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Jul 16 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 16

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Proposed Tobacco Merger Could Boost Smoking Rates
The proposed merger of the Reynolds American and Lorillard tobacco companies announced earlier this week could result in increased smoking rates, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids. “This proposed merger is clearly driven by steep smoking declines in the U.S.,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of Tobacco-Free Kids. Myers said cigarette sales fell by 37.1 percent from 2000 to 2013, with the largest decline in 2009, when a 62 cent per-pack increase in the federal cigarette tax was implemented. “Reynolds and Lorillard no doubt hope the economic and political power of a merged company will help them slow or reverse these trends. Elected officials and regulators must be equally aggressive in working to accelerate progress in reducing smoking and other tobacco use.” Read more on tobacco.

Health Education Program Also Reduces Youth Dating Violence
A health education program designed to delay sexual behavior and promote healthy data relationships also significantly reduces dating violence behaviors among minority youth, according to a new study in the American Journal of Public Health. Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) analyzed 766 students in 10 middle schools in a large, urban school district in southeast Texas, where 44 percent were African American and 42 percent were Hispanic. They looked at four areas—physical victimization, emotional victimization, physical perpetration and emotional perpetration—finding that the It’s Your Game...Keep it Real program reduced all but physical dating violence, which comprised the smallest portion of the program; a revised program with a heavier emphasis on this area is currently being tested in schools. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 10 percent of high school youth are victims of physical dating violence (with ethnic-minority students at increased risk), with other studies indicating that as many as 20 percent are victims of emotional dating violence. Read more on violence.

CDC Report Finds High Rates of Youth Fruit, Vegetable Consumption
Approximately 77.1 percent of U.S. youth ages 2-19 years consume fruit on any given day and 92 percent consume vegetables, according to a recent NCHS Data Brief from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, the rate drops as youth age, while at the same time the amount of fruits and vegetables they eat should be increasing. The report used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2009–2010. The focused report looked only at whether the foods were consumed, and now how much was consumed. Read more on nutrition.

Jul 11 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 11

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CDC: 60 Percent of Diners Will Use Menu Calorie Counts When Available
Approximately 6 in 10 U.S. adults will choose their restaurant meals in part because of menu label information when it’s available, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) latest Morbidity and Mortality Report. Researchers analyzed the self-reported usage of 118,013 adults in 17 states in 2012 to determine that about 57 percent will look to the provided calorie information. New York had the highest rate, with 61.3 percent, while Montana had the lowest, at 48.7 percent. Federal law requires calorie information be provided by any restaurant with 20 or more locations; while the regulations are not yet final, many establishments already voluntarily provide menu labeling, according to the CDC. Read more on nutrition.

Depression, Stress, Hostility Tied to Higher Stroke Risk
Depression, stress and hostility may be linked to a higher risk for stroke, according to a new study in the journal Stroke. Using information provided by approximately 7,000 adults who did not have heart disease or a history of stroke at the beginning of the study, researchers followed up nearly nine years later and determined that depression was associated with an 86 percent increased chance of a stroke or a transient ischemic attack, stress was associated with a 59 percent increase and hostility doubled the risk. “[C]hronic stress and negative emotions are important psychological factors that affect one's health, and findings from this study link these factors to brain health in particular," said the study's lead author, Susan Everson-Rose, an associate professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, according to HealthDay. "Patients and their health care providers should be aware that experiences of chronic stress and negative emotional states can increase risk for stroke.” Read more on heart health.

Washington State Sees Most Measles Cases Since 1996
A slight decline in Washington State’s mumps and rubella vaccination rate has coincided with the state’s highest number of measles case in 18 years, according to officials. Washington has reported 27 cases so far this year and is currently in the midst of its third outbreak. While homegrown measles was declared officially eliminated from the United States in 2000, infections from people who have travelled overseas remain a threat. There were 554 total cases of measles and 17 outbreaks reported in the United States between Jan. 1 and July 3 of this year. Read more on infectious diseases.

Jul 3 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 3

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Widely Used HIV Drug Linked to Higher Suicide Risk
People infected with HIV whose treatment includes the widely used antiretroviral drug efavirenz appear to have double the risk of suicidal thoughts, attempts and completion compared to HIV patients not taking the medication, according to a study by several researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“When efavirenz is used as a component of antiretroviral therapy, patients should be monitored carefully for exacerbation of depression or evidence of suicidal thoughts or behavior,” according to the study.

