Monday, October 31, 2011

The scary truth about Halloween candy, calories and kids

This Halloween, the vampires, ghosts, and Disney princesses that stop by your door clamoring for treats will be gathering a scary amount of candy – with public health specialists estimating that kids will bring home up to 7,000 calories worth of loot after trick or treating this year. To put that into perspective, you could eat 29 pounds of green grapes and consume the same amount of calories. This is truly frightening news when you consider the growing obesity epidemic facing our kids, as well as the heart health and diabetes risks associated with high-fat, HFC-laden Halloween treats.

The funny thing is that while Halloween candy is shrinking, we seem to be eating more of it, one individually-wrapped bite at a time. Studies show that when products are put into smaller packages and there are many of those small packages available, people eat significantly more than if they were presented with multiple full-sized candies.  So that bag of fun-sized Snickers on your desk is probably worse for you than a case of full-sized candy bars.

If you’re still in doubt about what candy might be the safest bet if you’re watching your sodium or sugar intake, the Huffington Post lets you test your knowledge of Halloween nutrition (or lack thereof). You can also check out FitSugar’s 100-calorie gallery to help you pick a healthy portion when you do decide to indulge.
In light of some of these terrifying nutritional facts, consider handing out something a little healthier to the tricksters this year. Apples are a classic choice for the health-conscious neighbor; pretzels, baked potato chips, and raisins are other healthy treats. You could encourage the little goblins’ creative side by handing out small tubs of Play-Do or other craft supplies. In fact, there are tons of non-food options to hand out – temporary tattoos, bubbles, crayons, bouncy balls, and stickers . . . the list goes on.

Another tip for parents I like: set a limit for how many pieces of candy children can eat each day _ and stick to it. 

The good news? No matter what you’re handing out, trick or treating door-to-door means a lot of walking, which can help burn off some of that candy corn.

If you’re concerned about the safety of the candy your children bring home, be sure to check out our Halloween candy safety tips on our Website homepage.

Trick or treat with care, B’more!

Is our healthcare system to big to fail? Thoughts from the APHA annual meeting

Yesterday the annual meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA) in Washington, D.C., began in earnest. This is the time of the year that public health practitioners from all over the country gather to learn about what’s been accomplished over the previous year as well as what’s hot.

In reviewing the program, it’s clear that across the country much has been accomplished. What's also apparent is that public health has never been more important.

The United States spends more money on healthcare than any other country and our health outcomes are amongst the worst of the world’s developed countries. If the U.S. healthcare system was a stand-alone business, we would have been outsourced to Europe or Costa Rica.  The truth is that our healthcare system is too big to fail for many reasons, but mostly because the health of our nation is central to our ongoing competitiveness in the world market.

The role of public health has never been more important. Chronic diseases are what are killing us. The medical system has not been able to make significant inroads into turning this tide because our healthcare system was not built to promote health; it was built to treat illness. As such, it doesn’t have the capacity to meaningfully identify, let alone address, the social determinants of health _ examples are unhealthy housing or inadequate public transportation systems _ that perpetuate poor health outcomes.

Health reform and the Affordable Healthcare Act offer an opportunity to truly transform how this country promotes health. It’s up to us in public health to seize the opportunity to improve the health of our communities.

To learn more about the conference and what’s hot, follow along on APHA’s Annual Meeting Blog.

I am excited to be here and learn from my colleagues from around the country about what’s worked and what hasn't in their communities to improve health outcomes. I look forward to returning to Baltimore invigorated and armed with many new ideas for promoting better health for all.

Take Care, B’more.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Don't gamble with your health - get a flu shot soon

If you were playing poker, calculated the odds and knew you had a 60 percent chance of winning the pot, would you make the call or fold?

Americans face a similar decision each autumn: whether or not to get vaccinated for the flu, or fold and hope not to get sick. Unlike the common cold, influenza is a serious viral illness. This week, we learned a little more about the odds that a flu shot or flu mist will protect those who receive it from the influenza viruses currently circulating.

Based on a review of selected, previously published studies, authors of the recent The Lancet Infectious Diseases article reported the flu shot was 59 percent effective against flu in healthy adults. This finding may be a surprise to some. But effectiveness ranges widely from season to season and can also vary depending on the health and age of the person being vaccinated. 

This is why public health leaders, the federal government and industry are investing and supporting the development of new and improved influenza vaccines. Maximizing our protection against influenza also requires diligent attention to frequent hand washing and covering our mouths when we cough or sneeze. It’s all of these things to together that increase our odds of not getting influenza.

