Category Archives: Environment

May 23 2014
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This Holiday Weekend, Download a Parking App and Help Reduce Emissions

It doesn’t really matter why you download a parking app this weekend. You might get a perch at the parade faster, make it to the grocery store before the steaks sell out or get that much closer to the restaurant front door. Using any parking app can reduce your driving around time, and, therefore, reduce the emissions from your car.

Studies reported by the Boston University College of Engineering have estimated that, on a daily basis, 30 percent of traffic in the downtown area of major cities is due to searching for parking spots. Over the span of one year in a small Los Angeles business district, cars cruising for parking created emissions equivalent to 38 trips around the world, burning 47,000 gallons of gasoline and producing 730 tons of carbon dioxide.

Smart Parking infographic View the whole infographic at streetline.com

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, vehicle emissions contribute to air pollution and are a major ingredient in the creation of smog in large cities. Pollution has been linked to asthma and other respiratory conditions. In addition, a 2013 study by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that 53,000 premature deaths occur each year in the United States because of vehicle emissions.

Visiting a new city or driving around at home? Search for “parking app” and the name of the city and you’ll find apps dedicated to finding parking spaces with ease. For example, the recently released Park Chicago pilot app includes meter rates for various areas of the city and directions to the closest spot, as well as hours, prices and directions for hundreds of parking garages in the city.

Getting familiar with a parking app will put you on good footing for “smart parking,” a growing concept that places sensors in parking spots and lets you reserve and even pay for a spot from your phone. The benefit to the driver is less time on the parking prowl. The benefit to cities is the data collected on how frequently spots are used, which can help cities better allocate space. Parker, an app developed by smart parking company Streetline, can even identify spots for disabled drivers, and share that data with cities to help determine whether the spaces are located where they are most needed.

But you still have to pay the bill, and check the meter. Down the road, parking apps will also be able to alert law enforcement to ticket your car if you run out your clock.

May 2 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: May 2

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CDC: Many Annual Deaths Are Preventable
Each year, nearly 900,000 Americans die prematurely from the five leading causes of death—yet 20 to 40 percent of the deaths from each cause could be prevented, according to a new study from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The five leading causes of death in the United States are heart disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke and unintentional injuries. Together they accounted for 63 percent of all U.S. deaths in 2010, with rates for each varying greatly from state to state. The study suggests that if all states had the lowest death rate observed for each cause, it would be possible to prevent:

  • 34 percent of premature deaths from heart diseases, prolonging about 92,000 lives
  • 21 percent of premature cancer deaths, prolonging about 84,500 lives
  • 39 percent of premature deaths from chronic lower respiratory diseases, prolonging about 29,000 lives
  • 33 percent of premature stroke deaths, prolonging about 17,000 lives
  • 39 percent of premature deaths from unintentional injuries, prolonging about 37,000 lives

Modifiable risk factors such smoking and obesity are largely responsible for each of the leading causes of death, according to the CDC. Many of these risks are avoidable by making changes in personal behaviors, while others are due to social, demographic, environmental, economic and geographic disparities in the neighborhoods in which people live and work. Southeastern states had the highest number of preventable deaths for each of the five causes. The study authors suggest that states with higher rates can look to states with similar populations, but better outcomes, to see what they are doing differently to address leading causes of death. Read more on community health.

Cost of Fighting Wildfires Projected to Skyrocket this Year
The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) is projecting that fighting wildfires in 2014 will cost $470 more than is currently available."With climate change contributing to longer and more intense wildfire seasons, the dangers and costs of fighting those fires increase substantially," said DOI Assistant Secretary of Policy, Management and Budget Rhea Suh. Drought conditions in the West, especially in California, combine with other factors to predict a dangerous fire season. Last year, 34 wildfire firefighters died and wildfires burned 4.1 million acres and 1,000 homes. The department would have to divert funds from other programs, which it has previously done. Department officials say climate change is a factor in the increase in wildfires. Read more on the environment.

Starting Antidepressant Treatment at Highest Doses Increases Suicide Risks for Kids and Teens
Children and young adults who start antidepressant therapy at high doses, rather than at the typically prescribed doses, appear to be at greater risk for suicidal behavior during the first 90 days of treatment, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine. The rate of suicidal behavior among children and young adults who started antidepressant therapy at high doses was about twice as high compared with a control group of patients who received a typically prescribed dose. Read more on mental health.

