Category Archives: Public Health
A recent vote by the Washington D.C. City Council requires large retailers to pay a minimum hourly wage of $12.50 an hour—$5.25 more than the current minimum wage of $7.25 nationally and $8.25 in D.C.— and the decision received wide attention, especially when retailers planning to build new stores in the city said they’d pull the plug on the projects if required to pay the higher salaries. But at least two recent magazine articles explain why there’s been a fervent recent push to try to push up the wages of those in low-paying jobs. New York Magazine recently surveyed 100 fast food restaurant employees in that city and asked, among other things, “can you live off your paycheck?” The answer appears to be no. The average pretax monthly pay for the surveyed workers was $984 while average monthly expenses including rent, utilities, groceries and cell phone bills was $1,115—which adds up to $131 more in expenses than pay.
>>Bonus Link: Why does income matter to health? See a NewPublicHealth infographic on how stable jobs and income lead to healthier lives.
And last weeks’ New Yorker Magazine added heft to the need to look at the current minimum wage rate, in light of just how critical that income is to many households. According to the article, while low-wage retail jobs were once squarely aimed at high school students looking for pocket money and those looking for supplemental income, in the last few years of stiff unemployment, studies find that current low-wage workers are responsible for 46 percent of household income. According to the New Yorker article, “Congress is currently considering a bill increasing the minimum wage to $10.10 over the next three years…still a long way from turning these jobs into the kind of employment that can support a middle-class family.”
In the national conversation on the spreading epidemic of obesity and chronic diseases, and the ways in which public health initiatives can fight these issues, architecture and design are continuing to play a leading role in developing fit and healthy solutions. The way a community or a school or a store or a workplace is built can actually influence physical activity, access to healthier food and more to help create an overall fitter nation.
FitNation is an initiative that highlights innovative design strategies across the country to get people healthy and moving. These projects, which stretch across the realms of local and national policy and grassroots-driven action to urban improvements, are brought together in FitNation as inspired by New York City’s Active Design Guidelines and the annual Fit City Conference, which is a partnership between the American Institute of Architects New York and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
Here is a selection of some of the creative solutions featured in FitNation that were developed to help individuals and communities lead happier and healthier lives.
Red Swing Project
Design by Hatch Workshop and University of Texas at Austin Architecture Students
Starting in Austin, Texas, a group of architecture students seeking to make better use of public spaces started the Red Swing Project, an open source initiative to transform some unexpected places into playgrounds. The swings consist of a piece of scrap wood, painted red, and rock climbing rope and have popped up all over the world—transforming areas hit by natural disasters, lining a bicycle path from Paris to Barcelona, and below an interstate overpass. You can track the project online with a geo-tagged map or through #redswingproject on Instagram and Facebook.
Urban Farming Food Chain, Edible Wall
Design by Elmslie Osler, Architect
Los Angeles, CA
We all know that some of the healthiest foods grow on trees, but now in Los Angeles thanks to the Urban Farming Food Chain, they can grow on walls too. The Food Chain consists of “edible walls” that grow fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs, intended to provide economically disadvantaged populations with healthier food options. The walls are installed on pre-existing structures and have storage for tools, seeds and soil. This project’s vertical angle on community gardens help provide social activities as well as the opportunity to share and develop skills and healthy habits.
The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Emergency Care Research (OECR), established in 2012, will now be under the leadership of Jeremy Brown, MD. Brown was recently appointed as the first permanent director of OECR, which is housed in NIH’s National Institute of General Medical Sciences.
Before joining NIH, Brown was an associate professor of emergency medicine and chief of the clinical research section in the Department of Emergency Medicine at The George Washington University. Additionally, he served as an attending physician in the emergency department of the Washington, D.C., VA Medical Center. According to the acting director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, Judith H. Greenberg, PhD, “Brown brings an impressive mix of clinical expertise, research experience, management abilities and communication skills to this important new position.”
