Category: Disease

UNC alumnus writes about journalism’s role in stopping stigma against obesity

Chioma Ihekweazu is a recent doctoral graduate from our very own School of Media and Journalism here at UNC. Not only was I thrilled to see a kind peer’s work showcased in my newsfeed, I was also drawn in by her accurate criticism of how we talk about weight–obesity in particular.

She makes the very important point that while it’s not likely to hear patients who are suffering from cancer referred to as “cancerous” or “diseased”, it is quite common, even among respected news sources, to see the descriptor “obese people”. Chioma advises us to avoid playing into shaming language and “put the person before the condition”.

Please read her article here, though a few key takeaways are outlined below:

  • Avoid headless imagery (this is a form of shaming)–if needed, use non-stigmatizing stock photos
  • Recognize that weight loss is influenced by many factors–such as location, time, and access to food/physical activity
  • Do not use value-laden language; use “classes”, based on BMI, defined by CDC and NIH to talk about obesity
  • Have an appropriate headline
  • Report on facts

Chioma also provides some great examples and resources in her article, to not only help writers and reporters change their words, but also to recognize the flaws in our perspective.

 

 

Responding to the Ebola Outbreak

The unexpected and rapid advance of the Ebola Virus outbreak of 2014 caught the entire world off guard. Not only did the virus take hold of one of the most vulnerable areas of the world, but it also exposed a major weakness in the global infectious disease control process.

At the time the outbreak took place, current technologies still took up to five days to properly test for the Ebola Virus. Luckily, in the few years since the crisis, there has been a lot of thought put into how we could address a similar global issue more effectively.

Enter FieldLab, a solar-powered lab-in-a-box created by two graduate students at Rhodes University in South Africa. This new technology will simplify the process of conducting laboratory tests out in the field. Designed to be carried like a briefcase, FieldLab was created specifically for the issues that Africa faced trying to test individuals for the Ebola Virus; affordability, mobility, and robustness.

With successful execution and new technologies, hopefully, we will be able to manage disease outbreaks better than how we did with the Ebola Virus. What are some ways you think we could improve response time to global issues of this stature?

Top 5 “Wins” for Health in 2017

2017 has been one for the books! Our country inaugurated a new president, two major hurricanes swept through the South, the first solar eclipse in a 100 years, the riots in Charlottesville, and most importantly the royal engagement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. In the health-related realm there were many notably scientific and policy advances that occurred this year. Here is my top 5 list of these occurrences.

  1. US Federal Court requires tobacco companies to put out corrective statements about harmful health effects of smoking as a consequence for misleading the public about this through advertisements
  2. First diagnosis of CTE in an alive patient (traumatic brain injury typically seen in football players)
  3. First baby born from a uterus transplant
  4. Development of a digital ingestion tracking system. This is a new technology with the ability to monitor drug adherence after the pill has been taken
  5. Decrease in daily consumption of sugary beverages consumed by Americans since 2014

There were many more significant health-related achievements over this year. What is your top 5 list?

 

References:

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/14/health/soda-pop-sugary-drinks.html?rref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Fhealth&action=click&contentCollection=health&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=search&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=sectionfront

 

http://abcnews.go.com/US/nfl-player-confirmed-1st-diagnosis-cte-living-patient/story?id=51181721

 

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/first-baby-born-from-a-uterus-transplant-in-the-u-s-delivered-in-texas/

 

http://www.cnn.com/2017/11/14/health/fda-digital-pill-abilify/index.html

 

https://www.tobaccofreekids.org/media/2017/corrective-statements

Cigarette package

Federal Courts Take on Big Tobacco

It’s been a big week in terms of wins for public health and tobacco control. On November 26, 2017, tobacco companies such as Phillip Morris USA and RJ Reynolds were mandated by the US federal court to place full page corrective statements about the negative health effects of tobacco products. These ads will be placed in newspapers, magazines and television ads. The corrective statements are black and white ads that detail effects of smoking, addictiveness of smoking and lack of significant health benefit of switching to low tar and light from regular cigarettes. The tobacco companies have been advertising false information for years about their products which lead to these mandated statements.

