Category Archives: Physical activity
AAP Calls for Schools to Maintain Daily Recess and Breaks
A new policy statement from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) calls on all schools to have daily recess and breaks in order to promote activity and a healthy lifestyle. According to the AAP, “safe and properly supervised recess offers children cognitive, physical, emotional and social benefits. It should be used as a complement to physical education classes, not a substitute, and whether it’s spent indoors or outdoors, recess should provide free, unstructured play or activity.” The AAP also says that recess should never be withheld as a punishment and the statement authors add that “minimizing or eliminating recess can negatively affect academic achievement, as growing evidence links recess to improved physical health, social skills and cognitive development.” Read more on physical activity.
Support and Solidarity Build Resilience Following Community Disasters
Community solidarity and support have remarkable benefits for communities coping with traumatic mass shootings, according to an American-Finnish research study recently published by the University of Turku. The researchers looked at the responses of four communities that suffered from similar tragedies in the United States and Finland. People in all four communities expressed their need for belonging after the shootings. According to the researchers, after each of the four incidents the communities held events including mass gatherings, communal vigils and spontaneously erected monuments to the victims. The researchers say that all these efforts demonstrated that the community was in shock, yet united, and able to focus attention on their collective loss and on each other. Read more on community health.
FDA Approved Most Drugs in 16 Years
Reuters is reporting that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved 39 drugs in 2012, the largest number in the past 16 years. Important new drugs approved this year include two weight loss medicines, drugs to treat resistant cystic fibrosis and tuberculosis and a drug to reduce the risk of stroke in people with irregular heartbeats. Read more on the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
New York City’s new schedule app for several of the city’s subway lines joins similar apps and online schedules introduced in cities around the U.S. that can help people more accurately plan their travel timetables --and maybe even get in some exercise. Transportation planners say that giving easily accessible and real time bus and subway schedules can increase public transportation use because it allows a traveler to accurately plan the time it takes for a trip.
San Francisco has had an app similar to the one just introduced in New York since 2008, according to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal. And other cities provide travel information online and accessible by smartphone. According to the American Public Transportation Association, real time information is one reason for a growth of almost 3 percent in public transportation use in the U.S. during 2012. Cost savings is another reason people are switching to public transportation, according to APTA, which calculated that public transit users saved about $800 during the month of December compared to the cost of owning and using a car. APTA calculated full year savings for the last year at close to $10,000.
And unless there’s a bus or subway stop right in front of the house, public transportation often adds physical exercise for its users. The closest public transportation stop for many NewPublicHealth staffers, for example, can add 1,000 steps of walking each day.
Bonus Link: Read a NewPublicHealth interview with Wendy Spencer, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Spencer gave up her car when she took the job at CNCS and moved from Florida to Washington, D.C. and now walks to work and meetings.
FDA Approves Drug to Treat Inhalational Anthrax
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved a monoclonal antibody to treat inhalational anthrax, a form of the infectious disease caused by breathing in the spores of the bacterium Bacillus anthraces. “In addition to antibiotics, raxibacumab will be a useful treatment to have available should an anthrax bioterrorism event occur,” said Edward Cox, MD, MPH, director of the Office of Antimicrobial Products in FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Although antibiotics are approved to prevent and treat anthrax infection, raxibacumab is the first approved agent that acts by neutralizing the toxins produced by B. anthracis.” The safety of raxibacumab was evaluated in 326 healthy human volunteers. Common side effects included rash, extremity pain, itching and drowsiness. Read more on bacteria.
Men More Likely than Women to Die in Car Crashes
A new study in the online journal Injury Prevention finds that male pedestrians hit by cars are more than twice as likely to die as women hit by vehicles. The researchers studied U.S. travel and traffic data for 2008 and 2009 for people over the age of 5. According to researchers, more study is needed to determine why men die at higher rates than women in pedestrian crashes. Reasons may include drunken male walkers and men walking along highways and other roads that carry cars at high speeds. Read more on injury prevention.
