Category Archives: Q&A
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the federal government’s principal program for helping low-income families purchase enough food. More than 47 million Americans currently receive SNAP benefits; approximately half of the beneficiaries are children. As part of the debate over the Farm Bill—legislation that authorizes SNAP and other federal nutrition programs—Congress is considering legislation that would cut SNAP benefits and limit who qualifies for the benefits.
Yesterday, the Health Impact Project, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, released a white paper that provides a rigorous, objective and nonpartisan analysis of the potential health impacts of the proposed changes to SNAP.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Aaron Wernham, MD, director of the Health Impact Project, along with lead researcher Marjory Givens, to learn more about the study’s findings.
NewPublicHealth: What is the goal of the health impact assessment on the potential changes to the SNAP program?
Aaron Wernham: Congress is deliberating reauthorizing the U.S. Farm Bill, and one of the parts of that is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, which was formerly known as food stamps. This is one of the federal government’s main programs for ensuring that people who have low incomes are able to get enough to eat. We did this health impact assessment because so far the public health effects of these proposed policy changes have not really been a part of the political debate. We wanted to make sure that the best available public health evidence was brought to bear to help ensure that everyone has complete information—those affected by the change, the general public and decision-makers in Congress.
NPH: What’s the big picture on what SNAP has to do with health in the first place?
Wernham: Not having enough to eat—or being what’s called “food insecure”—is attached to a higher risk of a lot of diseases. So, adults who are food insecure have a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and some other problems. Children who are food insecure are more likely to be reported by their parents as being in poor health, are more likely to be hospitalized and also have a higher risk for a number of health related problems from asthma, to depression and anxiety. We actually have a number of studies that have looked at the health benefits of receiving SNAP and found, for example, that adults who had access to SNAP when they were children are less likely to have problems in adulthood, such as obesity, high blood pressure and heart disease.
NPH: What did the health impact assessment find?
Wernham: We looked at ways in which the House and Senate have proposed to change how eligibility for SNAP benefits is determined and how the amount of benefits is determined. Both the House and Senate have proposed changes, and we found that as many as 5.1 million people could actually lose eligibility under changes proposed by the House. Under the changes in the Senate, about 500,000 people might receive lower benefit amounts. With the House changes, as many as 1.4 million children and nearly 900,000 older adults would be among those five million people who could be affected. So, for those people, they would lose upward of an average of 35 percent of their total income and would be at higher risk for the health problems that relate to food insecurity.
The recently launched Scholars in Residence fellowship program was created to place legal experts in public health agencies across the country—where together they can find new solutions to public health problems. The program, from Network for Public Health Law and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has chosen six scholars to work with local and state health agencies.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Mary Crossley, Professor of Law and former Dean at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, who will help California health officials identify new ways to address the growing issue of chronic diseases.
NewPublicHealth: Tell me about your career path, and how you came to be interested in public health.
Mary Crossley: I have a career in law teaching and scholarship, but my focus has been—in both my teaching and my scholarship—on health law. Particularly in my scholarship I’m focusing on issues of inequality in healthcare; finance and delivery; and how the law responds to those inequalities—and in many cases fails to respond. So, it’s really been through an interest in thinking about other ways to approach inequity in health and healthcare that I have become more interested in public health and public health law as a mechanism to address it. I also started doing some lecturing and writing that looks at the intersection between the civil rights to inequality in health and a public health approach.
NPH: Did you apply for this or did they come and find you and ask you to take on the position?
Crossley: I applied for it. They put out requests for applications back in the fall, and it was targeted specifically to tenured law professors. And in fact what I learned in talking to the folks involved in the program was that they were particularly interested in getting folks who didn’t necessarily have a long history of involvement in public health, but instead saw this as a way of bringing new people into the discussion and engaging larger numbers of legal academics in teaching and thinking and writing about the intersection of public health and law.
NPH: Where are you going to be working?
Crossley: Part of the application process was finding a public health agency with which I would like to work and which was willing to work with me to support my application, and I ended up partnering with the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), which kicks into high gear in January, was front and center at the recent annual meeting of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) in Dallas. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, addressed the benefits to population health of many of the new law’s provisions and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources, which has overall responsibility for the law, spoke about the ACA via video.
For the most part, the role of local health departments under the ACA is still emerging and will become better known as more provisions are implemented and clarified.
