Category Archives: Transportation
A new conversation with Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood continues a series of interviews by NewPublicHealth with the heads of federal agencies that comprise the National Prevention Council, convened to partner across government to help create a healthier nation through the National Prevention Strategy.
The U.S. transportation system is a web of highways, bridges, roads, sidewalks, bike paths, trains, and buses that connect people to each other and to places where they work, learn, play, shop, and get medical care. This makes transportation a critical factor in the health and quality—as well as the economic viability—of life of communities. In addition to devoting significant resources and attention to improving the safety of motor vehicle-based transportation, the Department of Transportation and partners across the country are working to provide more transportation options that support walking and cycling and improve health.
>>Check out a new infographic exploring the connection between transportation and health.
Read the new interview with Secretary LaHood.
NPH: Who are some of the Department of Transportation’s partners on the intersection of transportation and health?
Secretary Ray LaHood: We’ve worked with communities all over America on their priorities for improving transportation, but also improving the quality of life in communities. We’ve worked with mayors, we’ve worked with transportation officials, and we’ve worked with advocacy groups. We’ve tried to take best practices in cities that have paid attention to the environment and quality of life in their communities, and lead by not only our own example, but by taking examples from leadership in communities where mayors and transportation advocates and some of our best partners have done extraordinary work on really improving health and quality of life by way of transportation.
We work closely with many different groups, not only here in Washington, but all across the country. For example, we have joined with other agencies for a project called Safe Routes to School that helps create environments where students can walk and bicycle to school safely by allowing children to pick routes to school that are safe for walking – so that their parents don’t have to drive them and so they don’t have to be on a bus. We have a great relationship with bikers all over America, and whenever I go into a community I often have opportunities to meet with the cycling advocates in communities.
We also work closely with advocates to make sure that children are in the right size child safety seats, and we partner with Mothers against Drunk Driving to get drunk drivers off the road. We have lots of advocacy groups and friends around the country who wake up every day and think about safety on the roadways, in vehicles, outside of vehicles, in public transportation.
NPH: How is the DOT working to help prevent injuries related to transportation, such as distracted driving?
The American Public Health Association and the Safe Routes to School National Partnership have joined together to create an active transportation primer, Promoting Active Transportation: An Opportunity for Public Health.
The goal of the primer is to provide public health practitioners with critical background information on the value of active transportation, such as walking, bike riding, jogging and running to help reduce obesity, transportation expenses and the environmental impact of cars and buses in communities. The primer authors say educating public health leaders about active transportation can affect how transportation is built in communities, regions and states, and engage stakeholders to find effective calls for action.
New federal transportation legislation became effective this month and includes opportunities for public health practitioners to take active roles in moving active transportation forward in their communities including:
- Safe bicycling routes
- Improved sidewalks
- Multi-use pathways
>>Bonus Links: Check out a Q&A with Deb Hubsmith, director of the Safe Routes to School National Partnership. Also read a NewPublicHealth interview with Michelle Windmoeller, assistant director of the PedNet Coalition, which promotes active transportation in communities.
Martin Fenstersheib, MD, MPH, director of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department in California led a session on safe outdoor activity for kids and adults at the 2012 Public Health Law Conference. NewPublicHealth spoke to Dr. Fenstersheib about what is keeping our communities from safely getting outside to play—violence, blight and communities built for cars—and solutions grounded in evidence-based public health law.
NewPublicHealth: You presented at a key session on making outdoor physical activity opportunities safer. What makes this an important issue for you?
Dr. Fentersheib: Often when we talk about physical activity, we hear people say that all we need to do is convince kids to go outdoors. A lot of us then say, “when we were kids, our parents let us out of the house in the morning and we came back at nighttime and all was well.” There wasn’t any problem with that. But, of course, we’ve all become aware of safety as a barrier to outdoor physical activity. And the issue has to do with not only criminal or violence safety, but safe streets generally. Do cars in an area make it less safe for example? And, is our environment built in a way that it is safe for kids to walk to school? My presentation will be an overview of the benefits of physical activity, and what some of the barriers are.
We’ll also look at the legal side of the issue, including a study on mixed use land zoning. I think the bottom line is that safer neighborhoods will have more of a mixed use flavor so that you don’t have to go far to get to work or play or to recreational areas. In such neighborhoods, there are stores and other places for you to go, and you’re closer to public transportation. The data to be presented will show that the crime rates in those areas are lower than in pure industrial areas or areas where there isn’t mixed use. Mixed use is helping to improve the built environment in the communities in which we live by having more eyes on the street, by having people basically looking out for one another and be more of a community.
NPH: What are examples in Santa Clara of new plans to create safer outdoor spaces for children and adults?
