Category: Uncategorized

WARNING: Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease (and much more)

picture of diseased lungs next to healthy lungs on cigarette label

Fact: Tobacco kills about 443,000 people each year in the US. Fact: 46 million US adults or 20.6% of the US population smokes cigarettes. Fact: Although the number of Americans who smoke has dropped over the last 40 years, this rate has reached a plateau in recent years. What is the FDA going to do about this? Cue the crying children, corpses, and tombstones.

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NYT article sparks cheesey debate and agnst toward USDA

These wheels of gouda wouldn't last long in the U.S. where Americans eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, three times the amount in 1970.

These wheels of gouda wouldn't last long in the U.S. where Americans eat an average of 33 pounds of cheese a year, three times the amount in 1970.

Last week, New York Times reporter Michael Moss’ story While Warning About Fat, U.S. Pushes Cheese Sales, sparked outrage over the contradictory actions supported by the U.S.D.A. The article revealed that Dairy Management, Inc., a marketing group created by the USDA, had been working with fast food chains, such as Domino’s, to increase cheese consumption despite the health concerns about saturated fat.

The blogosphere furor over Cheesegate was aimed at the fact that while the USDA’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion has a total budget of $6.5 million (of which only part is used for promotions), Dairy Management is directly contradicting some of those measures by using its very large budget to promote fast food with high levels of fat, cholesterol and salt. Moss writes:

“Dairy Management, whose annual budget approaches $140 million, is largely financed by a government-mandated fee on the dairy industry. But it also receives several million dollars a year from the Agriculture Department, which appoints some of its board members, approves its marketing campaigns and major contracts and periodically reports to Congress on its work.”

The Atlantic Wire posted a “reader’s guide” to the online outrage brought about by this story. Esteemed nutritionist and food policy expert Marion Nestle told the Huffington Post that Dairy Management is merely meeting the U.S.D.A.’s mission: promoting agriculture;

“From its beginnings in the 1860s, USDA’s role was to promote U.S. agricultural production and sales, with the full support of what was then a largely agricultural Congress… How to change this system? One possibility might be to move dietary guidance into a more independent federal agency, NIH or CDC for example. Another might be to recognize the ways in which corporate lobbyists corrupt our food system and do something about election campaign laws.”

Would Nestle’s suggestions be effective, and are they feasible? What about the initial issue — a government-related group is promoting foods high in saturated fats, and doing it well as consumption is increasing, while nutrition efforts flounder — which begs the question: are there other conflicting situations like this in the government that are preventing public health campaigns from being as successful as possible?

Fruits and veggies, never knew you could look so good

colorful display of fruits and vegetablesWhat you encounter when you walk into your local grocery store may soon change.

Grocery stores are beginning to respond to consumers desires to have more healthy diets and are also finding that they can benefit from this. Brian Wansink, the co-director of the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs notes, “Grocery stores want you to buy healthy things. They want you to buy produce, because if produce goes bad, they lose money.”

Research on what people eat and the subtle cues that facilitate the decisions people make regarding food choices has found that there are changes that stores can make in order to promote healthier food items like fresh produce. For example, product placement and soft lighting may have the power to make that bunch of bananas you may not have intended to purchase, all that more desirable.

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Advances in mobile technology help save lives

Photo by Angela Shupe

Cell phones are highly prevalent, with 70 percent of the 5 billion cell phone subscribers in the world living in developing areas, according to an article on Medical News Today.  With their high prevalence, mobile phones are becoming a more common avenue for advancing health care.

Mobile technology like cell phones can be used to save the lives of mothers in childbirth and to help improve the care of newborns. This is especially useful when it comes to reaching populations in remote areas.

Cell phones have been used for a variety of health applications, such as checking in on patients, assisting in treatment, providing consultation and keeping records. However, additional elements such as check lists, protocols and steps to ensure a safe birth can be added, said Julian Schweitzer, Ph.D. and former chair of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Care, in the article.

Midwives in rural and isolated areas can attach cell phones to diagnostic devices for remote fetal monitoring or remote wireless ultrasound. This can help the midwife to monitor the mother and know when to get her to a clinic.

Cell phones are one way advanced technology is contributing to health in developing countries. What are some other ways you can think of? What do you think are some benefits of this type of service? What are some drawbacks?

As Daylight Saving Time ends, health worries begin

Daylight Saving Time U.S. government propaganda poster from 1918

This U.S. government poster from 1918 promoted the idea that farmers would benefit from an extra morning hour of sunrise in the winter, but today many scientists and health practitioners say we need sun in the evening instead.

As people move their clocks back an hour on Sunday at 2:00A.M., scientists worry the lost hour of afternoon daylight in northern countries is leading to increasing energy use (to turn on lights in the late afternoon), and health problems (lack of Vitamin D from the sun exposure). An article by Reuters‘ reporter Kate Kelland notes that countries like Britain and Russia are considering policy changes in order to combat the problems caused by DST;

“It must be rare to find a means of vastly improving the health and well-being of nearly everyone in the population — and at no cost,” said Mayer Hillman of the Policy Studies Institute in Britain, where a bill on DST is coming up for consideration in parliament soon. “And here we have it.”

