Category Archives: News roundups

Mar 26 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 26

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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.

Mar 25 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 25

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Overweight Teens Should Start Healthy Eating by Cutting Down on Salt
Overweight or obese teenagers who eat lots of salty foods shows signs of faster cell aging, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology & Prevention/Nutrition, Physical Activity & Metabolism Scientific Sessions 2014. Previous research found that protective ends on chromosomes (telomeres) naturally shorten with age, but the process is accelerated by smoking, lack of physical activity and high body fat. This study is the first to examine the impact of sodium intake on telomere length.

In the study, 766 people ages 14-18 were divided into the lowest or highest half of reported sodium intake. Low-intake teens consumed an average 2,388 mg/day, compared with 4,142 mg/day in the high-intake group. Both groups consumed far more than the 1,500 mg/day maximum (about 2/3 teaspoon of salt) recommended by the American Heart Association. After adjusting for several factors that influence telomere length, researchers found that in overweight/obese teens, telomeres were significantly shorter with high-sodium intake. In normal weight teens, telomeres were not significantly different with high-sodium intake.

“Even in these relatively healthy young people, we can already see the effect of high sodium intake, suggesting that high sodium intake and obesity may act synergistically to accelerate cellular aging,” said Haidong Zhu, MD, PhD, lead author of the study and assistant professor of pediatrics at Medical College of Georgia, Georgia Regents University in Augusta, Ga. “Lowering sodium intake may be an easier first step than losing weight for overweight young people who want to lower their risk of heart disease. The majority of sodium in the diet comes from processed foods, so parents can help by cooking fresh meals more often and by offering fresh fruit rather than potato chips for a snack.” Read more on heart health.

DOT Awards Grants to Improve Transportation for American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes
The U.S. Department of Transportation is awarding $5 million to 42 American Indian and Alaska Native tribes in 19 states for projects to improve transit service, in addition to $25 million in funds announced recently to help improve public transit service on rural tribal lands and better connect tribal members and other residents with jobs, education, and other opportunities.

“We fully recognize that residents on tribal lands and in surrounding communities often face significant transportation challenges, as many cannot afford to own a vehicle, or fill the tank, and yet must travel long distances to reach basic services,” said Federal Transit Administration head Therese McMillan. “We want to ensure that everyone who needs a ride to earn a paycheck, attend school, see the doctor, or buy groceries has that opportunity.” Read more on transportation.

Health Providers Should Prescribe Sleep for People with Metabolic Disorders
A new study in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology finds that insufficient or disturbed sleep is associated with metabolic disorders such as type 2 diabetes and obesity, and addressing poor quality sleep should be a target for the prevention—and even treatment—of the disorders. According to the study authors, addressing some types of sleep disturbance—such as sleep apnea—may have a directly beneficial effect on patients' metabolic health, but a far more common problem is people simply not getting enough sleep, particularly due to the increased use of devices such as tablets and online games. The authors say that early studies are starting to provide evidence that there is a direct causal link between loss of sleep and the body's ability to metabolize glucose, control food intake, and maintain its energy balance. Read more on obesity.

Mar 24 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 24

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Some Will Be Able to Enroll After March 31 Affordable Care Act Deadline
Some people will be able to enroll for coverage under the Affordable Care Act after the official enrollment deadline of March 31, according to new guidelines expected to be issued by the Obama administration. The new guidelines would allow people had previously tried to enroll by were prevented by systems problems such as technical difficulties, according to Reuters. "Open enrollment ends March 31. We are preparing for a surge in enrollment, and if consumers are in line on the 31st and can't finish, we won't shut the door on them. To be clear, if you don't have health insurance and do not start to sign up by the deadline, you can't get coverage again until next year," said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters in a statement. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Study: Alcohol-Related Vehicle Crashes Greatly Underreported
Alcohol is a far greater factor in U.S. motor vehicle deaths than has been reported, according to a new study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. Using  Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) data from the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, researchers determined that in the decade from 1999 to 2009 while only a little more than 3 percent of the death certificates for traffic deaths included alcohol as a contributing cause, about 21 percent of the deaths were legally drunk. Approximately 450,000 Americans were killed in traffic crashes during the period. The time that it takes coroners to take and process blood alcohol tests could be a reason for the underreported figures. Ralph Hingson, Sc.D., of the U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, said the vast discrepancy demonstrates the need for more reliable data. "We need to have a handle on what's contributing to the leading cause of death among young people," he said in a release. "You want to know how big the problem is, and if we can track it. Is it going up, or going down? And what policy measures are working?" Read more on alcohol.

