Tag: Media

9/11, Hurricane Season, and disaster-related Secondary Traumatic Stress

Yesterday was the 16th anniversary of the 9/11 Terror Attack, and like many Americans I can easily recount where I was at when I saw the coverage of the attack. The event dominated news media for weeks after the events unfolded, and became enshrined as a defining moment of 21st century America.

I cannot even begin to fathom the first hand experiences of people who directly impacted from the attack, but for many, the day is a permanent memory of the way they felt, perceived, and witnessed everything unfold.

Secondary Traumatic Stress occurs when an individual hears the recounting of another’s traumatic life event. Often, the symptoms are similar to that of the more commonly known Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD. In recent years, there has been more research being done to see the effects of disasters that affect those beyond those immediately experiencing an event.

In the wake of the recent disasters of Hurricane Harvey and Irma, we have seen coverage of their destruction everywhere from major news sources to the social media that we consume for updates from loved ones. A recent New York Times piece noted that the Weather Channel, being the only network to provide 24/7 access to coverage of the recent Hurricanes, had seen its audience increase nearly tenfold. The coverage of these storms has been vast, because the scale of the destruction of these storms has been unprecedented.

Covering these events is vital, it is important that we do not sensor the news that we receive just because of the harmful effects that it may have on us. But, by being more aware, and staying informed, we can acknowledge the way that having information so freely available can help us to cope, and hopefully heal, together.


Sources –

New York Times Piece: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/09/business/media/weather-channel-hurricane-irma.html?_r=0

Secondary Traumatic Stress: http://www.nctsn.org/resources/topics/secondary-traumatic-stress

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. https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/media/

International Food Information Council. Hot Off the Presses: 5 Key Takeaways for Evaluating Nutrition in the Media. http://www.foodinsight.org/evaluating-nutrition-science-media-headlines

Reynolds, Gretchen. The Hunger in Our Heads. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/11/well/eat/how-to-stop-your-food-cravings.html?_r=1


Public Health vs. Public Hysteria

Guest Blogger: Sophia Bernazzani

The recent Ebola outbreak claimed thousands of lives and brought West Africa to its knees. While the fight to stamp out the disease continues, many in the public health community are blaming the media for inciting public hysteria about its possible spread in the United States. Misinformation about the disease heightened anxiety among news media consumers, but failed to improve understanding.

For many AmA burial site was opened on 23 December 2014 in the Disco Hill district to ensure that Ebola victims from Monrovia and the surrounding counties could be buried in a safe and dignified way. The cemetery is a much needed addition to the region since many Liberians were not seeking treatment or informing about the death of loved ones out of fear, their bodies would be cremated - a practice to which many Liberians are opposed out of cultural reasons. Global Communities, in partnership with the USAID Office of U.S. Foreign Disaster Assistance and the Government of Liberia secured the land for the site which is located less than an hour from Monrovia. The site includes Muslim and Christian sections, a temporary morgue, structures for administrative functions, sufficient parking space and an isolated disinfection area. Eventually the 25-acre site will have the capacity to accommodate 13,000 individual graves. While Global Communities is managing the site and continuing construction during the initial phase, management will be fully transitioned to the Government of Liberia when the construction is completed and the virus is under control, There are now 5 burial teams and disinfection teams working at the burial ground. They manage all aspects of dead body management and are trained in the same World Health Organization (WHO) methodology and standards as other burial teams around the country. Disco Hill, Liberia, on 26 January 2015 Photo: UNMEER/Martine Perretericans eager to become more informed about the disease, accurate and responsible reporting took a back seat to sensationalist headlines, menacing graphics and the dissemination of erroneous information. As a result, hysteria, anxiety and panic ensued, leaving many to conclude that an Ebola epidemic throughout the country was imminent. Headlines like “Ebola: The ISIS of Biological Agents” on CNN, or “Broader U.S. Ebola Outbreak ‘Inevitable’?” on Fox News were commonplace. But cable news outlets were not the only culprits. Even respected news magazine Bloomberg Businessweek chose to illustrate their September 14, 2014, cover with “Ebola is Coming,” written ominously in dripping blood.

The stories behind the headlines are now beginning to reveal themselves, and within these stories are not only glimpses of heroism, but also lessons that need to be learned for nearly every sector touched by this public health emergency.

MPH@GW, the online Master of Public Health from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at the George Washington University, is featuring stories that provide a glimpse into the narrative that sensationalist headlines did not capture but, in many ways, tell the real story. Learn more about them here.



Wellness Wednesdays: The Importance of Body Image

In the past week, several ‘Instagram celebrities’ have shut down their accounts and opened up about some of the unpleasant ‘realities’ of social media. I have a great deal of respect for these young women, some of whom are walking away from sizable paychecks – it takes a lot of guts just to be honest in today’s image-obsessed world. I commend them for calling attention to the negative effects of social media, for the unrealistic expectations that it helps to promote and maintain for young men and women all over the world. Because social media isn’t ‘real life’ – and I think that many people have forgotten that.


