Category Archives: Housing

Nov 14 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: November 14

DOT and HUD Release Neighborhood Affordability Tool
The U.S. Departments of Housing and Transportation (HUD and DOT, respectively) have released a Location Affordability Portal, a new tool that lets users estimate housing and transportation costs for neighborhoods across the country.

“Many consumers make the mistake of thinking they can afford to live in a certain neighborhood or region just because they can afford the rent or mortgage payment. Housing affordability encompasses much more than that,” said HUD Secretary Donovan. “The combined cost of housing and transportation consumes close to half of a working family’s monthly budget, and the [Portal] will help to better inform consumers, help them save money, and provide them with a broader perspective of their housing and transportation options.”

The new tool was developed with the input of real-estate industry professionals, academics, and staff from HUD and DOT, and uses statistical models that were developed from various sources that capture key neighborhood characteristics including population density, transit and job access, average number of commuters and distance of commutes, average household income and size, median selected monthly owner costs. and median gross rent. Read more on housing and transportation.

Health Index May Reduce Hospital Readmissions
A health risk score used during hospital stays using routine data from hospital electronic medical records may be able to identify patients at high risk of unplanned hospital readmission, according to a study published in Medical Care.

The score is calculated automatically using patient data such as vital signs, nursing assessments, skin condition, heart rhythms and laboratory tests. Lower Rothman Index scores (from a maximum of 100) indicate a higher risk of readmission. The study evaluated the ability of the Rothman Index to predict hospital readmission, based on data from more than 2,700 patients hospitalized during 2011. The researchers found that patients whom the Index calculated as being high risk for readmission were 2.5 times as likely to be readmitted within 30 days of discharge as patients calculated by the Index to be low risk.

About 20 percent of Medicare patients are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge, at an estimated cost of $17 billion per year, according to the study authors. Medicare has begun reducing payments by up to 2 percent for hospitals with high readmission rates. Read more on community health.

Rapid Flu Testing in the ER Leads to More Effective Treatment
Using rapid influenza tests to diagnose flu in patients who come to the emergency room results in fewer unnecessary antibiotics, increased prescriptions for antiviral medicines, and fewer additional lab tests compared to patients diagnosed with influenza without testing, according to a new study the Journal of the Pediatrics Infectious Diseases Society.

Among patients diagnosed with influenza without rapid testing, 23 percent of the emergency department visits included a prescription for antibiotics, which are not effective in to treat influenza because it is a viral infection. However, for patients who were diagnosed by rapid testing, only 11 percent of visits resulted in the patient getting antibiotics. Additional laboratory tests, including chest X-rays, blood tests, and urinalysis, were also ordered less frequently for patients whose influenza illness was diagnosed with a rapid test.

"While other studies have shown that physicians can accurately diagnose influenza without testing, our results suggest that using an influenza test increases diagnostic certainty and leads to the physician providing more specific and appropriate care,” says Anne J. Blaschke, MD, PhD, of the University of Utah School of Medicine, the study’s lead author. Read more on infectious disease.

Nov 4 2013
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APHA 2013: The Role of Housing in Public Health

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When thinking about ways to improve the public's health, housing may not leap to mind at first. Reducing obesity, increasing access to healthy food and promoting tobacco control are all more popular and more obvious public health strategies. But in the past several years, leaders in the field are realizing the vital role that housing can also play in health.

So why is housing so important for health? And how can we create "healthy housing" for the public? That was the focus of Monday's American Public Health Association (APHA) panel, "Landscape of Healthy Housing: Strategies, Policies, and Initiatives."

Panelists from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to Maryland's Green and Healthy Homes Initiative to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discussed issues ranging from lead-based paint hazards, to smoke-free housing, to infrastructure problems—and how all of these impact health.

Chris Trent, who's worked on HUD's Advancing Healthy Housing a Strategy for Action, asked: "Do we really have to be concerned about our homes? Yes, we do. There are 23 million housing units with one or more lead-based paint hazards. Six million housing units in the U.S. have moderate-to-severe physical infrastructure problems."

She also re-emphasized why housing is so important to health for everybody, even if we don't think about it: 69 percent of our time is spent in a residence, and therefore housing automatically impacts how healthy people are.

Trent also pointed out the return on investment (ROI) in creating healthy housing for people. "We know these [healthy housing strategies] are working. There is a return on your investment that is beneficial to everybody."

For example, she noted, spending $1 on preventing lead hazards lead to a $17-$221 savings in health costs.

