Feb 15 2013
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Public Health News Roundup: February 15

Folic Acid Supplements Early in Pregnancy May Reduce Risk of Autism by 40%
Prenatal folic acid supplements appear to reduce the risk for autistic spectrum disorders, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study included more than 85,000 babies born in Norway. Researchers noted prenatal eating habits of the mothers and followed up with families for three to ten years after birth to measure the development of autism spectrum disorders. A total of 270 cases were identified among the children in the study and a review by the researchers found that mothers who took folic acid supplements in early pregnancy had a 40 percent reduced risk of having children with autistic disorders. The researchers say that the timing of a mother’s intake of folic acid appears to be a critical factor. A child’s risk of autism was reduced only when the supplements were taken between 4 weeks before to 8 weeks after the start of pregnancy. Read more on maternal and infant health.

Prescription Drug Abuse Programs in Middle School Reduce Abuse Later in Life
A new study by researchers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that middle school students from small towns and rural communities who were involved in community-based prevention programs were less likely to abuse prescription medications in late adolescence and young adulthood. The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health. According to the NIH, prescription drug abuse is one of the most serious public health problems in the United States.  In 2011, about 1.7 million people ages 12 to 25 abused a prescription drug for the first time, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health . “The intervention effects were comparable or even stronger for participants who had started misusing substances prior to the middle school interventions, suggesting that these programs also can be successful in higher-risk groups,” said Richard Spoth, PhD, of the Partnerships in Prevention Science Institute at Iowa State University and the lead author of the study. Those findings contrast with a recent study published by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration that found that 12th grade dropouts have higher rates of cigarette, alcohol and illegal drug use. Read more on addiction.

New Study Shows Significant Health Benefits of Americans Reducing Their Sodium Intake
Hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved over 10 years if Americans reduced their sodium consumption to the levels recommended in federal guidelines, which would prevent many heart attacks and strokes, according to a new study by researchers at UC San Francisco, Harvard Medical School and Simon Fraser University in Canada. The study was published in the journal Hypertension. The study resulted from a workshop conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which brought together scientists from the three universities. Each university group used different computer models to estimate the risk reduction of lowering sodium, but all found consistent, substantial benefits of reducing U.S. sodium consumption to a level close to the upper limit of the federal guideline of 2,300 mg/day.  According to the study, the overall average sodium consumption in the United States has been estimated at 3,500 mg/day, well above the upper limit of the level recommended by federal agencies and the Institute of Medicine. American men consume twice the recommended level on average. Read more on nutrition.

New York Announces Companies Reducing their Sodium Content
Earlier this week, the city of New York announced that  21 companies met one or more of their voluntary commitments to reduce sodium content  in pre-packaged or restaurant foods. Those reductions were the result of the National Salt Reduction Initiative (NSRI), the first-ever nationwide partnership to reduce sodium in the U.S. food supply. The NSRI is a nationwide partnership of more than 90 city and state health authorities and organizations coordinated by New York City since 2009. The NSRI’s goal is to cut excess salt in packaged and restaurant foods by 25 percent over five years through voluntary corporate commitments. Support for the initiative has come from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the New York State Health Foundation and the National Association of County & City Health Officials. The project funding is administered by the Fund for Public Health in New York, a private non-profit organization that supports innovative initiatives of the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. Read more on prevention.

Tags: Public health, Public Health , News roundups, Maternal and Infant Health, Addiction, Nutrition, Prevention