Author: Chris Noronha

Research Spotlight: Dr. Noel Brewer

Last week, Upstream Writers were joined by Noel Brewer, PhD, professor of Health Behavior in the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health and affiliated scholar with UNC’s Interdisciplinary Health Communication program. Dr. Brewer gave an interesting and informative talk about his recent tobacco research involving the effect of cigarette pack messages. His findings showed that pictorial cigarette pack warnings increased smoking quit attempts and 7-day quitting. Additionally, the pictorial warnings were found to work better than text warnings, as they led to more attention, negative affect, social interactions and thinking about the warnings. Finally, because the study’s findings did not fit existing models of health behavior, Dr. Brewer developed the new Tobacco Warnings Model.

Dr. Brewer received his PhD in psychology from Rutgers University and joined the faculty in the Department of Health Behavior at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2004. He studies how people make risky health decisions, and he currently directs the UNC Health Cognition & Behavior Lab where he conducts his research. Furthermore, in addition to Dr. Brewer’s tobacco research involving smoking risk communication, his work also focuses on HPV vaccine communication and increasing HPV vaccine uptake, and he currently serves as Chair of the National HPV Vaccination Roundtable. More information about his research can be found here.

In the spirit of Public Health Thank You Day, thank you, Dr. Brewer, for the work that you do to promote and protect public health! 

Practice Gratitude

Thanksgiving is just right around the corner, and while I often try to practice gratitude in my everyday life, I especially find myself during this time reflecting on the opportunities and the experiences that I have had, as well as the people in my life that I appreciate and am grateful for.

I find that when I practice gratitude I feel happier and more confident in my ability to manage any stress I may be experiencing. In a recent study, Mills et al. (2015) examined the relationship between spiritual wellbeing, gratitude, and mental health in heart failure patients. They found that gratitude was associated with better mood, sleep, as well as less fatigue among these patients, demonstrating a positive effect of gratitude on well-being.

Gratitude is free and requires little effort to do, and I believe that it is something that we can all cultivate and practice—not just during the Thanksgiving season, but in our everyday lives. When practicing gratitude, I often reflect on the value that the people in my life have, the value of the experiences that I have had, as well as the opportunities that I have been given. I will document this reflection in my journal, making note of my feelings and thoughts. It is a humbling but rewarding process, and one that I think we can all benefit from.

How do you practice gratitude? What are you grateful for?  

References:

Mills, P. J., Redwine, L., Wilson, K., Pung, M. A., Chinh, K., Greenberg, B. H., … & Chopra, D. (2015). The role of gratitude in spiritual well-being in asymptomatic heart failure patients. Spirituality in Clinical Practice2(1), 5-17. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/scp0000050

 

November is American Diabetes Month

Diabetes is a chronic disease in which the body is unable to properly process blood sugar levels due to an inability to either produce or use insulin properly. There are more than 30 million Americans living with diabetes, and 7.2 million of those individuals are undiagnosed.

There are three main types of diabetes:

 Type 1 diabetes. With type 1 diabetes, the body does not produce insulin, and as a result, individuals living with type 1 diabetes require insulin injections in order to survive.

 Type 2 diabetes. This is the most common type of diabetes. With type 2 diabetes, the body is unable to produce or use insulin properly. Those living with prediabetes are at an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Approximately 84.1 million adults ages 18 years or older have prediabetes, and 90% of those individuals do not know they have it.

 Gestational diabetes. This type of diabetes can occur in women during pregnancy. Women with gestational diabetes are at an increased risk for developing type 2 diabetes.

While there is no cure for diabetes, it can be managed with the proper medication, by monitoring blood sugar levels, managing stress, and/or with lifestyle changes to diet and exercise. And for people living with prediabetes, type 2 diabetes can be prevented with weight loss, physical activity, and/or healthy eating.