NIH Identifies Genetic Markers Tied to Stroke, Cardiovascular Disease
Researchers and the National Institutes of Health have identified a genetic variant linked to increased risk for stroke, as well as a metabolic pathway tied to several common diseases, which taken together could improve how doctors identify and treat major diseases. “Our findings have the potential to identify new targets in the prevention and treatment of stroke, cardiovascular disease and many other common diseases,” said Stephen R. Williams, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Virginia Cardiovascular Research Center and the University of Virginia Center for Public Health Genomics, Charlottesville. The genetic markers were found through the analysis of nearly 5,000 genomes. The results were published in the journal PLoS Genetics. About 600,000 Americans die of heart disease each year—one in every four deaths—and stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death in the United States. Read more on heart health.

Mar 21 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 21

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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.

Mar 20 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 20

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Study: School Hearing Tests Cannot Detect Adolescent High-Frequency Hearing Loss
School-administered hearing tests cannot detect the sort of adolescent high-frequency hearing loss associated with exposure to loud noises, according to a new study in the Journal of Medical Screening. Researchers at Penn State College of Medicine compared the results for 282 11th graders of a special hearing screening designed to detect noise-related high-frequency hearing loss with the results of the standard Pennsylvania school hearing test. Each tests for the ability to hear a tone at a specific loudness. "More participants failed the initial screening than we predicted," said study author Deepa Sekhar, assistant professor of pediatrics, in a release, "Even with the effort and care put in by school nurses across the state, the current Pennsylvania school screen just isn't designed to detect high-frequency hearing loss in adolescents," adding "The results of this study have the potential to reach schools across the nation, as many use screens similar to those used in Pennsylvania schools." Read more on pediatrics.

HUD Gives $1.8B to Support 3,100 Public Housing Authorities
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded almost $1.8 billion to approximately 3,100 public housing authorities across all 50 states, as well as the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The grants, which come through HUD’s Capital Fund Program, will go toward building, repairing, renovating and modernizing public housing, from large scale improvements such as replacing roofs or smaller tasks such as energy-efficient upgrades. “This funding is critically important to public housing agencies as they work to provide the best housing possible for their residents,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. There are 1.1 million public housing units in the United States. Read more on housing.

New Heart Health Guidelines Would Increase Adults Eligible for Statins to 12.8M
New guidelines from the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association (ACC–AHA) for the treatment of cholesterol would increase the number of adults who would be eligible for statin therapy by 12.8 million, according to a new study in the New England Journal of Medicine. Roughly half of the U.S. population between 40 and 75 years of age—or 56 million people—would be eligible. Most of the increase would be among older adults without cardiovascular disease. Read more on heart health.

Mar 19 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 19

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HHS: Common Sports Injuries Mean High Costs for People Without Insurance
The ASPE Office of Health Policy, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), has released a new issue brief analyzing the incidence and average health care charges associated with common sports injuries. The injuries range from minor sprains and strains to more serious injuries such as broken bones and concussions, where direct medical bills can be significant, placing an especially heavy burden on people without health insurance. Such individuals could be made to pay not just out-of-pocket costs, but also providers’ full stated charges. Breaking down health care costs by age and sometimes gender, the brief found, for example, that the average cost to fix a leg fracture for a person 10-19 years old was $4,689 and for those ages 25-40 was $3,403. Read more on injury prevention.

CDC: Drexel Meningitis Death Linked to Princeton Outbreak
Researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have confirmed through “genetic fingerprinting” that a Drexel University student who died March 10 from meningitis died from the same serogroup B meningococcal strain that previously caused an outbreak at Princeton University. Health department officials confirmed that the Drexel student had been in close contact with Princeton students a week before becoming ill, indicating that the strain may still be present in the Princeton University community. Health officials have already administered antibiotic prophylaxis to prevent additional cases of meningococcal disease in people who had been close to the Drexel student. No new cases have since been reported. Read more on infectious diseases.

Study: ICU Survivors Face Heightened Risk for Mental Health Problems
Critically ill people who survive a stay in a hospital intensive care unit (ICU) are at heightened risk for mental health problems such as depression and anxiety in the following months, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Examining the records of more than 24,000 Danish ICU patients, researchers found that in the three months post-discharge that about 0.5 percent had a new diagnosis—which was 22 times higher than the rate in the general population. Approximately 13 percent received a new prescription for a psychiatric medication, including antidepressants and drugs for anxiety and insomnia, during that period. Researchers said the findings indicate that as doctors become better at saving the lives of critically ill patients, more people will also be at risk for problems beyond their physical health. Read more on mental health.

