Aug 5 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 5

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Crowdsourcing Apps as Effective at Experts in Providing Healthy Food Information
Crowdsourcing healthy food information and feedback via smartphone apps can be as effective as working with trained experts, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. Researchers used 450 photos of food/drink uploaded onto the Eatery app by 333 unique users in Europe and the United States, comparing the “healthiness” ratings from the app’s users to those from three public health students training in dietary assessment. The results were similar and both were in line with national dietary guidance. "Crowdsourcing has potential as a way to improve adherence to dietary self-monitoring over a longer period of time," wrote the researchers. "The results of this study found that when basic feedback on diet quality by peer raters is crowdsourced, it is comparable to feedback from expert raters, and that peers can rate both healthy and unhealthy foods in the expected direction.” Read more on nutrition.

HUD: $106M to Improve Home Visiting Programs for Pregnant Women, Parents of Young Children
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded nearly $106 million to expand voluntary, evidence-based home visiting services for pregnant women and the parents of young children. Forty-six states, the District of Columbia and five jurisdictions will share the funding from the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program; home visits have been shown to prevent child abuse and neglect, while promoting childhood health and development. “These awards allow states to reach more parents and families in an effort to improve children’s health while at the same time building essential supports within their communities,” said Mary Wakefield, PhD, RN, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, in a release. Read more on maternal and infant health.

Study: Hepatitis C Could Be ‘Rare’ In the U.S. By 2036
A new computer model indicates that improved medicine and screening regimens could make hepatitis C a “rare” disease in the United States within the next two decades, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Currently approximately one in every 100 people in the United States are infected with the virus, which is a liver infection that can cause fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and other symptoms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers determined that this incidence rate could drop to approximately one in every 1,500 people by 2036 based on current and continuing improvements in treatment, and recommend a greater emphasis on identifying at-risk and infected patients. Read more on infectious disease.

Aug 4 2014
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Total Worker Health: Getting and Staying Healthy in the Workplace

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For the last several years, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been promoting a concept called “Total Worker Health,” which combines safety programs to prevent accidents on the job with health promotion programs such as smoking cessation. The idea is that emerging evidence recognizes that both work-related factors and health factors that are often beyond the workplace together contribute to many health and safety problems for employees and their families.

A new report in the CDC’s latest Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) shows why the combination can be critical, finding that the risk for coronary heart disease (CHD) and stroke is higher for blue-collar and service workers than it is for white-collar workers. Studies have suggested that before, but the new MMWR recommends strategies that companies can implement to reduce that risk.

In the new report, CDC researcher Sarah Luckhaupt, MD, analyzed National Health Interview Survey data for 2008-2012. She found that the prevalence of a history of CHD or stroke among people ages 18 to 55 was 1.9 percent for employed adults, but among the employed the risk was 40 percent higher in blue-collar workers (e.g. construction workers and truck drivers) and 53 percent higher in service workers (e.g. hairdressers and restaurant servers). Luckhaupt says that job stress, shift work, exposure to particulate matter, noise and secondhand smoke are all likely contributing factors to the higher rates of CHD and stroke.

In a conversation with NewPublicHealth, Luckhaupt said that employers can help improve the health profiles of employees by using the Total Worker Health program, launched by CDC and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health three years ago as a guideline for workplace wellness programs. CDC now publishes quarterly reports on effective Total Worker Health programs established by employers across the United States. Recent examples include:

  • Live Well/Work Well at the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in N.H., which aims to improve worker safety and health at the medical center.
  • Hearing loss prevention at the Domtar Paper Company in Kingsport, Tenn., and the 3M manufacturing plant in Hutchinson, Minn., which address both noise reduction exposure on the job and in the community.
  • A “Culture of Health” at Lincoln Industries, a manufacturing factory in Lincoln, Neb., which includes companywide stretching for 15 minutes every day to help prepare the muscles that will be used on the job; massage therapists who assess and treat people who may be at risk for injury; an on-site clinic for health maintenance, wellness coaching and acute care; counseling and support programs; and social and fitness events.
Aug 4 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 4

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EBOLA UPDATE: Nigeria Confirms Second Ebola Case
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Nigeria today confirmed its second case of Ebola amidst an epidemic that has so far killed more than 700 people in West Africa. Liberia has also ordered the cremation of all bodies of people who die from Ebola, in response to communities concerned over having the bodies buried nearby. However, even as the virus continues to spread in West Africa, Anthony S. Fauci, MD, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has told NBC that the risk posed by the return of the Ebola-infected health workers to the United States is "infinitesimally small.” The second U.S. patient is scheduled to arrive for treatment tomorrow. Read more on infectious disease.

