Category: Lifestyle

Med Students in the Kitchen! Practicing what they preach.

“Cut out the sugars.”

“You need to lower your carb intake.”

“White flour…stay away from that, too.”


Doctors tell patients these things all the time, but do they truly understand what their instructions entail or how to counsel a patient on dietary restrictions?  Tulane University School of Medicine recognized the gap between physician directives and understanding in relation to the dietary needs of their patients and decided to do something about this issue.  In 2010, Tulane teamed up with the prestigious College of Culinary Arts at Johnson and Wales University to create a teaching kitchen to allow medical students to, in a sense, practice what they preach.

Situated in an area where obesity and diabetes rates are among the highest in the nation (New Orleans, Louisiana), medical students at Tulane are constantly trying to counsel patients against the traditional foods that are dear to their hearts.   Because of this, Tulane adopted a teaching model that opens up the teaching kitchen to members of the community, thereby providing students with the opportunity to learn how to counsel a patient on dietary needs in a way far more effective than reading from a textbook.

Patient counseling is not the only great benefit of this program – during the two to three hour sessions, students, physicians, culinary experts and community members engage in discussions about how different lifestyle factors influence disease processes and how embracing practical culinary skills can mitigate the long-term effects of unhealthy habits.

The program also creates a strong connection between the school and the community by investing in the people they see on a day-to-day basis.

Down the Pipeline: Early Childhood Education Means Better Health in Old Age

Our country is in the midst of urgent political debates about inequality. Income inequality is tied to educational inequality. Educational inequality is linked to unequal access to emotional/cognitive skills which promote “well-being.” And, as it turns out, this educational inequality is also tied to health inequality, and starts as young as preschool.

In a recent NY Times Opinion, “Lifelines for Poor Children,” we are urged to consider policy shifts toward early-childhood education. This is in direct relationship to our debates about how to address the exorbitant “income inequality” gaps currently in the national U.S. spotlight, and which are increasingly stark in the so-called “developed” world; income inequality does not just point to “developing” nations’ need for policy change. What I find most fascinating for people interested in health policy, however, is that early education impacts all sectors of our life, including our health.

This is evidenced by the ABC Project, or the “Carolina Abecedarian Project”, which offered treatment and control groups of economically oppressed kids differing access to early childhood education. The program included: “cognitive stimulation, training in self-control and social skills, and parental education starting in the first few months of life”; importantly children were also offered health check ups  (Heckman, NY Times).  This is a comprehensive approach to early childhood education, inclusive of parents, and social capital, as well as basic health resources  for children otherwise at a serious disadvantage economically. The downstream effects were not only shifts in IQ, and income/well-being determinants over the child’s lifetime — but also shifts in health, over 30 years later.

The Op-Ed reports ABC’s findings:

“Now, over 30 years later, those treated in ABC have lower blood pressure, lower abdominal obesity, less hypertension and less likelihood of metabolic syndrome and cardiovascular conditions as adults. This evidence clearly shows the power of quality early childhood programs for producing flourishing people with healthier lives, which increases productivity and lowers health care costs.”

 These shifts to early-life focus in education and health — including early education/care from infancy through pre-k or age 5 — are cost-effective. (ie savings in health costs over an entire lifetime, savings in potential social welfare costs, special needs education costs to school districts, and even prison costs, as a part of an educational-prison-industrial complex).

So — what amazing downstream effects can finally influence us, as a citzenry, in our political culture, to advocate for upstream shifts in policy for comprehensive early education reform?

Perhaps by showing how linked equal educational access is to future health outcomes, we can create a few sites of momentum in the “Health Communication” world, too.


Antibiotics: Friend or Foe?

One of the greatest inventions of all medical history is the antibiotic. Used to treat countless bacterial infections, antibiotics have been a cornerstone of modern medicine. However, recent research into the possible dangers of over using antibiotics and antibacterial products has caused many to second-guess whether or not we should be so dependent on our antibiotics.

Recent research by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that we are experiencing a severe threat from continual growth in antibiotic-resistant infections. Today, the CDC reports that more than 2 million people contract antibiotic-resistant infections every year, and more than 23,000 of those cases result in death.

