Category Archives: Public Health

Nov 11 2013
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What's New in Schools and Programs of Public Health? Q&A with Harrison Spencer

file Harrison Spencer, Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (image courtesy of Tulane University)

The Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH), like the American Public Health Association, held its annual meeting in Boston last week. NewPublicHealth spoke with Harrison Spencer, MD, MPH, executive director of the ASPPH, from Boston about the meeting and what’s ahead for students of public health.

NewPublicHealth: How was the meeting and what were some of the key sessions?

Harrison Spencer: Our meeting this year was the first one held since we formed our new organization, the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health, on August 1. The new organization is now comprised of all accredited public health academic institutions, both schools and programs. We’ve got 93 members now, an increase from 57 members before, so this was a wonderful and exciting and dynamic annual meeting with lots of energy and lots of promise.

Among the highlights were Harvey Fineberg, MD, PhD, president of the Institute of Medicine, who gave us an inspirational talk about public health leadership, and Laura Liswood, Secretary General of the Council of Women World Leaders, who led a discussion on diversity as a way to make organizations and institutes stronger.   

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Oct 18 2013
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Meme's the Word in Public Health

Public health professionals have very serious and important work to do—but that doesn’t mean they can’t poke a little fun at themselves in the process. Memes—essentially shared cultural statements—are all the internet rage these days, and the field of public health is not immune to their widespread appeal. A few collections of health-related memes have crossed our desks recently.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has launched an online campaign to build a community of public health “nerds” that uses social media graphics to spread the word. The campaign, as reported by Public Health Newswire, aims to mobilize the public health community and generate interest in the field’s careers. Since August, the CDC has posted four graphics to its Facebook page that acknowledge the important role of people in public health in a humorous way.

Jim Garrow, of The Face of the Matter, has created a Tumblr of public health memes so that you can get your daily dose of health puns and jokes. In addition, a recent post from Upworthy features 14 memes that use images of everything from Beyonce to Captain Jack Sparrow to depict an “unhealthy” love for public health. The memes on these pages cover a wide range of topics from the Affordable Care Act, to disease outbreaks, to mental health issues by incorporating images from popular television series, movies and internet GIFs.       

A few of our favorites are included below.

file From publichealthmemes.tumblr.com

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Oct 18 2013
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Twentysomething? Have We Got an Affordable Care Act Story For You

Alarmed at recent surveys that show only about ten percent of young Americans who say they are very familiar with the Affordable Care Act (ACA), staff reporters at Kaiser Health News (KHN) have crafted a clever article—winsome graphics included—aimed at getting the attention of millennials about the new health law in time for them to sign up before looming deadlines.  

Getting the attention of millennials on the state or federal health insurance exchanges, recently launched and going through overhauls, is crucial for two key reasons. One is that young adults no longer on their parents' plan (now allowed until age 26 under the ACA) often don’t bother with health insurance because they believe they’re invincible, so why shell out hundreds to thousands in premiums and deductibles? That works fine unless an accident or illness ensues, which can cost hundreds of thousands or more.  

file Kaiser Health News graphic aimed to appeal to "young invincibles"

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Oct 17 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 17

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.

Oct 16 2013
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Place Matters: A Q&A With David J. Erickson, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

file David Erickson, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

At the recent Place Matters: Exploring the Intersections of Health and Economic Justice conference in Washington, D.C., David J. Erickson, PhD, was a key member of a panel called “What Works for America’s Communities?” Dr. Erickson, who is director of the Center for Community Development Investment at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, has been a key leader in a Healthy Communities collaboration between the Federal Reserve and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The joint effort has convened more than ten conferences around the country and released numerous publications, including an article in Health Affairs about partnerships to improve the wellbeing of low-income people.

>>Read more reporting from the Place Matters conference, in a Q&A with David Williams of the Harvard School of Public Health and the RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Erickson at the Place Matters meeting.

NewPublicHealth: Are the Healthy Communities conferences continuing?

David Erickson: We still have what we call “consciousness raising” meetings planned in Ohio, Florida, Louisiana and other cities, and these are initial meetings that get together the health and community development world. But then there is another phase, we call it phase two—how do you operationalize this idea? What do we do tomorrow? Who do I call? How do I structure the transaction? Who’s my partner? And that’s harder to answer so we’re trying to figure that out. So we need phase two meetings to get hospitals together with banks to talk about how they might blend some of their community benefit dollars with community reinvestment dollars to help alleviate some of the upstream causes of bad health [like poverty and poor housing].