HHS: New Committee to Advise on Children’s Health During Disasters
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced the formation of a new federal committee to advise on children’s health issues during natural and manmade disasters. The National Advisory Committee on Children and Disasters’ contributions will include comprehensive planning and policies to meet kids’ health needs before, during and after disasters and other public health emergencies. The committee, formed under the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013, includes 15 members selected from 82 nominations. Seven are from outside the federal government and 8 are from within (the full list is available here). "Ensuring the safety and well-being of our nation's children in the wake of disasters is vital to building resilience in every community,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell, in a release. “We look forward to working with the committee toward this common goal." Read more on disasters.

Toledo Lifts Ban on Drinking Water; 400,000 Residents Affected Over the Weekend
The town of Toledo, Ohio, has lifted the ban on drinking water implemented over the weekend after dangerously high levels of algae were found in Lake Erie. The Great Lake provides much of the area’s drinking water. Approximately 400,000 residents were affected by the ban. Read more on water and air quality.

Aug 1 2014
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Faces of Public Health: Bill Kohl, PhD

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Harold W. “Bill” Kohl, PhD, a professor of epidemiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health is in the midst of a three-year appointment to the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition (PCFSN) Science Board. Kohl’s role is to provide recommendations in the areas of program development and evaluation, which is critical to the Council’s mission to engage, educate and empower all Americans across to adopt a healthy lifestyle that includes regular physical activity and good nutrition. During his time at the School of Public Health, Kohl has been researching effective uses of social networking to create demand for healthy lifestyles among youth and working with organizations to promote disease prevention, physical activity and exercise as a health priority.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Kohl about the work of the President’s Council.

NewPublicHealth: Is the current mission of the President’s Council different than it was in the past?

Bill Kohl: There has been a shift. The President’s Council started in the 1950s as the result of a small study that suggested that American kids are not as fit as kids in Eastern bloc countries—Russia, primarily. The President’s Council started under President Eisenhower and then President Kennedy’s administrating sought to increase kids’ fitness by doing fitness testing in schools and promoting physical activity and physical education.

That wound its way through the ‘60s and ‘70s. Then in the ‘80s there was a much bigger rush to health-related physical fitness rather than skill-related fitness activities—things that you can actually change and that are related to health outcomes compared to fitness skills you might be born with, such as the ability to run a 50-yard dash.

Then, most recently, the Council has included nutrition in his mission and been renamed.

NPH: How does your background inform your new role?

Kohl: As chair of the science board, my job is to make sure that the President’s Council has the most up-to-date science that’s relevant to its mission and advancing initiatives that are evidence-based.

Read more

Aug 1 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 1

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EBOLA UPDATE: CDC Issues Travel Warning for Three African Countries
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 3 Travel Warning for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, calling for Americans to avoid nonessential travel to the West African countries due to the growing Ebola outbreak. CDC officials are also on the ground:

  • Tracking the epidemic including using real-time data to improve response
  • Improving case finding
  • Improving contact tracing
  • Improving infection control
  • Improving health communication
  • Advising embassies
  • Coordinating with the World Health Organization and other partners
  • Strengthening Ministries of Health and helping them establish emergency management systems

“This is the biggest and most complex Ebola outbreak in history. Far too many lives have been lost already,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “It will take many months, and it won’t be easy, but Ebola can be stopped. We know what needs to be done. CDC is surging our response, sending 50 additional disease control experts to the region in the next 30 days.” Read more on global health.

FDA Takes Steps to Improve Diagnostic Testing
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking new steps to ensure that patients have access to accurate, consistent and reliable diagnostic testing. The agency announced today that it was issuing a final guidance on the development, review and approval or clearance of companion diagnostics, which are used to determine whether patients should receive certain drugs. The FDA is also notifying Congress that it will publish a proposed risk-based oversight framework for laboratory developed tests. “Ensuring that doctors and patients have access to safe, accurate and reliable diagnostic tests to help guide treatment decisions is a priority for the FDA,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, in a release. “Inaccurate test results could cause patients to seek unnecessary treatment or delay and sometimes forgo treatment altogether.” Read more on the FDA.

CDC: New Online Resource on Opportunities in U.S. Health System
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Office for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support (OSTLTS) has launched a new website, Health System Transformation and Improvement Resources for Health Departments, to provide information, resources and training opportunities related to ongoing efforts to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the U.S. health system. This includes the public health, health care, insurance and other sectors. Topics covered by the new site range from shared services, community benefit assessment and accountable care organizations to public health law, workforce, return on investment and financing. Read more on access to health care.

Jul 31 2014
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PHLR: Interactive Dataset Illustrates Historical Minimum Wage Trends

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The first federal minimum wage was set in 1938 by the U.S. Fair Labor Standards Act. It was 25 cents per hour. Twenty-two subsequent increases now put the wage at $7.25—that equates to about $15,000 per year for a person who works a standard 40-hour workweek.

