Category Archives: Youth development

Nov 19 2013
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Public Health Campaign of the Month: ‘Don’t Mess With Mercury’ Campaign

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>>NewPublicHealth continues a new series to highlight some of the best public health education and outreach campaigns every month. Submit your ideas for Public Health Campaign of the Month to info@newPublichealth.org.

Glass thermometers. Compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs. Medical equipment. Gauges and other science equipment. Thermostats, switches and other electrical devices.

Mercury lives in all of these devices—and all can be found in schools. While it may be common, mercury is also incredibly dangerous. Mercury poisoning can negatively impact the nervous system, lungs and kidneys. It can even lead to brain damage or death.

Often mercury poisoning is the result of a kid thinking it’s “cool”— taking it, playing with, passing it around to friends. Metallic mercury easily vaporizes into a colorless, odorless, hazardous gas.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), part of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has released a new website that brings together a suite of tools to educate kids, teachers, school administrators and parents about the dangers of mercury poisoning. They include an interactive human body illustration and facts sheets, as well as a 30-second “Don’t Mess With Mercury” animated video to raise awareness about the dangers of mercury.

Oct 29 2013
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Teen Driver Safety: 5 to Drive

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The U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched a new campaign that challenges parents to discuss with their teen drivers five practices that can prevent serious injuries and even deaths in the event of a crash:

  • No cell phone use or texting while driving
  • No extra passengers
  • No speeding
  • No alcohol
  • No driving or riding without a seat belt

NHTSA data show motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for teenagers 14-18 years-old in the United States. In 2011, 2,105 teen drivers were involved in fatal crashes. Of those teens involved in fatal crashes, 1,163 (55 percent) survived and 942 (45 percent) died in the crash.

"Safety is our highest priority, especially when it comes to teens, who are often our least experienced drivers," said DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx. "The ‘5 to Drive’ campaign gives parents and teens a simple, straightforward checklist that can help them talk about good driving skills and most importantly, prevent a tragedy before it happens."

The list of precautions matches the top causes of death in teen crashes:

  • In 2011, over half of the teen occupants of passenger vehicles who died in crashes were unrestrained
  • Speeding was a factor in 35 percent of fatal crashes involving a teen driver
  • Twelve percent of teen drivers involved in fatal crashes were distracted at the time
  • In 2011, 505 people nationwide died in crashes in which drivers ages 14-18 years had alcohol in their systems, despite the fact that all states have Zero Tolerance Laws for drinking under age 21

NHTSA research also finds that peer pressure is a contributing factor in teen crash deaths. When the teen driver in a fatal crash was not wearing a seat belt, almost four-fifths of that driver’s teen passengers were also unrestrained. And a teenage driver was 2.5 times more likely to engage in risky behaviors when driving with one teenage passenger, but three times more likely when driving with multiple teenager passengers.

Additional NHTSA research found that poor decisions among teen drivers can lead to crashes and fatalities at any time of the day, but that they were most frequent between 3 p.m. and 8 p.m., and remained high until midnight.

>>Bonus Link: NHTSA provides a wealth of resources on safe driving for teens.

Oct 14 2013
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Up for Debate: Changing the U.S. Emphasis on Competitive Youth Sports

A recent article in The Atlantic on the history of competitive sports among American kids led The New York Times to write a wide-ranging debate on the pros and cons of competitive sports for kids and teenagers. The pivotal question: Do competitive sports overwhelm childhood or enhance it?

It’s an important debate. Sports can represent a gateway to a life of enjoyable exercise, good for both the heart and mind. But they also pose, as currently played, some significant risks. These include the risk of injury or even death and unhealthy competitive traits, all of which can be a turn-off for physical activity of all kinds for kids made to play and practice against their will.

Those weighing in on the Times’ debate pages include the head of Little League International, who says sports teach kids valuable lessons; a sociologist who says that since so few kids ever make their living in professional sports, we need a greater emphasis on education than athletics; and the head of the American Orthopaedic Society for Sports Medicine, who says that most children's bodies are not capable of playing one sport day after day, for years on end, and because of this many kids have bone and joint injuries.

>>Bonus Links: Read NewPublicHealth interviews on preventing concussions in youth sports with MacArthur fellow Kevin Guskiewicz, and Robert Faherty, VP and Commissioner of the Babe Ruth youth baseball league.

Jun 28 2013
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Elizabeth Gaynes: Champion of Change for Children of Incarcerated Parents

Elizabeth Gaynes, Executive Director of the Osborne Association Elizabeth Gaynes, Executive Director of the Osborne Association

At least two million children in the U.S. have at least one parent in prison, a situation now recognized as an adverse childhood experience, which can put children at risk for poor mental and physical health, due in part to isolation and a lack of family connectedness with their incarcerated parents. 

