Category: Women’s Health

#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

 

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 

#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

 

Normalization and Solidarity in Mass Communication–what are the impacts of the #MeToo posts?

As a student in health communication, I cannot help but be curious of the health impacts of the massive sharing of #MeToo stories on social media this past week. It’s rapid and broad spread globally is significant. The Hindustan Times reports that within 24 hours, the hashtag had been used more than 500,000 times and on Facebook an additional 12 million (the linked article is also an interesting take from a global perspective) . A few days later, this number was much closer to 10 million.

Here are some questions that have been floating around since last Sunday:

  • What is the impact for victims/survivors (source: CNN)?

For some, this may be therapeutic–it may create a safe space and a sense of solidarity that encourages catharsis and reflection on an often stigmatized and complicated issue. However, it can also be an emotional trigger for those who are not prepared to speak publicly or feel compelled to share a personal and traumatic experience.

  • How does this sentiment translate into action?

A Washington Post contributor discusses that while speaking out on social media is encouraging, it remains to be seen whether the dialogue initiated will lead to actual actions. It’s hard to  measure the how and if such a socially embedded problem changes. It is also worth considering social circles–the fact that while our friend groups on social media are supportive, in some cases they may not be the ones that need to hear the message most. As the Hindustan Times article linked above asked, what do we need to do to make sure there is no reason to tweet MeToo years from now?

  • What makes a movement viral, and how can this be harnessed to improve health outcomes?

This is non-specific to the topic of sexual abuse, but in general, what are the factors that made the MeToo hashtag catch on so quickly? It’s personal nature? It’s ubiquity? Recent news? Media studies say most hashtags are created ad hoc, perhaps that is more genuine and reflective of users’ needs, though efforts have been made to generate disease specific discussions…but I wonder what the role of these hashtags and surrounding dialogue will be in a few years. As people rely increasingly on social media for information in addition to sharing content, how will this be leveraged by those who wish to propagate information?

Interested to hear your thoughts about social media and health-related campaigns/movements–this one in particular, or others.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Which charities should you donate to and which ones to avoid?

It’s that time of the year where we start to see a little more pink in our daily lives: NFL players wearing pink shoes, pink garbage cans along the side of the road and the infamous pink ribbon: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month! This month many organizations will advertising all over their websites and social media to donate money to their worthy cause but who should you donate to? This is a growing concern not only for breast cancer organizations but charity organizations overall. There is an increasing number of individuals that are trying to capitalize on these types of campaigns to try to scam people.  We have seen this all over social media recently with Hurricane Harvey and Irma.

USA Today recently published an article about who to donate to and who to avoid donating for breast cancer advocacy and research. They rated these organizations based on mission, program expenses (the amount of money that that the charities spends on programs and services) and the cost to raise $100 (how much money it spends to get donations).

Here is a list of the top charities (according to USA Today):

  • Breast Cancer Research Foundation
  • National Breast Cancer Coalition Fund
  • Breast Cancer Prevention Partners
  • National Breast cancer Foundation

Here is a list of the charities to avoid (according to USA Today):

  • National Cancer Center
  • Walker Cancer Research Institute
  • American Brest Cancer Foundation

 

For further information about the criteria that the article used to rank check out the USA Today article. Happy Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

Could food stamps cause low test scores?

Going without food has serious implications on your health, mood, and if you’re someone who gets hangry, you know that combination of hungry and angry, your social interactions. Research from the University of South Carolina (USC) has recently shown that the effects of hunger might not end there. It could also play a role in the academic performance of students from low-income communities who receive food assistance.

In the state of South Carolina, families receive government food assistance once per month. These benefits are administered in the first ten days of the month. This means that many families can run out of benefits towards the end of the month. When researchers from USC examined math scores of students from families who receive food assistance, they found something interesting. When students take exams on a date far away from when their family received benefits, their test scores are significantly lower than when exams are administered toward the beginning of the month. This can also mean that a child who is tested earlier in the month generally performs better than a child tested toward the end of the month.

It is unclear if this relationship is because of hunger or some third factor; however, we clearly need to give more attention to supporting families with inadequate access to food and resources.

 

Source: http://www.npr.org/2017/09/21/552530614/researchers-examine-links-between-academic-performance-and-food-stamps

Lady Gaga Reveals Battle with Fibromyalgia

This past week, music sensation Lady Gaga revealed on her Twitter account that she has been battling fibromyalgia, and was recently taken to the hospital for severe pain, leading her to cancel one of her performances. While it may not have been easy to do, Lady Gaga’s decision to open up about her condition sheds an important light on the debilitating condition that is fibromyalgia.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, fibromyalgia affects about 4 million US adults. It is a chronic condition characterized by widespread pain and can include symptoms of fatigue, depression, and headaches that can negatively affect quality of life. While it is unclear what causes fibromyalgia,  some possible risk factors include age, stressful or traumatic experiences, family history, and sex. According to the Centers for Disease Control, women are twice as likely to have fibromyalgia as men.

Treatment for fibromyalgia often involves a team of different health professionals, and can be effectively managed with a combination of medication, exercise, and stress management techniques.

Check out the following resources for more information about fibromyalgia and how you can get involved in raising awareness of this condition:

The National Fibromyalgia Association

The American Fibromyalgia Syndrome Association, Inc.