Part of Brown’s research includes how to introduce routine HIV screening—a public health intervention—in hospital emergency departments. Previous studies have found these screenings to be cost-effective and frequently welcomed by patients. This is just one of the many ways in which steps could be taken in the emergency room setting to help improve the data available to assist public health efforts across the country. By using emergency departments as sites for collecting data on the status of the public’s health, more targeted efforts for prevention can be implemented.
NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Brown on the evidence that shows support for the collaboration between emergency departments and efforts to improve public health, as well as his new role and what he sees for the future of emergency departments.
NewPublicHealth: How is the transition into this new position going so far and how are you pulling from previous experiences to help with new challenges in this position?
Jeremy Brown: This is the beginning of my fourth week here; it is a new program and a new project really for both me as its first permanent director and for the NIH as well. They’ve never had an office that has addressed this particular part of our nation’s health and I think it’s going to be a learning experience on both sides.
So far, I’ve been really struck by the extremely warm reception that I’ve had from people within institutes and centers with whom I’ve had meetings. Currently, my agenda is really to meet with as many people as possible within NIH whose work touches on emergency medicine and other time sensitive medical issues.
In terms of the latter, I started a brand new HIV screening project from scratch at GW, it hadn’t been done there previously and it really had only been done in a couple of places in the U.S. before. That required the marshaling of a lot of different aspects of both the hospital, the nursing staff, and emergency physicians to get that up and running.
NPH: What other public health initiatives do you think emergency departments can take the lead on to improve public health?
The Public Health Quality Improvement Exchange (PHQIX) is an online communication hub for public health professionals interested in learning and sharing information about quality improvement in public health. Created by RTI International and funded by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, PHQIX launched in September of 2012 with the goal of sustaining national efforts at quality improvement by providing public health practitioners with the opportunity to learn from the experiences of their colleagues. PHQIX includes:
- An online database of quality improvement efforts by public health departments across the country
- Search and query functions to help users find relevant examples for their own work
- A forum for dialogue on quality improvement
A recent initiative shared on the site called Operation Chuckwagon looked at the maintaining quality control of food safety for mobile food trucks in Northern Kentucky.
Food trucks are growing in popularity across the country as an inexpensive way to try different cuisines, and following some of the weather disasters this past year, some municipalities dispatched food trucks, with cost covered for residents, to areas without power and in need of food. Safety is critical. A recent report in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found an outbreak of 91 salmonella cases linked to lunch trucks in Alberta, Canada. An investigation by food inspectors found many food storage and handling violations.
The Kentucky project increased the percentage of properly licensed mobile food vendors to 100 percent from a baseline of 25 percent, and also achieved a 100 percent compliance rate with required temperature controls, which had been a big problem during initial inspections.
NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Ted Talley, environmental health manager at the health department, about the quality improvement initiative.
NewPublicHealth: What’s novel about how you’ve approached the food trucks and made it easier for them to have food safety inspections?
Even as the global population continues to grow, technological and societal advances mean that our world is constantly getting smaller. Or at least that we are becoming more interconnected.
Understanding this—that a person in a Midwestern U.S. state is better off when a person on the other side of the world has access to quality health care—the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Global Health Strategy is working with partners across the globe to improve the health of everyone.
"Although the chief mission of [HHS] is to enhance the health and well being of Americans, it is critically important that we cooperate with other nations and international organizations to reduce the risks of disease, disability, and premature death throughout the world," said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.
One of the most powerful initiatives has been the push toward greater immunization rates. Immunizations alone saved 3 million children’s lives in 2011. Over the past decade, premature deaths from measles have been cut by 71 percent and from tetanus by more than 90 percent. And polio is closer and closer to complete eradication.
Still, vaccine-preventable diseases still account for approximately one in four global deaths of children under the age of 5. And of the 22 million children who go without the full benefits of vaccines each year, it is often the poorest that are most affected.
Among the greatest continuing obstacles are the persistent myths surrounding vaccinations, such as the false and repeatedly debunked belief that they cause autism.