Sports groups are supporting the policy change, which would provide more daylight hours for frolicking outside after school and work. Scientists estimate that just by switching to Central European time, British citizens would see 300 more hours of daylight a year. Given that nearly half of the world’s population is lacking in Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, such an easy policy change could have profound health, and environment effects.

Is it worth it change the clocks? Across the pond from Britain, Dr. Robert Graham of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, told Reuters that yes, it is worth it. Dr. Graham hopes an extra hour of daylight would encourage people to exercise more, possibly leading to lower rates of chronic illnesses.

“As a society we are always looking for accessible, low cost, little-to-no harm interventions,” he said by telephone. “By not putting the clocks back and increasing the number of accessible daylight hours, we may have found the perfect one.”

Is keeping DST through the winter a reasonable policy for improving public health? If a change were proposed, could it actually make its way through Congress given the current lack of bipartisanship in American politics? What are the downsides to switching from our current system?

Taking the happy out of the Happy Meal?

child eating McDonald's Happy Meal in a high chairYesterday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8-3 to ban giving away toys with Happy Meals or similar children’s meals. San Francisco is the first major city in the US to implement this kind of ordinance.

Under the ordinance that will take effect in December 2011, restaurants may only provide a toy if the meal (including drink) contains less than 600 calories and if less than 35% of the fat comes from sugars. It would also require restaurants to offer fruits and vegetables with any meal that comes with a toy.

McDonald’s, not surprisingly, has been leading the opposition to this ban. Scott Rodrick, McDonald’s franchise owner, told the San Francisco Chronicle that “restrictions could hurt business and cost jobs if customers cross the San Francisco border for a traditional Happy Meal experience”.

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Introducing Dr. Brian Southwell: Mentor, collaborator, IHC scholar

Brian G. Southwell, Ph.D.

Dr. Brian Southwell will make a transition to UNC-Chapel Hill this winter, just in time to escape the cold weather at the University of Minnesota, where he currently serves as an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and as an adjunct associate professor in the School of Public Health.   Dr. Southwell is the newest addition to the group of Interdisciplinary Health Communication scholars at UNC.  Upon arrival in early January, 2011, he will begin a joint appointment as a research professor at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication (JOMC) and as a senior research scientist at RTI International at Research Triangle Park.

The transition to life and work in North Carolina is a welcome opportunity for Dr. Southwell, his wife Jessica, and son Gavin.  As he told us by email,

“In a nutshell, the move to North Carolina not only makes sense for my family but also will allow me to balance two major interests of mine: continuing to work with students and applying theory to improve health communication practice.  The Senior Research Scientist position at RTI will allow me to intersect with policymakers and practitioners at all levels of health and science communication and the UNC Research Professor faculty appointment will allow me to mentor and collaborate with newly rising scholars, which I really enjoy doing.”

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Grassroots participatory development: More than just buzz words

Kids in Kiberia

Photo from the CFK website

These words can have a variety of definitions depending on where you look. According to the literature, participatory approaches provide the people in a community with power over decisions that are made in the social change process.  Grassroots means that such programs come from the ground up.

In a slum of Nairobi, Kenya, through the program Carolina For Kibera, grassroots participatory development is shown through actions. Carolina for Kibera, or CFK, is an international, nongovernmental organization that provides a number of programs that have been developed with and for the people there.

For example, a few years after the program was founded, two undergraduate volunteers from the United States helped young women in Kibera create the Binti Pamoja (Daughters United) Center that created a safe place for young girls to address issues  such as HIV/AIDS, sexual abuse, a lack of reproductive health care, and many other issues.

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Need some PR help for the cause of the month? The CDC will help

November is right around the corner, and that means soon it will be American Diabetes Month.

The CDC provides public health organizations with PR toolkits for causes of the month, but are these generic messages effective?

The CDC provides public health organizations with PR toolkits for causes of the month, but are these generic messages effective?

The CDC has a National Health Observance Toolkit ready to help health organizations promote American Diabetes Month. There are toolkits for every month (e.g. a breast cancer awareness toolkit for October).

Each toolkit contains sample press releases (with “insert your organization information” at the bottom), sample Twitter posts, e-cards, web badges (icons to insert into your own website promoting the cause), and lists of resources and hyperlinks to information. One sample tweet in the diabetes toolkit reads:

“You can do a lot to prevent diabetes, such as eating healthy and getting active. Learn more: . #nho”

The “Get Active” e-card says “Let’s pick activities we like that fit into our lives” on the inside.

These prefabricated press and social media materials may be welcomed by many overworked and understaffed public health groups; but, given their generic nature, how effective can they be? Would there be a way to alter the CDC toolkits to make them easily tailorable to specific populations?