Category Archives: News roundups
Regulations to Limit Youth Smoking also Lower Adult Rates
Regulation to limit youth smoking may also decrease the rate of adult smoking, according to a new study in the American Journal of Health. The study found that states with stricter regulations targeted youth tobacco use also saw lower incidence of adult use, especially among women. "In most states for many years, it has been illegal to sell cigarettes to people under 18, but few provisions are in place to prevent those sales," said study author Richard Grucza, an associate professor of psychiatry at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. "This study shows that more restrictive policies can prevent teen smoking and be beneficial down the road." The most effective policies included eliminating cigarette vending machines, ID requirements to purchase cigarettes and restrictions preventing smaller packages of cigarettes. Gurzca estimated that if all states had such effective policies then smoking would be cut about 14 percent and heavy smoking would drop 29 percent. Read more on tobacco.
‘Watchful Waiting’ Approach to Prostate Cancer Can Reduce Unneeded Treatment
A “wait and see” approach to slow-growing prostate cancer—also known as “watchful waiting”—could reduce the number of unnecessary treatments, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. The study took into account costs, side effects, quality of life and the chance of dying. "Most of the men who are diagnosed in this country these days have low-risk prostate cancer," said Julia Hayes, MD, who led the new study at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute Boston. "There's a huge group of men out there who are probably treated unnecessarily." The slow-growing cancer “may never grow large or fast enough to threaten a man's life,” according to Reuters. Researchers estimate that men under the “watchful waiting” approach would ultimately undergo treatment in 34 percent of cases; active surveillance would lead to 78 percent. Read more on cancer.
Younger Americans Less Likely to Be Aware of their HIV, Undergo Treatment
People under age 45 who are infected with HIV are far less likely that their older counterparts to know about the infection and to be receiving treatment, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine. About 40 percent of people between ages 13-24 had been diagnosed and only 30 were referred for care. Those ages 25-44 also saw lower rates than people 45 and older. A total of more than 850,000 Americans with HIV have not achieved suppression. The researchers, led by H. Irene Hall of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, concluded that "Individuals, health care providers, health departments and government agencies must all work together to increase the numbers of people living with HIV who are aware of their status, linked to and retained in care, receiving treatment and adherent to treatment." Read more on HIV.
APHA, National Center for Healthy Housing Release Housing Standards to Improve Health
The National Center for Healthy Housing (NCHH) and the American Public Health Association (APHA) have released a National Healthy Housing Standard aimed at improving the health of Americans by addressing serious health and safety hazards in U.S. homes. About 30 million families live in unsafe and unhealthy housing with broken heating and plumbing; holes in walls and windows; roach and rodent infestation; falling plaster; crumbling foundations; and leaking roofs. Millions more live in housing with serious health and safety hazards that can cause allergies, asthma, injuries, cancer and lead poisoning, which add billions of dollars to health care costs and harm children’s health, development and wellbeing, according to the APHA. The new standard would not apply to new construction or housing renovation, but will be used by government agencies to ensure that the existing housing stock—with more than 100 million units across the country—is maintained to protect the health and safety of Americans. The housing standard would be implemented through adoption by federal state and local agencies. NCHH is requesting comments from health and housing practitioners, advocates and other stakeholders in healthy housing on the standard through July 31, 2013 at NCHH.org. Read more on housing.
Black, Hispanic Kids With Autism Less Likely to See Specialists
Black and Hispanic children with autism are less likely than their white counterparts to access specialists such as gastroenterologists, neurologists and psychiatrists, according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Study author Sarabeth Broder-Fingert, MD, a fellow in the department of pediatrics at MassGeneral and Harvard Medical School, said that while she expected to see differences, she was surprised by the extent of the disparity. Diagnosing and treating the disorders that often accompany is critical so that they do not lead to further health complications. "I do worry because autism is such a complicated disorder," she said. "The children have some sort of communication difficulty, so if they have stomach problems or sleep problems they may have difficulty expressing that. I always worry these kids are not getting all the care they need in general, and minority kids are more at [risk] of not getting the care they need." The study indicated that doctors need to be more aware of when to refer patients to specialists. About one in 50 school-age children have autism in the United States, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Read more on health disparities.
