Across the country this Mother’s Day 2013, moms will wake to pancakes and juice in bed and some assortment of cards, gifts and children sticky with syrup and ready (at least for an hour) to serve their mothers’ every need. Missing from this familiar tableau will be the “gift” that would really make a difference for moms and families – comprehensive paid parental leave. While 163 countries provide paid maternity leave, the United States remains the only “developed” country missing this most basic benefit in support of family health (and family values) – the ability to take time off, with pay, to care for a new baby. How out of step is the U.S when it comes to parental leave? The only other countries that do not mandate paid parental leave are Liberia, Suriname and Papua New Guinea.
New Jersey, at least, is one of a handful of states that allows for partial salary through disability insurance.
The benefits of paid parental leave have been well documented. It is associated with lower infant mortality, increased breastfeeding, and better child and mother health outcomes. Parental leaves for dads have been shown to strengthen father/child relationships and increase the amount of time fathers spend with their children. Healthier children and healthier relationships don’t just impact family well-being, they inevitably result in societal and economic benefits: fewer sick days, lower health care costs, and less need for family or child intervention.
What interests you: Disease sleuthing? Global bioethics? Protecting the food supply? Protecting yourself when you travel?
A new ranking of the top 30 public health blogs places The Public's Health at No. 14. The complete list is below. Lots of interesting stuff.
And if you want to go beyond reading about public health, join us at 6 p.m. Friday for “Blogging and Beer: Public Health in Philadelphia.” Also with us will be our editor at the Inquirer, public health writer Don Sapatkin, and some of our regular contributors. There is no cover charge for what we hope will be a lively discussion at Rembrandt’s Restaurant in Fairmount, one of several health offerings at the Philadelphia Science Festival that we mentioned last week.
Best Public Health Blogs
Despite slowly declining teen birth rates in the United States, more than 367,000 young women and girls ages 15-19 had babies in 2010, according to a recent vital statistics report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This number accounted for almost 10% of all births that year. Making matters worse, nearly 1 in 5 of those teen births was a repeat birth, meaning it was at least the second time that teen mother had had a baby. Most of those repeat births were for a second child, but over 12% of them were for births of a third child or more.
Teenagers having babies can have negative consequences for mother and child alike. According to a study by E. Ruedinger and J.E. Cox at Children’s Hospital in Boston and Harvard Medical School, outcomes for both are worsened by the social and economic factors affecting the women independently of their status as teen mothers.
Having a child can limit a teenage mom's ability to attend school or get a job. Teenage mothers also experience high rates of depression, substance abuse, and higher levels of intimate partner violence. They also, compared to their peers, have higher rates of poverty.
In the wake of the New York State Supreme Court striking down New York City’s ban on sodas larger than 16 ounces, a surprising op-ed appeared in the New York Times. The essay encouraged New York City, despite the ruling, not to give up trying to limit the aggressive marketing tactics of big food companies and the soda industry. The surprise, however, was not the sentiment – after all, many public health leaders applaud Mayor Bloomberg’s latest effort to address obesity by regulating sales of super-sized sodas.
The op-ed, it turns out, was written by a former food industry insider, Kraft Foods executive Michael Mudd. Mudd had left the industry when he could no longer accept, as he called it, “a business model that put profits over public health.” Mudd argues that it is big food processors and soft drink companies who are the most culpable for the growth in obesity. “Over the years, relentless efforts were made to increase the number of eating occasions people indulged in and the amount of food they consumed at each. Even as awareness grew of the health consequences of obesity, the industry continued to emphasize cheap and often unhealthful ingredients that maximized taste, shelf life and profits,” he wrote.
Selling food and beverages to kids is big business. According to a recent Federal Trade Commission report, the food and beverage industry, including fast food restaurants, spent 1.79 billion dollars in 2009 to sell products mostly low in nutrition and high in calories, sugars, salt and fats to America’s children. Seventy-two percent of this was spent on fast food restaurants, carbonated beverages and breakfast cereals.
Bette Begleiter and Mazvita Nyamukapa
In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama emphasized the need to give our kids a chance by making high quality-preschool available to every child . His message echoed that of Former President Lyndon B. Johnson, who in his 1964 State of the Union address resolved to begin the War on Poverty and from this birthed the Office of Head Start. From a public health perspective, resolving to invest in our future by increasing access to early childhood education for all children, is a good thing supported by both data and our values as a society.
Sadly, however, hopes for universal pre-school have been dashed for the moment.
Sequestration, the budget-slashing result of both parties’ failure to reach a more palatable deficit-cutting compromise, has led to 5% funding cuts for all current Head Start programs, not to mention the President’s proposed expansion. This particular sequestration cut translates to the projected loss of $11.6 million in Head Start funding from Pennsylvania’s economy and more than 200 Head Start-related jobs. Worst of all, up to 2,300 commonwealth children will lose access to Head Start and Early Head Start services. New Jersey will be cut by $7.6 millionand a loss of access for 1,300 children (nationwide, Head Start will cover 70,000 fewer children).
By Jonathan Purtle
What does the United States have in common with South Sudan and Somalia? Not much, except for being the only other United Nations member state that has not ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Entered into force in 1990, the CRC is a human rights document that guarantees a set of civil, political, economic, social, health, and cultural rights to children. Some specific rights include not being subjected to abuse, having guaranteed access to health care and quality education, and enjoying the freedom to access information, express one’s thoughts, and establish an identity. The United States was instrumental in helping draft the treaty during Ronald Reagan’s presidency and signed it in 1995 (a purely symbolic act), but the Senate has yet to ratify it. The CRC is a legally binding document. If the United States were to ratify it, the federal government would need to ensure that the rights enumerated in the treaty were satisfied for all children in the U.S., or face sanctions from the United Nations.
Erin Cusack and Bette Begleiter
On Monday, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a conservative Republican, said “yes” to his state receiving billions of federal dollars to increase health-care coverage through Medicaid expansion. The following day, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, in an unsurprising but still disappointing turn of events, announced he was “not recommending” that Pennsylvania accept this money at this time – a statement that could leave hundreds of thousands of uninsured families out in the cold.
Since 2010, the public debate on health reform – plagued by myths, political ideology, and not a few unfounded claims – has devolved from a conversation about solving the problem of the uninsured, to a game of partisan bickering and infighting. Now, with election season behind us and the implementation of most important provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) less than a year away, Pennsylvania faces the largest public policy decision regarding Medicaid in decades, as does New Jersey: Should the state expand Medicaid and health coverage as part of landmark health care reform?
In 1965, when President Lyndon B. Johnson amended the Social Security Act to enact Medicaid, the federal government promised an unprecedented state-federal partnership that would provide health insurance to millions of uninsured Americans. Although all 50 states would eventually join the program by 1982, only six would set the precedent by joining Medicaid in its inaugural year. Pennsylvania was one of them. As a result, thousands of uninsured Pennsylvanians had access to life-saving health care for the first time.
By Jonathan Purtle
Last Friday, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced new standards to regulate the nutritional content of food sold in schools. The standards come in response to a bipartisan request from Congress for something to be done about childhood obesity in the U.S.— an issue of public health priority, and national security, which has been getting worse for the past 30 years. In 1980, about six percent of the nation’s school-aged children were obese. In 2010, 18 percent were obese (an additional 15 percent were overweight, so fully one-third were carrying around too many pounds for their height).
Why might school food environments be a place to intervene? As noted in an issue brief recently published by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, food consumed at school accounts for between 35 and 50 percent of a kid’s diet. About 40 percent of students buy, and eat, at least one snack at a school daily; 68 percent purchase and guzzle at least one sugary drink.