The drug has been previously linked to central nervous system side effects and suicide, but until now a clear link to suicidal thinking, attempted suicide, or completed suicide was not clear. The effects persist for the time patients are on the drug. The researchers recommend that patients with HIV use alternative drugs, if possible, if they are at risk for depression. Read more on HIV.

Nutrition Screenings Should Be Regular Part of Geriatric Health Assessment
Most older adults typically have one or more chronic health conditions that can affect their food intake and should be asked about their food intake during health exams, according to a new study in Nutrition in Clinical Practice. The researchers said that health care providers should also look for signs of malnutrition, such as loss of subcutaneous fat, muscle loss and fluid accumulation. Read more on aging.

Many American Teens Follow Pro-Marijuana Twitter Feeds and Receive Pro-Marijuana Tweets
Hundreds of thousands of American teens are following marijuana-related Twitter accounts and getting pro-marijuana tweets several times each day, according to researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The researchers say the tweets are cause for concern because young people are especially responsive to social media influences and because patterns of drug use tend to be established in a person’s late teens and early 20s. The study was published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research and relied on tweets sent and received between May 1 and Dec. 31, 2013, from a single popular pro-marijuana Twitter feed. During the study period, the feed posted an average of 11 pro-marijuana tweets per day. Read more on substance abuse.

Jul 2 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 2

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Report: Food Sodium Levels at Many Top Chains Continue to Be Unhealthily High
From 2009 to 2013, the nation’s top restaurant chains reduced the sodium in their foods by an average of only 1.5 percent annually, according to a new report from the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI). In a review of 136 meals from 17 chains, researchers determined that approximately 79 percent of the 81 adult meals contained more than 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium—or one mg more than the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends as a full day’s limit. The study also found efforts to reduce sodium to be inconsistent, with some chains actually increasing the amounts over the studied time period. CSPI Executive Director Michael F. Jacobson said the findings indicate that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s “wait-and-see” approach to sodium in packaged and restaurant food doesn’t work and that a new approach is needed. Read more on nutrition.

CDC: Antibiotic-resistant Foodborne Germs Remain a Serious Public Health Issue
New data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates both positive and negative trends in the ongoing public health fight against antibiotic-resistant foodborne germs, which contribute to an estimated 430,000 U.S. illnesses every year. According to the data, multi-drug resistant Salmonella—which causes approximately 100,000 U.S. illnesses annually—decreased over the past decade, but Salmonella typhi resistance to certain drugs increased by 68 percent in 2012, meaning one of the common treatments for typhoid fever may not be effective. “Our latest data show some progress in reducing resistance among some germs that make people sick but unfortunately we’re also seeing greater resistance in some pathogens, like certain types of Salmonella,” said Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, deputy director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases. “Infections with antibiotic-resistant germs are often more severe. These data will help doctors prescribe treatments that work and to help CDC and our public health partners identify and stop outbreaks caused by resistant germs faster and protect people’s health.” Read more on food safety.

Four Communities to Share $120M in HUD Grants for Community Revitalization
Four U.S. communities will split nearly $120 million in U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grants earmarked for the redevelopment of severely distressed public or HUD-assisted housing and their surrounding neighborhoods. "HUD's Choice Neighborhoods Initiative supports local visions for how to transform high-poverty, distressed communities into neighborhoods of opportunity," said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. "By working together, with local and state partners we will show why neighborhoods should always be defined by their potential—not their problems. Together, we will work to ensure that no child's future is determined by their zip code and expand opportunity for all."

The four communities are:

  • Columbus (Ohio) Metropolitan Housing Authority — Columbus, Ohio
  • Housing Authority of the City of Norwalk/Norwalk (Conn.) Redevelopment Agency
  • City of Philadelphia, Office of Housing & Community Development/Philadelphia Housing Authority
  • Housing Authority of the City of Pittsburgh/City of Pittsburgh

Read more on housing.