Volunteer Time Reduces High Blood Pressure Risk in Older Adults
Time spent volunteering can help reduce the risk of high blood pressure in older U.S. adults, according to a new study in the journal Psychology and Aging. Researchers analyzed data on more than 1,100 adults, finding that those who volunteered at least 200 hours per year saw a 40 percent saw a 40 percent cut in high blood pressure risk four years down the line. Approximately 65 million American suffer from high blood pressure, or hypertension. "As people get older, social transitions like retirement, bereavement and the departure of children from the home often leave older adults with fewer natural opportunities for social interactions,” said lead author Rodlescia Sneed, a PhD candidate in psychology at Carnegie Mellon University. "Participating in volunteer activities may provide older adults with social connections that they might not have otherwise. There is strong evidence that having good social connections promotes healthy aging and reduces risk for a number of negative health outcomes." Read more on heart health.
American Institute of Architects, Others Launch Ideas Competition to Rebuild Sustainable Communities
The American Institute of Architects (AIA), Make It Right, St. Bernard Project and Architecture for Humanity have launched a new “Designing Recovery” ideas competition to help rebuild sustainable, resilient communities in areas hit by natural disasters. The announcement came at the annual Commitment to Action at CGI America. "The cities of New Orleans, New York and Joplin are all stark reminders of the emerging threat of severe-weather disasters brought on by a changing climate,” said Eric Cesal, Director of Reconstruction and Resiliency at Architecture for Humanity. “Every city can learn from the successes and failures of these three cities and their response to disaster. Designers and architects have a responsibility to do more — and to do better. We hope this competition will draw out the best and brightest new ideas for a world of new risks." Read more on disasters.
On World Blood Donor Day, HHS Highlights Need for More Resources
Today is World Blood Donor Day. The United States is one of only 62 countries that collect 100 percent of their blood from voluntary, unpaid donors; the World Health Organization has this goal for all countries by the year 2020. About 8 million people donate blood in the United States each year. While this number is substantial, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says even more donations are needed to help surgical patients, cancer patients, victims of natural disasters and people who suffer battlefield injuries.
According to HHS:
- Forty or more units of blood may be needed for a single trauma victim
- Eight units of platelets may be required daily by leukemia patients undergoing treatment
- A single pint of blood can sustain a premature infant’s life for two weeks
Read more on global health.
Supreme Court Rules Naturally Occurring Human Genes Cannot be Patented
In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that naturally occurring human genes cannot be patented, although synthetically produced genetic material can be. The ruling struck down Myriad Genetics Inc.’s patents on the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes linked to breast and ovarian cancer. Robert Darnell, MD, president and scientific director of the New York Genome Center, said the ruling "sets a fair and level playing field for open and responsible use of genetic information" and that “it does not preclude the opportunity for innovation in the genetic world." Read more on research.
Racial and Ethnic Minorities Face Greater Subtle Housing Discrimination
Blatant acts of housing discrimination faced by minority prospective home buyers are declining in the United States, but more subtle forms of housing denial persist, according to a new study by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Urban Institute. The study found that African-Americans, Hispanics and Asians learn about fewer housing options than equally qualified whites. According to the study, which sent out pairs of “mystery home buyers” — one white and one minority — to contact real estate agents and rental housing providers, the minority pairs were recommended and shown fewer available homes and apartments, which can increase their costs and restrict housing options, according to HUD. “Fewer minorities today may be getting the door slammed in their faces, but we continue to see evidence of housing discrimination that can limit a family’s housing, economic and educational opportunities,” said HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan. Read more on housing.
After Second or Third Concussion Kids Take Longer to Recover
Children and adolescents who suffer a concussion have a much longer recovery time if they have had a concussion in the past, according to a new study in Pediatrics. The study authors evaluated 280 patients between the ages of 11 and 22 who were treated for concussion symptoms in emergency departments. Children who had a second concussion within a year had nearly three times the average duration of symptoms compared to children whose concussions occurred more than one year apart. The number of previous concussions also affected recovery time. Two or more prior concussions resulted in a much longer duration of symptoms compared to those who experienced no or one previous concussion. Other factors that resulted in a longer recovery time included being age 13 or older and having more severe symptoms at the time of the emergency room visit. Read more on injury prevention.
Hearing Loss in Seniors Can Increase Hospitalizations and Poor Health
A new study published in JAMA finds that seniors with hearing loss are at increased risk for hospitalization, illness, injury and depression. The study authors reviewed records of more than 1,000 men and women age 70 and older with hearing loss, finding that over a four-year period they were 32 percent more likely to have been admitted to the hospital than a comparison group the same age with normal hearing. The hearing-impaired seniors in the study were also 36 percent more likely to have extended stretches of illness or injury and 57 percent more likely to have extended episodes of stress, depression or bad mood. According to the researchers, hearing loss affects two-thirds of men and women aged 70 and older. Among their recommendations to reduce the health burdens of hearing loss are expanding Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for hearing-related services; increased installation of amplification technology in more facilities; and more accessible and affordable approaches for treating hearing loss. Read more on aging.