Concerns about Hair May Keep African-American Women from Exercising
New research finds that about a third of African-American women say concern over hair care is the reason they don’t exercise or exercise less than they should, according to Amy J. McMichael, MD, the lead author of the study published online today in the Archives of Dermatology, a JAMA network publication. For the study, 103 African-American women ranging in age from 21 to 60 filled out a 40-question survey that asked about physical activity; hair care and maintenance; and hair and scalp concerns. While all of the respondents thought it was important to exercise, 40 percent reported avoiding exercise at times due to hair-related issues. Half said they had modified their hairstyle to accommodate exercise. The researchers say that many African American women with coarser hair use either heat straighteners or chemical products to straighten their hair, which is a time-consuming process that doesn’t allow them to simply wash their hair after exercise. According to the lead researcher, a professor of dermatology at the Wake Forest University School of Medicine, over-washing fragile hair can make it break off easily. Read more on physical activity.
Men More Likely than Women to Die of Cancer
Men are more likely than women to both be diagnosed with cancer and to die of the disease, according to a new study in The Journal of Urology. The researchers did not include mortality rates for sex-specific cancers. The gender gap could be due to men's higher rates of smoking and drinking, as well as they fact that men are on average less likely to have frequent doctor visits—meaning cancers are not caught as early. "That means going to screening programs, seeing a general practitioner or primary care provider on a regular basis and as soon as symptoms arise that are new, mentioning that to their primary care physicians," said Yang Yang, a sociologist and cancer researcher from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who was not part of the study. Read more on cancer.
Survey Finds Major Support for Worksite Wellness Initiatives
The States of Wellness national survey on worksite wellness has found that, more and more, businesses are understanding and embracing the business benefits of wellness initiatives. The poll found that 87 percent of organizations understand the importance of worksite wellness and 74 percent said they would utilize community-based collaborations to learn about and improve wellness initiatives. Read more on physical activity and partnerships.
Study: Simply Cutting Fat Intake Drops Weight, Keeps it Off
Simply switching high-fat foods with low-fat foods isn’t as effective as dieting, but it still lowers weight and the weight stays off, according to a new study in the journal BMJ. Researchers say the findings could have a major effect on dietary recommendations in the ongoing effort to prevent cancer, stroke and heart disease—all of which include excessive weight as a contributing factor. "This means having low-fat milk and yogurt, cutting down on butter and cheese and cutting the fat off meat," said study leader Lee Hooper, MD, of the University of East Anglia’s Norwich Medical School, in a release. "Most importantly, have fruit instead of fatty snacks like biscuits, cake and crisps. And remember, this isn't a diet, so don't take it to extremes, but work out a way of eating that you can stick to permanently." Read more on nutrition and obesity.
Study: Hypertension in Young Adults Often Goes Undiagnosed
Younger adults are less likely than older adults to have their high blood pressure identified and treated, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association annual meeting in Los Angeles. Researchers found that after four years of doctor visits, 67 percent of people ages 18 to 24 were undiagnosed and 65 percent of those ages 25 to 31 were undiagnosed; only 54 percent of people 60 and older were undiagnosed. Treating hypertension early can help major medical problems such as heart attacks and strokes. "We know that once high blood pressure is diagnosed and young adults receive the treatment they need, they can achieve pretty high control rates," said Heather Johnson, MD, assistant professor of medicine in the cardiology division at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Read more on heart health.
Simple Exercise Can Add Years to Your Life
Staying physically active after the age of 40 can increase a person’s lifespan two to seven years, according to a new study in the journal PLoS Medicine. Researchers at the National Cancer Institute analyzed studies covering approximately 650,000 people, concluding that exercise as simple as walking consistently every week can help prevent issues such as heart disease. "There is dose-response relationship between physical activity and life expectancy," said Steven Moore, a National Cancer Institute research fellow. "If you don't currently do any physical activity, doing just a few minutes of physical activity a day can result in a notable increase in life expectancy.” Read more on physical activity.
Eating At Restaurants Means Larger Portions, More Calories for Kids
Eating at fast food and other restaurants, rather than at home, increases children’s calorie intakes and contributes to U.S. obesity rates, according to a new study in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Researchers found that about 40 percent of U.S. children eat at these kinds of restaurants every day. Contributing factors include large portion sizes and free soda refills. "It's no wonder kids are gaining weight and suffering from adult diseases such as high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes,” said Samantha Heller, an exercise physiologist and clinical nutrition coordinator at the Center for Cancer Care at Griffin Hospital in Derby, Conn. “We need to encourage people to cook at home more often and dispel the myth that eating at home is more expensive than eating out." Read more on nutrition.
Get kids active now and often was the message at a session on childhood obesity at the American Public Health Association 2012 Annual Meeting in San Francisco.
