Category Archives: Violence

Nov 27 2013
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Think Safety as Thanksgiving—and Holiday Shopping—Approaches

file Photo Credit: tshein, via Flickr

Among the best pieces of advice people can look to today, the day before Thanksgiving, is a primer on safe food preparation from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, including a video on just how to stuff that turkey.

Additionally, when it comes to safety this holiday season, there are also ways to help keep yourself and your purchases safe as Thanksgiving morphs into Black Friday. Tech guru Shelly Palmer reported recently that, according to the New York City police department, 14 percent of crime in that city is linked to Apple computer products, while police in other cities note technology thefts of all kinds as the holiday shopping season gets into full swing. Apple is alerting buyers of the latest model iPhones that the devices now come with a security feature that requires a User ID and password to disable the "Find my Phone" feature, which helps police track down stolen phones. Tech experts say widespread use of the Apple feature can help deter theft--and possible harm--during a robbery.

Another thing to be aware of this shopping season, when people will be out and about on busy streets, is what's come to be known as the "Knockout Game," where the goal is knock a random person unconscious with a single punch. CNN and other news outlets have posted stories about reports of random violence in several U.S. and foreign cities, and at least one city is considering punishing juveniles found guilty of the attack as an adult rather than a child--which can mean years of jail time. However, The New York Times recently added its voice to the growing national discussion with a story questioning whether the "game" is in fact an urban myth, saying that it's possible these assaults are random acts of violence, and that even New York City police officials are still trying to determine the truth.

Nonetheless, while questions over the "game" remain, the assaults are very real. According to CNN, a police spokesman in Pittsburgh says people who appear distracted--such as those checking phones or listening to music through headphones--may be more vulnerable to attacks.

>>Bonus Link: The National Crime Prevention Council offers tips on safe holiday shopping, including shopping with a friend for added security.

Nov 13 2013
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Recommended Reading: The Gun Shop Project

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A presentation at the recent American Public Health Association (APHA) annual meeting, held last week in Boston, reported on the Gun Shop Project. The program of the New Hampshire Firearm Safety Coalition shares guidelines on how to avoid selling or renting a firearm to a suicidal customer with gun advocates, gun shop owners, mental health professionals and public health professionals. The Gun Shop Project also encourages gun stores and firing ranges to display and distribute suicide prevention materials tailored to their customers

“The science shows us that not only is suicide the leading type of death from a firearm, but having a gun in the home increases the incidence of suicide, femicide [shooting a woman], and the likelihood that people in the community will be shot. Many mass shootings, like those at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, involve the suicide of the shooter,” said David Hemenway, who spoke about the Gun Shop Project at the APHA meeting. “One way to prevent the shootings may be to prevent the suicide.”

He is a member of the Project’s team as director of the Injury Control Center at the Harvard School of Public Health, as well as a recipient of a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Award in Health Policy Research.

The ultimate goal of the coalition is to change social norms around gun use and to see the Gun Shop Project achieve results similar to the national effort to stop drunk driving.

“We want to work with the gun-owning community to create reasonable norms about when to get the guns out of the house,” Hemenway said. “If a neighbor is also a gun owner, for example, that neighbor could be asked to hold the firearms until another neighbor’s difficult period has passed. It’s the same idea as the ‘don’t let a friend drive drunk’ campaign. This can make a difference…”

Hemenway says the efforts of the Gun Shop Project are a growing national effort and partners include the U.S. Army, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and other groups working to reduce suicides by limiting access to lethal means at critical periods.

Read more about the Gun Shop Project.

