Category Archives: News roundups

Jun 9 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 9

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NIH Researchers Publish Review of Key Marijuana Adverse Health Effects
As more states consider legalizing marijuana, researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA)—a division of the National Institutes of Health—have published a review of adverse health effects of the drug, including impaired driving. The review was published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine and the study authors consider a number of key concerns including:

  • Rising marijuana potencies
  • Possible health consequences of secondhand marijuana smoke
  • Long-term impact of prenatal marijuana exposure
  • According to the reviewers, research suggests that marijuana impairs critical thinking and memory functions during use and that these deficits persist for days after using
  • A long-term study showed that regular marijuana use in the early teen years lowers IQ into adulthood, even if users stopped smoking marijuana as adults.

“It is important to alert the public that using marijuana in the teen years brings health, social, and academic risk,” said lead author and NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, MD. NIDA offers additional information on the consequences of marijuana here. Read more on substance abuse.

Social Media is a Largely Untapped Communications Tool for Health Policy Researchers
As social media use continues to expand, it also presents a growing opportunity for health policy researchers to communicate with both the public and policy makers. However, few of these researchers appear to be using social media to the best of its potential in this field, according to a new study in the journal Health Affairs. The study, which was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, examined 325 health policy researchers, finding that only 14 percent of participants reported tweeting and only 21 percent noted blogging about their research in the past year. Many cited fears that social media would not be compatible with their research, the creation of professional risks and the lack of respected it is given by their peers or their academic institutions as obstacles to social media use. “Historically, the communication gap between researchers and policy makers has been large,” concluded the authors. “Social media are a new and relatively untested tool, but they have the potential to create new communication channels between researchers and policy makers to help narrow that gap.” Read more on technology.

Study: Many Preschool-aged Children Spending Too Much Time in Front of TVs, Computers
Many three- and four-year-olds are spending more than twice the recommended amount of time—two hours—in front of computers and television screens, according to a new study in the journal Child Indicators Research. Utilizing data on 2,221 preschool-aged children from the 2007 Head Start Family and Child Experiences Survey, researchers found that 55.7 percent of children had a television in their bedroom and 12.5 percent had high home screen time, defined as more than four hours each weekday. They also found that 56.6 percent of children had access to a computer at home and 37.5 percent had used it on the last typical weekday. In addition, 49.4 percent of children used a classroom computer for more than one hour each week and 14.2 percent played computer games at school for more than five hours each week. “This research should be used as a foundation for additional studies-- particularly those that look at educational screen time versus entertainment screen time,” said Erica Fletcher, a PhD student at Ohio State’s College of Public Health and lead on the project. “It’s a critical time to dive deeper into that. Since the data were collected, devices with screens like tablets and smart phones have become more affordable and are increasingly being used in the classroom. That has helped narrow the economic ‘digital divide’ on accessibility.” Read more on pediatrics.

Jun 6 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 6

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Overly Clean Homes Can Increase Child’s Risk of Asthma, Allergies
Living in an overly clean home can actually increase an infant’s risk of developing allergies or asthma as they grow older, as their bodies are not given the chance to develop appropriate responses, according to a new study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The researchers behind the study were surprised by the results, as they had been looking deeper into data that found that exposure to roach, mouse and pet droppings and other allergens increased asthma risk. "What we found was somewhat surprising and somewhat contradictory to our original predictions," said study co-author Robert Wood, MD, chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore, according to HealthDay. "It turned out to be completely opposite—the more of those three allergens you were exposed to, the less likely you were to go on to have wheezing or allergy." Approximately 40 percent of the allergy- and wheeze-free children in the study were raised in homes with high amounts of allergens and bacteria, while only 8 percent who suffered from both conditions had been exposed to allergens and bacteria while infants. Read more on pediatrics.

Study: Prenatal Medicaid Policy Reduces Smoking, But Doesn’t Improve Preterm Birthweights
While a Medicaid policy that fast-tracks applications of pregnant women helps reduce smoking during pregnancy, it has no significant effect on improving preterm birth rates or low birth weights, according to a new study in the journal Health Affairs. The study specifically looked at Medicaid’s presumptive eligibility and unborn-child option, which provides coverage for prenatal care. “Although the prevalence of prenatal smoking in the United States has declined in recent decades, it is nearly twice as high among low-income women enrolled in Medicaid than it is in the U.S. population as a whole,” said Marian Jarlenski, PhD, lead author of the paper. “Our research shows that Medicaid’s presumptive eligibility policy led to a nearly 8 percentage-point decrease in smoking during pregnancy, but neither policy significantly improved rates of preterm birth or babies born small for their gestational age.” Read more on maternal and infant health.

CDC: Watercress Tops ‘Powerhouse’ Fruits and Vegetables List
With a “nutrient density score” or 100.00, watercress tops the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new list of “powerhouse” fruits and vegetables. The list of 41 foods was created as a tool for nutrition education and dietary guidance. The study defined “powerhouse” as foods most strongly associated with reduced chronic disease risk, which are often green leafy, yellow/orange, citrus and cruciferous items. Chinese cabbage, chard, beet green and spinach rounded out the top five. The full list is available here. Read more on nutrition.

Jun 4 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 5

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Application Problems Mean 2.2M People Risk Losing ACA Coverage
Inconsistencies in their application data means that approximately 2.2 million people who enrolled for coverage under the Affordable Care Act could risk losing their coverage in isolated cases. A report from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) found that 1.2 million people filed health insurance enrollment applications with questionable income data, 461,000 had issues with citizenship and another 505,000 had issues with immigration. However, CMS also noted that 59 percent of the applications were within a 90-day window allowing them to resolve the problems. “Consumers experience regular changes in income and various life circumstances and the law accounts for these kinds of situations," said CMS, according to Reuters. "It is not surprising that there are income discrepancies given that this is a brand new process." As of mid-April more than 8 million people had enrolled for health coverage. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Study: Skipping Breakfast Doesn’t Hurt Efforts to Lose Weight
Common wisdom holds that people who skip breakfast actually increase their risk of obesity. However, a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that passing up on the first meal of the day neither helps nor hurts a person’s efforts to lose weight. The study involved 309 overweight and obese adults between the ages of 20 and 65—who were told to either eat or skip breakfast—and a control group provided with health nutrition information. Researchers found no difference when it came to efforts to lose weight. "The field of obesity and weight loss is full of commonly held beliefs that have not been subjected to rigorous testing; we have now found that one such belief does not seem to hold up when tested," senior investigator David Allison, director of the UAB Nutrition Obesity Research Center, said in a university news release. "This should be a wake-up call for all of us to always ask for evidence about the recommendations we hear so widely offered." Read more on obesity.

HHS: $300M Available to Expand Services at Community Health Centers
An additional $300 million in funding is available to community health centers as part of the Affordable Care Act, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced this week. The funds will go toward expanding service hours and the hiring of more medical providers, as well as the expansion or addition of oral health, behavioral health, pharmacy and vision services. There are approximately 1,300 health centers operating more than 9,000 service delivery sites and providing care for more than 21 million U.S. patients. Read more on community health.

Jun 3 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 3

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FDA Initiative Gives Developers Easy Access to Public Health Data
A new online initiative from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), openFDA, will give mobile application creators, web developers, data visualization artists and researchers access to the agency’s vast public health datasets in order to streamline the creation of their own applications. The structured, computer-readable format allows researchers to determine what types of data they want to search and how they want to present that data to end-users. “The openFDA initiative leverages new technologies and methods to unlock the tremendous public data and resources available from the FDA in a user-friendly way,” said Walter S. Harris, the FDA’s chief operating officer and acting chief information officer. “OpenFDA is a valuable resource that will help those in the private and public sectors use FDA public data to spur innovation, advance academic research, educate the public, and protect public health.” Read more on technology.

Study: 24 Million U.S. Youth Exposed to E-cigarette Advertisements
Unlike with traditional cigarettes, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not regulate the marketing of e-cigarettes unless they are advertised as a smoking cessation aid. As a result, e-cigarette companies currently market their products to an audience that includes 24 million youth, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers determined that, from 2011 to 2013, youth exposure to e-cigarette advertisements climbed 256 percent and young adult exposure climbed 321 percent. They also determined that approximately 76 percent of the youth exposure came from advertisements on cable networks. Read more on tobacco.

Study: Global Investment in Midwives Needed to Save the Lives of Mothers, Newborns
Investments in midwifery could save the lives of millions of mothers and newborns, according to a new report from the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM) and the World Health Organization (WHO). The report determined that 73 African, Asian and Latin American countries experienced 96 percent of the world’s maternal deaths, 91 percent of stillbirths and 93 percent of newborn deaths, with lack of access to midwives a significant contributing factor. Those countries have only 42 percent of the world’s midwives, nurses and doctors.

  • Among the report’s recommendations:
  • Increased access to preventive and supportive care from a collaborative midwifery team
  • Immediate access to emergency services when needed
  • Completing post-secondary education
  • And, from a broader perspective, women should delay marriage, have access to healthy nutrition and receive four pre-birth care visits

"Midwives make enormous contributions to the health of mothers and newborns and the well-being of entire communities. Access to quality health care is a basic human right. Greater investment in midwifery is key to making this right a reality for women everywhere," said Babatunde Osotimehin, UNFPA Executive Director, in a release. Read more on maternal and infant health.

Jun 3 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 4

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Study: Medicaid Patients Receive Poorer Cancer Care
People on Medicaid receive poorer cancer care than people with private insurance, according to three new studies presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago. Researchers determined that Medicaid patients are less likely to have their cancer caught at an earlier, more treatable phase, as well as far more likely to die from cancer. One of the factors contributing to this disparity is the fact that Medicaid patients have less experience navigating the health care system. "Research has shown that we can screen more patients, but that they get dropped along the way to treatment. We don't give them full access into curative therapy," said Jyoti Patel, MD, an oncologist at the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University in Chicago, who's also a spokeswoman for the American Society of Clinical Oncology. "We need to do a better job to make sure that people who aren't savvy or can't advocate for themselves have that helping hand." Read more on health disparities.

CDC: Norovirus is the Leading Cause of Disease Outbreaks from Contaminated Food
Norovirus is the leading cause of disease outbreaks from contaminated food in the United States, according to the latest Vital Signs report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Approximately 20 million people in the United States are sickened by norovirus annually. According to the CDC, because infected workers are often the source of these outbreaks, the food service industry can help prevent outbreaks by enforcing safety practices, including:

  • Making sure food service workers practice proper hand washing and use utensils and single-use disposable gloves to avoid touching ready-to-eat foods with bare hands
  • Certifying kitchen managers and training food service workers in food safety practices
  • Establishing policies that require food service workers to stay home when sick with vomiting and diarrhea and for at least 48 hours after symptoms stop

Read more on food safety.

N.C. Program Successful in Expanding Dental Care to Young, Low-income Children
A North Carolina program to reduce cavities in young, low-income children, has significantly increased the number of children under the age of four receiving preventive dental care  since the program began in 2000, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. The program works to train physicians in basic dental screening and preventive techniques that can be provided quickly and effectively during regular office visits. “Evaluation studies conducted since the initiation of the program in 2000 have found it to substantially increase access to preventive dental services for young, high-risk children who otherwise would be unlikely to use these services in dental offices, reduce caries-related treatments and costs, avert hospitalizations and improve oral health status,” said study was co-author R. Gary Rozier, DDS, MPH, professor of health policy and management at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, in a release. Read more on pediatrics.

Jun 2 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 2

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EPA Plans to Cut Carbon Emissions 30 Percent by 2030
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced plans today to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030. The new Clean Power Plant proposal would be the first to cut emissions from existing power plants, which produce approximately one-third of the country’s domestic greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA estimates the proposed changes will help the United States avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children and up to 490,000 missed work or school days. "Climate change, fueled by carbon pollution, supercharges risks to our health, our economy, and our way of life,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, adding “By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids.” Read more on air and water quality.

Study: Tax on Total Calories in Sugary Drinks the Most Effective Way to Reduce Consumption
Tying a sugary drink tax to the amount of calories in a drink rather than its serving size would be more effective at reducing their consumption, according to a new study in the American Journal of Agricultural Economics. The study, which was financed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, determined that such a tax of four-hundredths of a penny for every calorie would reduce calorie consumption by 9.3 percent; a tax of half a cent for each ounce in a can or bottle would reduce consumption by only 8.6 percent. “It provides a better incentive to the consumer to switch to lower-calorie drinks, which would be taxed at a lower rate than higher-calorie drinks,” said Chen Zhen, MD, a research economist at the food and nutrition policy research program at Research Triangle Institute and the lead author of the study, according to The New York Times. “One of the concerns about taxing ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages is that consumers are paying the same tax whether they buy 12 ounces of a drink with 150 calories or 12 ounces of a drink with 50 calories.” Read more on nutrition.

CDC: $19.5M for Innovative Public Health Prevention Research
Late last week the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) awarded $19.5 million to 26 academic institutions for innovative public health prevention research to reduce health disparities. The grants will help the communities develop new methods to avoid or counter risks for chronic health care issues such as heart disease, obesity and cancer. “Prevention Research Centers have reached up to 31 million people in 103 partner communities, some of which are the most underserved in the country,” said Ursula E. Bauer, PhD, MPH., director of CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, in a release. “By involving communities in conducting and disseminating research, this network of centers ensures that effective and innovative health strategies can be readily shared and applied where most needed.” Read more on prevention.

