2018 News

Urban Health In the News

Our research makes the headlines. Leading news organizations frequently feature our department’s experts discussing the impacts of the environment on health.


December 28

Air pollution to shorten telomeres in newborns, study finds
Researchers from the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University have found that air pollution causes telomere shortening in newborn babies. The Journal Environment International published this respective research. The researchers of the study have found that prenatal exposure to air pollution leads to shorter telomeres in newborn babies. Deliang Tang, from the Mailman School’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, was the co-author of the study. He said that the telomere length at the birth of an individual influences the risk for disease decades later during adulthood. Another co-author of the study named Frederica Perera belonged with the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health. She stated that this study serves as evidence to the fact that closing this coal-burning power plant was beneficial to the health of newborns of the respected area.

December 17

What Would Le­gal­izing Marijuana Mean for New York?
As Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes legalizing recreational marijuana a priority for the new legislative session, Errol Louis discussed what that would mean for the state with Cristina Buccola, an attorney and advocate for the cannabis industry, and Dr. Deborah Hasin, a professor at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

December 13

City pharmacies to halt tobacco sales Jan. 1
New York City pharmacies have already set their New Year’s resolution – albeit legally imposed. They’ll no longer be able to sell tobacco products as of Jan. 1, 2019. …On average, tobacco retailer density will decrease by close to 7% once the ban is in full effect, according to a study by researchers at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, published in August. …Daniel Giovenco, assistant professor of sociomedical sciences, called the tobacco ban in pharmacies, places of health, "a sensible public health strategy to curb tobacco use," in a statement at the time.

December 12

Waste of Energy
“Compared to other forms of renewable energy, such as wind and solar, poultry litter incineration produces more environmental pollution,” says Jeanette Stingone, assistant professor of epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health.

November 28

Business trips without all the stress
For frequent business travelers, the vagaries of life on the road are both part of the allure and part of the job. While you may enjoy exploring new locations and boosting your frequent flier status, be sure to also pay attention to your physical and mental health. …"The negative health effects really seem to pile up at the two-week mark," says Dr. Andrew Rundle, lead author of the 2018 study and a professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

November 4

Does Clearing Blight Reduce Teen Violence?
The federal government is providing $2.3 million to study whether clearing up blighted property in New Orleans reduces teen and family violence. Tulane University researchers from the schools of architecture and of public health and tropical medicine will work closely with the city and community groups to clean up 300 blighted properties across the city, the university said in a news release. In half of them, vacant lots will be cleared and maintained.  … The team will work with Columbia University epidemiologist Charles Branas, who has reported that gun assaults in Philadelphia dropped 9 percent in the 18 months after vacant lots were cleared in high-crime areas.

October 16

Where to get a flu shot in New York City
"Getting a flu shot still remains the best way to stay healthy during this ... of epidemiology at Columbia University'sMailman School of Public Health
Dr. Stephen S. Morse, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health says that the flu is “full of surprises.” There is a way to get some insight about the upcoming flu season, though. We’re still learning a lot about the flu from year to year, Morse said, but one thing he hopes has been learned is that “we do need to get more people to take the vaccine.” “Though not perfectly effective, it still is a lot better than not having it,” he added.

October 10

8 common myths about cold and flu debunked
Many people love autumn for the colorful foliage and pumpkin spice, but each year it ushers in another season that is more menacing: cold and flu season, that is. …"People need to understand that the flu is serious and can turn deadly," Dr. Melissa Stockwell, associate professor of pediatrics and population and family health at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, told CBS News. "The CDC just released data that last flu season 80,000 Americans died from flu."

October 9
Psych Central 

For Many in NYC, Winter Means 'Heat or Eat'
“Community-based energy programs that help low- and middle-income make their homes more energy efficient are badly needed, across New York City and nationwide,” said Diana Hernández, Ph.D., lead author and an associate professor of sociomedical sciences at Columbia Public Health.

October 4

Climate and city density key factors governing flu outbreaks: Study
The study "does not show that some cities are safer than others for flu" — just that different types of patterns are emerging…, which tended to be consistent for that city over that time period. Jeffrey Shaman, director of Columbia University's climate and health program, said the results don't yet provide enough information to be useful for providing flu control solutions.

September 13

Did New York City Botch the 1918 Flu Epidemic? The Debate Still Rages
We interviewed…James Colgrove, professor of public health at Columbia University and others. They discussed how the disease was handled a century ago — as well as lessons we might apply when doing battle with future pandemics. (Colgrove talks about the historical significance.)