Emergency Contraception Age Restrictions to be Dropped
The White House administration announced Monday that it will comply with a U.S. District Court ruling to remove the age restrictions on the emergency contraception pill Plan B One-Step, making it available to all women and girls without a prescription. The pill is most effective when taken within 72 hours after unprotected intercourse. The court ruling came in April, with a judge referring to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s decision to reject a citizen petition related to the restrictions as "arbitrary, capricious and unreasonable." According to Reuters, Planned Parenthood Federation of America President Cecile Richards said the decision "will make emergency contraception available on store shelves, just like condoms, and women of all ages will be able to get it quickly in order to prevent unintended pregnancy." Read more on sexual health.
CDC Toolkit to Help Health Care Departments, Facilities Make Patient Notifications on Potential Exposures
More than 150,000 patients may have been exposed to hepatitis B, hepatitis C and HIV since 2001 because of unsafe health care practices, and last year almost 14,000 people were notified in relation to a national fungal meningitis outbreak and other infections. In order to help health departments and facilities going forward, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has created a new online toolkit to facilitate the notification of patients in the event of potential infections or disease transmissions during medical care. The kit includes key steps on notifying patients, resources to help create notification documents, and media communications strategies. The kit was presented at the APIC Annual Conference in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., on June 9. Read more on infectious diseases.
Reducing CT Scans for Kids Could Cut Later Rates of Cancer
Cutting back on the number of unneeded, high-dose computed tomography (CT) scans on children could reduce their lifetime risk of certain cancers by more than 60 percent, according to a new study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics. CT scans utilize x-rays; the approximately 4 million annual CT scans of kids’ most commonly imaged organs may lead to as many as 4,900 cancers, according to the researchers. "There are potential harms from CT, meaning that there is a cancer risk—albeit very small in individual children—so it's important to reduce this risk in two ways," said lead author Diana Miglioretti, a professor of biostatistics in the department of public health sciences at the UC Davis Health System. "The first is to only do a CT when it's medically necessary, and use alternative imaging when possible. The second is to dose CT appropriately for children." Read more on cancer.
CDC Releases Tools to Help People Keep Cool this Summer
A new study in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report shows that there were 7,233 heat-related deaths in the United States in the decade from 1999 to 2009, with an analysis of 2012 data showing the death rate is climbing. “No one should die from a heat wave, but every year on average, extreme heat causes 658 deaths in the United States—more than tornadoes, hurricanes, floods, and lightning combined,” said Robin Ikeda, MD, MPH, acting director of the National Center for Environmental Health and Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “Taking common sense steps in extreme temperatures can prevent heat-related illnesses and deaths.” The CDC has released a series of tools to help people stay cool, hydrated and informed during the extreme that will most likely occur in much of the country over the hot summer months. They include the Extreme Heat and Your Health Website; Environmental Public Health Tracking Data; a Climate Change and Extreme Heat Events Guidebook; and Workplace Solutions Bulletin. Read more on environment.
Study: More than One-third of Designated Drivers End up Drinking
More than one-third of designated drivers end up drinking, according to a new study in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs. The researchers spoke with approximately 1,100 bar patrons (mostly white, male, college-aged) in an unidentified college town and gave blood alcohol (BAL) tests to 165 who said they were designated drivers. About 65 percent had no alcohol in their systems; 17 percent had a BAL between 0.02 and 0.049; and 18 percent had a BAL of at least 0.05. The legal limit is 0.08. "While more of the designated drivers didn't drink than did drink, which is a good thing, you have people being selected because they're the least drunk, or the least intoxicated or they've driven drunk before," said study author Adam Barry, an assistant professor at the University of Florida. "The only real safe option is to completely abstain." Read more on alcohol.
Sequester to Close all HUD Offices on June 14
Though the schedule could still change, as it stands at the moment every office of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will be closed on Friday, June 14 as part of the sequester which is being felt across all of government. The automatic spending cuts took effect March 1. HUD’s plan is to pair its seven required furlough days with holidays and weekends. HUD is encouraging people and businesses that work with the agency to plan around the schedule day of shutdown. Read more on budgets.
