Author: Jessica W.

Map of the United States

CDC report finds states lacking healthy food environments

Childhood obesity is a growing problem that Upstream has covered on more than one occasion. Even TV personalities such as Jamie Oliver have been battling the childhood obesity epidemic in the U.S.

Although some are fighting against childhood obesity, a new report out of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention finds that states could do more to improve eating habits and fight childhood obesity through regulations and policies, according to an article on Medical News Today’s website.

The 2011 Children’s Food Environment State Indicator Report (released in late April) examined states scores and relates them to the Modified Retail Food Environment Index, which is a measure of the proportion of retailers that sell healthy foods within a state, according to the article.

Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia scored below the national average of 10, with scores ranging from a 16 in Montana to a 4 in DC.  But what does this mean, and how can this information be most clearly presented to the public?

Some of the issues examined included seeing if regulations such as limits on TV time or restricting sugar drinks had been required of childcare facilities. Most states had not done so.

Although this report found states lacking in some areas, label laws and requirements related to menu labels have been increasing throughout the nation. It seems policy makers are working to communicate the health information of foods more clearly to consumers.

In what ways do you see policies and regulations lacking in terms of preventing obesity? In what ways are policies and regulations working? What role do you see for health communicators in these policies and regulations?

Questionnaire may provide earlier autism diagnoses

The New York Times recently ran a story on how a questionnaire administered at a child’s 1-year check up can detect autism and other developmental delays. However, the test has a high rate of false positives.

Photo at left: Although the brain of a person with autism sometimes uses different areas, looking at the brain isn’t the only way to see if a child might be autistic.

Researchers examining the effectiveness of the questionnaire had pediatricians in San Diego use the tool and then followed the babies that had been identified as potentially having autism or other developmental issues. Out of the nearly 190 children they followed, 25 percent did not end up having autism or another developmental issue, according to the article.

Previous research has shown that early intervention can be more effective,  so it seems that getting a diagnosis early could be useful and helpful to the child and the parents.

However, with a quarter of diagnoses being wrong, it seems like communication could play a very big role. What do you see as the role of communication? How does one communicate that a test may provide false positives and make this understandable?



Label confusion can influence dieters

A recent study in The Journal of Consumer Research found that what an item is labeled can influence what people on diets will and will not eat.

According to an article in Medical News Today about the study, “..Dieters are more drawn to marketing hype while non-dieters tend to focus more on the food’s nutritional content.”

Dieters have certain names of food types that are off limits, such as ice cream, pasta, potato chips and candy, but it was really the labels that kept them away from such foods. If a product is called something more healthful, people on diets may be more inclined to eat it. Misleading labels that make food sound more nutritious can encourage dieters.

For example, a milkshake called a fruit smoothie might be more likely to fool a dieter, who is going to rely on the label and may not check the nutritional information, according to the article.

Upstream has covered some issues with food labeling before and how having labels that are confusing may be problematic to consumers.

What do you think of labels that consumers think they understand, such as fruit smoothie, that really may not be nutritious at all? What can be done to help combat this confusion?

Some schools allow advertising to youth

The New York Times recently had an article that talked about how school buses may now be a place marketers can promote products as more states are allowing advertising on school buses, in school cafeterias, in welfare offices, at the Department of Motor Vehicles and in prison holding areas.

Although schools can make money that can provide certain amenities from sports teams to academic programs, there are questions that beg to be answered, like what sort of advertising should be allowed.

A number of schools that sell ad space in their cafeterias or inside their buses have requirements that tobacco, alcohol and sexual content cannot be shown, but according to the New York Times article, this means that junk food can still be advertised.

According to the article:

“Pizza parlors and pizza chains are among the businesses that have purchased advertising space on school buses.”

We know that obesity is a growing problem in the United States, and that advertising has been shown to have an impact on people. With such practices taking place, it underscores the importance of media literacy. If students are going to be exposed to such content in the places they spend a significant amount of time, it seems crucial that media literacy efforts teach them what advertisers are trying to do and that educators are not necessarily endorsing such products.

What do you think of schools that supplement their funding by providing ad space? Do you think the benefits of increased funding outweigh the costs of potentially influencing a captive audience?


National Awareness Months: Where do they fit in?

