Public Health News Roundup: January 6
HHS Moves to Strengthen Federal Background Checks for Gun Ownership
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is taking steps to strengthen the federal background check system for the purchase of firearms by removing legal barriers under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule that could stop states from reporting information to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The NICS is designed to ensure that felons, people convicted of domestic violence and people involuntarily committed to a mental institution cannot purchase firearms. A 2012 Government Accountability Office report found that 17 states had submitted fewer than 10 records of people prohibited from owning a firearm for mental health reasons. “There is a strong public safety need for this information to be accessible to the NICS, and some states are currently under-reporting or not reporting certain information to the NICS at all,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “This proposed rulemaking is carefully balanced to protect and preserve individuals’ privacy interests, the patient-provider relationship, and the public’s health and safety.” Read more on mental health.
CDC: ‘Widespread’ Flu Activity in Almost Half of the Country
Half of the 50 U.S. states are already reporting influenza cases this season, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The majority of the cases have been attributed to the H1N1 virus, which killed an estimated 284,000 people across 74 countries in 2009-2010. Almost half of the country has also classified flu activity as “widespread” this season. Texas, which on December 20 issued an “influenza health alert,” has already seen 25 deaths, according to health officials. "We are seeing a big uptick in disease in the past couple of weeks. The virus is all around the United States right now," said Joe Bresee, MD, chief of Epidemiology and Prevention in the CDC's Influenza Division, adding, "There is still a lot of season to come. If folks haven't been vaccinated, we recommend they do it now.” Read more on influenza.
Slower Eating Leads to Fewer Calories
Normal-weight individuals looking for methods to maintain their healthy weight should consider simply eating slower, according to a new study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Researchers found that both normal-weight and obese or overweight people who ate at relaxed, slow-speed conditions reported feeling less hungry afterward than they did after eating fast-paced meals. However, only the normal-weight study participants consumed “significantly” fewer calories during the slower meals, according to the researchers: 88 fewer calories, compared to 58 fewer calories for obese or overweight participants. Study author Meena Shah, a professor in the department of kinesiology at Texas Christian University, in Fort Worth, said one explanation for the findings could be that “slower eating allows people to better sense their feelings of hunger and fullness.” Read more on obesity.