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Reports find health problems tied to climate change are worsening

Health problems tied to climate change are getting worse, according to two reports published Wednesday (Source: “Reports: Health problems tied to global warming on the rise,” Associated Press, Oct. 21).

The annual reports commissioned by the medical journal Lancet tracked 44 global health indicators connected to climate change, including heat deaths, infectious diseases and hunger. All of them are getting grimmer, said Lancet Countdown project research director Marina Romanello, a biochemist.

This year’s reports — one global, one just aimed at the United States — found that in the U.S., heat, fire and drought caused the biggest problems. An unprecedented Pacific Northwest and Canadian heat wave hit this summer, which a previous study showed couldn’t have happened without human-caused climate change.


Study: 1 in 20 Ohio children has elevated lead levels in blood, more than twice national rate

Ohio children have elevated levels of lead in their blood at more than two times the national rate, according to a study released Monday (Source: “Ohio kids’ show elevated lead blood levels at more than twice the national rate, study finds,” Ohio Capital Journal, Sept. 28).

The research, from JAMA Pediatrics, found about 5.2% of Ohio children have elevated levels of lead in their system.

Nationally, the rate is about 1.9%. Ohio ranked second nationally in terms of states with the highest rates of children with elevated blood levels.

Lead is a neurotoxin linked to developmental, mental, and physical impairment, and young children are especially vulnerable. There’s no safe level of exposure for children, though their blood is considered elevated when it contains 5 micrograms per deciliter.

Ohio is one of six states with kids’ proportions of elevated blood levels more than twice the national average, along with Nebraska (6%), Pennsylvania (5%), Missouri (4.5%), Michigan (4.5%) and Wisconsin (4.3%).


Children could face long-term education and health challenges following pandemic, experts warn

After more than a year of isolation, widespread financial insecurity and the loss of an unprecedented amount of classroom time, experts say many of the youngest Americans have fallen behind socially, academically and emotionally in ways that could harm their physical and mental health for years or even decades (Source: “Damage to Children’s Education — And Their Health — Could Last a Lifetime,” Kaiser Health News, July 1).

“This could affect a whole generation for the rest of their lives,” said Dr. Jack Shonkoff, a pediatrician and director of the Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University. “All kids will be affected. Some will get through this and be fine. They will learn from it and grow. But lots of kids are going to be in big trouble.”

Many kids will go back to school this fall without having mastered the previous year’s curriculum. Some kids have disappeared from school altogether, and educators worry that more students will drop out. Between school closures and reduced instructional time, the average U.S. child has lost the equivalent of five to nine months of learning during the pandemic, according to a report from McKinsey & Co. that was released in December.

Educational losses have been even greater for some minorities. Black and Hispanic students — whose parents are more likely to have lost jobs and whose schools were less likely to reopen for in-person instruction — missed six to 12 months of learning, according to the McKinsey report.


Study: Death rates from chronic conditions rising in rural America

In rural America, more people die from chronic health conditions and substance abuse than in suburbs and cities, and the gap is widening.

A new study has found that the difference in rural and urban death rates tripled over the past 20 years mostly due to deaths among middle-aged white men and women (Source: “Study: Death rates from chronic conditions, 'deaths of despair' rising in rural U.S.,” United Press International, June 9).

This gap is partly due to access to care, but other factors also contribute, said lead researcher Dr. Haider Warraich, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and the VA Boston Healthcare System. In terms of access, rural areas have seen a wave of hospital closures driven largely by economics, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.

"But it's hard to disconnect health from other factors in our societies," Warraich said. "I think it's linked to the overall economic outlook of rural America as well, and also, health behaviors that contribute to poor health, such as poor nutrition, lack of exercise, smoking, substance use, etc."

For the study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Warraich and his colleagues used federal government health data for 1999 through 2019. They found that age-adjusted death rates dropped in both rural and urban areas over that period. But the gap widened dramatically as death rates rose among white rural residents between 25 and 64.

Over the study period, rural death rates increased 12% for that group. Although death rates dropped among rural Black residents, they still had a higher death rate than all other groups in both rural and urban areas, researchers noted.


Study finds widespread racial disparities in air quality

A new national study has found racial and ethnic disparities in the quality of air that Americans breathe (Source: “People of Color Breathe More Hazardous Air. The Sources Are Everywhere.,” New York Times, April 28).

According to the study, Black Americans are exposed to more pollution from every type of source, including industry, agriculture, all manner of vehicles, construction, residential sources and even emissions from restaurants. People of color more broadly, including Black and Hispanic people and Asian Americans, are exposed to more pollution from nearly every source.

The findings, which were published Wednesday in the journal Science Advances, came as a surprise to the study’s researchers, who had not anticipated that the inequalities spanned so many types of pollution.