Fibromyalgia | Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Questions and Answers about Fibromyalgia | National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases  

Note: Lady Gaga has been working on a documentary entitled “Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two,” in which she discusses her battle with fibromyalgia. This film will be available on Netflix on September 22.  

References:

Fibromyalgia. (2017, September 6). Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/arthritis/basics/fibromyalgia.htm

Park, Andrea. (2017, September 13). Lady Gaga opens up about having fibromyalgia. https://www.cbsnews.com/news/lady-gaga-opens-up-on-fibromyalgia-on-twitter/

Questions and Answers about Fibromyalgia. (2014, July). Retrieved from https://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Fibromyalgia/default.asp#c

PrEP for HIV Prevention? Here’s what you need to know

Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, has changed the way in which we talk about HIV Prevention. After being approved for preventive use by the FDA in 2012, there has been a sharp increase in PrEP prescriptions in the U.S. over the past several years. Currently, the only prescription available for PrEP is Truvada, which also serves as a treatment drug for those who are HIV positive.

Truvada is a nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitor, or an NRTI. When exposed to HIV, a NRTI works by masking itself as a building block of the virus’s genetic structure. While our own cells are able to recognize and correct for this coding mistake, HIV cannot, and as a result is unable to replicate and mount a widespread infection.

A quick distinction: Truvada as a drug is a form of PrEP, PrEP is a general class of preventive measures. Birth control can be thought of as a form of PrEP, preventing a pregnancy before it occurs. Even sunscreen is a form for PrEP. You apply lotion to prevent sunburn before it occurs.

But PrEP only works if you take it. According to recent findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the majority of uptake of PrEP in the United States has been among middle-aged, white, gay men. But the HIV epidemic has shifted, with the CDC noting continuous inequalities in the southern states and among young African Americans.

More concentrated efforts need to happen to ensure that those who can benefit from PrEP are able to access and receive it. Gilead, the company that produces Truvada, has a copay card available, where they pay up to $3600 a year in copays for those living under 500% of the national poverty level. For more information on PrEP, UNC campus health also serves as a great resource on campus, and students can get more information by making a free appointment with Student Wellness by emailing LetsTalkAboutIt@unc.edu or by calling (919) 962-WELL(9355).

For additional Resources on what to know about PrEP, and how to have a conversation with your provider, please see the resources below for information from the CDC. For those looking for a PrEP friendly provider, here is a list of providers in the State of North Carolina who actively prescribe PrEP.

Sources –

Gilead Copay Card: https://www.gileadadvancingaccess.com/copay-coupon-card

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention PrEP Resources: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/risk/prep/index.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention PrEP Information: https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/basics/prep.html

List of PrEP Providers: https://www.med.unc.edu/ncaidstraining/files/PrEPProvidersforDownload.pdf/view

What’s the Deal with Male Birth Control?

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

I have been on many different types of birth control in the past 10+ years, all with varying levels of success and each with a new set of side effects including migraines. It has never been a question of if I should try a new method since no there is no effective reversible male birth control available.

Recently, it has made headlines that a male birth control shot has been found to effectively prevent pregnancy in a newly published study. Unfortunately, participants in the study reported adverse side effects including mood changes, depression, and increased and 20 participants dropped out of the study leading researchers to stop the study earlier than planned.

These reports come very soon after another recently published study that was in the news, which cited that hormonal birth control can cause depression in women.

While this particular study was cut short, it is my hope that research continues to search for a safe and effective method of male birth control. Over 80% of the male participants in the study responded that they would use this method of contraception outside of the study, which is hopeful for the future, and a sign that this method is very much wanted and needed. Both women and men deserve to have reproductive freedom without having to jeopardize their health or mental health.

But for now, until male birth control that is safe and effective is developed and approved, women must bear an unequal burden to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Read more about this interesting topic here.

Could Your Birth Control be Making You Depressed?

depressed

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

Could your birth control be making you depressed? A new study was released a few weeks ago claiming just that.

A nationwide study in Denmark was conducted to analyze the potential link between depression and hormonal birth control. What was found was that users hormonal birth control were more likely than non-users to be prescribed anti-depressants, though the risk is very small. The main conclusion of the study found that use of hormonal contraception, was associated with the subsequent use of anti-depressants and a first diagnosis of depression, and the authors of the study concluded that depression might be a potential adverse effect of hormonal contraceptive use. Currently, mood swings, and not clinical depression are listed as a potential adverse effect of hormonal birth control.

When this study was first published, I woke up to see news articles about it posted all over my Facebook timeline and my Twitter feed. Many of the people posting about this study felt vindicated after not feeling believed about how their birth control was making them feel. I also felt like my past bad experiences with hormonal birth control could potentially be explained by this study. For years, doctors had told me that there was no way that my birth control could be making me depressed, but my doctor’s explanation did not seem consistent with how my friends felt on their birth control or how much better I have felt after discontinuing certain methods in the past.

What I also saw online was great dissent and controversy about the study and the reporting about the study online from various news organizations and outlets.

While I did not agree with some of the comments I read online, I do agree that further research needs to be done on this topic, but I am excited that steps are being taken to further understand women’s health, especially in this context, and hope that this study sparks more research and discussion on this topic.