Category Archives: Public health

Aug 1 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 1

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EBOLA UPDATE: CDC Issues Travel Warning for Three African Countries
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 3 Travel Warning for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, calling for Americans to avoid nonessential travel to the West African countries due to the growing Ebola outbreak. CDC officials are also on the ground:

  • Tracking the epidemic including using real-time data to improve response
  • Improving case finding
  • Improving contact tracing
  • Improving infection control
  • Improving health communication
  • Advising embassies
  • Coordinating with the World Health Organization and other partners
  • Strengthening Ministries of Health and helping them establish emergency management systems

“This is the biggest and most complex Ebola outbreak in history. Far too many lives have been lost already,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “It will take many months, and it won’t be easy, but Ebola can be stopped. We know what needs to be done. CDC is surging our response, sending 50 additional disease control experts to the region in the next 30 days.” Read more on global health.

FDA Takes Steps to Improve Diagnostic Testing
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking new steps to ensure that patients have access to accurate, consistent and reliable diagnostic testing. The agency announced today that it was issuing a final guidance on the development, review and approval or clearance of companion diagnostics, which are used to determine whether patients should receive certain drugs. The FDA is also notifying Congress that it will publish a proposed risk-based oversight framework for laboratory developed tests. “Ensuring that doctors and patients have access to safe, accurate and reliable diagnostic tests to help guide treatment decisions is a priority for the FDA,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, in a release. “Inaccurate test results could cause patients to seek unnecessary treatment or delay and sometimes forgo treatment altogether.” Read more on the FDA.

CDC: New Online Resource on Opportunities in U.S. Health System
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Office for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support (OSTLTS) has launched a new website, Health System Transformation and Improvement Resources for Health Departments, to provide information, resources and training opportunities related to ongoing efforts to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the U.S. health system. This includes the public health, health care, insurance and other sectors. Topics covered by the new site range from shared services, community benefit assessment and accountable care organizations to public health law, workforce, return on investment and financing. Read more on access to health care.

Jul 31 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 31

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Study: Families With Preschoolers Purchasing Fewer High-Calorie Drinks
Recent progress in stalling and perhaps even reversing the childhood obesity epidemic may be linked to fewer families with preschool-aged children purchasing high-calorie drinks, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Researchers used Nielsen Homescan data from approximately 43,000 U.S. households with young children from 2000 to 2011, identifying the top 20 foods and beverages purchased. “Decreases in purchases of fluid milks, soft drinks, juice and juice drinks, and grain-based desserts were the primary drivers of this change,” said lead author Christopher Ford, MPH, doctoral candidate in nutrition at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. “These data suggest that these households may have purchased fewer calories from solid fats and added sugars.” Previous research shows that approximately 70 to 80 percent of a preschooler’s diet comes from food purchased at stores. Read more on nutrition.

Peace Corps Withdraws from Three West African Countries Due to Ebola Crisis
The Peace Corps announced yesterday that it was removing all 340 of its volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in reaction to the increasing spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa. The organization said it has been working closely with experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of State to monitor the health crisis and determine how it should respond. “The Peace Corps has enjoyed long partnerships with the government and people of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and is committed to continuing volunteers’ work there,” according to a Peace Corps release. “A determination on when volunteers can return will be made at a later date.” Read more on global health.

Study: Women Who Live Near Green Spaces Give Birth to Healthier Babies
Pregnant women who live near green spaces—such as parks, community gardens and even cemeteries—give birth to healthier babies with significantly higher birth weights, according to a new study in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Researchers analyzed data on approximately 40,000 single live births in Tel Aviv, Israel. "We found that overall, an increase of surrounding greenery near the home was associated with a significant increase of birth weight and decreased risk for low birth weight," said Michael Friger, PhD, of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev's Department of Public Health. "This was the first study outside of the United States and Europe demonstrating associations between greenery and birth weight, as well as the first to report the association with low birth weight." Read more on maternal and infant health.

Jul 30 2014
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Recommended Reading: 'National Geographic' on the Recent Ebola Outbreak

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Since March, several African countries have reported more than 1,000 cases of Ebola virus and more than 670 deaths. During a United Nations Foundation briefing in Washington, D.C., earlier this month, public health experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization raised concerns about airline passengers from these countries spreading Ebola well beyond Africa. This week that fear became a reality when a U.S. citizen, Paul Sawyer, who had been in Liberia very recently as a consultant to the country’s finance ministry,  fell ill on a flight from Liberia to Nigeria. Sawyer was  hospitalized in Lagos, Nigeria, and died there of Ebola.