Bonus Links:

  • Read a NewPublicHealth interview with David Hemenway on stopping gun violence conducted shortly after the Newtown, Ct. shootings last year.
  • Read a recent NewPublicHealth interview with former Surgeon General David Satcher, MD, MPH, who spoke about gun violence prevention at the recent APHA meeting.
Nov 11 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: November 11

Survey: Violence in PG-13 Films Tripled in Past Two Decades
When the movie rating PG-13 debuted, PG-13 movies and R movies tended to have about the same amount of gun violence. Today PG-13 sometimes have more gun violence than R movies, and the overall amount of gun violence in the movies approved for the younger demographic has more than tripled in the past two decades, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. The researchers looked at 945 films sampled from the 30 top-grossing films annually between 1950 and 2012. "It doesn't take a lot of imagination to figure out there are going to be disturbed kids who are going to see this kind of content," said Daniel Romer, of the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center in Philadelphia. "The problem for parents is they can no longer rely on the PG-13 rating to tell them there isn't a lot of violence in those films.” James Sargent, MD, from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth and the Norris Cotton Cancer Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire, who was not involved in the study, said the findings demonstrate that the Motion Picture Association of America needs "to go back to the drawing board and fix their rating system so those movies are rated R for violence." Read more on violence.

New Federal Rules Ensure Mental Health Treatment Equal to Physical Health in Health Plans
New rules issued by the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury on Friday will ensure that mental health is treated equal to physical health when it comes to co-pays, deductibles and visit limits that are features of health plans. Among the specific protections:

  • Ensuring that parity applies to intermediate levels of care received in residential treatment or intensive outpatient settings
  • Eliminating the provision that allowed insurance companies to make an exception to parity requirements for certain benefits based on “clinically appropriate standards of care,” which clinical experts advised was not necessary and which is confusing and open to potential abuse
  • Clarifying the scope of the transparency required by health plans, including the disclosure rights of plan participants, to ensure compliance with the law

“These rules will increase access to mental health and substance abuse treatment, prohibit discriminatory practices, and increase health plan transparency,” said Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez. “Ultimately, they’ll provide greater opportunities for affordable, accessible, effective treatment to Americans who need it.” Read more on access to health care.

Women of Limited Financial Means Often Wait to Seek Help with Breast Lumps
High costs of examination and treatment may be keeping younger women with limited finances from seeking early medical attention for breast lumps, according to a new study in the journal Cancer. Researchers found in a survey of women aged 40 and younger that while 80 percent found an abnormality in their breast on their own, 17 percent waited at least three months before seeing a doctor, with 12 percent of those who delayed treatment also having to wait at least 90 days between their appointment and receiving a diagnosis. Kathryn Ruddy, MD, of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said that future development of interventions should focus on this financial disparity that is also a health disparity. "The findings may lead to research focusing on whether reducing co-pays and hidden costs of seeking medical care—such as parking charges, child-care expenses and lost wages—may improve the timeliness of diagnosis in this population," she said. Read more on cancer.

Nov 6 2013
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Violence Prevention: Q&A with David Satcher

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David Satcher, MD, PhD, was a four-star admiral in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps and served as the 10th Assistant Secretary for Health and the 16th Surgeon General of the United States—at the same time. He was Surgeon General from 1998 through 2001, and under his tenure he tackled disparities in tobacco use and overall health equity, sexual health and—critically—youth violence.

Satcher was a key speaker in a recent American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting Town Hall Meeting on a global approach to preventing violence. NewPublicHealth spoke with Satcher about approaches to preventing violence as a public health issue.

NewPublicHealth: How do you take a public health approach to preventing violence?

David Satcher: When you take a public health approach, public health experts pose four questions:

  • First, what is the problem and what is the magnitude, the nature and distribution of the problem?
  • The second question is: what is the cause of the problem or the major risk factors for the problem?
  • The third question is: what can we do to reduce the risk of the problem?
  • And finally, how can we then implement that more broadly throughout society?

So, when we say we’re taking a public health approach, that’s what we’re talking about.

What we’ve tried to do and what we need more of is to really study the different causes of violence and violent episodes. They’re not all the same. I’ve dealt with a lot of the mass murders; I was Surgeon General when Columbine took place and the Surgeon General’s Report on Youth Violence in part evolved from that. And obviously there, as in most mass murders, we’re dealing with, among other things, mental health problems and easy access to weapons combined. I don’t think the same is necessarily true for gang violence, which causes thousands of deaths each year. With youth violence and gangs, I think there you’re dealing with a culture of insecurity where young people feel that in order to protect themselves they need to be members of gangs and they need to be armed.