Jun 26 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 26

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‘I Got Tested’ Campaign Promotes Importance of Knowing Your HIV Status
A new public information campaign from Greater Than AIDS is using real-life stories to advocate the importance of knowing your HIV/AIDS status. The “I Got Tested” campaign will place materials in clinics to support providers in HIV outreach; provide free HIV testing in select Walgreens pharmacies; and promote hotlines and online resources provided by departments of health and agencies, as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Despite overwhelming evidence that early diagnosis and treatment play an important role both in the health of those who are positive and in reducing the spread of HIV, many Americans at highest risk for infection still have not been tested,” said Tina Hoff, Senior Vice President and Director of Health Communication and Media Partnerships at the Kaiser Family Foundation, a co-founding partner of Greater Than AIDS, in a release. “This campaign is about helping to reduce the stigma surrounding HIV testing, to encourage patients to ask their providers to get tested, and to connect people with services in their communities.” Read more on HIV/AIDS.

Court: NYC’s ‘Soda Ban’ is Illegal
New York City’s ban on large sugary drinks—often referred to as former Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “soda ban”—is illegal, according to a 4-2 ruling from the state Court of Appeals. The court found that the local health board that passed the regulation overstepped its authority. "By choosing among competing policy goals, without any legislative delegation or guidance, the Board engaged in law-making and thus infringed upon the legislative jurisdiction of the City Council of New York," wrote Judge Eugene Pigott for the majority. The soda ban was one of several public health initiatives pushed by Bloomberg, along with a ban on cigarettes in certain public spaces and a ban on trans fats from restaurants. Read more on nutrition.

Study: 3 Hours of Television Per Day Can Double Risk of Early Death
Watching more than three hours of television per day may double a person’s risk of an early death, compared to someone who watches less than one hour per day, according to a surprising new study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Researchers tracked more than 13,000 seemingly healthy adults in Spain, finding that for every two additional hours a person spent watching television, their risk of death from heart disease climbed 44 percent, their cancer death risk climbed 21 percent and their risk of premature death climbed 55 percent for all other causes. The study found no such link for other sedentary causes, including working at a computer and driving. Read more on physical activity.

Jun 25 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 25

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HHS’ Million Hearts Initiative Launches Health Eating Resource Center
The Million Hearts initiative from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has launched a new online resource center to promote healthier eating by individuals and families. The Healthy Eating and Lifestyle Resource Center features lower-sodium, heart-healthy recipes and family-friendly meal plans, and emphasizes managing sodium intake. The searchable recipes include nutritional facts and use everyday ingredients. “This resource helps people see that it’s not about giving up the food you love, but choosing lower sodium options that taste great," said Tom Frieden, MD, Director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Small changes can make a big difference.  We can prevent 11 million cases of high blood pressure each year if everyone reduced their daily sodium intake to 2,300 mg.” The Million Hearts initiative was launched with the goal of preventing 1 million heart attacks and strokes by 2017. Read more on nutrition.

3-D Mammograms Improve Breast Cancer Detection Rate, Reduce Recall Rate
Tomosynthesis—also known as 3-D mammography—can increase the detection rate of breast cancer while also decreasing false positives that can lead to multiple and unnecessary re-tests, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers analyzed the results of 454,850 examinations, finding that when 3-D mammography was combined with traditional digital mammograms the detection rate for breast cancer climbed 40 percent while there was a 15 percent decrease in the recall rate, or the percentage of women who needed additional screening due to inconclusive results. The findings come as more and more hospitals and physicians are turning to 3-D mammography. The researchers cautioned that more study was needed into the relatively new technology. Read more on cancer.

AAP: Reading to Young Kids Starting in Infancy Improves Literacy Later in Life
Read to your kids—aloud and every day—starting as early as their infancy. That’s the latest recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) Council on Early Childhood. The policy statement is set to appear in the August print issue of the journal Pediatrics. "This is the first time the AAP has called out literacy promotion as being an essential component of primary care pediatric practice," said statement author Pamela High, MD, director of developmental and behavioral pediatrics at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, R.I., and a professor at Brown University. "Fewer than half of children are being read to every day by their families, and that number hasn't really changed since 2003. It's a public health message to parents of all income groups, that this early shared reading is both fun and rewarding." According to the AAP, reading proficiency in the third grade is the most important predictor of eventual high school graduation, but approximately two-thirds of all U.S. children and 80 percent of kids living in poverty finish third grade lacking in reading proficiency. Reading aloud to a young child can promote literacy while also strengthening family ties. Read more on pediatrics.

