Category Archives: News roundups
FDA Looking to Revise Nutrition Fact Labels
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is looking to revise nutrition fact labels for the first time in more than two decades. The changes should reflect our improved understanding of nutrition, according to nutritionists. "The food environment has changed and our dietary guidance has changed," said Michael Taylor, the FDA's deputy commissioner for foods. "It's important to keep this updated so what is iconic doesn't become a relic." For example, there is now more of a focus on calories and better understanding of the different types of fats. Nutrition experts also have called for more prominent calorie counts, as well as information on added sugar and the percentage of whole wheat in the food. The FDA has sent its proposed guidelines to the White House. Read more on nutrition.
Study: ERs Need to do More to Cut Unnecessary Antibiotic Prescriptions
Despite growing concerns over antibiotic resistance, emergency departments are not decreasing their inappropriate use of antibiotics, according to a new study in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy. Researchers analyzed data from 2001 to 2010, finding no decrease in emergency department use of antibiotics for adults with respiratory infections caused by viruses, which are not affected by antibiotics. There are approximately 126 million emergency department visits for acute respiratory infections each year in the United States. Halting excessive and unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions in emergency departments is especially critical because many uninsured people also look to them for primary care. "The observed lack of change...is concerning," study co-author Henry Wang, MD, vice chair for research in the department of emergency medicine at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "This may indicate that efforts to curtail inappropriate antibiotic use have not been effective or have not yet been implemented in all medical settings." Read more on prescription drugs.
CDC: Strategies on Reducing Sodium Levels in Restaurants
A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) includes strategies on how health departments and restaurants can work together to lower the amount of sodium in foods. The report, “From Menu to Mouth: Opportunities for Sodium Reduction in Restaurants,” appears in the CDC journal Preventing Chronic Disease. While the U. S. Dietary Guidelines recommend the general population limit sodium to under 2,300 mg a day, meals from fast food restaurants contain an average of 1,848 mg of sodium per 1,000 calories and foods from dine-in restaurants contain 2,090 mg of sodium per 1,000 calories. The strategies include:
- Health department dietitians help restaurants analyze the sodium content of their foods and recommend lower-sodium ingredients.
- Restaurants clearly post nutrition information, including sodium content, at the order counter and on menus or offer lower-sodium items at lower cost.
- Health departments and restaurants explain to food service staff why lower sodium foods are healthier and how to prepare them.
“The bottom line is that it’s both possible and life-saving to reduce sodium, and this can be done by reducing, replacing and reformulating,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “When restaurants rethink how they prepare food and the ingredients they choose to use, healthier options become routine for customers.” Read more on the CDC.
HHS to Form Committee to Address Children’s Needs in Disasters
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is forming a new advisory committee to help meet the particular needs of children before, during and after a disaster or other public health emergency. The committee will seek to bring together experts from the scientific, public health and medical fields. HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) also created the Children’s HHS Interagency Leadership on Disasters (CHILD) working group in 2010, which has so far increased interagency coordination and recommendations to improve lifesaving care for children in disasters; developed ways to mitigate the behavioral and psychological needs of children in disasters; and identification of medications and vaccines for children in emergencies. The deadline for nominations for committee membership is Feb. 14. Read more on disasters.
Study: Cold Weather May Help People Lose Weight
There’s at least one benefit to the frigid air currently blanketing much of the country—regular exposure to mild cold may help people lose weight and sustain healthier weights, according to a new study in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. However, that also means that the during the winter, when most buildings keep their temperature warmer, our body is working less to stay warm, so using less energy. "Since most of us are exposed to indoor conditions 90 percent of the time, it is worth exploring health aspects of ambient temperatures," said first author of the article Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt of Maastricht University Medical Center in The Netherlands. "What would it mean if we let our bodies work again to control body temperature? We hypothesize that the thermal environment affects human health and more specifically that frequent mild cold exposure can significantly affect our energy expenditure over sustained time periods." Read more on obesity.
AHA, NFL App to Encourage Kids’ Physical Activity
The American Heart Association and the National Football League have released a new app, NFL Play 60, to encourage kids to get the full 60 minutes of daily recommended physical activity. In the interactive running experience, players dropped into a virtual world full of obstacles, and have to run, jump, pivot and turn in place to make their app character do the same and navigate the world. “One-third of U.S. children and adolescents are overweight or obese and at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke. Engaging young people in physical activity is one of the best ways to decrease their risk for heart disease,” said Mariell Jessup, MD, President of the American Heart Association. “We’re proud to partner with the NFL in developing an innovative way to reach adolescents, through their schools and now via their smartphones, in an effort to impact their lives earlier to make their lives longer.” The app is available for free download in the iTunes store starting today and will be available for Android on Feb. Read more on physical activity.
