Category: Health Communication

Brain Drain

By: Courtney Luecking MPH, MS, RD Doctoral candidate: Nutrition

We are bombarded with nutrition and other ‘healthy’ lifestyle information from friends, family, news stories, social media, and online content on a daily basis. In an attempt to stay up-to-date with topics of conversation, I receive a daily email of a wide range of nutrition-related headlines. I often just scroll without clicking – it can be a real brain drain to filter through everything.

But The Hunger in Our Heads (how physical activity might quell the eating binges that follow intense mental activity) piqued my interest enough for a click. I’ve always wanted to believe the reading, writing, and critical thinking associated with being a grad student was the cause of my brain drain come day’s end. But was there really evidence to support this, or was I just being dramatic? I immediately went to the source of inspiration of the story to do some fact checking. [Side note: there IS evidence that mentally demanding tasks can lead to fatigue and even overeating.]


Headlines are headlines for a reason, and they can lead to confusion about what to do to lead a healthy lifestyle. A few reasons nutrition headlines are confusing include:

  • Research is a process and it is usually designed to answer a very specific question. But what is reported often extends beyond what the study actually showed.
  • Research studies have different results. This is an important part of the research process, and there may be good reasons why.
  • Not all studies are created equal. The quality with which a study was done plays a major part on how the results should be interpreted.

Fortunately the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Nutrition Source offers 7 questions to help put health news in context and the International Food Information Council Foundation offers a quick guide to evaluating evidence.

The bottom line is, take a moment to see if the evidence really supports all the hype. Your brain just might thank you.



Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Deciphering Media Stories on Diet.

International Food Information Council. Hot Off the Presses: 5 Key Takeaways for Evaluating Nutrition in the Media.

Reynolds, Gretchen. The Hunger in Our Heads.


Stop, drop, or enroll?

By: Shauna Ayres MPH: Health Behavior candidate 2017

You have probably gotten numerous emails recently stating that the deadline to waive or enroll in the UNC Student Health Insurance Plan is Monday, September 12, 2016 for this Fall semester, but what does this mean? Does it apply to you? The short answer is, yes. All students need to pay attention because all students must have some type of health insurance to attend UNC. Check out Campus Health for more information.

There are several options for health insurance that I will briefly outline and provide additional links to more information. Due to the complexity of health insurance, I encourage you to explore these resources and do your own research as well.

  1. Stay on your parents’ health insurance plan. This option is best if you are 26 years old or younger. However, make sure that you understand your coverage and options for in-network providers on your parents’ plan, especially if your parents reside in another state. Out-of-network doctors’ visits can be extremely costly and emergency visits may not be covered at all. One strategy could be to schedule routine doctors’ appointments during your vacations home, but this requires some planning as many doctors’ offices are booked several weeks or months in advance.

  1. Be automatically enrolled in the UNC Student Health Insurance Plan. This option is best if you are older than 26 years of age and/or have a TA or RA position. The UNC plan is convenient because it is charged like tuition and can be paid off as a part of a student loan rather than monthly premiums. However, make sure that you check the health plan’s coverage options to ensure it covers the doctors you wish or need to see.

BlueCross BlueShield of NC

  1. Enroll in a ObamaCare or MarketPlace plan. This option is best if you have a modest income from part-time work; with the help of the tax credit, most plans are affordable. Tax credits or subsidies are available to those making less than 400% of the poverty level and meet other criteria such as not being offered insurance through an employer. It is important to note that the open enrollment for the MarketPlace runs from November 1st, 2016 to January 31, 2017. However, if you have recently experienced a life event such a moving, getting married, or losing health insurance, you may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period and can enroll now.

  1. Sign up for a catastrophic plan via the MarketPlace. This may be appealing to you if you are young and healthy because it is initially cheap, but the high deductible can deter you from receiving routine care. If you get sick, a large out of pocket healthcare costs can potentially disrupt your student and career plans. Thus, I strongly encouraged you to check out more comprehensive plans through MarketPlace and how subsidies can lower monthly costs.

  1. Enroll in Medicaid. North Carolina has not expanded Medicaid, but you may still qualify if you are low-income or your family is low-income. Due to the nuances of Medicaid, I encourage you to contact a representative to discuss this option if you think it is right for you.

NC Dept. of Health and Human Services

  1. Lastly, enroll in an individual plan or be included on a spouse’s plan from another source. This option is highly individual and you will need to seek out information from the health insurance provider specifically to understand your coverage and monthly premiums. Check out Aetna, Assurant Health, Cigna, Celtic, Coventry, Humana, United HealthCare, or other insurance companies.

Getting health insurance coverage takes time and patience. You likely do not have adequate time to change health insurance for this Fall semester, remember these options and take action for Spring semester (deadline January 31st, 2017). Yes, unfortunately this tiresome, but extremely important task occurs each semester. If you do have health insurance, make sure to waive the UNC Student Health Insurance Plan before Monday so that you don’t get charged extra for insurance you don’t need and won’t use.

List of health insurance options and helpful resources can be found on the UNC Campus Health website:

Additional resources: