Climate change may increase congenital heart defects

Midwestern states could be most severely affected

Rising temperatures and extreme heat events associated with global climate change may have yet another important health impact: increased numbers of infants born with congenital heart defects (CHD). According to recent research conducted by a multi-disciplinary team that included University of Iowa investigators, heat waves in the United States over the next two decades may result in as many as 7,000 additional CHD cases between 2025 and 2035.

A portrait of Paul Romitti of the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
Paul Romitti

The study looked at climate change forecasts for eight representative states, including Iowa, and found that the greatest percentage increases in the number of congenital heart defects are predicted in the Midwest, followed by the Northeast and the South. Paul Romitti, professor of epidemiology in the UI College of Public Health, contributed to this research, which appeared in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

“Climate change may have a disproportionate impact on CHD in the Midwest,” said Romitti. “Our study predicts that this area of the country will potentially have the highest increase in maternal exposure to excessively hot days and heat event frequency and duration.”

Congenital heart defects are the most common birth defect in the United States, affecting some 40,000 newborns each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While previous research has found a link between maternal heat exposure and the risk for heart defects in offspring, the precise mechanisms remain unclear. Studies in animals suggest that heat may cause fetal cell death or interfere with several heat-sensitive proteins that play a critical role in fetal development, the researchers say.

The estimates in the current study are based on projections of the number of births between 2025 and 2035 in the United States and the anticipated rise in average maternal heat exposure across different regions as a result of global climate change. In their analysis, the researchers used climate change forecasts obtained from NASA and the Goddard Institute for Space Studies. They improved the spatial and temporal resolutions of the forecasts, simulated changes in daily maximum temperatures by geographic region, and then calculated the anticipated maternal heat exposure per region for spring and summer.

This study was supported by the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with partial support by the National Natural Science Foundation of China.

Wehby to study effects of minimum wage on long-term child health and development

A new University of Iowa research project will analyze the impact of a largely unstudied policy lever – changes in minimum wages – on child health and development.

A portrait of George Wehby of the Department of Health Management and Policy at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
George Wehby

The research, a two-year project led by principal investigators George Wehby, professor of health management and policy at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, and Robert Kaestner, research professor at the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy, and their colleague Dhaval Dave, professor of economics at Bentley University, is funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

“Despite efforts to rigorously analyze various effects of changes to minimum wages, the link to child development is not well understood,” noted Wehby. “If the minimum wage has significant, positive effects on child development, it would be an important strategy to improve children’s well-being and diminish socioeconomic disparities in child development.”

Using data from multiple national datasets, the researchers will investigate two primary questions:

  1. The effects of the minimum wage on child development, including physical and mental health, socioemotional development, cognition, and standardized test scores. The researchers will assess the effects of the minimum wage at different stages of childhood and examine both long- and short-term effects of minimum wage changes.
  2. The effects of the minimum wage on several potential mechanisms linking the minimum wage to child outcomes including family income, parental health and health behaviors, parental time use (employment and time spent with child), family health insurance coverage, child’s use of health care services, school choices (private v. public), and residential stability.

The current federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. As of January 2019, there are 29 states and the District of Columbia that have a minimum wage higher than the federal minimum wage. In Iowa and 20 other states the minimum wage is $7.25.

Until recently, research on the effects of minimum wages has mostly focused on economic concerns, such as poverty and unemployment, but interest in possible health impacts is growing. Previous research by Wehby, Kaestner, and others has suggested that increasing the minimum wage would lead to an increase in birthweight among babies born to women with low education.

The new project is part of RWJF’s Policies for Action (P4A) signature research program, which supports innovative transdisciplinary research about how policies, laws, and other system and community levers in the public and private sectors can support RWJF’s vision of building a Culture of Health in this country. P4A is building an actionable evidence base to inform legislators and other policymakers, public agencies, community leaders, and others developing policies to improve population health and promote equity.