To learn more about diabetes, check out the following resources:

American Diabetes Association

Diabetes – Centers for Disease Control

References

About Diabetes. (2017, June 1). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/diabetes.html

Diabetes [PDF]. (N.d.) Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/media/presskits/aahd/diabetes.pdf

Diabetes Statistics. (2017, September). Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-statistics/diabetes-statistics

Facts about Type 2. (2015, October 27). Retrieved from http://www.diabetes.org/diabetes-basics/type-2/facts-about-type-2.html

Living with Type 1 Diabetes. (2016, November 21). Retrieved from http://www.diabetes.org/living-with-diabetes/recently-diagnosed/living-with-type-1-diabetes.html

Managing Diabetes. (2016, November). Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/managing-diabetes

Prediabetes. (2017, July 25). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/basics/prediabetes.html

Preventing Type 2 Diabetes. (2016, November). Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-type-2-diabetes

What is Diabetes? (2016, November). Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes

Take a Walk

Walking is one of my favorite forms of exercise. It’s free, it’s easy to do, it requires no fancy gym equipment, and it can be done almost anywhere or anytime! I especially enjoy walking outside during the fall season, where the air is cool and crisp, and I am able to see the changing colors of the fall leaves.

As you may already know, walking can be a healthy form of physical activity. It can lower your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes as well as strengthen your muscles. Walking can also improve your mood and lower stress. Adults need 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity per week, and brisk walking for just 30 minutes per day for 5 days a week can help meet this need.

Finding a friend or family member to walk with you or joining a walking club may be helpful ways to incorporate more walking into your life.

For more information about walking, check out these resources:

Fitness: Walking for Wellness | WebMD

Walking: A Step in the Right Direction | NIH

Happy walking!

References:

Fitness: Walking for Wellness. (2015, July 10). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/walking-for-wellness

Walking: A Step in the Right Direction. (2017, April). Retrieved from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/weight-management/walking-step-right-direction

Sleeping Positions and Health

We all know sleep is important for our health… but what about our sleeping positions?

There are several sleeping positions we may find ourselves in. These may include sleeping on our side, our back, in a fetal position, or on our stomach. Each sleeping position carries its own level of health benefits.

Sleeping in a fetal position. This popular sleeping position is good for your spine, and it can also help prevent snoring. A loose (less tightly-curled) fetal position–particularly on your left side–is especially good for health, facilitating breathing and blood circulation.

Sleeping on your stomach. While this sleeping position may reduce snoring, it may not be the healthiest. Sleeping on your stomach can cause neck and back pain, and it can also put pressure on your muscles, causing numbness.

Sleeping on your side. This common sleeping position can be very healthy. Not only does it reduce neck and back pain, but it can also reduce snoring by keeping your airways open, helping you to breathe better. Additionally, placing a pillow between your legs in this sleeping position can provide extra support to both your hips and back.

Sleeping on your back. This sleeping position may be good for quality sleep – your weight is evenly distributed, and your head, neck, and spine are neutrally positioned. Additionally, placing a pillow underneath your knees while sleeping in this position can provide extra support for your spine. Also, using a pillow to support your head can be helpful when sleeping in this position. Sleeping on your back, however, can induce sleep apnea, as well as aggravate snoring and/or digestive problems such as acid reflux.

What’s your preferred sleeping position? What are your thoughts?

Happy Sleeping!

References

Sleeping Positions. (2017). Retrieved from http://www.hcmc.org/clinics/SleepCenter/SleepingPositions/index.htm?clinicDocName=HCMC_CLINICS_440&conditionDocName

Starfish or Freefall? What Your Sleep Position Can Tell You. (2017). Retrieved from http://bettersleep.org/better-sleep/sleep-positions/

The Best Sleep Position for Your Body. (N.d.) Retrieved from https://sleep.org/articles/best-sleep-position/

What’s the Best Position to Sleep In? (2017). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/best-sleep-positions#1

Featured image taken from Flickr.com (user “Jon Huss”).

Recent Data on Obesity Prevalence in the U.S.

