Category Archives: News roundups

Nov 18 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 18

Financial Incentives Double Smoking Quit Rates
Offering small financial incentives doubles smoking cessation rates among low-income smokers, according to research from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. The study was published in the American Journal of Public Health. Participants in the intervention group could earn up to $150 in gift cards over four weeks. Progress was monitored for 12 weeks following the quit date. A control group received only cessation information, no incentives. The researchers found that quit rates were 49 percent for those in the incentive group but only 25 percent in the control group. Read more on tobacco.

Two Thirds of Parents Would Take Kids out of Daycare if Other Children Don’t Have Their Immunizations
A national survey of parents with children ages 0-5 found that three quarters of them would take their children out of daycare if at least one quarter of the children at daycare were not up to date on their vaccines. The researchers say the scenario is realistic since about 25 percent of preschool children in the United States are not fully vaccinated, according to national statistics. Just over 40 percent of survey responders also said that children missing vaccines should be asked to leave daycare until they are up to date. Read more on vaccines.

Three Drugs During Pregnancy Better Than Current Complicated Regimen for Preventing Mother-to-Baby HIV Transmission
For HIV-infected women in good immune health, taking a three-drug regimen during pregnancy prevents mother-to-child HIV transmission more effectively than taking one drug during pregnancy, another during labor and two more after giving birth, according to a new study funded by the National Institutes of Health. Read more on maternal and infant health.

Nov 17 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 17

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Ebola Patient from Sierra Leone Dies of Virus in U.S.
A doctor from Sierra Leone who arrived in the United States on Saturday for treatment for Ebola has died. The doctor was taken to the Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha, one of four U.S. hospitals with specialized units prepared to treat patients with the virus. News reports say the physician may have been sicker than other patients treated for Ebola so far in the United States. Read more on Ebola.

Disparities in Treating Black Children for Ear Infections Actually Results in Treatment that Meets Guidelines
Black children are less likely to be diagnosed with ear infections and less likely to receive broad-spectrum antibiotics for ear infections than are white children, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. But the discrepancy in prescribing fewer broad-spectrum antibiotics means black children actually are more likely to receive care in line with recommended guidelines for treating ear infections. Read more on prescription drugs.

Secondhand Marijuana Smoke May Damage Blood Vessels as Much as Tobacco Smoke
Breathing secondhand marijuana smoke could damage heart and blood vessels as much as secondhand cigarette smoke, according to preliminary research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014 meeting this week in Dallas. In the study, blood vessel function in lab rats dropped 70 percent after 30 minutes of exposure to secondhand marijuana smoke. Even when the marijuana contained no tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)—a compound in marijuana that produces intoxication—blood vessel function was still impaired. Reduced blood vessel function may raise the chances of developing atherosclerosis and could lead to a heart attack. “Most people know secondhand cigarette smoke is bad for you, but many don’t realize that secondhand marijuana smoke may also be harmful,” said Matthew Springer, PhD, senior author of the study and cardiovascular researcher and associate professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco’s Cardiology Division. Read more on environment.

Nov 14 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 14

More than 1 in 5 High School Students Currently Uses Tobacco
Almost 23 percent of high school students currently use a tobacco product, according to new data published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC.) “Nine out of ten smokers tried their first cigarette by age 18,” said Tim McAfee, MD, MPH, director of the CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. “We must do more to prevent our youth from using tobacco products, or we will see millions of them suffer and die prematurely as adults. Fully implementing proven tobacco control programs would help keep our youth from falling victim to tobacco.” A review by CDC researchers of the agency’s National Youth Tobacco Survey (NYTS) found that in 2013, 22.9 percent of high school students and 6.5 percent of middle school students reported using a tobacco product within the last 30 days and nearly half of all high school students and 17.7 percent of middle school students said they had used a tobacco product at least once in their lifetime. The survey also found that 12.6 percent of high school students say they currently use two or more tobacco products. The researchers found that most young adults who use tobacco believe they will be able to quit, but about three out of four high school smokers continue smoking into adulthood. Read more on tobacco.

Climate Change Expected to Increase Airborne Allergens
Results of a new study by researchers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst strongly suggest that there will be increases in grass pollen production and allergen exposure up to 202 percent in the next 100 years, leading to a significant, worldwide impact on human health because of predicted rises in carbon dioxide. The researchers exposed grass plants to different atmospheric gas concentrations and found that high levels of carbon dioxide increased pollen production per flower by 53 percent. Read more on
environment.

