People who want to eat healthy and live sustainably have a new way to measure their impact on the environment: a Web-based tool [http://n-print.org/sites/n-print.org/files/footprint_sql/index.html#/home] that calculates an individual’s “nitrogen footprint.” The device was created by University of Virginia environmental scientist James N. Galloway; Allison Leach, a staff research assistant at U.Va.; and colleagues from the Netherlands and the University of Maryland.
The calculator is a project of the International Nitrogen Initiative, a global network of scientists who share research and data on the nitrogen dilemma. The project was announced Feb. 19 at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington.
What’s the nitrogen dilemma? Though some residents of the Chesapeake Bay and Gulf of Mexico likely are familiar with it, it’s unknown to most Americans outside the agricultural world. For the last 30 years, Galloway and other leading scientists have been noting fish kills in coastal areas, threats to human health as a result of air and water pollution, and changes to global biodiversity and climate. This tool is one of their attempts to foster more understanding of nitrogen’s role in our lives.
“Nitrogen, as any farmer knows, is essential to plant life,” said Galloway, associate dean for the sciences in the College of Arts and Sciences at U.Va. and the Sidman P. Poole Professor of Environmental Sciences. “But the widespread use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer to boost crop production has resulted in excess nitrogen coming off farms – essentially adding unwanted, unneeded fertilizer to our natural systems, with disastrous results. The combustion of fossil fuels adds even more nitrogen to our environment. It’s a largely untold story.”
Scientists are calling nitrogen pollution a major environmental problem that includes significant damage to air and water quality in places such as the Chesapeake Bay, where the federal government has dedicated hundreds of millions of dollars to reducing nitrogen runoff from farms and industry. Similarly, nitrogen runoff from Midwestern farms that ultimately flows into the Gulf of Mexico is largely responsible for toxic algal blooms that have suffocated coastal waters, leading to hypoxic zones, resulting in the loss of fish and shellfish.
To raise awareness, Galloway, a pioneering nitrogen scientist, organized a global team of experts to develop the footprint calculator as an educational tool – one he and his colleagues hope will both raise the profile of the nitrogen issue and galvanize people into action. By measuring what and how much you eat, as well as other factors like how you travel, the calculator shows your impact on the nitrogen cycle.
The website also makes recommendations for how to lessen your “nitrogen footprint.” They are similar to other sustainable living choices: reduce airplane travel, choose renewable energy and eat less meat, particularly beef (since cattle consume massive quantities of farmed feed, which requires much fertilizer). Professors and lecturers are already using the tool in classrooms to teach students how one individual can alter – and help restore – a natural nitrogen cycle.
“Solving the nitrogen dilemma is a major challenge of our time,” Leach said. “By calculating our individual impact, and taking small steps to reduce it, we can all play a part – and send a strong message to our nation’s leaders that we want this issue taken seriously.”
This new footprint calculator is the first in a series of research tools, known as N-Print [http://www.n-print.org/], which Galloway and his team are developing to connect the production of nitrogen with the policies used to manage it. The team is currently creating a similar calculator for farmers and other nitrogen users, as well as a tool for policymakers that will provide regional nitrogen emission ceilings, which will show how much nitrogen can be released in these regions without major negative environmental impact.
“There are readily available solutions to reducing nitrogen pollution,” Galloway said. “By connecting consumers, producers and policymakers, we can solve it.”
Chemical fertilizer use and combustion engines are the main sources of nitrogen pollution. Scientists who are recording dramatic changes to ecosystems from the U.S. to China say the disruption of the naturally occurring cycle of nitrogen through ecosystems due to human activity leads the list of global tipping points [http://bit.ly/95eWNn] and have named it a top threat to global biodiversity. It contributes to human health problems, water pollution, ozone layer depletion, smog, climate change and coastal dead zones. Nitrous oxide, created mostly from grain and meat production, is also a greenhouse gas 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
This project is supported by the Agouron Institute, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.Va., and the Energy Research Center of the Netherlands.
For information, visit: www.n-print.org/.
Struggling to follow doctor’s orders
Paid caregivers may lack the skills to take on health-related tasks in senior’s homes
CHICAGO — Paid caregivers make it possible for seniors to remain living in their homes. The problem, according to a new Northwestern Medicine study, is that more than one-third of caregivers had difficulty reading and understanding health-related information and directions. Sixty percent made errors when sorting medications into pillboxes.
