Category Archives: Environment

Sep 11 2012

Public Health News Roundup: September 11

IDSA Issues New Strep Throat Guidelines
Most sore throats are the result of a virus—not the bacteria that causes strep throat—so should not be treated with antibiotics, according to new guidelines from the Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) appearing in Clinical Infectious Diseases. Strep throat, caused by streptococcus bacteria, should be treated with penicillin or amoxicillin, assuming the patient is not allergic. The IDSA also recommends against removing the tonsils of children who suffer repeated cases of strep throat. Read more on infectious disease.

USDA Grants to Provide Housing for Farm Workers in Rural Communities
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has announced new grants to develop farm labor housing. “These grants will help communities submit quality applications to increase their chances of getting funding to build much-needed affordable housing for farm workers,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “Increasing the supply of affordable housing in rural communities not only helps the residents, it helps the entire community.” You can go here to read more about submitting applications. Read more on housing.

Climate Change Could Lead to Increase in Avian Flu
A new report in Biology Letters by researchers from the University of Michigan says that climate change—among all its other many effects—could also increase the rate of avian influenza in wild birds. They utilized a mathematical model to show how climate change could alter the interactions between birds and crabs in Delaware Bay, increasing the rate of infection and expanding from there to other areas. “We’re not suggesting that our findings necessarily indicate an increased risk to human health,” said Pejman Rohani, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, a professor of complex systems and a professor of epidemiology at the School of Public Health. “But every single pandemic influenza virus that has been studied has included gene segments from avian influenza viruses. So from that perspective, understanding avian influenza transmission in its natural reservoir is, in itself, very important.” Read more on environment.

Aug 30 2012

Matthew Nisbet Q&A: Framing Public Health Issues

Matthew Nisbet, American University Matthew Nisbet, American University

Environmental issues are consistently a topic of hot debate. A new study reveals that how we talk about these issues could have a big impact on whether people feel compelled to act on them. According to new research led by two awardees of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Investigator Awards in Health Policy Research, Matthew C. Nisbet, PhD, MS, and Edward W. Maibach, PhD, MPH, talking about the environmental consequences of climate change may not convince the unconvinced—while talking about the public health consequences might have a better chance.

As the American University and George Mason University professors write in a newly published study in the journal Climatic Change Letters, “Results show that across audience segments, the public health focus was the most likely to elicit emotional reactions consistent with support for climate change mitigation and adaptation.”  The study was co-authored with Teresa Myers and Anthony Leiserowitz.

We caught up with Matthew Nisbet to get his take on the latest findings, and how the public health field can do a better job of framing issues in a way that motivates action.

NPH: What is message framing?

Matthew Nisbet: When you frame something as a communicator or as a journalist or as an expert, what you do is you emphasize one dimension of a complex issue over another, calling attention to certain considerations and certain arguments more so than other arguments. In the process, what you do is you communicate why an issue may or may not be a problem, who or what is responsible for that problem and then what should be done. One of the common misunderstandings about framing is that there can be something such as unframed information. Every act of communication, whether intentional or not, involves some type of framing.

NPH: Why is framing so important in communicating about public health issues?

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Aug 20 2012

Public Health News Roundup: August 20

Salmonella Deaths Linked to Cantaloupes
Two deaths and approximately 150 cases of salmonella have been linked to cantaloupe in Indiana, Kentucky and Minnesota. Health officials are encouraging consumers to immediately discard any melons purchased from those three states, according to Reuters. Salmonella can cause severe diarrhea, fever and abdominal pain. It is especially dangerous for children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems. Read more on food safety.

Teens Who Expect Early Deaths More Likely to Take Dangerous Risks
Teens who predict they have a 50 percent or less chance of living to the age of 35 were more likely than they peers to engage in risk-taking behavior, according to a new study published in the August 1 issue of PLOS ONE. The study compared data collected on 19,000 adolescents in 1994-95 to data collected on the same group approximately 14 years later. Researchers also found the teens were more likely to attempt suicide and abuse alcohol and drugs. “The new research extends previous work by the same group that found expectations of premature death can predict future socioeconomic status” and demonstrates the value in early screening to help predict—and stop—later harmful behaviors, according to a news release. Read more on substance abuse.

Antimicrobial Products Identified in Minnesota Waterways
Chemicals found in personal care products—antimicrobial soaps, disinfectants and sanitizers—have been identified in high concentrations in bodies of freshwater in Minnesota. The study was conducted by Arizona State University researchers in conjunction with federal partners. They looked specifically for triclosan and triclocarban, two chemicals that can stay in the environment for decades. The study “shows natural degradation processes to be too slow to counter the continuous environmental release of these endocrine disrupting chemicals,” said Rolf Halden, director of Environmental Security at the Biodesign Institute and professor in the Ira A. Fulton School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. Read more on the environment.

Jun 28 2012

Public Health News Roundup: June 28

Supreme Court Decision Due Today on Affordable Care Act

The Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision today on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act. Follow NewPublicHealth for information on how the decision impacts public health.

2011 Was a Bad Year for Safe Water at Many U.S. Beaches

Last year, America’s beaches saw the third-highest number of closing and advisory days in more than two decades, according to the 22nd annual beach water quality report by the Natural Resources Defense Council, which says that U.S. beaches continue to suffer from storm water runoff and sewage pollution.

The group recommends establishing better beach water quality standards and the report gives out ratings for 200 U.S. beaches based on water quality and best practices for testing and public notices. Read more on environmental health.

FDA Approves New Weight Loss Drug

The Food and Drug Administration has approved the drug Belviq (lorcaserin hydrochloride), as an addition to a reduced-calorie diet and exercise, for chronic weight management.

The drug is approved for use in adults with a body mass index (BMI) of 30 or greater (obese), or adults with a BMI of 27 or greater (overweight) and who have at least one weight-related condition such as high blood pressure (hypertension), type 2 diabetes or high cholesterol (dyslipidemia). Belviq works by activating a serotonin receptor in the brain, which may help a person eat less and feel full after eating smaller amounts of food. Treatment with Belviq for up to one year resulted in average weight loss ranging from 3 percent to 3.7 percent.

Jun 27 2012

Public Health News Roundup: June 27

Red Cross Blood Supply Drops to Emergency Levels

The American Red Cross says its blood supply has reached emergency levels because 50,000 fewer donations than expected were received in June. The shortfall is about half of what the Red Cross had on hand at this time last year. Shortages can result in postponed surgeries, according to the Red Cross, which estimates that someone in the nation needs a blood transfusion every two seconds.

The shortage may have been the result of warmer weather starting earlier this year, which may have kept some regular donors from taking time to donate blood or platelets.

Donors must be 17 (16 with parental permission in some states), weigh at least 110 pounds, and be in general good health. Donors must have a driver’s license, blood donor card or two other forms of ID at check-in. To find a local donor site and make a donation, call the Red Cross at 800 733-2767 or sign up online. Read more on preparedness.

Researchers See Rise in Lung Cancer Deaths Among Some Baby Boomer Women

A study that reviewed cancer incidence records and was published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology finds although the overall lung cancer rate in the United States has been declining, lung cancer deaths among baby boomer women living in some southern and Midwestern states have been rising. The authors link the increase to cigarette advertising targeted at girls and women women in the 1960s and 1970s. Read more on cancer.

New Study Links Ozone Exposure to Heart Attack Risk

A study in the journal Circulation finds that young, healthy adults exposed under experimental conditions to ozone for two hours developed heart changes that could put them at risk for heart attacks.

Study participants showed evidence of vascular inflammation, a potential reduced ability to dissolve artery-blocking blood clots, and changes in the body’s processes that control the heart’s rhythm. The changes were temporary and reversible in the young adults in the study, but show the potential dangers of prolonged exposure to ozone. Read more on environmental health.

California Tobacco Tax Increase Narrowly Loses in Very Close State Voting

A ballot initiative to increase California's cigarette tax by $1 per pack was defeated by about half a percent, the closest vote in California ballot initiative history. According to the Campaign for Tobacco Free Kids, if this initiative had passed, it would have prevented 228,700 California children from becoming smokers. Read more on tobacco.

