Category Archives: Housing

Feb 13 2013

Federal Agencies Launch Action Plan to Make Homes Safer and Healthier

Several federal agencies have teamed up for a joint initiative, Advancing Healthy Housing: A Strategy for Action, to reduce home-based injury and illness. Agencies at the table include the Office of the Surgeon General, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Energy.

People spend up to 70 percent of their time in a home, according to the group, and millions of homes each year are the source of serious health problems including asthma, lung cancer, unintentional injuries and lead poisoning. Home health hazards can include structural problems, damaged roofs, heating, plumbing and electrical deficiencies, leaks, pests, peeling walls that exposing children to lead-based paint and high levels of radon gas.

The initiative has five goals:

  1. Establish healthy home recommendations.
  2. Encourage adoption of healthy home recommendations.
  3. Create and support training and workforce development to address health hazards in housing.
  4. Educate the public about healthy homes.
  5. Support research that informs and advances healthy housing in a cost-effective manner.

Surgeon General Regina Benjamin spoke at a press conference to launch the new Action Plan and in 2009 released a healthy homes strategy that the new initiative builds on. This Action Plan dovetails with the National Prevention Strategy, launched two years ago to improve the health of all Americans. Dr. Benjamin told NewPublicHealth, “Health is in everything we do. We need to make it a part of our lives. Our home should be a place you feel safe.”

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Feb 13 2013

Public Health News Roundup: February 13

Study: No Link Between Hospital Deaths, Readmission Rates
Hospital readmission rates—which Medicare can use to penalize health care providers—and death rates are not linked, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers, who looked at rates for heart attack and pneumonia patients, say this means hospitals can still keep the number of returning patients down without increasing the number who die. "The concern was that their performance in one area is going to compromise their performance in another," said Harlan Krumholz, MD, lead author from the Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Connecticut. The U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reduces payments to hospitals with high readmission rates. Read more on access to health care.

HUD, HHS Grants to Provide Housing for Low-income People with Disabilities
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is granting approximately $98 million in funding to help prevent homelessness and unnecessary institutionalization of extremely low-income people with disabilities. Thirteen state housing agencies will use the grants to provide rental assistance. “By working together, HUD and HHS are helping states to offer permanent housing and critically needed supportive services to offer real and lasting assistance to persons who might otherwise be institutionalized or living on our streets,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in a release. “We’re helping states reduce health care costs, improving quality of life for persons with disabilities, and ending homelessness as we know it.” Read more on housing and disability.

High-calcium Diets, Supplements May Increase Death from Heart Disease for Women
High-calcium diets and supplements may increase the risk of death by heart disease for women, according to a new study in BMJ. Another recent study found a similar link among men. Calcium supplements are taken to prevent bone loss and had been speculated to also improve cardiovascular health. Instead, researchers found diets very low or very high in calcium can causes changes in blood level. Most adults should intake 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams of calcium daily, according to the U.S. Office of Dietary Supplements. Read more on heart health.

Jan 17 2013

Public Health News Roundup: January 17

HHS Launches Year-Long National Dialogue on Mental Illness
As part of the effort toward helping to reduce gun violence in the country, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced some new initiatives. HHS Secretary Sebelius says the agency will join with private and public partners to launch a year-long national dialogue on youth and mental illness, engaging parents, peers and teachers to reduce negative attitudes toward people with mental illness, to recognize warning signs and to improve access to treatment. Read more on mental health.

IOM Committee Says Current Childhood Immunization Schedule Is Safe
An Institute of Medicine report released yesterday supports the safety of the federal childhood immunization schedule, but recommends that it be monitored. The current schedule calls for 24 immunizations by age 2 which results in some parents delaying vaccines, sometimes out of fear that too many simultaneous vaccines may pose a safety risk. The IOM panel said there is no evidence that a different schedule would be safer. Read more on vaccines.

Take a Night to Count — and Help — the Homeless
During the last ten days of January, tens of thousands of volunteers in more than 3,000 U.S. cities and counties will join in Make Everyone Count, a national effort to count the number of homeless adults and youth in shelters and on the streets. The counts provide local planners with both the number and characteristics of people who are homeless to help them develop targeted responses. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which provides grants for the counts, being able to determine how many people are homeless and why is critical to helping to end homelessness. Volunteer by contacting homeless organizations in your area. Listen to a public service announcement on counting the homeless Make Everyone Count," by musician Cyndi Lauper.

Study Finds PE Requirement at Universities at All-time Low
A new study from the Oregon State University College of Public Health and Human Sciences finds that the number of college students required to take physical education and exercise requirements is at an all-time low of 39 percent. The researchers looked at data from 354 randomly chosen four-year universities and colleges going back to 1920, a year when 97 percent of students were required to take physical education. Oregon State still requires physical education courses and lead researcher Brad Cardinal says requiring PE sets the tone for students to understand that being active and healthy is as important as their academic courses. Cardinal says he thinks budget cuts and an increased focus on purely academic courses are factors behind the reduction in college PE. And Cardinal says that campus fitness centers don’t take the place of required courses because they can be intimidating for many students. Read more on physical activity.