To better understand what we know about that role and what will become better known down the road, NewPublicHealth spoke with Michelle Chuk Zamperetti, MPH, Senior Advisor and Chief of Public Health Infrastructure and Systems for NACCHO.
NewPublicHealth: Are there specific provisions under the ACA that apply to local health departments?
Michelle Zamperetti: There are no provisions specifically designated for local health departments but there are many provisions that impact local and state health departments. For example, many will be involved in the outreach and enrollment efforts for the new marketplaces and some will be designated as navigators to help people enroll for health insurance coverage in both the state-run marketplaces and the federally funded exchanges. For example, I recently learned that authorities managing a state-based health insurance exchange were not pleased with some of the navigator program applicants, so they reached out to a local public health director and asked that health department to be the navigator program leader in their region. And even in communities where health departments don’t give direct enrollment assistance—such as filling out paperwork online—we are confident that people with established relationships with their health department may use it as an entry point for finding out about health insurance, and health departments will need to know how to help them enter the system.
In addition to the insurance expansion provisions of the law, there are also important provisions to strengthen the coverage provided through insurance, particularly in the area of clinical preventive services. For health departments that provide direct services, there are opportunities to become in-network providers under the ACA.
NPH: Do you think many health departments will work together with non-profit hospitals, which now have a mandate from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to provide some form of community benefit in order to maintain their tax-exempt, not-for-profit status under the ACA?
Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Department of Health and Human Services, greeted the 1,000-plus attendees at last week’s annual conference of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) and expressed how honored he was to meet so many local health department leaders from across the country.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Thompson about Dallas’ particular health challenges and innovations the department has developed to help improve health in the community.
>>Read more NewPublicHealth coverage of the NACCHO Annual Meeting.
NewPublicHealth: Dallas ranks 67 out of 232 Texas counties in the County Health Rankings. What efforts are underway to help improve population health in the county?
Zachary Thompson: Dallas County is looking at various things, including adding more bike lanes and more parks where people can exercise. There’s a health assessment going on now to look at how all of the major stakeholders can come together to improve our health rankings. We have a great public health improvement work group that is working on ways to improve overall health in Dallas County.
NPH: West Nile virus was a major issue in Dallas last year. What are you doing this year to help keep the city safe?
Thompson: We had no deaths from West Nile virus in 2010 and 2011, then 20 deaths in 2012, which may have been a once-in-fifty-years event. Last year’s outbreak got everyone’s attention that West Nile virus is endemic in our community, and so we took the lessons learned and increased our resources.
We know what we improved on. We began to do year-round mosquito testing in 25 municipalities, and began meeting regularly with all the municipalities to assess their needs. Everyone has been on board with the overall integrated mosquito plan. So far this year we’ve had no human cases of West Nile virus. We definitely focused on preventive education—we started that earlier. We’ve also added additional ground-based truck spraying capabilities in the event that we needed to increase our spraying activity if we have a similar outbreak as last year. We have made insect repellent available for all senior citizens. Hopefully last year’s outbreak will have been a rare occurrence, but we’re prepared in any case.
The final plenary session at this year’s NACCHO Annual included a talk by Christopher Murray, MD, DPhil, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington on how data is used to measure health, evaluate interventions and find ways to maximize health system impact. Dr. Murray was a lead author on three pivotal studies published last week that used data to assess the state of health in the United States compared with 34 other countries and county level data on diet and exercise. One of the key findings is that Americans are living longer, but not necessarily better—half of healthy life years are now lost to disability instead of mortality; and dietary risks are the leading cause of U.S. disease burden.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Murray about the study findings, their impact and upcoming research that can add to the data public health needs to improve the health of all Americans.
NewPublicHealth: Tell us about the three studies that were published this week using the Institute’s research.
Dr. Murray: The study in JAMA [Journal of the American Medical Association] is an analysis of a comprehensive look at the health of the United States in comparison to the 34 OECD [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development] countries. The study looks at both causes of death and premature mortality through over 290 different diseases and puts them all together in a comprehensive analysis of what the contributors are to lost healthy life. That study also looks at the contribution to patterns of health in the U.S., from major environmental, behavioral, and metabolic risk factors. In each of those categories, there are important findings:
- The U.S. spends the most on healthcare but has pretty mediocre outcomes and ranks about 27th for life expectancy among its peer countries.
- For many large, important causes of premature death, the U.S. does pretty poorly. And we also see a big shift towards more and more individuals having major disability—from mental disorders, substance abuse, and bone and joint disease.