New ‘Health Affairs’ Brief Looks at Novel Coverage Idea under the Affordable Care Act
A number of states that have decided against implementing the Medicaid expansion program under the Affordable Care Act, which would give Medicaid benefits to many low-income adults who currently don’t have health insurance, may have another idea for coverage. The states are considering providing people eligible for the Medicaid funds with vouchers to purchase private insurance on their state health insurance exchanges. The exchanges, also known as marketplaces, open October 1, 2013 for health insurance that begins January 1, 2014. A new policy brief from Health Affairs and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation looks at whether that option can be cost-effective and still provide benefits equal to those provided by the traditional Medicaid program. Read more on access to health care.
Teen Dating Violence Persists Despite Prevention Efforts
Two recent studies by the University of Maryland School of Public Health examine physical dating violence (PDV) among teens found it persists despite decades of national and local prevention efforts. The research showed that PDV rates have remained consistent for girls since 1999 and that rates for boys' PDV have increased. The study on trends in girls, published in the Journal of School Health, found that approximately one in 10 girls experience PDV annually. Teenage girls who reported being physically abused by a girlfriend or boyfriend were also more likely to report feeling sad and hopeless and have suicidal thoughts, violence-related behaviors and engage in sexually risky behavior. A second study, published in the International Quarterly of Community Health Education, found that the prevalence of male PDV victims increased about 30 percent between 1999 and 2009, and according to the study by 2009 almost one in eight high school males reported having been hit, slapped, or physically hurt on purpose by a boyfriend or girlfriend within the past year. The study also found feelings of hopelessness, physical fighting, multiple sex partners and lack of condom use among male victims of PDV. Read more on violence.
USDA, EPA Launch U.S. Food Waste Challenge
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have launched the U.S. Food Waste Challenge, which calls on food producers, processors, manufacturers, retailers, communities and government agencies to reduce, recover and recycle food waste. Food waste in the United States is estimated at between 30 to 40 percent of the food supply. In 2010, an estimated 133 billion pounds of food from U.S. retail food stores, restaurants and homes was never consumed. In 2010, the financial value of food waste was pegged at close to $400 for every U.S. consumer. As part of the food challenge, USDA is initiating activities to reduce waste in the school meals program, educate consumers about food waste and food storage, and develop new technologies to reduce food waste. To join the Challenge visit here. Read more on nutrition.
Smoking Cessation, Three Other Simple Lifestyle Behaviors Dramatically Improve Overall Health
Utilizing four simple lifestyle behaviors can reduce the risk of both heart disease in particular and death in general, according to a new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology. Researchers from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine identified regular exercise, eating healthy, maintaining a healthy weight and—in particular—quitting smoking as the four keys. "Of all the lifestyle factors, we found that smoking avoidance played the largest role in reducing the risk of coronary heart disease and mortality," said study senior author Roger Blumenthal, MD, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at Hopkins and director of the Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease at Johns Hopkins. "In fact, smokers who adopted two or more of the healthy behaviors still had lower survival rates after 7.6 years than did nonsmokers who were sedentary and obese." The researchers said the findings support American Heart Association recommendations regarding health and illustrate that there are many health factors that people can control. Read more on tobacco.
TSA Abandons Plans to Allow Small Knives, Sports Equipment on Planes
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has dropped its plans to allow passengers to carry knives and certain sports equipment on planes amid loud protests from lawmakers, the airline industry, labor unions and law enforcement, according to the Associated Press. TSA first announced its intentions back in March; 145 members of the U.S. Congress recently signed a letter requesting the prohibitions to stay in place and the House was nearing passage of legislation that would counter TSA’s plans to loosen regulations. "After getting the input from all these different constituents, I realized there was not across-the-board support that would serve us well in moving forward," TSA Administrator John Pistole. "It is a recognition that, yes, these items could be used as weapons, but I want our folks to focus on those things that, again, are the most concern given the current intelligence.” Read more on safety.
California Law Reduces Payments for Millions of Uninsured Patients
California’s Hospital Fair Pricing Act is successfully helping low-income populations by limiting exactly how much hospitals can collect from uninsured patients and can serve as a diagram for how other states can address the public health issue, according to a new study from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation appearing in the journal Health Affairs. The law was passed in 2006. There are more than 6.8 million people in the state without insurance; 97 percent of California hospitals offered free care to such patients with incomes at or below the federal poverty level. Read more on access to health care.