This growth of drug-resistant infections is cause for alarm, and as a result, the CDC has created threat levels to describe the different dangers in resistance. The CDC is using the following levels to describe the severity of the threat: ‘urgent,’ ‘serious,’ and ‘concerning.’ While the CDC moves through the process of classifying the different threat levels, let it be understood that it is not the random or obscure infections that are being tagged with threat. One of the newly classified ‘urgent threat’ infections is the second most commonly reported infection in the country, Neisseria gonorrhoeae – or more commonly known as the sexually transmitted disease, gonorrhea.

However, it appears that the threats are not being taken lightly as government agencies are taking strides to monitor the drug-resistant infections and are working to develop new antibiotics to correct the growing problem. In addition to this, the CDC reports that we (patients) can do our part to help in the efforts to stop drug-resistant infections. In addition to washing our hands and doing all that we can to maintain good health, it is advised for patients to take antibiotics when it is only really necessary and as directed. By decreasing our usage and dependency on antibiotics, we can help slow the development and spreading of antibiotic-resistant infections, as well as buy ourselves some time to create better drugs that, hopefully, won’t turn on us.


Blog information source:

Falco, M. (2013, Sept. 16). CDC sets threat levels for drug-resistant bacteria. Retrieved from

“Post Industrial Metabolism”: Can Diet, Stress, & Sleep Change our Genes?

Scientific research about metabolism is beginning to prove what many of us are discovering intuitively: that the foods we eat and when we eat them, how much we move our bodies, when and how much we sleep, and our stress levels matter significantly to our health now and in the long term.  Interestingly enough, “long term” may turn out to mean our future generations, too.

Recent findings offer a new language (that of epi-genetics) directly linking our “post-industrial lifestyles” to diseases related to disordered metabolism and fat. What do we mean when we refer to “post-industrial” disease? Usually, this means “lifestyle” related epidemics, and our “top killers,” such as diabetes (“diabesity” — the link of obesity and diabetes), heart disease, and increased prevalence of cancer.

Hannah Landecker, a science + sociology researcher at UCLA, is further developing the concept of “Post Industrial Metabolism“, with a project released in the Fall 2013 Public Culture  issue as “Post Industrial Metabolism: Fat Knowledge.” This project views food as a form of “exposure” to which our body’s metabolic controls then respond, to create genetic information. So, what does that mean? The genetic info we create in conversation with our environment is what our cells are guided by in our own lives, and is also what’s inherited in part by our children (…whoah!). As our cells are “exposed” to foods (including what time of day food is eaten) they develop “knowledge” about how to respond in the future: how we metabolize our food “carries the world into our body” and sets the tone for how food will be processed in the future, including by those who inherit our genes (Landecker:2013, Public Culture 25:c). This finding translates to the rhythms created by not only food, but sleep, stress, and exercise, too.

So….what about those fatty, fried fast foods many people grab if we’re on a budget, or in a rush? What about the “knowledge-based work” a huge portion of our population now does, sitting in front of computers (i.e. sedentary lifestyles)? What about the huge percentage of our diets made up of glucose/sugars? ….These may be part of a “maladaptive” response, or a “biology of excess…of overload” (Landecker:2013), characteristic of bodies not made for the “cues” of this post-industrial age.

To sum up: these formative daily activities including how much & what types of foods we eat, our sleep & activity schedules, are all a part of creating “cellular communication” patterns. Basically (according to Landecker, and others in her field), this is the intersection of genetics + sociology: gene expression is regulated by signals from our environment, and what we do sends molecular cues to our bodies for how they can “live into a future environment.” This idea of predictive adaptive response in the body’s metabolism recognizes that we incorporate both internal and external signals genetically. When we give “excessive” cues to our bodies (from overeating, and not “using up” the calories we ingest; from working night shifts under bright lights, and eating at strange times), this affects the “circadian rhythms” of the signaling molecules related to inflammation, appetite, and fat metabolism. (And as we know, inflammation and fat have a huge relationship to the “big diseases” for people in post-industrial societies: diabetes, heart disease, and cancer).

So, is there a bright side? In my opinion, yes: Healthier choices mean a better today, and a better tomorrow. Let’s take it one step at a time, and keep supporting each other, as we re-orient the “cues we give our bodies” (and potential/existing children’s bodies) in a technological, post-industrial world.  When we live in “zones” of exposure — to toxins put into our food, lifestyle, and environment — we must work together to fight our resulting illnesses.