In a first-of-its-kind study, nearly 100 paid, non-family caregivers were recruited in the Chicago area and their health literacy levels and the health-related responsibilities were assessed, said Lee Lindquist, M.D., assistant professor of geriatrics at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and physician at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
“We found that nearly 86 percent of the caregivers perform health-related tasks,” said Lindquist, lead author of the study. “Most of the caregivers are women, about 50 years old. Many are foreign born or have a limited education. The jobs typically pay just under $9.00 per hour, but nearly one-third of the caregivers earn less than minimum wage.”
Lindquist found that despite pay, country of birth or education level, 60 percent of all the caregivers made errors when doling medication into a pillbox. This is an alarming statistic, because patients who don’t take certain medications as prescribed could end up in the hospital, Lindquist said.
“Many of these caregivers are good people who don’t want to disappoint and don’t want to lose their jobs,” Lindquist said. “So they take on health-related responsibilities, such as giving out medications and accompanying clients to the doctor for appointments. Most physicians and family members do not realize that while the caregiver is nodding and saying ‘yes’, she might not really understand what is being said.”
Right now there isn’t a standard test family members or employment agencies can use to gauge a caregiver’s ability to understand and follow health-related information, Lindquist said.
“Currently we are developing tests consumers can use to evaluate caregiver skills as well as studying the screening processes caregiver agencies use,” Lindquist said. “But, if you really want to know if the caregiver is doing a good job and is taking care of the health needs of your senior, start by going into the home, observing them doing the tasks, and asking more questions.”###
The title of the study is “Inadequate Health Literacy Among Paid Caregivers of Seniors.”***
- Managing Medications: Tips for Family Caregivers (homecareminneapolis.wordpress.com)
- How to Create a Pill Card to Keep Track of Meds
February 17, 2011 20:30
Wider implementation of policies is needed to save lives and reduce the health impact of harmful alcohol drinking, says a new report by WHO. Harmful use of alcohol results in the death of 2.5 million people annually, causes illness and injury to many more, and increasingly affects younger generations and drinkers in developing countries.
Alcohol use is the third leading risk factor for poor health globally. A wide variety of alcohol-related problems can have devastating impacts on individuals and their families and can seriously affect community life. The harmful use of alcohol is one of the four most common modifi able and preventable risk factors for major noncommunicable diseases (NCDs). There is also emerging evidence that the harmful use of alcohol contributes to the health burden caused by communicable diseases such as, for example, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS.
Related WHO Web pages
- Management of Substance Abuse (currently featuring Global status report on alcohol and health 2o11 (3 March 2011)
- Rethinking Drinking provides research-based information about how your drinking habits can affect your health. Learn to recognize the signs of alcohol problems and ways to cut back or quit drinking. Interactive tools can also help you calculate the calories and alcohol content of drinks. (US National Institutes of Health)
Rise in Dog Bites Has Experts Concerned
For kids, education about safe interactions with canines ‘cannot begin early enough,’ advocates warn
FRIDAY, Feb. 18 (HealthDay News) — Many people consider their dogs as best friends, but hospital records suggest some pooches feel otherwise.
Each year, approximately 4.5 million people in the United States are bitten by dogs, with some bites needing emergency treatment. Over a 16-year period, in fact, the number of hospital admissions caused by dog bites nearly doubled, increasing from 5,100 in 1993 to 9,500 in 2008, according to a recent report by the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.
In 2008, dog bites sent an average of 866 people every day — nearly 40 percent of them children and teens — to emergency rooms throughout the country for treatment. Twenty-six patients a day required hospitalization, the report noted.
Only a small percentage of the spike is attributed to population growth of both dogs and people during the same period, said study co-author Anne Elixhauser, a senior research scientist with the federal agency. However, the data didn’t give any clues as to why biting injuries are on the rise, she said.
Frequently the attacker is a family or neighborhood pet, researchers say.
“A lot of people think dog bites are from some [stray] running around, and no one knows where it lives,” said Nancy Hill, who sits on the board of directors for the National Animal Control Association. “That happens to some extent, but to a greater extent it’s the owned dog.”