I was never very comfortable with my body growing up – I was short, and pudgy, with chubby cheeks and nerdy round glasses. Once I started swimming competitively in middle school, my body image issues got even worse – the skimpy Speedo I wore for several hours each day didn’t exactly provide much  coverage to hide behind. My sister and I both participated in sports that emphasized aesthetics – she was a nationally-ranked gymnast for a number of years, until repeated injuries caused by relentless training forced her to leave the gym.


I kept swimming through my senior year of high school – since then, I can count the number of times I’ve been in a pool on one hand. But I kept up a strict exercise regimen throughout college – the picture at the top of this post was taken shortly after I graduated. I remember the sense of brutal satisfaction I took in manipulating my body, subverting it to my ‘will’ – I had an unhealthy relationship with food at the time, one that I’ve struggled with for much of my life.


It took meeting my wife, and my in-laws, to change some of those bad habits. In their culture, food meant family – and love. Refusing a meal was tantamount to a slap in the face; certainly not an option when one is trying to make a good impression.


Food is as commonly featured on social media as are scantily clad bodies – seemingly a contradiction, and certainly one that sends mixed messages to those still trying to find their place in a judgmental world. It took me a long time to find my place, and I’m grateful that I grew up without Facebook and Instagram to further fuel my own dissatisfaction. When I look in the mirror now, I try to embrace my ‘flaws’, instead of denying them. I remember that this is reality, unfiltered – and everything else is just a mirage.

Everyone’s a Health Expert

These days, it’s not uncommon for people to connect via a variety of media and communication channels – websites, blogs, Facebook, Tumblr, Google+, Instagram – tools that allow people to not only network with each other, but spread ideas and exchange information. This system of “user-generated content” is a progressive way for people to make connections and learn – but what happens when the content is all a sham?


Vani Hari, the Food Babe blogger (photo from FoodBabe.com)

Recently, two “wellness gurus” have come under scrutiny: Vani Hari, the Food Babe blogger, and Belle Gibson, the blogger who claimed to have cured her terminal brain cancer through diet changes and other controversial alternative therapies (but later admitted she never had cancer). Both young, beautiful health advocates have hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, as well as cookbooks and iPhone apps. Another characteristic the two have in common: neither has any form of education nor formal training in nutrition, health, or science; however, they’re more than willing to share their firm opinions and recommendations on food and health as if founded in evidence.

At what point did it become acceptable to act as an expert in a field you’re completely unqualified for? Similarly, at what point did it become acceptable for the general public to trust and follow these “advocates” as if they are equally knowledgeable as credentialed medical and nutrition professionals? Not only do these “celebrities” of health lessen the work of true professionals, but it also makes it far more challenging for the public to trust any source of information or respect the true relationships between diet and disease, which is still being rigorously researched.

While it is essential to have the right to communicate one’s opinions and ideas, I urge everyone to observe the credentials (or lack thereof) from those touting the next best magic-bullet cure or diet. Those of us working hard towards (or with) degrees from reputable institutions deserve respect for what we attempt to do, and the public deserves access to honest and reliable information without having to wade through the chaos of fraudulent or exaggerated claims.


Photo sources:

Featured image from the upcoming Australian Women’s Weekly article featuring Belle Gibson, via The Washington Post

Vani Hari on The Food Babe

Tell your kids what to watch on TV

kid_TVParents who concern about aggressive and violent media content often times try to limit their kids’ TV exposure, but the effort doesn’t always pay off. According to Time’s Magazine, a typical U.S. kid still spend about 4.5 hours a day watching TV, over twice more than the maximum 2 hours recommendation by experts. Similarly, campaigns that focus on reducing children’s screen time have achieved little success.

A recent research published on the Journal Pediatrics suggested that instead of asking kids not to watch TV, concentrating on what kids are seeing is an effective approach to cultivate quality conduct among children.  In the study, half families agree on a media diet and to swap more violent programming for educational one with pro-social content such as Sesame Street while the other half remained to allow kids watching aggressive media content. Finding shows kids from the treatment group acted less aggressively and showed more sharing and respectful behaviors compared with the control group in a follow-up assessment six months after the study initiated.

I found this study has implication to future campaign design in an attempt to minimize the negative influence media content has on children. Educating parents on how to choose appropriate shows for their kids and giving them more guidance through recommended program list/brochure is a promising strategy. Good news is that parents in the study are delighted to receive the program guide even after the study ended.  That shows parent’s good will and a need for professional help. Parents’ willingness and co-operation make it a good starting point for these campaigns.

But there are also challenges, as TV functions as a baby sitter especially for parents who are busy at work, will kids stick to the healthy media diet instead of being drawn to more exciting and violent programs?

What to Do When Appearance is More Important than Health?

