Archive for 2008

What’s in a name?

Although Shakespeare tells us that a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, when is comes to the semantics of health reform, is that really the case?

As our nation debates ways to improve the health of the public, what is primarily being discussed is universal health coverage. And this is usually encapsulated under the larger umbrella of health care reform, a term often used to describe the road to universal access to health services. You won’t find a Wikipedia entry for “health reform,” but there is one for “health care reform” and its definition focuses solely on the health care delivery system.

The problem with this situation? Although universal coverage and access to doctors are important, focusing on health care reform — instead of the broader concept of health reform — maintains the current emphasis on treating sickness and overlooks a much more cost-effective solution to improving health: prevention.

Calling it health care reform allows the emphasis to center on the medical care system and treatment of those already ill while failing to acknowledge the decades of research showing the importance of intervening on the social determinants of health and changing where we live, work, learn and play to support healthy behaviors.

So although health care reform has come to be used interchangeably with health reform, it’s essential that as we seek ways to improve health in America we don’t allow the focus to remain on the medical care system. We need to ensure that our leaders understand the importance of a health reform package built around the population-based strategies of public health.

This is a time when parsing words could make a monumental difference.

Share your thoughts on this issue. How important is it to you that our leaders move away from the language of health care reform?

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Now, the real work begins

Members of Congress are wasting little time bringing President-elect Barack Obama’s health reform promises into focus. Priorities are being tapped, leaders have been nominated and the often slowing-moving legislative ball is on an optimistic roll. Let’s just hope it gathers enough speed, support and forward-looking ideas to plug the growing hole that is the U.S. health care crisis.

Shortly after the November elections, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, was chosen to lead a congressional working group tasked with developing the prevention and public health aspects of a national health reform bill, and late last week Harkin held a hearing on “Prevention and Public Health: The Key to Transforming Our Sick Care System.” At the hearing, Harkin thanked everyone for coming to “discuss why a new emphasis on prevention and strengthening our public health system are critical to transforming America’s health care system.”

“We need to improve the performance of our health care system,” Harkin said. “And we need to get health care costs under control. But those things will not happen unless we place a major new emphasis on wellness and disease prevention, while strengthening America’s public health system.”

(Hear that? That’s the sound of hundreds of thousands of public health workers breathing a sigh of relief as public health finally takes its rightful spot in the health reform debate. That other mumbling sound? Well, that’s also public health workers. If you listen closely, sentences start to form: “It’s about time.” “We still have a lot of work ahead of us.”)

Of course, the Harkin hearing is just the beginning. So start writing letters, e-mailing your ideas and reminding your congressional representatives of public health’s central role in better health, which is what 2009’s National Public Health Week is all about. For ideas on issues to mention, you can view APHA’s letter to Harkin our Web site.

You can also listen to the
Harkin hearing. Also — and this is way cool — visit Obama’s Web site to post your comments about health reform for the transition team or to sign up to lead a health reform discussion in your home, community, local coffee shop, diner, church.......

And, of course, leave us your comments! How hopeful are you for public health’s future?

Join Us in “Building the Foundation for a Healthy America”

For more than a decade, communities around the country have celebrated National Public Health Week (NPHW) each April to help protect and improve our nation’s health. Each year, we pick a different issue around which to come together and focus our efforts. This year, with a presidential election and important state and local elections upon us and with the nation’s attention directed towards our failing health system, NPHW 2009 will focus on the role public health must play in improving our nation’s health.

To understand the importance of this year’s theme, one need only to look as far as the startling health indicators that show that, even though we spend more on health care than any other nation, our nation is falling behind in many important measures of what it means to be healthy.

U.S. life expectancy has reached a record high of 78.1 years but still ranks 46th — behind Japan and most of Europe. Even though the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported some progress, a baby born in the United States is more likely to die before its first birthday than a child born in almost any other developed country. It is estimated that one in 20 residents in the nation’s capital are HIV-positive. Disparities persist with ethnic minority populations having nearly eight times the death rate for key health conditions than that of non-minority populations. And the list goes on…

Despite the dramatic progress achieved through a century of public health advancements — the elimination of polio, fluoridation of drinking water and seatbelt laws — our nation’s health falls far short of its potential. Our progress has stalled, and we have reached a point where we must examine our health system and the foundation upon which it stands.

We have the potential to greatly improve our population’s health in the future. By recommitting ourselves to support our nation’s public health system, we can build on the successes of the past and establish the solid foundation needed for a healthy nation. To this end, NPHW 2009 will serve as the launch of APHA’s new campaign – Building the Foundation for a Healthy America.

As we begin this journey, we must all be part of the solution. It’s our job to speak up and share first-hand experiences about the challenges and opportunities we face in creating a healthy nation. Please join us as we celebrate National Public Health Week, April 6-12, 2009, and work to build a solid foundation for a healthy America.

— Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP, FACEP (E), executive director of the American Public Health Association

We’ve only just begun

This year’s National Public Health Week might have ended, but our work to keep the connections between climate change and health in the spotlight has just gotten started.

First and foremost, APHA would like to thank the many people, advocates, workers, policy-makers, organizations, institutions and businesses that helped make National Public Health Week 2008 a resounding success. Thousands of individuals, groups and organizations got involved and signed the Healthy Climate Pledge, joined as official partners, downloaded resources and toolkits, and planned community events.

The week also brought a wealth of attention to the intersections between climate change and the health of our communities. Resolutions recognizing the health impacts of climate were introduced in both the U.S. House and Senate to coincide with NPHW. Two congressional hearings were also held on the topic, with APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin testifying for the House hearing and several other APHA members appearing as witnesses for both the House and Senate hearings. Along with all of the activity on the Hill, people from coast to coast read how a changing climate will impact their well-being, thanks to media coverage in outlets such as Time magazine and USA Today.

And be sure to check out The Nation’s Health next month for a wrap-up of NPHW events held across the country.

