Friday, March 30, 2012

Community design impacts physical activity among kids

Today’s guest blog is by Genevieve Dunton, PhD, MPH, assistant professor at the University of Southern California and chair of the APHA Physical Activity Special Primary Interest Group

Smart growth is an urban planning strategy that promotes compact housing development, walkable neighborhoods, close proximity of housing to shops and restaurants, and ample parks and recreation areas. These community design features have the potential to promote physical activity and reduce the risk for obesity.

In a recent study published in Health & Place, we examined whether children living in a community designed according to smart growth urban planning principles are more physically active than children living in conventional suburbs.

Children living in the smart growth community engaged in more physical activity within a few blocks from home, at places they walked to and with friends, compared with children living in conventional suburbs.

We studied the behavior of 121 children, ages 9 to 13, who lived in San Bernardino County, Calif. Approximately half of the children recently moved into a community designed according to smart growth urban planning principles; the other half lived in nearby conventional communities. Children responded to electronic surveys via mobile phones at random times, asking children to report whether they were engaging in physical activity; and if they were, where and with whom, as well as how they perceived their settings.

Children living in smart growth communities engaged in more physical activity near their homes than children who live in traditional suburban communities, possibly because smart growth communities may provide children better access to parks, playing fields and community centers that do not require parents to drive. Furthermore, children in smart growth communities may be active more often with friends because more children live within walking distance.
Zoning and land use policies that promote compact housing development, walkable neighborhoods, close proximity of housing to shops and restaurants, and access to parks and recreation areas have the potential to increase children’s physical activity and reduce their risk for obesity.

For more information, visit Smart Growth Online, Active Living Research, APHA’s Physical Activity SPIG and Designing Healthy Communities book and DVD set.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Don't Forget Your Emotional and Mental Well-Being!

 Today's guest blog is by Jaclyn Blachman-Forshay. Jaclyn Blachman-Forshay, BS, is currently pursuing a master’s in public health with a focus in epidemiology from the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.  She received a bachelor’s in social work from New York University.  Her research interests include HIV prevention among vulnerable populations and understanding the psychological impact of trauma.

Health means much more than caring for one’s physical self; mental and emotional well-being are also necessary to feel good. As part of National Public Health Week (NPHW), the American Public Health Association reminds you to focus on your whole self and to actively practice psychological self-care.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention define mental and emotional well-being as having a positive outlook on an individual’s life. This includes making and maintaining healthy relationships, regularly feeling emotions such as happiness, and having forward-thinking goals.

Well-being is important for people of all ages: children and adults benefit from supportive families, social ties and extra-curricular activities.
We have all heard of taking a “mental health day” to de-stress, but ideally we can implement daily activities that promote overall well-being. Examples of such activities include:
  • Exercise: Exercise has psychological benefits in addition to physical benefits. Regular exercise can decrease feelings of depression and improve sleep.
  •  Volunteer: Giving your time to others can be a meaningful way to give back, and many volunteers state that they receive many benefits from the experience of volunteering. Take one of your passions, such as working with animals or children, and connect with an organization that needs your help.
  •  Vacation: Vacationing doesn’t require a plane trip to a beach. Instead, schedule personal relaxation days in your hometown. Enjoy sleeping in, cooking a meal and watching a movie. Having “mental health days” planned in advance will give you something to look forward to and prevent burn out from being overworked.
Lastly, sometimes we need extra support to feeling mentally and emotionally well. Many benefit from reaching out to a psychologist, psychiatrist or social worker. Get involved with NPHW by committing to your personal mental and emotional well-being and raising awareness about the public health importance of well-being in your community!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Seasonal affective disorder: How to beat the winter blues

This week marked the start of spring, which means longer sun-filled days, increasing temperatures and in many places, blooming flowers. But for half a million people living with seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, spring also brings relief from feelings of the “winter blues.”

Seasonal affective disorder consists of recurring episodes of depression that often begin in the fall and continue through winter, with symptoms subsiding in the spring and summer months. The disorder can cause depression in the spring or early summer, but that’s less common. Symptoms of the disorder can include:
  •   increased appetite and weight gain;
  • increased sleep and daytime sleepiness;
  •  less energy and ability to concentrate in the afternoon;
  •  loss of interest in work or other activities;
  • slow, sluggish, lethargic movement;
  • social withdrawal; and
  • unhappiness and irritability.

People who live in areas of reduced sunlight are at greater risk, and the disorder may begin in the teen years or early adulthood. Luckily, there are ways to treat seasonal affective disorder and to begin feeling better:
  • Get outside. Getting outside during daylight hours provides exposure to natural light, even if it is cloudy. 
  • Exercise. Take a walk, jog or bike ride.
  • Keep active socially. Spend time with others to avoid feeling down.
  •  Use light therapy. Special lights are made to mimic the rays of the sun and when used appropriately, may trick your body into thinking it is sunnier outside.
  •  Talk to your doctor.  Make an appointment to see if adding antidepressants may help reduce or eliminate symptoms of seasonal affective disorder.

With National Public Health Week just around the corner, now is a good time to focus on taking action on mental health issues such as seasonal affective disorder. On Friday, April 6, National Public Health Week ( will highlight mental and emotional well-being and the importance of detecting and treating mental health problems.