A study conducted by researchers at the University of Missouri revealed that for college-aged women, appearance is more important than health. Granted, this may not be surprising news to, well, anyone. Young adults have always been appearance-conscious, and this is exacerbated in a media-obsessed society. The article goes on to say that young women focus on the calorie content of the food they are eating and not the nutritional content, which can lead to a poorly-balanced diet, and that body image is associated with dieting and over-exercising. One thing I found striking is that study participants realized media images are digitally enhanced. However, they still felt the need to try and attain that image because, to quote one of the researchers, society awards women for looking good.

The article also mentions a form of health communication that is rarely used – an interactive play. The play was developed by the study’s researchers to promote an honest and open dialogue about body image, the media’s effects on body image, and what we can do to counter those effects and maintain a positive body image. The play, titled “Nutrition 101” and being performed at the University of Missouri, centers around characters talking about their insecurities about their bodies, disparaging other women’s bodies, and discussing nutrition and dietary choices. After the characters perform a short, scripted portion, they take questions from the audience and answer while still in character. One of the researchers is quoted as saying:

When you’re developing something for interactive theater, focus groups and in-depth interviews are great at getting at stories. Many of the stories used in the interactive play — like valuing people because of their appearance and not their personal qualities or abilities — came from individuals’ personal experiences.

Because the stories are derived from real experiences from college-aged women it is more likely that they would resonate with the other college-aged women in the audience. It seems to me a little like holding a mirror to the audience – hopefully they’ll see their own experiences and body image issues reflected in the play, and by interacting with the characters, may come to some internal resolution for their own issues and develop a new way of thinking about the media’s portrayal of women’s bodies.

I would be very curious to see how attending the play affects the audience’s thinking and behavior regarding their body image. Do you think an interactive play would be effective at changing health behavior?

Image from cartam via stock xchng

Blogging to be thin

I’m a recent convert to Pinterest. Pinterest is a site where you can literally pin your interests. For example, if someone is interested in jewelry, she/he can create a board to display pictures of jewelry she/he likes. The person can upload these pictures or repost pictures already posted on Pinterest. I became interested in Pinterest after a friend was talking to me about workouts she found on the site. I joined and started a board where I pinned various workouts I found. I tried one of them on Sunday, and it definitely had me breathing hard! But what bothered me when I searched for workouts and exercise on Pinterest was the lack of actual workouts and instead the numerous thinspiration photos. Thinspiration is basically what it sounds like–online communities where people post motivational pictures that promote thinness as the ideal. I find the thinspiration movement really disconcerting. For one, it equates thinness with health, which is not necessarily the case. Second, thinness, rather than health, is the goal. Losing weight is difficult, and to obtain bodies glorified in the thinspiration photos is nearly impossible for the majority of people. Followers of the thinspiration movement are striving for the unobtainable, setting themselves up for failure and chastising themselves when they fail to meet the ideal. Finally, the thinspiration movement is basically the opposite of self-acceptance. Improving your health is an admirable goal, but trying to become somebody you’re not is dangerous and mentally and physically unhealthy.

However, you really can’t blame thinspiration followers for equating health and self-worth with thinness. We’re inundated with images that constantly reinforce the thin ideal and images that tell women that their value as people rests solely on how they look. It would be a huge undertaking to change this dialogue in the media, but it’s an undertaking that should at least be attempted.

Photo attribution: tollieschmidt on Flickr.

Adolescent sexual behavior and media

The effect of media on adolescent sexual behavior is a controversial topic. From Gossip Girl to Britney Spears, many things in the media induce people to pull a Helen Lovejoy and proclaim, “Think of the children!” They’re not wrong to point this out. Lots of studies have shown that adolescents exposed to sexually charged media engage in sex earlier than their unexposed peers (Wikipedia for the win). In an age where kids are constantly exposed to media via the internet and often away from parent supervision, it is fair to ask how public health could counter the effects of the media. In a recent study, researchers found that exposure to sexual media content only affects normative pressure beliefs, which are when people conform to a norm in order to be accepted and liked.

So my question to you is how could these findings be applied to health communication in order to design effective messages? And recent evidence shows that less teens are having sex, so the norm is arguably to not have sex. But would this be a persuasive message to adolescents?

Picture credit: danielito311 on flickr.

Sex in the media: What’s a person to do?

A teen boy using the computer

Talking about media use can be beneficial according to the AAP

Sex is prevalent in the media, and the American Academy of Pediatrics has something to say about it. In the September issue of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a revised policy statement that addresses sexual messages in the media and has some recommendations for parents and pediatricians. The original piece was published in 2001.

New recommendations include:

  • Having pediatricians help parents and teens recognize the importance of the issue by asking two media related questions at visits: How much time do you spend daily with entertainment media? And is there a TV or Internet access in your bedroom?
  • Encouraging parents (and pediatricians) to understand social networking sites and to talk to their kids about them
  • Encouraging parents to use media storylines to discuss sex with their teens
  • Restricting the airing of erectile dysfunction ads to after 10 p.m. because they can confuse young viewers

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