|Home | About | Journals | Submit | Contact Us | Français|
As we go to press with this issue of Public Health Reports (PHR), the nation was saddened by the death of 29 coal miners in a devastating explosion at Upper Big Branch mine in West Virginia. Mining is a way of life for many in the U.S., but occupational injury, illness, and sometimes death are all hazards of this high-risk industry. As experts try to determine what caused this fatal explosion, we are reminded of the more than 133,000 U.S. coal miners who risk their lives every day.
While coal-mining fatalities have dropped dramatically—from more than 1,000 per year in the early part of the 20th century to about 30 per year in the 21st century1—mining remains a very hazardous industry. Many more workers suffer and likely die each year from lung-related illnesses, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and coal worker's pneumoconiosis, collectively known as Black Lung disease.2
Less dramatic, but no less important, are the chronic health effects for coal miners and their families because of their proximity to coal-mining areas. In this issue of PHR, Zullig and Hendryx examine health-related quality of life (HRQOL) in U.S. coal-mining areas. In their study, the authors found that residents of coal-mining areas inside and outside of Appalachia reported significantly fewer healthy days for both physical and mental health, and poorer self-rated health when compared with U.S. non-coal-mining areas. The authors conclude that coal-mining areas are marked by greater socioeconomic disadvantage, riskier health behaviors, and environmental degradation that are associated with reduced HRQOL.
Location isn't the only factor in public health, however, as demonstrated in a special supplement on social determinants of health that accompanies this issue of PHR. The supplement focuses on innovations and advances in addressing interrelated health conditions of human immunodeficiency virus, viral hepatitis, sexually transmitted diseases, and tuberculosis in the U.S. and globally. As the co-guest editors note, the supplement is particularly timely given the worsening health disparities for these conditions, our improved understanding of the social influences on disease epidemiology, and the implications of the global economic downturn.
In other health news, the Surgeon General's Perspectives calls attention to overweight and obesity. VADM Benjamin has followed up former Surgeon General David Satcher's “Call to Action to Prevent Overweight and Obesity” with her own report, “The Surgeon General's Vision for a Healthy and Fit Nation.” In it, she identifies ways to make healthy choices, such as by redesigning our communities and creating healthy worksites.
On the topic of a healthier nation, those in the medical research community know that most people in the U.S. are vitamin D deficient, and vitamin D deficiency is associated with a host of chronic diseases, including some cancers, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoarthritis, autoimmune diseases, skeletal and muscular weaknesses, depression, and even some infectious diseases. Although vitamin D is not commonly found in natural food sources (with the exception of oily fishes such as salmon), a daily vitamin D-3 supplement or moderate sun exposure can actually provide sufficient vitamin D levels. An excellent overview of this topic can be found in a review article by Holick.3
Finally, I am pleased to announce two new additions to PHR. First, we are launching a new column called Environmental Health, which focuses on the role that the environment plays in public health. Dr. Adam Spanier, an assistant professor of pediatrics and public health sciences at Pennsylvania State University, is the column editor. A brief description of this column and each peer-reviewed column in PHR can be found on our website at http://www.publichealthreports.org/resourcecenter/readers.cfm.
Secondly, effective July 1, 2010, all active members of the Commissioned Officers Association (COA) of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS) will subscribe to PHR. This historic agreement was made between COA and the Association of Schools of Public Health, the publisher of PHR. Because COA represents about 7,000 active, reserve, and retired USPHS officers, PHR's subscription base will more than double as a result of this agreement. Getting PHR into the hands of the Commissioned Corps will not only benefit the public health community at large, but also those who are dedicated to protecting, promoting, and advancing our nation's health.