Category Archives: Health disparities
Mistrust, Perceived Discrimination Affect Young Adult Latinos’ Satisfaction with Health Care
Mistrust of the medical community and perceived discrimination can affect how satisfied young adult Latinos are with their health care, which in turn can influence health outcomes, affect participation in health care programs under the Affordable Care Act and contribute to disparities in health care access, according to a new study in The Journal of Rural Health. Researchers surveyed 387 young adult Latinos, ages 18-25, finding that approximately 73 percent were moderately or very satisfied with their health care, but among those who were not, medical mistrust and perceived discrimination were found to be factors. The researchers recommend improving “cultural competency” among health care providers—from the doctors to the receptionists to the lab technicians—to help ensure Latinos are treated with respect and dignity, and also that a bilingual/bicultural workforce may be more effective at building trust. “Trust is huge; it allows patients to disclose concerns and be honest,” said study co-author S. Marie Harvey, associate dean and professor of public health at Oregon State University in a release. Read more on health disparities.
FDA Approves First Sublingual Home Treatment for Hay Fever
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first sublingual—or under the tongue—allergen extract for use in the United States. Designed to treat hay fever with or without conjunctivitis that results from exposure to certain grass pollens in people ages 10-65, the first dose is administered in a health care providers office so that the patient can be observed for any adverse reactions, but can then be taken at home. Approximately 30 million Americans and 500 million people worldwide are affected by hay fever, also known as allergic rhinitis, which can cause repetitive sneezing; nasal itching; runny nose; nasal congestion; and itchy and watery eyes. “While there is no cure for grass pollen allergies, they can be managed through treatment and avoiding exposure to the pollen,” said Karen Midthun, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in a release. “The approval of Oralair provides an alternative to allergy shots that must be given in a health care provider’s office.” Read more on the FDA.
New Report Analyzes Link Between Metro Areas and Overall Health
People who live in compact, connected metropolitan regions are more likely to see their incomes rise, have lower household costs, have more transportation options and live longer, safer and healthier lives, according to Measuring Sprawl 2014, a new report from Smart Growth America and the University of Utah’s Metropolitan Research Center. The report looks at 221 major U.S. metropolitan areas, ranking them based on how sprawling or compact they are as well as examining how sprawl relates to factors such as economic mobility; the cost of housing and transportation; life expectancy; obesity; chronic disease and safety. “Smart growth strategies are about making life better for everyone in a community,” said Geoff Anderson, President and CEO of Smart Growth America. “If policymakers are looking for ways to lower costs for their constituents, improve public health and support their broader economy, they need to be thinking about how to improve their development.” Read more on community health.
Study: ‘White Coat Effect’ on Blood Pressure is Real
The “White Coat Effect” is real, according to a new study in the British Journal of General Practice. The effect, wherein a person’s blood pressure is higher when taken by a doctor than when taken by a nurse, has long been assumed, but this is the first study to confirm it. The study analyzed the results of more than 1,000 people who had their blood pressure taken by both a physician and a nurse, finding the results of the physician-administered tests were noticeably higher. "Doctors should continue to measure blood pressure as part of the assessment of an ill patient or a routine check-up, but not where clinical decisions on blood pressure treatment depend on the outcome,” said Christopher Clark, MD, of the University of Exeter Medical School, in a release. “The difference we noted is enough to tip some patients over the threshold for treatment for high blood pressure, and unnecessary medication can lead to unwanted side-effects.” Clark also noted that researchers should also take these findings into account when performing studies on topics such as hypertension. Read more on heart health.
Black, Latina Breast Cancer Patients More Likely to Struggle with Health Care-Related Debt
Black and Latina breast cancer patients are far more likely than their white counterparts to have medical debt as a result of treatment or to skip treatments due to costs, according to a new study in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. In a survey of 1,502 patients, researchers determined that 9 percent of whites, 15 percent of blacks, 17 percent of English-speaking Latinas and 10 percent of Spanish-speaking Latinas reported medical-related debt four years post diagnosis. The study said the findings should “motivate efforts to control costs and ensure communication between patients and providers regarding financial distress, particularly for vulnerable subgroups.” Read more on health disparities.