For more information on seasonal affective disorder, visit websites for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health America or PubMed Health. For a fact sheet on mental and emotional well-being, visit the National Public Health Week website

Friday, March 16, 2012

Staying healthy can help prevent vision loss

Today’s guest blog is by Jeff Todd, JD, MS, chief operating officer with Prevent Blindness America. Todd joined Prevent Blindness America in 2003, bringing with him a background in social service-related community-development with a primary focus on issues affecting the nation’s young people. As COO, he ensures integration of efforts across the organization’s departments, oversees internal operations and works to expand external partnerships and communication within the vision and eye health community.

Take a moment to think about some of your favorite activities. Would you still be able to do those things without your sight?

Most people think that blindness or severe visual impairment can’t happen to them, but vision loss affects millions of Americans. And the numbers will continue to spiral upward due to our aging population and skyrocketing cases of diabetes.

Today, more than 25 million Americans have diabetes. In addition to other ailments, diabetes is the leading cause of new cases of blindness among those 20 years of age and older.

There is no cure for diabetic eye disease or diabetes, for that matter. So, what can we do to help save our vision and our overall health from diabetes?

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help prevent the onset of Type 2 diabetes. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, monitoring blood pressure and blood sugar levels and quitting smoking can significantly increase your chance of protecting your vision.

But another important factor in maintaining healthy vision is regular eye care. For those who have diabetes or pre-diabetes, visiting your eye doctor once a year is essential. Early detection and treatment are crucial to the success of preventing vision loss from all forms of eye disease.

Prevent Blindness America recently launched the Live Right, Save Sight! program, which offers steps people can take today to save vision in the future. By simply logging onto, you can take an online risk factor quiz as well as learn about how diabetes damages the eye, treatment options and other facts.

Some symptoms of diabetic eye disease may include:

• blurry or clouded vision;

• floaters or dark spots in vision;

• straight lines that do not appear straight, such as flag poles, street lights, etc.;

• difficulty seeing in dim light; and

• tunnel vision, also known as peripheral vision loss.

Take the quiz today and see what your risks are.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Making Time for 30 Minutes of Physical Activity Each Day

Today’s guest blog is by Nancy Gell, a graduate student in the department of kinesiology at Auburn University and a member of APHA’s Physical Activity Special Primary Interest Group.

If you saw the headline, "Problem solved: Feel better, less stressed and more productive at work," would you read on?

If your child's teacher said, "Your child's test scores could be better, and I have an easy solution to make that happen," would you listen to his suggestion?

If your doctor told you, "As you get older, your memory declines, but I have the prescription to help fight against that, and it also helps lower your risk for dementia," would you ask about that prescription?

The good news is, it's all true and all of these scenarios refer to the health benefits of exercise. There are 1,440 minutes in every day; schedule 30 of them for physical activity. For adults, being active for 30 minutes or more on most days of the week can produce positive health benefits. Kids should get at least 60 minutes of activity most days of the week to achieve health benefits.

Here are some ways to fit physical activity into your daily schedule:

• Pick activities that you enjoy. If you don't like to run, try walking; if you don't like to walk, try biking; if you don't like to bike, try dancing.

• Make it social. Giving and getting encouragement from a friend can keep you motivated and help you stick to your physical activity goals.

• Make it a family affair. Encourage your kids to be physically active now to begin establishing a lifetime of healthy behaviors.

• Write down your activity goal. Whatever your goal, writing it down will help you work toward it.

• Log your activity so you can measure your progress. Keeping track of your activity is a good motivator to push yourself harder. 

For more tips and information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s physical activity page, Let's Move!, the American Council on Exercise and APHA’s Physical Activity Special Primary Interest Group.

Friday, March 2, 2012

How to become engaged in National Public Health Week, April 2-8, 2012

National Public Health Week is a great opportunity to show your commitment to public health. So, just how can you get involved in this awareness week?

It’s easy! You should start by perusing the NPHW website and downloading the brochure to get a basic rundown of everything National Public Health Week has to offer.

After you’ve explored the brochure, take the initiative to become a real player. During National Public Health Week 2012, consider planning a local event or related activity. If you have an event you want to promote, become a partner with us and submit your event online. Why partner with us?

1. We’ll post your event on our online interactive event map and the comprehensive event list, along with helping you publicize your event through our own network.

2. You will have access to the NPHW Toolkit. This document gives you all the necessary tips and ideas to maximize the success of your event.

3. Within our NPHW Toolkit, learn how to maximize your social media outreach, with simple things like using “hashtags” (#NPHW) in your tweets or suggested Facebook posts that can further promote your event.

If you’re a student reading this, you might be wondering if this relates to you. Good news — in addition to becoming a regular partner or submitting an event, you get an entire day dedicated to you. Student Day is held the Friday of NPHW and promotes student and campus-run public health events. If you’re interested in teaming up with your school’s public health organization or running an event of your own, feel free to become a partner and access our student resources.

Your NPHW partners want to help your event succeed, but you first need to let us know you’re interested. So explore the NPHW website and brochure, partner up and submit your event. You can sign up for our email updates, too. Good luck!