Many Asthma Patients Would Like to Talk to Their Doctors about Cost Concerns
Asthma patients concerned about their ability to pay for medical care would like to talk about cost-related concerns with their physicians—but often do not get that opportunity, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. The study, published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, found that less than half of patients who expressed a preference for such discussions with their doctors reported having the conversations. “Financial burden from out-of-pocket health care expenses poses significant safety concerns and risk of poor outcomes to patients and society when patients utilize risky strategies, such as non-adherence, to address these burdens,” said Minal Patel, MD, U-M assistant professor of health behavior and health education and the lead author of the study. “Patients need to communicate with health care providers in order to access affordable options such as free samples, verification to access community assistance programs, and [a prescription change] or to adjust treatment recommendations.” Read more on access to health care.

Nov 13 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 13

More than 5,000 Lives Lost to Ebola So Far
Ebola has now killed at least 5,160 people and infected at least 14,098, mostly in West Africa, since the outbreak started last spring, according to the World Health Organization. New cases have increased sharply in Sierra Leone, while the incidence of new cases is declining in Guinea and Liberia. Read more on Ebola.

Seniors Need Resources Beyond the Internet for Health Information
Seniors are less likely than others to search for health informtion on the Internet, making it necessary for health providers to provide other health information resources, according to a new study in the Journal of General Internal Medicine. The study found that while huge amounts of money and attention have been invested recently in health information technology in the United States—for example, by providing electronic medical records online—it’s unclear whether older patients are willing and able to use those for personal and general health information. The researchers analyzed data from the 2009 and 2010 Health and Retirement Study, a nationally representative survey of more than 20,000 Americans 65 years and older. About 1,400 of the participants were asked how often they used the Internet in general and, in particular, how often they searched for health and medical information. Just over thirty percent used the Internet regularly and only 9.7 percent identified as having low health literacy used the internet at all. Read more on health literacy.

Predicting Which U.S. Soldiers Could Predict Suicide
A study that looked at predicting suicides in U.S. soldiers after hospitalization for a psychiatric disorder suggests that nearly 53 percent of post-hospital suicides occurred following the 5 percent of hospitalizations with the highest predicted suicide risk. The study, in JAMA Psychiatry, finds that the suicide rate in the U.S. Army has increased since 2004 and now exceeds the rate among civilians, and that a predictive model would help prevent some of the military suicides. The strongest predictors for suicide in this group include being male, late-age of enlistment, criminal offenses, weapons possession, prior suicidality, the number of antidepressant prescriptions filled in the previous year and psychiatric disorders diagnosed during the hospitalizations. Read more on mental health.

Nov 12 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 12

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Study Questions Long Term Success of Some Popular Diets
A new study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, an American Heart Association journal, suggests that popular commercial diets can help people lose some weight in the short term, but keeping the weight off after the first year and the diet’s impact on heart health are unclear. “Despite their popularity and important contributions to the multi-million dollar weight loss industry, we still do not know if these diets are effective to help people lose weight and decrease their risk factors for heart disease,” said Mark J. Eisenberg, MD, MPH, the study’s senior author and Professor of Medicine at Jewish General Hospital/McGill University in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. “With such a small number of trials looking at each diet and their somewhat conflicting results, there is only modest evidence that using these diets is beneficial in the long-term.”

The longest diet studies researchers analyzed lasted for two years, and results were only available for the Atkins or Weight Watchers diets. Those studies found dieters regained some of their weight over time. To better understand the potential benefits from any one or all of these diets, researchers need to conduct large clinical trials directly comparing all four popular diets for long-term weight loss and changes in other heart disease risk factors, said Eisenberg. Read more on obesity.

Bilingual Brains Better Equipped to Process Information
Speaking more than one language is good for the brain, according to new research in the journal Brain and Language that indicates bilingual speakers process information more efficiently and more easily than do those who know a single language. The benefits occur because the bilingual brain is constantly activating both languages and choosing which language to use and which to ignore, said Northwestern University's Viorica Marian, the lead author of the research and a professor in the department of communication sciences and disorders in the School of Communication. When the brain is constantly exercised in this way, it doesn't have to work as hard to perform cognitive tasks, the researchers found. "It's like a stop light," Marian said. "Bilinguals are always giving the green light to one language and red to another. When you have to do that all the time, you get really good at inhibiting the words you don't need." Read more on education.