Jun 24 2014
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Back to the Future for Medical Schools: New Ideas Aim to Revolutionize a Doctor’s Education

During this week’s Spotlight: Health at the annual Aspen Ideas Festival, Cleveland Clinic CEO Toby Cosgrove, MD, will be talking about the future of academic medicine. The topic has received a great deal of attention recently, including a white paper from the Bipartisan Policy Center (BPC) and a pilot program from the American Medical Association (AMA) to give $1 million each to eleven medical schools redesigning their teaching programs—many of which include a focus on prevention, wellness and population health.

Teamwork is a recent and critical emphasis at the Cleveland Clinic Lerner College of Medicine, said Cosgrove in a conversation with NewPublicHealth ahead of the Aspen conference.

“When a lot of us went to medical school we were all taught to be rugged individuals, and so [now] we’re trying to teach teamwork...at the very beginning of health care education,” he said. To that end, instruction at the medical school now emphasizes team-based learning and the students will begin doing some of their work with nursing and dental students in the same physical facility “so we begin to break down the silos that are going on right now and encourage team play.”

The 11 medical schools that received the recent AMA grants were chosen from among 119 schools that submitted proposals. “Their bold, transformative proposals [are] designed to close the gaps between how medical students are trained and how health care is delivered,” said former AMA President Jeremy A. Lazarus, MD, when the AMA awarded the grants last year. Among the winners:

  • The Alpert Medical School of Brown University, which has proposed establishing a dual MD-MS degree program in primary care and population health. A clerkship during the third year of medical school will integrate care of the individual patient and population health, and the fourth year will include population health course content and require a Master's thesis. The admissions process will include required interviews with stakeholders and patients.
  • The University of California-Davis School of Medicine is partnering with Kaiser Permanente to create the Accelerated Competency-based Education in Primary Care (ACE-PC) program, which will require all students to work in the Kaiser Health system so that they can learn by experiencing the patient-centered medical home model. Changes to curriculum include population management, chronic disease management, quality improvement, patient safety, team-based care and preventive health skills, with a special emphasis on diverse and underserved populations.

The eleven schools won’t be working in silos, either. Susan Skochelak, MD, the AMA’s group vice president for medical education, told NewPublicHealth that the initiative was designed “very specifically to bring the schools together in a consortium, because we wanted to disseminate the best practices rapidly.” 

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Jun 20 2014
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Faces of Public Health: James Perrin, MD, American Academy of Pediatrics

file James M. Perrin, MD

Earlier this week the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) hosted a daylong Symposium on Child Health, Resilience & Toxic Stress in Washington, D.C. that brought together federal government officials, national thought leaders and medical professionals to discuss the emerging science of toxic stress.

According to the AAP, science shows that adversity experienced in childhood has long-lasting physical and emotional effects that have come be known as "toxic stress.” Toxic stress can occur when a child experiences chronic adversity without access to stable, supportive relationships with caring adults. These adverse childhood experiences can include physical and emotional abuse; neglect; exposure to violence; food insecurity; and economic hardship. An AAP 2011 policy statement found that toxic stress can affect a child's brain development and lead to the presence of many adult diseases, including heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and liver disease.

“[Currently], there are more randomized trials for leukemia than for effects of stress on children,” said James S. Marks, MD, MPH, senior vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, at the symposium. “This is about more than our children—it’s about our future as a people and a society, and the earlier you invest in children the better the return to society and to those children and families.”

During the symposium, the AAP announced the formation of the Center on Healthy, Resilient Children to launch in the next year or so, which will be a national effort coordinated by the AAP and many partners to support healthy brain development and prevent toxic stress. In addition to prevention efforts to keep children healthy, the Center will focus on ways to help pediatricians and others identify children who have experienced adversity and toxic stress and ensure they have access to appropriate interventions and supports.

"Pediatricians envision a world in which every child has every opportunity to become a healthy, successful adult," said James M. Perrin, MD, president of the AAP. "Achieving this will require strong, sustained investments in the health of the whole child, brain and body. It will require building upon our existing work and forging new partnerships across sectors and fields of expertise.”

NewPublicHealth spoke with Perrin following the symposium

NewPublicHealth: How familiar are pediatricians with the evidence surrounding the burden and response to toxic stress in children and families?

James Perrin: I think there is increasing awareness of toxic stress in pediatric practice, not only in community practice, but in our specialty practices, too. I think people are recognizing how critically important toxic stress is to the developing child and developing brain. And the increasing science in this area has been incredibly helpful for us to understand the potential permanent effects of toxic stress. But we also want to focus on positive ways to affect brain development. Reading to children, for example, affects brain development and brain growth in positive ways. 