- On the risk factor front, the big surprise is that diet is the leading risk factor in the U.S. It is bigger than tobacco, which is second and then followed by obesity, high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and physical inactivity. Diet in this study is made up of 14 subcomponents, each analyzed separately and then put together.
NewPublicHealth is on the ground this week in Dallas at NACCHO Annual, the yearly meeting of the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). The meeting theme this year is “Public Health by the Numbers” as city and county health departments face increased pressure for limited resources; an increased focus on both new and traditional public health roles; and government accountability and effectiveness.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Robert Pestronk, NACCHO’s executive director, in advance of the conference.
>> Be sure to follow our NACCHO conference coverage all week long, including stories from key sessions and interviews with speakers and thought leaders.
NewPublicHealth: What are the key issues at this year’s NACCHO conference?
Robert Pestronk: We’re focused on a conference theme of public health by the numbers because the availability and use of data is integral to the performance and operations of local health departments. The use of data and metrics is important for quality improvement in health departments, and for the development and communication of messages about health status and disease status within local communities.
A couple of other things that are new for this year’s annual meeting is that we’re recognizing the role that large cities and metropolitan areas play in modeling and demonstrating public health policy and governmental public health practice work. We have a couple of sessions with presenters from big cities to talk about the work they’re doing. And because the Affordable Care Act is influencing the work and funding and future for local health departments, there are sessions to help local health departments consider the effects from the law. We’ve also got a plenary session on reducing health disparities, which is a line of work that is very important to NACCHO. In fact, NACCHO’s work in this area has stimulated work in other parts of the governmental public health structure at the state and federal level.
NPH: What is the role that local health departments will play when it comes to implementing the Affordable Care Act?
Pestronk: I think that the specific role that local health departments play, like in most situations, will depend upon the kinds of assets that are available in a local community and the extent to which their state is implementing provisions of the law. Local health departments can be helpful informing people about the start of enrollment and helping people understand where they can go to enroll. Part of what NACCHO has been doing over the past year is to share with local health departments the kinds of opportunities that are available for implementing and educating about the health law.
At least two million children in the U.S. have at least one parent in prison, a situation now recognized as an adverse childhood experience, which can put children at risk for poor mental and physical health, due in part to isolation and a lack of family connectedness with their incarcerated parents.
The Osborne Association, based in New York City, works with people who have been in conflict with the law, and their families. Osborne is currently using funding from a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Roadmaps to Health community grant to advocate for the use of Family Impact Statements in New York State during prison sentencing and the inclusion of "proximity to children" as a factor in prison assignments in New York State. Family Impact statements convey to a judge how the family of a person convicted of a crime will be affected by various sentencing decisions. With their proximity advocacy, the goal is to increase visiting opportunities for families during periods of incarceration by assigning parents to closer prisons and expanding opportunities for kids to have contact with incarcerated parents through televisiting. Research has shown that having strong family ties increases the likelihood of family reunification following a parent’s prison stay, as well as the child’s long-term health and wellbeing. The goal of both policy reform efforts is to reduce the trauma of parent-child separation for children, thereby promoting their health and well-being.
Elizabeth Gaynes, Osborne’s executive director, was recognized recently as a White House Champion of Change for her work with the children of incarcerated parents. NewPublicHealth spoke with Gaynes about ways to protect the health and wellbeing of the 2.7 million children whose parents are in prison on any given day. Gaynes also spoke about how her former husband, the father of her two children, spent over twenty years in prison, and the impact this had on her family.
NewPublicHealth: Why do you think this issue of parental incarceration has not gotten enough attention previously?
Elizabeth Gaynes: There is no specific agency with direct responsibility for kids of incarcerated parents and the kids don’t tend to identify themselves. And until recently it wasn’t thought of as anything that needed identifying. When I was looking for a therapist for my kids, the people I spoke to said “we would treat this like any other abandonment.” And I said, “Really? But he didn’t actually abandon them.” So I think that there is no system that is responsible for them and because of the stigma they don’t self-identify. We’ve had some young people who went to do talks in high schools and asked the kids in the class at the beginning if they knew anyone who was in, or had been in, prison. At the beginning of her talk, two kids raised their hands. She said after she spoke and said her own dad had been in prison, she asked the question again and 12 kids raised their hands.
In 2012, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) established the Decade of Design initiative to research and develop architectural design approaches for urban infrastructure and to implement solutions to ensure the effective use of natural, economic and human resources that promote public health.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Brooks Rainwater, the AIA’s director of public policy, about the initiative and the impact it can have on public health.