Ruth Ann Norton, Executive Director of Green & Healthy Homes Initiative, noted the impact that unhealthy housing can have on people— especially children and their education.

"The largest reason kids don't come to school is asthma," she pointed out. "And this asthma is often coming from their home environment. We need to break the link between unhealthy housing and unhealthy children."

"All of these housing issues are health issues," Norton said.

>>NewPublicHealth will be on the ground throughout the APHA conference speaking to public health leaders and presenters, hearing from attendees on the ground and providing updates from sessions, with a focus on how we can build a culture of health. Follow the coverage here.

Sep 9 2013
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Low-Income Housing in the Bronx Gets Healthy and Green

file Via Verde offers green, healthy low-income housing. (Image credit: David Sundberg/Esto)

In the 1970s and 80s, residents of the Bronx, one of New York City’s five boroughs, were so anxious to leave the crime-ridden area that many residential and commercial buildings—once majestic and architecturally rich—were torched and empty for decades. Now fifty years later there’s a waiting list of thousands for Via Verde, a new low- and middle-income Bronx housing complex that opened last year. Many features set the complex apart from almost any other housing development in the United States, including an emphasis on greenery from almost every vantage point of the building. This helps create a calming and beautiful atmosphere for the residents, many of whom grew up in crowded housing projects where any nearby parks were usually too dangerous to enjoy.

Why is housing important for health? A lack of affordable rental housing can push more tenants into substandard or overcrowded living situations. Living in unaffordable housing also leaves fewer resources for the things that can keep a family healthy, such as healthy food or preventative health care. Low-income housing also has a reputation for being unhealthy, and for good reason—more than 6 million housing units in the U.S. have deficiencies such as lead paint hazards; allergens, dampness and mold that can trigger asthma; and unsafe structural issues that can cause falls and other injuries. Via Verde and other similar efforts seek to change all that, with housing that is not only affordable but also safe, healthy and even environmentally sound and sustainable (which in turn also saves on costs).

The design for Via Verde was the winner of a 2006 competition hosted by the New York City Department of Housing Preservation and Development; the New York Chapter of the American Institute of Architects; the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA); and the Enterprise Foundation. It was New York City’s first juried design competition for affordable and sustainable housing.

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Sep 3 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: September 3

AAP: Children Should Be Immunized Against Influenza As Soon As Possible this Season
Parents and caregivers should have all children ages 6 months or older immunized against influenza as soon as possible, according to new updated recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Immunization options include the trivalent vaccine that protects against three influenza strains and the new quadrivalent vaccine that protects against four strains. “Parents should not delay vaccinating their children to obtain a specific vaccine,” said pediatrician Henry Bernstein, DO, FAAP, the lead author of the flu recommendations. “Influenza virus is unpredictable, and what’s most important is that people receive the vaccine soon, so that they will be protected when the virus begins circulating.” Other vulnerable groups that should definitely be vaccinated include children with chronic health conditions, children of American Indian or Alaskan Native heritage, health care workers, pregnant women, women who may become pregnant or are breastfeeding and people who have contact with children in high-risk populations. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 135 million and 139 million doses of vaccine will be manufactured for the 2013-14 influenza season. Read more on influenza.

HUD: $37M to Oklahoma for ‘Unmet Needs’ of Disaster Recovery
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has allocated approximately $37 million in disaster recovery funds for the state of Oklahoma and the City of Moore, Okla., which were severely damaged by extreme storms—including an EF5 tornado—on May 20. Dozens were killed and more than $1 billion in property damage was caused. The grants are part of HUD’s Community development Block Grant Program, which supports long-term disaster recovery efforts in places of “unmet need.” “The May storms cost the lives of dozens of Oklahomans and over $1 billion in property damage. “We are steadily rebuilding, but many families are still struggling to get back on their feet,” said Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin. “The disaster relief grants provided by HUD—along with continued work from state and local governments and non-profits—will make a big difference in the lives of those affected by this year’s tornadoes. They will be particularly helpful as we work to provide assistance to low income Oklahomans, many of whom are uninsured.” About $26.3 million of the funds will go toward Moore, with the rest going toward the state. Read more on disasters.