"Students are not getting enough exercise," said Christina Economos as she opened the session, though "physical education develops skills." Childhood Obesity 180 created the Active School Acceleration Project, which works to promote exercise inside as well as outside of school.
The Active Schools Acceleration Project works to increase quality physical activity in schools to combat childhood obesity and to get the beneficial health, behavioral, and academic outcomes that follow. American children today experience far fewer daily opportunities for movement and exercise because there is a decreased emphasis on physical activity in schools.
Economos noted that physical education is often one of the first programs to go following school budget cuts. Their goal is to reverse the trend of childhood obesity, one generation at a time—the benefits of which, aside from healthier, longer lives, include improved academic performance in school. This makes childhood obesity prevention a priority for schools, despite strapped budgets.
Economos and her team developed a four-pronged process—to find innovation, identify best practices, support existing and start up new interventions, and make plans for long term sustainability. They looked at grassroots programs in local schools as well as established national movements. The result was an "American Idol" type contest to solicit entries that showcase best practices for encouraging vigorous physical activity among students.
The ultimate goal is to showcase the best approaches to physical activity in schools. Practitioners hope to influence school policy change on physical activity from the bottom up.
City parks can be a cost-free venue for people of all ages and backgrounds to be physically active. Two presenters at the American Public Health Association meeting discussed programs to increase physical activity opportunities in city parks during a session on Tuesday afternoon. The two projects were funded by Communities Putting Prevention to Work grants and focused on neighborhoods that have a high proportion of low-income and minority residents.
Adam B. Becker, PhD, MPH, from Lurie Children's Hospital, spoke about the work the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC) undertook to increase walking access to parks. Members of 10 community-based organizations were trained to assess barriers to park access using the Neighborhood Walkability Assessment Tool. The tool included analyses of possible recommendations to overcome any identified obstacles to walking.
CLOCC also created a guide to be used by city planners and engineers when deciding how to improve the walkability of local streets. The guide included suggestions such as improving sidewalks and installing pedestrian countdown timers and pedestrian islands in streets. Dr. Becker said that the city agencies are excited to have better data to help them identify walkabilty problems and prioritize solutions.
In the second presentation, Mary Thomas, MPH, from the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District, described a program that installed outdoor fitness equipment for use by community members in city parks. The goal of this program was to increase park use, and to increase physical activity among residents when they use parks.
In a partnership with the Parks and Recreation Department, fitness equipment was installed in 28 San Antonio parks, and the project was publicized using flyers and newspapers. A survey of park users showed that 54 percent spent more time in the park after the installation of fitness equipment, and most said that the equipment was user friendly and had clear instructions.
Park users identified the lack of water fountains and shade as the biggest barriers to using the fitness equipment more often. And, it should be noted that 88 percent of park users traveled to the park by car. San Antonio and Chicago clearly have the opportunity to learn from each other’s efforts.
The August Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Vital Signs monthly report on health indicators focuses on adult walking and finds that 62 percent of U.S. adults get their physical activity by walking at least once for ten minutes or more per week, up from 56 percent n the 2005. However, close to 50 percent of adults don’t get enough physical activity to improve their health, the report finds. The 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend at least 2.5 hours of moderate intensity aerobic activity per week, such as brisk walking.
“Having more places for people to walk in our communities will help us continue to see increases in walking, the most popular form of physical activity among American adults,” says CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH.
“People need more safe and convenient places to walk,” adds Joan M. Dorn, PhD, branch chief of the Physical Activity and Health Branch in CDC’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity. “People walk more where they feel protected from traffic and safe from crime. Communities can be designed or improved to make it easier for people to walk to the places they need and want to go.”
The Vital Signs report offers suggestions to provide better spaces and more places for walking:
- State and local governments can consider joint use agreements to let community residents use local school tracks or gyms after classes have finished.
- Employers can create walking paths around or near the work place and promote them with signs and route maps.
- Residents can participate in local planning efforts that identify best sites for walking paths and priorities for new sidewalks.
>>Read more on smart growth for more walkable cities.
Non-profit Achilles International connects physically and mentally disabled individuals with able-bodied amateur athletes to help build physical strength and confidence through their sense of accomplishment, which often impacts other parts of their lives. Since its start in the 1970′s, Achilles has also added training programs for children and disabled veterans. Achilles Kids provides training, racing opportunities, and an in-school program for children with disabilities; the Freedom Team of Wounded Veterans program brings running programs and marathon opportunities to disabled veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Richard Traum, Achilles’ founder, says sports are simply the tool for accomplishing the group’s main objective: to bring hope, inspiration and the joys of achievement to people with disabilities.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Richard Traum about the organization and its accomplishments over the years.