The Osborne Association, based in New York City, works with people who have been in conflict with the law, and their families. Osborne is currently using funding from a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Roadmaps to Health community grant to advocate for the use of Family Impact Statements in New York State during prison sentencing and the inclusion of "proximity to children" as a factor in prison assignments in New York State. Family Impact statements convey to a judge how the family of a person convicted of a crime will be affected by various sentencing decisions. With their proximity advocacy, the goal is to increase visiting opportunities for families during periods of incarceration by assigning parents to closer prisons and expanding opportunities for kids to have contact with incarcerated parents through televisiting. Research has shown that having strong family ties increases the likelihood of family reunification following a parent’s prison stay, as well as the child’s long-term health and wellbeing. The goal of both policy reform efforts is to reduce the trauma of parent-child separation for children, thereby promoting their health and well-being.

Elizabeth Gaynes, Osborne’s executive director, was recognized recently as a White House Champion of Change for her work with the children of incarcerated parents. NewPublicHealth spoke with Gaynes about ways to protect the health and wellbeing of the 2.7 million children whose parents are in prison on any given day. Gaynes also spoke about how her former husband, the father of her two children, spent over twenty years in prison, and the impact this had on her family.

NewPublicHealth: Why do you think this issue of parental incarceration has not gotten enough attention previously?

Elizabeth Gaynes: There is no specific agency with direct responsibility for kids of incarcerated parents and the kids don’t tend to identify themselves. And until recently it wasn’t thought of as anything that needed identifying. When I was looking for a therapist for my kids, the people I spoke to said “we would treat this like any other abandonment.” And I said, “Really? But he didn’t actually abandon them.” So I think that there is no system that is responsible for them and because of the stigma they don’t self-identify. We’ve had some young people who went to do talks in high schools and asked the kids in the class at the beginning if they knew anyone who was in, or had been in, prison. At the beginning of her talk, two kids raised their hands. She said after she spoke and said her own dad had been in prison, she asked the question again and 12 kids raised their hands.

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May 29 2013
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Nominations Open for Girl Up Teen Advisors

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Sesuagno Mola of Ethiopia, married at five, never went to school and had her first child at 14. More children would have followed in quick succession, but Sesuagno got involved with a program in her town run by Girl Up developed by the UN Foundation that empowers young girls to create a life for themselves and their families well beyond poverty and illiteracy.

In Sesuagno’s case, she joined a program developed to help teach literacy, and provide information about family planning, gardening and life skills to help reduce food contamination.

Through the program, Sesuagno learned to build shelves to keep her family’s food off the floor, built a stove that sends the smoke out of the house instead of into her lungs—a cause of pneumonia and death for thousands of girls and women in the developing world—and jointly decided with her husband, because of her time in the program, that they would wait to have their next child.

“What we support are comprehensive services for adolescent services for girls to help improve access to health services, education and safe spaces,” says Andrea Austin, a spokesperson for the UN Foundation.

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May 23 2013
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Preventing Traumatic Brain Injuries in Youth Sports: A Q&A with Robert Faherty

As we learn more about the long-term effects of traumatic brain injuries (TBI), the public health focus is increasingly on prevention in youth sports. A recent study funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and published in the American Journal of Public Health found that while 44 states and Washington, D.C., have enacted youth sport TBI laws, they all deal with identifying and responding to the injuries—not preventing them.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Robert Faherty, VP and Commissioner of the Babe Ruth League Inc., about what the baseball league in particular—and youth sports in general—are doing to improve the prevention of and response to traumatic brain injuries. The league includes about 1 million players across its Cal Ripken and Babe Ruth divisions.

>>Read more in a related Q&A with the author of the youth sports TBI law study.

NewPublicHealth: How is the Babe Ruth League working to prevent primary traumatic brain injuries in youth baseball?

Robert Faherty: One of the things that we really pride ourselves on— and, first of all, our organizations are entirely made up of volunteers, from the league administration level right down to the coach—is providing that league with the best insurance program we possibly can. Through Babe Ruth League, you have the opportunity to buy accident, or liability insurance. That's because we wanted to make sure that there would be no reason that a player wouldn’t go get checked out or a league wouldn’t send a player to a doctor or to an emergency room. We weren’t worried about the parents having insurance, we weren’t worried about somebody’s liability being in question—you can go to the doctor and have it covered.

The second part of that would be our ongoing attempt to educate and prevent injuries right down to the simplest practices. In our coaching certification and coaching education courses, which are mandated, not only are there safety issues that we include that in our score books that we provide to the teams, but it’s also the smallest things about how to run a practice. One of the most common injuries is being hit by a baseball, but it’s not the batter being hit by a baseball or a fielder being hit by a baseball—it’s an overthrow by kids warming up improperly, and not throwing all in the same direction.

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