Category Archives: News roundups
GAO Recommends FDA Set Schedules for Decisions on New Tobacco Products
The General Accounting Office issued a report yesterday recommending that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) establish performance measures for the Center for Tobacco Products that include time frames for making decisions on the approval of new tobacco product submissions. The FDA has had authority over tobacco for more than four years, but a backlog remains on new tobacco products the agency must approve. New tobacco products applications submitted to the agency include devices that may deliver less nicotine to people who smoke. In a response to a draft of the GAO report, the FDA noted that the GAO report recognized that “the length of time from the end of jurisdiction review to the end of completeness review decreased from 8 months in FY2011 to 2 months in FY2012. This constitutes considerable progress and is a reflection of CTP’s ongoing commitment to shortening review times.” Read more on tobacco.
American Heart Association: Unlock School Gates
A new policy statement from the American Heart Association (AHA), published in the American Journal of Public Health, says school districts can increase physical activity among children and young adults by opening playgrounds, gyms and playing fields to the community outside of school hours, especially in low-income areas. AHA recommends that school districts enter shared-use agreements with community organizations to allow supervised activities such as sports leagues and unsupervised playing on school grounds. When previously locked schoolyards in two lower-income communities in New Orleans were opened and activities supervised, children’s outdoor physical activity was 84 percent higher than in a community with closed schoolyards, according to research cited in the statement. A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey finds that 61.6 percent of 800 school districts surveyed have a formal agreement for use of their facilities. Increasing shared use agreements is a key goal of Voices for Healthy Kids, a collaboration of the American Heart Association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to reverse the current levels of childhood obesity by 2015. Read more on physical activity.
DOT Announces Funding to Improve Transit Safety and Preparedness
The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced the availability of $29 million in research funds for innovative projects to help transit agencies strengthen operational safety; better withstand natural disasters and other emergencies; and improve emergency response capabilities. “For the first time in FTA’s history, we’re calling on the transit industry, the private sector, universities and others to work with us to develop and implement innovative solutions…bringing transit facilities into a state of good repair,” said Federal Transit Administration (FTA) head Peter Rogoff. “This will translate into real-world improvements…ranging from reducing transit-related injuries to making transit systems less vulnerable to flooding and severe weather.” Funding proposals will be considered in three areas: operational safety; resiliency; and all-hazards emergency response and recovery. Read more on transportation.
Administration: Half a Million Have Applied for Health Insurance Under Affordable Care Act
Despite problems with the Healthcare.gov online portal, approximately half a million people have applied for health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. Enrollment for all 50 states and the District of Columbia opened on October 1. As many as 7 million uninsured Americans are ultimately expected to receive coverage through the program. However, as soon as the site launched users began to experience error messages and other technological glitches; the administration pointed to the unexpectedly high volume of visitors as the reason for the problems. "The website is unacceptable, and we are improving it, but the product is good and across the country people are getting access to affordable care starting January 1," said an administration spokesperson, according to Reuters. On the other hand, an article in Politico points out that the numbers being reported are only a piece of the puzzle because the number of people who applied does not equate to the number of people who "actually completed the process of choosing and enrolling in a health plan." And, according to Politico, "Extensive 'glitches'...with the online marketplaces known as exchanges have made it impossible for most people to get all the way through the signup process, even after filling out the initial online application."Read more on the Affordable Care Act.
Study: Friendships Formed on Social Networking Sites Can Help Smokers Quit
The strong supportive bonds formed on social networking sites can help people in their efforts to quit smoking, according to a new study in the Journal of Communication. "I found that people who join health-based social networking sites are able to quit smoking and abstain for longer periods of time because of the sense of community they build with other members," said study author Joe Phua, an assistant professor in the department of advertising and public relations at the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. Researchers surveyed 252 members of six health-centric websites, finding that the friendships formed online “seemed to boost users' sense of empowerment with respect to their ability to stop smoking for good,” according to HealthDay. Phua said the online support sites are effective because they are cheap and easy to access, while also providing a connection to “a larger and credible community” of people working to quit tobacco. Read more on tobacco.