Apr 22 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: April 22

Study: False-Positive Mammograms Have Minimal Effect on Anxiety
Women whose mammograms suggest the presence of breast cancer that is eventually ruled out by further testing experience slightly increased anxiety that does not affect their overall health, according to a new study in the Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) Internal Medicine. Researchers from the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth College compared 534 cancer-free women whose mammograms initially suggested breast cancer to 494 women whose screenings were negative. The women were interviewed after the first mammogram but before they were cleared of a cancer diagnosis and again a year later. Immediately after their first mammogram, the women who received false-positive results had more anxiety than those who received a clean bill of health but the anxiety leveled off after one year. There was no difference in overall health between the two groups of women. Read more on cancer.

Bullying Victims Feel Psychological Effects into Middle Age
Children who are bullied suffer the psychological affects for years to come, leading to increased risk of depression and other mental health issues, according to a new study in the American Journal of Psychiatry. British researchers have found that children bullied at the ages of 7 and 11 experienced feelings of poor general health at ages 23 and 50 and poor cognitive functioning at 50. The study used surveys that were conducted over 50 years, looking at children who said they were bullied occasionally or frequently at 7 and 11, and comparing the impact at ages 23, 45 and 50. Read more on mental health.

Earth Day: The Impact of the Environment on Health
April 22 is Earth Day and people across the country are taking action to protect and improve our environment. The quality of our environmental has significant effects on our overall health. Air pollution, such as ground-level ozone and airborne particles, can irritate the respiratory system, induce asthma and even lead to lung disease. In addition, UV exposure due to ozone layer depletion can lead to skin cancer, cataracts and suppression of the immune system. Below are tips to help create a healthier planet today:

  • Conserve energy and improve air quality by turning off appliances and lights when you leave a room.
  • Keep stoves and fireplaces well maintained to reduce air pollution.
  • Plant deciduous trees near your home to provide shade from UV rays in the summer.
  • Buy energy efficient appliances produced by low- or zero-pollution facilities. 

Read more on environment.

Mar 11 2014
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Why Chipotle’s Guacamole Scare Really Matters

Lost in the late night guffaws over Chipotle’s report to investors last week that future weather changes could impact the price of avocados—and in turn the availability of guacamole—is that those changes may impact far more than just chips and dips.

The Chipotle annual report told investors that “Increasing weather volatility or other long-term changes in global weather patterns, including any changes associated with global climate change, could have a significant impact on the price or availability of some of our ingredients...[and] we may choose to temporarily suspend serving menu items, such as guacamole or one or more of our salsas...”

The chain’s concern comes from scientists’ predictions for hotter temperatures and less rainfall in upcoming decades, which could reduce the yields of crops such as avocados. But a drop in rainfall impacts so much more than guacamole. Several times this year multiple communities in California, which has faced a severe drought, issued water restrictions as stringent as how frequently people could flush their toilets.

Recently The Atlantic Cities published an online quiz about how much water it takes for common activities such as showers and laundry. The quiz was developed by an Indiana University professor who was surprised by the many wrong answers he got from the thousand people he surveyed.

Do you know how much water it takes to water the lawn? Check out the quiz here.

Mar 4 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 4

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Army, NIH Studies Look at Mental Health Risks, Resilience in U.S. Soldiers
JAMA Psychiatry
has released a collection of three articles detailing the findings of a large-scale study of mental health risk and resilience in members of the U.S. Military. Among the findings of  The Army Study to Assess Risk and Resilience in Servicemembers (Army STARRS):

  • The rise in suicide deaths from 2004 to 2009 occurred not only in currently and previously deployed soldiers, but also among soldiers never deployed.
  • Nearly half of soldiers who reported suicide attempts indicated their first attempt was prior to enlistment.
  • Soldiers reported higher rates of certain mental disorders than civilians, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), intermittent explosive disorder (recurrent episodes of extreme anger or violence), and substance use disorder.

“These studies provide knowledge on suicide risk and potentially protective factors in a military population that can also help us better understand how to prevent suicide in the public at large,” said National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) Director Thomas R. Insel, M.D.

The emphasis on mental health in the military comes at the same time as a small group of Vietnam veterans has filed suit against the U.S. government, alleging they received other-than-honorable discharges for violations that the psychiatric community and Army now understand were attributable to post-traumatic stress. The veterans say the government has resisted their attempts to upgrade the discharges. Read more on mental health.