Survey: Latinos See Diabetes as Greatest Family Health Concern
A new NPR/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/Harvard School of Public Health poll found that Latinos see diabetes as the biggest health concern for their families. Almost 19 percent of Latinos surveyed cited diabetes as the top worry, including across both immigrant (19 percent) and non-immigrant (22 percent) populations. Cancer, at 5 percent, was the second-biggest concern. In addition to health and health care, the poll also asked about communities, financial situation and discrimination. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Hispanic adults are 1.7 percent more likely than non-Hispanic whites to be diagnosed with diabetes, and 1.5 percent more likely to die from it. Read more on health disparities.
Heart Attack Patients in ER Off-Hours Seeing Higher Mortality Rates
Heart attack patients who present during off-hours—at night and on weekends—are more likely to die, according to a new study from the journal BMJ. Their emergency care is also more likely to take longer than it would during normal hospital hours, including inflation of the coronary artery, which can take an additional 15 minutes. After analyzed records on 1,896,859 patients, researchers at the Mayo Clinic determined that heart attack patients who present during off-hours had a 5 percent relative increase in mortality—or an additional 6,000 U.S. deaths. The study’s authors concluded that emergency departments "should focus on improving their off-hour care, with the goal of providing consistently high quality care 24 hours a day and seven days a week." Read more on heart health.
Study: HPV Vaccination Rate Remains Low, More Physician Recommendations Needed
Only 14.5 percent of girls ages 11 and 12 have received at least one does of the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination, with only 3 percent having completed a three-dose series, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The study from the Moffitt Cancer Center indicates that increasing the rate of physician recommendations, which so far remains low, could do much to up the vaccination rate and cut the risk of cancer. The vaccination protects against the two types of HPV that cause 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. “This study demonstrates that the change in consistent HPV vaccine recommendations to early adolescent females was modest, and for older adolescent females was virtually nonexistent, from three to five years after the vaccine became available,” explained Susan T. Vadaparampil, PhD, MPH, associate member of the Health Outcomes and Behavior Program at Moffitt. “Physician recommendation is central to increasing HPV vaccination rates because it is one of the most important predictors of whether a patient gets the HPV vaccine.” Read more on cancer.
Interactive Map Helps Communities Prepare for Peaks in Flu Cases
Flu season for most of the country should peak in January, according to a new website that utilizes modern weather prediction technology to turn real-time influenza estimates into 94 local forecasts of future flu activity. The website was developed by infectious disease experts at Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health. By predicting when areas are likely to see the highest incidence of flu cases, public health officials can better manage medicine and other supplies.
The website features:
- Interactive U.S. map that displays the relative severity of seasonal flu in cities across the country flu and incidence numbers for each
- Influenza incidence predictions by city for the coming weeks
- Map that illustrates the proportion of flu cases by region
- Charts that compare the timing and severity of the four most recent flu seasons
- Exportable data for each week of the flu season (beginning in 9/29 for the 2013-2014 season)
Read more on influenza.
Minority Children Less Likely to Be in Car, Booster Seats Properly
Minority children are less likely than white children to be put into car seats and booster seats as recommended, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Potential reasons for the disparity include both access to resources and social norms. "We expected that differences in family income, parental education, and sources of information would explain the racial disparities in age-appropriate restraint use and they did not," lead author Michelle L. Macy, MD, according to Reuters. According to a survey of 600 parents with kids ages one to 12, among four- to seven-year-olds, twice as many non-white kids sat in the front seat as white kids; 10 percent of the kids in that age group overall had sat in the front seat. The study also found that 3 percent of kids under age four and 34 percent ages eight to 12 had sat in the front seat, although there were no differences based on race for these groups. Read more on safety.
Study: Access to Firearms Increases Risk of Suicide and Homicide
A person with access to a gun is three times more likely to commit suicide and about twice as likely to be murdered than someone without such access, according to a new study in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine. Researchers analyzed 15 previous gun studies—13 from the United States—looking at intentional acts of violence. They also adjusted the past studies for the likelihood of mental illness. "If you have a firearm readily available and something bad has happened to you, you might make a rash, impulsive decision that will have a bad outcome," said lead author Andrew Anglemyer, a specialist in study design and data analytics in clinical pharmacy and global health sciences at the University of California, San Francisco. "These are just normal gun owners, and we are seeing that gun owners are making very bad, impulsive decisions." Each year the United States sees approximately 31,000 deaths due to firearms. Read more on violence.
Arab Countries at Risk of Halting Progress in Life Expectancy, Child Mortality
If left unaddressed, the increasing problems of chronic disease, diet-related risk factors and road injury deaths could hamper the progress that countries in the Arab world have made in life expectancy and child mortality over the past two decades, according to a new study in The Lancet. The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME)-led study analyzed data from the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study (GBD), finding that all 22 nations of the Arab League saw life expectancy increase for women from 1990 to 2010, and all but one saw increases for men (Kuwait, which was already at 76.8 in 1990 and dipped to only 76.1). However, societal changes linked to income levels are also bringing with them new issues. For example, higher-income countries where food is more abundant are seeing poorer diets and decreased physical activity. “The Arab countries are in transition from places where infectious diseases are the main cause of concern to places where heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are the main worries,” said IHME Director Christopher Murray, MD. “Right now, in the low-income countries, they are suffering from a double burden of non-communicable and infectious diseases. And that causes an incredible strain on their health systems.” Read more on global health.
Study: Cutting Fast Food Not Enough—Education Nutrition Also Needed to Combat Childhood Obesity
Cutting back or even cutting out fast food alone is not enough to combat the childhood obesity epidemic, with increased focus on the rest of diet also necessary, including proper education on nutrition, according to a new study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Researchers analyzed data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, looking at information on nearly 4,500 U.S. kids ages 2 to 18 from 2007 to 2010. The study found that nearly 40 percent of kids consumed up to 30 percent of their total calories from fast food, with 10 percent consuming more than 30 percent. They also found that kids who ate more fast food also tended to make unhealthy eating choices outside of fast food restaurants. "The fact that fast-food diners—especially adolescents—tend to choose nutrient-poor foods outside of the fast-food meal demonstrates the need for better nutrition education and a focus on the whole diet to meet health needs," said Connie Diekman, director of university nutrition at Washington University in St. Louis. Read more on nutrition.
FDA Approves First Post-natal Test to Diagnose Development Delays, Intellectual Disabilities
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has granted approval for the marketing of a first-of-its-kind test to help diagnose developmental delays and intellectual disabilities in children. The post-natal blood test analyzes the entire genome in search of chromosomal variations of different types, sizes, and genome locations; disabilities such as Down syndrome and DiGeorge syndrome are linked to chromosomal variations. “This new tool may help in the identification of possible causes of a child’s developmental delay or intellectual disability, allowing health care providers and parents to intervene with appropriate care and support for the child,” said Alberto Gutierrez, PhD, director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health. Read more on mental health.
USDA: Americans Are Eating Healthier
A new report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture finds that American diets improved between 2005 and 2010. The report, which relied on responses to the National Health Examination and Nutrition Survey, found that American adults are making better use of available nutrition information; consuming fewer calories coming from fat and saturated fat; consuming less cholesterol; and eating more fiber. Daily calorie intake declined by 78 calories per day between 2005 and 2010. The report also found declines in calories from total fat (3.3 percent), saturated fat (5.9 percent), and intake of cholesterol (7.9 percent). Overall fiber intake increased by 1.2 grams per day (7.5 percent). Read more on nutrition.
ACEP Emergency Care Report Card Gives Public Health a ‘C’
Public health and injury prevention received a “C” grade in the new "America's Emergency Care Environment: A State-by-State Report Card." The nation overall received a “D” in the American College of Emergency Physicians report, which looks at the conditions and policies under which emergency care is being delivered, not the quality of the care. Public health and prevention was one of five categories of 136 total measures used to grade the quality of emergency care, along with access to emergency care; quality and patient safety; medical liability and environment; and disaster preparedness. Read more on access to health care.
Mental Health Problems in Middle Aged and Older Adults May be Underreported
A new study by researchers at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and published in JAMA Psychiatry finds than the number of people in middle and old age with mental health disorders may be higher than previously thought. The study was based on a survey of just over 1,000 adults who were part of a long-term longitudinal study. The participants were asked questions about mental health disorders and then were also given an assessment for the disorders by health professionals. The survey found that while the responders underreported mental health issues, they were fairly accurate when reporting physical health problems. Read more on mental health.