September 11

9/11 Cancers-- New Warning Says 300,000 People at Risk are Not Getting Help They Need
Dr. Steven Stellman, Professor of Epidemiology at Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, said the estimate is likely derived from a 2007 article on the matter that was published in Statistics in Medicine. Dr. Stellman, who has published extensively on 9/11 health effects, noted that the 400,000 figure encompasses several distinct groups...“No one really knows how many people were ‘exposed’ to 9/11, because exposure came in many different forms and ranged from low to extraordinarily intense,” said Dr. Stellman. “Most exposure estimates after [the attacks] have been based largely on people’s experiences (when did workers arrive at Ground Zero, how long did they work there, how far away were area residents’ homes, how much and what type of dust permeated their homes, etc.”

September 4

West Nile virus still a concern as summer ends in New York City
“Mosquitoes can hang on longer than you think,” said Stephen Morse, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “This isn’t the time to become complacent.”

August 23
The New Yorker
The Other Side of "Broken Windows"
A few years ago, John MacDonald, the Penn criminologist, and Charles Branas, the chair of epidemiology at Columbia University, began one of the most exciting research experiments in social science. For Branas, the results pointed toward a new approach to crime prevention. Early in his career, he worked on what, in hindsight, he views as a failed experiment—conventional anti-violence research that focussed on the people most likely to commit crimes. “When I started at Penn, we had been working hard to reduce gun crime in Philadelphia. We had the interpreters, the social workers, the community leaders,” he said. “Some of them were amazing, and we had some successes. But they were always short-lived. . . . In the end, it wound up helping only, I don’t know, about fifty kids, just the ones who were there at the time.”

August 22

Lawmaker Calls for Change In LaGuardia Flight Path
A new Columbia University study (lead author Peter Muennig) says the noise generated by departing flights could reduce the lifespans of 83,000 Queens residents by about a year.

August 22
CBS New York

Study: Noise From LaGuardia Flight Path May Cause Serious Health Problems For Some Queens ...
“This is the year of healthy life that’s being lost on average,” Dr. Peter Muennig said. Muennig, a professor of health policy and management at Columbia University, led the study.
Muennig said by reviewing other studies on the affect of aircraft noise, his study found the Tennis Climb route could cause serious health problems. “It causes a lot of anxiety. Sometimes if they fly at night when people are trying to sleep, and it disrupts children studying, and just basically creates a lot of anxiety. And that anxiety translates into heart disease,” Muennig said.

August 16

Flight Patterns Focused on Efficiency May Pose Health Risk
Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and Queens Quiet Skies, an organization fighting airport noise in the region, studied flights flown over Flushing Meadows and the U.S. Tennis Center in Queens -- known as the TNNIS route. "There are other airports that produce more noise than LaGuardia," Dr. Peter Muenning, a professor of Health Policy and Management at the Mailman School, told UPI. "The airplanes at LGA are smaller than long-haul flight airports and therefore produce less noise. However, the population around LGA is unusually dense, so the total number of people exposed is much higher than in most airports."

August 9
The New York Times

Court Orders E.P.A. to Ban Chlorpyrifos, Pesticide Tied to Children's Health Problems
The [EPA] offered no clear response on Thursday when asked how it would respond to the order, other than to point to what it said were remaining questions about one of the studies cited in support of the ban, a Columbia University examination of health effects on children in New York City when the pesticide was used to combat insects in apartment buildings.

July 26

Public faith in marijuana outpaces medical research, study finds
But scientists say hard data on the health effects of pot — both positive and negative ... Patients with chronic health problems often take many medications. ... (a nonprofit veterans health research institute); and Columbia University (Deborah Hasin, co-author).

July 24

City Cyclists: Here’s How Much Pollution you’re Actually Inhaling
2018 - “What really matters for health is dose, and dose is a function of two things. Number one how much air pollution is in the air. And number two how much you are breathing,” says Darby Jack, an assistant professor of Environmental Health Sciences at Columbia University.
Darby is at 2:32 mark on video.

July 20
The New York Times

A Case Against Marijuana
And recent research led by Deborah Hasin of Columbia University suggests that the legalization of medical marijuana in many places since the early 1990s has increased recreational use — but apparently not among teens.
According to study senior author Charles Branas, "Greening vacant land is a highly inexpensive and scalable way to improve cities and enhance people's health while encouraging them to remain in their home neighborhoods."Branas is chair of epidemiology at Columbia University in New York City and an adjunct professor in the department of biostatistics and epidemiology at UPenn.

July 20

Green Spaces a Mental Balm for City Dwellers
According to study senior author Charles Branas, "Greening vacant land is a highly inexpensive and scalable way to improve cities and enhance people's health while encouraging them to remain in their home neighborhoods."Branas is chair of epidemiology at Columbia University in New York City and an adjunct professor in the department of biostatistics and epidemiology at UPenn.