NewPublicHealth: How did Achilles get started?
Richard Traum: In 1976, as an above the knee amputee, I ran in the New York City Marathon on my artificial leg. I didn’t know it at that time, but I became the first amputee to run that kind of a distance. In 1982 we started the Achilles Track Club, which was an eight week course to encourage people with disabilities to participate in long distance running and after the eight week program was over, the question was what do we do next? And the thought was move it from a course to a track club and that’s how Achilles got started, which was in January of 1983.
NPH: Tell us a bit about the mission.
Richard Traum: Well, the mission is really to help people with all types of disabilities to participate in sports with a particular focus on running in the mainstream environment. What we do most is have disabled people participate in marathons. I’ve always felt that it was very important for people with disabilities to integrate with people who aren’t disabled. One reason is that if you are disabled, it makes you feel more comfortable in the able-bodied community, but it also works in the other direction—people who are not disabled increase their comfort level by seeing folks who are disabled competing with them in a sport.
NPH: What are some of the successes?
Richard Traum: Well, one is Donald Arthur. Donald had a heart transplant and he joined us shortly thereafter. He started to work out and he built up to doing a marathon and as he progressed, he would send the t-shirts to his doctor who would then send them to the family of the heart donor. He eventually did the marathon, sent his medal to the family and told them that their son’s heart had just done a marathon. The next year, Donald ran with a brother of the donor and during the last several years, Donald has done several marathons a year in different states; to focus awareness on organ donation.
North Little Rock Mayor: It's About Giving People a Reason to Want to Live Here; Health is Added Inspiration
Pulaski County, Ark., home to the city of North Little Rock, ranked 21st out of 75 counties in the state in the 2012 County Health Rankings. North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Hays recognized need to take action to improve the health of his residents, so he and his colleagues began an employee wellness program in earnest. As Mayor Hays and Alderman Beth White wrote in a recent blog post, “The benefits of employee wellness programs are clear: reduced healthcare costs, increased productivity and healthier employees. With those benefits in mind, the City of North Little Rock is an example of how a city government’s commitment to health and fitness benefits both employer and employee The city’s Fit 2 Work program offers employees healthier workplaces that offer greater options for getting and staying healthy, including healthier vending machines and discounts at community centers that offer physical fitness programs.
Fit 2 Work is just one component of the overall Fit 2 Live program, which aims to create an environment that empowers the community to adopt healthy life choices. This initiative, supported by grants from the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education & Families, which is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and a CDC Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant, includes safe routes to school efforts, joint use agreements, built environment improvements such as walking and biking trails, and school wellness improvements.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Mayor Hays and Fit 2 Live Coordinator for the City of North Little Rock, Bernadette Rhodes, about their efforts to create a healthier city.
NewPublicHealth: Tell us about the Fit 2 Work program for the City of North Little Rock.
Mayor Hays: I have been here at City Hall about 23.5 years. I’m very proud of a lot of things we’ve done, but this has to be pretty much at the top of the list. These are things we’ve long understood to be a priority. I’ll give you a little bit of background—75 percent of my budget goes toward employee benefit costs. The old adage of “follow the money” is absolutely true. I’ve got 900 folks who work directly for me. We, like many in the country, are experiencing fairly significant increases in premiums in our medical costs. We tried to be as sensitive to preventive efforts to keep our employees healthy as we could be. About eight years ago, the city wrote a check for $300,000 to form its own health clinic. We wanted to have health screenings, and options for our employees with a great deal of accessibility to annual physical exams, screenings, blood work and more.
We are focusing on our workforce to give them the options to be healthy. We’re also trying to be a little creative with our employees to allow them to join a 10-week Weight Watchers program—that was 16 pounds ago that I was a beneficiary of that program—as well as discounts at our excellent community and senior centers.
NPH: The Fit2Live initiative includes a broad set of programs to create a healthier city. Why is it critical for a growing city to make health a priority?