NPH: What would be examples of such a collaboration?

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Oct 16 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: October 15

American Heart Association: Doctors Should Routinely Ask About Physical Activity
A new scientific statement from the American Heart Association says that doctors should evaluate their patients’ physical activity habits as routinely as checking blood pressure and other risk factors for cardiovascular diseases. The statement was published in the journal Circulation.

The statement says that an exercise checkup should cover types, frequency, duration and intensity of physical activity at work, home and during leisure time.

The American Heart Association recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity five days a week or more, or at least 20 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity three days a week or more and moderate- to high-intensity muscle strengthening at least two days a week. Read more on heart health.

People with Mental Health Problems More Likely to be Uninsured
A new University of Minnesota study published in Health Affairs finds that people with mental health problems are more likely to be uninsured and rely on public insurance than people without mental health problems. The study reviewed national insurance coverage rates from 1999 to 2010. The study authors say the implementation of the Affordable Care Act will give many more people with mental health problems access to health insurance – particularly in states such as Minnesota that have that have opted to expand their Medicaid programs. The researchers also say that people with mental health problems on public insurance have better access to care and lower cost barriers than the uninsured or those with private health insurance coverage.
 
Kathleen Rowan, the lead author of the study and a doctoral student in health services research, policy, and administration at the University of Minnesota School of Public, says, “unfortunately, most persons with mental illness do not receive needed care due in part to a lack of health insurance coverage and the cost of treatment.” Read more on mental health.

Study: Research to Delay Aging is a Better Investment Than Cancer, Heart Disease Research
A new study in current issue of Health Affairs finds that research to delay aging and the infirmities of old age would produce better health and economic returns than advances in some fatal diseases such as cancer or heart disease.

The study found that even modest gains in the scientific understanding of how to slow the aging process would result in an additional 5 percent of adults over the age of 65 remaining healthy rather than disabled every year from 2030 to 2060, or 11.7 million more healthy adults over age 65 remaining healthy by 2060.

The analysis was conducted by scientists from a consortium of research centers. “Even a marginal success in slowing aging is going to have a huge impact on health and quality of life. This is a fundamentally new approach to public health that would attack the underlying risk factors for all fatal and disabling diseases,” said S. Jay Olshansky, professor of epidemiology at the UIC School of Public Health and one of the study’s authors. “We need to begin the research now. We don’t know which mechanisms are going to work to actually delay aging, and there are probably a variety of ways this could be accomplished, but we need to decide now that this is worth pursuing.” Read more on aging.

Oct 10 2013
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Age-friendly Cities

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“What aging is, is the greatest success of public health,” said Ruth Finkelstein, director of the Age-Friendly Initiative of the New York Academy of Medicine.

The City of New York has released a progress report on Age-friendly New York City, a cross-agency, public-private partnership created in 2009 to improve the lives of older New Yorkers. The report highlights progress in several areas including pedestrian safety, parks access and innovative senior centers among others initiatives. New York City is home to 1.3 million older New Yorkers, a number expected to increase by close to 50 percent by 2030. In 2007, the City Council provided funding to the New York Academy of Medicine to begin creating a blueprint to help New York City become a model of an age-friendly city.

The report’s release coincides with the city’s announcement of its recognition as the Best Existing Age-friendly Initiative in the World through a competition sponsored by the International Federation on Aging.

 “It’s a fact of life that everyone gets older and we need to make sure our City is prepared to meet the needs of our aging population,” said Department for the Aging Commissioner Lilliam Barrios-Paoli. “Our success is due to the collaborative efforts of our sister City agencies, the New York City Council and the New York Academy of Medicine. Without this uniquely innovative partnership and the grassroots community efforts from local businesses and neighborhood organizations, we would not have been able to build the foundation for what makes New York City a better place to live for our seniors.”

The city’s age-friendly initiatives include:  

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Oct 9 2013
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In a Government Shutdown, Who’s Tracking the Flu?

Add flu surveillance to the list of casualties of the current government shutdown.