Boys Faced Higher Death Risk than Girls from Multiple Causes
Boys on average face a higher risk of death than girls—not just from traumatic events such as accidents, homicides and suicides, but also from cancers and diseases of the heart, lungs and nervous system. The study found that from 1999 to 2008 there were about 76,700 more deaths among boys than girls, and that boys from infancy to age 20 were 44 percent more likely to die. The findings appear in the latest edition of the journal Pediatrics. The findings are not entirely surprising, as past research has indicated that girls have a certain survival advantage and experts already knew that boys are at increased risk of developing certain chronic health conditions. Still, the question is why. "This could be a story of resilience and ability to overcome," said study author Chris Feudtner, MD, a pediatrician at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. "Maybe there's some robustness factor that males are missing." Feudtner said that learning why boys faced these higher risks—and for chronic diseases in particular—could help health care experts better understand and treat the conditions. Read more on mortality.

Aug 30 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: August 30

NHTSA: Free VIN Searches Will Let Drivers Check for Safety Recalls
The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will next year require that automakers and motorcycle manufactures provide free online search services for Vehicle Identification Numbers (VIN) so that consumers can search for information on uncompleted recalls. Consumers will also be able to use a central government site (SaferCar.gov) to determine whether a recall has been issued on a vehicle and whether the remedy has been performed. "Every day NHTSA is working for the American consumer to ensure that automakers and motorcycle manufacturers address safety defects and non-compliances, and that they also recall affected vehicles in a timely manner," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland. "By making individual VIN searches readily available, we're providing another service to car, light truck and motorcycle owners and potential owners—the peace of mind knowing that the vehicle they own, or that they are thinking of buying, is safe." Read more on transportation.

Quick Change to Mellow Music Reduces the Risk of Road Rage
Smooth jazz could save your life—or at least keep you from doing something impulsive behind the wheel. According to a new report in the journal Ergonomics, switching to mellow music in a car can help drivers stay calm during stressful situations that could lead to road rage. Studies have already linked “upbeat” music to more aggressive driver behavior and “downbeat” music with more relaxed, safer behavior. However, the question before the researchers was whether a quick change or a gradual change to calmer music was more effective; they determined that drivers in both conditions would reach the same calm state, but drivers who changed the music abruptly would become calmer—and driver safer—sooner. The results show that "during high-demand driving, abrupt changes in music led to more physiological calmness and improved driving performance and were thus safer and more effective," concluded researcher Marjolein van der Zwaag, of Philips Research Laboratories in Eindhoven, and colleagues in the Netherlands and at Stanford University in California. Read more on safety.

HUD: $12.8M in ‘Sweat Equity’ Grants to Create Affordable Homes
Through its Self-Help Homeownership Opportunity Program, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded approximately $12.8 million in “sweat equity” grants to create at least 718 affordable homes. The four non-profit, self-help housing organizations that received the funds will work to reduce the cost of the homes for working families. “Sweat equity” is the increased value of a property due to restoration and upkeep efforts by the owners. “Today, we make another investment in the American Dream for hundreds of working families,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “Using their own labor, along with sweat equity from armies of volunteers, these families will construct their own homes and become stakeholders in their own neighborhoods.” To qualify, a minimum of 50 sweat equity hours is required from a household of one person and a minimum of 100 sweat equity hours is required from a household of at least two people. The work can include landscaping, foundation work, painting, carpentry, trim work, drywall, roofing and siding for the housing. Read more on housing.

Aug 9 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: August 9

$1.7B in HUD Grants for Major Improvements to 1.2 Million Public Housing Units
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has awarded $1.7 billion to improve approximately 1.2 million public housing units across the country. The funds—part of HUD’s Capital Fund Program—will be shared by all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia, Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. They will go toward building, repairing, renovating and modernizing public housing, with an emphasis on large-scale projects such as replacing plumbing and electrical systems. About 10,000 public housing units are lost each year, with disrepair being the most common reason. HUD estimates that the nation’s public housing requires about $25.6 billion in large-scale repairs. “This funding is critical for housing authorities to maintain and improve public housing conditions for their residents,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. “However, with a significant repair backlog, I am encouraged by new, innovative long-term solutions HUD is exploring that can be combined with this funding to not only protect and preserve this housing for the next generation, but to also build the quality infrastructure necessary for families to thrive.” Read more on housing.

Study: Women in Urban Environments at Higher Risk for Postpartum Depression
In large part because of the difference in general risk factors, women who live in large urban areas are more likely than women who live in rural areas to develop postpartum depression, according to a new study in the journal CMAJ. Risk factors such as low levels of social support and having been born in another country are more common in urban environments, according to research Simone Vigod, MD, of the Women's College Research Institute in Toronto. They found that about 9 percent of women surveyed in cities of 500,000 people or more had postpartum depression, versus 6 percent of women in towns with fewer than 1,000 people. "That's a pretty big difference at the population level," said Vigod, according to Reuters. "It's not the air that you breathe in an urban area that makes you depressed," she added, "it's actually that the population characteristics of people living there are different." About 10 to 15 percent of women experience persistent and serious depression in the first year after their child’s birth, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more on infant and maternal health.