Healthy LifeStars program teaches kids important habits for lifelong health

a group of elementary kids sit in a circle on the playgroundOn a sunny fall afternoon, a group of second- and third-graders sits in a circle on the playground to talk about goals.

“Who can tell me what that word means?” asks Hailey Boudreau, a graduate student who is guiding the discussion at an after-school program.

The kids’ hands shoot up as fast as their answers: “Winning!” “Medals!” “A trophy!”

“You study and practice to pass a test,” Boudreau continues. “Does it make you happy when you pass?”

The kids nod.

“How about exercise? What’s your goal for exercise?”

“Sixty minutes a day!” several kids shout.

“So we need goals to help us move forward, right?” Boudreau asks.

The kids soon put their exercise goal into action as Boudreau leads them in lively games of sharks and minnows, freeze tag, and duck, duck, goose.

Boudreau is serving as a coach for Healthy LifeStars, an innovative program aimed at reducing childhood obesity. Developed for elementary-age kids, the program motivates and teaches children to set personal health goals, be active every day, and eat the right foods in the right amounts.

Teaching Healthy Habits

The program is being implemented through a partnership between Healthy LifeStars and the Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy (IIPHRP) based in the University of Iowa (UI) College of Public Health. Healthy LifeStars is a national non-profit organization dedicated to ending childhood obesity through education, awareness, and changed habits to influence future generations of healthy children.

Healthy LifeStars was founded in 2003 and has reached over 35,000 schoolchildren in Arizona and Colorado. In 2018, it launched programs in Iowa and Ohio and has the goal of growing nationwide.

“Nationally, one in three children is overweight or obese,” says Edith Parker, dean of the College of Public Health. “We’re excited to introduce this program in Iowa and expand it statewide to help teach kids healthy, lifelong habits.”

The program is offered in Iowa at no charge, thanks to a gift from the Stead Family Foundation and Jerre and Mary Joy Stead, two former Iowans who are among the most generous donors to the University of Iowa.

Partnership Power

Elementary age kids play a tag gameHealthy LifeStars started in Iowa this fall with several sites in the Iowa City area. The program is delivered in before- and after-school programs and is led in part by UI student coaches.
“We’re building a network of student volunteers who are an integral part of getting this program off the ground in our state,” says Vickie Miene, interim director of IIPHRP and director of the Iowa Healthy LifeStars program. Students from a variety of majors volunteer as coaches and contribute ideas to the program through a UI student advisory council. In addition, students contribute to social media articles and healthy lifestyle campaigns associated with the program.

IIPHRP will partner with additional schools, youth-serving organizations, and health initiatives to continue to grow the program across the state. The goal is to enroll 5,400 Iowa children in the first three years in both urban and rural locations.

To help motivate kids to reach their goals, each Healthy LifeStars participant receives a lanyard and chain to display reward tokens. Kids earn a colorful plastic star every time they achieve one of the goals they set for themselves.

Connecting the Dots

Boudreau, who is earning a Master of Public Health degree in community and behavioral health at the UI College of Public Health, visits Grant Wood Elementary in Iowa City twice a week to work with groups of K-6 students.

“It’s amazing, the connections the kids are able to make between all of the subjects,” she says. “For example, when we talked about nutrition, the kids were able to make the connection between skipping meals or eating poor options for lunch and how they would feel during class and recess.”

Boudreau also enjoys playing active games with the students.

“During our exercise lesson recently, we talked about feelings while exercising. They spoke about feeling sweaty, tired, and sore, but also about how they laugh and smile,” she says. “We all laugh and smile when we start our activity portion of the class. It’s contagious!”

This story originally appeared in the fall 2018 issue of InSight magazine

Flint activist, pediatrician Mona Hanna-Attisha will visit the college March 25

All College of Public Health students, faculty, and staff are invited to join a college-wide reading of What the Eyes Don’t See: A Story of Crisis, Resistance, and Hope in an American City by Mona Hanna-Attisha.  It has been selected by the New York Times Book Review as among the ‘100 Notable Books of 2018.’