Study Recommends Treatment for Mini Strokes
A transient ischemic attack or a “mini stroke,” can lead to serious disability, but is often thought of as too mild to treat, according to a study in the American Heart Association journal Stroke. Among the 499 patients studied, 15 percent had at least minor disability 90 days after their original mini stroke. Computed tomography (CT) scans showed some mini stroke patients had narrowed blood vessels in the brain, and others reported ongoing or worsening symptoms. Those patients were more than twice as likely to have disability at 90 days. The researchers say imaging should be done on all mini stroke patients to determine whether treatment is needed. Read more on access to health care.
Wildfire Smoke Linked to Low Birth Weights
Pregnant women exposed to wildfire smoke during Southern California’s 2003 fire season had babies with lower birth weights when compared to babies not exposed to the smoke, according to researchers from the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health. The researchers say the finding is important because climate change is expected to increase the number of wildfires in the United States. The study was published in Environmental Health Perspectives. Read more on the environment.
Violent Video Games Linked to Reckless Driving in Teens
A new study in the journal Psychology of Popular Media Culture finds that teens who play video games that emphasize risk and violence may be more likely to take risks when driving. Read more on violence.
How do you get a public health message to stick? That’s the ultimate quest. And clever thinking is behind some recent campaigns including PSAs by “Glee” cast members to urge teens to stop texting when they drive, and the “Tips From Former Smokers” series from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which shows the potential ravages of smoking.
A novel and very memorable campaign by a Rotary Club in Brazil joins the list. As reported by The Atlantic Cities, the club was determined to help lower the country’s high pedestrian fatality rate and so engaged some local athletes to make absolute sure that pedestrians can safely cross the crosswalk, with no cars in the way.
The campaign, called “Respect Life, Respect the Crosswalk,” goes to new heights in pursuit of the public’s health. Watch the video to see how…
>>Read the full story from The Atlantic Cities.
>>Watch the video:
The National Prevention Strategy is a national effort engaging 17 federal agencies to develop cross-sector strategies to reduce preventable illness and disease and improve Americans’ health. The goals and actions of the Strategy were in full force last week at a roundtable on the intersection of health and transportation, convened by the Department of Transportation, the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This was also communicated nationwide in a blog post by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
From Secretary LaHood’s post:
We know that the transportation choices we make play an important role in building and maintaining healthy communities. For example, safer roadways and traffic patterns reduce crashes. Streets where walkers and bikers are protected from motor vehicles encourage people to get more exercise as part of their daily routines. Increasing the transportation options available in a community helps reduce congestion and air pollution even as it ensures that communities have access to necessary services like full-service grocery stores and doctors’ offices.
September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month
September is Childhood Obesity Awareness Month, a critical observance since over the past 30 years the childhood obesity rate in America has almost tripled, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In 2010, approximately 17 percent of children and adolescents ages 2-19 qualified as obese. Children and teenagers who are obese are more likely to become obese adults with serious adult health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, certain types of cancer and osteoarthritis. According to the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, children and adolescents ages 6 to 17 years should spend 60 minutes or more being physical active each day. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010 recommend balancing calories with physical activity and encourages Americans to consume more healthy foods such as vegetables; fruits; whole grains; fat-free and low-fat dairy products; and seafood. It also recommends they consume less sodium; saturated and trans fats; added sugars; and refined grains. Read more on obesity.
Secondhand Smoke Exposure May Extend Stay for Kids Hospitalized with Flu
A recent Journal of Pediatrics study on about 100 children hospitalized for flu found that those children who had been previously exposed to secondhand smoke were five times more likely to be admitted to the intensive care unit and required a 70 percent longer stay in the hospital, compared to kids who’d had no exposure to tobacco smoke. Read more on tobacco.
Humvees Account for High Percentage of Military Crashes
A new study by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health researchers finds that U.S. soldiers are at greatest for risk for injury in a Humvee crash if they are the driver or gunner. That finding is important say the researchers because, according to the U.S. Department of the Army, motor vehicle crashes account for nearly one-third of all U.S. military deaths each year and are among the top five causes of hospitalization for military personnel. According to the Hopkins study, which was published in the journal Military Medicine, nearly half of vehicle crashes in Afghanistan, Kuwait and Iraq from 2002 through 2006 were in Humvees. The researchers found that the odds of being injured in a Humvee accident are greatest when the crash occurred in combat. “[That finding] indicates that in a high-stress situation, the soldier may be distracted or less likely to take self-protective measures or follow safety regulations,” said study co-author Susan P. Baker, MPH, a professor with the Johns Hopkins Center for Injury Research and Policy. Read more on the military and public health.
The twelfth HIA International Conference held this week in Quebec will be the first to take place in North America. Health impact assessments (HIAs) bring together scientific data, health expertise and public input to identify potential health effects of proposed laws, regulations, projects and programs, providing decision-makers with the information they need to advance smarter policies for safe, healthy, thriving communities.