Dec 11 2012

Public Health News Roundup: December 11

Study: Genetics Could Keep People from Quitting Tobacco
Is genetics to blame for a recent plateau in the numbers of people who smoke?  Quite possibly, according to a new study by Jason Fletcher, PHD, an associate professor in the Department of Health Policy and Management at the Yale School of Public Health. Cigarette smoking in the United States dropped sharply after the release of a landmark Surgeon General’s report on the dangers of tobacco was released in 1964, according to Fletcher, a former Robert Wood Johnson Health & Society scholar. But in the last two decades smoking cessation has stopped its descent, despite increased efforts from both the private and public sectors. Fletcher’s study, published in PLOS ONE, says some smokers may have a variation of a nicotine gene receptor that does not respond to social efforts to reduce smoking, such as higher taxes and clean-air laws that prohibit smoking in many public places. The study found that smokers with a specific nicotine genetic variant decreased their tobacco use by nearly 30 percent when faced with high tobacco taxes, while smokers with an alternative genetic variant had no response.  Fletcher says the study “is an important first step in how to further reduce adult smoking rates.” Read more on tobacco.

Regular Exercise Can Add Years to a Person’s Life
Regular exercise can help extend a person’s life for years, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Specifically, researchers found white men who were physically active at the age of 20 lived about 2.5 years longer than non-active white men. However, the most dramatic findings were for black women, who lived an average of six years longer if they exercised for about 2.5 hours a week. "We were able to show that if black women engage in an hour of vigorous activity like jogging or swimming, that would extend their lives by 11 hours,” said Ian Janssen, study author and an associate professor who studies physical activity at Queen's University in Ontario. Researchers said there could be other contributing factors to the longer lifespans, such as diet, and the subject needed further research. Read more on aging.

HUD: Number of Homeless People Down Slightly in 2012
The number of homeless people is down slightly—0.4 percent—from last year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). “We continue to see a stable level of homelessness across our country at a time of great stress for those at risk of losing their housing,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan in a release. “We must redouble our efforts to target our resources more effectively to help those at greatest risk.  As our nation’s economic recovery takes hold, we will make certain that our homeless veterans and those living on our streets find stable housing so they can get on their path to recovery.” The analysis is a part of HUD’s 2012 Point-in-Time Estimates of Homelessness. Read more on housing.

Dec 4 2012

NYC Health Department: Health Warning For People in Homes with No Heat

Though temperatures early this week in New York City have climbed to nearly 60 degrees, by Wednesday the overnight low is expected to drop below freezing. That’s why the city’s health department has issued a hypothermia warning to people in homes still without heat. As of last week, according to the Mayor’s Office, 11,000 people in the region still had not had their power restored. Some families have power but still no heat because pipes damaged by the storm have not yet been fixed.

“The weather is getting colder,” Health Commissioner Thomas Farley, MD, MPH, told New Yorkers. “Living in cold buildings is not good for your health. If your building heat is not going to be restored very soon, look for another warm place to live until it is. And check on your family, friends and neighbors, especially those who are vulnerable, to see if they need help getting to a warm place. Hypothermia, or very low body temperature is a life-threatening condition. It occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Hypothermia can happen gradually and without the person realizing how serious it is.”

According to Farley, the symptoms of hypothermia include uncontrollable shivering, weakness, sleepiness, confusion, and lack of coordination. In infants, signs of hypothermia may include cold, bright red skin, or very low energy. A body temperature below 95°F (35°C) is a medical emergency and 911 should be called immediately.

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Nov 27 2012

Poor Housing Increases Burn Risks for Kids

Substandard housing has been linked to a variety of health problems including higher blood lead levels in children and an increased asthma risk. Now a new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy finds kids living in poor housing may also be at an increased risk for fire and scald burns. The research was published in the journal Pediatrics.

The researchers surveyed the homes of 246 low-income families in Baltimore with at least one young child, and found homes with more housing quality code violations were less likely to have a working smoke alarm and safe hot water temperatures. "The effect of substandard housing on children’s risk of diseases such as asthma is well-known, however little was known about how it affects injury risk,” says Andrea Gielen, ScD, ScM, the study’s lead author and director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy. “The results of this study clearly demonstrate that substandard housing is also related to home injury risks, Gielen adds. "Even more disturbing is the finding that virtually all of the children in our urban sample were living in substandard housing."

Injury is the leading cause of death for young people in the U.S., and is responsible for more than180, 000 deaths annually, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Deaths from fires and burns are the third leading cause of fatal home injury. Smoke alarms and lower water temperatures reduce the risk of burns, says Gielen, but living in substandard housing appears to be a barrier to having these protective measures in place.

>>Read the study.

>>Bonus Links:

  • Read a NewPublicHealth post on how low income families can get free smoke alarms
  • Read a NewPublicHealth National Prevention Strategy series interview with Estelle Richman, Senior Advisor to the Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development on the intersection of housing and health.
  • Read a NewPublicHealth interview with Andrea Gielen on injury prevention.