Read more

Nov 6 2013
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Violence: Can We End the Epidemic?

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“We live in a culture of violence,” said Larry Cohen, MSW, founder and executive director of the Prevention Institute, in a morning session on violence prevention at the American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting, held this year in Boston, Mass.

“Just as air, water and soil affect our health, the social environment affects the spread of violence through our communities,” said Cohen.

One of the most important factors in the environment that influences the perpetration of violence is actually more violence. Basically, violence begets violence. It spreads like a disease.

“It’s like the flu,” said Gary Slutkin, MD, PhD, Founder and Executive Director of Cure Violence. “The greatest predictor of a case of the flu is a preceding case of the flu. It’s the same thing with violence. Violence is an infectious disease.”

Slutkin shared a study of one community that found that exposure to community violence in one form or another was associated with a 30 times increased risk of committing violence—but what was most striking is that statistic held true, even controlling for poverty, race, crowded housing and other factors that could have an impact on violence. The effect is also “dose dependent,” according to Dr. Slutkin. That is, the more violence you witness or experience, the more likely you are to perpetrate violence.

The good news is that “we know how to prevent epidemics,” said Slutkin. “We need to recognize that this is a preventable problem. We need to build a movement,” agreed Cohen.

Cure Violence focuses on the very same steps used to prevent the spread of infectious disease in their work to help prevent the spread of violence:

  1. Detect and interrupt the transmission of violence, by anticipating where violence might occur.
  2. Change the behavior of those most at risk for spreading violence.
  3. Change community norms to discourage the use of violence as an acceptable and even encouraged way to handle conflict.

Read more

Nov 4 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: November 4

Firearm Injuries Cost $16B in U.S. Health Care in Less than a Decade
Firearm injuries cost more than $16 billion in hospital care between from 2000 to 2008, according to new research to be presented today at the American Public Health Association’s 141st Annual Meeting in Boston. The 275,939 victims spent approximately 1.7 million days in the hospital, for an average stay of 6.7 days and an average cost of medical treatment of $59,620. About one in three patients did not have insurance. “The impact is probably much higher than $16 billion since the years of life lost, disability, lack of productivity, societal well-being and emotional turmoil associated with such injuries is far-reaching,” said Min Kyeong Lee, DMD, Annual Meeting presenter. “This is one of the foremost reasons why health care costs in this country have gotten out of control and underlies the need for better preventive policies.” Read more on violence.

Study: Secondhand Smoke in the Workplace Down Overall, But Certain Groups Still at Risk
While recent policies and regulations have helped reduce the overall exposure rates of secondhand smoke in the workplace, certain professions continue to experience high rates, according to new findings to be presented today at the American Public Health Association’s 141st Annual Meeting. The study looked at exposure rates in Massachusetts since 2004, when its Smoke-Free Workplace Law was enacted to require all enclosed workplaces to be smoke free. However, that means that workers in installation, repair and maintenance still experience an overall secondhand smoke exposure rate of 37.4 percent; the national rate in 2010 was 5.4 percent. “We’re seeing a steady decline in prevalence of exposure, but it’s clear that there are still specific groups of workers that deserve our attention,” said Kathleen Fitzsimmons, MPH, lead researcher of the study. “Findings like these that combine information about occupation and environmental tobacco smoke provide helpful information for evaluating comprehensive statewide smoke-free workplace laws and for targeting interventions to reduce risks.” Read more on tobacco.

Study: HPV Screenings Better than Pap Tests at Protecting Against Invasive Cervical Cancer
Human papillomavirus (HPV) screenings are both more effective than Pap tests when it comes to screening against invasive cervical cancer, according to a new study in the journal The Lancet. Researchers analyzed the results of four clinical trials in Europe covering more than 175,000 women ages 20 to 64. The studies tracked them women for an average of 6.5 years after one of the screening types, finding that they were about equal in protection levels for the first 2.5 years, but that following that short time frame HPV screening provided as much as 70 percent greater protection. The findings were particularly significant in women ages 30 to 35. Read more on cancer.

