Planning Underway for Nation’s Next Decade of Public Health Goals, to be Unveiled in 2020

In fiscal year 2017, the State of Connecticut received $373,921 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for childhood lead poisoning prevention programmatic activities. The funding arrived, at least in part, because one of the goals of the federal government’s Healthy People 2020 initiative, launched in 2010, is the elimination of childhood lead poisoning as a public health problem.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and other agencies have developed a federal interagency strategy to achieve this goal by 2020.   The key elements of this interagency strategy include:

  • Identification and control of lead paint hazards;
  • Identification and care for children with elevated blood lead levels;
  • Surveillance of elevated blood lead levels in children to monitor progress; and
  • Research to further improve childhood lead poisoning prevention methods.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services unveiled Healthy People 2020 in December 2010, laying out the nation’s new 10-year goals and objectives for health promotion and disease prevention. Healthy People provides science-based, 10-year national objectives for improving the health of all Americans, according to the program’s website.

Childhood lead poisoning prevention was one item on a lengthy list of national priorities.   Chronic diseases, such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes, are responsible for seven out of every 10 deaths among Americans each year and account for 75 percent of the nation’s health spending, officials said as the agenda was announced.  Topics added in 2010 included Dementia’s, including Alzheimer’s Disease; Early and Middle Childhood; Sleep Health; Social determinants of Health; and Adolescent Health.

For three decades, since 1979, Healthy People has established benchmarks and monitored progress over time in order to encourage collaborations across communities and sectors, empower individuals toward making informed health decisions and measure the impact of prevention activities.  The initiative is housed in the federal office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, part of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Approximately three-quarters of the goals of the previous decade-long Healthy People agenda had been achieved, officials said in 2010.

Even as federal and state authorities work to achieve the 2020 goals, work has begun on the next set of national objectives.

The planning process for Healthy People 2030, the fifth edition of Healthy People, is already underway.  Federal agencies sought comments from the public last fall on a proposed framework, which “aims at new challenges and builds on lessons learned from its first four decades.”  In December, officials indicated that “The foundational principles and overarching goals of the proposed framework for 2030 include a call to attain health literacy, achieve health equity and eliminate health disparities, improve the health and well-being of all populations.”

Once the framework is finalized, the agency “will begin the development and selection process for Healthy People 2030 objectives. We anticipate that the public will be invited to comment on proposed objectives as part of this process.”  It is expected that four regional “listening” sessions will be held.  Connecticut is included in the New England region, one of 10 regions across the country.  A session held in Atlanta in November was attended by 77 people.

The imperative to improve public health has not lessened over time.

“The United States lags behind other Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries on key measures of health and well-being, including life expectancy, infant mortality, and obesity, despite having the highest percentage of GDP spent on health,” the website points out.

Lead Poisoning Is A Problem for Connecticut Children, National Study Reveals

A Reuters news service examination of lead testing results across the country found almost 3,000 areas with poisoning rates far higher than in Flint, Michigan, which was the focus of national attention this year for its dangerously tainted water supply. reuters-investigates-logoThe review and analysis found at least seven areas in Connecticut, based on zip code geography, where the percentage of children found to have elevated lead levels exceeded – more than doubled – the percentage in Flint.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that nationwide, around 2.5 percent of children ages 0-6 have an elevated lead level, defined as 5 micrograms/deciliter or higher. Among small children tested in Flint, Michigan during the peak of that city’s lead contamination crisis, 5 percent had elevated levels, or double the average.sign

In many neighborhoods – census tracts or zip code areas – across the country, a far higher rate of children have tested high in recent years.  The zip codes in Connecticut with elevated lead levels in more than 5 percent of children tested include more than a dozen neighborhoods and communities scattered across the state, with the highest levels  in the towns of Canaan and Sharon, and the cities of Bridgeport, New Haven, and Waterbury.

mapThe State Department of Public Health website indicates that “childhood lead poisoning is the most common pediatric public health problem, yet it is entirely preventable. Once a child has been poisoned, the impairment it may cause is irreversible. Lead harms children’s nervous systems and is associated with reduced IQ, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities.”

Since the 1970s, U.S. efforts to eradicate childhood lead poisoning have made what Reuters describes as “remarkable progress,” while pointing out that “the advances have been uneven.”  Legacy lead – in paint, plumbing, yards, well-water or even playgrounds – means that kids in many neighborhoods remain at a disproportionately high risk of poisoning, the news service report explained.

The news service conducted a nationwide analysis of childhood blood lead testing data at the neighborhood level. Census tract or zip code level data reflecting the local prevalence of elevated lead tests was obtained from 21 states, including Connecticut.  The highest prevalence was found in:

Zip Code                              Tested Children /Elevated Results

06031 Canaan                    107 / 15.89%

06608 Bridgeport            8,602 / 13.32%

06511 New Haven            15,731/12.88%

06519 New Haven            8,318 / 11.95%

06607 Bridgeport             4,079/10.9%

06710 Waterbury             6,133/ 10.48%

06069    Sharon                  137 /10.22%

Across the country, Reuters found nearly 3,000 areas with recently recorded lead poisoning rates at least double those in Flint during the peak of that city’s contamination crisis. And more than 1,100 of these communities had a rate of elevated blood tests at least four times higher.

Reuters reports that zip codes have average populations of 7,500. In each area, a relatively small number of children are screened for lead poisoninglead_free_kids_logo_web each year, the report indicated.

The poisoned places stretch from Warren, Pennsylvania, a town on the Allegheny River where 36 percent of children tested had high lead levels, to a zip code on Goat Island, Texas, where a quarter of tests showed poisoning, the Reuters analysis indicated. In some pockets of Baltimore, Cleveland and Philadelphia, where lead poisoning has spanned generations, the rate of elevated tests over the last decade was 40 to 50 percent.

“I hope this data spurs questions from the public to community leaders who can make changes,” said epidemiologist Robert Walker, co-chair of the CDC’s Lead Content Work Group, which analyzes lead poisoning nationwide. “I would think that it would turn some heads.”

The findings, Walker told Reuters, will help inform the public about risks in their own neighborhoods and allow health officials to seek lead abatement grants in the most dangerous spots.

Congress recently directed $170 million in aid to Flint - 10 times the CDC’s budget for assisting states with lead poisoning this year, Reuters reported.