“Overcoming these mistaken beliefs has become an integral part of our work towards global vaccine access. Until we reach the day when no lives are lost to vaccine-preventable diseases, we will aggressively continue to develop new and improved vaccines and ensure they are available to everyone in every country.”
>> Read the full “Beyond our borders: Why the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services invests in global efforts” at DefeatDD.org.
MERS Unlikely to Cause Pandemic; Global Cooperation Still Needed
Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), which emerged last year in Saudi Arabia, was compared to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and found to be less infectious, in a new study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases. The study examined the question of whether MERS has the potential to cause a pandemic, and how quickly. The study authors concluded that MERS does not yet have pandemic potential, and in fact appears to be less infectious than SARS. There have been 81 laboratory-confirmed cases of MERS infections, 45 of which were fatal. MERS is more likely to affect older men with chronic disease, and were most often transmitted in health care settings—but unlike SARS, the virus was less likely to also infect healthy health care workers. Researchers call for healthcare facilities to prepare to provide safe care for patients with acute respiratory infections, and take measures to help prevent the spread of the disease. Read more on infectious disease.
CDC: HPV Vaccination Rates for Adolescent Girls Remain Stagnant
Just over half (53.8%) of girls age 13-17 years old received the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine in 2012, with no increase over the rate in 2011. Since 2006, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices has recommended routine vaccination of adolescent girls at ages 11 or 12 years with 3 doses of HPV vaccine. HPV causes 70 percent of cervical cancers. If HPV vaccine had been offered during healthcare visits when girls were already in the office to get a different vaccine, HPV vaccination coverage could have reached 90 percent. Approximately 79 million persons in the United States are infected with HPV, and approximately 14 million will become newly infected each year. Each year, 26,000 new cases of cancer are diagnosed that can be traced back to HPV infection. Read more on vaccines.
New Breathalyzer-like Device Tells You If Your Workout is Working
New technology being prototyped in Japan measures how well you're burning body fat and help you gauge the success of your diet and exercise program, using a smartphone and pocket-sized, bluetooth enabled device. The device measures exhaled breath for acetone, a metabolite produced from fat burning. The researchers tested the device in 17 healthy men and women, reporting their findings online July 25 in the Journal of Breath Research, and finding that the device was as effective as more established "gold standard" measures. Further research is needed on larger, more diverse populations, but if it pans out, "Enabling users to monitor the state of fat burning could play a pivotal role in daily diet management," Hiyama said in a journal news release. Read more on technology.
In 2011, Sonoma County in California established the division of Health Policy, Planning and Evaluation (HPPE) in an effort to move the county up in the County Health Rankings, toward a goal of becoming the healthiest in the state by 2020. As the director of the division, Peter Rumble, MPA, has played a critical role in the development of numerous programs and policy efforts to help create opportunities for everyone in Sonoma County to be healthy. Rumble has worked on programs and policies that go beyond traditional public health activities and aim to address the root causes of poor health, including the local food system, education and poverty.
Following his presentation at the International Making Cities Livable Conference, NewPublicHealth was able to speak with Rumble about the ways in which his work with HPPE is pushing to achieve health equity in Sonoma County. Rumble will soon move into a position as Deputy County Administrator of Community and Government Affairs for the County of Sonoma, where he plans to continue his commitment to a vision of health and quality of life for the county.
NewPublicHealth: Sonoma is making a concerted effort to help address the root causes of poor health, like poverty and lack of education. Tell us about some of those efforts.
Peter Rumble: Health Action is our real heartbeat of addressing social determinants of health, and it’s a roadmap for our vision of being the healthiest county in California by 2020. Health Action is a community council that advises the Board of Supervisors. There are 45 seats on the council, including elected officials, individual community leaders, nonprofit leaders, and representative from the business, financial, labor, media, transportation and environmental sectors. If you pick a name out of the hat for all of the sectors in the community, we’ve got somebody who either directly or tangentially represents that sector. That group began talking about needing to do something around health in 2007.