Lawsuit Challenges New York City’s Ban on E-Cigarettes
A “smoker’s rights” group called New York City Citizens Lobbying Against Smoker Harassment has filed a legal challenge to the city’s ban on electronic cigarettes—or e-cigarettes—in restaurants, parks and certain other public places. The group contends that since e-cigarettes do not contain tobacco or produce smoke, they should not be subject to New York City’s Smoke-Free Air Act. The city council expanding regulations to include e-cigarettes last year and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has announced its intention to propose government regulations over their use. In the lawsuit, the group wrote that "E-Cig regulation is, even in the Council's words, at best, tangentially related to the subject of smoking, in much the same way that toy water guns are at best tangentially related to authentic firearms.” However, city council spokeswoman Robin Levine said by email to Reuters that "Our legislation ensures the goals of the Smoke-Free Air Act are not undermined and protects the public against these unregulated substances.” Read more on tobacco.
Louis W. Sullivan, MD, former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George H.W. Bush, recently wrote a memoir, Breaking Ground: My Life in Medicine, that offers a wide view of Sullivan’s experiences as a medical student in Boston, the founding dean of the Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta and as the country’s chief health officer. NewPublicHealth recently sat down with Sullivan to discuss the book and his thoughts on the history and future of improving the nation’s health.
NewPublicHealth: Looking back, what can you share about the highlights of your career in medicine and health promotion?
Louis Sullivan: Highlights would certainly include my time at the Boston University School of Medicine. That had many significant points. It was my first time living in an integrated environment because up until that time I spent all of my life in the South. Working in an environment without concerns about discrimination and bias, that was a great experience; my classmates and the faculty at Boston University were all welcoming.
Another highlight was later when I was a research fellow in hematology in the Harvard unit at Boston City Hospital. I had a paper accepted for presentation at a major research conference in Atlantic City. It was a paper showing that heavy drinking suppressed the production of red blood cells by the bone marrow.
And of course a tremendous highlight was going back to Morehouse College, my alma mater, to start the Morehouse School of Medicine. I was returning home in a sense. I had gained experience as a faculty member at Boston University, had been steeped in medicine and now I was in the process of establishing a new institution to train young people for the future.
NewPublicHealth: What changes have you created and supported to improve population health.
Sullivan: Well, certainly becoming Secretary of Health and Human Services was indeed an honor and a great opportunity for me, and it was also a very challenging experience.
In the late ‘80s, when I became Secretary, AIDS was a new disease. There were many demonstrations by various advocacy groups, groups that didn’t trust the government, and we had to work to develop a relationship with them. I convinced President Bush to put $1.6 billion in his budget to be used for research on this new disease, to develop mechanisms for treating the disease and to educate the public. And as a result of that initial investment and ones that followed, this disease has been transformed from a virtual death sentence to a chronic disease which is controlled by medication. And people, rather than living a few months, which was the case once the diagnosis was made in 1989, are now living for decades with the virus suppressed on medication, raising their families, working, earning wages, paying taxes. So that has been really a very satisfying outcome from that experience. And we hopefully are close to finding a cure for this disease as well.
Study Finds Dramatic Increase in Opioid Prescriptions by Emergency Rooms
The past decade has seen a dramatic increase in opioid analgesic prescriptions by emergency rooms, despite only a modest increase in pain-related complaints, according to a new study in the journal Academic Emergency Medicine. Using data from the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey (NHAMCS) from 2001 and 2010, researchers found that there was a 49 percent increase in prescriptions for potentially addictive narcotic painkillers such as OxyContin, Percocet and Vicodin. Approximately 12 million Americans abused prescription painkillers in 2010 and approximately 15,000 die annually due to overdoses, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more on prescription drugs.
Study: Many Chronically Ill Adults Forced to Decide Between Medicine, Food
Chronically ill adults who due to financial instability lack consistent access to food are far more likely to underuse or even skip their medications completely, according to a new study in The American Journal of Medicine. Researchers analyzed data of 9,696 adults with chronic illness who participated in the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), finding that 23.4 percent reported cost-related medication underuse, while 18.8% percent reported food insecurity and 11 percent reported both. Hispanic and non-Hispanic blacks were at the highest risk. "The high overall prevalence of food insecurity and cost-related medication underuse highlights how difficult successful chronic disease management in the current social environment is," said lead investigator Seth A. Berkowitz, MD, Division of General Internal Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, in a release. "These findings suggest residual unmet needs for food-insecure participants and thus have clear implications for health policy." Read more on health disparities.
FDA Approves Implantable Device for Adults with a Certain Type of Hearing Loss
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first implantable hearing device for adults with severe or profound sensorineural hearing loss of high-frequency sounds in both ears, but who can still hear low-frequency sounds with or without a hearing aid. Sensorineural hearing loss is the most common form of hearing loss and can be caused by aging, heredity, exposure to loud noise, drugs that are toxic to the inner ear and certain other illnesses. “Hearing loss greatly impacts the education, employment, and well-being of many Americans,” said Christy Foreman, director of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in a release. “This device may provide improved speech recognition for people with this kind of hearing loss, who have limited treatment options.” Read more on technology.
Don’t judge a change agent by its vinyl. Free to Be You and Me, a blockbuster hit album of the 70s and beyond, and still widely available on most music platforms, was the "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga of its time, with songs, stories and ideas that told kids they could be whoever they wanted.
Stars who recorded songs for the album included Mel Brooks and Diana Ross. Songs included “Parents are People,” about the many professions open to men and women and sung by album creators Marlo Thomas and Harry Belafonte, as well as “It’s Alright to Cry” sung by football player Rosie Grier.
“We wanted to let children know that their wildest dreams were not just OK, but wonderful—and completely achievable,” said Thomas at a recent anniversary celebration for the album at the Paley Center for Media in New York City.
The television special, filled with skits on gender neutrality, is still a popular kids’ birthday gift, in part because many of the issues it speaks to—especially advancement opportunities and equality—are still being grappled with today:
- According to a recent Institute of Medicine report, African Americans live, on average, five years less than other Americans.
- According to the Society for Women’s Health Research, in some cases critical data on sex, age, race and ethnicity does not exist for new drugs, biologics and devices. For instance, women made up less than one-third of the participants in clinical trials on three different coronary stents (which open up blockages), even though 43 percent of patients with coronary heart disease are women.
- According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, in 2012 female full-time workers made only 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, a gender wage gap of 23 percent.
>>Bonus Link: Watch a panel discussion among several of the original Free to Be You and Me stars filmed earlier this month at the Paley Center.
Majority of Youth C. Difficile Infections Linked to Doctor Visits
Antibiotics prescribed in a doctor’s office for other conditions are associated with the majority of Clostridium difficile infections, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) determined that 71 percent of the cases for youth ages 1-17 were linked to the visits, rather than to overnight stays in health care facilities; two-thirds of adult cases are linked to hospital stays. The findings raise the profile of ongoing efforts to reduce unnecessary prescriptions. “Improved antibiotic prescribing is critical to protect the health of our nation’s children,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “When antibiotics are prescribed incorrectly, our children are needlessly put at risk for health problems including C. difficile infection and dangerous antibiotic resistant infections.” Read more on prescription drugs.
Study: Even Slightly Elevated Blood Pressure Can Do Cardiovascular Damage Over Time
Even slightly elevated blood pressure that does not rise to the clinical definition of hypertension can do cardiovascular damage over time, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center analyzed blood pressure data on more than 4,600 participants, all of whom had their readings tracked over 25 years from young adulthood to middle age. They placed the participants in five blood pressure trajectory categories:
- Low-stable: blood pressure that starts low and stays low
- Moderate-stable: blood pressure that begins only slightly elevated and stays that way
- Moderate-increasing: blood pressure begins only slightly elevated and increases over time
- Elevated-stable: blood pressure that starts at elevated levels, but does not increase
- Elevated-increasing: blood pressure that begins elevated and increases over time
The study determined that participants in the moderate-stable group were 44 percent more likely to have coronary artery calcification than those in the low-stable group. Read more on heart health.
Study: Men Die Earlier in More Patriarchal Societies
Gender differences when it comes to mortality rates are higher in more patriarchal societies, meaning women’s rights are good for men’s health, according to a new study in the American Psychological Association’s Evolutionary Behavioral Sciences. Utilized sociodemographic and mortality data from the World Health Organization, researchers from the University of Michigan (UM) School of Public Health found that men living in the top 25 percent most-patriarchal societies were 31 percent more likely to die than men in the least patriarchal quartile, compared to mortality rates for women. Researchers noted that the study only included societies with infrastructures capable of providing reliable data, so the difference could be even more pronounced. Possible explanations include:
- Males in societies where they are more socially dominant tend to engage in riskier behaviors that can lead to death.
- These societies tend to have more resources and social status concentrated in a smaller group of elite men, and men with greater control of resources and social status historically have had more reproductive success.
- In their quest for social dominance, men will go up against other men to gain power and engage in forms of competitive, and sometimes dangerous, behavior.
"Gender inequality is inherently related to inequality in general, and this is bad for both men and women's health, though especially harmful to men in increasing the risk of death," said UM researcher Daniel Kruger. Read more on health disparities.
Georgia State University College of Law Names Ten Faculty Fellowships to Promote Public Health Law Education
The Georgia State University College of Law and its Center for Law Health & Society have announced ten faculty fellows to participate in the Future of Public Health Law Education: Faculty Fellowship Program. “This fellowship program is an extraordinary opportunity to promote innovative teaching, create a supportive community of practice and share best practices in teaching public health law,” said Charity Scott, JD, MSCM, Catherine C. Henson Professor of Law and director of the Center for Law, Health & Society. “The fellows’ projects will serve as models for innovation in public health law education and the resources developed will be shared with other law and public health faculty nationally.” The program is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Among the five faculty members serving as mentors will be Mary Crossley, JD, professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, who NewPublicHealth previously spoke with about her role in the Scholars in Residence program. Read more on public health law.
Study: Better Boundaries, Enforcing Rules Can Improve Kids’ Sleep Health
Parents can improve their children’s sleep habits and overall health by setting boundaries around electronics use, enforcing rules and setting a good example, according to new findings from the National Sleep Foundation’s (NSF) Sleep in America poll. The annual study began in 1991, with the 2014 poll focusing on sleep practices and beliefs of the modern family with school-aged children. “For children, a good night’s sleep is essential to health, development and performance in school,” said Kristen L. Knutson, PhD, University of Chicago. “We found that when parents take action to protect their children’s sleep, their children sleep better.” The NSF recommends that children ages 6-10 get 11 hours of sleep per night, although the poll found that parents estimate their kids in that age group only get about 8.9 hours. The poll also found averages of 8.2 hours for kids ages 11-12, 7.7 hours for ages 13-14 and 7.1 hours ages 15-17; NSF recommends between 8.5 and 9.5 hours for each of those groups. Read more on pediatrics.
Stress of Racism Tied to Obesity in Black Women
Frequent experiences of racism are associated with a higher risk of obesity among African-American women, according to a new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Researchers analyzed data from the Black Women's Health Study, a longitudinal study of approximately 59,000 African-American women who were tracked beginning in 1995, finding that the psychosocial stress associated with long-term experience with racism can result in dysregulation of neuroendocrine functions that influence the accumulation of excess body fat. Yvette C. Cozier, DSc, MPH, assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University who led the analyses, said in a release that work-place- and community-based programs to combat racism and interventions to reduce racism-induced stress could help prevent and combat obesity in high-risk communities. Approximately half of African-American women are obese, which raises their risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, orthopedic problems, and death. Read more on health disparities.
