Health strategies

The AMA is asking for a warning on headphones and earbuds about the dangers of wearing them while doing outdoor activities.

In this age of distractions, it seems like the majority of people doing anything outdoors — walking, running, biking — have headphones or buds plugged into their ears.

Go to a gym where people are lifting, swinging and pulling often dangerous heavy weights and the problem is even worse.

Even when people are told not to wear them, such as the USA Track & Field organization did for sanctioned races, the rule is flatly ignored.

Last week, the American Medical Association approved a new policy statement on headphones, among other notable positions on current health issues, at its annual meeting in Chicago.

The association cited studies showing the increased injuries with wearing headphones while doing activities such as running and biking. Doing so often causes people to become distracted, with impeded ability to hear sounds, such as car horns and emergency vehicles.

The AMA’s new policy calls for warning labels on the packaging of hand-held devices that use earbuds or headphones.

“There have been more and more reports of people becoming injured during outdoor activity because they were distracted by headphones and we believe the best way to help curb this trend is to make sure the public is aware of the high potential for injury,” says association President Dr. Robert M. Wah.

Whether manufacturers do so or the government eventually requires them to do so, the question again will be “Will people listen?”

The association has considerable weight, as evidenced by the influences of other positions it has taken through the years, on public policy.

Past positions were followed by making seat belts a requirement for automobiles in 1968, raising the drinking age from 18 to 21 in 1988, a requirement to provide handicap accessibility for public spaces in 1990 and tobacco companies admitting their products were deadly in 2012.

Some of the preventive medicine measures it took last week included recommending child-resistant packaging on energy drinks to prevent hospitalizations and deaths, as well as requiring labels on sunglasses that state the percentage of UVA and UVB radiation protection of the product to ensure consumers are aware of the extent to which their eyes would be protected.

The association also voted to ban the use of artificial trans fat in food.

The association also took up an issue from one of the biggest domestic health stories so far this year: the measles outbreak and its relationship to vaccine exemptions.

The AMA expressed concern about the re-emergence of vaccine-preventable diseases in the United States and seeks to require states to move toward barring nonmedical exemptions to immunization mandates.

The association says the only exemption should be only for medical reasons. Immunization requirements vary among states, but only bar nonmedical exemptions based on personal beliefs.

“When people are immunized, they also help prevent the spread of disease to others,” says association Board Member Dr. Patrice A. Harris. “As evident from the recent measles outbreak at Disneyland, protecting community health in today’s mobile society requires that policymakers not permit individuals from opting out of immunization solely as a matter of personal preference or convenience.”

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the number of deaths in 2013 from prescription overdoses exceeded those from gunshot wounds and motor vehicle accidents.

In the midst of a national opioid misuse epidemic, the AMA bolstered its support for Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs. Specifically, the new policy encourages the use of monitoring programs that protect patient privacy, contain relevant and reliable clinical data, are seamlessly integrated into a care team’s workflow and provide actionable information.

It also calls on state governments to modernize and fully fund the monitoring programs, specifically ensuring they are capable of sharing data across state lines.

“Interoperable Prescription Drug Monitoring Programs are important tools that can help physicians weigh the risks and benefits of prescribing opioids to a patient experiencing pain and are a key part of preventing misuse and diversion,” says Harris.

“The AMA is committed to ensuring appropriate prescribing practices and educating physicians and patients about the risks and benefits of opioids.”

Concerned that electronic cigarette use among middle and high school students tripled from 2013 to 2014, the association called on laws setting the minimum legal purchase age for e-cigarettes and their liquid nicotine refills at 21 years old and to require that liquid nicotine packages be child resistant.

Wah says the association continues to advocate “stringent policies to protect our country’s youth from the dangers of tobacco use and improve public health.”

The new policy was needed to extend the policies adopted in 2013 and 2014 calling for all e-cigarettes to be subject to the same regulations and oversight that Food and Drug Administration applies to tobacco and nicotine products.

“We urge the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to act now to implement its proposed rule to effectively regulate electronic cigarettes,” says Wah.

“Improving the health of the nation is AMA’s top priority and we will continue to advocate for policies that help reduce the burden of preventable diseases like cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes, both of which can be linked to smoking.”

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.