These mandated statements came out of lawsuit that began in 1999 where the Justice department sued these major companies of civil fraud and racketeering violations. For those of us (myself included) not familiar with the legal jargon it means lying (or misrepresenting) information to the public and when organizations run illegal businesses. Now eighteen years later, these companies are required to make up for these actions.

As a current health communication student though my initial thoughts are these basic ads enough? It seems very intentional by these companies who have developed colorful and intricate ads to sell their products are using plain black and white ads for their corrective statements. It definitely is a step in the right direction but will be interesting to see how these simple ads impact attitudes towards their products.

 

World AIDS Day 2017

Friday, December 1st marks the annual observation of World AIDS day. Since starting in 1988, World AIDS Day has provided an opportunity to support those living with HIV, and to commemorate individuals who have died from AIDS-related illnesses. It is estimated that there are nearly 37 million people worldwide living with HIV, and more than 35 million people have died of HIV or AIDS.

The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day is Let’s End It, to promote ending isolation, stigma, and HIV transmission. With advances in HIV treatment and prevention continuing to increase, the fight against stigma and discrimination that people living with HIV experience. This stigma also discourages people from getting tested for HIV. Regular HIV testing is important, since early detection of the virus, and subsequent early treatment, are vital from both an individual and a public health perspective. Those with an undetectable viral load, where the amount of HIV in their blood cannot be detected with current technologies, are unable to transmit the virus to others.

Here at UNC, the Student Health Action Coalition (SHAC) HIV is partnering with Student Wellness to provide Free HIV testing on Friday. The event will be in the Great Hall in the Student Union from 10:00 am – 4:30 pm, testing in confidential and quick. Stop by, get tested, know your status, and help fight HIV stigma! #LetsEndIt #TarHeelsGetTested

 

Sources –

World AIDS Day – https://www.worldaidsday.org/

 

Coffee… Good or Bad for Health?

I recently read an article that was published a few days ago in The BMJ regarding coffee consumption and health. I was curious to learn what the findings were, considering that I have heard mixed reviews over the years about the health benefits of coffee.

After conducting an umbrella review of over 200 meta-analyses regarding coffee consumption and health outcomes, Poole et al. (2017) found that drinking three to four cups of coffee a day was associated with lower risk of a variety of health outcomes. According to the article, researchers found that drinking three cups of coffee a day lowered risk for death and cardiovascular disease, compared to non-coffee drinkers. Coffee consumption was also found to lower risk of various cancers, as well as neurological, liver, and metabolic diseases. In women who are pregnant, however, high levels of coffee consumption were associated with higher risk of low birth weight, pregnancy loss, as well as preterm births. Additionally, coffee consumption was found to be associated with an increased risk of fracture in women.

A note that this study mentions is that current evidence on the topic of coffee consumption and health is mainly observational and of lower quality in nature. That said, researchers recommend that randomized controlled trials be used in future research to better understand causal associations between coffee consumption and various health outcomes.

Eliseo Guallar, professor of epidemiology and medicine at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health published an editorial in response to Poole et al. (2017). Dr. Guallar comments that while coffee drinking is generally safe, people should not start drinking coffee for health reasons. Dr. Guallar continues in stating that “some population subgroups may be at higher risk of adverse effects” of coffee consumption. Additionally, Dr. Guallar expressed the importance of the amount of coffee consumption, asserting that there remains uncertainty regarding the effects of higher levels of coffee consumption. However, Dr. Guallar expressed that moderate coffee consumption is safe and can be a part of a healthy diet.

References:

Poole, R., Kennedy, O.J., Roderick, P., Fallowfield, J.A., Hayes, P.C., & Parkes, J. (2017). Coffee consumption and health: umbrella review of meta-analyses of multiple health outcomes. BMJ 2017; 359:j5024. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j5356 

Guallar, E. (2017). Coffee gets a clean bill of health. BMJ 2017; 359:j5356. doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.j5356 

Cultural Challenges with the DASH Eating Plan

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States contributing to over 633,000 deaths annually. Like most chronic diseases, individuals can reduce their risk of developing this condition with proper diet and exercise. When someone is at extremely high risk of developing heart disease, nutrition professions suggest a few things: exercise, stop smoking, eat nutrient dense foods and reducing sodium intake with the DASH eating plan. While these modifications are proven to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, the DASH eating plan can be problematic for communities of color.

DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is a proven eating plan for lowering blood pressure without the use of medication. The reason blood pressure is so important is that it is one of many factors that contribute to heart disease. DASH recommends the following:

1. Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
2. Including fat-free or low-fat dairy products
3. Consume fish, poultry, beans, nuts and vegetable oils
4. Limiting foods high in saturated fat
5. Limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets

This diet is excellent for promoting a healthy diet; however, for communities of color which suffer in greater numbers from lactose intolerance DASH’s promotion of dairy products can cause discomfort. Lactose intolerance results in symptoms such as indigestion, bloating, stomach cramps, diarrhea, indigestion, flatulence and fatty stool after consuming lactose, a sugar found in dairy. The premise behind increasing dairy consumption is its higher calcium content which is associated with reducing blood pressure. The eating plan fails to acknowledge that there are other excellent sources of calcium like broccoli, calcium-fortified real fruit juices, beans, almonds, and sardines. In doing so, DASH recommends a diet that may lower hypertension, but that also makes people sick. This could diminish its credibility in communities of color. By including non-dairy sources of calcium, our healthcare systems and dietary recommendations could acknowledge and accommodate all people instead of offering a one-size-fits-all approach to health.

Do you hear those coughs, sniffles, and sneezes?

It sounds like flu and cold season.

Fastidiously washing your hands won’t prevent Mark from coughing in your general direction (thanks Mark), or save you from an ill-timed sneeze. Breathing isn’t optional. But before you break out the Bubble Boy suit, here are a few more tips that will strengthen your chances of staying healthy even when those around you aren’t.

  1. Mark has coughed. This aerosol (i.e. spray) potentially contains infectious droplets. With flu droplets, the trajectory is likely less than six feet. You are unfortunately standing right next to him. Hold your breath for 10 to 15 seconds.
  2. If this keeps occurring and you feel comfortable, politely ask Mark to cough into the inside of his elbow. Make a light, yet pointed, joke about doing the “dab.”
  3. Mark has sneezed onto his desk. Your hand at some point comes in contact with that desk. Don’t touch your face.

Stay healthy my friends.

Source: https://www.prevention.com/health/health-concerns/how-doctors-avoid-sickness

Smoking Disparities among LGBTQ Populations

Recently, I was in a LGTBQ establishment, having a conversation with a friend during a night out, when a tobacco company representative kindly offered us a $2 off coupon for a pack of cigarettes. Needless to say, I accepted the coupon out of curiosity, having had similar experiences in other Queer spaces previously. For those that are not aware, tobacco is fairly engrained in Queer nightlife, most of the people that I know personally who smoke are either LGBTQ identified, or those who live back home in rural Michigan.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 6 heterosexually identified adults in the United States are smokers, compared to Lesbian, Gay, and Bisexual adults where the smoking rate is nearly 1 in 4. For transgender individuals, there is little research to know what the smoking prevalence is.

The research on smoking rates among LGBTQ individuals in general has grown more recently, with one study noting the overlap between LGBTQ individuals living in rural Appalachia. Bennett, Ricks, and Howell found that among the LGB individuals, many of them lived with high levels of stress due to their isolated location and living within their identities in those rural areas. Many of those interviewed noted that tobacco smoking is connected to both stress and social structures, though did not seem as aware of how their LGBTQ identity and ability to be “out” as something that may contribute to smoking.

I may be one to have to occasional cigarette, and like my love for sugar, I’m aware of how that makes me appear as a hypocritical public health professional. On the flip side, I think we can all agree that nobody is perfect, and I hope that my owning of my imperfections highlights the level of transparency that I try to bring into my work.

 

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Persons and Tobacco Use: https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/disparities/lgbt/index.htm

Bennett, K., Ricks, J. M., & Howell, B. .. (2014). ‘It’s just a way of fitting in:’ Tobacco use and the lived experience of lesbian, gay, and bisexual Appalachians. Journal Of Health Care For The Poor And Underserved25(4), 1646-1666. doi:10.1353/hpu.2014.0186

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