NIH: Allergy Prevalence Consistent Across U.S. Regions, Although Type Varies
Allergy prevalence of allergies is consistent across all regions of the United States in every demographic except for children age 5 years and younger, according to a new study from the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH). Researchers analyzed blood serum data from approximately 10,000 Americans between 2005 and 2006. “Before this study, if you would have asked 10 allergy specialists if allergy prevalence varied depending on where people live, all 10 of them would have said yes, because allergen exposures tend to be more common in certain regions of the U.S.,” said Darryl Zeldin, MD, scientific director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of NIH, in a release. “This study suggests that people prone to developing allergies are going to develop an allergy to whatever is in their environment. It’s what people become allergic to that differs.” The comprehensive study also examined and outlined risk factors that would make a person more likely to develop an allergy. Read more on the environment.

Study: SNAP for Just 6 Months Increases Kids’ Food Security Significantly
Children in households that participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—previously known as the Food Stamp Program—for just six months experience significant increases in their “food security,” according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Food insecurity—or lack of easy access—is tied to a range of health and developmental problems. The study concluded that “SNAP serves a vital role in improving the health and well-being of low-income children by increasing food security” and that “Future research is needed to determine whether specific groups of children experience differential improvements in food security.” SNAP provided assistance to approximately 47 million people in 2013, with about half of those children. Read more on nutrition.

Mar 3 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: March 3

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EPA Sets Cleaner Fuel and Car Standards to Cut Air Pollution and Improve Health
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized emission standards for cars and gasoline to significantly reduce harmful pollution and prevent thousands of premature deaths and illnesses. According to the EPA, the new standards will also create efficiency improvements for cars and trucks. The standards go into effect by 2017.

The new standards cut emissions of a range of harmful pollutants that can cause premature death and respiratory illnesses. By 2030, EPA estimates that up to 2,000 premature deaths; 50,000 cases of respiratory ailments in children; 2,200 hospital admissions and asthma-related emergency room visits; and 1.4 million lost school days, work days and days when activities would be restricted due to air pollution will be prevented. Total health-related benefits in 2030 will be between $6.7 and $19 billion annually.

The program will also reduce exposure to pollution near roads. More than 50 million people live, work, or go to school in close proximity to high-traffic roadways, and the average American spends more than one hour traveling along roads each day. Read more on environment.

Study Finds Many Parents Support Flu Shots at School
Half of parents in the United States would agree to have their children get their flu shots at school, according to a survey from the Brown School of Public Policy at Washington University in St. Louis. Researchers at the school conducted a nationally representative online survey of more than 1,000 parents of school-aged children. Convenience was the chief reason for parents supporting flu shots at school. Thirty two percent of parents surveyed were not sure if they would consent to giving the shots at school and 17 percent said they would not consent. Most likely to support flu shots at school were college-educated parents and parents of uninsured children. The study was published in the journal Vaccine.

Flu season can last in the United States through April, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is especially the case in communities where the season started later in the fall or early winter. In a recent report, CDC researchers found that the flu vaccine “offered substantial protection against the flu this [2013-2014] season,” reducing a vaccinated person’s risk of having to go to the doctor for flu illness by about 60 percent across all ages

 “We are committed to the development of better flu vaccines, but existing flu vaccines are the best preventive tool available now. This season vaccinated people were substantially better off than people who did not get vaccinated. The season is still ongoing. If you haven’t yet, you should still get vaccinated," said CDC director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, in a recent release. Read more on flu.

Online Ratings Currently Not Used Much to Choose Physicians
Online ratings that review physicians can influence which doctor a patient chooses, but most patients rank insurance acceptance and distance from home or office as more important, according to a new study in JAMA.

  • 9 percent of responders said they consider doctor rating websites “very important” in their search for a physician
  • 89 percent of responders ranked “accepts my health insurance” as “very important.”
  • 59 percent said a convenient office location very important

The study also found that only five percent of those surveyed have ever posted ratings online, although two-thirds of responders were aware of ranking sites, a higher percentage than found in previous studies.

“These may seem useful, but no one is regulating this ‘crowdsourced’ information about doctors. There’s no way to verify its reliability, so online ratings may not currently be the best resource for patients,” David Hanauer, a primary care pediatrician and clinical associate professor of pediatrics at C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Detroit. Read more on community health.

Feb 4 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: February 4

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FDA’s ‘The Real Cost’ Multimedia Campaign to Graphically Depict the Health Consequences of Smoking
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has launched a new national public education campaign combating youth tobacco use. “The Real Cost” multimedia campaign—with television, radio, print, online and out-of-home advertising—brings together vivid imagery and compelling facts to graphically depict the health consequences of smoking, such as tooth loss and skin damage. The new campaign, which will run in 200 U.S. markets for at least 12 months, targets the 10 million kids ages 12 to 17 who have never smoked, but are at risk, as well as kids who have experimented with smoking. “We know that early intervention is critical, with almost nine out of every ten regular adult smokers picking up their first cigarette by age 18,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD. Each day, more than 3,200 youth under ages and younger try their first cigarette and more than 700 become daily smokers. Read more on tobacco.

HHS Expands Patient Access to Lab Records
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is expanding patient access to health records by allowing patients, or their designated “personal representative,” access complete test reports from laboratories. The final rule also eliminates the exception under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 Privacy Rule to a patient’s right to access protected health information when it is held by a CLIA-certified or CLIA-exempt laboratory. “The right to access personal health information is a cornerstone of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) Privacy Rule,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. “Information like lab results can empower patients to track their health progress, make decisions with their health care professionals, and adhere to important treatment plans.” Read more on access to health care.

Study: Climate Change Could Mean Significantly More Heat-related Summer Deaths
The combination of climate change and the growing elderly population could mean a dramatic increase in the number of heat-related summer deaths over the next decades, according to a new study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Using data on weather patterns and death rates from 1993 to 2006, researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Public Health England, concluded that if no preventive measures are taken then the number of 2,000 annual heat-related deaths in England and Wales will climb 257 percent by the 2050s, while the number of 41,000 deaths related to cold will fall two percent. People ages 75 and older are at the greatest risk. Preventive measures could air conditioning, as well as more sustainable options such as shading and changes in building insulation and construction materials. Read more on the environment.

Jan 28 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: January 28

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Obese Children More Susceptible to Air Pollution-Related Asthma
Obese children are more susceptible to air pollution-related asthma, according to a new study in the journal Environmental Research. Researchers followed the health of 311 children, ages 5 and 6, in predominantly Dominican and African-American neighborhoods of New York City, finding that high exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)—a family of air pollutants—was only associated with asthma among obese children The study determined that obese children exposed to the PAH chemicals 1-methylphenanthrene and 9- methylphenanthrene were two to three times more likely to have asthma. PAHs are emitted by vehicles, cigarette smoke, cooking, incense, burning candles and various other indoor sources. Two possible explanations for the disparity are that obese children tend to be less active, so are more likely to be exposed to indoors sources of PAH, and that they may breathe more rapidly than children of healthier weights Better understanding of the risk factors opens the door to more targeted interventions. “These findings suggest that we may be able to bring down childhood asthma rates by curbing indoor, as well as outdoor, air pollution and by implementing age-appropriate diet and exercise programs,” said senior author Rachel Miller, MD, professor of medicine (in pediatrics) and environmental health sciences, and co-deputy director of the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health at the Mailman School of Public Health. Read more on pediatrics.

Report: Antibiotics Dangerous to Humans Still Used in Livestock
Despite knowing their risk to humans, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to allow the use of certain antibiotics as additives in animal feed and water, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council based on documents acquired under the Freedom of Information Act. In a review from 2001 to 2010 the FDA concluded that 30 such antibiotics posed a significant risk of exposing people to antibiotic- resistance bacteria. The drugs were approved for “non-therapeutic” use in farm animals, such as preventing disease or promoting growth of the animals, instead of treating specific illnesses. In December the FDA announced its intention to combat the spread of antibacterial resistance by prohibiting the use of medically important antimicrobials in food animals for food production purposes, while also adding veterinary oversight to therapeutic use of the drugs in animals. Read more on food safety.

Residents of Public Housing Developments, Rental Assistance Units See Significant Gap in Oral Health Care
People who live in public housing developments and rental assistance units are less likely to have routine preventive dental care and more likely to have suffered serious oral health issues related to tooth loss, according to a new study in The Journal of Urban Health. The study was conducted by the Partners in Health and Housing Prevention Research Center (PHH-PRC) at the Boston University School of Public Health. The researchers looked at four indicators for people living in Boston’s publicly supported housing: having had a dental visit in the last year, having had a dental cleaning in the last year, having had six or more teeth extracted, and having dental insurance. They found that people in public housing, despite being as likely to have had a dental visit in the past year, were significantly less likely to have had a cleaning. The gap in health care is especially serious for the seniors in this already vulnerable population: Compared to younger residents, seniors 65-75 years old were 30 times as likely to have had six or more teeth removed. Read more on prevention.

Jan 23 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: January 23

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HHS to Form Committee to Address Children’s Needs in Disasters
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is forming a new advisory committee to help meet the particular needs of children before, during and after a disaster or other public health emergency. The committee will seek to bring together experts from the scientific, public health and medical fields. HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) also created the Children’s HHS Interagency Leadership on Disasters (CHILD) working group in 2010, which has so far increased interagency coordination and recommendations to improve lifesaving care for children in disasters; developed ways to mitigate the behavioral and psychological needs of children in disasters; and identification of medications and vaccines for children in emergencies. The deadline for nominations for committee membership is Feb. 14. Read more on disasters.

Study: Cold Weather May Help People Lose Weight
There’s at least one benefit to the frigid air currently blanketing much of the country—regular exposure to mild cold may help people lose weight and sustain healthier weights, according to a new study in the journal Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. However, that also means that the during the winter, when most buildings keep their temperature warmer, our body is working less to stay warm, so using less energy. "Since most of us are exposed to indoor conditions 90 percent of the time, it is worth exploring health aspects of ambient temperatures," said first author of the article Wouter van Marken Lichtenbelt of Maastricht University Medical Center in The Netherlands. "What would it mean if we let our bodies work again to control body temperature? We hypothesize that the thermal environment affects human health and more specifically that frequent mild cold exposure can significantly affect our energy expenditure over sustained time periods." Read more on obesity.

AHA, NFL App to Encourage Kids’ Physical Activity
The American Heart Association and the National Football League have released a new app, NFL Play 60, to encourage kids to get the full 60 minutes of daily recommended physical activity. In the interactive running experience, players dropped into a virtual world full of obstacles, and have to run, jump, pivot and turn in place to make their app character do the same and navigate the world.  “One-third of U.S. children and adolescents are overweight or obese and at a higher risk for heart disease and stroke. Engaging young people in physical activity is one of the best ways to decrease their risk for heart disease,” said Mariell Jessup, MD, President of the American Heart Association.  “We’re proud to partner with the NFL in developing an innovative way to reach adolescents, through their schools and now via their smartphones, in an effort to impact their lives earlier to make their lives longer.” The app is available for free download in the iTunes store starting today and will be available for Android on Feb. Read more on physical activity.

Jan 13 2014
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Recommended Reading: How Much Noise is Too Much Noise?

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A new report from the University of Michigan School of Public Health and published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives urges government at the local, state and federal levels to address noise pollution, which the study estimates impacts 104 million Americans. The researchers say noise not only impacts hearing, but also contributes to heart disease, hypertension, sleep disturbances, stress, learning difficulties and even injuries.

"Everyone complains about noise, yet we do virtually nothing about it in this country," says Richard Neitzel, PHD, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the School of Public Health and a co-author of the new report. “Noise is really up there in terms of health problems it causes, but it gets no attention—especially compared to other common exposures such as air pollution.”

Links between noise and health impacts are still being studied, but stress is thought to be a key factor.

The report suggests that noise be included in the federal public health agenda and recommends areas for regulation to reduce noise levels, including setting emission levels, improving information dissemination about the dangers of noise and a call to conduct more research to better understand the impact of noise on the population. Neitzel’s report includes recommendations for the National Prevention Strategy, a strategy to achieve prevention efforts across federal agencies:

  • Exert noise control through direct regulation, setting maximum emissions levels.
  • Require emissions disclosure on products, such as children’s toys.
  • Improve information dissemination about the dangers of noise.
  • Conduct more research to fully understand the impact of noise on the population.

The researchers also suggest ways state and local governments could fill the gaps:

  • Enact regulations on sources of noise that aren’t covered by the Environmental Protection Agency or other federal agencies.
  • Adopt procurement policies to reduce community noise caused by construction, emergency vehicles and maintenance equipment.
  • Take steps to build or renovate housing that protects people from noise health initiatives across the federal government.

>>Bonus Link: Read a NewPublicHealth blog about a study by a visiting attorney fellow of the Network for Public Health Law on the health impacts of environmental noise.