A new interactive dataset from Public Health Law Research (PHLR) enables researchers, policymakers, media and others to track these and other changes in both the federal and state minimum wages. PHLR is a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Temple University dedicated to building the evidence base for laws that improve public health

“By tracking the changes to the rates and the law’s characteristics over time, we have laid the ground work for researchers and others to study the effects of minimum wage laws on many factors, such as housing, education, and health and well-being,” said Sarah Happy, JD, the PHLR program’s Director of Policy Surveillance, in a release.

Why does income impact health? A good paying job makes it easier for workers to live in healthier neighborhoods, provide quality education for their children, secure child care services and buy more nutritious food—all of which affect health.

Among the facts and trends revealed by the interactive dataset:

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  • Forty-five states and Washington, D.C., have minimum wage laws. The only states that do not are Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina and Tennessee.
  • In many states, the recent trend has been to increase the minimum wage above the federal rate and adjust it yearly for inflation.  Currently, Washington, D.C., has the highest state minimum wage rate at $9.50 an hour.
  • Arkansas, Georgia, Minnesota and Wyoming all have lower minimum wages than the federal wage, meaning their residents would receive the federal minimum, in most cases.
  • Alaska and Connecticut are the only two states that have had a minimum wage consistently higher than the federal minimum wage rate since 1980.

PHLR’s “Minimum Wage Laws Map joins more than 25 other maps on the PHLR LawAtlas.org website tracking laws across states and over time in more than ten public health issue areas, including chronic disease; injury and violence prevention; and environmental health.

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>>Read more on the impact of income and jobs on health.

Jul 31 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 31

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Study: Families With Preschoolers Purchasing Fewer High-Calorie Drinks
Recent progress in stalling and perhaps even reversing the childhood obesity epidemic may be linked to fewer families with preschool-aged children purchasing high-calorie drinks, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Researchers used Nielsen Homescan data from approximately 43,000 U.S. households with young children from 2000 to 2011, identifying the top 20 foods and beverages purchased. “Decreases in purchases of fluid milks, soft drinks, juice and juice drinks, and grain-based desserts were the primary drivers of this change,” said lead author Christopher Ford, MPH, doctoral candidate in nutrition at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. “These data suggest that these households may have purchased fewer calories from solid fats and added sugars.” Previous research shows that approximately 70 to 80 percent of a preschooler’s diet comes from food purchased at stores. Read more on nutrition.

Peace Corps Withdraws from Three West African Countries Due to Ebola Crisis
The Peace Corps announced yesterday that it was removing all 340 of its volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in reaction to the increasing spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa. The organization said it has been working closely with experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of State to monitor the health crisis and determine how it should respond. “The Peace Corps has enjoyed long partnerships with the government and people of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and is committed to continuing volunteers’ work there,” according to a Peace Corps release. “A determination on when volunteers can return will be made at a later date.” Read more on global health.

Study: Women Who Live Near Green Spaces Give Birth to Healthier Babies
Pregnant women who live near green spaces—such as parks, community gardens and even cemeteries—give birth to healthier babies with significantly higher birth weights, according to a new study in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Researchers analyzed data on approximately 40,000 single live births in Tel Aviv, Israel. "We found that overall, an increase of surrounding greenery near the home was associated with a significant increase of birth weight and decreased risk for low birth weight," said Michael Friger, PhD, of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev's Department of Public Health. "This was the first study outside of the United States and Europe demonstrating associations between greenery and birth weight, as well as the first to report the association with low birth weight." Read more on maternal and infant health.

Jul 30 2014
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Helping the Homeless Quit Smoking: Q&A with Michael Businelle and Darla Kendzor, The University of Texas School of Public Health

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Not surprisingly, a recent study in the American Journal of Public Health found that homeless smokers struggle with quitting more than economically disadvantaged smokers who have their own housing. The study compared homeless smokers receiving treatment at a shelter-based smoking cessation clinic to people enrolled in a smoking cessation program at a Dallas, Texas, safety-net hospital.

“On average, homeless people reported that they found themselves around about 40 smokers every day, while the group getting cessation care at the hospital reported that they were more likely to be around three to four smokers every day,” said Michael S. Businelle, PhD, assistant professor of health promotion and behavioral sciences at The University of Texas School of Public Health Dallas Regional Campus, and the lead author of the study. “Imagine if you had an alcohol problem and were trying to quit drinking—it would be almost impossible to quit if you were surrounded by 40 people drinking every day. That is the situation homeless folks have to overcome when they try to quit smoking.”