NewPublicHealth: How did the Decade of Design project come about and what are the goals?
Brooks Rainwater: The Decade of Design global urban solutions challenge is our Clinton Global Initiative commitment to action. CGI convenes global leaders to create and implement innovative solutions to the world's most pressing challenges. We put together a 10-year AIA pledge with a focus on documenting, envisioning and implementing solutions related to the design of the urban built environment in the interest of public health, and effective use of natural economic and human resources. In order to do this, the AIA is working with partner organizations—including the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and the MIT Center for Advanced Urbanism—to leverage design thinking in order to effect meaningful change in urban environment through research, community participation, design frameworks and active implementation of innovative solutions.
We started in 2012 by giving research grants to three architecture programs at Texas A&M University, the University of Arkansas and the University of New Mexico.
At Texas A&M, they focused on evaluating the health benefits of livable communities and creating a toolkit for measuring the health impacts of walkable communities as they’re being developed in Texas.
Researchers at the University of Arkansas have a plan called Fayetteville 2030. The city is slated to double in population in the next two decades, so they have brought together community leaders to develop a long-range plan to focus on local food production, including urban farming to help prepare for the large population growth.
At the University of New Mexico, they're establishing an interdisciplinary public health and architecture curriculum. Over the next three years they want to create joint courses on some of the translation issues that come up between the professions, making sure that architects can speak the public health language and public health professionals can also understand the built environment in a new and different way.
International Making Cities Livable Conference: A NewPublicHealth Q&A with Conference Co-Founder Suzanne Lennard
NewPublicHealth is on the road this week at the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland and the International Making Cities Livable Conference meeting in Portland, Oregon. Watch out for session coverage, Q&As with presenters and other updates from both conferences this week.
The International Making Cities Livable Council is an interdisciplinary, international network of individuals and cities dedicated to making our cities and communities more livable, with a focus on how the built environment impacts the wellbeing of the people who live in a community. This year’s conference focuses on creating healthy suburbs. And though health is an inextricable component of a livable city or suburb, this concept also includes enabling healthy social interaction; fostering a healthy local economy; creating safe spaces where children can grow up successfully; and more. NewPublicHealth coverage will focus on the critical connection between health and livability.
Prior to the conference, we connected with Suzanne Lennard, co-founder of the International Making Cities Livable Conference, who provided critical context on just what makes a city livable, and some of the contextual history on how our nation’s cities and suburbs strayed from livability—and what we can learn from other counties in getting back to healthy, livable places to live, learn and play.
NewPublicHealth: How did you come to found the International Making Cities Livable Conference?
Suzanne Lennard: My husband, who died several years ago, was a medical sociologist and social psychologist and his field was the study of social interaction in different settings and under different circumstances. When I met him, I was studying for a PhD at UC Berkeley in Human Aspects of Architecture and Urban Design and I was interested in how the built environment enhanced well-being. We started working together and since we were both from Europe—he was Viennese and I was from England—we began to look at how some European cities were enhancing well-being.
NewPublicHealth is on the road this week at the AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting in Baltimore, Maryland and the International Making Cities Livable Conference meeting in Portland, Oregon.
AcademyHealth is a key organization in the United States for the study of health services research—a discipline that looks at how people get access to health care, how much care costs and what happens to patients as a result of this care. The main goals of health services research are to identify the most effective ways to organize, manage, finance and deliver high-quality care; reduce medical errors; and improve patient safety.
An important focus of this week’s Annual Research Meeting is the translation and dissemination of research into health practice. The Public Health Systems Interest Group, AcademyHealth’s largest interest group with close to 3,000 members, is meeting this week as well and has a particular focus on translating and disseminating public health systems and services research to the public health practitioners who could benefit from practical findings.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Paul Erwin, MD, MPH, and head of the department of public health at the University of Tennessee School of Public Health, about the importance of having strong evidence available for public health practitioners.
NewPublicHealth: Why is the translation and dissemination of Public Health Services and Systems Research (PHSSR) so important?
Paul Erwin: Ultimately PHSSR is meant to go out into the practice community so that research can actually make a difference. I think historically that is part of what has set PHSSR apart from closely related research disciplines. PHSSR really is intended to help produce the kinds of evidence-based practices that are more effective with limited resources, and likely to move the needle on population health.