New Interventions Needed to Reduce Underage Drinking
Strategies recommended by the Surgeon General to reduce underage drinking have shown promise when put into practice, according to scientists at the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). The approaches include nighttime restrictions on young drivers and strict license suspension policies; partnerships between college campuses and the community; and routine screening by doctors to identify and counsel underage drinkers. However, Ralph Hingson, SCD, director of NIAAA's Division of Epidemiology and Prevention Research says that “while progress has been made in addressing underage drinking, the consequences still remain unacceptably high. We must continue research to develop new interventions and implement existing strategies that have been shown to be effective.” According to Hingson, new research areas could include more studies of the effects of alcohol on the developing brain, legal penalties for providing alcohol to minors and parent-family alcohol interventions. Preliminary NIAAA research also shows that interventions aimed at strengthening family relationships in the middle-school years can have a lasting effect on students’ drinking behavior. Underage drinking is linked to 5,000 injury deaths per year, poor academic performance, potential damage to the developing brain, and risky sexual behavior. Read more on alcohol.
HHS: Guides, Tools to Improve Safe Use of EHRs
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has released a new set of guides and interactive tools to assist health care providers in more safely using and managing electronic health information technology products, such as electronic health records (EHRs). The resources—which include checklists, practice worksheets and recommended practices to assess and optimize the safe use of EHRs—are available at HealthIT.gov. Each guide is available as an interactive online tool or a downloadable PDF. The new tools are part of HHS’s plan to implement its Health IT Patient Safety Action and Surveillance Plan, released last July. Read more on technology.
Traumatic Brain Injury Linked to Higher Risk of Early Death
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is linked to a higher risk of premature death, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry. Researchers from the University of Oxford, United Kingdom, analyzed the records of all patients born in 1954 or later in Sweden who were diagnosed with TBI from 1969 to 2009, finding an increased risk of dying among patients who survived six months after TBI compared to those without TBI, with the risk remaining for years afterward. In particular, the study found an increased risk of death from external causes such as suicide, injury and assault, also was higher. “Current clinical guidelines may need revision to reduce mortality risks beyond the first few months after injury and address high rates of psychiatric comorbidity and substance abuse,” wrote the study authors. Read more on mental health.
Heavy Drinking During Middle Age Can Cause Earlier Memory Loss in Men
Heavy drinking during middle age can bring on earlier deterioration of memory, attention and reasoning skills in men, according to a new study in the journal Neurology. Researchers studied data on 5,000 men and 2,000 women whose alcohol consumption was assessed three times over a 10-year period before also taking three tests of memory, attention and reasoning, with the first test happening at the average age of 56. They found that men who drank at least 2.5 servings of alcohol a day experienced mental declines between 1.5 and 6 years earlier than the other participants. "Heavy alcohol consumption is known to be detrimental for health, so the results were not surprising...they just add that [it's] also detrimental for the brain and the effects can be observed as [early] as 55 years old," said study author Severine Sabia, a research associate in the department of epidemiology and public health at University College London. Read more on alcohol.
TFAH: Not Enough Americans are Getting the Flu Vaccine
Only a little more than a third of U.S. adults ages 18-64 got their flu shot last season, according to a new analysis by the Trust for America’s Health (TFAH). The report also found that 66.2 percent of adults ages 65 and older and 56.6 percent of children ages 6 months to 17 years were vaccinated. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that all American above the age of 6 months be vaccinated each year. “The trend of low vaccination rates among younger adults is particularly troubling this year, when they are more at risk than usual for the effects of the H1N1 strain of flu that’s circulating,” said Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH. The overall vaccination rate came out approximately 45 percent for the 2012-13 flu season, which while still far short of CDC goals surpassed the previous season’s overall rate of 41.8 percent. Read more on influenza.
FDA: New Regulations on Acetaminophen to Help Curb Liver Toxicity
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is making changes to regulations on acetaminophen to help combat the dangers of liver toxicity, calling for manufacturers of prescription combination products to limit the amount of acetaminophen to no more than 325 milligrams in each tablet or capsule, as well as update the labels on those drugs to warn about the potential risk for severe liver injury. Acetaminophen is found in opioids such as codeine (Tylenol with Codeine), oxycodone (Percocet), and hydrocodone (Vicodin). “FDA is taking this action to make prescription combination pain medications containing acetaminophen safer for patients to use,” said Sandra Kweder, MD, deputy director of the Office of New Drugs in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Overdose from prescription combination products containing acetaminophen account for nearly half of all cases of acetaminophen-related liver failure in the United States; many of which result in liver transplant or death.” Read more on prescription drugs.
Study: Specialized School Health Programs Also Improve Healthy Behaviors at Home
Broad school health programs can improve children’s health and healthy behaviors at both school and in the home, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers tailored programs for the specific needs of individual elementary schools in ten disadvantaged neighborhoods in Edmonton, with activities such as yoga and dance classes, and then tracked their activity compared to kids at schools without the programs. They found that students with the health programs increased their average daily steps during a typical week by 21 percent, compared to 7 percent for the kids without the programs. "It shows that if you deliver a school program well, kids not only will be active more during the school hours when they are in the hands of the teachers but they're also being trained and understand that it's important to be physically active at other times," said Paul J. Veugelers, who worked on the study at the University of Alberta's School of Public Health in Edmonton. Read more on physical activity.
