training solutions, in our Q&A with Paul Jarris, Executive Director of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
NPH: What other public health education changes have come about recently?
Faces of Public Health is a recurring editorial series on NewPublicHealth featuring individuals working on the front lines of public health and helping keep people healthy and safe.
Cigarette and alcohol use by teens are at their lowest point since the Monitoring the Future survey began polling teenagers in 1975, according to this year’s survey results. But good news is tempered by a slowing rate of decline in teen smoking and continued high rates of abuse of hookahs, small cigars and smokeless tobacco, as well as marijuana and prescription drugs. According to the current survey, conducted annually by researchers at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research and funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse, more teens continue to abuse marijuana than cigarettes, and alcohol is still the top substance of choice.
Close to 50,000 students from 400 public and private schools participated in this year's survey. NewPublicHealth spoke with the survey’s principal investigator, Lloyd Johnston, PhD.
NewPublicHealth: What were key results in this year’s survey?
Lloyd Johnston: I think the most important stories were related to the most widely used products—tobacco, alcohol and marijuana. The decline in use among teens continued in all three grades we studies. For example, smoking declined from thirteen percent down to 12 percent, and while that’s a small decrease it translates into a lot of lives saved—perhaps 30,000 to 40,000 fewer kids smoking now.
NPH: What makes teens think marijuana is relatively safe?
The redesign of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website home page, launched last week, is a small part of the CDC’s social media efforts. NewPublicHealth spoke to Karen Morrione, Senior Adviser for Research and Strategy in the electronic media branch at CDC, about new efforts and the reasons they are important for helping improve health in the U.S.
NewPublicHealth: Why did CDC recently redesign its home page?
Karen Morrione: We wanted a much more modern look and I think we got it. We also wanted to make sure that we incorporated our social media into the home page.
NPH: What makes exposing site users to social media so prominently so critical?
Karen Morrione: One of the things we’ve learned from recent research is that people who need health information are typically getting that health information as much online and through social media as they are from their physicians. So, it’s important for CDC to be where people are looking for information. In fact, that has been our guiding vision in electronic media for quite some time. We want to be where our citizens are. We want to make sure that they have access to us no matter what channel they’re looking at and no matter how they prefer to consume their information. Electronic media is successful when it helps people make positive behavior change. And the most important thing is to have information that is evidence-based and is credible.