Several West African nations have responded by planning to set up monitoring stations at airports to identify people with fevers before they board planes. On a CDC conference call this week with reporters, Martin Cetron, MD, the CDC's director for Global Migration and Quarantine, said it makes more sense to put checkpoints in West African countries than to scan incoming passengers in the United States because there are few direct flights from West Africa, and fevers found among passengers entering the United States are unlikely to be Ebola.

“Ebola is contagious only when symptomatic, so someone unknowingly harboring the virus would not pass it on, “ said Stephan Monroe, deputy director of the CDC’s National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, during the conference call, also adding that  even passengers showing symptoms are unlikely to pass the disease on to fellow travelers because blood and stool carry the most viruses. Cetron also said that those at highest risk for Ebola infection are family members who care for sick loved ones and health care workers who treat patients or accidentally stick themselves with infected needles.

"We do not anticipate [Ebola]  will spread in the U.S. if an infected person is hospitalized here," CDC Director Tom Frieden told reporters. "We are taking action now by alerting health care workers in the U.S. and reminding them how to isolate and test suspected patients while following strict infection-control procedures."

The National Geographic recently took an in-depth look at the Ebola virus in Africa and the risk of it spreading to the United States. Read the full article.

Jul 30 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 30

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U.S. Surgeon General Issues ‘Call to Action’ Warning on Tanning and Skin Cancer
The U.S. Surgeon General has released the office’s first Call to Action on the dangers of tanning as it relates to skin cancer, which the Surgeon General called a “major public health problem.” The Call to Action is designed to increase awareness of skin cancer and presents five strategic goals to support its prevention:

  • Increase opportunities for sun protection in outdoor settings
  • Provide individuals with the information they need to make informed, healthy choices about ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure
  • Promote policies that advance the national goal of preventing skin cancer
  • Reduce harms from indoor tanning
  • Strengthen research, surveillance, monitoring, and evaluation related to skin cancer prevention

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, with nearly 5 million people treated for all types combined annually at a cost of $8.1 billion. Melanoma is responsible for the most deaths and 90 percent of melanomas are estimated to be the result of UV exposure. Read more on cancer.

NIH, 23andMe Partner to Expand Researcher Access to Genetic Disease Data
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has entered into a $1.4 million, two-year deal with home genetics startup 23andMe to open up the company’s stores of genetic data to external researchers. The grant will enable the creation of survey tools and other methods to help researchers access information on thousands of diseases and traits for more than 400,000 people who have use 23andMe’s services. “23andMe is building a platform to connect researchers and consumers that will enable discoveries to happen faster,” said Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, in a release. “This grant from the NIH recognizes the ability of 23andMe to create a unique, web-based platform that engages consumers and enables researchers from around the world to make genetic discoveries.” Read more on research.

Study: Students Increasingly Accepting Healthier School Lunches
Despite initial pushback from students wary of revised school lunch policies implemented to provide heathier meals in 2012, a nationally representative sample of 557 U.S. public elementary schools found that approximately 70 percent of respondents said that students liked the new lunches by the second half of the school year. Researchers also found that school meal sales were up for disadvantaged students, who are more likely than their peers to experience a lack of proper nutrition. Read more on school health.

Jul 29 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 29

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NCAA Reaches Preliminary Concussion Settlement, Including $70M Monitoring Program
The NCAA has reached a preliminary settlement in response to a class-action push to revise its head injury policies. The settlement includes a $70 million medical monitoring fund that would provide all former college athletes with the opportunity to receive neurological screenings, as well as a new national protocol which would require assessments by trained professionals and keep athletes from returning to games or practices the same day they suffer a head injury. “This offers college athletes another level of protection, which is vitally important to their health,” said the lead plaintiffs’ lawyer, Steve Berman, according to The New York Times. “Student-athletes—not just football players—have dropped out of school and suffered huge long-term symptoms because of brain injuries. Anything we can do to enhance concussion management is a very important day for student-athletes.” Read more on injury prevention.