Oct 24 2012

What Will it Take to Eliminate Childhood Lead Poisoning?

Childhood lead poisoning is 100% preventable. So what's stopping us from eliminating it all together?

This week marks the 13th annual National Lead Poisoning Prevention Week, a chance to energize efforts to keep all kids safe from the dangers of lead-based paint.

Nearly one million children are affected by lead poisoning in the United States today, with 38 million U.S. households currently at risk. Lead poisoning knows no boundaries and can affect children of all races and ethnicities, in rural and urban communities, and at every socioeconomic level.

Recently, the Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Ad Council rolled out a new partnership with the goal of eliminating childhood lead poisoning in the United States. Facts about lead poisoning:

  • If not detected early, lead paint poisoning causes lifelong learning disabilities, hearing loss, speech delays, developmental disabilities and aggressive/violent behaviors
  • Children under age 6 are most at risk for lead poisoning
  • Any home built before 1978 is at risk for lead-based paint hazards 

Lead poisoning prevention resources are available at, including information on:

Watch a Public Service Announcement from the Ad Council about the danger lead-based paint continues to have on young children.

Read more on lead poisoning prevention:

  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a map of healthy home efforts from health departments across the country.
  • HUD’s Healthy Home Rating System helps identify household conditions that affect health and safety. Download the HHRS Hazards Chart to learn more about all dangers – in addition to lead – found in the home.

>>Read a Q&A on local lead laws and their impact on ending childhood lead poisoning.

Oct 15 2012

Public Health News Roundup: October 15

$5M in HUD Grants to Improve Communities, Housing
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is giving nearly $5 million in grants to 17 communities. The Choice Neighborhoods Planning Grants will go toward improving distressed neighborhoods—both public and HUD-assisted housing—with grantees collaborating with local stakeholders. “While many of these grantees have already collaborated to get to this stage, this funding enables them to take their initial discussions further to plan out strategies to build stronger, more sustainable communities that will address distressed housing, failing schools, rampant crime, and all that plagues the nation’s poor neighborhoods,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “HUD’s Choice Neighborhoods Initiative represents the next generation in a movement toward revitalizing entire neighborhoods to improve the lives of the residents who live there.” Read more on housing.

Study: HPV Vaccine Does Not Increase Girls’ Sexual Activity
A new study in the journal Pediatrics shows receiving the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination does not make girls more likely to become pregnant or contract sexually transmitted diseases. The concern over either is one of the main arguments of groups who believe the vaccination will make girls more likely to be sexually active, according to Reuters. "Some parents have expressed it as a concern," said Saad Omer, an Emory University researcher who worked on the study. "Parents can be reassured at least based on the evidence that young girls who receive HPV vaccines did not show increased signs (of) clinical outcomes of sexual activity.” The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends girls and boys ages 11-12 be vaccinated. Read more on vaccines.

Even Regular Sitters Who Exercise at Greater Risk of Diabetes, Heart Disease
Even people who exercise regularly are risk of diabetes and heart disease if they sit too regularly—double the risk of those who do not, according to a new study in the journal Diabetologia. Researchers compared the results of nearly 800,000 people, demonstrating that even those who meet the recommended daily activity level put themselves at greater risk by sitting for prolonged periods. "Our study also showed that the most consistent associations were between sitting and diabetes," said Emma Wilmot, MD, a research fellow in the Diabetes Research Group at the University of Leicester. "This is an important message because people with risk factors for diabetes, such as the obese, those of South Asian ethnic origin or those with a family history of diabetes, may be able to help reduce their future risk of diabetes by limiting the time spent sitting." Read more on obesity.

Sep 21 2012

Public Health News Roundup: September 21

Suicide Kills More Americans Than Car Crashes
More Americans now commit suicide than die in car crashes, making suicide the leading cause of injury deaths, according to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health. Researchers used data from the National Center for Health Statistics from 2000 to 2009 and found that the leading causes of unintentional deaths were car accidents, poisoning and falls; for intentional deaths they were suicide and homicide. Deaths from intentional and unintentional injury were 10 percent higher in 2009 than in 2000. Read more on injury prevention.

Secondhand Smoke’s Toll Heavy on African-Americans
A study of the impact of secondhand smoke in 2006 found that more than 41,000 American adults and nearly 900 infants died of secondhand smoke-related diseases, according to new study in the American Journal of Public Health. The study also found that African-Americans had a much greater exposure to secondhand smoke than whites, particularly among African-American men ages 45-64. African-American women ages 20-44 had a higher exposure rate than any other group of women. Read more on tobacco. 

Mental and Physical Health Improves for Many When People Move Out of Poorer Neighborhoods
A new study published in the journal Science finds that when families were given vouchers to move from impoverished neighborhoods to ones that were less poor, the adults in those families experienced lasting improvements in mental health and physical well-being. Read more on housing.

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.