Study: Spankings Tied to More Behavior Problems in Elementary School
Spankings of five-year-old children are tied to increased behavior problems in elementary school, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Led by Michael MacKenzie, from Columbia University in New York, the researchers analyzed long-term data on approximately 1,900 children, finding that spankings by moms at least twice a week were tied to a two-point increase on a 70-point scale of problem behavior. They also found that regular spankings by fathers were tied to lower scores on vocabulary tests. Elizabeth Gershoff of the University of Texas at Austin, who was not a part of the study, said that while the findings are difficult to interpret, "There's just no evidence that spanking is good for kids. Spanking models aggression as a way of solving problems, that you can hit people and get what you want,” she said. “When (children) want another kid's toy, the parents haven't taught them how to use their words or how to negotiate." Read more on violence.
CDC Flu Reports to Resume Later Today
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported late yesterday that it has resumed analysis of influenza surveillance data and testing of influenza laboratory specimens collected during the 16-day government shut-down. An abbreviated FluView report summarizing the data for the most recent week (October 6-12) will be posted on Friday, October 18. At a later date, reports summarizing influenza surveillance data for September 22-October 5 will also be posted. Weekly Friday posting of the full FluView report for the 2013-2014 season will begin again on October 25. In the United States, flu season typically runs September through April and both private doctors and public health clinics currently have large supplies of this year’s flu vaccine on hand. Find a flu shot in your neighborhood by using the Health Map Vaccine Finder, run by Boston Children’s Hospital. Read more on flu.
Brain May Flush Out Toxins During Sleep
A new study funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health finds that a good night’s rest may literally clear the mind. The study, conducted in mice, showed—for the first time, according to the researchers—that the space between brain cells may increase during sleep, allowing the brain to flush out toxins that build up during waking hours. The researchers say that suggests a new role for sleep in health and disease. The study, published in Science, shows that during sleep a plumbing system called the glymphatic system may open, letting fluid flow rapidly through the brain. The researchers studied the system by injecting dye into the cerebrospinal fluid of mice and watching it flow through their brains while simultaneously monitoring electrical brain activity. The dye flowed rapidly when the mice were either asleep or anesthetized, but barely flowed when the same mice were awake. The researchers also inserted electrodes into the brains of the mice to directly measure the space between brain cells and found it increased by 60 percent when the mice were asleep or anesthetized. Researchers say the applications may apply to general health as well as have implications for neurological disorders. Read more on research.
New Report Offers Suggestions for Creating Healthier Neighborhoods
Again and again, research shows that our environment—where we live and what behaviors it fosters—has a profound impact on our health. Realizing this, a new report from the Prevention Institute offers interviews with fifty leaders in multiple sectors, including transportation, housing and public health on how to create healthy, safe and equitable neighborhoods. The goal of the report, Towards a 21st Century Approach: Advancing a Vision of Prevention and Public Health, is to spark an active and ongoing national dialogue about the subject. It was made possible through funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read more on smart growth.
Electronic Laboratory Reporting Increasing
Federal agencies are reopening today after a 16 day shutdown and public health updates such as FluView from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are expected to come back online within the new few days. CDC’s last news release before the shutdown was on the increasing capability of laboratories to report findings to local and state health agencies electronically. The report was published in the most recent issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR).
According to CDC, the number of state and local health departments receiving electronic reports from laboratories has more than doubled since 2005, however, progress is still needed. The MMWR report shows that only about a quarter of the nation’s labs are reporting electronically and that electronic reporting lags for some diseases behind others. For example, 76 percent of reportable lab results for general communicable diseases were sent electronically, compared to 53 percent of HIV results and 63 percent of results for sexually transmitted diseases. Read more on infectious disease.
District Laws and Policies Reduce Sugary Foods and Drinks at School Parties
Schools with a district policy or state law discouraging sugary foods and beverages were 2.5 times more likely to restrict those foods at school parties than were schools with no such policy or law, according to a new study published online in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior.
Researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Public Health examined the linkages between state laws, district, and school-level policies for classroom birthday and holiday parties through surveys of more than 1,999 schools in 47 states.
About half the schools had either no restrictions or left the decision to teachers; one-third had school-wide policies discouraging sugary items; and fewer than 10 percent actually banned sweets during holiday parties or did not allow parties.
The study was supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Read more on nutrition.
Children of Same Sex Marriages Less Likely to be Covered by Health Insurance
Children with same sex parents are less likely to have private health insurance than children with married opposite-sex parents, according to a recent study in Pediatrics. Using data from the 2008-2010 American Community Survey on children aged 0-17 years, the researchers found that 78 percent of children with married opposite-sex parents had private health insurance coverage, compared to 63 percent of children with same-sex fathers and 68 percent of those with same-sex mothers.
However, in states with legal same-sex marriage or civil unions, or in states that allowed second-parent adoptions, the disparities in private health insurance was lower for children of same-sex parents, suggesting that children of gay and lesbian households benefited from these policies. The American Academy of Pediatrics endorsed same-sex marriage in March. Read more on access to health care.
Even Low Levels of Air Pollution Tied to Low Birth Weights
Even low levels of pollution can increase the risk of low-birth weight babies, according to a new study in The Lancet Respiratory Medicine. Researchers analyzed data on more than 74,000 women in 12 European countries, finding that all types of air pollution were linked to both increased risk of low birth weights and smaller average head circumference at birth. The determined that every increase of 5 micrograms per cubic meter (mcg/m3) of fine particulate matter also increases the risk of low birth weight by 18 percent. The European Union’s current regulations call for a limit of 25 mcg/m3, but the study found the risk is still there at limits below this threshold; lowering it to the World Health Organization's guideline of 10 mcg/m3 could prevent as many as 22 percent of the cases. "Our findings suggest that a substantial proportion of cases of low birth weight at term could be prevented in Europe if urban air pollution—particularly fine particulate matter—was reduced," said lead author Marie Pedersen, MD, from the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, Spain. Read more on infant and maternal health.
Regular Exercise Can Boost Sperm Count, Improve Odds of Conception
Regular exercise—especially done outdoors—may boost a man’s sperm count and improve the odds of conception, according to a new study to be presented at the International Federation of Fertility Societies and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Boston. Researchers found that men who spent about an hour a day exercising had a 48 percent higher concentration than men who spent less than one hour a week exercising. The study also found clear associations between higher sperm counts and time spent either outdoors or lifting weights. Possible explanations include higher vitamin D levels in men who spent time outdoors in the sunshine and the increased testosterone levels and insulin sensitivity that come with lifting weights. Also, contradicting popular conceptions, the study found no link between caffeine and alcohol and decreased fertility. Read more on sexual health.
Study: Hospital CEO Salaries Tied to Patient Satisfaction, Not Quality of Care
Hospital CEO salaries tend to be higher at hospitals with high patient satisfaction ratings, and does not seem on average to be linked to either their quality of care nor the benefits they offer to their communities, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. "I was hoping I'd see even some modest relationship with quality performance," said lead researcher Ashish Jha, MD. "I think we were a little disappointed." Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health analyzed data on 1,877 CEOs from 2,681 private, non-profit hospitals across the country, finding an average salary of $596,000; those in the lowest 10 percent earned about $118,000 and those in the highest earned about $1.7 million. While many different factors account for the wide range, Jha said the growing emphasis on improving quality measures suggests that the quality of care should be a factor when determining executive salaries. "If you're going to ask doctors and nurses to be accountable, if you're going to ask patients to be accountable…then I think we should make sure that everybody's in, and that senior managers of hospitals also have a stake in insuring high-quality care." Read more on access to health care.
Study: Erratic Bedtimes Linked to Kids’ Behavior Problems
Children with erratic bedtimes also exhibit more behavior problems at home and at school, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers analyzed date on more than 10,000 children who were part of long-term sleep studies, finding that kids without a regular bedtime scored worse on a measure of behavior problems including acting unhappy, getting into fights and being inconsiderate. "If you are constantly changing the amounts of sleep you get or the different times you go to bed, it's likely to mess up your body clock," said study leader Yvonne Kelly, from University College London. "That has all sorts of impacts on how your body is able to work the following day," Kelly, from University College London.” However, the researchers also found that when a child went from no set bedtime to a scheduled bedtime, their behavior improved. Read more on pediatrics.
Overweight Teens at Increased Risk of Later Esophageal Cancer
People who are overweight or obese as teens have nearly twice the risk of developing esophageal cancer later in life when compared to their peers with healthy weights, according to a new study in the journal Cancer. The study also found that social status, economic status and education levels can all be factors in the development of gastric cancers; poor teens are at twice the risk of developing stomach cancer, as are teens with nine years of fewer of education. The study included more than 1 million male Israeli teens. "We look at obesity as dangerous from cardiovascular aspects at ages 40 and over, but here we can see that it has effects much earlier," said study author Zohar Levi, MD, of the Rabin Medical Center in Israel. However, the study did not prove cause-and-effect, so further research is needed to determine whether losing weight or gaining higher social or economic status later in life can reduce the risks. Read more on cancer.
USDA: California Plants Linked to Salmonella Can Stay Open
After making “immediate substantive changes to their slaughter and processing,” three California poultry processing plants tied to a salmonella outbreak in 17 states will remain open, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has determined. The plants will implement new food safety controls and the USDA will monitor the plants products for the next three months. The outbreak has sickened 278 people since May; the normal hospitalization rate is about 20 percent, but antibiotic resistance means about 42 percent of the people sickened in this outbreak were hospitalized. Read more on food safety.
Study: Majority of U.S. Medical Schools Still Lack Proper Clinical Conflict of Interest Policies
Despite recent efforts to improve policies, most U.S. medical schools still do not meet national standards regarding clinical conflicts of interest (CCOI), according to a new study from the Institute on Medicine as a Profession (IMAP). The study looked at changes in a dozen areas from 2008 to 2011, finding that by 2011 about two-thirds of the schools did not have policies to limit industry ties in at least one of the areas, such as drug samples, travel payments and speaking. No school was perfect across the board. "There has been a broad and rapid transformation in how academic medicine manages industry relationships since we looked at this in 2008, but much room for improvement remains," says co-author David Rothman, PhD, president of IMAP. To facilitate continued improvements, IMAP last launched a Conflict of Interest Policy Database that enables anyone to search a school's CCOI policies and compare them to other schools. "Our hope is that the database will encourage deans, compliance officers, faculty and students to compare their school with others and take steps to meet national recommendations," said IMAP investigator Susan Chimonas, PhD. Read more on education.
Online Tools Can Help Diagnose Mental Health Disorders
While it can’t replace in-person observations, an online diagnostic tool has proven to be effective at screening adults for mental health disorders and giving preliminary diagnoses, according to a new study in the journal Family Practice. The TelePsy eDiagnostics system is used in primary care practices in The Netherlands. Patients completed a questionnaire, which was then analyzed by a psychologist who would perform a phone consultation with the patient. The result would be a report submitted to a primary care provider, which would include a preliminary diagnosis and recommendations on whether the patient should be referred to mental health care, as well as the extent of the care. "The great advantage of an electronic system is that patients can complete diagnostic tests at home,” said lead author Ies Dijksman, according to Reuters. “This could lead to a more accurate information collection process compared to conventional clinical interviews.” However, experts were careful to note that in-person diagnostics meant physicians could also account for things such as visual cues, which could help improve diagnoses. Read more on mental health.
Study: No Reason for Healthy Adults to Take Vitamin D Supplements to Prevent Osteoporosis
Regular vitamin D supplements do not prevent osteoporosis in healthy adults who do not already suffer from a vitamin D deficiency, according to a new review publish in The Lancet. Researchers reviewed data from 23 studies covering more than 4,000 healthy adults with an average age of 59, finding no evidence that two years of supplements had an effect on bone mineral density at the hip, spine, forearm or the body as a whole. "The review supports previous studies that found that vitamin D alone is not preventative in healthy adults," said Victoria Richards, an assistant professor of medical sciences at the Netter School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. "From this study, consumers may no longer feel the need to continue purchasing vitamin D supplements for the prevention of osteoporosis.” Read more on aging.