May 14 2012

What Makes a Community Healthy? Q&A with Howard Frumkin

file Howard Frumkin, University of Washington School of Public HealthHoward Frumkin, University of Washington School of Public Health

Defining and measuring what makes a community healthy is a key component of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, which helps create solutions that make it easier for people to be healthy in their own communities, focusing on specific factors that we know affect health, such as education and income. The 2012 Rankings were released last month, and this year includes the Roadmaps to Health Prize for communities working at the forefront of population health improvement.

Creating healthier places is a conversation every town, city and state is having now. To help advance that conversation, NewPublicHealth spoke with Howard Frumkin, MD, MPH, PhD, dean of the School of Public Health at the University of Washington, and a former member of the County Health Rankings Metrics Committee.

NPH: What does a healthy community look like? Are we getting there?

Dr. Frumkin: There ought to be places where the inhabitants of a community can thrive and do well. That’s your metric of success. People need certain things in order to thrive. They need some privacy, but they also need contact with other people. They need clean air, clean water and healthy, uncontaminated food. They need contact with nature, and they need beauty and inspiration. We could go on and on, but most of us would probably agree with what that core list of needs looks like. And then you can work with the community members to ask whether their community provides those needs for people, and we haven’t been doing that well over the last 50 years.

NPH: Why haven’t we been doing that well?

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May 1 2012

Public Health News Roundup: May 1

Long-Term Exposure to Air Pollution Increases Risk of Chronic Diseases in Older Adults

Older adults may be at increased risk of being hospitalized for lung and heart disease, stroke, and diabetes after long-term exposure to fine-particle air pollution, according to a new study by researchers at Harvard School of Public Health. The study, published in PLoS One, is the first to look at the link between long-term effects of exposure to fine particles in the air and rates of hospital admissions.

Read more on air pollution.

Increase Found in Opiate Use by Pregnant Women

Between 2000 and 2009 in the United States, the annual rate of maternal opiate use increased nearly fivefold and diagnosis of drug withdrawal syndrome among newborns increased three-fold according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Use of opioids and other illegal drugs is associated with a significantly increased risk of adverse neonatal outcomes including low birth weight and death, according to the study authors. The research was supported by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Clinical Scholars Program.

Read more on prenatal care.

Justice Department Settles Maternity Housing Discrimination Suit

The Department of Justice has announced that it has settled its lawsuit against the Mortgage Guaranty Insurance Corporation for discriminating against women on maternity leave in violation of the Fair Housing Act. The settlement is the department’s first involving discrimination against women and families in mortgage insurance.

The lawsuit was filed in July 2011 and alleged that MGIC required women on maternity leave to return to work before the company would insure their mortgages, even for women who had a guaranteed right to return to work after the leave.

Read more on housing and health.

Apr 20 2012

Earth Day: Describe Our Planet in Six Words


The Environmental Protection Agency is inviting people to write six-word “micro essays” about Earth in observance of Earth Day this Sunday. Many of the micro-essays will be featured on the EPA home page and on the EPA’s social media channel.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson wrote: Healthier families, cleaner communities, stronger America.

NewPublic Health’s entry: Live, Learn, Work, Play and Breathe.

The EPA has a webpage devoted to Earth Day(and the days beyondwhen we should still be decreasing our energy usage, reusing and recycling as much as we can, and using human-powered transportation whenever possible). Other EPA resources include:

  • A map of Earth Day activities throughout the nationfor example, Birmingham, Ala., will hold the country’s largest Earth Day parade, while Georgia Tech’s Earth Day celebration includes eco-friendly giveaways, recycling opportunities, a clothing swap, an office supply exchange and organic popcorn.
  • Join an EPA discussion group on the environment or start your own.
  • Choose Five things to commit to doing to help protect the environment
  • Sign on for EPA’s Green Tips such as, "Leaving your car at home twice a week can cut greenhouse gas emissions by 1,600 pounds per year."