May 30 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 30

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FDA: Sunlamps to Require Health Warnings
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a final order that requires sunlamp products and ultraviolent (UV) lamps for use in sunlamp products to carry warnings stating that they should not be used by people under the age of 18. The order reclassifies the products from low-risk (class I) to moderate-risk (II). “The FDA has taken an important step today to address the risk to public health from sunlamp products,” said Jeffrey Shuren, MD, director of the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, in a release. “Repeated UV exposure from sunlamp products poses a risk of skin cancer for all users—but the highest risk for skin cancer is in young persons under the age of 18 and people with a family history of skin cancer.” People who are exposed to UV radiation as a result of indoor tanning increase their risk of melanoma by 59 percent, according to the American Academy of Dermatology. Read more on cancer.

CDC: U.S. Measles Cases at a 20-year High
Cases of measles in the United States are at a 20-year high, with international travel by unvaccinated people a major contributor, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC reports that there were 288 U.S. cases between January 1 and May 23 this year—and 97 percent were associated with importation by travelers from at least 18 countries. Approximately 90 percent of the cases were in people who were not vaccinated or whose vaccination status was unknown. “The current increase in measles cases is being driven by unvaccinated people, primarily U.S. residents, who got measles in other countries, brought the virus back to the United States and spread to others in communities where many people are not vaccinated,” said Anne Schuchat, MD, assistant surgeon general and director of CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases, in a release. “Many of the clusters in the U.S. began following travel to the Philippines where a large outbreak has been occurring since October 2013.” Read more on vaccines.

Type of Increased Heart Risk Depends on Which Blood Pressure Number is High
The type of increased heart risk a person with high blood pressure faces depends on which number in their blood pressure—the top, which is systolic, or the bottom, which is diastolic—is high, according to a new study in The Lancet. Researchers analyzed health care date on more than 1 million people ages 30 and older in England, finding that people with higher systolic blood pressure had a greater risk of bleeding strokes and stable angina, while people with higher diastolic blood pressure were more likely to be diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. In addition, they found that a 30-year-old with high blood pressure has a 63 percent lifetime risk of developing heart disease, compared with 46 percent for a person with normal blood pressure. "With lifetime risks this high, the need for new blood pressure-lowering strategies is paramount," said lead investigator Eleni Rapsomaniki, MD, from The Farr Institute for Health Informatics Research in London, England, in release. Read more on heart health.

May 29 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 29

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CDC: Man Previously Reported Having MERS Does Not Harbor the Virus
After completing additional and more definitive laboratory tests, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has retracted a report made last week that an Illinois man contracted the potentially deadly MERS virus from a patient who was diagnosed with MERS in the United States after spending time as a health care worker in Saudi Arabia. The confusion over the diagnosis came from earlier tests that indicated antibodies to a coronavirus, the class of virus MERS belongs to. However, more definitive tests found that he did not harbor the MERS virus. There are six known versions of the coronavirus; four cause mild illness and two cause the much more serious MERS and SARS viruses. Read more on infectious disease.

Study: 30 Percent of the World’s Population is Obese
A new analysis of global obesity trends finds that approximately 2.1 billion people—or nearly 30 percent of the world population—are obese, according to a new study in The Lancet. Researchers found that rates of being obese or overweight climbed 20 percent in adults and 47 percent in children during the 33 years analyzed. The study, which was funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, determined that while obesity was once more common in wealthier nations, approximately two-thirds of the world’s obese population lives in developing countries. In addition, the statistics for the United States were especially troubling; while only 5 percent of the world’s population lives in the United States, the country is home to approximately 13 percent of the world’s obese population. Read more on obesity.

Study: Lung Cancer Screening Can Scare People into Quitting Smoking
In addition to early detection and treatment of lung cancer, early screening can also scare people into quitting smoking before they even develop the disease, according to a new study in the JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Researchers based their findings on an analysis of 14,621 current smokers, 55-70 years old, with a 30 or more pack-year smoking history and who had smoked during the last 15 years. The data was taken from the Lung Screening Study component of the U.S. National Lung Screening Trial. The study found that "...abnormal screening results may present a 'teachable moment'" and that "[f]uture lung cancer screening programs should take advantage of this opportunity to apply effective smoking cessation programs." Read more on tobacco.