University of Maryland Study Shows Need for Improved Communication by Dental Professionals
New research from the University of Maryland School of Public Health found that a majority of dentists and dental hygienists are not regularly using recommended communication techniques with their patients that can contribute to improved oral health literacy and prevention of oral disease. The researchers, who published their findings in the Journal of Dental Hygiene, surveyed 540 Maryland dental hygienists to determine the frequency of the use of 18 recommended communication techniques to effectively communicate science-based information to patients. Only one basic technique—use of simple language—was used by more than 90 percent of dental offices, according to survey responders. The survey also found that dental professionals who had taken a communication course in a non-dental educational setting were more likely to regularly use varying types of communication techniques. Read more on health literacy.
Study: Online Medical Searches Not a Good Idea for People Who Struggle With Uncertainty, Anxiety
People who struggle with uncertainty and anxiety might want to stay away from online health information searches, according to a new study in the journal Cyberpsychology, Behavior and Social Networking. The study, which included 512 healthy men and women with a mean age of about 33, analyzed how online searchers affected their anxiety, as well as their reactions to statements such as "I always want to know what the future has in store for me" and "I spend most of my time worrying about my health." "If I'm someone who doesn't like uncertainty, I may become more anxious, search further, monitor my body more, go to the doctor more frequently—and the more you search, the more you consider the possibilities," said Thomas Fergus, an assistant professor of psychology and neuroscience at Baylor University. "If I see a site about traumatic brain injuries and have difficulties tolerating uncertainty, I might be more likely to worry that's the cause of the bump on my head." These persistent worries can increase the likelihood of worrying about potential medical bills, disability and job loss, which in turn can lead to even more online searches, doctors visits, unnecessary medical tests and stress. Read more about technology.
Study: TV Drug Ads Are Often Misleading
A study on the veracity of television drug ads by researchers at Dartmouth and the University of Wisconsin-Madison found that six out of 10 claims could potentially mislead a viewer. The study was published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. The researchers found misleading claims among television ads for both prescription and nonprescription drugs, and that some of the ads omitted or exaggerated information. The researchers studied the 6:30 to 7 p.m. portion of nightly news broadcast, which often contains drug ads, and reviewed 168 different drug advertisements that aired between 2008 and 2010. Trained researchers classified the ads as truthful, potentially misleading or false. The researchers found only one in ten claims were false, while six in ten were misleading and included errors such as leaving out important information, exaggerating information, providing opinions or making meaningless associations with lifestyles. Read more on prescription drugs.
Airport Noise May Increase Heart Disease and Stroke Risk
People who live near busy international airports may be at increased risk of heart disease and stroke due to the high levels of noise, according to two new studies in the British Medical Journal. One study looked at hospital admissions around London Heathrow airport, finding the risks were 10 to 20 percent higher when compared to areas with the least noise. The other study, by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and Boston University School of Public Health, analyzed data on more than 60 million Americans ages 65 and older living near 89 airports, finding that areas with 10 decibel higher aircraft noise also saw a 3.5 percent increase in the hospital admission rate. Researchers say the link needs further study to show causation. "The exact role that noise exposure may play in ill health is not well established," said Anna Hansell of Imperial College London, who led the British study. "However, it is plausible that it might be contributing, for example by raising blood pressure or by disturbing people's sleep." The findings indicate that populated areas must be looked at closely when communities consider expanding large airports. Read more on heart health.