Of course, there’s no reason why we can’t make the climate change activities of National Public Health Week last all year round — after all, saving the planet is no small task. APHA will be continuing its work to unite and strengthen public health’s voice in the climate change discussion and needs your continued help and support. That means there’s still plenty of time to visit the National Public Health Week Web site to download toolkits on how to engage your community, as well as to sign our Healthy Climate Pledge or lend your organization’s support to the Blueprint. Also, be on the lookout for APHA Action Alerts asking you to let your representatives hear from you about your support for national legislation aimed at reducing our national climate change contribution.

Here at APHA, we’re in this for the long haul and hope you’ll be joining us for the (environmentally friendly, health-promoting, awareness-building) ride.

Green Revolution

If you can’t get your fill of info on going green, be sure to visit recent National Public Health Week blog entries on Revolution Health. There you’ll find posts from Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of APHA, on climate change and health.

Home improvement that pays you back

There are lots of folks telling you to do something to make your home more “green” these days. As a home efficiency expert at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there is only one measurable, cost-effective way to make your home greener and pay yourself back for the effort: make your home more energy efficient. Energy efficiency not only pays you back with lower energy bills, it also improves comfort and helps you go green by lowering your carbon footprint.

OK, the next question is: how do I start? At EPA, we usually say the easy first step is installing energy efficient lighting, like compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). You can then buy ENERGY STAR® qualified appliances and home electronics, which is easy to do and effective no matter where you live.

The next thing to improve is your home’s envelope — the outer walls, ceiling, floors, windows and doors. Improving your home’s envelope means sealing up the places around your home where air leaks in or out and then adding insulation in places that are easy and cost effective. The attic and the basement as well as crawlspaces are usually best places to start. And if you’re handy, you can do these projects yourself. ENERGY STAR has a free “Do-it-yourself Guide to Sealing and Insulating Your Home” on their Web site. Alternatively, you may want to hire an advanced home energy contractor to do the work.

Finally, you can tackle your heating and cooling system, including your duct work. Most of this work should be hired out to a professional heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) contactor. Be sure to ask them if they check, seal and insulate ducts. If your system is more than 15 years old and needs replacement, that is a good opportunity to make an efficiency upgrade to the system.

For more information on all these improvements and other free online tools, check out the ENERGY STAR Web site.

Doug Anderson
National Project Manager

Work it!

More and more people are taking their green philosophy and practices to work. They refuse to check their morals and beliefs at the door and are helping businesses take the lead on climate change.

Likewise, businesses are finding that incorporating green practices can save them money, reduce liability, increase the health and well-being of occupants, and raise employee performance.

Thus, National Public Health Week is the perfect time to look at the connections between climate change, health and your workplace. We spend 90 percent of our time indoors, and 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions result from commercial office buildings. In fact, that is the largest segment of emissions in Arlington, Va. — not transportation, surprisingly.

Here in Arlington, under the leadership of Paul Ferguson and the Arlington County Board, we formed the Fresh Arlington Initiative to Reduce Emissions program, commonly known as Fresh AIRE. The program is designed to help businesses and residents save money and leave a lighter footprint on the environment through energy efficiency and green building, recycling, mass transit and recycling.

Here are a few tips for your office to get you moving in the right direction and to help you do your part!

1. Form a green team and set organizational goals.
2. Evaluate your current practices (bulk purchasing, recycling, energy conservation, water conservation, etc). Changing some of these practices are good for the planet and can save you money in the process.
3. Create an action plan.
4. Dive in!

Some ideas:

1. Use reusable mugs, plates and flatware.
2. Implement double-sided printing as the rule, rather than the exception.
3. Make use of tap water or filtered tap water rather than bottles.
4. Use mass transit, ride your bike and walk to work.
5. Set your computer monitor to sleep after 10 minutes, not screen save.
6. Monitor your heating, cooling and water bills. If they’re included in your rent, consider forming an entire building green team to monitor overall building performance with the goal of reducing energy, water and waste.
7. Evaluate Energy Star efficiency standards as well as green building standards for commercial buildings, known as the LEED system, for possible application to your office to show your commitment.

Adam Segel-Moss, LEED AP
Green Building Outreach Coordinator, Fresh AIRE
Arlington County, Va., Department of Environmental Services

Friendly foods, happy planet

When it comes to climate change, we don’t hear nearly enough about food.

Consider this: About one-third of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions come from actions related to food production, specifically agriculture and land use. And that one-third doesn’t include emissions from food processing, transportation, refrigeration, cooking and waste. Lucky for us, eating better for the climate is usually a win-win situation, with co-benefits for our health and the environment.

The most important way to reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions is to cut back on beef and dairy. About 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from livestock, mostly due to cow belching (for real!) and deforestation to raise cattle and feed. In fact, a recent Lancet article suggests that to stabilize livestock-related greenhouse gas emissions at 2005 levels by 2050 (a goal well beneath the 80 percent emissions cuts promoted by many advocates and presidential candidates), Americans would need to eat nearly two-thirds less meat. Not ready to go that far? Could you do it once a week? As a start, consider joining the Meatless Monday campaign to cut back by 15 percent.

People often ask me: “Which would you rather, local or organic?” Here I respond: “Both” and “It depends.” We need a lot more U.S.-based data to help prioritize food choices, but the answer will always vary depending on specifics of production, location, season, etc.

A good goal is to seek out foods that are local AND organic AND in season. Plus, try for foods that are minimally processed, unpackaged, made without manufactured fertilizers and pesticides, need little refrigeration or cooking, and contain few or no animal products. Avoid unseasonal foods transported by air or raised in greenhouses. Also, cut back on food waste by looking for long shelf-life foods as well as foods you love to eat. One way to satisfy a lot of these criteria: find and come on out to your local farmers’ market! (By bike, of course.)

Going beyond the individual level to reduce our food-related greenhouse gas emissions, a more comprehensive public health approach includes pushing for agricultural policies that promote sustainable food production, distribution and affordability. It includes work to change the incentives for food overproduction. It includes research and lifecycle analysis, plus improved food labeling to help consumers make informed choices. Overall, we need food and agriculture concerns to be better integrated into our national climate change policy.