Upstream authors have asked whether there is evidence to support the use of national awareness days as a health communication strategy.   Although there might not be clear cut evidence on whether individual days are beneficial, there is new research out of the University of Oregon that looks at awareness months, specifically National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Researchers looked at more than 30 years of data from cancer registries to see if October events lead to increases in breast cancer diagnoses in November.

The researchers found that the events did lead to increases in diagnoses in the mid-1990s, but that in more recent years there is little evidence of an increase in diagnoses following National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

According to the researchers, this finding indicates that “…women are now getting diagnosed as a result of routine screenings, as opposed to event-driven screenings.”  To read more about the study, check out this article from Medical News Today.

Do you think that similar trends could be expected for other health awareness months or do you think that breast cancer is unique because of the large amount of coverage the month tends to get? What do you see as the role of national awareness months?

Feature: The Behavior Wizard has potential for behavior change

It can be hard to change behaviors, especially behaviors that people are rather accustomed to doing.

I asked some friends what health behaviors they would most like to change, and I got a number of responses: “I would like to eat fewer sweets and desserts;” “I want to get to the gym more;” and “I would find more time for myself and just work on relaxing!”

Now that some goals have been established, how can one go about changing behavior? Well, it’s not easy, but I recently came across a tool that might be able to help people through the process and might help those who want to encourage behavior change as well.

The Behavior Wizard was developed by Dr. BJ Fogg and his team at Stanford University and was first demonstrated in May 2010, according to his web site. The Behavior Wizard is a way that the previously created Behavior Grid and Behavior Model come together to help individuals assess what type of behavior they would like to change and to get some feedback on how to do it. The behavior wizard helps people identify what type of behavior they would like to change (a green path behavior, for example, includes doing a new behavior from now on, as compared to a black path behavior, which is stopping a behavior).

There are 15 types of behavior change provided, and once the Behavior Wizard helps people identify their desired type of behavior change, individuals can request a copy of a guide for changing that type of behavior. Guides include examples and “real world techniques” to help aid in behavior change, according to the web site for the Behavior Grid. Guides appear to still be in the process of being completed, but people can request a copy of the Purple Path Behavior Guide, which is a 38 page document aimed at increasing behavior intensity or duration, and can request to be sent a complete guide for certain behavior types when they become available.

In the mean time, the site itself provides some general information on the behavior one is trying to change. What do you think of a tool that helps people diagnose a type of behavior change they would like to make and then provides tips on how to do it? How do you see health communicators being able to use such a tool? Do you think it makes a difference that the type is not categorized by specific behaviors but by the general goal (i.e. Not quit smoking but stop a behavior permanently)?

family watching television 1958

Report provides information on youth and media

According to a recent report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center and the Sesame Workshop, television use among preschoolers is the highest it has been in the past eight years. And older kids are also watching television, with most kids watching around three hours of television a day. Additionally, young children have been found to be increasingly using digital media and may use more than one type of media at a time.

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Can apps aid in a crisis?

With the recent devastation in Japan following the earthquakes and tsunami, there is no question that medical care and information is necessary for many individuals. And some people seem to be turning to mobile phone applications for medical information.

The medical app “Medical Encyclopedia for Home Use” hit the top of the most-downloaded list for the Japan iTunes store this past week, according to an article in Better Health. The app provides basic advice related to first aid and has been made available free of charge in Japan following the recent disaster.

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Health benefits from video games?

xbox controllers

Video games aren't always played with traditional controllers anymore.

Upstream authors have touted some of the benefits of video games previously, such as the possibility of using video games for activity or therapy or improving brain function. Upstream has also covered some of the negative aspects of video games, including physical dangers associated with video games. But video games are again making headlines, this time in terms of whether they offer health benefits to youth.

According to an article in Time, a recent study in Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine found that action based video games can help kids expend as much energy as using a treadmill and sometimes more. However, energy expenditure varied depending on the game.

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Research literacy: What is it?

There are a number of types of research. (Photo by Kaibara87, from Flickr.)

Last week I learned a new term: research literacy. We have all heard of literacy, which involves reading and writing. Then there is media literacy, which is the idea that people should be able to analyze, evaluate, create and participate with media messages. There is also health literacy, which relates to being able to understand health information and use that information to make decisions about health. But research literacy was a term that was new to me. Research literacy is really what one would expect: it’s the idea of being literate about research and having an understanding of what research really means.

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