Marijuana Legalization Not Linked to Rise in Teen Use
The gradual increase in marijuana use by U.S. teens over the past two decades is not linked to the legalization of medical marijuana in various states, according to a new research paper based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers determined that the probability that a high school student had used marijuana in the previous 30 days was only 0.8 percent higher in states where use was legal. While marijuana is illegal under federal law, it has been legalized for medical purposes in 21 states and the District of Columbia, and legalized for recreational use in Colorado and Washington. "Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana among high school students," wrote D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University, Daniel Rees of the University of Colorado and Benjamin Hansen of the University of Oregon, in the paper. Read more on substance abuse.

Study: 5-10 Minutes of Daily Running Can Add Three Years to Life Expectancy
As little as five to ten minutes of slow running every day can add up to an additional three years of life expectancy, according to a new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Researchers examined data on 55,137 adults 18-100 years of age (with a media age of 44 years), finding that running for the length of time at six miles an hour or slower was associated with markedly reduced risk of death from all causes, including heart disease. Researchers said the results should help drive inactive individuals to take up exercise programs. Read more on physical activity.

Jul 28 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 28

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Study: EHRs Don’t Increase the Risk for Medicare Fraud
The use of electronic health records (EHRs) does not increase the risk of Medicare fraud, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Schools of Information and Public Health and the Harvard School of Public Health. In the study, scheduled to be published in the journal Health Affairs, researchers analyzed longitudinal data to determine whether U.S. hospitals that recently adopted EHRs also saw increases in the severity of patients’ conditions and payments from Medicare; they determined that adopters and non-adopters saw rates increase approximately equally. "There have been a lot of anecdotes and individual cases of hospitals using electronic health records in fraudulent ways. Therefore there was an assumption that this was happening systematically, but we find that it isn't," said Julia Adler-Milstein, U-M assistant professor of information, as well as an assistant professor of health management and policy in the U-M School of Public Health. Read more on technology.

Fist Bumps May Be the Best Greeting for Reducing Germ Transmission
Want to meet society’s hand-to-hand greeting expectation while also reducing the transmission of germs? Try a fist bump. Researchers from the Institute of Biological, Environmental, and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom used a germ-covered glove test to determine that handshakes transmit nearly twice as many bacteria as high-fives, which in turn transmit more bacteria than fist bumps. The study in the American Journal of Infection Control determined that duration and grip of a physical greeting also increased the number of bacteria transmitted. “Adoption of the fist bump as a greeting could substantially reduce the transmission of infectious diseases between individuals,” said author, David Whitworth, PhD. “It is unlikely that a no-contact greeting could supplant the handshake; however, for the sake of improving public health we encourage further adoption of the fist bump as a simple, free, and more hygienic alternative to the handshake.” Read more on infectious disease.

Fear a Greater Motivator than Data When it Comes to Using Sunscreen
Fear over developing skin cancer is a larger motivator for people’s usesof sunscreen than actual data that quantifies their risk, according to a new study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. Researchers analyzed data on approximately 1,500 people with no history of skin cancer, finding that for people who reported “never” using it and those who reported “always” using it, worry was a greater factor than education about risk, and the greater the worry, the more likely the use. “Most health behavior studies don’t account for the more visceral, emotional reactions that lead people to do risky behaviors, like eat junk food or ignore the protective benefits of sunscreen,” says Marc Kiviniemi, MD, lead researcher and assistant professor of community health and health behavior in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions. “This study is important because most of what we do in public health communications focuses on spreading knowledge and information. By not addressing emotions, we are potentially missing a rich influence on behavior when interventions do not address feelings.” Read more on cancer.

Jul 25 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 25

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United States, Mexico to Enhance Safety of Certain Agricultural Products
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Mexico’s National Service for Agro-Alimentary Public Health, Safety and Quality and Federal Commission for the Protection from Sanitary Risks have entered an agreement to form a partnership to improve and promote the safety of fresh and minimally processed agricultural products. Each year, Mexico exports approximately $4.6 billion in fresh vegetables; $3.1 billion in fresh fruit, excluding bananas; $1.9 billion in wine and beer; and $1.5 billion in snacks to the United States.

The preventive practices and verification measures will include:

  • Exchanging information to better understand each other’s produce safety systems
  • Developing effective culturally-specific education and outreach materials that support industry compliance with produce safety standards
  • Identifying common approaches for training auditors who will verify compliance with such standards
  • Enhancing collaboration on laboratory activities as well as outbreak response and traceback activities

“To be successful as regulators, the FDA must continue developing new strategies and partnerships that allow us to more comprehensively and collectively respond to the challenges that come with globalization,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, in a release. “The FDA is working with our Mexican government counterparts as well as stakeholders from industry, commerce, agriculture, and academia to ensure the safety of products for American and Mexican consumers.” Read more on food safety.