The National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) recently released a data brief on recent estimates for obesity prevalence in the United States. These estimates are from the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey for 2015-2016. Some key survey findings showed that in 2015-2016, obesity prevalence was 39.8% among adults and 18.5% among youth in the U.S. Additionally, obesity prevalence was found to be 13.9% for children aged 2-5 years, 18.4% for children aged 6-11 years, and 20.6% for children aged 12-19 years.

While there was not a significant change in obesity prevalence among U.S. adults and youth between 2013-2014 and 2015-2016, obesity continues to remain an important public health concern.

Obesity prevalence rates in the U.S. do not currently meet national weight status objectives set forth in Healthy People 2020, a 10-year national agenda for improving public health in the U.S. These objectives are to reduce the proportion of U.S. adults that are obese to 30.5%, as well as reduce the proportion of U.S. children aged 2-5 years, 6-11 years, and 12-19 years that are obese to 9.4%, 15.7%, and 16.1%, respectively, by the year 2020.

Obesity can lead to serious health effects, such as: high blood pressure, heart disease, and even type 2 diabetes. However, maintaining a healthy weight through eating right and staying physically active can prevent these negative health outcomes.

References

Prevalence of Obesity among Adults and Youth: United States, 2015-2016. (2017, October). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db288.pdf

Nutrition and Weight Status. (2017, October 13). Retrieved from https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/nutrition-and-weight-status/objectives

Eat Right. (N.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/eat/index.htm

Be Physically Active. (N.d.) Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/physical.htm

Eyes on the Road! Avoid Distracted Driving

Distracted driving involves any sort of activity that takes someone’s attention away from driving. This may be taking your eyes, your hands, or your mind off of the road. Some of us may find ourselves guilty of doing this, while some of us may have witnessed others involved in distracted driving. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 3,477 lives were lost due to distracted driving in 2015. That is 3,477 lives too many.

One main type of distracted driving involves texting or talking on the phone while driving. This is especially concerning among teens. In a 2015 National Occupant Protection Use survey, handheld cell phone use was found to be highest among 16-24 year old drivers. It’s important that teen drivers and their parents have conversations about safe, distraction-free driving.

Many states already have laws in place that ban texting while driving. As of June 2017, 14 states as well as the District of Columbia, have laws in effect that ban drivers from operating hand-held devices. Even using hands-free devices can be distracting while driving. Protect your life and the life of others—avoid distracted driving. If you need to answer a text or phone call, pull over to a safe place, stop, and then answer.

Check out some helpful resources below:

Traffic Safety Facts | National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Distracted Driving | National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

Tips for Preventing Distracted Driving | The AAA Exchange

Learn the Causes and Dangers of Distracted Driving | Students Against Destructive Decisions

References:
Distracted Driving. (N.d.) Retrieved from https://www.nhtsa.gov/risky-driving/distracted-driving
Distracted Driving. (2017, June 9). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/motorvehiclesafety/distracted_driving/index.html

Driver Electronic Device Use in 2015. (2016, September). Retrieved from https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/driver_electronic_device_use_in_2015_0.pdf

Learn the Causes and Dangers of Distracted Driving. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.sadd.org/what-we-care-about/traffic-safety/teens-distracted-driving/

Superfood Spotlight: Chia Seeds

A member of the mint family, chia seeds are a nutrition-packed superfood. These tiny black seeds are a great source of fiber, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids that help to support digestion and blood sugar management. In just 1 ounce of chia seeds you can find a hefty 11 grams of fiber, 4 grams of protein, and 5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids! Not to mention, chia seeds are also rich in minerals such as calcium, iron, and magnesium.

Chia seeds can be eaten raw or they can be added to other dishes, such as soups, salads, and even baked goods. They can also be soaked in water where they form a gel-like texture that resembles that of tapioca. Because of this, one of my favorite uses for chia seeds is making chia pudding. While both nutritious and delicious, chia pudding is also super easy to make! I often prepare it at night so that I have it ready to eat for breakfast in the morning. Here is a delicious recipe for chia pudding (courtesy of MinimalistBaker.com).

Check out the following resources for more information about chia seeds:

Healthy Food Trends – Chia Seeds | MedlinePlus

National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference | USDA

References:

Basic Report: 12006, Seeds, chia seeds, dried. (2016, May). Retrieved from https://ndb.nal.usda.gov/ndb/foods/show/3610

Gunnars, K. 11 Proven Health Benefits of Chia Seeds. (2017, May 30). Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/11-proven-health-benefits-of-chia-seeds#section7

Healthy Food Trends – Chia Seeds. (2017, September 5). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000727.htm

Lewin, J. (2017, April 27). The health benefits of chia seeds. Retrieved from https://www.bbcgoodfood.com/howto/guide/health-benefits-chia-seeds

Weil, A. What is Chia? (2006, May 15). Retrieved from https://www.drweil.com/diet-nutrition/nutrition/what-is-chia/

Wolfram, T. (2017, June 1). What are Chia Seeds? Retrieved fromhttp://www.eatright.org/resource/food/vitamins-and-supplements/nutrient-rich-foods/what-are-chia-seeds

Breathe in… breathe out…

Feeling anxious or stressed? Consider diaphragmatic or “deep breathing” exercises! Deep breathing can be a helpful technique for relaxing both mind and body, as well as stress and anxiety management. It can even improve our energy levels!

With deep breathing, we are able to consciously control our breathing, lower our blood pressure and heart rate, and relax our muscles. During normal breathing, we typically breathe shallow breaths using our chest and not our bellies. However, with deep breathing, we breathe with our bellies, taking in slow, deep breaths.

One key muscle involved in the process of deep breathing is our diaphragm, located between our chest and abdomen. When we inhale, we contract our diaphragm, expanding our abdomen, which then pushes air into our lungs. We then exhale, relaxing our diaphragm, and air is pushed out of our lungs.

Interested in trying deep breathing? Click here for a step-by-step guide!

Happy stress relief!

References:

Diaphragmatic Breathing [PDF file]. (2016, September). Retrieved from https://www.uncmedicalcenter.org/app/files/public/196/pdf-medctr-rehab-diaphbreathing.pdf

Patel, S. (N.d.) Retrieved from http://www.chopra.com/articles/breathing-for-life-the-mind-body-healing-benefits-of-pranayama#sm.00019xogqb4t2eoex3f1a17fb6wn4

Rakal, D. (2016). Learning Deep Breathing. Psych Central. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/learning-deep-breathing/

Wong, C. (2017, April 30). Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/how-to-breathe-with-your-belly-89853

 

Lady Gaga Reveals Battle with Fibromyalgia

This past week, music sensation Lady Gaga revealed on her Twitter account that she has been battling fibromyalgia, and was recently taken to the hospital for severe pain, leading her to cancel one of her performances. While it may not have been easy to do, Lady Gaga’s decision to open up about her condition sheds an important light on the debilitating condition that is fibromyalgia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, fibromyalgia affects about 4 million US adults. It is a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain and can include symptoms of fatigue, depression, and headaches that can negatively affect quality of life. While it is unclear what causes fibromyalgia,  some possible risk factors include age, stressful or traumatic experiences, family history, and sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control, women are twice as likely to have fibromyalgia as men.

Treatment for fibromyalgia often involves a team of different health professionals, and can be effectively managed with a combination of medication, exercise, and stress management techniques.

Check out the following resources for more information about fibromyalgia and how you can get involved in raising awareness of this condition:

The National Fibromyalgia Association

The American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association, Inc.

Fibromyalgia | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Questions and Answers about Fibromyalgia | National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases  

Note: Lady Gaga has been working on a documentary entitled “Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two,” in which she discusses her battle with fibromyalgia. This film will be available on Netflix on September 22.  

References:

Fibromyalgia. (2017, September 6). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/fibromyalgia.htm

Park, Andrea. (2017, September 13). Lady Gaga opens up about having fibromyalgia. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/lady-gaga-opens-up-on-fibromyalgia-on-twitter/

Questions and Answers about Fibromyalgia. (2014, July). Retrieved from https://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Fibromyalgia/default.asp#c