Alain Poirier, MD, chair of the conference local organizing committee and former minister of health and social services in Quebec says the location provides an excellent opportunity for Americans and Canadians, who have not attended this HIA conference in large numbers previously, to learn what is going on in the field across the world, particularly now that HIA is a burgeoning field in the United States. An updated map from the Health Impact Project, a joint program of the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, offers an updated look at HIAs completed or underway in the United States. According to the Health Impact Project, in 2007, there were only 27 completed HIAs in the U.S. but the map now counts 100 completed and more than 200 total HIAs. The built environment is the most popular field for HIAs in the country right now, with over 70 completed or in process, followed by transportation, agriculture and food, natural resources, and food and housing.
The map details some recent critical examples of HIAs in the United States:
Economic Policy: New Hampshire State Budget. An HIA will inform lawmakers on how funding changes in parts of the state budget might affect the health of residents.
Built Environment: San Pablo (CA) Corridor. This HIA addressed the health implications of placing affordable housing units along the San Pablo Corridor, a high traffic transit and retail corridor in Richmond and El Cerrito, Calif.
Housing: Trinity Plaza Housing Redevelopment. This HIA examined a proposed redevelopment project in San Francisco that would demolish an older apartment building with over 360 rent-controlled units, and replace them with 1,400 market-rate condominiums.
>>Recommended Reading: NewPublicHealth frequently covers emerging HIA projects across the country. Read about HIAs that examined the potential health impacts of:
Faces of Public Health is a recurring editorial series on NewPublicHealth featuring individuals working on the front lines of public health and helping keep people healthy and safe.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), each year 1.3 million people are killed and 20 to 50 million are injured in car crashes around the world. Most of the crashes happen in low- or middle-income countries, and 25,000 of the deaths are among tourists. In fact, nearly half of medical evacuations back to the United States, which can cost $100,000 or more, are the result of a car crash.
According to the CDC, reasons for an increase in crashes in foreign countries include:
- More people driving cars and other motorized vehicles
- Poorly maintained roads
- Insufficient traffic laws and poor enforcement in some countries
- Insufficient emergency response capabilities in some countries
Rochelle Sobel knows the worst possible outcome of these crashes first hand. She founded the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT) in 1995, after her son, Aron, was killed in a bus crash in Turkey along with 22 other passengers from many countries, just two weeks before his graduation from the University of Maryland Medical School. The bus Aron was traveling on was speeding down the wrong lane of a narrow, poorly maintained road with no guard rail. The bus hit oncoming traffic and plunged down an embankment, landing on its side. Emergency medical crews were slow to respond, likely a factor in at least some of the deaths. After the crash the U.S. Ambassador to Turkey recommended the creation of a road safety organization to protect both American citizens abroad and residents of countries around the world.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Rochelle Sobel about ASIRT.
NewPublicHealth: ASIRT was started out of personal tragedy, the loss of your son Aron, in a bus crash in Turkey. How did you get started?
Rochelle Sobel: The first thing I did was talk to the U.S. embassy in Ankara, and I asked them if they could please tell me when such crashes occur again, and they said, “Mrs. Sobel, we’d be calling you constantly.” That led me to understand that this is indeed a health issue that was not getting the kind of public attention that it deserved. So I started to call different organizations, and unfortunately, it was not yet recognized as a health issue. So we decided to become the organization that would bring attention to the issue. We got help from the embassy; we got a lot of help from the State Department. We asked the State Department to start collecting data on the numbers of Americans who die abroad in road crashes by country, and they discovered that it was the single greatest cause of death for healthy Americans traveling abroad.
NPH: Is that still the case?
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), at least 33 deaths from vehicular heatstroke—a desperately high body temperature in kids inadvertently left in hot cars—were reported last year for kids under the age of 14. Since 1998, at least 532 children have died from vehicular heatstroke and most of the deaths have occurred in kids 3 years and younger. “As we approach what is the hottest month of the year for most of the country, we’re working to get the message out to families with young children to take basic precautions to ensure a heatstroke tragedy never happens to them,” says Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.
Recently, officials from NHTSA and Safe Kids Worldwide, who are partnering to reduce vehicular heatstroke deaths, joined the Tennessee Department of Transportation officials and other health professionals for a demonstration on just how quickly the inside of a vehicle can heat up. When outside temperatures are in the low 80s, the temperature inside a vehicle can reach deadly levels in only 10 minutes, even with a window rolled down two inches. According to NHTSA, children’s bodies in particular overheat easily, and infants and children under 4 years old are at the greatest risk for heat-related illness.
In addition to the deaths, each year vehicular heatstrokes causes permanent brain injury, blindness and hearing loss, among other injuries, to an unknown number of children, according to NHTSA. Often heatstroke deaths and injuries occur after a child gets into an unlocked vehicle to play, without their parents’ knowing. Vehicular heatstroke also happens when a parent or caregiver not used to transporting a child as part of their daily routine accidentally forgets a sleeping baby in a rear-facing car seat in the back of the vehicle.
Demonstration programs have been planned for Kentucky, North Carolina, Missouri, Georgia and Arizona. Safety precautions include: