Author: Laurie Hursting


The school year’s end tends to be accompanied with deadline crunches and stress. So as with the closing of last semester, I would like to end on a reflective note. The concept of quicksand was brought up in casual conversation and I got to thinking about how my mental schematic was entirely informed by action films of the ‘70s, ‘80s, ‘90s (and today!). This couldn’t be rooted in science, it’s too cinematic. So of course I Googled if quicksand is real, don’t judge me, and the kind I was imagining—that kind does not exist. Remember that scene in the Princess Bride? A total lie.

Then I began thinking about the metaphoric possibility that is quicksand. This passage is pulled from the BBC article “Can quicksand really sink you to your death?” and not only is it educational, it’s actually really beautiful and strangely reassuring:

Quicksand usually consists of sand or clay and salt that’s become waterlogged, often in river deltas. The ground looks solid, but when you step on it the sand begins to liquefy. But then the water and sand separate, leaving a layer of densely packed wet sand which can trap it. The friction between the sand particles is much-reduced, meaning it can’t support your weight anymore and at first you do sink. It is true that struggling can make you sink in further, but would you actually sink far enough to drown?

Beautiful and reassuring—because the answer is no. The quicksand itself won’t fully cover you because you’re buoyant. What can kill you is staying in there too long (tides, the elements, pressure making it difficult to breathe). With dry quicksand, you’ll need help from someone on solid ground. In the sludge that is wet quicksand, stay calm and allow your buoyant self to float back up to the surface.

Have a wonderful summer.

“Organic Pesticide” Feels Like an Oxymoron

North Carolina was in the top ten states (we were number 10, but still) of certified organic commodity sales in 2016. People purchase organic because they believe that it is healthier and safer. How true is this? Admittedly, this is an overwhelming question. My primary response is that more research is needed. Until then, here is a general synthesis of what we know so far.

Nutritionally speaking, some research has found higher levels of nutrients/vitamins in organic while other research has found no significant difference to nutritional quality. The jury is out on that—did I mention the need for more research?

Pesticide-wise, just because something is “natural” does not mean that it is safe. Arsenic is natural. Here is an excerpt from the National Pesticide Information Center:

Organic foods are not necessarily pesticide-free. The pesticides that are allowed for organic food production are typically not manmade. They tend to have natural substances like soaps, lime sulfur and hydrogen peroxide as ingredients. Not all natural substances are allowed in organic agriculture; some chemicals like arsenic, strychnine and tobacco dust (nicotine sulfate) are prohibited.

Well thank goodness they don’t allow arsenic, I would’ve thought that went without saying.

The EWG’s Dirty Dozen list we talked about a few weeks ago only noted the presence of residue, not the amount or the type. In 2011, Winter and colleagues published a paper in the Journal of Toxicology in response to these lists. Their conclusion was that exposure to the 12 most commonly detected pesticides in conventional farming pose negligible risks to consumers and that substituting organic pesticides does not decrease this negligible risk.

After trying to make sense of this issue of whether organic is objectively (and empirically) better than convention, my sentiment is mixed. A common notion I came across in researching this was that the dose amount of pesticide is what makes the difference in toxicity. The naturally-derived substances seem to have the capability of being toxic just like the conventional ones.

So what should the takeaway be? Rinse your produce, just rinse it no matter what you buy.

“Is it organic?”

No those aren’t transformers you’re not about to be Michael Bay-ed. Last week we talked about the EWG’s Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists of produce with the most and least amounts of pesticide residue found on them. And as promised, let’s take a closer look at what exactly that USDA organic label provides (does peace of mind count).

Below is a very useful breakdown from the Mayo Clinic.

What is organic farming?
The word “organic” refers to the way farmers grow and process agricultural products, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, dairy products and meat. Organic farming practices are designed to meet the following goals:
• Enhance soil and water quality
• Reduce pollution
• Promote a self-sustaining cycle of resources on a farm

Materials or practices not permitted in organic farming include:
• Synthetic fertilizers to add nutrients to the soil
• Sewage sludge as fertilizer
• Most synthetic pesticides for pest control
• Irradiation to preserve food or to eliminate disease or pests
• Genetic engineering, used to improve disease or pest resistance or to improve crop yields

Organic crop farming materials or practices may include:
• Plant waste left on fields (green manure), livestock manure or compost to improve soil quality
• Plant rotation to preserve soil quality and to interrupt cycles of pests or disease
• Cover crops that prevent erosion when parcels of land are not in use and to plow into soil for improving soil quality
• Mulch to control weeds
• Predatory insects or insect traps to control pests
• Certain natural pesticides and a few synthetic pesticides approved for organic farming, used rarely and only as a last resort in coordination with a USDA organic certifying agent

Me again. So what are those benefits? Organically grown crops have been shown less likely to contain pesticides and 48% less likely to test positive for cadmium (toxic heavy metal). The jury seems to be out on whether organic compared to conventionally grown impacts the level/quality of nutrients in the produce. As mentioned last week it’s a good idea to give produce a good rinse before consuming; it may also be a good idea to peel/remove the outer layer of conventionally grown produce that made the Dirty Dozen to limit pesticide ingestion. This may in turn then decrease the level of nutrients the produce provides. Next post, let’s explore the research on pesticides.


Dirty Dozen, Clean 15

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released the 2018 iteration of their Dirty Dozen and Clean 15 lists, based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Pesticide Data Program (PDP) report.

Dirty Dozen:
These produce were more likely to contain pesticide residue, though the data does not specify which pesticides or the amount. This begs the question—should you go USDA certified organic for these produce in particular? That is the focus of next week’s post but for now, organic or not, fruits and vegetables are healthy and nutritious. It is always a good idea to give a good rinse before consumption!

1. Strawberries
2. Spinach
3. Nectarines
4. Apples
5. Grapes
6. Peaches
7. Cherries
8. Pears
9. Tomatoes
10. Celery
11. Potatoes
12. Sweet Bell Peppers

Clean 15:
Of all the samples tested, 22 percent had no detectible levels. These produce were least likely to contain pesticide residue.

1. Avocados
2. Sweet Corn
3. Pineapples
4. Cabbages
5. Onions
6. Sweet Peas
7. Papayas
8. Asparagus
9. Mangoes
10. Eggplants
11. Honeydews
12. Kiwis
13. Cantaloupes
14. Cauliflower
15. Broccoli

Lunchables, Diving Board, Fake News

Misinformation is easy to spread. I’d bet money we have all witnessed this phenomenon on social media. Let’s look back for a second to before these digital platforms arrived—the days of primary school gossip. You have visions of four square (not the app) and Lunchables, enviable amounts of free time and the all-classmates invited birthday parties? We told each other some weird tales. Our imaginations were churning, I don’t blame us. Now imagine giving the kid who claimed to be able to do ten mid-air flips off the diving board a microphone. And then another kid, or maybe even teacher, turns on the overhead PA system and broadcasts what the kid with the microphone is saying to the whole school. The information this prolific diver is claiming doesn’t change but it sure spreads faster, further, and seems a lot more official when amplified by technology (is audio equipment technology, for this metaphor I say, “yes”). Enter social media and ubiquitously referred to “fake news.”

And it’s like a pyramid scheme—no one thinks they’re the one getting duped. How can that be the case? What can we, both as health communicators and as information consumers, do about it? Here are some key concepts to whet your whistle: third-person effect, Spinoza, relationship currency. Those are some interest-piquing words right there.

Give a read to “Why we lie to ourselves and others about misinformation” by Dr. Southwell (who is the social marketing course instructor to two of this here blog’s bloggers, and who also just led an insightful guest lecture which Casey will tell you all about later in the week). If/when inspiration strikes, submit your ideas for the Rita Allen Foundation’s Misinformation Solutions Forum.

Headache Me This

What causes headaches? I find myself Googling this at least once every few months when a particularly nasty or persistent headache of my own decides to show up. And I think it’s because I never really get a satisfying explanation from my searches, likely due to the fact that there are hundreds of headache types and only 10% have a known cause. Let’s focus on primary headaches, ones not caused by an underlying condition.

There are a lot of culprits for primary headaches. Nerves/blood vessels/tissue around the skull, muscles of the head/neck, and chemical changes within the brain can spur on that pain. So what triggers these physical pain signalers? It is probably no surprise that stress or alcohol are included. Skipping meals, poor posture (thanks, laptops), disrupted sleep patterns, and changing weather as well.

Some of these triggers are outside of our control like the weather, but there are measures we can take for prevention. Even though yes, easier said than done, try to avoid known stressors where possible. Eat low-processed meals at regular intervals and prioritize consistent sleep habits. Deficiencies in magnesium may play a role so eat some avocado and nuts. And when all else fails, put the screens away, take a warm shower, apply a soothing compress to the neck, and go the heck to sleep. Admittedly just writing about all the things that I should be doing right now has not made my headache go away, so off to self-care I go.


Spring Has Sprung

Despite the random snow Chapel Hill was bestowed with Saturday night, it is spring! And with springtime comes budding flowers, active squirrels, and longer days of sunshine. Winter blues, be gone.

Kickstart your spring renewal with the produce that comes into season:


Apricots (May—July)

Blackberries (May—October)

Blueberries (May—August)

Cherries (April—July)

Nectarines (May—October)

Peaches (May—October)

Plums (May—November)

Raspberries (May—November)

Rhubarb (April—July)

Strawberries (March—November)


Artichokes (March—June)

Celery (April—December)

Fava beans (March—July)

Peas (April—November)

Purslane (April—November)

Shallots (May—July)

Harvest yourself some fun with a healthy spring day activity. Check out your local farmers’ market:

Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market

Carrboro Farmers’ Market

Durham Farmers’ Market

South Durham Farmers’ Market

Perkins Orchard

Spring clean:

  • Swap heavy blankets and flannel bedding for breathable cotton sheets
  • Vacuum (spring allergies may start acting up)
  • Remember to treat pets with tick/flea/heartworm medication
  • Schedule those appointments you need to schedule
  • Organize your desk to dominate this last half of the semester

Happy spring!

The Duck-Billed Platypus

Antibiotic resistance is an alarming public health threat and who better to help in our fight against Superbugs than the super platypus? Not the platypus we deserve, but the platypus we need.

Part of the monotreme family, the platypus both lays eggs and produces milk to feed their young. Where does this milk come from though? Platypuses (it’s disappointingly not actually “platypi”) don’t have teats. The milk is instead secreted from their belly.

With the milk exposed to the environment before the platypus babies (highly recommend that adorable Google search) drink it, bacteria could pose a problem to the babies. Enter the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and Deakin University—researchers sought to examine the unique protein in platypus milk that protected it from becoming contaminated with bacteria. What they found and imaged was aptly named the “Shirley Temple,” a three-dimensional fold in the protein that looks like a ringlet. This newly discovered protein and its structure is only present in monotremes and may prove promising once traditional antibiotics reach their limit. Thanks platypus! Nature is so cool.


What Can We Learn from PR Theories

Let’s talk about these persuasion techniques from the fields of PR and advertising. They don’t just need to apply to consumer marketing or branding—they can inform health campaigns.

Mendelsohn’s Three Assumptions for a Successful Campaign

  1. Target your messages
  2. Assume target audience is uninterested in messages
  3. Set reasonable, mid-range goals & objectives

How to best “assume” (without making an a** out of you and me):

  • Research to understand target audience & inform goals
  • Theory to develop strategies

Thankfully these receiver-oriented sequential steps are based on dominos and not a house of cards:

McGuire’s Hierarchy of Effects (aka Domino Model)

  1. Exposure: Get the message out; alas, if only was enough
  2. Attention: Production values; color; involuntary (orienting response) vs. voluntary (enjoyment)
  3. Interest: Perception of relevance; throw in novelty/something unusual
  4. Comprehension: More attention, more learning; misinterpretation a barrier
  5. Skill Acquisition: Intention doesn’t matter if don’t know how to do the thing
  6. Attitude Change: Opinion-based; attitudes and behaviors don’t always correspond
  7. Memory Storage: Key takeaways of message need to stand out
  8. Information Retrieval: Provide reminders/memory devices (e.g. jingles, slogans, miscellaneous swag)
  9. Motivation: More likely to act if behavior perceived as easy/important/realistic/beneficial
  10. Behavior: Facilitate (e.g. supply, access) brand/behavior loyalty
  11. Reinforcement: Minimize buyer’s remorse/behavior regret
  12. Routine: Assimilate into target audience’s preexisting worldview; become a part of their life (i.e. ultimate goal, difficult)

BRB, I’m going to keep these in mind forever.

Austin, E. W., & Pinkleton, B. E. (2006). Strategic public relations management: Planning and managing effective communication programs. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Corporate Social Responsibility

Customers are threatening companies with boycott if they do not end their association with the National Rifle Association (NRA).

Lists of companies that offered NRA membership perks were shared on social media, and within 24 hours at least eight companies cut ties. Advocates for reform targeted companies on Twitter and Facebook to engage in this consumer activism—pressuring banks, rental car agencies, airlines, and insurers among others.

According to the Harvard Business Review, moral outrage needs to be the main impetus for a boycott to be successful. As Hannah put it in her post last week, “Each shooting seems to spark the same cycle of outcry among our nation with folks pressuring change from policymakers. Yet each time there is no change from the people in power.”

Are we in a political climate right now that views companies and corporations as more capable of social responsibility than our own legislators? Gun control is a polarizing issue. Companies that don’t cut ties (currently FedEx and Amazon are getting heat) may be boycotted by gun reform advocates, and companies that do cut ties may be boycotted by proponents of the NRA.

“Moral outrage” indeed.