May 28 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 28

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OECD: Economic Crisis Contributed to Global Obesity Crisis
More people than not in the member countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) are obese, with the economic crisis that began in 2008 contributing even more to the overall increase in body weight and obesity, according to a new OECD report. The analysis found that many of the people and families in the countries hit hardest by the economic crisis were forced to turn to less expensive—but also less healthy—food. For example, from 2008-2009 households in the United Kingdom decreased their food expenditure by 8.5 percent in real terms, while also increasing the average calorie density of purchased foods by 4.8 percent.

Among the other findings:

  • One in 5 OECD children are overweight or obese
  • The obesity epidemic has spread further in the past five years, but rates have been increasing at a slower pace than before
  • People with less education and lower socio-economic status are more likely to be obese, and the gap is generally larger in women
  • A growing number of countries have adopted policies to prevent obesity from spreading further

Read more on obesity.

Study: 1 in 5 Medicare Patients Experience Medical Injuries
Approximately 20 percent of Medicare patients experience medical injuries, which are often not linked to any underlying disease or condition, according to a new study in the journal Injury Prevention. Typical injuries include being given the wrong medication, having an allergic reaction to a medication, or receiving any treatment that led to more complications of an existing medical problem. Using data on more than 12,500 Medicare patients who made claims between 1998 and 2005, researchers found that 19 percent experienced at least one adverse medical event and 62 percent of the injuries took place during outpatient care. The highest risks were scene in older people, men and those from lower-income backgrounds. "These injuries are caused by the medical care or management rather than any underlying disease," said lead researcher Mary Carter, director of the Gerontology Program at Towson University in Maryland. "To really improve our ability to prevent these types of adverse events, we have to focus at least as much on outpatient care as we do on inpatient care." Read more on injury prevention.

Salmonella Outbreak Causes an Additional 50 Cases; Total Now at 574
With an additional 50 cases, the salmonella outbreak linked to Foster Farms chicken that began in March 2013 now has sickened a total of 574 people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC estimates there have been an average of eight new cases per week since an April report on the drug-resistant Salmonella Heidelberg. Thirty-seven percent of the cases have led to hospitalization and about 13 percent have developed blood infections, which is three times higher than what’s seen with typical salmonella infections. Read more on food safety.

May 27 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 27

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Study: Family Stress Can Impact Mortality Risk
Stressful family situations can significantly increase the risk of death, according to a new study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Using health data on 9,875 men and women aged 36-52 years from The Danish Longitudinal Study on Work, Unemployment and Health, researchers determined that frequent worries and/or demands from a partner or children were linked to a 50-100 percent increase in mortality risk, and that frequent conflicts with any type of social relation were linked to a 2-3 times increase in mortality risk. Researchers also concluded that people outside the labor force were at higher risk of exposure to stress family situations. Read more on mortality.

National Task Force Recommends Regular Hep B Screening for People at Highest Risk
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is recommending regular screening for all people at high risk for contracting hepatitis B virus. If left untreated, the chronic illness can lead to liver cancer. Among the groups that the national panel says should be screened are:

  • People born in countries with a high rate of infection, mainly in Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, the Pacific Islands, the Middle East and Eastern Europe.
  • Those who share risk factors similar to those for HIV, including injection drug users, men who have sex with men, and people living with or having sex with someone with a hepatitis B infection.
  • Patients with a weakened immune system or who are undergoing treatment for kidney failure.

"We have treatments that are effective at suppressing the virus and at improving abnormalities in the liver, so we can prevent some of the damage that occurs due to chronic hepatitis B," said Roger Chou, MD, an assistant professor at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland and director of the Pacific Northwest Evidence-based Practice Center, as well as lead author for the evidence review that formed the basis of the task force's recommendation. Read more on infectious disease.

Fewer Smokers See E-cigarettes as a Safer Smoking Alternative
While the national profile of e-cigarettes continues to increase, smokers are also increasingly less likely to view them as safer than traditional cigarettes, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Using data collected from the Health Information National Trends Survey (HINTS), researchers determined that awareness of e-cigarettes rose to 77.1 percent in 2013 from 16.4 percent in 2009. However, while 84.7 percent of smokers in 2010 viewed e-cigarettes as less harmful than traditional cigarettes, that number was down to 65 percent in 2013. Current estimates are that c-cigarette sales will soon reach $1.7 billion annually, or approximately 1 percent of all U.S. cigarette sales. Read more on tobacco.