Every flu season, states collect data on flu cases — including case reports and viral specimens — and send those to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta for recording and tracking. That tracking is critical in order to:

  • provide information on how well-matched the seasonal flu vaccine is to the flu viruses found in the community;
  • identify severe outbreaks that require increased supplies of antiviral medicines for people who contract the flu; and
  • identify emerging strains that might require a new vaccine to be developed this season, which is what happened several years ago when CDC identified the H1N1 influenza virus toward the end of the flu season, and quickly ramped up for a new vaccine.

Flu season generally runs October through April, with the peak from about January to March. If the shutdown continues then, “as the flu season goes on, our knowledge of what’s happening will be impaired,” says William Schaffner, MD, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Infectious Diseases, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and the immediate past president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

CDC director Thomas Frieden, MD, MPH, underscored his concern in a tweet on the first day of the government shutdown: “CDC had to furlough 8,754 people. They protected you yesterday, can't tomorrow. Microbes/other threats didn't shut down. We are less safe.”

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Oct 7 2013
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New Report: Most States Not Implementing Enough Proven Strategies to Prevent Prescription Drug Abuse

Prescription Drug Abuse Map

Prescription drug-related deaths now outnumber deaths from heroin and cocaine combined, and drug overdose deaths exceed motor vehicle-related deaths in 29 states and Washington, D.C. 

A new report about prescription drug abuse released today by Trust for America’s Health (TFAH), finds that few states are implementing more than just a few promising strategies that have been identified to help combat the widespread drug abuse that continues to increase across the U.S. The report, Prescription Drug Abuse: Strategies to Stop the Epidemic, which was funded by a grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, shows that only two states – New Mexico and Vermont – have implemented all ten strategies.

According to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (NCIPC), nationally, sales of prescription painkillers per capita have quadrupled since 1999 – and the number of fatal poisonings due to prescription painkillers has also quadrupled. Enough prescription painkillers were prescribed in 2010 to medicate every American adult continually for a month.

>>Watch a one-minute video on the scope of the prescription drug abuse epidemic in the United States.

The report also found that the number of drug overdose deaths – a majority of which are from prescription drugs – has doubled in 29 states, tripled in ten states and quadrupled in four states since 1999.

“The rapid rise of abuse requires nothing short of a full-scale response – starting with prevention and education all the way through to expanding and modernizing treatment,” said Jeffrey Levi, PhD, executive director of TFAH. “There are many promising signs that we can turn this around – but it requires urgent action,” says Levi.

In the new report, TFAH, based on consultations with experts in public and clinical health, injury prevention, law enforcement and community organization, reviewed national recommendations and examined strategies currently in use to help curb the epidemic. Recommendations include expanding access to treatment options; ensuring responsible prescribing practices; and improving Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs.

>> Learn how your state scores on the 10 key steps to curb prescription drug abuse, with a new app from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Ohio is one of several states that have implemented six of the proven strategies recommended in the report and today, in fact, will introduce new prescriber guidelines.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Ted Wymyslo, MD, director of the Ohio Department of Health about that state’s review of drug abuse and recent efforts to reduce the epidemic through a variety of means, including public and provider education.

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Oct 4 2013
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Severe Weather: Impact of the Federal Shutdown

file Weather.gov map of current severe weather warnings

Severe weather is expected to impact at least four regions of the U.S. this weekend including a tropical storm in the Gulf Coast, a tornado threat in the Midwest, snow in the West and spreading fires in California fueled by dry weather. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has already recalled some furloughed staff to prepare for the storms expected on the Gulf Coast.

Because there is an exception during the shutdown for agencies that help protect against loss of life and property, the National Hurricane Center and the National Weather Service (NWS) are regularly updating their websites, and the NWS site has an option to search by state at the bottom of the map on the Service’s home page at weather.gov.

Other federal sites, including ready.gov, the federal disaster preparedness site, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), currently say they are not adding new information, though government sites already have excellent general disaster preparedness information consumers and health departments can access. The U.S. government has a web page explaining what’s up and running and what is not, during the shutdown. If any of the weather threats become disaster situations, some of the sites may be permitted to update with specific information for individual disasters. The Weather Channel, a commercial site, is updating its information regularly.

Many agency social media feeds, including CDC’s, are not updating during the shutdown, however FEMA is updating its Twitter feed for the severe weather in the Gulf. Yesterday FEMA tweeted:

"Use the @FEMA App to #GetPrepared for #Karen. Text ANDROID or APPLE or BLACKBERRY to 43362 & we’ll text you a link http://m.fema.gov"