Category: In the News

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.

 

 

An Unlikely Victory in Alabama

Something happened in Alabama this week that has not been seen for quite some time now. Doug Jones became the first Democrat elected to the Senate from Alabama in 25 years on Tuesday night when he beat the controversial Republican former judge Roy Moore. Despite multiple claims against Senator Moore building up over the past weeks he was still favored to remain Senator, thanks to the support of President Trump. However, the state of Alabama made sure its voice was heard.

Thankfully, a stage set to remain central to sexual misconduct has turned to a more empowering story of the power of voter turnout. Senator Doug Jones spoke to those in the state that felt underserved and under-respected, and in return won 95% of the African American voters in the state. While many people saw this election as a lose-lose situation, this is a great example of how elections can change when everyone shows up to the voting polls.

With a history of voter suppression throughout America, it is truly great to see a state empowered to show up at the polls like Alabama did in this election. Hopefully, it will serve as an example to other states of what can happen when everyone is able to participate in our Democracy.

What do you think played the biggest role in the voter turnout in Alabama?

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

#FreeCyntoiaBrown

“If I can keep one child from going down the path that I went down, it will be worth it.” Words spoken by twenty-nine-year-old Cyntoia Brown. The path she embarked on as a child was not one she chose. Brown was forced into prostitution as a child during which time she was abused and raped until the age of 16 when she was arrested for murdering one of her solicitors.

Brown’s story has garnered a lot of media attention recently with a number of high profile celebrities including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian sharing her story on social media outlets and calling for her release from a life prison sentence. Brown has served 13 years thus far and is ineligible for until she has served at least 53 years.

Cyntoia Brown’s story brings to light both the legal and health-related problems associated with sex trafficking. After having their human rights violated, victims who comply with their abusers’ demands are often jailed for prostitution. Those who fight back against their violators often face legal prosecution and serve jail sentences. Is this how we should treat victims of human trafficking?

Not only do victims face legal ramifications they also endure health consequences of their physical and emotional abuse. Women are often subjected to unwanted, unplanned pregnancies because they do not have access to birth control methods including condoms (1). This also places them at risk for gynecological problems including sexually transmitted diseases and infections. According to Stop Violence Against Women, rates of abortion, infertility, and sterilization are higher among female prostitutes. Victims are also subject to long-term mental health issues including depression, suicidal ideation, substance abuse and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Brown’s story is not unique. According to the Human Trafficking Hotline, in 2015 over 5,500 cases of human trafficking were reported (2). This number rose in the following year. Over 7,600 cases were reported in 2016. The challenges that victims of human trafficking face need our attention. Their struggles with physical and emotional abuse do not belong only to themselves. They are public health issues that affect us all.

(1) http://www.stopvaw.org/health_consequences_of_trafficking

(2) https://humantraffickinghotline.org/states

Image: https://www.fbi.gov/news/stories/human-trafficking-prevention-month-raising-awareness-of-a-devastating-crime

 

A Blueprint to “Win” the War on Drugs

What can the United States learn from Portugal about the war on drugs?

A Guest Post by Becca Fritton.

On October 26, 2017, Trump declared the opioid crisis a National Public Health Emergency. As Andrew Bradford discussed in his October 27 post, while a first step, this announcement does not immediately open up additional funding for the crisis, but instead gives access to funding that already exists. Unfortunately, this funding is almost running out. [1] It is important to note that while this announcement raises the voice of the conversation around opioid use in the United States, many do not even consider this a beginning of a plan to address the epidemic.

Any discussion or solution proposed around addiction is remiss without discussing criminalization. Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times put forth a stunning summary of how Portugal has managed to “win” the war drugs. While drug dealers still go to prison in Portugal, they have made it an “administrative offense” to possess or purchase a small quantity of drugs. Instead of going to jail or to trial, offenders attend a meeting with social workers who work towards preventing a casual user from becoming dependent on drugs. Rather than viewing an individual as a criminal, officials in Portugal focus on the individual’s health and help them find resources they need to stay healthy.

Those who are dependent on drugs need medical care, not punishment. The Health Ministry of Portugal also targeted certain neighborhoods and populations for passing out clean needles and encouraging methadone instead of heroin. At large events or concerts, the ministry would offer to test individuals’ drugs to advise if they were safe or not. Portugal’s government has also funded widespread use of methadone vans that supply users with a free and controlled amount of methadone.

This approach has worked extremely well for Portugal and now they have the lowest drug mortality rate in Western Europe, and one-fiftieth the latest count in the United States. [2] The United States should take note and begin moving in a different direction. Instead of funding prisons and jails, the government should place more funding and infrastructure in place to address addiction from a mental and public health standpoint.

