Category Archives: Transportation
It has been a busy month for the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Car safety innovations released by the organization in just the last few weeks include:
- A free app to help consumers find the safest cars when buying or renting, as well as nearby sites for car seat installation services and checks.
- New guidelines for auto-makers to help reduce the use of electronic devices while driving, and with that reduce the number of people killed and injured by distracted driving every day. A recent NHTSA survey found that 600,000 drivers talk on their cell phones or use electronic devices at any given daylight moment. More than 3,300 people were killed in 2011 and 387,000 were injured in crashes involving a distracted driver, according to NHTSA data.
- A reminder that during the spring and summer highway construction kicks into high gear and drivers need to pay attention to road changes and warnings. In 2011, the most recent year for which data are available, 587 people died in highway work-zone fatalities—an increase of 11 fatalities over 2010.
There’s good reason for NHTSA’s steady supply of information and action. Recent statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has designated the high motor vehicle injury rate as a winnable battle, shows that in the United States, motor vehicle-related injuries are the leading cause of death for people age 5 through 34.
CDC: Daily Caloric Intake Down, But Obesity Rates Still Rising
Obesity rates continue to climb despite the fact that U.S. adults are consuming fewer and fewer calories, according to a survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention appearing in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Average daily caloric intake dropped by 74 from 2003 to 2010, after rising 314 calories from 1971 to 2003. About 35 percent of U.S. adults are obese. "It's hard to reconcile what these data show, and what is happening with the prevalence of obesity," said co-author William Dietz, MD, former CDC director of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. Read more on obesity.
Agencies Outline Responsibilities for Restoring Public Transportation after a Disaster
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that outlines the roles and responsibilities of both agencies in providing federal assistance to repair and restore public transportation systems in areas the president has declared a major disaster or emergency. “After disasters hit, our federal, state and local partners must be able to move quickly and make the necessary repairs to our nation’s transit systems, roads, rails and bridges,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. FEMA will continue to have primary federal responsibility for emergency preparedness, response and recovery in major disasters and emergencies. The new emergency relief authority provides FTA with primary responsibility for reimbursing emergency response and recovery costs after an emergency or disaster that affects public transportation systems and for helping to mitigate the impact of future disasters. Read more on transportation.
Exercise Can Improve Self-Control in Kids, Young Adults
Short bursts of exercise—such as a half hour of running—can help youth and young adults improve their self control, according to a new study in the journal British Journal of Sports Medicine. "Tests conducted immediately after short bouts of exercise showed a clear improvement among higher-order functions like self-control, a cognitive [brain] function that is really important for daily activities in terms of both social life and academic performance," said lead author Lot Verburgh, a doctoral candidate in the department of clinical neuropsychology at VU University in Amsterdam. The results could help in the treatment of disorders associated with impaired inhibition, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism. Read more on exercise. If exercise can also be linked to long-term improvement in higher-order mental processes, exercise may soon be not only a treatment option for heart disease patients and individuals looking to control their weight, but also for ADHD and Alzheimer's patients," said Ali Weinstein, an assistant professor and deputy director of the Center for Study of Chronic Illness and Disability at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Read more on mental health.
CNN: President Will Call for Wider Gun Control
CNN is reporting that when President Obama releases his list of gun control proposals later today, they will include a ban on assault weapons, restrictions on high-capacity ammunition magazines, stronger background checks for people purchasing guns and increased funding for U.S. mental health services and school safety efforts. Read more on violence.
DOT Proposes Minimum Sound Rules for Hybrid, Electric Cars
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is proposing minimum sound standards for electric and hybrid cars to help make pedestrians and bicyclists more aware of the cars when the vehicles are approaching.
According to DOT, electric and hybrid vehicles do not rely on traditional gas or diesel-powered engines at low speeds, making them much quieter and more difficult to hear when they approach people walking or biking. DOT estimates that the proposals could result in 2,800 fewer pedestrian and cyclist injuries over the life of each model year of hybrid cars, trucks and vans and low speed vehicles, compared to vehicles without sound.
New sounds for the cars created by car manufacturers would need to be detectable under a wide range of street noises and other ambient background sounds when the vehicle is traveling under 18 miles per hour. A sixty day comment period on the new proposals begins today. Read more on safety.
New NIH-Supported Alzheimer's Studies to Focus on Prevention and Innovative Treatments
With a goal of effectively treating and preventing new cases of Alzheimer’s disease by 2025, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced funding for four major studies: drug and exercise interventions for people in the early stages of the disease, a new drug to reduce agitation in people with the disease, and a new approach to faster testing of drugs in clinical trials. Read more on aging.
Public Health Law Research (PHLR), a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, will hold its annual meeting in New Orleans this week. NewPublicHealth will be on the ground covering sessions on research in public health law as well as posting interviews with conference speakers including Thomas Farley, MD, MPH, Health Commissioner of New York City and Pamela Hyde, JD, administrator of the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
In advance of the conference, NewPublicHealth spoke with Diana Silver, PhD, MPH, assistant professor of public health at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University. Silver’s research looks at the impact of public and private services on health and well-being for children and families, especially in urban America. Her presentation at the PHLR annual meeting is called “Are More Laws Better?” with a specific look at what has happened to traffic fatalities between 1980 and 2009 as new laws have been implemented in some parts of the country.
NewPublicHealth: Tell us about your research on laws and traffic fatalities.
Diana Silver: The motivating idea here was that there are multiple laws at the state level that govern traffic safety. Some deal with alcohol, some deal with restraining children one way or another in the car, some are about the vehicle itself such as seatbelts or speed limits. The laws vary at the state level, and they create, in some sense, really different environments that people are exposed to. We have now categorized across 30 years 25 different laws in all 50 states.
What we found is that there are some laws that virtually all states have adopted, mostly because there’s been a federal mandate to do so, like a minimum legal drinking age. But many laws vary across states, and so we were interested to find out what factors predicted whether a state would pick up new laws and how quickly they would do that. Then, how do these different packages predict, or are they associated with reductions in motor vehicle fatalities?
NPH: How was your research different than other research that looks at this data?
The Transportation Research Board, a division of the National Research Council, is holding its annual meeting this week including a critical session later today that will bring together several subcommittees to talk about the intersection of transportation and health.
>>Read our coverage from last year’s Transportation Research Board meeting.
Ed Christopher, who is with the Federal Highway Administration Resource Center Planning Team and co-chair of the health subcommittee, says that over the last ten years people in the transportation sector have become more aware of the connections between health and transportation including physical activity, safety, air quality, equity, and access, but that collaboration is still in its early stages. “Health and transportation professionals often come from different scientific backgrounds and have separate institutional structures,” says Christopher. Today’s session bring together the health subcommittee along with several others including committees on policy, legal resources, safety and public transportation.
Christopher says the session will help “demystify” the connections between health and transportation, and identify promising opportunities for research and collaboration.
The keynote speaker at today’s session is Andrew Dannenberg, MD, MPH, an Affiliate Professor at the University of Washington’s School of Public Health Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences and the Department of Urban Design and Planning in the College of Built Environments.
Dr. Dannenberg is also a consultant to and former team lead of the Healthy Community Design Initiative at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, where he works on activities related to the health aspects of community design including land use, transportation, urban planning, and the built environment. In advance of today’s meeting, NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Dannenberg about synergies between transportation and health.
NewPublicHealth: What is the intersection of health and transportation and why does it matter?
New York City’s new schedule app for several of the city’s subway lines joins similar apps and online schedules introduced in cities around the U.S. that can help people more accurately plan their travel timetables --and maybe even get in some exercise. Transportation planners say that giving easily accessible and real time bus and subway schedules can increase public transportation use because it allows a traveler to accurately plan the time it takes for a trip.
San Francisco has had an app similar to the one just introduced in New York since 2008, according to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal. And other cities provide travel information online and accessible by smartphone. According to the American Public Transportation Association, real time information is one reason for a growth of almost 3 percent in public transportation use in the U.S. during 2012. Cost savings is another reason people are switching to public transportation, according to APTA, which calculated that public transit users saved about $800 during the month of December compared to the cost of owning and using a car. APTA calculated full year savings for the last year at close to $10,000.
And unless there’s a bus or subway stop right in front of the house, public transportation often adds physical exercise for its users. The closest public transportation stop for many NewPublicHealth staffers, for example, can add 1,000 steps of walking each day.