>>Bonus Earth Day activity: The American Public Health Association (APHA) recently held an Emergency Stockpile Recipe Contest. The contest was part of the APHA’s Get Ready Campaign, which helps Americans become prepared for disasters and emergencies. What makes the recipes so Earth Day-appropriate is that none require an energy source for preparation and are made from foods you’d stockpile for an emergency (be sure to replace any cans or packages you take out of your stash, though). The winners:

>>Weigh In: What are you doing for Earth Day?

Apr 13 2012

UDSA to Americans: Debug Now

Garden Fresh Tomatoes

What’s in your lettuce? The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is urging Americans to embrace the increasing fondness for fresh produce by helping to avoid and remove pests that threaten crops. "We need the public's help because these hungry pests can have a huge impact on the items we use in everyday life, from the fabric in our clothing, the food on our table, the lumber used to build our home and the flowers in our garden,” says Rebecca A. Blue, Deputy Undersecretary for USDA's Marketing and Regulatory Programs.

Invasive pests are non-native species that eat U.S. crops, trees and other plants, and cost millions of dollars in losses.

While state and federal experts are working on the problem, Blue says individuals can help stem the problem by doing their part too, starting with learning tips from a new USDA website, Tips include:

  • Plant carefully. Buy your plants from a reputable source and avoid using invasive plant species at all costs.
  • Do not bring or mail fresh fruits, vegetables, or plants into your state or another state unless agricultural inspectors have cleared them beforehand.
  • Cooperate with any agricultural quarantine restrictions and allow authorized agricultural workers access to your property for pest or disease surveys.
  • Keep it clean. Wash outdoor gear and tires between fishing, hunting or camping trips. Clean lawn furniture and other outdoor items when moving from one home to another.
  • Learn the signs. If you see signs of an invasive pest or disease, write down or take a picture of what you see, and then report it online.
  • Speak up. Declare all agricultural items to customs officials when returning from international travel.

Public service announcements in both English and Spanish will air on television and radio throughout April and at peak times for domestic travel this summer.

According to USDA, individuals can make a difference. The Asian long-horned beetle, detected in Illinois in 1998, was declared eradicated from Illinois in 2008 with the help of local, state and federal partners and Illinois residents. The beetle was also eradicated from Hudson County, N.J.; and Islip, N.Y. And extensive efforts by USDA and its partners in California reduced European grapevine moth populations in 2011 by 99.9 percent, two years after it was detected.

Apr 13 2012

Public Health News Roundup: April 13

Economic Recovery Has Left Behind Communities of Color

For the past three years since the Great Recession, slowly, Americans have been getting their jobs back and the economy has been rebounding—but on most measures, communities of color have not enjoyed the same rates of socioeconomic stabilization, according to a new report from Center for American Progress. Unemployment, job growth, incomes, poverty rates and health insurance coverage are all worse off for minority groups when compared to white Americans, said report authors. Statistics from the report include:

  • The unemployment rate of African Americans is typically twice as high as that of whites, and 50 percent greater for Latinos.
  • Poverty rates, already much higher for communities of color, rose faster in recession and recovery than for whites. African Americans and Latinos experienced poverty rates of 24.2 percent and 24 percent, respectively, in 2010, compared to poverty rates of 9.3 percent for Asian Americans and 7.3 percent for whites.
  • About thirty percent of Latinos and 20.8 percent of African Americans didn't have health insurance in 2010, compared to 18.1 percent of Asian Americans and 11.7 percent of whites.

Read more on health disparities.

Menthol Smokers at Higher Risk for Strokes than Non-menthol Smokers

A new study compared heart health outcomes among smokers, and found that smokers who preferred menthol cigarettes had more than double the risk of stroke when compared to smokers who generally smoked non-menthol cigarettes. The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, surveyed a total of 5,167 current smokers and asked about the type of cigarettes they usually smoked. The effect was especially pronounced among women and people who reported a race other than African American. Read more tobacco news.

EPA Announces Cities With Most Energy Star Buildings

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released the annual list of U.S. metropolitan areas with the most Energy Star-certified buildings for 2011. Los Angeles, Washington, Atlanta, Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Houston, Dallas, Riverside, Calif. and Boston top the list. Energy Star-certified buildings prevent greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to the amount of yearly emissions from more than 1.5 million homes, according to the EPA. Read more on environmental health.