Oct 21 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 21

Administration: Half a Million Have Applied for Health Insurance Under Affordable Care Act
Despite problems with the Healthcare.gov online portal, approximately half a million people have applied for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Enrollment for all 50 states and the District of Columbia opened on October 1. As many as 7 million uninsured Americans are ultimately expected to receive coverage through the program. However, as soon as the site launched users began to experience error messages and other technological glitches; the administration pointed to the unexpectedly high volume of visitors as the reason for the problems. "The website is unacceptable, and we are improving it, but the product is good and across the country people are getting access to affordable care starting January 1," said an administration spokesperson, according to Reuters. On the other hand, an article in Politico points out that the numbers being reported are only a piece of the puzzle because the number of people who applied does not equate to the number of people who "actually completed the process of choosing and enrolling in a health plan." And, according to Politico, "Extensive 'glitches'...with the online marketplaces known as exchanges have made it impossible for most people to get all the way through the signup process, even after filling out the initial online application."Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Study: Friendships Formed on Social Networking Sites Can Help Smokers Quit
The strong supportive bonds formed on social networking sites can help people in their efforts to quit smoking, according to a new study in the Journal of Communication. "I found that people who join health-based social networking sites are able to quit smoking and abstain for longer periods of time because of the sense of community they build with other members," said study author Joe Phua, an assistant professor in the department of advertising and public relations at the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Researchers surveyed 252 members of six health-centric websites, finding that the friendships formed online “seemed to boost users' sense of empowerment with respect to their ability to stop smoking for good,” according to HealthDay. Phua said the online support sites are effective because they are cheap and easy to access, while also providing a connection to “a larger and credible community” of people working to quit tobacco. Read more on tobacco.

Study: Spankings Tied to More Behavior Problems in Elementary School
Spankings of five-year-old children are tied to increased behavior problems in elementary school, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Led by Michael MacKenzie, from Columbia University in New York, the researchers analyzed long-term data on approximately 1,900 children, finding that spankings by moms at least twice a week were tied to a two-point increase on a 70-point scale of problem behavior. They also found that regular spankings by fathers were tied to lower scores on vocabulary tests. Elizabeth Gershoff of the University of Texas at Austin, who was not a part of the study, said that while the findings are difficult to interpret, "There's just no evidence that spanking is good for kids. Spanking models aggression as a way of solving problems, that you can hit people and get what you want,” she said. “When (children) want another kid's toy, the parents haven't taught them how to use their words or how to negotiate." Read more on violence.

Oct 14 2013
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Up for Debate: Changing the U.S. Emphasis on Competitive Youth Sports

A recent article in The Atlantic on the history of competitive sports among American kids led The New York Times to write a wide-ranging debate on the pros and cons of competitive sports for kids and teenagers. The pivotal question: Do competitive sports overwhelm childhood or enhance it?

It’s an important debate. Sports can represent a gateway to a life of enjoyable exercise, good for both the heart and mind. But they also pose, as currently played, some significant risks. These include the risk of injury or even death and unhealthy competitive traits, all of which can be a turn-off for physical activity of all kinds for kids made to play and practice against their will.

Those weighing in on the Times’ debate pages include the head of Little League International, who says sports teach kids valuable lessons; a sociologist who says that since so few kids ever make their living in professional sports, we need a greater emphasis on education than athletics; and the head of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, who says that most children's bodies are not capable of playing one sport day after day, for years on end, and because of this many kids have bone and joint injuries.

>>Bonus Links: Read NewPublicHealth interviews on preventing concussions in youth sports with MacArthur fellow Kevin Guskiewicz, and Robert Faherty, VP and Commissioner of the Babe Ruth youth baseball league.