New HIV Test Will Allow for Earlier Detection, Treatment and Reduce Risk of Transmission
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new HIV test that will allow for earlier detection and treatment of people with the immune deficiency disorder. The test looks for the HIV-1 p24 antigen as well as antibodies to both HIV-1 and HIV-2 in human serum. “This test helps diagnose HIV infection at an earlier time in outreach settings, allowing individuals to seek medical care sooner,” said Karen Midthun, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. “Earlier diagnosis may also help to reduce additional HIV transmission.” There are about 1 million people in the United States currently living with HIV and about 20 percent of them have not been diagnosed, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more on HIV/AIDS.

Aug 1 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: August 1

One-third of U.S. Teens, Young Adults Victims of Dating Violence
About one-third of U.S. teens and young adults have been the victims of dating violence and about one-third have been the perpetrators, according to a new study from the Center for Innovative Public Health Research in San Clemente, Calif. Approximately one in four report being both. Overall, the public health issue is not improving, according to Emily Rothman, an associate professor at Boston University School of Public Health. "It is sorely disappointing that we have not seen improvements in the prevalence of dating violence in the past 12 years, but there is a clear reason for it," she said. "We spend virtually no money on dating violence prevention or education in schools and communities. Problems don't change unless you try to fix them." Dating violence is a serious issue that must be addressed, according to Yolanda Evans, MD, an assistant professor at Seattle Children's Hospital. "Intimate partner violence is associated with poor school performance, poor self-esteem, depression and thoughts of suicide. We should communicate with our teens that it is never OK to act violently against a partner or to force them to do something they do not feel comfortable doing. We also need to teach our teens that it is unacceptable for someone to act violently towards us in a relationship." Read more on violence.

CDC: Breastfeeding Rates Up Over Past Decade
In part due to longer hospital stays that work to keep moms and newborns together, breastfeeding rates have climbed significantly over the past decade, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In 2010 about 49 percent of babies were breastfeeding at six months, up from 35 percent in 2000. And about 27 percent were breastfeeding at 12 months in 2010, up from 16 percent in 2000. At the same time, “room-in” and “skin-to-skin” maternity ward procedures that keep mother and child close and emphasize physical contact have also increased, which helps to start and continue the breastfeeding process, according to Janet L. Collins, PhD, director of CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. “This is great news for the health of our nation because babies who are breastfed have lower risks of ear and gastrointestinal infections, diabetes and obesity, and mothers who breastfeed have lower risks of breast and ovarian cancers,” said CDC Director, Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “Also, breastfeeding lowers health care costs. Researchers have calculated that $2.2 billion in yearly medical costs could be saved if breastfeeding recommendations were met.” Read more on maternal and infant health.

HUD: $52M in Grants to Improve Housing, Services for American’s Homeless
As part of its “Continuum of Care Program,” the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has announced $52 million in funding to go toward 200 homeless housing/service programs and about 200 grants to assist with local strategic planning activities. The round of grants follows $1.5 billion in two rounds of funding earlier this year. The Continuum of Care grants fund programs such as street outreach and assessment, as well as transitional and permanent housing for homeless persons and families. “As we continue to see a decline in homelessness, investing in programs that are moving homeless families and individuals to permanent housing is as critical as ever because it’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s smart government and fiscally prudent,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. There were approximately 633,782 homeless persons on a single night in January of 2012, according to “point in time” estimates. Read more on housing.

Jul 31 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: July 31

Tainted Salad Mix Linked to Parasite Outbreak in Two States; 13 Other States Still Looking for Answers
State and federal health officials have narrowed in on a prepackaged salad mix as the possible source of a cyclospora outbreak that has sickened 370 people in 15 states. Both Nebraska and Iowa officials have identified the salad as the source; a total of 221 people in those states have fallen ill so far from the stomach-sickening parasite. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is still working to identify the cause in the 13 other states. “FDA will continue to work with its federal, state and local partners in the investigation to determine whether this conclusion applies to the increased number of cases of cyclosporiasis in other states,” the FDA said in a statement. ”Should a specific food item be identified, the FDA, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state and local partners will work to track it to its source, determine why the outbreak occurred, and if contamination is still a risk, implement preventive action, which will help to keep an outbreak like this from happening again.” Read more on food safety.