In the case of Kelly Voigt of Palatine, Ill., a neighborhood dog was the culprit. In the spring of 1999, Voigt, then 7, innocently walked up a neighbor’s driveway to pet their resting dog, a Siberian Husky. She was immediately bitten in the face and throat, suffering injuries so severe she needed more than 100 stitches to close the wounds. She also required psychiatric counseling for post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
“It affected me in such a big way that I just didn’t want anyone else to get attacked like I did, so we decided to do something about it,” said the now 18-year-old.
She and her mother Kathy formed the nonprofit organization Prevent the Bite to teach elementary school children how to stay safe around dogs. The presentations focus on a basic understanding of canine body language, simple safety techniques, and responsible dog ownership. “Dog bite prevention education cannot begin early enough,” she said.
Understanding canine body language and behavior is an important part of the puzzle for keeping kids safe.
Dr. Ilana Reisner, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, examined more than 100 medical records of dogs that had bitten children in order to better understand why these incidents occur.
“We found that most children had been bitten by dogs that had no history of biting,” she said. “Most important here, familiar children were bitten most often in the contexts of nice interactions, such as kissing and hugging — with their own dogs or dogs that they knew.”
While humans commonly show affection by hugging and kissing, many dogs instinctively view this face-to-face interaction as threatening and lash out with their teeth.
Her 2007 study, published in the journal Injury Prevention, also found dogs bit when scared, hurt, touched while resting or when in possession of things considered valuable, such as food, toys, even a favorite person.
What’s more, almost all of the dogs in the study were “fixed” (spayed or neutered), and more than half had gone through obedience training — two suggestions often made to owners to minimize the risk of dog attacks.
According to the government data for 2008, dog bites may be more of a problem in the country than the city. Residents of rural areas made four times as many visits to emergency departments for dog bites as city dwellers, and they had three times as many hospital admissions.
Many of those admitted to the hospital had skin or tissue infections, and more than half required procedures such as wound debridement (removal of dead tissue), sutures or skin grafts.
The cost to hospitals averaged $18,200 per patient, about 50 percent higher than the average injury-related stay.
Today Voigt, the dog bite victim, is a college freshman, still giving safety presentations to students.
One easy-to-remember tip she shares with kids is to W.A.I.T:
- Wait to see if the dog is accompanied by an owner.
- Ask that owner for permission to pet the dog. If the answer is ‘yes,’
- Invite the dog first to sniff you, then,
- Touch the dog gently to pet it.
“At first, we started Prevent the Bite to help me get over my fear, then we realized how it was helping so many other people,” Voight said. “It wasn’t just about me anymore.”
SOURCES: Nancy Hill, member, board of directors, National Animal Control Association; Kelly Voigt, Palatine, Ill; Ilana Reisner, D.V.M., Ph.D., veterinary behaviorist, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine; Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality report, December 2010
The guide includes a template, clip art from Microsoft Word, and what information to include.
Table 1: Organize Information for the Pill Card
|Medicine||Important Information in Simple Terms||Incorporating This Information into a Pill Card||Possible Graphics Used|
Summaries of supported public health initiatives may be found at Public Health Impacts.
“Discoveries by NIEHS-funded scientists have led to the development of prevention strategies, health and safety guidelines, and potential treatments for asthma, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and other environmentally-related diseases..”
This research has yielded numerous studies on indoor pollution and respiratory health, and led to the development of air sampling techniques used in research settings worldwide.
- Children’s Environmental Health
Research on the annual costs of environmentally-related diseases in American children will be useful in developing new strategies and guidelines for the detection and prevention of childhood illnesses.
- Pesticides & Neurodevelopment
The discovery of an enzyme that provides protection against the toxicity of pesticide compounds has led to the development of new treatments for nerve agent exposures.
County-Level Map for Leisure-Time Physical Inactivity, 2008
Estimates released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that Americans who live in parts of Appalachia and the South are the least likely to be physically active in their leisure time, and residents who are most likely to be active in their free time are from the West
Coast, Colorado, Minnesota and parts of the Northeast.
The 2004-2008 estimates, posted online at http://cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/inactivity.htm provide county-level estimates for leisure-time physical inactivity for all U.S.