Private Talk Sessions with NICU Nurses Ease Anxiety in Mothers of Premature Babies
“Listening matters” when it comes to easing the worries of the mothers of premature infants. One-on-one talks sessions between NICU nurses and the mothers can help reduce feelings of anxiety, confusion and doubt, according to a new study in the Journal of Perinatology. "Having a prematurely born baby is like a nightmare for the mother," said Lisa Segre, an assistant professor in the University of Iowa College of Nursing. "You're expecting to have a healthy baby, and suddenly you're left wondering whether he or she is going to live." The study looked at 23 mothers who when through an average of five 45-minute sessions, find they gave mothers a chance to really talk about their worries and were effective at easing concerns across the board. "Listening is what nurses have done their whole career," said NICU nurse and study co-author Rebecca Siewert. "We've always been the ones to listen and try to problem solve. So, I just think it was a wonderful offshoot of what nursing can do. We just need the time to do it." Read more on maternal and infant health.
Early Puberty Tied to Great Risk of Experimentation with Cigarettes, Alcohol and Marijuana
Early puberty is linked to increased risk of experimentation with cigarettes, alcohol and marijuana, according to a new study in the journal Addiction. Puberty typically begins between the ages of 9 and 10, will girls on average beginning it earlier than boys. "While puberty is often thought of as a solely biological process, our research has shown that pubertal development is a combination of biological, psychological and social processes that all likely interact to influence risk-taking behavior like substance use," said study author Jessica Duncan Cance, a public health researcher at the University of Texas at Austin. "Our study suggests that being the first girl in the class to need a bra, for example, prompts or exacerbates existing psychological and social aspects that can, in turn, lead to substance use and other risky behaviors early in life.” Read more on pediatrics.
AHA: Health Care Providers Should Emphasize Healthy Behaviors in Cardio Care
When it comes to treating cardiovascular health, health care providers should place just as much emphasis on correcting healthy behaviors as they do addressing the physical indicators of the risk for heart disease, according to a new statement from the American Heart Association (AHA). “We’re talking about a paradigm shift from only treating biomarkers — physical indicators of a person’s risk for heart disease — to helping people change unhealthy behaviors, such as smoking, unhealthy body weight, poor diet quality and lack of physical activity,” said lead author Bonnie Spring, PhD, a professor of preventive medicine and psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University in Chicago. “We already treat physical risk factors that can be measured through a blood sample or a blood pressure reading in a doctor’s office, yet people put their health at risk through their behaviors. We can’t measure the results of these behaviors in their bodies yet.”
The AHA’s recommended “five A’s” to patient treatment:
- Assess a patient’s risk behaviors for heart disease.
- Advise change, such as weight loss or exercise.
- Agree on an action plan.
- Assist with treatment.
- Arrange for follow-up care.
AHA’s goals for 2020 include improving the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent, while also reducing deaths from cardiovascular diseases and stroke by 20 percent. Read more on heart health.
Study: 1 in 10 Youth Admit to Sexual Violence
Approximately one in 10 teenagers and young adults admit to sexual violence, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. Researchers said violent pornography may be partially to blame for the acts, which included coercive sex, sexual assault and rape, and most often with a romantic partner. What’s more, about two in three said the act was never discovered, so there was never a punishment. "We know a bit about youth who are victims of sexual violence, but we don't know much at all about youth as perpetrators," said study co-author Michele Ybarra, president and research director of the Center for Innovative Public Health Research in San Clemente, Calif. "It's important we know more if we're going to reduce the sexual-violence rate." Ybarra said sexual-violence-prevention programs should emphasize the understanding of explicit consent and the tactics of coercive sex. "They may say, 'Unless you have sex with me, I'm going to go have sex with someone else,’” said Angela Diaz, MD, MPH, director of Mount Sinai Hospital's Adolescent Health Center. "Young people have to learn that if their partner says that, maybe they're better off if they do go somewhere else." Programs should also focus on the role of the bystander and the importance of reporting incidents. Read more on violence.
Salmonella Outbreak Sickens 278 People in 18 States
Approximately 278 people in 18 states have become sick from a salmonella outbreak linked to raw chicken products, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The products were produced at three California plants owned by Foster Farms and distributed mostly to retailers in California, Oregon and Washington state. Local, state and federal health officials made the connection. While the outbreak is “ongoing,” there is currently no recall as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is working with state health departments to monitor the matter while the Food Safety and Inspection Service investigated the outbreak. Read more on food safety.