Businelle said research shows that about 75 percent of homeless people smoke and that smoking is a leading cause of death in this population. And although homeless smokers are just as likely to try to quit smoking as are other smokers, they are far less successful at quitting, according to Businelle’s work. He said tailored smoking cessation programs are needed for homeless people, including smoke-free zones in shelters.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Businelle and his wife, Darla Kendzor, PhD, who is a co-author of the recent study on smoking and the homeless, as well as an assistant professor at The University of Texas.

NPH: Why did you embark on the study?

Michael Businelle: The smoking prevalence in this population is so high and homeless people are not enrolled in clinical trials so we don’t know what will work best for them. We’ve developed, over the last 50 years, really good treatments for the general population of smokers, but there are very few treatments that have been tested in homeless populations.

Darla Kendzor: And cancer and cardiovascular disease, which are in large part due to tobacco smoking, are the leading causes of death among homeless adults. So quitting smoking would make a big difference for them. 

Read more

Jul 30 2014
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Recommended Reading: 'National Geographic' on the Recent Ebola Outbreak

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Since March, several African countries have reported more than 1,000 cases of Ebola virus and more than 670 deaths. During a United Nations Foundation briefing in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, public health experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization raised concerns about airline passengers from these countries spreading Ebola well beyond Africa. This week that fear became a reality when a U.S. citizen, Paul Sawyer, who had been in Liberia very recently as a consultant to the country’s finance ministry,  fell ill on a flight from Liberia to Nigeria. Sawyer was  hospitalized in Lagos, Nigeria, and died there of Ebola.

Several West African nations have responded by planning to set up monitoring stations at airports to identify people with fevers before they board planes. On a CDC conference call this week with reporters, Martin Cetron, MD, the CDC's director for Global Migration and Quarantine, said it makes more sense to put checkpoints in West African countries than to scan incoming passengers in the United States because there are few direct flights from West Africa, and fevers found among passengers entering the United States are unlikely to be Ebola.

“Ebola is contagious only when symptomatic, so someone unknowingly harboring the virus would not pass it on, “ said Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, during the conference call, also adding that  even passengers showing symptoms are unlikely to pass the disease on to fellow travelers because blood and stool carry the most viruses. Cetron also said that those at highest risk for Ebola infection are family members who care for sick loved ones and health care workers who treat patients or accidentally stick themselves with infected needles.

"We do not anticipate [Ebola]  will spread in the U.S. if an infected person is hospitalized here," CDC Director Tom Frieden told reporters. "We are taking action now by alerting health care workers in the U.S. and reminding them how to isolate and test suspected patients while following strict infection-control procedures."

The National Geographic recently took an in-depth look at the Ebola virus in Africa and the risk of it spreading to the United States. Read the full article.

Jul 30 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 30

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U.S. Surgeon General Issues ‘Call to Action’ Warning on Tanning and Skin Cancer
The U.S. Surgeon General has released the office’s first Call to Action on the dangers of tanning as it relates to skin cancer, which the Surgeon General called a “major public health problem.” The Call to Action is designed to increase awareness of skin cancer and presents five strategic goals to support its prevention:

  • Increase opportunities for sun protection in outdoor settings
  • Provide individuals with the information they need to make informed, healthy choices about ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure
  • Promote policies that advance the national goal of preventing skin cancer
  • Reduce harms from indoor tanning
  • Strengthen research, surveillance, monitoring, and evaluation related to skin cancer prevention

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, with nearly 5 million people treated for all types combined annually at a cost of $8.1 billion. Melanoma is responsible for the most deaths and 90 percent of melanomas are estimated to be the result of UV exposure. Read more on cancer.

NIH, 23andMe Partner to Expand Researcher Access to Genetic Disease Data
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has entered into a $1.4 million, two-year deal with home genetics startup 23andMe to open up the company’s stores of genetic data to external researchers. The grant will enable the creation of survey tools and other methods to help researchers access information on thousands of diseases and traits for more than 400,000 people who have use 23andMe’s services. “23andMe is building a platform to connect researchers and consumers that will enable discoveries to happen faster,” said Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, in a release. “This grant from the NIH recognizes the ability of 23andMe to create a unique, web-based platform that engages consumers and enables researchers from around the world to make genetic discoveries.” Read more on research.

Study: Students Increasingly Accepting Healthier School Lunches
Despite initial pushback from students wary of revised school lunch policies implemented to provide heathier meals in 2012, a nationally representative sample of 557 U.S. public elementary schools found that approximately 70 percent of respondents said that students liked the new lunches by the second half of the school year. Researchers also found that school meal sales were up for disadvantaged students, who are more likely than their peers to experience a lack of proper nutrition. Read more on school health.