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Jun 16 2014
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Recommended Reading: America’s 50 Healthiest Counties for Kids

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“At 10 a.m. on any given morning, the kids at low-income San Francisco schools are starting to fidget. Their teachers report they’re having trouble concentrating, asking how long ‘til they eat...Then the snacks arrive, delivered by volunteers from the San Francisco-Marin Food Bank. They serve string cheese one week; baby carrots, mandarin oranges or apple slices the next.”

Because of this and other programs, Marin County, Calif. tops the U.S. News & World Report’s new rankings of “America’s 50 Healthiest Counties for Kids,” part of its annual guide on the nation’s Best Children’s Hospitals. The new rankings, for children 18 and younger, are calculated in cooperation with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, which also evaluates health data for the U.S. population as part of its  County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, a collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF).

The rankings analyze U.S. counties according to several key measures, including:

  • Infant deaths
  • Low birth weight babies
  • Deaths from injuries
  • Teen births
  • Children in poverty
  • Percentage of children without health insurance
  • Air quality in most states
  • Rates of adult smoking and adult obesity
  • Access to physicians
  • Exercise opportunities

In addition to the rankings, the U.S. News story also highlights six communities that have made significant advancements toward improving the health of their kids, including:

  • Santa Clara, Calif., where a policy stipulates that 50 percent of food and beverages sold in countywide vending machines must meet nutrition guidelines.
  • Washington County, R.I., where the policy organization Kids Count is dedicated to improving children’s health, education, economic well-being and safety.
  • Middlesex County, Mass., which includes the city of Cambridge—one of RWJF’s Culture of Health Prize winners last year—and where fun physical education classes keep kids active while healthy school meals celebrate cultural diversity.

Read the full story, “America's 50 Healthiest Counties for Kids.”

Jun 6 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: June 6

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Overly Clean Homes Can Increase Child’s Risk of Asthma, Allergies
Living in an overly clean home can actually increase an infant’s risk of developing allergies or asthma as they grow older, as their bodies are not given the chance to develop appropriate responses, according to a new study in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology. The researchers behind the study were surprised by the results, as they had been looking deeper into data that found that exposure to roach, mouse and pet droppings and other allergens increased asthma risk. "What we found was somewhat surprising and somewhat contradictory to our original predictions," said study co-author Robert Wood, MD, chief of the Division of Allergy and Immunology at the Johns Hopkins Children's Center in Baltimore, according to HealthDay. "It turned out to be completely opposite—the more of those three allergens you were exposed to, the less likely you were to go on to have wheezing or allergy." Approximately 40 percent of the allergy- and wheeze-free children in the study were raised in homes with high amounts of allergens and bacteria, while only 8 percent who suffered from both conditions had been exposed to allergens and bacteria while infants. Read more on pediatrics.

Study: Prenatal Medicaid Policy Reduces Smoking, But Doesn’t Improve Preterm Birthweights
While a Medicaid policy that fast-tracks applications of pregnant women helps reduce smoking during pregnancy, it has no significant effect on improving preterm birth rates or low birth weights, according to a new study in the journal Health Affairs. The study specifically looked at Medicaid’s presumptive eligibility and unborn-child option, which provides coverage for prenatal care. “Although the prevalence of prenatal smoking in the United States has declined in recent decades, it is nearly twice as high among low-income women enrolled in Medicaid than it is in the U.S. population as a whole,” said Marian Jarlenski, PhD, lead author of the paper. “Our research shows that Medicaid’s presumptive eligibility policy led to a nearly 8 percentage-point decrease in smoking during pregnancy, but neither policy significantly improved rates of preterm birth or babies born small for their gestational age.” Read more on maternal and infant health.

CDC: Watercress Tops ‘Powerhouse’ Fruits and Vegetables List
With a “nutrient density score” or 100.00, watercress tops the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new list of “powerhouse” fruits and vegetables. The list of 41 foods was created as a tool for nutrition education and dietary guidance. The study defined “powerhouse” as foods most strongly associated with reduced chronic disease risk, which are often green leafy, yellow/orange, citrus and cruciferous items. Chinese cabbage, chard, beet green and spinach rounded out the top five. The full list is available here. Read more on nutrition.