This Wednesday of National Public Health Week, on “Eat Differently” day, join APHA in its commitment to a healthy, sustainable food system and consider making at least one dietary change to improve your health and reduce your carbon footprint.

Roni Neff, PhD
Research Director
Center for a Livable Future,
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

The road less traveled

As National Public Health Week gets rolling, I am excited that we at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC) are again a partner. RTC already knows the link between providing people with safe places to be active and reaping the benefits of a healthier community. But did you know that trails and health also come together to fight climate change?

The American public is in a unique position to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases while increasing physical activity by walking and biking more and driving less. This kind of “active transportation” is a twofer — not only are you decreasing your carbon output, you’re getting healthier at the same time.

Changing your travel habits is easier than you think. Nearly half of all trips in the United States are three miles or less, but the vast majority of these trips are taken by car. Since Tuesday’s Healthy Climate Pledge behavior is to “travel differently,” I urge you to rethink how you make that short trip to the store or commute to the office, and consider walking or bicycling instead of driving.

Think of it this way: a three-mile bike ride will take the average person less than 20 minutes to complete. If you ride your bike there and back, you’ve already exceeded the surgeon general’s recommended 30 minutes of physical activity for the day!

To help you make this even easier (and even more fun), RTC provides a trail search engine tool on our home page, available free to the public. Click “Find a Trail” and let the adventure begin. You might find a trail in your area that will take you to the grocery store, the movies or out to dinner. I have!

Once you discover the pleasure in traveling differently, we hope you’ll let us know by taking our Burn Calories, Not Carbon!™ Pledge. Taking the pledge lets you make a personal commitment to walking and biking more and driving less. You can also learn more about our efforts to provide America’s communities with rail-trails and other infrastructures that provide us with safe, healthy and sustainable transportation choices.

I hope to see you “traveling differently” out on the rail-trails with me this spring. Together, we can improve the health of our people and our planet.

Keith Laughlin
President, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Preparing for an uncertain future

As we kick off National Public Health Week, we join the World Health Organization in focusing on climate change and health. And we cannot afford to wait to prepare for and mitigate the impacts of climate change around the globe.

Over the past several years, we have seen a major focus on public health preparedness for disasters, terrorism and other public health emergencies. It’s time for climate change to join the list.

Climate change poses risks to human health in many ways, from severe weather events and the emergence of new disease patterns, to impacts on food and water supplies. Additionally, we know that already vulnerable populations will face an even higher risk of suffering poor health effects under climate change’s impacts.

This year, we saw unprecedented numbers of tornadoes in the mid-portion of the United States during the month of February, with resultant damage to homes and infrastructures. In recent summers, we have seen heat waves in large cities leading to multiple heat-related deaths, particularly among elderly persons who were unable to leave their homes to seek shelter in cooler places. We do not yet know how climate change may affect the spread of disease, but we do know that it is likely to affect animal species and their migration patterns and geographic distribution.

However, the work that we have done in preparing for disasters and other public health emergencies can help us in addressing problems that we are seeing related to climate change. We can use the knowledge and skills that we have developed to improve surveillance of emerging diseases and the health effects of climate change; provide temporary shelter for people who are evacuated from their homes, including those who have complex health problems or impairments that restrict their ability to perform daily activities; and to communicate effectively with our communities about preparedness, risks and mitigation of severe weather events.

We will not easily solve the problems created by climate change, but we can prepare for its health effects and work to ensure that we are protecting the health of all people.

Sign on to the Health Climate Pledge today and agree to do your part to “be prepared” for climate change.

Linda C. Degutis, DrPH, MSN
President, APHA

A greenprint for healthy living

After several months of convening conversations involving some of the nation’s leading public health and climate change experts, APHA unveiled its first-ever blueprint for combating the health impacts of climate change this past weekend.

The blueprint was rolled out during the course of two press events, which were covered by more than 70 reporters! Featured at the events were Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of APHA, Dr. David Satcher, former U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Edward Maibach, professor and director of the Center of Excellence in Climate Change Communication Research at George Mason University, and Dr. Jonathan Patz, a widely recognized expert on the health effects of global environmental change and a lead author of reports from the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The blueprint’s top recommendations for the public health community call for:

  • Education and outreach, working to ensure that public health concerns are included in policies and programs related to climate change;
  • Research, such as vulnerability assessments for specific communities and federally funded analyses of how the health impacts vary by region and population;
  • Advocacy, including helping decision-makers understand the climate-health connection and strengthening the capacity of the public health work force to prepare and respond;
  • Support of best practices that build on existing public health programs that can help address climate change and that promote the development of healthy communities; and
  • Healthy behaviors such as helping the public health system go green, and walking or biking instead of driving a car, as well as reducing, reusing and recycling.

Recommendations for the public are outlined as part of a Healthy Climate Pledge that individuals around the country will commit to during National Public Health Week and beyond. The public is asked to:

  • Be prepared
  • Travel differently
  • Eat differently
  • Green their workplaces
  • Green their homes

Get involved today by downloading the recommendations for the public health community and signing on to the Healthy Climate Pledge.

Public health goes green

Check out the second story in an ongoing series on climate change and public health being published in The Nation’s Health newspaper. Highlighting what public health departments across the nation are doing to reduce their environmental footprints, the article also examines how climate change is becoming a major issue within the public health arena. The article will also be published later this month on The Nation’s Health Web site.

Fighting climate change one hour at a time

What are you doing at 8 p.m. on Saturday? How about joining people around the world in making a statement about climate change?

Created to take a stand against climate change, Earth Hour uses the simple action of turning off the lights for one hour to deliver a powerful message about the need for action on global warming.

Want to add your voice to the chorus? Join the campaign by turning off your lights and non-essential electrical appliances for one hour on the evening of March 29 at 8 p.m. local time.

Walking the walk: APHA’s Green Team

As part of our efforts to lead by example, APHA is on a quest to move toward greener ways of doing things.

