NIHCM Newsletter / November 2022


Released: November 10, 2022

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Cases of COVID, the flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are expected to rise this winter, potentially creating a ‘tripledemic.’ Scientists say the pandemic ‘immunity gap’ is probably behind the surge in viruses. Experts advise Americans to get vaccinated against COVID and the flu to prevent their local hospitals from overflowing. RSV vaccines are currently in development and Pfizer has begun studying a combination vaccine for COVID and the flu.

  • COVID-19: Coronavirus-related hospitalizations are rising and at least half a dozen Omicron subvariants are competing to be the next dominant strain in the US. New data from Pfizer suggests that the updated booster provides four times stronger protection against more recent Omicron variants than the original vaccine.
  • The Flu: So far, this flu season has been earlier and more severe than it has been in 13 years, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Inequities have been found in flu vaccine uptake. Black, Hispanic, and Indigenous adults are more likely to be hospitalized with the flu and less likely to be vaccinated against it. Estimates for 2022-23 by age, race/ethnicity, urbanicity, and jurisdiction will be available November 22nd.
  • RSV: RSV is a common respiratory virus that can be serious for young children and older adults. Children’s hospitals are being overwhelmed by the nationwide surge in RSV cases. The unusually early and drastic spike in RSV cases has increased wait times and is straining health care resources.

Resources & Initiatives:

  • See the CDC’s resource on protecting yourself from COVID, the flu, and RSV.
  • Learn about the symptoms, treatment, and what parents should know about RSV in children.
  • Wellmark shares information on how to protect yourself against the flu and what to know about RSV in children.
  • CDC advisors voted to add COVID-19 vaccines to the childhood, adolescent, and adult immunization schedules.

Learn more about hunger in America with NIHCM’s recent infographic.

Food Security: Hunger, Nutrition, & Health

Food insecurity, the lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live a healthy life, can be temporary or prolonged. Many of the causes of food insecurity have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, including unemployment, unaffordable housing, chronic health conditions, and poverty. In 2021, over 10% of US households were food insecure. However, the US is just one of many countries impacted by food insecurity. Global events, such as the pandemic, climate change, and conflicts between countries, impede efforts to improve access and availability of nutritious food worldwide.

  • Impact on Health: More than 34 million US individuals, including 9 million children were food insecure in 2021. Among children and adults ages 18 to 65, food insecurity is associated with decreased nutrient intake, and poorer mental, oral, and general health.
  • Food Insecurity in Children: Between 1993 and 2019, child poverty decreased by 59%. This was largely due to safety net programs, such as the Child Tax Credit payments, which ended at the beginning of 2022. Between January and July of this year, there was a 25% increase in food insufficiency, the number of households that sometimes or often did not have enough to eat.
  • National Efforts: The Biden-Harris administration aims to address hunger and nutrition-related diseases across five pillars. As a result of September’s White House conference on hunger, nutrition, and health, the first since 1969, the US Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration will explore efforts to expand free meals in low-income schools and seek to regulate how the term “healthy” is used on packaging.

Resources & Initiatives:

  • Search for local food banks with Feeding America’s national network. Learn more about strategies to address community needs with NIHCM’s recent webinar.
  • Elevance Health and the Elevance Health Foundation have several programs addressing food access. Learn more about actions in California, Indiana, and Kentucky.
  • Season Health, a food-as-medicine platform aimed at addressing chronic condition management, announced a $5 million commitment to bring its affordable and culturally relevant meals to communities nationally.
  • Recent research reports that starting a healthy diet, at any age, can extend life expectancy. A dietician from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan discusses the benefits of involving children in cooking healthy meals.
  • NIHCM Journalism Grantee, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, published articles on possible solutions to address food insecurity and the impact of inadequate housing.
  • Florida Blue invested nearly $4 million into community-based organizations combating food insecurity. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana and partners sponsored 125,000 meals at statewide food banks.

Mental Health: 988, Access to Care, & More

The pandemic has impacted mental health and suicide risks. Provisional data from the CDC shows that suicide rates in the US have been rising, especially among young people. A recent study found that almost 10% of Americans experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. The study also found that while depression increased, there has not been an increase in treatment. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recently recommended anxiety screening for all adults. Learn more about mental health in America:

  • 988: The national 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline launched in July. An analysis from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that the volume of callers increased the first month after the launch. So far, the Lifeline has been keeping up with demand in terms of wait times, answer rates, and outreach volume, with variation between states.
  • Access to Care: While demand for mental health care is rising, many mental health providers are at capacity with long waits for care, sometimes more than six months. Peer support is a valuable resource for overcoming the shortage of mental health professionals. Currently, many families struggle with paying for mental health care and end up in debt.
  • Young people: The USPSTF recently recommended routine anxiety screening for children 8 to 18 and major depressive disorder screening for children 12 to 18. A new CDC survey found that the pandemic exacerbated concerns about adolescents’ mental health and suicidal behavior. Teens are self-diagnosing mental health conditions with information from TikTok.
  • Incarcerated Suicide: Data collected by the Wall Street Journal shows that suicides in prisons and jails have risen sharply over the past two years in the US. Experts point to increased isolation of inmates during the pandemic, rise in drug use such as fentanyl, and staff shortages as the reason.

Resources & Initiatives:

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of New Mexico awarded grants to address pediatric mental health.

Aging and Health

As of 2019, nearly 23% of the US population was at least 60 years old. By 2035, there are projected to be more 65 years and older individuals than those under the age of 18 for the first time in US history. This is especially important amid a national shortage of home-care workers to care for the increasing older population, as the demand for care will exceed the supply.

  • Dementia: A recently published article found that among 3,496 Americans over 65, approximately one-third had dementia or mild cognitive impairment. Education, exercise, and nutrition have been cited as protective factors. Other studies report that hearing loss and how older adults spend their leisure time can lead to an increased risk of dementia.
  • Hearing Aids: In mid-October, hearing aids became available to purchase over-the-counter (OTC), enabling access without a prescription or a medical exam, but OTC devices are not suitable for children or those with severe impairment.
  • Challenges in Caring for Older Adults: While long-term care provided in the home and community-based settings is becoming more popular, nearly 1.3 million Americans reside in certified nursing homes. A recent study reported that the pandemic amplified long-existing issues within nursing home care, such as inadequate staffing, poor infection control, deficiencies that result in patient harm, and failures in oversight.

Resources & Initiatives:

  • The National Institute on Aging has several resources available on aging at home.
  • A medical director at BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee explains how ears work and how to protect against hearing loss. Find out more about who should consider OTC hearing aids with this resource.
  • The leading cause for hospital and emergency room visits among North Carolinians over the age of 45 is unintentional falls at home.
  • This year, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina is working with partners to prevent falls by evaluating home risk, providing education, and delivering home repairs.

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