Dr. Nathaniel Harnett, Assistant Professor at The Harvard Medical School, discusses findings from his study connecting early childhood stress to mental health problems; Dr. Alison Cuellar, Chair of the Community Preventive Services Task Force and a...
Dr. Nathaniel Harnett, Assistant Professor at The Harvard Medical School, discusses findings from his study connecting early childhood stress to mental health problems; Dr. Alison Cuellar, Chair of the Community Preventive Services Task Force and a Professor at George Mason University, explains how well-designed public spaces improve public health; a new ASTHO blog article explains how states can lead on mitigating the effects of climate change; and another ASTHO blog article advises leaders on navigating the return to in-person work.
MRI scans reveal disparate impact of poverty and other ‘toxic stress’ on brains of Black children
States Can Lead on Mitigating the Effects of Climate Change
Communicate With Care in Your Telework Policies
This is Public Health Review Morning Edition for Thursday, April 27, 2023. I'm Robert Johnson.
Now, today's news from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
We looked at a sample of about 10,000 white and Black children, how adversity is tied to the structure of different brain regions that are involved in emotion regulation, and how we respond to stress.
Dr. Nathaniel Harnett is an assistant professor at the Harvard Medical School. He's the senior author of a study connecting early childhood stress to mental health problems. It concludes that Black children suffer more than white children largely due to higher amounts of poverty and adversity in their lives.
One of the most surprising things is that while we know adversity is related to brain development, and we saw in our study that greater amounts of adversity are tied to lower brain region size, what we really saw was that up to 50% of the difference we saw between Black and white children really was attributable to these differences in exposure to adversity.
The research provides a strong case for the impact of the social determinants on public health outcomes.
I think one of the main things that we take away from our study is that these systemic factors tied to the material aspects of where people are living is really important for brain development. We've really seen that things like how much income they have, what environments they're growing up in, those have a big effect on sort of the racial inequities that we're seeing. And so to me, addressing these more structural factors—how many resources that individuals have—is really important, I think.
Harnett says the study makes one thing crystal clear.
I think what I always come back to is that, at the end of the day, these are kids. They're nine, 10 years old, they didn't get a choice about where they grew up, about where they were born. And yet, we're still asking them to shoulder the disproportionate burden of adversity and it's having a big effect on their brain, and we think that it might have an impact on their mental health.
The research is reported in STAT News. You can read more using the link in the show notes.
Many public health agencies are trying to improve population health with better design of public spaces. A national task force chaired by Dr. Alison Cuellar says those investments can help encourage people to exercise and improve their health.
So the most important findings are that we found sufficient evidence that shows these parks, trails, green infrastructure improvements, combined with an additional set of interventions, increases the number of people who engage in moderate to vigorous physical activity. These can be improvements to parks through adding shelters, they can be extending a rail to trail program, adding a new rail to trail program.
Cuellar says the physical improvements work best when combined with public awareness campaigns and other opportunities like walking clubs, longer park hours, and transportation connections.
Our review found it was an 18% median increase in the number of people who use parks, trails, or greenways, and a 17% increase in the number of people who use them to the level of moderate to vigorous physical activity which, when you think about the 150 minutes that our federal guidelines speak to each week, is a really encouraging improvement.
All of it, according to Cuellar, saves the community money.
The other thing we found was that the economic benefits exceeded the cost for these interventions. And that was a three to one ratio of benefits to costs. For every dollar you invested in this infrastructure intervention, you received a $3.10 value of benefits in terms of health improvements through physical activity.
You can read more about the task force and its work by visiting the Community Guide. We've got the link in the show notes.
Also today, many ASTHO members are leading on policies to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change. Federal legislation, grant funding, and state and territorial policy actions are summarized in a new ASTHO blog article. You can read more using the link in the show notes.
Finally this morning, telework policies are changing as many organizations ask their teams to return to in-person work. Another ASTHO blog article offers advice to leaders who may be navigating this question. You can read it using the link in the show notes.
That'll do it for today's newscast. We're back tomorrow morning with more ASTHO news and information.
I'm Robert Johnson. You're listening to Public Health Review Morning Edition. Have a great day.