Becca can be contacted via email at: rfritton [@] berkeley [dot] edu

 

[1] Allen, G. and Kelly, A. (2017). Trump Administration Declares Opioid Crisis a Public Health Emergency. National Public Radio. Retrieved from: https://www.npr.org/2017/10/26/560083795/president-trump-may-declare-opioid-epidemic-national-emergency

[2] Kristof, N. (2017). How to “Win” the War on Drugs. New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/22/opinion/sunday/portugal-drug-decriminalization.html

An electric dressing to help prevent bacterial infection?

If you read that title and thought I was talking about a sci fi movie, I’d be right there with you. What are these scientists talking about?

They’re talking about a film, alright, but not the cinema. It’s biofilm–when bacteria grow in clumps in a slime-like substance inside an infected cell. When this happens they find it a lot easier to avoid your immune system trying to kill them off, and unfortunately, they’re often resistant to antibiotics as well. This is a huge problem. According to an article published by Contagion, it’s the cause of more than 75% of bacterial infections in the US. However, scientists discovered in the early 90s that they are still sensitive the bio electric environment.

An article published this month in the Annals of Surgery journal discusses the results of a study that tested the efficacy of WED (weak electroceutical dressing) in preventing biofilm from forming on recent wounds. The study tested WED on burn wounds on pigs to observe differences if it was applied 2 hours after infection versus 7 days after infection (or versus a placebo). Good news-the results were promising, for both preventing bioflim development and also in “disturbing” existing biofilm.

While this niche of anti-bacterial therapy is still new, Contagion reports that human clinical trials will be conducted soon.

 

Pssht.. it’s time to enroll

It’s November, so you know what that means. Enrollment is now open on HealthCare.gov to sign up for health insurance for 2018. Former President Barack Obama took to Twitter yesterday to promote the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and encouraged Americans to shop around for health insurance.

The enrollment period is only 6 weeks long so there is no time to procrastinate! Okay, you can procrastinate a little bit, take some time to explore the various options on HealthCare.gov, sleep on it, and then take action! There has been a lot of work put into the website to ensure it is as easy to use as possible.

With the scrutiny that has been placed on the ACA by the Trump Administration I was happy to see Barack Obama again spreading word to us Americans about the importance of getting healthcare insurance. This action by the former President is likely due to Trump cutting the advertising budget for the ACA by 90%.

If you haven’t seen the video yet (it’s only 2 mins) hop over to Twitter and check it out. In case you didn’t know, his Twitter handle is @BarackObama and he only tweets high-quality tweets, so he’s worth the follow. Then after you watch it, hop on over to HealthCare.gov and see which plan is best for you!

President Trump Declares an Emergency

The opioid crisis is now a National Public Health Emergency under federal law.

For those on the front lines of the opioid epidemic this is great news, but what exactly does it mean? While there is no quick fix to an epidemic of this proportion, the announcement made Thursday by President Trump will make the lives easier for those who have been battling the epidemic.

Trump, through the Public Health Services Act, directed his acting secretary of health and human services to declare a national health emergency, a designation that will not automatically be followed by additional federal funding for the crisis. Instead, the order will expand access to telemedicine in rural areas, instruct agencies to curb bureaucratic delays for dispensing grant money and shift some federal grants towards combating the crisis.

Overall, this is a win for Public Health and the families and communities that have been affected by the opioid epidemic. It is important to note that since the government is not simply throwing funds to states efforts to combat opioids need to be used strategically and effectively. There is still concern this announcement will be used to boost the production of life-saving antidotes only and ignore the need for addiction treatment for those still abusing opioids.

Only time will tell if we as a Nation respond correctly to this emergency, but this is a promising first step to ending the opioid epidemic.

#MeToo: Personal Stories of Assault Flood Social Media

As I scrolled through my phone through my various social media applications (as part of my slow Monday morning routine) I noticed the phrase “Me Too” flooding my streams. At first I was puzzled by this reoccurring status, but did a quick google search and came to astonishing realization: all of these people have experienced some sort of harassment or assault. It took a second to fully comprehend how many of my friends and followers have had this traumatic experience. As I continued scrolling through my feeds, I discovered that this campaign was kick started by a tweet by actress Alyssa Milano. Soon after many public figures came out responding with a “Me Too” including Viola Davis, Debra Messing, Rosario Dawson, Lady Gaga and Sheryl Crow just to name a few. By Monday afternoon, Twitter announced that the “Me Too” had been used in half million tweets and Facebook released “Me Too” was referenced by 8.7 million users.

This campaign comes out shortly after the New York times published a tell-all article about the alleged sexual harassment incidents by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. In the wrath of the article, Weinstein has been fired from his own company and the company will formally change their name. Let’s hope that that these events will ignite the conversation about harassment and assault and that social media will release these numbers to help change societal norms around harassment and assault!

Sources:

http://people.com/movies/me-too-alyssa-milano-heads-twitter-campaign-against-sexual-harassment-assault/

 

http://www.rollingstone.com/culture/news/harvey-weinstein-what-you-need-to-know-w508162

 

https://www.recode.net/2017/10/16/16482410/me-too-social-media-protest-facebook-twitter-instagram