New Model Shows Kids Consuming Far More Calories than Previously Realized
It takes far more calories for kids to gain weight than was previously realized, according to a new study in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology. And, given the high rate of childhood obesity, this means kids are consuming far more calories than either their parents or health care providers realize. The new caloric model takes into account the energy requirements for boys and girls; the fact that kids generally have higher metabolisms than adults; the average drop in physical activity as kids age; and the energy required to maintain a bigger body size as they age. Whereas the old model said a normal-weight girl at age 5 would need to consume about 40 extra calories a day to be 22 pounds overweight by age 10, the new model shows its actually 400 extra calories. "Importantly, given the rather large calorie excesses fueling childhood obesity, this model is a rebuttal to the food industry arguments that exercise alone can be the answer," said David Katz, MD, director of the Yale Prevention Research Center and editor of the journal Childhood Obesity, who was not involved in the study. "For our kids to achieve healthy weight, control of calories in, not just calories out, will have to be part of the formula." Read more on obesity.

Sequester to Close all HUD Offices on Friday, August 2
Every office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will be closed on Friday, August 2 as part of the sequester which is being felt across all of government. The automatic spending cuts took effect March 1. HUD’s plan is to pair its seven required furlough days with holidays and weekends. HUD is encouraging people and businesses that work with the agency to plan around the schedule day of shutdown. Read more on budgets.

Jul 9 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: July 9

Percentage of Single-father Households Up Dramatically
In 1960 only about 1 percent of households with children under the age of 18 were headed by single fathers. Today that number is a record 8 percent, or about 2.6 million in 2011. About one quarter of all single-parent households are headed by fathers. The climb in single fathers is due to largely the same reason as the climb in single mothers, according to data from Pew Research Trends. These include a dramatic increase in non-marital births and high divorce rates. However, there are notable differences between households headed by a single father or a single mother, with perhaps the greatest being that single fathers are generally better off financially. Read more on housing.

One in Seven Skin Cancer Patients Returns to Tanning Booth
Even after being diagnosed with skin cancer, one in seven people who use indoor tanning will return to a tanning booth within the next year, according to a new study in JAMA Dermatology. Research consistently shows that indoor tanning, which can emit up to 15 times the ultraviolet A radiation of the sun, dramatically increases the risk of cancer. "The situation may be analogous to that of lung cancer patients who continue to smoke after diagnosis," said study author Brenda Cartmel, a cancer prevention researcher at the Yale School of Public Health in New Haven, Conn., to Reuters. "Just as tobacco is known to be addictive, our research suggests that some patients may become dependent on tanning, with new intervention approaches needed to change these behaviors." About 20 million American visit tanning beds each year; the majority of them are young white women. Read more on cancer.

Majority of OB/GYNs Do Not Follow Guidelines on Cervical Cancer Prevention
Fewer than one-third of U.S. obstetricians-gynecologists vaccinate eligible patients against HPV and only about half follow the guidelines for cervical cancer prevention, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend Pap tests beginning at the age of 21 and then gradually decreasing the rate of testing, depending on patient age and history. "In the current survey and others, providers stated that the largest barrier to HPV vaccination was patients and parents declining to receive the vaccine," said lead investigator Rebecca Perkins, MD, of the Boston University School of Medicine, in a release. "However, studies indicate that most patients support HPV vaccination, and that a strong physician recommendation is the most important determinant of vaccine uptake in young women." Read more on vaccines.

Jul 3 2013
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Grassroots Efforts Help Promote Residential Fire Sprinklers, Save Lives

Approximately 362,100 residential fires left 2,555 civilians dead and another 13,275 injured in 2010, according to the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). They also caused about $6.6 billion in property damage.

According to FEMA, automatic fire sprinklers are the “most effective fire loss prevention and reduction measure with respect to both life and property.” The numbers regarding just home fires are especially impressive: the risk of death drops 80 percent and the cost of property damage drops 71 percent, according to Preemption Watch. And when comparing simple costs to the lives saved, they’re without question cheap. Residential sprinkler systems cost only about $1.61 per square foot to install and typically help lower insurance costs.

When seen through the lens of public health, residential fire sprinklers are an inexpensive and easy tool to prevent injuries and save lives. They’re low in cost, quick to respond, small in size and require little work to install, which makes for a high return on investment.

The successful implementation of more than 300 local ordinances since the 1970’s demonstrates the power of grassroots movements in public health. And, in the reactions by many state governments, it helps illustrate the “preemptive” legislation that can hinder efforts to advance public health.

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