public health

In an ironic but exceedingly fortunate twist of fate, American Heart Association (AHA) President and interventional cardiologist John Warner, M.D. hours after delivering his plenary address to AHA Scientific Sessions 2017 conference attendees went into full cardiac arrest in his hotel room. Why was such an event that claims the lives of nearly 90% of the more than 350,000 people who endure an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest (OHCA) each year in the U.S. so fortuitous?

Because he lived to tell the tale.

Since survival is fundamentally linked to early, rapid intervention of...

Those in Hollywood are in a unique position to do tremendous good given their substantial platform. Unfortunately, with that megaphone comes immense responsibility. While many take that very seriously and share meaningful messages that can spread awareness about disease and its prevention, the speed of the news cycle and the endless modes of social media connection can disseminate misinformation in an instant-- with a global reach.

So, let’s take a look back this year at what we learned from Tinseltown--good, bad and indifferent.

 

Health Outreach

Jack Black and Ed Sheeran are among those who had the right idea because their efforts stemmed from an authentic and caring place.   

A...

The Boogyman, a vestige of many childhoods, was an amorphous monster. And while his outline was unclear, his purpose wasn’t; it was to frighten kids into obedience. It was a form of terror, bending children to the will of their all-knowing parents. That is why it is particularly disheartening to see the boogeyman appear in conversations about public health, specifically baby foods. And of course, Big Tobacco is the fiend called forth. 

An article in World Nutrition invokes the specter of Big Tobacco and its great weaponized ‘playbook’, which is now considered so powerful and effective it's become mythology, while tobacco companies paid tens of billions in settlements because the playbook actually...

My wife and I travel frequently from our home in Seattle to Europe to visit her parents. I've been across the pond 20 times, and I've visited 18 countries there.

Whenever I listen to Americans talk about Europe, I'm struck by how little they actually understand it. To the Left, Europe is a progressive paradise -- scientifically savvy, technologically advanced, and culturally liberal with cradle-to-grave welfare for all. To the Right, Europe is a socialist hellhole -- an economically stagnant, irreligious, morally bankrupt continent of has-beens.

These diametrically opposed caricatures are completely wrong. As is often the case, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

Take science policy, for instance. Europe notoriously embraces the "precautionary principle,"...

Despite the mounting data about the benefits of electronic cigarette use, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo must not be getting the memos.  In a move that can only be explained as pro-cancer, Governor Cuomo has decided to ban indoor vaping in restaurants, bars and places of employment - effectively treating such devices in the same fashion as combustible cigarettes.

If it is passive inhalation of toxins we are worried about, I have a suggestion for Governor Cuomo - perhaps he should move to a ranch in Wyoming.  Simply step out on any NYC sidewalk on any given day and you will find yourself immediately assaulted with a plethora of respiratory insults - from the rank smells of garbage, vehicle...

For the vast majority of people who live in the developed world, infectious disease is an afterthought.

Sure, we still catch colds and (if we're old or immunocompromised) can die of influenza, pneumonia, or food poisoning. Antibiotic resistance is scary -- and directly responsible for about 23,000 deaths in the U.S. each year -- but it hasn't quite become the apocalypse we all feared. In general, the microbial world is just not something the average person has to think about very much.

That luxury of modern life is due to the strong defense provided by the "pillars" of our public health system. According to Dr. Michael Osterholm, these...

Every student in America should be required to take a class called, "What Do We Know, and How Do We Know It?" Perhaps if we learned from an early age how we know the things we claim to know, fewer Americans would fall for ridiculous conspiracy theories.

Public health is a field that is widely misunderstood, even by science journalists. That is because epidemiology is an inexact science that is complicated by a large variability in the quality of the data it produces, as well as by its reliance on advanced statistical methods. Let's leave the latter aside and focus on the former. Which epidemiological studies are most reliable and why?

From weakest to strongest, here are the most common epidemiological study designs:

Case report. A case report is...

Excited to report that a new study in Health Affairs provides us with another metric that we have previously known and repeatedly been shown in the literature (and in medical practice):  Life expectancy and well-being are positively linked.  

If you have ever practiced medicine, then you are used to constant email or text alerts from hospitals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the Department of Health, to name a few.  Most say urgent or emergent in the header.  Since patient results and inquiries are nonstop, being tethered to the phone is a modern reality for the practicing physician.  Often, while running between patients, procedures, facilities and electronic medical...

When some of the public hears about vaccines today, they may think of Andrew Wakefield's fraudulent links to autism or Jenny McCarthy’s use of her Hollywood megaphone to polarize the issue as well as encourage the spread of an anti-vaccine movement.  

Truth be told, for a time public opinion did shift and philosophical exemptions boomed, primarily in states like California, Washington, and Oregon. Preventable diseases blossomed. 

As science stood largely silent, Dr. Paul Offit - Chief of Infectious Diseases and the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and long-time trustee and supporter of the American Council on Science and Health - took to the helm to fight the noble battle on behalf of children’s health and safety.  He...

Kissing bug

Our public health system has a very bad habit of fighting the last war. This has resulted in a real-life version of American Horror Story. Like the plagues of Egypt, one exotic disease after another keeps washing ashore, catching scientists and public health officials flat-footed. 

First, it was Ebola. For decades, Ebola was a bizarre and terrifying disease associated with remote villages in Africa and a movie starring Dustin Hoffman. Out of sight, out of mind. Then, things "got real" when it killed a Liberian man in Texas in October 2014. Only after that public scare did Ebola research and prevention kick into high gear. Likewise, Zika was once an obscure virus, until...