Mayor Hays: We are serious about both our employees as well as our community having healthy options at vending machines, through the use of walking paths and in other aspects throughout the community. About 20 years ago I started building trails in North Little Rock because I wanted to make sure it was a place people wanted to live. We had been flat in population since the 1960s. People were moving to the suburbs, not unlike what was happening all over the country, but I made the decision that I wanted to do things to make people want to live here. We started out with trails, improving our parks and building sidewalks. I’m proud to say some of the dirt paths I walked through as a kid are now sidewalks and trails. We felt that competing for young people’s time was something we need to do, and what better way to do it than creating options for recreation—so we put a basketball court under an interstate overpass. We lit it, and sometimes we have midnight basketball.
Our inspiration was more geared toward wanting people to live in the community and giving them reasons to do it than it was because of the health epidemic. Now the health side of things has certainly taken on an added inspiration over the last five to 10 years. We like to think we were ahead of the game. We’re excited about what’s happened and where we are.
We received a $1.5 million Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) grant from the CDC to fight obesity and other health-related issues. We of course are partnering with our high schools and other organizations throughout the community to make this happen.
>>Read more on the North Little Rock CPPW grant.
NPH: What changes are you hoping to see in six months or a year?
Mayor Hays: The thing I want to ensure is that what’s in my head has been institutionalized so it’s not up to any one person. We need to ensure the foundation has been laid, and we do feel we’re there. We’ve got a built environment committee when it comes to utilization of trails and buildings and other things that together create a healthier community. We’ve got the Fit2Live leadership team.
All of this will be carried on in this city after my term is up because of the foundation we’ve laid and the enthusiasm of the staff and leadership. That together with the funding we secured has laid the groundwork to make healthier lifestyles and choices an institutionalized part of the way our city works.
NPH: Who were some of your important partners, and what is the overall role of partnerships in your work?
Mayor Hays: We formed a coalition of teams, and collectively if you’re at the table you have more likelihood to buy in to the outcome, and that’s been a big part of the success of our programs. I would include our employees themselves as one of our key partners, as well as the state, the Department of Health, Chamber of Commerce, Department of Parks and Recreation and others.
Bernadette Rhodes: The neighborhood associations have also been critical in getting the word out about what we’re doing. For example, the built environment committee organized a tour and discussion of a new bike and pedestrian trail that’s going to be paved and built in an abandoned railroad spur.
Hays: These pedestrian trails are not only good for physical activity, they also promote interaction. Social integration is absolutely critical. People need to see each other in ways other than hollering at each other through a car window.
NPH: What are some of the milestones in what has been achieved with the CPPW grant?
Rhodes: We’ve had the grant for almost two years now. In our community action plan we identified quite a few ways in which we wanted to combat obesity. The first one is in schools. We partnered with the school health coordinator for the district and worked with her to revise the school district wellness policy and to draft a district employee policy. Those policies have been drafted and reviewed by the superintendent and approved to go on to the school board for a vote. It strengthens the existing wellness policies a lot. Schools were required to have a wellness policy, but a lot of times they were just bare bones. For example, vending machines would have to be at least half healthier options, and the signage on the front of the machine has to be water or 100% fruit juice and not a soft drink. It also says food is not to be used as a reward with the kids. Another big thing is implementing SPARK PE, a national evidence-based program that incorporates physical activity and nutrition education, and that was implemented across the board with all PE teachers as well as city community after-school programs.
The second thing is healthy food options. We passed guidelines through the City Council to encourage all departments within the city to change the way they offer food, whether it’s in meetings or catered events and of course vending machines. We adopted a model called “Go, Slow, Whoa” and per the guidelines, half of those foods offered should be “Go” or “Slow.”
The third thing is joint use agreements. We had some money to renovate existing facilities around the city—community centers, parks and schools. For example, a lot of elementary schools had basketball courts but the nets were gone and there was no way to play on them. We went through and refurbished all of those so they’re usable. We’ve also been ordering signs to put up in the parks and around walking trails to say they’re open for use to the public at certain times, and one lap equals a quarter of a mile—to ensure people know these facilities are available to them for use.
NPH: How do you measure progress?
Rhodes: We have an evaluator who’s been working on getting hard numbers on all of our vending machines. He created a baseline and went around and categorized existing foods in the vending machine using go, slow, whoa. After these guidelines are implemented, he’ll go around and measure the changes that have taken place.
With joint use agreements, the evaluator will measure the quality of those facilities and the usage both before and after. They have a tool that allows you to observe the usage of the facility and the type of physical activity they’re engaging in.