Author: Laurie Hursting

Thank you to Dr. Marshall for the fascinating presentation!

Last week, we were excited to have Dr. Laura Marshall discuss her dissertation research with us. Her work looked at the different types of comments posted online under an article for Breitbart and for Huffington Post, both on the subject of healthcare reform. Identity seemed very important to establish in both comments sections with “othering” used as the most common social process, i.e. invalidating a differing opinion typically through name-calling and questioning of intelligence. Main distinctions between the two sets of comments included Breitbart comments focusing on personal responsibility and a distrust of government actions or programs, and Huffington Post comments emphasizing social justice and hopeful solutions.

What is the purpose of these comments sections and, ultimate goal, how can communication professionals utilize them? Dr. Marshall’s theory is that users of comments sections establish identity through “othering,” then seek or offer information within their group, and propose solutions.

An Appetite for Adjectives

How can healthy foods be rebranded to garner interest and uptake, without the use of a master chef? A study this summer looked at the effects of descriptive food labels on the amount of vegetables self-served at lunch. The researchers categorized four different labeling groups:

  1. Basic description (i.e. carrots)
  2. Healthy restrictive (reduced-sodium carrots)
  3. Healthy positive (vitamin-rich carrots)
  4. Indulgent (caramelized carrots)

The vegetables and their recipes remained unchanged regardless of the label type. However, the indulgently labeled vegetables had 25% more people select the vegetable than the basic description, 41% more than in the healthy restrictive, and 35% more than the healthy positive. And when the indulgent label vegetables were selected, the portion size selected was greater than when the vegetable was a basic or healthy positive label.

These findings suggest that how we talk about a food impacts how we interact with it. Once the self-service containers were weighed and paid for, we don’t know how much of that food the individuals ate. Perception seems to play a large role in intent, though, and I am curious to see how health communicators can turn that intent into sustainable action through reframing the perceptions of vegetables and other recommended healthy foods.

What is the low FODMAP diet?

There are some foods that are known culprits of abdominal bloating and gas, foods like carbonated soda, beans, and dairy. Pistachios and mangos aren’t usually included in that list. They are, however, both considered high FODMAP foods.

FODMAPs is an acronym for “Fermentable Oligo- Di-Monosaccharides And Polyols” and these short-chain carbohydrates are not always well suited for the intestinal tract. Decreasing high FODMAPs food may help relieve digestion problems like abdominal cramping as well as other intestinal issues like Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Common FODMAPs:

  • Fructose (fruits, honey, high fructose corn syrup)
  • Lactose (dairy)
  • Fructans (wheat, onion, garlic)
  • Galactans (beans, lentils, legumes such as soy)
  • Polyols (sweeteners containing sorbitol, xylitol, stone fruits)

The low FODMAP diet is a short-term restrictive diet to determine which type of foods trigger intestinal symptoms through the process of elimination. After about 6 weeks on this diet, each of the above types of FODMAPs is reintroduced (one type per week) as symptoms are noted per type and food sensitivities discovered.

Know thyself, and know thy gut! For more information on FODMAPs, check out these links:

Low FODMAP Diet: The D.I.Y Beginner’s Guide

Stanford University Medical Center Digestive Health Center

Social Media & Hurricane Harvey

As Hurricane Harvey continues to do damage in Texas, social media demonstrates its strong and rather novel role in times of crisis. The National Weather Service, the Coast Guard, and Houston Police have all taken to Twitter to disseminate emergency safety information. And those in need of help have been tweeting back—providing their locations and pleading for rescue. With emergency help lines overwhelmed and often ringing busy for hours, taking to Twitter or connecting through a Facebook group like “Hurricane Harvey Helping Hands” may feel like the strongest action available to self-advocate and ask for help from both official channels and private.

In comparing the communication during Hurricane Harvey to past large-scale storms such as Katrina, the utilization of social media to connect and pinpoint location stands out in my mind as a promising and potentially life-saving advancement.

From here in North Carolina, our hearts go out to those in Texas.