As a first step, a "green team" was established last year that meets monthly to talk about environmental concerns and action items that APHA can work toward. A brown bag lunch screening of “An Inconvenient Truth” kicked off the green team efforts. Since then, a green team logo has been designed, and green tips and reminders have been posted throughout the building regarding water usage, recycling, avoiding bottled water and other ways to green our workspace. All recycling containers have been relabeled for clarity and now include paper, plastic and glass bottles, as well as newspaper and cardboard recycling. The green team also arranged a visit to a nearby green roof to learn about the costs and benefits and to see if that technology might benefit APHA.

Monthly “green facts” are e-mailed to staff to get them thinking about small changes they can make in their lives that can make a big difference. A “take the stairs” program was started to promote exercise and reduce use of the elevators — another great example of how doing what’s good for your health and doing what’s good for the environment are often the same thing!

Other environmental efforts at APHA supported by the green team include a switch to 100 percent post-consumer content copier paper, elimination of styrofoam cups throughout the building, use of environmentally friendly cleaning supplies and recycled-content paper towels, and an energy audit to help identify and correct temperature extremes in the building.

Future items on the green team’s agenda include volunteering for a local stream clean-up effort, renewing our push to encourage staff to use the stairs and establishing a battery recycling program. Of course, there is always more to be done and more that we can do collectively. The green team looks forward to learning from the great ideas that are shared throughout this year’s National Public Health Week.

Is your organization working to green your workspace? Share your strategies with others by leaving a comment!

Class act

After talking to and working with a variety of schools and programs of public health, I’ve gotten a sense of what students across the country are doing to promote this year’s National Public Health Week. Below are just a few examples of what students are doing to play their part in fighting climate change.

Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Md.

• The school’s curriculum includes multiple classes related to climate change, including a sustainability seminar, and classes on the global climate and public health. The MPH program also has a new concentration in climate change and sustainability.
• Johns Hopkins, as an institution, has pledged to go green (sustainability, not just carbon neutrality) and is taking positive steps toward this goal.
• Students participated in Focus the Nation’s interactive webcast, ”The 2% Solution.”
• The student health and human rights group has sponsored multiple speakers on the topic.

Emory University Rollins School of Public Health, Atlanta, Ga.

Themes and planning committees have been organized for each day of National Public Health Week, and activities will include hosting a live “Inconvenient Truth” speaker on Monday night, working to make an administration picnic sustainable and organizing competitive events between departments.

Temple University, Philadelphia, Pa.

Students will send out daily topical e-mails to the entire university community during National Public Health Week, conduct outreach to local middle schools with presentations and activities about climate change, and partner with the Drexel University panel program, “Your Health, Your Home, Your Neighborhood.”

Is there something going on to fight climate change at your school that you want to share? Post a comment below to let everyone know what your campus is doing and how other schools might replicate it!

Tamar Klaiman, MPH
APHA Student Assembly Chair

Save your money, save the world

According to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Report, if everyone consumed like North Americans we’d need five planets to support us. Yep, you read that right — five planets!! What does that say about the effect our consumption is having on the one planet we actually have?

Many supporters of living green to fight climate change talk about the importance of buying smart. And they’re right. Just think about the McMansions, huge SUVs, RVs, wastefully packaged goods, energy inefficient appliances, all the cheap goods sold at your nearest big-box store — and anything else you can think of that has become synonymous with our consumer culture. Our choices as consumers have a huge role to play in whether or not we’re able to lessen our impact on the planet.

But often missing from the buying smart discussion is the equally important concept of buying less. It might not be a popular idea in our society, and it’s a hard habit to break, but reducing consumption is an essential component in addressing climate change. That’s because whatever we consume — food, clothes, housing, transportation, technology, entertainment — is pretty much dependent on the continuous use of fossil fuels.

So in order to contribute to the global goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as individuals we cannot only choose to buy green products, but we can also make the sacrifice to buy less. As tempting as it is to get a good deal, don't buy things you don't need and won't use. For example, borrow from your local library instead of buying books you'll read only once. And don’t pay to cool your home or office to the point that you have to wear a sweater in the summer.

What it really all comes down to is that as a consumer, we each make choices that have an impact on the future of our planet and, in turn, our health. Buying a hybrid SUV is certainly a better choice than buying a Hummer. But it would be an even better choice to buy a hybrid compact car, or better yet, make the tougher choice to not buy a car at all and use a bicycle or public transportation to get around.

Making the choice to buy less can have a huge impact on the planet and in your life. Along with the fossil fuels that aren’t being burned, think about the calories burned by the person who decides to forgo the new car and use their bike to get around. And just think about all the money saved not buying gas! Maybe the choice isn’t as tough as it originally seems…

What are you willing to buy less of? Share your thoughts!

This week in climate change: What climate change will bring

As research is increasingly conducted around the subject of climate change, researchers are learning more and more about the potential effects that the world might face in the not-too-distant future. From increased infectious diseases to political instability caused by widespread migration, the reported effects make it clear that the world must act quickly to fight climate change.

Among the news stories on the many different challenges that climate change is bringing and will continue to bring reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

Thinking globally, acting locally

The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) is working to support state health agencies to shore up awareness and capacity around climate change. And the demand for support is proving to be considerable!

In its first major thrust into the climate change arena, ASTHO in 2007 adopted a position statement outlining the actions we should take to support state-based public health activity on climate change. This stance met with widespread enthusiasm. ASTHO has since supported its State Environmental Health Directors (SEHD) group in its efforts to focus on climate change. The workgroup spent its early days immersing itself in the technical side of climate change, but most recently has worked with ASTHO on strategies to raise awareness among fellow public health workers.

Recently, ASTHO commenced a series of monthly webinars on climate change that delve deeper into specific public health issues impacted by climate change. ASTHO’s inaugural webinar, “Climate Change and Changing Vectors,” examined trends, models and predictions for vector-borne diseases. Discussion was led by Dr. Ali Khan, deputy director of CDC's National Center for Zoonotic, Vector-borne and Enteric Diseases, and Dr. Kenneth Gage of CDC's Division of Vector-Borne Infectious Diseases. Rather than solely providing a scientific snapshot, Drs. Khan and Gage also presented relevant policy perspectives that helped stir up a healthy discussion with participants.