Oct 8 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 8

AHA: Health Care Providers Should Emphasize Healthy Behaviors in Cardio Care
When it comes to treating cardiovascular health, health care providers should place just as much emphasis on correcting healthy behaviors as they do addressing the physical indicators of the risk for heart disease, according to a new statement from the American Heart Association (AHA). “We’re talking about a paradigm shift from only treating biomarkers — physical indicators of a person’s risk for heart disease — to helping people change unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, unhealthy body weight, poor diet quality and lack of physical activity,” said lead author Bonnie Spring, PhD, a professor of preventive medicine and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University in Chicago. “We already treat physical risk factors that can be measured through a blood sample or a blood pressure reading in a doctor’s office, yet people put their health at risk through their behaviors. We can’t measure the results of these behaviors in their bodies yet.”

The AHA’s recommended “five A’s” to patient treatment:

  • Assess a patient’s risk behaviors for heart disease.
  • Advise change, such as weight loss or exercise.
  • Agree on an action plan.
  • Assist with treatment.
  • Arrange for follow-up care.

AHA’s goals for 2020 include improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent, while also reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent. Read more on heart health.

Study: 1 in 10 Youth Admit to Sexual Violence
Approximately one in 10 teenagers and young adults admit to sexual violence, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. Researchers said violent pornography may be partially to blame for the acts, which included coercive sex, sexual assault and rape, and most often with a romantic partner. What’s more, about two in three said the act was never discovered, so there was never a punishment. "We know a bit about youth who are victims of sexual violence, but we don't know much at all about youth as perpetrators," said study co-author Michele Ybarra, president and research director of the Center for Innovative Public Health Research in San Clemente, Calif. "It's important we know more if we're going to reduce the sexual-violence rate." Ybarra said sexual-violence-prevention programs should emphasize the understanding of explicit consent and the tactics of coercive sex. "They may say, 'Unless you have sex with me, I'm going to go have sex with someone else,’” said Angela Diaz, MD, MPH, director of Mount Sinai Hospital's Adolescent Health Center. "Young people have to learn that if their partner says that, maybe they're better off if they do go somewhere else." Programs should also focus on the role of the bystander and the importance of reporting incidents. Read more on violence.

Salmonella Outbreak Sickens 278 People in 18 States
Approximately 278 people in 18 states have become sick from a salmonella outbreak linked to raw chicken products, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The products were produced at three California plants owned by Foster Farms and distributed mostly to retailers in California, Oregon and Washington state. Local, state and federal health officials made the connection. While the outbreak is “ongoing,” there is currently no recall as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with state health departments to monitor the matter while the Food Safety and Inspection Service investigated the outbreak. Read more on food safety.

Sep 30 2013
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‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’: Early Life Events that Can Damage our Adult Health

“Thanks to decades of neuroscience research on brain development, adversity and toxic stress, we now understand how a child who is exposed to violence, or neglect, or homelessness at an early age may develop behavioral and physical health problems later in life,” said Jane Lowe, Senior Adviser for Program Development at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). “We can now use this rapidly evolving knowledge to create real-world solutions.”

RWJF.org recently pulled together a collection of resources on “adverse childhood experiences”—how common they are and what they can mean for the adults those traumatized children become. The website includes an infographic that illustrates the subject:

NewPublicHealth has previously written about the importance of addressing and changing youth violence, so that these behaviors don’t become even more severe—and more damaging—while spreading from act to act and person to person. In a Q&A, RWJF Director Kristin Schubert, MPH, spoke about the Foundation’s approach to the issue of violence prevention and strategies in the field that are working to create change.

“We know that the child who was abused is that much more likely to be a victim or perpetrator of bullying a few years down the line, and then is that much more likely to be a victim or perpetrator of dating violence a few years later in high school, and then is much more likely to be a part of more family violence later on. There’s no form of violence that stands alone,” she said. “It’s a multigenerational phenomenon that is passed down.

“This context is so essential—in considering why someone engages in violent behavior, it’s important to recognize that it’s not just the ‘bad apple,’ it’s not the person. It’s the behavior. As Gary Slutkin of CeaseFire says, ‘Violence is a learned behavior.’”

Schubert pointed to the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, which found that the more “adverse” events a child faces in their youth—from maltreatment to neglect to abuse to witnessing violence—the more likely they are to have health problems later in life. That includes hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

>>Read the full NewPublicHealth interview.

>>Read more about Adverse Childhood Experiences.