If we’re going to be the healthiest county in California by 2020, what do we need to do to achieve our ten goals based on the best evidence available? We certainly have goals associated with the health system, but predominantly, we’re focused on influencing the determinants of health. Our first goal is related to education. We want all of our children to graduate from high school on time and ready to either enter a thriving workforce or go into college or a technical career academy.
We started with some grassroots initiatives. Being a real strong agricultural community, iGROW was a good place to start. It was a movement to develop community gardens—for people to tear up their front lawns and plant a garden there, and increasing access to healthy food. That was a huge hit. We set a goal of a few hundred community gardens, and we’re up to a thousand now—it’s just caught fire.
That was all great, but a community garden is not going to make us the healthiest county in California, right? You can see the beautiful posters out on shop windows, you can see your neighbor tore up their front lawn and is growing this beautiful zucchini and has an edible lawn now and all that’s wonderful, but we only have a graduation rate of 70 percent. We’ve got nearly one in four kids living in poverty by the federal poverty standards and if you look at what actually it takes to raise a family in Sonoma County, about half of all families can’t make ends meet.
NPH: Does that surprise people to hear about Sonoma?
Passengers at the Dallas Fort Worth Airport in Texas can now go from “killing time” to “savings lives” while they wait for their flights.
Since last month, a new, innovative kiosk not much bigger than an ATM machine and installed at the American Airlines terminal, lets travelers stop and learn the basics of CPR in just minutes using a chest model and an audio instructor. The CPR pilot project, which will be tested for six months, is a joint effort of the American Heart Association (AHA) and American Airlines, part of a plan by the AHA to train millions more lay people to perform CPR, and potentially saves tens of thousands of lives.
Now, a few minutes at the kiosk won’t get most bystanders up to the level of paramedics, but “any chest compression is better than none and can increase survival,” says Ahamed Idris, MD, a spokesman for the AHA and professor of Surgery and Internal Medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. Dr. Idris helped develop the kiosk.
According to AHA, about 360,000 U.S. adults suffer cardiac arrest outside of hospitals each year, but only about 10 percent survive. Vastly increasing the number of citizens who can call for help and then start CPR on a victim could more than double that survival rate, says Dr. Idris.
Up to 80 percent of family physicians are expected to use electronic health records (EHRs) by the end of this year, and experts across the country are talking about ways to leverage this influx of data to inform better health. A pre-conference workshop at the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) Annual Meeting focused on Beacon Communities, which are part of a pilot to demonstrate how meaningful use of EHRs can lead to better health and better health care at a lower cost. The HHS Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT is providing $250 million over three years to 17 selected communities throughout the United States where numerous institutions are sharing data to inform quality improvement and other data-informed efforts.
The NACCHO meeting highlighted Beacon communities that are partnering with public health in different ways to forge data-informed population health activities.
Health departments in North Carolina have been required to do community assessments since 2002 as part of a statewide health department accreditation program and are very experienced with working with this data, whereas hospitals are just now beginning to be required to do similar assessments under the affordable care act, according to John Graham, PhD, PMP, Senior Investigator for the NC Institute for Public Health at the Gillings School for Global Public Health, which plays an integral role in the Southern Piedmont Beacon Community.
“Health assessment planning and communication are tools that can be leveraged to foster more collaboration,” said Graham. “We really try to coordinate public health prevention and health care. We can do a lot with clinical interventions, looking at it from a population health perspective.”
As part of an effort to help make sure their residents’ health information is available after a hurricane or other wide-spread disaster, four Gulf states have partnered with six states in the East and Midwest to help relocated patients and their temporary health care providers access critical health information.
State health information exchange (HIE) programs in Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and West Virginia worked with the Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT to create the new system. All of the state HIE programs participating in the initiative have established at least one operational interstate connection and are working with other states including Arkansas and Mississippi. The initiative uses a tool called Direct, created through a collaboration that allows for the secure exchange of health information over the Internet.
The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality recently published a guide to help primary care clinicians connect their patients’ electronic health records to a local HIE hub and regional health information organizations.