Study says extreme heat could be to blame for increased mortality rates in some areas; a troubling look ahead to obesity epidemic in years to come; U.S. House votes to bolster defense spending at the cost of prevention programs. Those stories and more topping public health headlines today, Tuesday, May 8, 2012. 

Environmental Health Perspectives – Evaluation of a Heat Vulnerability Index on Abnormally Hot Days: An Environmental Public Health Tracking Study
Background: Extreme hot weather conditions have been associated with increased morbidity and mortality, but risks are not evenly distributed throughout the population. Previously, a heat vulnerability index (HVI) was created to geographically locate populations with increased vulnerability to heat in metropolitan areas throughout the United States. Objectives: We sought to determine whether areas with higher heat vulnerability, as characterized by the HVI, experienced higher rates of morbidity and mortality on abnormally hot days.

USA Today – Obesity could affect 42% of Americans by 2030
A new forecast on America’s obesity crisis has health experts fearing a dramatic jump in health care costs if nothing is done to bring the epidemic under control. The new projection, released here Monday, warns that 42% of Americans may end up obese by 2030, and 11% could be severely obese, adding billions of dollars to health care costs. “If nothing is done (about obesity), it’s going to hinder efforts for health care cost containment,” says Justin Trogdon, a research economist with RTI International, a non-profit research organization in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

UPI – Massachusetts to ban school bake sales
Massachusetts lawmakers voted to ban bake sales at public schools in an effort to combat an obesity epidemic affecting about a third of the state’s students. Effective Aug. 1, no food other than school-provided meals will be allowed to be sold at schools, the Boston Herald reported Monday. State officials are further looking to ban the sale of treats at after-school events, including banquets, door-to-door candy sales and football games.

New York Times (blog) – Teenage Driver Study Reconfirms Link Between Young Passengers and Chances of a Fatal Crash
A new study highlights the strong association between the number and age of passengers in cars and the risk of a teenage driver dying in a traffic accident. The report, “Teen Driver Risk in Relation to Age and Number of Passengers,” was released Tuesday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, a nonprofit research and education organization. Relying on crash data from 2007 to 2010, the study’s authors found that the likelihood that a 16- or 17-year-old driver would be killed in a crash increased with each additional young passenger in the vehicle. “The report reconfirms what we have known for a long time,” J. Peter Kissinger, president and chief executive of the foundation, said in a telephone interview. “When peers are passengers in cars with 16- and 17-year-old drivers, it’s a dangerous mix.”

USA Today – Multiple strategies needed to fight obesity, study suggests
Students should be physically active for 60 minutes every day at school, fast-food restaurants need to offer healthier foods to kids, and communities need to have trails and other safe areas for residents to encourage physical activity, says a report out today. It’s going to take many strategies like these and a full-scale effort across all segments of society to reduce the obesity epidemic in this country, says a report from an expert committee convened by the Institute of Medicine, which provides independent advice on health issues to policy makers, foundations and others.

Washington Post – Senate heads toward showdown vote on student loans with Dems, GOP stalled over paying for it
The Senate is steaming toward a showdown on a Democratic proposal to keep student loan interest rates from doubling for 7.4 million students. In a measure of how the upcoming election is driving work in Congress these days, it’s a vote Democrats won’t terribly mind losing — which is probably what will happen. The Senate planned a Tuesday roll call on the plan, which would extend today’s 3.4 percent interest rates on subsidized Stafford loans for another year. Without congressional action, those rates will double July 1.

Politico – Study: Bigger hospitals drive cost increases
For everyone out there worried that President Barack Obama’s health reform law will spur monopolies and make it easier for hospitals to raise their prices, a new study says it’s already happening, and it’s not because of the health law. A study in the May edition of Health Affairs finds that hospitals’ power to win steep payment increases — and insurers’ relative inability to resist — varies quite a bit from one market to another and from one kind of hospital or hospital network to another. Reputation, location and the type of medical services provided play a role.