A testament to the demand for more information, the inaugural webinar received 75 direct callers, including state health officials, senior deputies and many other health agency staff. We learned anecdotally that some health agencies were broadcasting the webinar to meeting rooms, crowded 10 deep! Further illustrating the appetite for information has been the many requests for access to the slides presented during the webinar.

Demonstrating the desire to actively pursue an agenda to help mitigate climate change, the ASTHO-SEHD workgroup continues to broaden its interests, which now include smart growth and the role state health agencies can play in community planning decisions. The future lineup of webinars will tackle climate change impacts on heat events, water and food, among other issues. Further information on the webinar series is available by visiting ASTHO’s Web site.

Gino D. Marinucci, MPH
Senior Director, Environmental Health
Association of State and Territorial Health Officials

Free press

As you hold your National Public Health Week events in April, be sure to keep The Nation's Health, APHA’s monthly newspaper, in mind.

In an upcoming issue, The Nation’s Health will feature coverage of events held around the nation, and your community event could be one of them.

Send us a short summary of your activities, when it was held, who was involved and what was accomplished. National Public Health Week photos and artwork are also welcome. If possible, digital photos should be at a resolution of at least 300 dpi and should be e-mailed as separate JPEG attachments. Printed photos can be mailed to The Nation's Health. Please note if a photo credit should be given.

“This is your chance to share your ideas and experiences with public health colleagues from around the country,” said Michele Late, the newspaper's executive editor. “Everyone who sends us information will be mentioned. We would love to showcase your work.”

Information should be e-mailed to The Nation’s Health by April 25 or mailed to: Editor, The Nation's Health, 800 I St., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20001-3710. Everyone who sends their information via e-mail will receive a submission confirmation.

The Nation's Health will send extra copies of the issue to participants who send in their news, so be sure to include your mailing address and the name of a contact person.

For more information on submitting your National Public Health Week news, call (202) 777-2488 or send an e-mail to The Nation’s Health.

This week in climate change: States taking action

Although climate change is a global problem that will certainly require international solutions, there is also a lot that can be done at the local level to address the issue. Here in the United States, several states have gotten involved and are examining strategies to address climate change in their communities.

Among the news stories on different states' approaches to climate change reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

Doing our part: APHA’s virtual climate change summit

As a key activity for this year’s National Public Health Week, APHA hosted a virtual summit on March 4 of invited climate and health experts. Out of that virtual gathering of researchers, advocates and field workers will come a set of recommendations to help guide our nation’s public health work force as they work with their communities to address climate change. The summit discussion centered on the newly released APHA white paper, “Climate Change: Our Health in the Balance: A Charge for Public Health and the Public,” which was written as a jumping board for summit attendees.

And while there was plenty of discussion and the final recommendations have yet to be fully formed, a few things are clear. As the public health community, we are uniquely qualified to spread the word — to the public, to policy-makers and even among ourselves — about the significant impacts that climate changes will have on our health.

So, from our computers to yours, here’s a rundown of APHA’s virtual climate change summit:

APHA Executive Director Georges Benjamin opened the summit, setting the stage for why the public health community has a critical role in the climate change movement. Benjamin also spoke of APHA’s leadership role in helping not only public health workers connect the climate change-health dots, but in helping the public see that climate change will affect us all, where we live, work and play.

Having dialed into the summit from across the country, experts engaged in a lively discussion and debate, provided critical feedback and then voted on a list of 39 potential recommendations aimed at both public health professionals and the public in general. All in all, the summit was a success — APHA got the information needed to develop reasonable and useful recommendations, and National Public Health Week will soon have another tool to help push public health’s voice to the forefront of the climate change dialogue.

Next up, APHA will take feedback gathered at the summit and whittle the recommendations down to a useful list — something that public health workers will be able to use during National Public Health Week activities, and hopefully beyond, to reach out and share with their communities. The final list of recommendations will be officially released during National Public Health Week.

As a side note, kudos to APHA for adopting two of the key recommendations when it decided to hold the summit virtually: to “green” our work practices and lead by example.

Youth take on climate change challenge

Check out the first story in an ongoing series on climate change and public health being published in The Nation’s Health newspaper. Highlighting how climate change affects children’s health, the article also examines why youth are becoming leaders in the movement to curb global warming. The article will also be published later this month on The Nation’s Health Web site.

Students at St. Mary’s College in
St. Mary’s City, Md., draw attention
to global climate change by
jumping into a river in January.

This week in climate change: News from around the world

With climate change established as a global issue, it’s no surprise that much of the news on the topic focuses on what different nations are doing to tackle the issue.

Among the news stories on different approaches to climate change around the world reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

How are you addressing climate change? Share your ideas!

In the months leading up to National Public Health Week, influential public health experts, climate change experts, and representatives of vulnerable populations will work together to develop a list of key recommendations for planning for and managing the health impacts of climate change. The Climate Change: Our Health in the Balance: A Charge for Public Health and the Public white paper highlights the innovative ways individuals, families and communities around the country are addressing climate change and how policy-makers are moving forward with proposals that support healthy communities and climate.

There are public health professionals around the country already implementing groundbreaking strategies to respond to and prevent the potentially devastating impacts of climate change. Others are in the trenches, tackling public health problems day-in-and-day-out without recognizing that many of them are directly related to climate change.


Is your community taking innovative steps to get ready for heat waves or hurricanes? Or have you started to drive less and walk more – which is healthier for the climate, and for you? Post a comment below to share your good ideas and recommendations about everyday steps we can all take make our planet healthier!

Consider the following questions:

  • What actions are you taking to reduce your contribution to climate change and to help your family live a healthier lifestyle?
  • What innovative measures are already being implemented by communities to protect kids, the sick, underserved communities and the elderly – and how do you bring them to your community?
  • What strategies are being spearheaded by public health professionals to address or prevent the biggest threats of all?
Your ideas, recommendations and insight will provide invaluable guidance throughout National Public Health Week 2008 and beyond. Together we can work to improve the health of our families and communities, while also creating a healthier planet.

