Public/Global Health

Public/Global Health

HHS awards $352 million to prepare for disasters

The Department of Health and Human Services announced Friday that it was awarding more than $352 million to help hospitals and healthcare systems across the country prepare for disasters.

The Hospital Preparedness Program (HPP) grants allow recipients to hire emergency preparedness experts and buy mobile medical units and equipment to communicate with local emergency responders. The grants also help communities register volunteers and track the number of available hospital beds, vital for handling a surge of patients after disasters.

"We want every community to be prepared and resilient when faced with any type of health hazard and we've seen preparedness steps pay off this year across the country with severe storms, floods, and tornados [sic]," Nicole Lurie, assistant secretary for preparedness and response, said in a statement. "State health officials have attributed their ability to respond as well as they have to the preparedness levels they’ve reached through the HPP and other federal programs."

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Chamber of Commerce assails proposed food marketing restrictions

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is turning its considerable firepower on proposed food marketing restrictions, questioning both their legality and their usefulness.

Industry criticism has been rising since four federal agencies first proposed voluntary guidance on advertising to children aged 2 to 17 in April. The Interagency Working Group — made up of the Federal Trade Commission, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture — is seeking public input on its recommendation to restrict advertising for foods that don't contribute to a healthful diet or could cause health and weight problems.

Proponents say the guidelines would encourage food manufacturers to voluntarily cut down on sugar, fat and salt that contribute to rampant childhood obesity and other health problems. Critics call them an assault on the First Amendment.

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AIDS groups defend healthcare law

Healthcare cuts and hurdles to implementing healthcare reform would undermine major steps toward increasing HIV and AIDS testing, advocates and congressional Democrats said Friday.

Combating HIV and AIDS requires more people to get tested. "It also means protecting the Affordable Care Act," said Julie Scofield of the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors.

She said the healthcare law, particularly its dedicated fund for prevention and public health programs, is critical to increasing AIDS testing and treatment.

Congressional Democrats made the same point during a news conference Friday to encourage AIDS testing. 

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News bites: Public health workers needed

Healthcare reform could flounder without more investment in public health workers, says a new report from the American Public Health Association.

Former CMS official Robert Berenson, now with the Urban Institute, lays out "small but important" steps to get Medicare spending under control in an interview with Kaiser Health News.

The SEIU presses Congress to give home care workers more labor rights.

Admissions for substance abuse treatment — particularly for prescription drugs — are on the rise, says the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

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IOM urges attention to obesity in infants and young children

The Institute of Medicine is urging that efforts to prevent childhood obesity begin as early as birth.

A new report recommends evidence-based strategies and policies to assess the beginnings of obesity and encourage prevention in children younger than 5. About 10 percent of children from infancy to age 2 and slightly over 20 percent of children ages 2 through 5 are overweight or obese, twice the rate in the 1980s.

The report, by the IOM's Committee on Obesity Prevention Policies for Young Children, encourages more active playtime for children in preschool and childcare. It also recommends requiring childcare providers to promote healthy sleeping durations in their facilities.

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HHS announces $10 million for workplace prevention programs

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on Thursday made available $10 million for employers to improve their workers' health, part of the Prevention and Public Health Fund created by the healthcare reform law.

The initiative, according to HHS, aims to improve workplaces so that they support healthy lifestyles and reduce risk factors for chronic diseases like heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes. Applications for the Comprehensive Health Programs to Address Physical Activity, Nutrition and Tobacco Use in the Workplace"are being accepted until Aug. 8, 2011

"Spiraling healthcare costs and declines in worker productivity due to poor health are eroding the bottom line of American businesses," HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. "This new initiative will help companies of all sizes implement strategies to improve employee health and contain health costs driven largely by chronic diseases."

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IOM recommends public health assessment of government policies

Local, state and federal agencies should consider the potential public health impacts of major legislation and regulations such as agriculture subsidies, zoning decisions and education policy, the Institute of Medicine argues in a new report.

The proposal is not unlike environmental assessments required since the 1969 National Environmental Policy Act. It's included in the second of two reports on public health strategies sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The recommendation comes as House Republicans are leading the charge to curtail regulations, but IOM experts defended their approach in a conference call with reporters.

"We … think it's worth looking at what the health implications are of different alternatives, so that they can inform the ultimate decision-making," said Steven Teutsch, the vice chairman of the IOM committee that wrote the report. "It's not a particularly pro-regulatory or anti-regulatory approach, but it's a balanced approach that needs to be applied. So whether you're in favor of school vouchers or whether you're in favor of increasing spending by local communities on education, you can evaluate the health impacts of these different modalities."

"This might be viewed as another level of regulatory activity," added committee member Leslie Beitsch, "but it might also be viewed as a common sense approach to make sure that things are considered together for their total impact on society in the larger sense."

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Public health groups applaud graphic warning labels for tobacco

Cancerous lesions, a corpse and a suffocating child are among the nine graphic visuals that will be prominently displayed on cigarette packs and ads starting in September 2012.

A host of public health groups immediately applauded the Food and Drug Administration's unveiling of the graphics on Tuesday. They are required under the 2009 Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which gave the FDA the power to regulate tobacco.

Tobacco use is the leading cause of premature and preventable death in the United States, responsible for 443,000 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It also costs the economy nearly $200 billion every year in medical costs and lost productivity.

The new labels represent the first change in 25 years to existing warnings that some public health experts believe are ineffective because of their size and placement. The new labels will be significantly larger and will include the toll-free number for cessation programs and "vivid graphics depicting the dangers of tobacco use," according to the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ASC CAN).

"Requiring the new labels to include quit-line information is a positive step, but to properly leverage the phone number's potential to help smokers quit, states must fully fund their tobacco prevention and cessation programs," ACS CAN President Christopher Hansen said in a statement. "Only with proper funding can states adequately address the needs of smokers who are attempting to quit and prevent others from ever starting."

The American Heart Association also applauded the new graphics.

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US seeing continued progress on cancer

Almost 900,000 cancer deaths were avoided in the U.S. between 1990 and 2007 thanks to steady progress in fighting the disease, the American Cancer Society says in a new report released Friday.

Still, the report found that not all segments of the populations benefited equally — the least educated are more than twice as likely to die as Americans with the most education — while the death rate has remained flat for American Indian and native Alaskan women. And the disease is still expected to kill almost 572,000 people in the U.S. this year, with 1.6 million new cases projected to occur.

"The nearly 900,000 cancer deaths avoided over a 17-year period stand in stark contrast to the repeated claim that cancer death rates have not budged," American Cancer Society CEO John Seffrin said in a statement. "Nonetheless, we refuse to be satisfied, and are committed to doing whatever it takes, not only to ensure cancer death rates continue to drop, but to accelerate the decline."

Separately, the American Society of Clinical Oncology recently created a new site to mark 40 years of progress since President Nixon signed the National Cancer Act in 1971. The site’s main feature is a set of interactive timelines on the 14 major cancer types (broken down by type of advance – radiation, surgery, prevention, etc.)  that detail the research advances that made Friday's positive report possible.

This post was updated at 4 p.m.

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