Public Health Herald Newsletter 4th Issue

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Summer 2009                                                                                                                                                                              Vol. 1, No. 4

Topic of the Quarter: Minimum Legal Drinking Age

Since 1988, the minimum legal drinking age (MLDA) for all states and the District of Columbia has been 21, prompted by the federal National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, which tied a portion of transportation funding to an MLDA of 21. In recent years, some have questioned whether this higher drinking age, relative to the rights and benefits granted at age 18, is an effective policy choice. Others highlight research linking the higher drinking age to a reduction in teen traffic deaths.


The Amethyst Initiative, an organization of university and college presidents and chancellors, seeks to open debate on the efficacy of the MLDA in light of the epidemic of alcohol abuse on campuses and its consequences among 18- to 21-year-old students. They argue that prohibiting drinking for young adults leads to disrespect for the law and less responsible drinking behavior. Since 2007, at least six states have had proposed legislation or discussion concerning MLDA, although no state has lowered its drinking age.


Approximately 272,000 people age 15 to 20 are injured and 3,500 are killed in crashes each year; nearly one-third of those have consumed alcohol prior to the crash. Studies show increases in impaired teen driving deaths when the MLDA dropped to age 18 in many states, mirroring the voting age in 1971, and decreases in deaths following passage of the National Minimum Drinking Age Act. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) estimates that MLDA laws have saved 25,000 lives due to reduced crashes involving teens. Although they are under the drinking age and only make up 6 percent of licensed drivers, those from age 15 through age 20 still make up 11 percent of alcohol-involved drivers in fatal crashes.


Teenagers face disproportionate risk from driving and drinking individually, and the combination of the two takes a particular toll. Ultimately, MLDA is just one part of the policy debate around this widely recognized problem.


Resources on Minimum Legal Drinking Age and Injury Prevention
NHTSAAmethyst Initiative, CDC Injury Center, Children's Safety Network, State and Territorial Injury Prevention Directors Association (STIPDA)


Upcoming Events and NCSL Resources

Legislative Summit, July 20-24, 2009, Philadelphia. The NCSL Legislative Summit brings together state lawmakers, legislative staff and national policy experts from across the country who converge to share ideas, best practices and strategies.  The Legislative Summit provides more than 150 informative sessions with nationally renowned speakers. Among the topics featured are:

  • Food, Fitness and Economic Development

  • Diabetes: Taming a Spreading Disease

  • Cardiovascular Disease: What Legislators Can Do to Improve Cardiovascular Health and Reduce Related Health Disparities

  • Collaborating to Fight (Breast) Cancer

NCSL Resources
Public Health Herald Fall 2008, Winter 2009, Spring 2009
NCSL Injury and Violence Prevention Page
Protecting Children Online
Texting While Driving Could Spell D-A-N-G-E-R (Podcast)
Preventable Injuries Burden State Budgets (Podcast)
Lowering the Minimum Legal Drinking Age (Podcast)
Move-Over Laws (Podcast)


In the News

Americans' Daily Salt Intake Is Nearly Twice the Recommended Level
A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveals that more than two out of three adults (70 percent) should not consume more than 1,500 milligrams (mg) of sodium per day in order to lower their risk for high blood pressure.  Nearly 75 percent of sodium intake comes from packaged, processed and restaurant foods rather than salt added while cooking or eating.  A diet high in sodium increases the risk of high blood pressure that, in turn, increases the risk for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.

Sociodemographic Differences in Binge Drinking
Binge drinking—consuming five alcoholic drinks (four for females) on one occasion—was responsible for more than half of alcohol-related deaths between 2001 and 2005. Based on 2004 data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), 15.9 percent of adults reported binge drinking in the prior 30 days, down from 16.6 percent in 1998, but far short of the Healthy People 2010 goal of 6 percent. Men, whites, those ages 18 to 34 and those with household incomes greater than $50,000 were most likely to binge drink at least once. However, those with household incomes below $25,000 had the most binge drinking episodes, while blacks and Hispanics had the most drinks per episode.

Tuberculosis Rate Drops to Historic Low in United States
March 24 was World Tuberculosis Day, bringing awareness about one of the leading causes of death due to infectious disease in the world. In 2006, 9.2 million people became ill and 1.7 million died as a result of TB. In the United States, 2008 marked the lowest incidence rate of TB since recording began; the rate declined by 3.8 percent in 2007 to 4.2 cases per 100,000 people in 2008. However, rates are much higher among foreign-born people and ethnic minorities while multi-drug and extensively drug resistant cases remain a concern.

Nearly 87,000 Fall-Related Injuries Involve Dog or Cat
A recent study by the CDC estimates that 86,629 non-fatal injuries due to falls are associated with cats and/or dogs and are treated in an emergency department. This number represents just over 1 percent of the 8 million treated for fall injuries in 2006. Women accounted for more than two-thirds of the falls involving a pet, and 88 percent of the falls were associated with dogs. The highest rate of injuries was among those age 75 or older.

Public Health Project Partner News

NCSL collaborates with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other national organizations—including the National Governors Association, the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials and the Society for Public Health Education—on this public health project. Recent resources available from partner organizations on public health topics include:

Weight of the Nation, July 27-29, 2009, Washington, D.C.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity presents its inaugural conference on obesity prevention and control, designed to highlight successful policy and environmental strategies.

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