Saving Lives, Spending Little
Across the globe, nearly 6 million children under the age of 5 died in 2015—the same year that more than 300,000 women died from pregnancy-related causes. But Johns Hopkins researchers found that millions of mothers and children could have been saved by spending less than $5 on essential health care services for every mother and child in the developing world.
Contraception, medication for serious illnesses, immunizations, and nutritional supplements are cost-effective and relatively easy to administer, according to their study. Improving care at the time of birth would quadruple the return on the investment by preventing maternal morbidity and mortality, newborn mortality, and stillbirths, says Robert Black of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Many of these deaths could be prevented if high-impact and affordable solutions reached the populations that needed them most,” Black says. “Our analysis shows that expanding access to care to keep more mothers and children alive and healthy is feasible and a highly cost-effective investment.”
Raising Awareness, One Tweet at a Time
Awareness days such as National Depression Screening Day, World AIDS Day, and World Cancer Day are front and center on social media, but besides briefly stopping our scroll, do days like these actually impact our behavior?
For one long-running annual health awareness day— the Great American Smokeout—the answer is yes. A team of public health and computer science experts from Johns Hopkins University and other institutions analyzed data collected since 2009 to confirm that the Smokeout (slated for November 19 in 2016) triggers behavior changes among many of the people who hear about it. Google searches like “help quit smoking” typically increased by 25 percent during a Smokeout campaign, with visits to Wikipedia’s cessation page and calls to quitlines increasing by an average of 22 and 42 percent, respectively. Compared to a normal day, the Great American Smokeout typically coincided with a 61 percent increase in news reports on cessation and a 13 percent increase in tweets encouraging cessation. Only New Year’s Day had more news coverage of smoking cessation, the researchers said.
Go Fish for Omega-3s
The omega-3 fatty acids in both wild and farm-raised fish are known to boost our cardiovascular health and neurodevelopment. But the nutrient-dense, readily available farm-raised fish we currently take for granted may not be as healthy going forward. Given aquaculture’s rapid growth, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future foresee a time when the diet used on fish farms might not mimic what fish eat in the wild—an industry shift the researchers evaluated in a recent study.
Many of today’s farm-raised fish, like Atlantic salmon, are fed fish oil, and therefore have high omega-3s. Manufactured feed for certain fish is typically composed of high levels of fish meal and fish oil derived from wild fish. Researchers point out, though, that catching enough wild fish to feed growing numbers of farmed fish is unsustainable, and some farmed fish are fed a diet made of crop-based ingredients, such as soy, corn, and wheat. Swapping vegetable oils for fish oil can change the fatty acid content of farmed fish and may have large-scale implications. Alternative feed ingredients containing omega- 3s are under development and need to be scaled-up.
Upgraded Food Labels
Nearly three-quarters of Americans want U.S. government dietary recommendations to indicate whether a product was sustainably produced, according to a national survey commissioned by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future. But food producers aren’t being held accountable to our expectations: Despite clear recommendations by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee to include sustainability language and recommend sustainable diets— based on the well-established link to health—the USDA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services opted not to include them in the eighth edition of the Dietary Guidelines for Americans released in January 2016 and in effect through 2020.