JAMA: Health Experts Call for End on Blood Donation Ban for Gay and Bisexual MenEx
perts writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association have called for the repeal of a 30-year ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instituted the ban for any man who had sex with another man in 1983, near the beginning of the AIDS crisis. Now, however, the experts said that technological and societal advances mean the ban should be lifted. "We think it's time for the FDA to take a serious look at its policy, because it's out of step with peer countries, it's out of step with modern medicine, it's out of step with public opinion, and we feel it may be legally problematic," said Glenn Cohen, who directs Harvard Law School's Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics, who co-wrote the article with Jeremy Feigenbaum of Harvard Law School and Eli Adashi, MD, of Brown University's medical school. They also noted that the ban is not in line with other FDA policies regarding people considered high-risk donors due to their sexual behavior. Read more on HIV/AIDS.

CDC Re-Opens Clinical TB Lab; Safety Reviews of Other Labs Continues
Less than two weeks after closing laboratories due to two serious lapses with anthrax and avian flu virus and an intensive review by its CDC’s internal Laboratory Safety Improvement Working Group, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has resumed the transfer of inactivated materials out of its high-containment Clinical Tuberculosis Laboratory. The moratorium on material transfers remains in effect for BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratories, with those supporting direct patient care receiving priority review. The working group’s ongoing lab assessments focus on two main areas:

  • Each lab must demonstrate that its protocols for key control points—such as inactivation of a pathogen—are not only being used but that they are being used by appropriately trained and supervised individuals.
  • Each lab is expected to establish redundant controls, similar to the two-key system used in other contexts for critical control points. For example, in the TB lab when heat is used to kill a pathogen, a second trained lab technician will witness the process to make sure the right temperature is used for the right amount of time. Both individuals then sign off on the process.

There will also be unannounced safety inspections by internal auditors. Read more on infectious disease and research.

Jul 24 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 24

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FDA Approves New Oxycodone with Abuse-deterrent Properties
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved a new extended-release oxycodone with abuse-deterrent properties. Targiniq ER—which should be used to treat pain severe enough to require daily, around-the-clock, long-term opioid treatment—contains naloxone which blocks the euphoric effects of oxycodone when crushed and snorted, or crushed, dissolved and injected. The drug is consistent with the FDA’s 2013 draft guidance for industry, Abuse-Deterrent Opioids – Evaluation and Labeling. "The FDA is committed to combatting the misuse and abuse of all opioids, and the development of opioids that are harder to abuse is needed in order to help address the public health crisis of prescription drug abuse in the U.S.,” said Sharon Hertz, MD, deputy director of the Division of Anesthesia, Analgesia and Addiction Products in the FDA’s Center for Drug Evaluation and Research. “Encouraging the development of opioids with abuse-deterrent properties is just one component of a broader approach to reducing abuse and misuse, and will better enable the FDA to balance addressing this problem with meeting the needs of the millions of people in this country suffering from pain.” Read more on substance abuse.

HHS: 10.3 Million Adults Gained Coverage in the ACA’s First Open Enrollment Period
An estimated 10.3 million uninsured adults gained health care coverage following the first open enrollment period in the Health Insurance Marketplace, according to a new study from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services appearing the New England Journal of Medicine. The study looked at insurance trends before and after the open enrollment period, finding that the uninsured rate for adults ages 18-64 dropped from 21 percent in September 2013 to 16.3 percent in April 2014, which corresponded to a 5.2 percentage-point change, or 10.3 million adults gaining coverage. Read more on the Affordable Care Act.

Study: Parents of Obese Kids Often Don’t Realize They’re Unhealthy
Parents of obese children often don’t see their child’s weight as unhealthy and are more likely to make changes in their eating habits than to increase exercise, according to a new study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. In a survey of more than 200 families in 2008 and 2009 to evaluate their readiness to help their children lose weight, researchers found that 28 percent of the parents did not see their child's weight as a health problem and 31 percent thought their child’s health was excellent or very good. The study also found that while 61 percent said they were trying to improve eating habits, only 41 percent were attempting to increase their child's activity level. Read more on obesity.

