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In health news, the House today passed legislation to address the mental health toll of the pandemic on students.
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House passes bill addressing mental health concerns
The House passed a bill on Thursday that seeks to address mental health concerns among students, families and educators aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic, which lawmakers say had a “severe impact” on those three groups.
The bill, titled the Mental Health Matters Act, passed in a largely party-line 220-205 vote. One Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), joined all Democrats present in supporting it.
Included in the bill:
The legislation, if passed by the Senate and signed into law, would provide grants to establish a pipeline for school-based mental health service professionals. Additionally, it would grow the number of mental health experts at elementary and secondary schools that are based in high-need locations.
The Department of Education would also be ordered to administer grants to state educational agencies to go towards recruiting and maintaining school-based mental-health-service providers at public elementary and secondary schools that are considered high need.
Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), the sponsor of the bill, said his legislation is needed to address the ripple-effect student mental health concerns are having on schools and educators.
“Educators have been forced to play an outsized role in supporting and responding to students’ mental health needs, leading to increased depression and trauma among educators, their students, and the families and the community. However, our schools do not have the specialized staff necessary to respond to the increased prevalence and complexity of students’ mental health needs,” he said.
FDA proposes new rules for food packaging
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Wednesday proposed new rules dictating when food products can have the world “healthy” on their packaging as part of an effort to promote healthier eating in the U.S.
According to the FDA, the new rules would change the definition of “healthy” to reflect “current nutrition science.” Under these new rules, more foods like nuts, seeds and certain oils would be permitted to be labelled as “healthy.”
If the FDA’s proposed rules are adopted, foods labeled as “healthy” would need to have “meaningful” amounts of at least one food group or subgroup that is recommended by the federal government’s Dietary Guidelines. The products would also have to meet certain limitations on nutrients like saturated fat, sodium and added sugars.
“Healthy food can lower our risk for chronic disease. But too many people may not know what constitutes healthy food. FDA’s move will help educate more Americans to improve health outcomes, tackle health disparities and save lives,” Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.
Out-of-date guidance: The FDA regulates what foods can have the “healthy” claim on food packaging. The term “healthy” was last defined by the FDA in 1993 and was based on then-current recommendations having to do with issues like fat intake and how much of certain vitamins people should consume.
As the agency noted in guidance issued in 2016, the scientific understanding of nutrition has evolved in the more than 20 years since “healthy” was defined. These changes include the inclusion “good fats,” such as polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats which have been shown to lower the risk for certain diseases.
The FDA also pointed out that nutrient intake has shifted and a deficiency of nutrients like vitamins A and C are no longer public health concerns.
SUPREME COURT TO REOPEN FOR UPCOMING TERM, MASKING OPTIONAL
The U.S. Supreme Court announced new policies on Wednesday for its upcoming term, allowing the public to attend oral arguments in person and making mask-wearing optional.
The court will still provide a live audio feed and will publish transcripts and audio for oral arguments, which it began doing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last term, the courtroom was not open to the public and mask-wearing was mandatory for those who appeared at the courthouse. Ahead of the winter oral sessions, attorneys were required to wear N95 or KN95 masks.
In a press release, the nation’s high court said all scheduled oral arguments will be held in person at the Washington, D.C., courtroom for the term beginning on Oct. 3.
Seating will be made available to the public, members of the Supreme Court bar and the press. The news comes after NPR reported in January a spat between Supreme Court Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil Gorsuch over mask-wearing.
SECOND BOOSTER EFFECTIVE AT AVERTING HOSPITALIZATIONS, DEATHS
A new study published this week found that the second COVID-19 booster that was made available to U.S. adults over the age of 50 this year was highly effective at protecting nursing home residents from hospitalizations and deaths, though its ability to prevent infections was not as potent.
The analysis, published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, compared nursing home residents who received a second original mRNA booster dose to those who did not get the additional shot.
According to the study, the second shot was 90 percent effective at preventing coronavirus-related deaths and 74 percent effective at preventing severe cases that lead to either hospitalizations or deaths.
The shot was about 26 percent effective at preventing infection, however. This study looked at cases between March 29 and July 25. It was within this period that the BA.5 omicron subvariant grew to become dominant in the U.S.
“These findings suggest that among nursing home residents, second mRNA
COVID-19 vaccine booster doses provided additional protection over first booster doses against severe COVID-19 outcomes during a time of emerging Omicron variants,” researchers wrote. “Facilities should continue to ensure that nursing home residents remain up to date with COVID-19 vaccination, including bivalent vaccine booster doses, to prevent severe COVID-19 outcomes.”
Coastal hospitals at risk of hurricane flooding: study
As Hurricane Ian continues to batter the southeastern U.S., Harvard University researchers have revealed that hundreds of coastal hospitals are at risk of flooding from future such storms.
Sea level rise expected this century — a consequence of climate change — raises the odds of hospital flooding by 22 percent, according to the scientists, who published their findings in GeoHealth on Thursday.
And even relatively weak systems pose a serious flood risk to hospitals located along the country’s coasts, the study warned.
“Hurricanes are expected to get more severe and may strike regions further north than in the past due to climate change,” senior author Aaron Bernstein, interim director of Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, said in a statement.
Systems at risk: Bernstein and his colleagues identified 682 acute care hospitals in 78 metropolitan regions located within 10 miles of the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts. These areas cover a population of just under 85 million people, or about one in four Americans, according to the study.
Of the 78 metropolitan areas, the researchers found that 25 have half or more of their hospitals at risk of flood from a Category 2 storm. The researchers identified 10 metro areas in which a Category 2 hurricane will most jeopardize hospital care:
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Fla.
New York-Newark-Jersey City, N.Y.-N.J.-Pa.
New Orleans-Metairie, La.
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, Fla.
North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton, Fla.
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.
WHAT WE’RE READING
Juul exec slams FDA over its approach to regulating vaping (Stat)
Turned away from urgent care — and toward a big ER bill (Kaiser Health News)
FDA approves controversial new drug designed to slow the progression of ALS (NBC)
STATE BY STATE
Centene agrees to pay Massachusetts $14 million over Medicaid prescription claims (Kaiser Health News)
Hurricane Ian poses threat to flood-prone Florida hospitals (Bloomberg)
Three Oregon hospital systems sue state over failure to accommodate civilly committed patients (Willamette Week)
THE HILL OP-EDS
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