Alzheimer's-Related Costs Expected to Soar in Coming Decades
Health policy researchers at the University of Southern California have used modeling that incorporates trends in health, health care costs, education and demographics to determine that models show that the number of people expected to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease will soar in the next three decades.

Key findings:

  • From 2010 to 2050, the number of individuals aged 70+ with Alzheimer's will increase by 153 percent, from 3.6 to 9.1 million.

  • Annual per-person costs of the disease were $71,000 in 2010, which is expected to double by 2050.

  • Medicare and Medicaid currently bear 75 percent of the costs of the disease.

"Alzheimer's disease is a progressive disease with symptoms that gradually worsen over time. People don't get better," said Julie Zissimopoulos, lead author of the study and an assistant professor at the USC Price School of Public Policy. "It is so expensive because individuals with Alzheimer's disease need extensive help with daily activities provided by paid caregivers or by family members who may be taking time off of work to care for them, which has a double impact on the economy.” Read more on aging.

Nov 11 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 11

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American College of Preventive Medicine Releases Recommendations to Curb Texting While Driving
The American College of Preventive Medicine (ACPM) has released guidelines aimed at reducing death and injuries linked to texting while driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 12 percent of all fatal crashes involving at least one distracted driver are estimated to be related to cell phone use while driving. “Given the combination of visual, manual and cognitive distractions posed by texting, this is an issue of major public health concern for communities,” the ACPM said it its statement. The guidelines include:

  • Encourage state legislatures to develop and pass legislation banning texting while driving, while simultaneously implementing comprehensive and dedicated law enforcement strategies, including penalties for these violations.
  • Legislatures should establish a public awareness campaign regarding the dangers of texting while driving as an integral part of this legislation.
  • Promote further research into the design and evaluation of educational tools regarding texting while driving that can be incorporated into the issuance of driver’s licenses.
  • Provide primary care providers with the appropriate tools to educate patients of all ages.
  • Conduct additional studies investigating the risks associated with cell phone usage while driving—particularly texting—with motor vehicle crashes.

Read more on injury prevention.

Skin Cancer Costs Rise
The costs associated with skin cancer increased five times as fast as treatments for other cancers between 2002 and 2011, according to a study by researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. The average annual cost for skin cancer treatment increased from $3.6 billion during 2002-2006 to $8.1 billion during 2007-2011, or 126 percent. The average annual cost for treatment of all other cancers increased by 25 percent during the same time period. “The findings raise the alarm that not only is skin cancer a growing problem in the United States, but the costs for treating it are skyrocketing relative to other cancers,” said the lead author of the report, Gery Guy, PhD, of the CDC’s Division of Cancer Prevention and Control. “This also underscores the importance of skin cancer prevention efforts.” Read more on cancer.

 

Childhood Obesity Often Continues into Teen Years
A new study published in the journal Pediatrics reviewed data on close to 4,000 public school students who were measured for height and weight in 5th and 10th grades. In 5th grade, one percent of students were underweight, 53 percent were normal weight, 19 percent were overweight and 26 percent were obese. Sixty-five percent of obese 5th-graders remained obese in 10th grade, 23 percent transitioned down to overweight and only 12 percent became normal weight. The study found that obese 5th graders were more likely to remain obese in 10th grade if they perceived themselves to be much heavier than ideal or came from a less-educated household. However, overweight 5th-graders were more likely to become obese by 10th grade if they had an obese parent or watched more television. The study authors say obese children face many challenges in reducing obesity in adolescence and that health care professionals should be encouraged to educate parents and caregivers to address obesity at a very young age, including advice on healthy eating and physical activity. Read more on childhood obesity.

Nov 7 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 7

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Public Perceptions on Obesity Are Changing
New research that looked at the opinions of both the public and health care professionals during the past year finds a shift away from seeing obesity as a personal problem resulting from bad choices. Health care professionals were already less likely than the public to view obesity as a personal problem of bad choices, according to the study was presented earlier this week at the Obesity Society Annual Meeting in Boston. The study used an online survey of more than 50,000 members of the public and more than 5,000 health care professionals, finding that the percentage of Americans seeing obesity as a community problem increased by 13 percent in 2014 over the previous year and the percent of health care professionals increased by 18 percent, although that was a smaller increase than the previous year. Wealthier and younger respondents were more likely to view obesity as a medical problem. Male and rural respondents more likely view obesity as a personal problem of bad choices. Read more on obesity.

Many People, Who Think They Have a Penicillin Allergy, Don’t
Many people have been incorrectly told that they're allergic to penicillin, and have not had testing to confirm an allergy, according to a two new studies presented this week at the annual conference of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. The studies are very important, according to the researchers, because giving alternative antibiotics to people who don’t need them results in inferior treatment, higher costs and higher toxicity for patients. Of 384 people in one study who thought they were allergic to penicillin, 94 tested negative. In the second study, 38 people who believed they were allergic to penicillin had skin testing and all tested negative. "A large number of people in our study who had a history of penicillin allergy were actually not allergic," said Thanai Pongdee, MD, a member of the ACAAI and the author of one study. "They may have had an unfavorable response to penicillin at some point in the past, such as hives or swelling, but they did not demonstrate any evidence of penicillin allergy at the current time.” Read more on infectious disease.

School Lunches Often Healthier than Packed Lunches
Researchers from Virginia Tech recently conducted a study that compared school lunches with home-packed lunches and found that school lunches were typically more nutritious. The researchers reviewed more than 1,000 lunches—about half packed and half prepared by three public schools—and found that rates of calories, carbohydrates, fat, saturated fat, sugar, vitamin C, and iron were significantly higher for packed lunches compared to school lunches. Protein, sodium, fiber, vitamin A and calcium were significantly lower for packed lunches compared to school lunches. "Habits develop in early childhood and continue into adolescence and adulthood. Therefore, this is a critical time to promote healthy eating. Determining the many factors which influence the decision to participate in the [school lunch program] or bring a packed lunch from home is vital to addressing the poor quality of packed lunches," says Elena L. Serrano, PhD, Family Nutrition Program Project Director, and Department of Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise at Virginia Tech and the lead author of the study. Read more on nutrition.

 

Nov 6 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 6

EBOLA UPDATE: Administration Asks Congress for $6.18 Billion in Emergency Funds
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The Obama administration has asked the U.S. Congress to approve $6.18 billion in new emergency funds to combat the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa. More than 5,000 people have died so far from the outbreak. The new funds would include:

  • $1.83 billion for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to prevent, detect and respond to the Ebola epidemic and other diseases and public health emergencies abroad and in the United States.
  • $1.98 billion for the U.S. Agency for International Development for foreign assistance in the Ebola crisis.
  • $127 million would go to the U.S. Department of State to expand its medical support and evacuation capacity.
  • $112 million for the U.S. Department of Defense including funding to support efforts to develop technologies relevant to the Ebola crisis.
  • $1.54 billion for a contingency fund, divided between the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, USAID and State to ensure resources are available to adapt as the crisis evolves.

Read more on Ebola.

CDC: 8 Million Women Ages 21-65 Haven’t Been Screened for Cervical Cancer
Approximately eight million women ages 21-65 years have not been screened for cervical cancer in the past five years, according to the latest Vital Signs report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). More than half of the women who receive a diagnosis of cervical cancer have never been or are rarely screened. “Every visit to a provider can be an opportunity to prevent cervical cancer by making sure women are referred for screening appropriately,” said CDC Principal Deputy Director Ileana Arias, PhD, in a release. “We must increase our efforts to make sure that all women understand the importance of getting screened for cervical cancer. No woman should die from cervical cancer.” Read more on prevention.

U.S. Premature Birth Rate to 11.4 Percent; March of Dimes Gives the Country a ‘C’
The national preterm birth rate has fallen to the Health People 2020 goal of 11.4 percent seven years early. Despite this, the 7th annual March of Dimes Premature Birth Report Card gave the U.S. health care system a “C” for not reaching the organization’s lower target of 9.6 percent. More than 450,000 U.S. babies were born premature in 2013, which leads to increased risks to their health as well as billions of dollars in health care costs. "Achieving the Healthy People 2020 goal is reason for celebration, but the U.S. still has one of the highest rates of preterm birth of any high resource country and we must change that," said March of Dimes President Jennifer L. Howse, MD, in a release. "We are investing in a network of five prematurity research centers to find solutions to this still too-common, costly, and serious problem." Read more on maternal and infant health.