WIC Expands to Offer More Options to 9 Million Poor Women and Children
Newly announced changes to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children—also known as WIC—will expand access to fruits, vegetables and whole grains for approximately 9 million poor women and young children. The changes include an increase over 30 percent, or $2 per month, in the allowance for each child's fruit and vegetable purchases. They also allow fresh produce instead of jarred infant food for babies. The changes, which were recommended by the Institute of Medicine, mark the first comprehensive revisions to the voucher program allowances since 1980. Read more on nutrition.
Survey Finds Majority of Hispanic Adults Are Not Confident in Their Understanding of Key Insurance Terms
While the majority of white, non-Hispanic adults feel confident in their understanding of key insurance terms, the same cannot be said for Hispanics. According to the Urban Institute’s Health Reform Monitoring Survey (HRMS), only one in four Hispanic adults express confidence in their understanding of terms such as “premium,” “copayment” and “deductible.” This disparity is an impediment to Affordable Care Act marketplace and Medicaid enrollment. The findings demonstrate the need for culturally appropriate education campaigns and bilingual navigators to provide assistance in target communities. The quarterly HRMS is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Read more on health disparities.
New Program to Train Police Officers in Bleeding Control for Mass Casualty Victims
As part of ongoing efforts to increase the number of survivors of active shooter or mass casualty incidents, more than 36,000 police officers across the country will receive bleeding control kits and training this year. The goal is to train officers to slow or stop bleeding at the scene before other first responders arrive. The five-step “THREAT” approach:
- T - Threat suppression
- H – Hemorrhage control
- RE – Rapid Extrication to safety
- A – Assessment by medical providers
- T – Transport to definitive care.
The initiative is led by the Hartford Consensus, a collaborative group of trauma surgeons, federal law enforcement and emergency responders, and driven by the American College of Surgeons, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Major Cities Chiefs Association and the Prehospital Trauma Life Support program. “Controlling hemorrhage has to be a core law enforcement tactic,” said Alexander Eastman, MD, MPH, FACS, chief of trauma at UT Southwestern/Parkland Memorial Hospital and Dallas Police Department lieutenant, in a release. “We saw the dramatic impact of this tactic in the Tucson, Ariz. shooting in 2011. With training and tourniquets, law enforcement officers will save lives – many lives.” Read more on violence.
New Study Shows Latinos of Different Origins Can Have Different Diseases, Risk Factors
A review of a recent study, the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos (HCHS/SOL) that enrolled about 16,415 Hispanic/Latino adults, finds diversity among Latinos not only in ancestry, culture and economic status, but also in prevalence of certain diseases, risk factors and lifestyle habits. The study was done among Latinos living in San Diego, Chicago, Miami, and the Bronx, N.Y., who self-identified with Central American, Cuban, Dominican, Mexican, Puerto Rican, or South American origins.
- The percentage of people who reported having asthma ranged from 7.4 (among those of Mexican ancestry) to 35.8 (among those of Puerto Rican ancestry).
- The percentage of individuals with hypertension ranged from 20.3 (South American) to 32.2 (Cuban).
- The percentage of people eating five or more servings of fruits/vegetables daily ranged from 19.2 (Puerto Rican origin) to 55.0 (Cuban origin). Also, men reported consuming more fruit and vegetables than women.
- Women reported a much lower consumption of sodium than men among all Hispanic groups represented in the study.
- About 1 in 3 individuals had pre-diabetes, also fairly evenly distributed among Hispanic groups.
- Only about half of individuals with diabetes among all Hispanic groups had it under control.
A second study among the same population will start in October 2014 to reassess certain health measurements and understand the relationship between the identified risk factors during the first visit and future disease in Hispanic populations. Read more on health disparities.