The book aligns with the University of Iowa’s spring 2019 theme semester, “American Dream.”

Dr. Hanna-Attisha will visit the College of Public Health in March 2019 for several events.

photo of book cover for What the Eyes Don't SeeMonday, March 25

CPH Spotlight Lecture
12:30 pm | Callaghan Auditorium (N110 CPHB)

Public Lecture
7 pm | Callaghan Auditorium (N110 CPHB)
Free and open to the public

Free Books for CPH Students

CPH students will receive a free copy of the book from their department or program — check with your department for details!

Borrow a Book

CPH faculty and staff are invited to borrow a copy of the book from the college for a two-week period. Email cph-communications@uiowa.edu to request a book loan or stop by S173 CPHB to pick up a copy.

About the Book

WHAT THE EYES DON’T SEE  the inspiring story of how Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, alongside a team of researchers, parents, friends, and community leaders, discovered that the children of Flint, Michigan, were being exposed to lead in their tap water—and then battled her own government and a brutal backlash to expose that truth to the world. Paced like a scientific thriller, What the Eyes Don’t See reveals how misguided austerity policies, broken democracy, and callous bureaucratic indifference placed an entire city at risk. And at the center of the story is Dr. Mona herself—an immigrant, doctor, scientist, and mother whose family’s activist roots inspired her pursuit of justice.

What the Eyes Don’t See is a riveting account of a shameful disaster that became a tale of hope, the story of a city on the ropes that came together to fight for justice, self-determination, and the right to build a better world for their—and all of our—children.

About the Author

portrait of Dr. Mona Hanna-AttishMona Hanna-Attisha, MD, MPH, FAAP, Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative, an innovative and model public health program in Flint, Michigan. A pediatrician, scientist, and activist, Dr. Hanna-Attisha has testified twice before the United States Congress, was presented the Freedom of Expression Courage Award by PEN America, and named one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World for her role in uncovering the Flint Water Crisis and leading recovery efforts. She has appeared on CNN, MSNBC, BBC and countless other media outlets championing the cause of children in Flint and beyond. She is
founding donor of the Flint Child Health and Development Fund (flintkids.org).

Dr. Hanna-Attisha received her bachelor’s and Master of Public Health degrees from the University of  Michigan and her medical degree from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. She completed her residency at Children’s Hospital of Michigan in Detroit, where she was chief resident. She is currently an associate professor of pediatrics and human development at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine.

 

Study looks at prevalence, treatment patterns of autism spectrum disorder

A portrait of Assistant Professor Wei Bao of the Department of Epidemiology in the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
Wei Bao

A new study from researchers at the University of Iowa shows that while autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is relatively prevalent among U.S. children aged 3-17 years, a large number of them don’t receive any type of treatment. The study was published in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Pediatrics.

The researchers looked at data from the 2016 National Survey of Children’s Health and found that 2.8% of the 43,032 children in the survey had been diagnosed with ASD and 2.5% currently had ASD. Among the children with current ASD, 29.5% never received either behavioral or medication treatments.

Wei Bao, corresponding author of the paper and assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Iowa College of Public Health, says that understanding who does not receive treatment for ASD can help researchers identify and eliminate barriers to treatment.

“ASD is a neurodevelopmental disorder with substantial lifetime burden to the individuals and families,” Bao says. “Although the causes of ASD remain unclear, there are some evidence-based therapies to treat the symptoms of ASD. Efforts should be made to ensure that children with ASD receive appropriate treatment, the earlier the better.”

According to Bao, understanding the status of ASD is just a start. “As a next step, we want to know what factors are related to the risk of ASD,” he says. “We are particularly interested in modifiable risk factors during pregnancy or in early life that may help figure out a way to reduce or prevent ASD in the future.”