Recession Saw Parents Cut Back on Care for Kids with Special Health Needs
The financial struggles of the recent recession led many families to cut back on health care treatments for children with chronic physical or emotional problems, according to the journal Health Affairs. About one in every five U.S. kids fits these criteria. "Those are children who require health or related services beyond those required by children generally," said researcher Pinar Karaca-Mandic, an assistant professor of public health at the University of Minnesota. "A child with asthma would fit in this category, for example. A child with depression, ADHD or a physical limitation would also fit this definition." Researchers analyzed government data on out-of-pocket costs for families with private insurance from 2001 to 2009, finding expenses climbed steadily until 2007, when spending for generally healthy children jumped but spending for kids with special health needs dropped. Dental care and prescription medications were the services most likely to see cut backs. Christina Bethell, professor of pediatrics at Oregon Health and Science University, in Portland, said the findings demonstrate that "We're not putting a system of care together for kids that appears to be optimal, and families are struggling.” Read more on access to health care.
CDC: Older Americans, Pregnant Women at Greatest Risk for Listeria
Older Americans, pregnant women, newborns and people with weakened immune systems account for approximately 90 percent of all Listeria food poisoning cases each year, according to the a new Vital Signs report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report outlines safety measures to help prevent the bacterial infection, including knowing which foods are highest risk and how to prepare them properly. About 1,600 people contract Listeria annually and it is the third leading cause of food poisoning deaths. Read more on food safety.
Health of Black, Hispanic Teens Most Affected by Fast Food Near Schools
Fast food restaurants near schools have the greatest negative impact on the health of black and Hispanic teens in lower-income neighborhoods, according to a new study in the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing. Those teens were more likely than white of Hispanic kids to be overweight or obese. For all students, fast food one mile closer to school basically offset the benefits of one day of exercise per week; for black and Hispanic teens it offset up to three days of exercise. "The findings imply that it is important to examine the behaviors and contexts associated with low-income and ethnic minority status in urban areas," study co-author Sonya Grier, associate professor of marketing at American University, noted in the release. "These populations not only are the fastest growing but also have the highest rates of obesity, and research is relatively limited." Read more on obesity.
Special Family Court Systems Limit Kids' Time in Foster Care, Improve School Performance
With families who went through a special unified family court system that deals with divorce, child custody, juvenile delinquency, drug abuse and alcohol abuse, children spent less time in foster care and performed better in school (also an indicator of better emotional health), according to a new study in Evaluation Review. Kids whose families went through these courts were more likely to be reunited with their parents or other primary caregivers. Researchers found that children spent an average of 29 days fewer in foster care placements in counties with unified family courts, and kids were 11 percent more likely to be reunited with their parents or other caregivers. “The shortened time in foster care seen in this study can be attributed to the efficiency of unified family courts, which translates into savings for the court system and benefits to children seen through improved educational outcomes,” said Frank Sloan, PhD, of Duke University. The study was funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Public Health Law Research Program. Read more on education.
Diets High in Vegetables and Low in Meats Lead to Fewer Chronic Diseases, Longer Lives
Vegetarians and people with diets low in meat and high in vegetables are less likely to die from heart disease or any other chronic conditions over any particular period of time, according to a new study in JAMA Internal Medicine. In a study of more than 73,000 people from 2002 to 2007, researchers found that by December 31, 2009 about seven in 1,000 meat eaters and about five to six in 1,000 vegetarians died each year. However, researchers noted that there were a variety of contributions to this result. "It's important to note that the vegetarians in this study were more highly educated, less likely to smoke, exercised more and were thinner," said Alice Lichtenstein, director of the Cardiovascular Nutrition Laboratory at Tufts University in Boston, who was not involved with the new study, to Reuters Health. About 5 percent of Americans are vegetarian. Read more on nutrition.
CDC: Fewer Americans Struggling with Medical Bills, But Many Skipping Care Altogether
While overall fewer Americans are having difficulty paying their medical bills, the uninsured and other people who would have difficulty paying are increasingly skipping medical care completely, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). According to CDC's National Center for Health Statistics, the percentage of people under age 65 in families struggling to pay bills dropped from 21.7 to 20.3 percent from the first half of 2011 to the first half of 2012. For families with children up to 17 years old, the share dropped from 23.7 percent to 21.8 percent. Still, families of more than 54 million people are unable to pay their medical bills. "During this time period, those who were uninsured or who had public coverage were about twice as likely as those with private coverage to have problems paying medical bills," said study author Robin Cohen, a CDC health statistician. Read more on access to health care.