But the fact remains: vaccination is still the safest, most effective means for preventing transmission of the influenza virus and staying healthy. This is especially important for the very young, elderly and people with high-risk chronic health conditions. Scientific observational studies have demonstrated the value of influenza vaccines in this population time and again. And as this Time magazine piece notes, "59% is better than zero."

This flu season, don’t gamble with your health. Make the call and get protected from influenza by getting the flu shot or flu mist at your doctor’s office, local pharmacy, or dial 311 to find the nearest Health Department free clinic

Take Care, Baltimore

Friday, October 21, 2011

Baltimore City Health Department Releases First Latino Health Report

As the Health Department works to reduce disparities and improve the health of all Baltimoreans, it is important for us to have a solid understanding of the strengths and health challenges faced by particular groups. As the fastest growing segment of our city, Latino Baltimoreans are one population whose health status we must examine more closely. To this end, we have released the first ever examination of the health status and trends among Baltimore’s Latino residents.

In general, Baltimore’s Latino population is ethnically diverse and relatively young (median age is 27 years, compared to 35 for Baltimore overall). The report revealed some encouraging news about the status of this group, who were found to have lower overall mortality and infant mortality rates. It also revealed that fewer Latinos are smokers – 16 percent of adults, compared to 28 percent of all Baltimoreans.

However, Latinos in Baltimore still face a number of significant health challenges, including lack of health insurance and medical homes, high incidence of binge alcohol drinking, and death by accident - which is the third leading cause of death among this group.

The report was released yesterday during an event held at Baltimore Medical System’s Highlandtown Healthy Living Center, which sits in one of the largest Latino communities in Baltimore. BMS has served between 8,500 and 9,000 patients for whom English isn’t their first language. They employ bilingual physicians and other staff, many of whom also have multi-cultural backgrounds that help them understand the needs of patients from other countries. For Baltimore's growing refugee population, BMS also provides foreign language interpretation for initial health screenings and ongoing medical care.

As one of the largest providers of health care to the Latino community, Baltimore Medical System has long recognized the importance of providing culturally appropriate healthcare and language access services. President & CEO Jay Wolvovsky supports their mission to provide healthcare to all residents of the community – especially the underserved. Over the years, the demographics in Baltimore City have changed dramatically, and BMS has changed with them. Today, 25% of their staff is bilingual, and they offer many services that help patients overcome barriers to care.

I would like to thank Baltimore Medical Systems for their strong support of Latino healthcare in Baltimore and their partnership in the release of The Health of Latinos in Baltimore City.
For the first time, we see how Latinos living in Baltimore City compare to city residents as a whole, and Latinos statewide and nationwide. In bringing together data about Latino health, this report can serve as a tool for public health efforts to advance the health of the Baltimore City Latino community. It’s my hope that this report also will spark conversations about setting priorities for action and new ideas for change.

Check out the full report, available in English and Spanish, on our Website. And here are links to media coverage of the release in the Baltimore Sun newspaper and WJZ TV.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

BCHD’s Healthy Homes Bureau receives $100,000 EPA Grant

In urban centers such as Baltimore, environmental conditions that can lead to poor health for our children are widespread. These include lead due to peeling paint, mold, pests and pesticides, carbon monoxide, and tobacco smoke.

Here in Baltimore, we understand that we must work collaboratively to build stronger, healthier neighborhoods and schools for our children—places where our children can learn and thrive. 

Today I joined Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Shawn Garvin, and Congressman John Sarbanes to celebrate Children’s Health Month and to accept a $100,000 grant to fund the Healthy Environments for City Kids Initiative. Healthy Environments for City Kids (HECK) will help us improve child health outcomes by addressing a wide variety of environmental risks in the places children spend most of their time – at home, in school, and in childcare.

BCHD was one of 13 organizations selected from 263 applicants across the country to receive a grant from EPA’s Office of Children’s Health Protection to reduce children’s exposures to environmental hazards.  The Health Department will receive funds over 18 months to promote and support healthy childcare and school environments - places where our children learn and play – to make them safer and healthier.

This grant will enable us to build the capacity of community-based partners – our home visitors, school staff, and childcare providers – to recognize and address environmental hazards. We will engage city residents through innovative strategies such as community-based Healthy Homes meetings, where they will obtain the knowledge and tools needed to reduce environmental health risks in their own homes. By doing so, we are empowering Baltimore city families to take control of their own health, and the health of their communities.

The work neatly dovetails with our Healthy Baltimore 2015 goals to promote children’s health, and create healthy and growing neighborhoods. We know that healthy children learn better, so it makes sense to ensure that the environments in which children live support their health. We are grateful for the support of the EPA and excited to join their efforts to promote healthy environments for our children.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Baltimore's Seniors Strutt Their Stuff For Healthy City Days

What a week it's been! On Monday Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and I kicked off Healthy City Days with a walk from City Hall to the Inner Harbor. This week has been jam-packed with health fairs, exercise activities and health screenings, all aimed at encouraging people of all ages to step out and get active, to get screened for serious health concerns, get a flu shot, and get educated about individual health.

All week I've been looking forward to today's signature event: Baltimore's Seniors Rock the City. More than 300 seniors from across the city descended upon the Roosevelt Park Recreation Center in Hampden for a day full of activities. The highlight was the large group circle dance led by former Ravens cheerleader and fitness enthusiast Molly Shattuck of Vibrant Living.

The seniors I talked to really enjoyed getting out in the beautiful weather and, in the words of one of our speakers, "shaking what God gave you." Many received flu shots and were screened for high cholesterol. We are fortunate in Baltimore City to have 16 vibrant senior centers where our elder population can go to socialize, engage in group exercise and other fun activities.

It's important that seniors stay active is by engaging in a variety of activities such as walking, dancing, low or moderate aerobics, swimming, _ even shopping. Half an hour of moderate physical activity every day is a good goal to have. You can start at your own pace and slowly increase your activity until you are able to do 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week; which is 150 minutes of physical activity.

Tomorrow we wrap up Healthy City Days at Mondawmin Mall from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. with a free health fair and health screenings. Please tell your family and friends so that they too can participate in health education and screenings. I hope this week you were inspired to think about how you can live a healthy life. I know I'm already looking forward to Healthy City Days 2012. What ideas do you have for activities we can incorporate into next year's agenda?

BCHD Unveils “Just Hold Off” Campaign to Protect Pregnant Women, Infants From Second-Hand Smoke

Last night at the National Aquarium, as the sun was setting over the Inner Harbor, I joined our B’more for Healthy Babies partners in celebrating Baltimore’s infants and remembering the babies who died before their first birthday.  We also unveiled the second phase of our campaign aimed at improving the health of pregnant women. The first leg of this multi-pronged approach will focus on tobacco use, helping pregnant women quit smoking and reducing their exposure to second-hand smoke.

Medical research here is clear: Cigarette smoke is associated with higher rates of Sudden Infant Death. Babies born to mothers who smoke are more likely to be born underweight and premature, two of the leading risk factors for infant mortality.

We want to ensure that pregnant women do not smoke and that pregnant moms and babies live smoke-free in all environments, including in the home, in the car, and everywhere in our communities. This phase is a natural extension of our previous message: Every baby should sleep Alone, on their Back, and in a Crib, and in a tobacco free environment. Our message has also been adopted by the State in its efforts to reduce sleep-related deaths.  Recently we expanded the messaging to include fathers, who play a critical role in protecting their babies from unsafe sleep conditions. 

As I have mentioned here before, Baltimore’s infant mortality rate declined in 2010. Safe Sleep deaths in particular saw a marked decrease. We are cautiously optimistic the systems and policy changes we’ve supported through B’more for Healthy Babies are having an impact. 

One way we are attacking this problem is by improving the knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors that increase women’s risk of poor birth and infant health outcomes. Through community-based activities and mass media messages, we are promoting a safe sleep environment for infants and educating residents on the use of tobacco and exposure to second-hand smoke, particularly among pregnant women, women who have recently given birth and infants.

I hope the message is delivered loud and clear: Baltimore is determined to do everything it can to reduce – and eliminate – infant deaths. In our new advertising campaign, we are asking people to commit to “Just Hold Off” from smoking if they are around pregnant women and infants. Starting this week, our new ads will be displayed on buses, in bus stops and subway stations, and on billboards all over town.

Hold off at home. Hold off in the car or at the bus stop.  This simple act of courtesy, repeated a hundred or thousand times over, can have a huge impact on preventing sudden infant death.

We all share a responsibility to protect our city’s pregnant women and infants. As the B’more for Healthy Baby tag line states, “Every baby counts on you.” Today I hope you’ll ask yourself: What can I do to help the next generation of Baltimore babies be born healthy, to a healthy mother in a healthy environment?

Remember, just hold off, and take care, B’more.