Nov 5 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 5

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Massachusetts Now Has the Nation’s Strongest Paid Sick Leave Requirements
Massachusetts now has the nation’s strongest requirement for providing paid sick leave. Under a ballot question passed yesterday, people who work for businesses with 11 or more employees are now entitled to up to 40 hours of paid sick time each year. Workers at smaller companies will receive 40 hours of annual unpaid sick time. NewPublicHealth has previously written on the benefits of paid sick leave, including about an American Journal of Public Health study which found that a lack of paid sick leave can be a significant factor in the spread of disease. Read more on business.

Study: Fast Food Marketing to Children Disproportionately Affects Certain Communities
Fast food marketing directed toward children disproportionately affects black, middle-income and rural communities, according to a new study out of Arizona State University (ASU). Researchers studied the marketing practices of 6,716 fast food restaurants, determining that “while most fast food restaurants sampled were located in non-Hispanic and majority white neighborhoods, those situated in middle-income neighborhoods, rural communities and majority black neighborhoods had higher odds of using child-directed marketing tactics.” “Marketing food to children is of great concern not only because it affects their current consumption patterns, but also because it may affect their taste and preferences,” said ASU researcher Punam Ohri-Vachaspati, an associate professor of nutrition in the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion. “We know that consumption of fast food in children may lead to obesity or poorer health, and that low income and minority children eat fast food more often.” Read more on nutrition.

Study: No Link Between Media Violence and Real-Life Violence
Despite the popular notion that media violence is a factor in real-life crime, homicide rates have actually fallen over the past several decades as media violence—in movies, on television and in video games—has increased, according to two new studies in the Journal of Communication. One of the studies examined the level of violence in 90 movies from 1920 to 2005, while the other looked for links between violence in video games and real-life violence among American young people from 1996 to 2011. "The idea that media has big effects on us or shapes our society is probably untenable," said author Christopher Ferguson, chair of the psychology department at Stetson University in Florida. "This doesn't mean media has no effect at all, of course, only that we need to try to move media research out of these culture wars if we're going to make any progress." Read more on technology.

Nov 4 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: November 4

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WHO: Wider Use of Naloxone Could Prevent 20,000 U.S. Drug Overdose Deaths Each Year
More than 20,000 U.S. deaths from drug overdoses could be prevented each year if naloxone were more widely available, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Approximately 69,000 people around the world die each year from overdoses of heroin or other opioids. Opioids are commonly prescribed for chronic non-cancer pain and are the most addictive substances in common use. Naloxone can be used to counter opioid overdoses. "If opioids are easily available in people's bathroom cabinets, it might make sense for naloxone to be equally available," said WHO expert Nicolas Clark. Read more on substance abuse.

Obesity During Pregnancy Linked to Higher Risk of Kidney, Urinary Tract Abnormalities in Infants
Children of women who are obese are more likely to be born with congenital abnormalities of the kidney and urinary tract, according to a new study to be presented at ASN Kidney Week 2014 in Philadelphia, Penn. While such abnormalities are diagnosed in only 1 percent of pregnancies, they account for 20-30 percent of all prenatal abnormalities. Researchers based their findings on linked birth-hospital discharge records from Washington State from 2003 to 2012. "Our findings add to the public health importance of obesity, particularly as a modifiable risk factor," said study author Ian Macumber, MD. "The data supplement the literature regarding obesity's association with congenital abnormalities and highlight the importance of future research needed to clarify the mechanisms of these associations." Read more on maternal and infant health.

Study: Increased in Autism Cases Due to Changes in How the Condition is Defined
The dramatic increasing in the number of autism cases among children since the mid-1990s is in larger part due to how the condition is reported and defined, with today’s classification system more broader than the one used in the past, according to a new study in JAMA Pediatrics. Danish researchers determined that 60 percent of the increase in cases “can be attributed to changes in diagnostic criteria and the inclusion of out-of-hospital diagnoses.” "That the increase until now has been left more or less unexplained has undoubtedly raised considerable concern among the public and might, in fact, have affected some parents' health decisions regarding their child," said lead researcher Stefan Hansen, from the section for biostatistics in the department of public health at Aarhus University, according to HealthDay. "As our study shows, much of the increase can be attributed to the redefinition of what autism is and which diagnoses are reported. The increase in the observed autism prevalence is not due alone to environmental factors that we have not yet discovered." Read more on pediatrics.