HHS: 2.2M Enrolled for Coverage Under Affordable Care Act Through December
Despite a glitch-filled October 1 launch that saw only about 27,000 people enroll in the first month, by December 28 an estimated 2.2 million Americans had enrolled for health coverage available through the Affordable Care Act, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The state and federal online marketplaces enrolled nearly 1.8 million in December alone. Of the 2.2 million enrollees:
- 54 percent are female and 46 percent are male
- 30 percent are age 34 and under
- 24 percent are between the ages of 18 and 34
- 60 percent selected a Silver plan, while 20 percent selected a Bronze plan
- 79 percent selected a plan with Financial Assistance
Read more on the Affordable Care Act.
Task Force Recommends All Pregnant Women Be Screened for Gestational Diabetes
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is now recommending that all pregnant women be screened for gestational diabetes after 24 weeks of pregnancy. Gestational diabetes can increase the risk of pregnancy complications (such as preeclampsia) and labor complications, due to the baby growing larger than normal. Newborns are also at higher risk of low blood sugar levels after being exposed to the mother’s high blood sugar. Early diagnosis and treatment—lifestyle changes, blood sugar monitoring and insulin—can reduce the risks for both mother and child. "The number of women who have gestational diabetes is rising, and gestational diabetes has effects not only on the mother, but also on the baby," said task force chairwoman Virginia Moyer, MD, vice president for maintenance of certification and quality at the American Board of Pediatrics. "We want to prevent adverse outcomes for both of them." Read more on maternal and infant health.
West Virginia Closer to Restoring Safer Tap Water After Chemical Leak
About 35,000 people in the area of Charleston, West Virginia, can now drink their tap water safely after it was declared usable again, according to West Virginia American Water. More than 300,000 customers were told their water was unsafe to drink and or use for washing after it was discovered last week that as much as 7,500 gallons of 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, or crude MCHM, from Freedom Industries had leaked into the Elk River. Officials estimate it will take a few more days before the entire system is once again safe. MCHM-tainted water can cause nausea, vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, rashes and reddened skin; 231 people visited emergency departments with symptoms and 14 were admitted. Read more on water and air quality.
Study: School Assaults Lead to Nearly 90,000 ER Visits Annually
Assaults at school account for almost 90,000 emergency-room visits annually, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. In a review of data on students ages 5-19, researchers determined that an average of 92,000 annual emergency visits were a result of deliberate injury, with student-on-student assault accounting for about 88,000. About 40 percent of the injuries were bruises or scratches, with few leading to later hospitalization. "[The number of injuries] appears to be concerningly high, especially when you realize that such a substantial number of injuries are occurring in the school setting, where safety measures are already in place," said lead author Siraj Amanullah, MD, an assistant professor of emergency medicine and pediatrics at Brown University's Alpert Medical School. "There is a need to continue addressing this issue at various levels—at home, at school and in the medical care setting—and there is a need to ramp up our existing prevention and safety strategies.” Read more on violence.
WHO: India Can Now Be Declared Polio-Free
With now three years passed since its last reported cased of polio—January 13, 2011—the country of India can now be declared polio-free, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). The certification process should be completed by the end of March. The country’s last victim was a two-year-old girl in West Bengal. This now leaves Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria as the only countries where polio remains endemic. As part of our recent Outbreak Week, NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Sona Bari, WHO’s senior communications officer, about the efforts underway to eradicate polio globally. Read more on infectious disease.
Translation Errors Plague ACA’s Spanish-language Site, Impede Enrollment
Problems with the Spanish-language version of the Affordable Care Act’s website are making it difficult for many of the site’s users to navigate the site and enroll for coverage. In addition to launching late and sending users to English-language forms when they are clearly looking for Spanish-language content, CuidadoDeSalud.gov is also full of grammatical and other language mistakes. "When you get into the details of the plans, it's not all written in Spanish. It's written in Spanglish, so we end up having to translate it for them," said Adrian Madriz, a health care navigator who helps with enrollment in Miami. Several states with large Hispanic populations have fallen short in their goals to enroll Spanish-speakers, with critics pointing to the website as a major impediment. For example, while it’s not know how many of California’s 4.3 million residents who only speak Spanish intend to seek coverage under the Affordable Care Act, through the end of November only 5,500 had successfully enrolled. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.