No child left behind

Our children of today and those of the future will inevitably face the most severe realities of the health impacts from global climate change. As a result of their cognitive, physical and physiological development patterns, children are more susceptible to adverse health effects from exposure to environmental hazards. We know that climate change has begun and is accelerating at a great pace, increasing the disproportionate rate at which children, compared to other groups, will suffer from these changes. Being that children are dependent on the rest of us to take care of and protect them, their ability to adjust to the many changes ahead should remain our top concern.

However, even if the average American is able to successfully make the linkage between environmental hazards and health, I have found that the real and vital implications that global climate change will have upon children are frequently left out of the many discussions, forums and conferences. Part of this disconnect is due to the fact that key leaders in the pediatric environmental health community are not actively sought out to be a part of the dialogue. We do not hear or read about climatologists talking with pediatric environmental health researchers in an effort to unify their social and policy recommendations. Policy solutions are being debated without the vital inclusion of core advocates for children’s health — and this is a mistake.

We in the public health community have a few challenges before us in this area. First, I believe most Americans are still trying to wrap their hands around the concept of global climate change and how it has come to be. Second, while I feel this number is diminishing, we are still dealing with those that believe climate change is either not real or so beyond our control that steps toward sustainability are useless. Third, the messaging around individual responsibility remains key in addressing disease prevention and in working toward environmental sustainability.

The time is now and each of us shares a role in meeting these challenges head on, while ensuring that children’s health protection does not continue to get lost in the efforts to reduce the effects of global climate change.

Nsedu Obot Witherspoon, MPH
Executive Director
Children’s Environmental Health Network (CEHN)

This week in climate change: Thinking outside of the box

With global agreement on the seriousness of greenhouse gas emissions, people around the world are starting to think outside of the box about ways to approach the issue. Several news stories this week reported on science and strategy being combined to explore different ways to deal with CO2.

Among the news stories on novel approaches to climate change reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

Don’t wait! Act now! (Supplies are plentiful)

National Public Health Week 2008 plans are well underway!

At the end of January, APHA hosted a planning meeting of public health partners and allies to discuss how everyone can help bring the connections between health and climate change to the forefront of discussions. During the meeting, APHA presented plans for the week and strategized with attendees about ideas for activities and ways to spread the word. With more than 70 people involved in the meeting, it was a great launch to the NPHW campaign.

To keep the momentum going, APHA will convene a virtual summit on March 4 (a great way to reduce the Association’s carbon footprint!). Specifically chosen for their areas of knowledge, invitees range from public health experts, climatologists and environmental scientists, to faith community advocates and representatives from vulnerable populations. We will also be soliciting input from the public, so check back at the blog in coming days. Through the summit, APHA will produce a consensus document highlighting key recommendations for adapting to and lessening the health impacts of climate change. Partners and others committed to addressing climate change will be asked to sign on to the document, which will be officially released during NPHW.

To help local communities get involved and plan their own events, the NPHW toolkit and planning materials will be released on March 1. Check back then to download the toolkit, which will include fact sheets, media outreach materials, suggested community events and much more.

You can also get involved by signing up to be a NPHW partner (there are already more than 100 partners from around the country — a number that grows daily!) and spreading the word about your NPHW events by posting them to our online calendar. You can also link to the NPHW website to help get the word out. And don’t forget to download the “Climate Change: Our Health in the Balance” logos and include them in your own newsletters, Web sites and other promotional materials.

We look forward to working with you all to make the connection between climate change and our health!

Have an idea or a suggestion for NPHW? Post your comment below.

This week in climate change: Nations plan for the future

With a late 2009 deadline for a landmark new treaty to cut greenhouse gases once the current Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012, meetings are taking place around the world to continue the discussion that began in December in Bali.

Among the news stories from climate meetings occurring around the globe reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

Home, sweet green home

The buildings we spend most of our time in — our homes, work places...the handbag department at Macy’s — can bring us comfort, safety, peace. Our home, most importantly, also provides cover for all those embarrassing things we only do alone. (Like watching re-runs of really bad 80s sitcoms while wearing shredded pajama pants and eating crunchy peanut butter straight from the jar.) But even though a building may be a comfort zone for us, it could be a disaster zone for the environment.

Commonly known as part of our “built environment,” the way homes and workplaces are constructed — and what they’re constructed with — can have positive or negative impacts on the environment. And when our environment is impacted, whether it be by a building contributing to climate change or simply by encroaching on a highly used sidewalk, then so is our health.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, buildings account for 70 percent of U.S. electricity use and almost 40 percent of energy consumption, use more than 12 percent of all drinkable water, eat up 40 percent of raw materials and account for 38 percent of all U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. Luckily, there is a way to remain harmonious with nature and not live in a treehouse: green building.

Green building means paying attention to how a structure can be energy efficient, using environmentally friendly building materials — as well as trying to recycle construction and demolition debris — and making sure the building doesn’t contribute to polluting nearby water sources. For example, transforming the rooftop at your workplace into a lush garden space means that instead of contributing to the untreated stormwater that can overwhelm local water reservoirs, the rainwater is absorbed into and filtered by your newly planted greenery. Heating and cooling your home efficiently by changing your air filter regularly and installing a programmable thermostat or replacing old systems with Energy Star-qualified equipment can also reduce your energy use. Of course, building green also means designing communities that aren’t completely dependent on cars to get around, which means more walking (and more much-needed physical activity) and less greenhouse gas emissions.

More good news is that green building not only makes you a proud homeowner, it can make you a richer homeowner too by saving you dollars on long-term operating costs.

Green house. Green wallet. Making your neighbors green with envy.

For more tips on making your home or workplace green, visit EPA’s Green Buildings or the U.S. Green Building Council.

This week in climate change: Communities thinking green

With the scientific community in agreement that human activity is playing a role in climate change, people around the world are looking for ways to make a difference. Changes are happening at all levels — from individuals changing their behaviors, to nations enacting policies to reduce energy use, to different sectors of society re-examining how they do business.