 

Jul 23 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 23

New EPA Tool Helps Communities Become More Flood Resilient
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has released a new tool, the Flood Resilience Checklist, to help communities prepare for, deal with and recover from floods. The checklist includes strategies that communities can consider, such as conserving land in flood-prone areas; directing new development to safer areas; and using green infrastructure approaches, such as installing rain gardens, to manage storm water. “Flooding from major storms has cost lives and caused billions of dollars in damage,” said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. “With climate change, storms are likely to become even more powerful in many regions of the country. Where and how communities build will have long-term impacts on their flood resilience, and on air and water quality and health and safety. This checklist will help flood-prone communities think through these issues and come up with the solutions that work best for them.” Find more resources on EPA’s Disaster Recovery and Resilience page.

Home Blood Pressure-Monitoring Devices Lower Health Care Costs 
A new study in the journal Hypertension finds that home blood pressure monitors can improve health care quality and save money. In the United States, more than 76 million adults have been diagnosed with hypertension and many more are undiagnosed. The researchers analyzed 2008-11 data from two health insurance plans—a private employer plan and a Medicare Advantage plan where 60 percent of members had high blood pressure. Net savings associated with home blood pressure monitoring ranged from $33 to $166 per member in the first year, and $415 to $1,364 over 10 years. Researchers found reasons for the savings differed by age groups and whether the monitors were used for treatment or diagnosis. In people 65 and older, home monitoring saved more when used to track high blood pressure treatment, by helping them avoid future adverse cardiovascular events. In people younger than 65, savings were higher in diagnostic use of the monitors, with fewer false positive diagnoses and fewer people starting unnecessary treatment. Read more on prevention.

New Mobile App Helps Parents Discuss Underage Drinking with their Kids
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has launched a new mobile app that features a simulated video game-like tool to help parents practice having conversations about underage drinking. SAMHSA experts say the timing of the release is intentional, as the rate of youth alcohol use rises during the summer. The mobile app is the newest component of “Talk. They Hear You,” SAMHSA’s underage drinking prevention campaign that launched last year to provide parents and caregivers with information and tools to start talking to youth early—as early as nine years old—about the dangers of alcohol. The new app uses avatars to engage in interactive conversations and each virtual role-play conversation is structured as a 10- to 15-minute interactive, video game-like experience. Users engage in a conversation with an intelligent, fully animated, emotionally responsive avatar that models human behavior and adapts its responses and behaviors to the user’s conversation decisions. Read more on substance abuse.

Jul 22 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 22

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Study: Low-income Teens in Better High Schools Engage in Fewer Risky Behaviors
Low-income teenagers attending “high-performing” high schools are less likely than their peers in lower-performing schools to engage in risky behaviors such as carrying a weapon, binge drinking, using drugs other than marijuana and having multiple sex partners, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers analyzed 521 students who were accepted into a high-performing charter school; when compared to 409 students who also applied to top charter schools but were not selected in a random lottery, the kids in the high-performing schools were less likely to engage in at least one of the identified “very risky” behaviors—36 percent, compared to 42 percent. There was no statistical difference for more common risky behaviors, such as lighter drinking and smoking cigarettes. Read more on education.

Too Few People At Risk for Heart Disease are Receiving Recommendations for Aspirin Therapy
Despite the important role it can play in preventing heart disease, only 40 percent of the people who are at high risk of cardiovascular disease reported receiving a doctor’s recommendation for aspirin therapy, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Heart Association. Approximately one-quarter of people at low risk received the recommendation. “Cardiovascular disease is a significant problem in the United States and the appropriate use of prevention strategies is particularly important,” said Arch G. Mainous III, PhD, the study’s lead investigator and chairman of the department of health services research, management and policy at the University of Florida’s College of Public Health and Health Professions, in a release. “Aspirin has been advocated as a prevention strategy but only for certain patients. There are health risks associated with the treatment. It is important that doctors are directing the right patients to get aspirin for cardiovascular disease prevention.” The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends aspirin use to prevent heart attack and stroke in men ages 45-79 and women ages 55-79. Read more on heart health.

Study: Coping Skills Programs for Mothers of Children With Autism Helps All Involved
Mothers of children with autism who participated in coping skills programs saw reduced stress, illness and psychiatric problems—all of which they are at higher risk for—while also improving their connections with their children, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Such programs also benefit their children, as these risk factors are associated with poorer health outcomes for the children. Researchers entered 243 mothers of children with disabilities (two-thirds of which were autism) into six weeks of either Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (mindfulness practice) or Positive Adult Development (positive psychology practice), finding that both reduced stress and other negative impacts. Read more on mental health.