The study, “Prevalence and Treatment Patterns of Autism Spectrum Disorder in the United States, 2016”, was first-authored by Guifeng Xu and co-authored by Lane Strathearn, Buyun Liu, Matthew O’Brien, Todd G. Kopelman, Jing Zhu, and Linda G. Snetselaar, all from the University of Iowa.

The study is available online at https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/fullarticle/2716402.

Additional Media Coverage

How Many Children Have Autism? Estimates Continue to Rise (Psychology Today)
https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brainstorm/201812/how-many-children-have-autism-estimates-continue-rise

Another study finds autism in 1 in 40 children (UPI)
https://www.upi.com/Another-study-finds-autism-in-1-in-40-children/4821543874343/

Another Tally Puts Autism Cases at 1 in 40 (U.S. News)
https://health.usnews.com/health-care/articles/2018-12-03/another-tally-puts-autism-cases-at-1-in-40

National surveys estimate U.S. autism prevalence at 1 in 40 (Spectrum)
https://www.spectrumnews.org/news/national-surveys-estimate-u-s-autism-prevalence-1-40/

 

Expert to speak on impact of children’s exposures to environmental chemicals

children's environmental exposures lecture poster

 

How to think about (and characterize) the population impact of children’s exposures to environmental chemicals

David C. Bellinger, PhD
Boston Children’s Hospital
Department of Neurology, Harvard Medical School
Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health

Friday, December 7, 2018
10:45 am
MERF 2117

Sponsored by:

The Environmental Health Sciences Research Center
The Human Toxicology Program
The Iowa Superfund Basic Research Program

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact Hans-Joachim Lehmler at 335-4310 in advance.

UI research improves school lunches for Iowa K–12 students

Portrait of Natoshia Askelson, professor in the Department of Community and Behavioral Health at the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
Natoshia Askelson

The Healthy Schools-Healthy Students program works with school districts to encourage students to eat more nutritious lunches more often. The program in Iowa is administered by the Iowa Department of Education and evaluated by the University of Iowa College of Public Health. Its goal is to use strategies proven by research to reduce childhood obesity, provide fresh fruits and vegetables to students who may not have regular access to them, and establish good eating habits for life.

“Research has shown that if you get kids eating spinach and broccoli and other nutritious foods when they’re young, they’re more likely to eat them for life,” says Natoshia Askelson, assistant professor of community and behavioral health in the College of Public Health who oversees the program at UI. She and a group of UI students have been working with 10 high schools, 10 middle schools, and 10 elementary schools in two-year cycles since 2013 to implement strategies and measure results. The program wraps up in May 2019.

Read the full article in Iowa Now: UI research improves school lunches for Iowa K–12 students 

Additional Media Coverage

Putting zucchini on schoolkids’ A-list: Iowa research looked at how to make students eat more fruits and veggies (The Gazette)

College of Public Health builds healthy eating habits in rural schools (Daily Iowan)

 

Romitti to lead international birth defects clearinghouse

A portrait of Paul Romitti of the University of Iowa College of Public Health.
Paul Romitti

Paul Romitti, University of Iowa professor of epidemiology, has been appointed to a two-year term as chair of the executive committee for the International Clearinghouse for Birth Defects Surveillance and Research (ICBDSR).

The ICBDSR, a voluntary non-profit organization affiliated with the World Health Organization, brings together birth defect surveillance and research programs from around the world with the aim of investigating and preventing birth defects and lessening the impact of their consequences. Its 42 member programs lead surveillance and research into the occurrence and causes of birth defects, while the ICBDSR and its affiliates provide services such as online continuing education for clinicians, epidemiologists, and public health professionals and guiding efforts to raise awareness about birth defects prevention and treatment.

Romitti directs the Iowa Registry for Congenital and Inherited Disorders, one of the ICBDSR member organizations. Based in the University of Iowa College of Public Health, the registry conducts active surveillance to identify information about congenital and inherited disorders that occur to Iowa residents, tracks trends in these disorders, and provides data for research studies and educational activities aimed at prevention and treatment.