Mar 18 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 18

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Study: Prescriptions for Opioids Steadying After Nearly Tripling over Two Decades
After nearly tripling from 1991 to 2010—from 76 million annually to 210 million annually—prescriptions for opioid analgesics in the United States are stabilizing, according to a new reporting in the journal Public Health Reports. Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health attributed much of the success to stopping the soaring number of prescriptions to state-implemented prescription drug monitoring programs (PDMPs). “We found that PDMPs administered by state health departments appeared to be more effective than those administered by other government agencies, such as the bureau of narcotics and the board of pharmacy, ” said senior author Guohua Li, MD, professor of epidemiology and director of the Center for Injury Epidemiology and Prevention. Read more on prescription drugs.

Study: Mother’s Monitoring of Kids’ Media Consumption Tied to Changes in Weight
Children whose mothers pay more attention to their kids’ media habits—how much time they spend watching television or playing video games—are more likely to weigh less than children who do not receive the same sort of supervision, according to a new study in JAMA Pediatrics. Researchers found that kids with mothers who monitored their media consumption were thinner at age seven and gained less weight over the following few years. While the authors said they cannot point to the exact reason for the relationship, possibilities include vigilant mothers who encourage more physical activity and the fact that the kids are exposed to fewer food advertisements. The study used a questionnaire to asses 112 mothers, 103 fathers and their 213 children; media monitoring by fathers was not linked to weight gain or loss. Stacey Tiberio, the study's lead author from the Oregon Social Learning Center in Eugene, told Reuters Health that the results emphasize the important role that early adolescence plays with weight.  "It's basically a one-way door," she said. "If you are obese by middle childhood, you have an increased likelihood of staying in that group." Read more on obesity.

Finding Unlisted Milk Protein, FDA Announces Recall of Certain Simply Lite Chocolate Products
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has announced a recall of certain lots of Simply Lite brand dark chocolate bars after finding significant amounts of milk protein, which the product does not list as an ingredient. FDA testing found more than 3,500 parts per million of milk protein in single 3-ounce bars of the chocolate—or the equivalent found in about 4 teaspoons of whole milk. People with milk allergies or sensitivity to milk could have serious or even life-threatening reactions to the product. Consumers with questions about food safety can contact the FDA at 1-888-SAFEFOOD Monday through Friday between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time. Go here for complete information on the recall. Read more on food safety.

Mar 17 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 17

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Poison Prevention Week 2014
March 16-24 is Poison Prevention Week this year, and an important opportunity to remind health officials and consumers about the resources provided by the National Poison Prevention Program and Hotline (1-800-222-1222). The National Poison Control Program is a program of the Health Resource Services Administration (HRSA). Programs include:

  • Poison centers serving all states, Puerto Rico, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Federated States of Micronesia and American Samoa.
  • A single, national toll-free number (1-800-222-1222) that connects callers with the poison center serving their area.
  • A nationwide media campaign to educate the public and health care providers about poison prevention, poison center services and the 1-800 number.
  • Programs to support the enhancement and improvement of poison education, prevention and treatment.
  • Partnership development with other federal agencies and national organizations to advance poison prevention awareness.
  • Development of uniform patient management guidelines so that poison centers can provide uniform treatment recommendations.
  • Improvement of data collection systems and toxic exposure surveillance for enhanced capability to capture national poisoning data.
  • Multilingual interpreter service in 161 languages to anyone who calls the 1-800 number. 

Read an FAQ on assistance available from the Poison Prevention Program for consumers and health providers. Read more on prevention.

Colon Cancer Incidence Rates Decreasing Steeply in Older Americans
Colon cancer incidence rates have dropped 30 percent in the United States in the last 10 years among adults 50 and older because of the widespread use of colonoscopies, according to a new study in CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. The largest decrease has been in people over age 65. Colonoscopy use has almost tripled among adults ages 50-75, from 19 percent in 2000 to 55 percent in 2010. The study relied on data from the National Cancer Institute's Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) program and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's National Program of Cancer Registries.

The "larger declines among Medicare-eligible seniors likely reflect higher rates of screening because of universal insurance coverage," according to the study authors. Mortality rates from colon cancer have also declined most rapidly within the past decade. From 2001 to 2010, death rates from colon cancer decreased by approximately 3 percent per year in both men and women, compared with declines of approximately 2 percent per year during the 1990s. The data is being released as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services launches a nationwide effort to increase colorectal cancer screening rates to 80 percent by 2018. Read more on cancer.

DOT Proposed Rules on Electronic Log Books for Large and Bus Drivers to Help Reduce Fatalities and Injuries
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has announced a proposal to require interstate commercial truck and bus companies to use Electronic Logging Devices (ELDs) in their vehicles to improve compliance with the safety rules that govern the number of hours a driver can work. According to DOT, the proposed rule will ultimately reduce hours-of-service violations by making it more difficult for drivers to misrepresent their time on logbooks and—significantly—help reduce crashes by fatigued drivers and prevent approximately 20 fatalities and 434 injuries each year, for an annual safety benefit of $394.8 million. Impaired driving, including fatigue, was a factor in more than 12 percent of the 129,120 total crashes that involved large trucks or buses in 2012. Read more on injury prevention.

Mar 13 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 13

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Hypertension Often Untreated in U.S. Hispanic Community
A new study in the American Journal of Hypertension finds that there is too little recognition and control of hypertension among the Hispanic population of the United States.

The new data comes from the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latino, a longitudinal study of 16,415 Hispanics/Latinos, ages 18 to 74 years from four communities in the U.S. (Bronx, Chicago, Miami, and San Diego). Measures including hypertension levels and whether patients were on hypertension medications were collected between 2008 and 2011 and then followed up last year.

The study also found that the prevalence of hypertension in the Hispanic community increased with age, and was highest among those with Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Dominican backgrounds.

Read more on heart health.

USDA Funds News Childhood Obesity Prevention Programs at Three Universities
The National Institute of Food and Agriculture of the U.S. Department of Agriculture has given grants to childhood obesity prevention projects at three U.S. universities:

  • University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn. for "Get Fruved:" A peer-led, train-the-trainer social marketing intervention to increase fruit and vegetable intake and prevent childhood obesity
  • Tufts University, Boston, Mass., for a “kids-only" retail coupon study to promote healthy snack options among adolescents in convenience stores.
  • Winston-Salem State University, Winston-Salem, N.C., for a program works with 10-12 year-old children from low income families.

Read more on obesity.

Almost Half of U.S. Population Lives in Jurisdictions that Strengthened Gun Laws in 2013
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia strengthened their gun laws in the year following the Newtown school shooting, according to a new review from the Johns Hopkins University press, Updated Evidence and Policy Developments on Reducing Gun Violence in America.

Among the changes in the last year was legislation at the state level to reduce intimate partner violence offenders’ access to firearms.

Read more on injury prevention.

Mar 12 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 12

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Robert Wood Johnson and CDC Foundations Launch New Project on Using Law and Policies to Help People Make Healthier Choices
The Robert Wood Johnson and CDC Foundations have announced the launch of a new project to advance discussion about how laws and policies can assist people in making healthier choices. Subject matter experts will work with federal partners to develop 10 to 15 evidence-based reports during the next three years to highlight laws and policies related to specific topic areas within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Healthy People 2020 initiative. Healthy People 2020 is a set of goals and objectives with 10-year targets designed to guide national health promotion and disease prevention efforts aimed at improving the health of all people in the United States.

The new project, which will be led by the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) at HHS, will provide practical information to public health officials and associations; health-related industries; legal practitioners; non-profit organizations; policymakers; and individuals about the use of law and policy to address health factors:

  • ODPHP will provide leadership and support for the development of the reports.
  • CDC will provide technical guidance on the development of specific reports and collaborate with public health partners and communities to promote knowledge and understanding of the reports.
  • RWJF will provide public health law and policy expertise.
  • The CDC Foundation will manage administration and implementation of the project and amplify the results to stakeholders through communications efforts.

“The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation believes that law and policy are important levers for building a culture of health in our nation,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. “We’re pleased to collaborate with leaders in public health and government to focus attention on policies based on the best science to help achieve the national health goals set out in Healthy People 2020—strategies that all states and communities can use to help people live healthier lives.” Read more on prevention.

FDA Approves Marketing of First Migraine Prevention Device
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized the marketing of the first device designed to stop migraine headaches before they happen. The preventative treatment is a small, portable prescription device that uses an electrical current to stimulate branches of the trigeminal nerve, which has been associated with migraine headaches. An estimated 10 percent of people suffer from migraines, which if untreated can last from four to 72 hours and lead to nausea, vomiting and sensitivity to light and sound. In a release, Christy Foreman, director of the Office of Device Evaluation at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, said Cefaly “may help patients who cannot tolerate current migraine medications for preventing migraines or treating attacks.” Read more on technology.

HHS: 4.2 Million Have Signed Up for Coverage Under the Affordable Care Act
Just a few weeks before the final deadline of March 31, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced that more than 4.2 million people have enrolled in the Health Insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. Approximately 943,000 enrolled in February. Of the 4,242,300 who have enrolled:

  • 55 percent are female and 45 percent are male;
  • 31 percent are age 34 and under;
  • 25 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34;
  • 63 percent selected a Silver plan (up one percentage point over the prior reporting period), while 18 percent selected a Bronze plan (down one point)
  • 83 percent selected a plan and are eligible to receive Financial Assistance (up one point)

Read more on the Affordable Care Act.