Bonus Link: Read a NewPublicHealth interview with Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Spencer gave up her car when she took the job at CNCS and moved from Florida to Washington, D.C. and now walks to work and meetings.
Study: Doctors Say they Need Help Counseling Obese Patients
A survey by researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health found that only 44 percent of primary care physicians reported success in helping obese patients lose weight. The survey included 500 general practitioners, family practitioners and general internists and the responses show that primary care physicians overwhelmingly support additional training such as nutrition counseling and practiced-based changes such as having scales report body mass index to improve obesity care. Read more on obesity.
New Allocations for School-Based Health Centers Announced
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced awards of more than $80 million to 197 school-based health center programs around the country. School-based health centers generally provide primary care, mental health care, substance abuse counseling, case management, dental health, nutrition education, health education and health promotion activities. Read more on school health.
Department of Transportation Offers Research Grants for Universities
The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Transportation Administration is providing $72.5 million in funding for eligible colleges and universities to establish and operate University Transportation Centers (UTCs). Past projects have included a study that identified economic benefits using public-private partnerships for construction of the I-73/74 National Highway System Corridor in West Virginia, and a study from the University of South Florida that helped developed an app for GPS-enabled cell phones to assist riders with disabilities navigate public transportation systems. Read more on transportation.
Walmart, Sears and other big retailers kicked off a new Thanksgiving trend this week: the stores will open their doors Thanksgiving evening for Black Friday sales, attracting dedicated bargain shoppers. But a thoughtful and well researched article in the Atlanta Journal Constitution published earlier this week might make you think twice: if you’ve been drinking alcohol during dinner (or are drowsy from turkey tryptophan) and head straight to the car, you pose a risk to yourself and others on the road. And that risk accelerates if you’re scanning your smart phone from the steering wheel, looking for the best buys in your neighborhood.
As you get ready for the marathon shopping night leading into the biggest shopping day of the year, APHA’s Public Health Newswire offers some suggestions for a safe, healthy and drama-free Thanksgiving. The tongue-in-cheek article offers fun tips on how to safely discuss controversial health issues with extended family, as well as more serious public health hints, including proper food safety steps and how to consider health without counting calories.
These hints will help you leave the dinner table alive. And above all have a safe, healthy Thanksgiving!
NewPublicHealth continues a series of conversations with local public health directors on the issues that impact their work and the health of their communities. Recently, we spoke with David Fleming, MD, MPH, public health director of Seattle and King County in Washington State. Dr. Fleming talked with us about how transportation innovation can impact the health and prosperity of a community.
>>Check out an INFOGRAPHIC on the connection between transportation and health.
>>Hear from Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood on how transportation impacts public health.
NewPublicHealth: How is transportation innovation making a difference in the health of communities in Seattle/King County?
Dr. Fleming: We’ve started with transit-oriented development such as increasing bike and walking paths, which provides opportunities for physical exercise for many folks that want to do it, but haven’t been able to. It draws a larger number of people into activities and helps them exercise routinely. And in addition to increasing physical activity, you’re also increasing safety, reducing injuries, increasing the social capital in the community, getting better connections between community residents and from an economic development standpoint, you’re creating jobs and increasing property values, and therefore, improving one of the underlying social determinants of health.
NPH: What other examples of transit-oriented housing and community development can you tell us about in Seattle/ King County and what have you learned from them?
Complete streets, mass transit and active communities were the buzzwords at a well-attended APHA session on Tuesday, dealing with the role of planning and built environment to improve health outcomes.
Several presenters took turns describing physical activity, public transportation and urban planning in different areas of the United States and how policies implementing these strategies can improve the public’s health.
Mary Thomas, of the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, noted that 1 out of every 3 children, and 2 out of every 3 adults in her city are obese – which was one of the reasons San Antonio decided to implement a Complete Streets policy to promote healthy living and safe mobility.
Thomas noted that the implementation of the Complete Streets policy required collaboration on a larger scale than the city had ever seen: “We used an interagency work group, with every group from the Public Work Departments, to the Office of Environmental Policy, to Parks & Rec, to the Office of Historic Preservation. There was a lot of collaboration. This was probably the first time all these groups had come together in San Antonio.”