July 2  

Physicians say flu vaccine will be worth extra burden for parents
Dr. Melissa Stockwell, associate professor of population and family health and pediatrics at Columbia University, noted that children are already required to show that they’ve had other immunizations against diseases including polio and pertussis to attend preschool. “We’re doing this to try to protect children from what we know can be deadly,” said Stockwell, who is also a pediatrician at New York-Presbyterian’s Audubon clinic in Washington Heights.

July 2

Gigantic Study of Chinese babies Yields Slew of Health Data
Ezra Susser, an epidemiologist from Columbia University in New York City, says the cohort is also important because it is tracking mothers and babies during a period of rapid economic development and social change in China, where previous studies of this type have been limited in scale.

July 19

Baltimore becomes first major city to remove sugary drinks from kids' menus
“Some juices do contain more fiber and vitamins, but some juices, such as apple juice, in fact have been used as a sweetener, and it contains a lot of sugar, so it is still not recommended in large amounts for children,” said Dr. Claire Wang, an associate professor at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health who specializes in policy that fights childhood obesity. “Personally, I think [the ordinance] is one step towards the right direction. The 100 percent fruit juice in modest doses is still superior to a soda.”

July 9

Handwashing Reduces Exposure to Flame Retardant Chemicals   
For the past 15 to 20 years, Julie Herbstman, an Associate Professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Columbia University Center for Children's Environmental Health, has been studying exposure and health effects of flame retardant chemicals. “We and others have found that flame retardants can influence a child's cognitive development... There's also been evidence that it can disrupt thyroid hormones,” Herbstman said. Listen here

July 2
The New York Times - Letters to the Editors

Re: Remembering an Era Before Roe, When New York Had the ‘Most Liberal’ Abortion Law 
Remembering an Era Before Roe, When New York Had the ‘Most Liberal’ Abortion Law” (nytimes.com, July 19) describes the three years before Roe v. Wade, when New York State had legalized abortion. The late Dr. Jean Pakter, then director of the New York Department of Health’s Bureau of Maternity Services and Family Planning, meticulously monitored the new procedure, as well as conducting ongoing surveillance of pregnancy-associated deaths. … Wendy Chavkin, the writer, a professor of public health and obstetrics at Columbia University, was Dr. Pakter’s immediate successor.

June 14
Business travel makes people depressed and anxious
The individuals who are travelling the most have the poorest self-rated health, the worst depression symptoms, the worst anxiety symptoms," said Andrew Rundle, one of the study's co-authors and a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University.

June 11
Business Traveller

Frequent business travel could literally be killing you
“Compared to those who spent one to six nights a month away from home for business travel, those who spent 14 or more nights away from home per month had significantly higher body mass index scores and were significantly more likely to report poor self-rated health; clinical symptoms of anxiety, depression and alcohol dependence; no physical activity or exercise; smoking; and trouble sleeping,” researcher Andrew Rundle, associate professor of epidemiology in the Mailman School of Public Health, wrote.

June 2

Frequent Business Travel is Shockingly Unhealthy, According to an Eye-Opening Scientific Study ...
That's one of the findings in a recent study by researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health and City University of New York.
"Although only about 12 percent of employees in the data we looked at traveled for business 14 or more nights per month, the clustering of all these health conditions among extensive business travelers is worrying, both for their own health and the health of the organizations they work for," writes lead study author Andrew Rundle.
"At the individual level, employees who travel extensively need to take responsibility for the decisions they make around diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, and sleep," Rundle explains. "However, to do this, employees will likely need support in the form of education, training, and a corporate culture that emphasizes healthy business travel."

May 31
Harvard Business Review
Andrew Rundle Byline:
Just How Bad Is Business Travel For Your Health? Here's the Data
If you travel for work regularly, it’s worth pausing to examine whether you actually need to be on the road frequently — and if you do, how you can mitigate the effects of stress and be mindful about your dietary choices. And if you have employees who are often between cities, you owe it to them to provide the education, tools and resources so they can maintain healthy lifestyles while on the road.
Andrew Rundle is an Associate Professor of Epidemiology in the Mailman School of Public Health.

May 22

Banned pregnancy drug tied to ADHD generations later
... of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York ... A range of health problems including autism, ADHD, obesity, diabetes, ...

May 12

Researchers Tackle Gun Violence Despite Lack of Federal Funding
Charles Branas, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, says that poverty can contribute to gun violence within communities. In their latest research, Branas and his colleagues examined hundreds of vacant land plots and abandoned buildings in U.S. cities, with a focus on Philadelphia. These abandoned spaces, like old parking lots and homes, often become places to store illegal firearms.

May 2
Banned pregnancy drug tied to ADHD generations later
... is in utero," said lead study author Marianthi-Anna Kioumourtzoglou of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York City.

April 30
Undark Magazine

Bringing Science to Bear, at Last, on the Gun Control Debate
But such federal policies are in serious need of reform, argues Susan Sorenson, a professor of social policy and public health at the University of Pennsylvania. Because the ... Charles Branas, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, says that poverty can contribute to gun violence within communities.

March 19
Sirius XM Public Radio

Clear Up Vacant Lots, Reduce Violence
Guest: Charles Branas, PhD, Professor and Chair of Epidemiology, Columbia University
In many urban communities, overgrown, trash-strewn abandoned lots can attract drugs and gun violence. Epidemiologist Charles Branas has found that simply landscaping those plots of land can make a real difference for a neighborhood.

March 9
MD Magazine

Single Intervention Cockroach Bait-Trapping Can Improve Clinical Asthma Outcomes
Matthew Perzanowski, PhD, an associate Professor of Columbia University School of Public Health presented an overview of the NYC Neighborhood Asthma and Allergy Study examining exposures leading to sensitization followed by asthma. …He emphasized that researchers must think in terms of public health in order to reduce asthma. New York City recently passed the Asthma Free Housing Act to give New York City residents the right to live in homes free of mold, pests, and indoor health hazards. 

February 28
Revitalizing Vacant Lots Can Drastically Reduce Neighborhood Crime, Study Says
A new study, in Philadelphia, suggests that revitalizing vacant lots into safe green spaces, can drastically reduce neighborhood crime by nearly a third. The study, conducted by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, suggests that by cleaning trash and debris 

February 28
Philadelphia Magazine
Philly Study: Cleaning Vacant Land Can Significantly Reduce Crime
With roughly 40,000 empty lots in the city, the recent trial conducted by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health could go a long way. ... A study conducted in Philadelphia by Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found that cleaning and restoring vacant land can lead to a significant reduction in overall crime in the surrounding area.

February 27

As Grass Replaces Trash in Vacant Lots, Crime Goes Down
“…And violence and represents a pragmatic upstream infrastructural investment strategy to address complex social issues in cities," study lead author Charles Branas said in a Columbia University news release. He's chair of epidemiology at Columbia's Mailman School of Public Health in New York City.

February 26

Guns Kill Kids in Cities, Too
For Columbia University epidemiologist Charles Branas, one answer is a relatively simple and inexpensive infrastructure improvement of derelict or abandoned city lots. These comprise about 7.5 million acres of land and about 15 percent of the area of cities across the U.S.—and significantly higher percentages in midsize cities like Flint, Mich., or Camden, N.J.

February 26
Philadelphia Inquirer
Gun Violence Can be Reduced by Clearing Vacant Lots, Study Finds
Study authors said greening vacant lots would not prevent mass shootings such as the Parkland, Fla. slaying of 17 people on Feb. 14. But it could reduce the day-to-day urban gun violence that accounts for the bulk of U.S. homicides, said lead author Charles C. Branas, chair of the epidemiology department at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health.
“We have an area the size of Switzerland in our cities that’s been abandoned like this,” said Branas, also an adjunct professor at the University of Pennsylvania. “This is an opportunity for the U.S.”

February 22

Medical pot laws don't increase teens' recreational use: Study
22 (UPI) -- A university study has debunked the belief that legalizing medical marijuana increases recreational use of pot among U.S. adolescents. Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health analyzed 11 separate studies dating to 1991… "For now, there appears to be no basis for the argument that legalizing medical marijuana has increased teens' use of the drug," Dr. Deborah Hasin, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia's Mailman School and senior author of the study, said in a press release.

February 1
Metro US

A park over Cross-Bronx Expressway would save lives and money: Report
Researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health looked into the cost-effectiveness of a deck park, or elevated park, built on top of the Cross-Bronx Expressway — a major freeway that was rated one of the most congested roadways in the country. “It is extremely rare for social policy investments to save both money and lives,” said Peter Muennig, senior author of the study and a professor of Health Policy and Management, in a statement. “Examples include vaccines and basic automobile safety measures like seatbelts. Turning a highway into a park is a bit of a seatbelt or vaccine for a whole neighborhood.”

January 24

Flu outbreak hospitalizes 5267 New Yorkers; officials still urge vaccinations 
“The best window into what is likely to be coming here is what is happening in the southern hemisphere,” said Dr. Stephen Morse, a flu expert and epidemiologist at Columbia University’s Mailman School for Public Health. “[Australia] had a really heavy flu season.” Morse said the H3N2 subtype of influenza, which he termed a “nastier form,” could be contributing to an uptick in cases but they won’t know for sure until the season ends.

January 18

A Look At How This Year's Flu Vaccine Is Holding Up
Jeffrey Shaman, an environmental health scientist at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University says this flu season is unique. "It wasn't a gradual build towards it, it really built up in mid and late December," Shaman said.