The study builds on a wealth of research that has shown that people of color in America live with more pollution than their white neighbors. Fine particulate matter air pollution, known as PM 2.5, is harmful to human health and is responsible for 85,000 to 200,000 excess deaths a year in the United States.


Study: 4 in 10 Americans live in cities with unhealthy air

More than 40% of Americans live with unhealthy air, with certain cities and types of Americans far more prone to be affected, according to a new national study (Source: “More than 40% in U.S. live in cities with unhealthy air, study says,” United Press International, April 21).

The American Lung Association's annual "State of the Air" report, which was released this week, found that people of color are 61% more likely to live in a county with unhealthy air than are white people and three times more likely to live in a county with failing air-quality grades across the board.

Moreover, the report says climate change continues to worsen air pollution in much of the country. Research also shows that air pollution can make COVID-19 worse, the authors pointed out.


Ohio ranks near bottom in latest HPIO Health Value Dashboard

Ohio ranks 47 in the nation in health value compared to other states and D.C. according to the latest edition of the Health Value Dashboard, which was released earlier this week by the Health Policy Institute of Ohio.

“Ohioans live less healthy lives and spend more on health care than people in most other states,” according to the Dashboard.

Ohio has consistently ranked near the bottom on health value in each of the four editions of the Dashboard. Ohio’s overall health value ranking was 47 in 2014, 46 in 2017 and 46 in 2019. 

The Dashboard found that Ohio’s healthcare spending is mostly on costly downstream care to treat health problems. This is largely because of a lack of attention and effective action in the following areas:

  • Children. Childhood adversity and trauma have long-term consequences
  • Equity. Ohioans with the worst outcomes face systemic disadvantages
  • Prevention. Sparse public health workforce leads to missed opportunities for prevention

The Dashboard is a tool to track Ohio’s progress toward health value — a composite measure of Ohio’s performance on population health and healthcare spending. In ranked profiles, the Dashboard examines Ohio’s rank and trend performance relative to other states across seven domains. In addition, through a series of equity profiles, the Dashboard highlights gaps in outcomes between groups for some of Ohio’s most systematically disadvantaged populations.

The Dashboard includes examples of nine evidence-informed policies that could be adopted by Ohio policymakers and private-sector partners to make Ohio a leader in health value.


HPIO fact sheet explores COVID-19 impact on ACEs

The Health Policy Institute of Ohio has released a new fact sheet, “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).”

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented health, social and economic challenges for all Ohioans. These challenges are far-reaching, including loss of loved ones, unemployment, business closures, disruption to K-12 education and increased stress and social isolation.

The full extent of the impacts of the pandemic on children and youth will take years to discern. However, early indicators of childhood adversity signal the impact of the pandemic on potential challenges to Ohio’s health, well-being and economic vitality for years to come. The fact sheet includes links to recent reports that provide evidence-informed policies that can be implemented in Ohio to prevent and mitigate the impacts of ACEs and eliminate disparities.

The fact sheet is the latest in a series of HPIO publications and an online resource page to examine the impact of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) in Ohio. Other publications include:


Pandemic could cause more childhood lead poisoning, CDC says

Lead screenings for children plummeted last spring, and stay-at-home orders may have increased household exposure to the toxic metal (Source: “More Childhood Lead Poisoning Is a Side Effect of Covid Lockdowns,” New York Times, March 11).

Over the past half-century, public health officials have made enormous progress in protecting American children from lead poisoning and the irreversible neurological damage it can cause. Since the 1970s, the percentage of children with high levels of lead in their blood has plummeted.

But in 2020, when Covid-19 cases spiked, lockdowns and day care closures confined young children to their homes, where lead exposure can be particularly high. The growing national emergency also delayed lead-removal efforts and disrupted routine childhood lead screenings, leaving health officials unable to identify and treat many children living in lead-laden homes.

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that in the early months of the pandemic, roughly 10,000 children with elevated levels of lead in their blood may have gone undetected.

There is no safe level of exposure to lead, which can disrupt neurological and cognitive development, causing learning disabilities, behavioral problems and developmental delays.


HPIO fact sheet outlines link between transit, health equity

The Health Policy Institute of Ohio released a new fact sheet titled “Transit and Health Equity,” which explores the connection between transportation access and health.

According to the fact sheet, “Transportation access is critical for good health across the lifespan.” The fact sheet notes:

  • Transportation to prenatal care and healthy food can improve birth outcomes and reduce infant mortality disparities.
  • Reliable transportation offers better access to jobs which supports self-sufficient employment, and in turn, can lead to higher income and better physical and mental health.
  • Transportation access connects older adults to friends and family, health care, volunteer opportunities and other activities and supports necessary for healthy aging.

The fact sheet also includes links to existing state plans that include strategies for policymakers to consider for improving transit.