Among the news stories of the different strategies people are thinking about to deal with climate change reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

Climate Wars: Episode One

What will happen when the rivers and lakes dry up in a region and there isn’t enough clean water to go around? What will happen when glaciers have melted away and crops to the south shrivel and die because the lack of runoff has made the earth too dry for them to grow? What will happen when rising sea levels force people to move away from their coastal homes?

Sadly, the likely answer is war.

A recent report from the German Advisory Council on Global Change warns world leaders that climate change could increase tensions and cause conflicts around the globe, much of it stemming from worsening water and food shortages. This, in turn, would lead to environmental refugees who must search to find new places to live.

And because of a lack of infrastructure, stability and resources, the developing world is most at risk for such climate-related conflict. In fact, many experts view climate change as a "threat multiplier." It is likely to intensify instability around the world by aggravating water shortages, food insecurity, disease and flooding — all things that lead to forced migration.

This is alarming because, as noted in the report, many of the worst effects of climate change are expected in regions where fragile governments are least capable of responding to them.

The German report points out several areas of potential climate conflict.

  • Africa's Sahel region: Climate change is expected to result in water scarcities, drought and crop failures. This situation would worsen tensions in a region already burdened by failing governments and civil wars, such as the situation in Sudan.
  • The Indian subcontinent: Shrinking glaciers threaten vital water supplies, while changes to the monsoon season will affect agriculture and rising seas threaten millions of people living in coastal settlements. Waves of hungry refugees would only increase conflict in an area where there is already tension and instability.
  • The Caribbean and Central America: More powerful hurricanes could overwhelm government capacities in impoverished island states and Central American nations.

But there is hope in the midst of these dire predictions. The potential for conflict only emphasizes the urgent need for a united global approach to climate change. Rather than allow climate change to tear us apart, we can use it as an issue over which to unite, coordinate and develop solutions for a healthier and more peaceful future.

The more, the merrier

This week, more than 50 national partners gathered at APHA headquarters to kick off planning for National Public Health Week (NPHW). We are excited that this year’s theme, “Climate Change: Our Health in the Balance,” has inspired so many respected and diverse organizations to join us. Some of the great partners at the table include the American Meteorological Society, the National Governors Association, the Energy Programs Consortium, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Trust for America’s Health.

With so many key partners involved, this year is shaping up to be a great success! Public health professionals and partners who attended are ready to build upon activities during NPHW to raise awareness about the connection between health and climate change. To help us all better understand how climate change impacts health, APHA and other NPHW partners are developing fact sheets that will soon be posted on the NPHW Web site.

During NPHW, events will be held all across the nation that people can participate in as they strive to be a part of the solution. Several partners already have plans underway for activities: folks at Safe Routes to School are planning to promote walking and biking for short trips, while the Association of Schools of Public Health is challenging students to develop a campaign that raises awareness about public health in our daily lives.

Other organizations are hard at work to raise awareness among elected officials. The Children’s Environmental Health Network and the National Energy Assistance Directors Association are working to highlight the ways that climate change will disproportionately impact children and low-income families.

Our public health system, including the many talented professionals that make it work, will play an essential role in addressing and facing the health issues associated with climate change. That’s why it is important for us all to get involved and do our part. Take advantage of the activities happening from coast to coast during NPHW to learn more and to share what you learn with others.

Sign up to be a NPHW partner today!

This week in climate change: International solutions to a global issue

With U.S. hosted climate talks involving the world’s biggest polluters underway in Honolulu throughout the week, much of this week’s news focused on what different nations are committing to do to address climate change. Several stories also reported on what nations are calling on others to do.

Among the news stories on approaches to climate change reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

The SUV on your plate

We all know that driving contributes to global warming, but so do many of our other activities. So let’s talk about something we do every day — eat.

Start by thinking about where your last meal came from. No, not where you bought the food, but where did each ingredient in your meal actually come from?

Across the state? Across the country? Across the globe?

If you’re like most people, you probably have no idea. But it is estimated that the average American meal travels about 1500 miles to get from farm to plate. In his book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, author Bill McKibben says that 75 percent of the apples sold in New York City come from the West Coast or overseas. These food miles clocked as food is shipped around the nation and world mean large amounts of CO2 — a major contributor to climate change — is released into the air.

But food doesn't have to start from far away to clock high food miles. Food grown in your home state can still travel huge distances. It isn’t unusual for food to even be shipped out of the state for processing and storage, before being shipped back in to be sold at local supermarkets.

However, to complicate the issue even more, simply looking at food miles doesn’t tell the whole story of how much energy was used to make that cheeseburger on your plate. You also have to think about the fertilizers and pesticides used in growing crops, the tractors and other equipment used on farms, the machines and products that go into the processing and packaging, the means of transportation, the cooking method – all require the use of fossil fuels.

And since we’re talking about cheeseburgers, it’s a good time to mention that the fossil fuels used to get a burger onto your plate are greater than most other meals. A UN report found that raising cattle generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation. That’s because, along with CO2, livestock also produce lots of nitrous oxide and methane, even more harmful greenhouse gases.

With such large emissions resulting from the livestock sector, cutting back on meat becomes one of the simplest things a person can do to reduce their carbon footprint. An interesting University of Chicago study found that the greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eating and vegetarian diets vary by as much as the difference between owning an average sedan versus an SUV.

So a climate-conscious consumer not only has to think about where their food comes from and how it was grown, produced and packaged, but also what they’re eating.

Just some food for thought…

This week in climate change: Strategies from around the world

Although National Public Health Week focuses primarily on helping Americans make the connection between climate change and health, it’s important to remember that climate change is a global issue. News from this week highlights some of the efforts going on around the world.

Among the news stories on approaches to climate change reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

This week in climate change: Reports on the effects of climate change

Amidst news of how lifestyle changes can curb climate change and stories of car manufacturers looking for alternative energy sources, much of this week’s news focused on new reports of the current and potential outcomes of climate change. From rising seas to infectious disease, more and more scientific reports are demonstrating the alarming effects of global warming.