Study: Acetaminophen During Pregnancy Tied to Increased Risk for ADHD, HKDs in Kids
Children whose mothers used acetaminophen during pregnancy are at higher risk for developing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)–like behavioral problems or hyperkinetic disorders (HKDs), according to a new study in JAMA Pediatrics. Researchers analyzed data on 64,322 children and mothers enrolled in the Danish National Birth Cohort from 1996 to 2002, finding that approximately 56 percent of the mothers reported acetaminophen use during pregnancy. Their children were 37 percent more likely to be diagnosed with an HKD, 29 percent more likely to be prescribed ADHD medications and 13 percent more likely to exhibit ADHD-like behaviors at age 7. Approximately five to six percent of babies born today will develop ADHD symptoms at some point in their lives. Jorn Olsen, MD, one of the study's authors and a professor of epidemiology at UCLA and at Aarhus University in Denmark, noted that the risk was relatively modest, but that “for women who are pregnant and who have not taken these drugs, I think that the take-home message would be a lot of the use of these particular drugs during pregnancy is not really necessary," according to Reuters. Read more on maternal and infant health.
Stigma Remains Powerful Barrier Impeding Mental Health Care for Many
The stigma surrounding mental health continues to remain a very real and very serious barrier keeping many people from seeking the health care they need, according to a new study in the journal Psychological Medicine. The analysis, from researchers at King’s College London and funded in part by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, combined the results of 144 studies including more than 90,000 people from around the world. Approximately 25 percent of people are estimated to have mental health problems, but only 75 percent of those in the United States and Europe seek treatment; delays in treatment are linked to worse outcomes for many mental health disorders, such as psychosis, bipolar disorder, major depression and anxiety disorders. The study pointed specifically to “treatment stigma” (the stigma associated with using mental health services or receiving mental health treatment) and “internalized stigma” (shame, embarrassment) as the most significant barriers, as well as concerns about confidentiality, wanting to handle the problem by themselves and not believing they needed help. "We now have clear evidence that stigma has a toxic effect by preventing people seeking help for mental health problems,” said Professor Graham Thornicroft, from the college’s Institute of Psychiatry and the study’s lead author. “The profound reluctance to be ‘a mental health patient’ means people will put off seeing a doctor for months, years, or even at all, which in turn delays their recovery." Read more on mental health.
Last year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released updated national Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services (CLAS) in Health and Health Care to help health organizations improve care in diverse communities.
When the updated standards were released, Howard K. Koh, MD, MPH, the Assistant Secretary for Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), said “the enhanced CLAS Standards provide a platform for all persons to reach their full health potential.” Koh added that the updated CLAS Standards provide a framework for the delivery of culturally respectful and linguistically responsive care and services. By adopting the framework, health professionals will be better able to meet the needs of all individuals at all points of contact.
“As our nation becomes increasingly diverse, improving cultural and linguistic competency across public health and our health care system can be one of our most powerful levers for advancing health equity,” said Nadine Gracia, MD, MSCE, and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Minority Health and Director of the HHS Office of Minority Health.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Gracia about the updated standards and opportunities that efforts to increase health equity can bring to the health of individuals and communities.
NewPublicHealth: How does cultural respect help improve health in diverse communities?
Nadine Gracia: As we see the growing diversity of our country and the persistence of health disparities, really having everyone engaged in the discussion of health equity and the attainment of the highest level of health for all people is vital. Culture and cultural respect are really important when we talk about health equity as well as quality of care, and that’s because culture really influences health beliefs and practices. It influences one’s health-seeking behaviors and attitudes and the experience that someone may have in a health care setting.
So, it is essential that providers and health care delivery institutions understand the critical role that they play in providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services. We define those services as ones that are respectful of and responsive to an individual’s cultural health beliefs, their preferred languages, their health literacy levels and their communication needs. They are really applied by and employed by all members of an organization at every point of contact.
Culturally and linguistically appropriate services are essential when we talk about the health care encounter because they are increasingly recognized as being effective in improving the quality of services and increasing patient safety by preventing miscommunication; facilitating accurate assessment and diagnosis of a patient’s condition; and enabling everyone engaged in health services to truly develop an accurate and effective treatment plan.