“I am enthusiastic for this opportunity to help guide strategies for birth defect surveillance, research, and prevention worldwide,” says Romitti.

Additional information about the International Clearinghouse for Birth Defects Surveillance and Research is available at http://www.icbdsr.org/.

Additional information about the Iowa Registry for Congenital and Inherited Disorders is available at https://www.public-health.uiowa.edu/ircid/.

RUPRI’s Richgels discusses summertime experiences of rural children

Jocelyn Richgels, director of national policy programs for the Rural Policy Research Institute, was an invited panelist at a National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine information gathering session held Sept. 19 in Washington, D.C.

The session was convened by the Committee on Summertime Experiences and Child and Adolescent Education, Health, and Safety. Richgels contributed perspectives on the summertime experiences of children and adolescents in rural communities.

The committee, chaired by Martín Sepúlveda, IBM Fellow, CEO of CLARALUZ, LLC., and long-time member of the College of Public Health Board of Advisors, is studying how summertime experiences affect children across four areas of well-being: 1) academic learning and opportunities for enrichment; 2) social and emotional development; 3) physical and mental health and health-promoting behaviors; and 4) safety, risk-taking, and anti-and pro-social behavior.

Additional information is available at http://sites.nationalacademies.org/dbasse/bcyf/summertime/.

Healthy LifeStars program challenges childhood obesity in Iowa

An innovative program that tackles childhood obesity — the number one health problem for children — will soon be making its debut in Iowa. Aimed at elementary-age kids, the LifeStar Challenge motivates and teaches children how to live active, healthy lives now and in the future.

The program is being implemented through a partnership between Healthy LifeStars and the Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy based in the University of Iowa College of Public Health. Healthy LifeStars is a national non-profit organization dedicated to ending childhood obesity through education, awareness, and changed habits to influence future generations of healthy children.

The Iowa Healthy LifeStars program will be offered at no charge, thanks to a gift from the Stead Family Foundation and Jerre and Mary Joy Stead, two former Iowans who are among the most generous donors to the University of Iowa.

Nationally, one in three children is overweight or obese. Healthy LifeStars was founded in 2003 to address childhood obesity and has reached over 35,000 kids in Arizona and Colorado. In 2018, it launched programs in Iowa and Ohio and has the goal of growing nationwide.

“We’re excited to introduce this program in Iowa and expand it statewide,” says Vickie Miene, interim director of the Iowa Institute of Public Health Research and Policy (IIPHRP) and director of the Iowa Healthy LifeStars program. “Our goal is to enroll 5,400 kids in the first three years in both urban and rural locations.”

The LifeStar Challenge will begin in Iowa this fall with several sites in the Iowa City area. The program will be delivered in before- and after-school programs and will be led in part by University of Iowa student coaches

“We will build a network of UI student volunteers who will be an integral part of getting this program off the ground in Iowa,” Miene explains. “UI students from a variety of majors have already expressed interest in volunteering as LifeStars coaches and will contribute ideas to the program through a UI student advisory council. In addition, UI students will contribute to social media articles and healthy lifestyle campaigns associated with the program.”

IIPHRP will partner with additional schools, youth-serving organizations, and health initiatives to continue to grow the program across the state.

The LifeStar Challenge teaches kids and their families the three Healthy Life Habits: setting personal health goals, taking part in vigorous physical activity every day, and eating the right foods in the right amounts. Each child receives a lanyard and chain to display reward tokens. Kids earn a colorful plastic star every time they achieve one of the goals they set for themselves. Everything organizers need to get started is included in a simple kit with additional information online.

“All of the tools are available on-line and the program is flexible, so it’s easy to implement in a variety of settings,” says Miene.

For more information about the program, visit https://www.public-health.uiowa.edu/healthy-lifestars/.