Among the news stories on the effects of climate change reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

Me, myself and I: Bringing global warming down to size

How do we get people to care about climate change and global warming? The answer may be simpler than you might think. Here’s a clue: What do Americans care deeply about?

Sure, this month Americans are telling the pollsters that they care deeply about the economy, and they do. But Americans consistently tell the pollsters (and any of the rest of us who care to ask) — year in and year out — that they care even more deeply about their health. And they REALLY care about their children’s health, their grandchildren’s health, and the health of anyone and everyone else that they love or care about. Americans care about health, period.

And yet what comes to mind when people think about global warming? Hint: It’s not our health.

Anthony Leiserowitz — one of the nation’s leading experts on this topic has published the answer. His data show that when most Americans think about global warming, what first comes to mind are environmental images — like melting glaciers, endangered polar bears or shrinking polar ice caps. People’s mental imagery of global warming is of inanimate objects and wild animals that, for the most part, exist or live far, far away from us. Some of us care deeply about these far away creatures and landscapes, but most of us don’t.
We care deeply about people. And we care deeply about health. But most of us haven’t yet made the connection between global warming and people, and the connection between global warming and human health. So it should be no mystery as to why most of us don’t yet care deeply about global warming.

Our job as public health professionals is to help people make that connection. We need to help people see that global warming is indeed a threat to our health, and even more so to our children’s and grandchildren’s health. And we need to help people see that global warming is even more of a threat to the health and well-being of the poorest people in this country, and in this world, because they have the fewest defenses to protect themselves from the threat.

Global warming is about us. If we can tell that story through National Public Health Week and the World Health Organization’s Global Health Day, we will be helping Americans to care deeply about this profound threat to the public’s health.

- Edward Maibach, PhD, MPH2008 National Public Health Week Advisory Committee member and director of George Mason University’s Center of Excellence in Climate Change Communication Research

The medical effects of climate change: Do physicians know?

While climate change is a problem with vast implications for human well-being, the medical impact of climate change has received limited attention from physicians or the medical care system. There has been minimal coverage of the health effects of climate change in either the media or the clinical literature. Thus, it is likely that most doctors are not familiar with the health consequences of climate change. But they should be.

Medical scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have reported that conditions known to be attributed to climate change include heat-related cardiovascular events, worsening of asthma and chronic pulmonary disease, outbreaks of vector borne and waterborne infectious diseases, injuries from extreme weather events and the mental problems that result from catastrophic events. At this time, these effects are not on the radar screen of many practitioners of medicine. And if they are, they are not perceived as a threat to residents of the United States.

Physicians are not aware of what to expect as the climate changes. While it is difficult to predict the exact nature or the extent of medical effects from climate change, specific types of outcomes — like those mentioned above — are predictable. Models developed by the IPCC scientists have accurately predicted increases in vector borne diseases in the countries of Central America. Vulnerability is increased if people are not aware of and prepared for the conditions we are likely to face.

Clearly awareness by medical professionals is needed so we may rise to meet the health challenges of climate change. Physicians must be prepared to advise their vulnerable patients of the dangers they may face, and be ready to recognize and treat conditions that will develop when flooding, drought and/or heat bring increased cardiac stress, deterioration of air quality, or vector borne and waterborne infectious diseases. Physicians must be knowledgeable so they report the medical conditions that are critical to public health surveillance systems. It will be more difficult for health and public health systems to respond to climate-related health effects if surveillance is ineffective.

The infrastructure for health and public health communication should be utilized now to disseminate this information and strengthened to prepare the medical care system for future challenges.

-Mona Sarfaty, MD, FAAFP, CPH
2008 National Public Health Week Advisory Committee member and research assistant professor, Thomas Jefferson University, Jefferson Medical College

This week in climate change: Strategies for change

Starting the new year off on a positive foot, several recent news stories have reported on various approaches to mitigate climate change. All over the world, governments, industries, communities and individuals are looking for strategies to help make the world greener.

Among the news stories on new ideas and strategies to mitigate climate change reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

Beyond the “Truth”

“An Inconvenient Truth” may be the most famous movie about climate change — and Al Gore may be the movement’s most recognizable face — but they’re only the tip of the (slowly melting) iceberg. There are so many books, movies, DVDs, TV shows, magazines and resources that touch on the problem of climate change, you could keep yourself busy until the world finally agrees on how to address the mounting problem — and that could take a while.

No kidding

Children are the future — and that future will be shaped, in part, by climate change. Here are a couple of fun resources to bring our little ones into the climate change discussion.

— The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency created a Climate Change Kids Site that shows a six-scene animated movie on the topic, including scenes about greenhouse gases, solar rays and deforestation. Kids can pick which scenes they’re interested in and after they’re done, take a global warming quiz.

— Perhaps the cutest climate change movie out there, the animated “Arctic Tale” (narrated by Queen Latifah), follows the journey of a walrus and polar bear cub across the frozen Arctic, which was once their thriving home but is now slowly melting from underneath them.

Seeing is believing

The magic of Hollywood won’t stop climate change, but it can help show us why to care and what to do.

There’s “The 11th Hour,” narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio; NOVA’s “Saved by the Sun: Is It Time to Take Solar Energy Seriously”; PBS’ “Global Warming: The Signs and the Science”; National Geographic’s “Masters of the Arctic Ice,” which chronicles the impact of climate change on the creatures of the Arctic; and PBS’ “e2” series on the economies of being environmentally conscious.

Book ‘em

Rather read than watch TV? Then you’re in luck — a quick search on Amazon using the term “global warming” brings up hundreds of options. A couple noteworthy suggestions: The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth and Time magazine’s special issue on “Global Warming — The Causes, The Perils, The Solutions, The Actions: What You Can Do.” There’s even a Complete Idiot’s Guide to Global Warming.

For more reading recommendations, visit the American Institute of Physics or the Environmental Literacy Council.

If we’ve missed one of your favorite picks, submit a comment and let us know about it.