Category: Health Communication

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

The Magic of Mindfulness

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with work, can’t stay focused in class, or simply feel down most of the time? If so, you may have gotten caught up in the whirlwind style of functioning known as “multitasking.” It is likely that we all have at some point or another and for some, there is no way around it, so what can we do to combat the stresses of the busy lifestyles of 2017?

You shouldn’t have to uproot your whole working style or job just to find peace of mind. Today I’m going to propose a solution that you may have overlooked, mindfulness meditation. The following are the benefits that we know of today:

  • Decreased anxiety
  • Decreased depression
  • Increased empathy
    • With decreased negative feelings like sadness, tension, and anger
  • Decreased stress
  • Increased focus
  • Decreased blood pressure
    • While also improving the transportation of oxygen and carbon-dioxide
  • Increased immune function

As you can see, mindfulness does a lot more than simply strengthen our ability to focus. While you will see some of these benefits after your first time, there is evidence showing that after 8 weeks of practice neurologists seen an increase in gray matter density in brain regions associated with learning, memory processing, and emotional regulation.

Mindfulness is just one style of meditation. There are myriad resources out there to help you get started, but Headspace is my favorite. Have you tried meditating before? If so, let me know your thoughts on the practice and your favorite style.

 

AB

Are you accepting toxic food advice?

If you’re a health junkie or on social media at all, you’ve probably seen these terms: registered dietitian, nutritionist, nutrition coach, food guru, etc.. With so much information flying around there’s a lot of confusion over what it all means and who to listen to when it comes to nutrition advice. My answer? It all depends! All of these titles embody a love of food but there are some big differences in who to look to for food advice. Let’s set the record straight.

Registered Dietitian

Registered dietitians (RDs), also called registered dietitian nutritionists (RDNs), are recognized as experts of food and nutrition in the medical field. This is largely because of the many years these professionals spend studying the science behind food and how it affects the body. The government has regulations on who can call themselves a “registered dietitian”. This is to protect the public from people who present themselves as nutrition experts, but who have no formal training. For example, if someone with diabetes accepts nutrition advice from a nutritionist and it hurts them the nutritionist can not be held accountable. Registered dietitians, on the other hand, can lose their license or suffer fines for providing poor nutrition advice.  This is because RDs go through extensive training before they can practice. As of 2017, RDs are required to complete the following:

  • a bachelor’s or advanced degree in food science or human nutrition
  • supervised training and internships
  • pass the RD exam

After RDs are certified, they also have to complete annual training to maintain their credentials. This is my field of study and the past two years I’ve spent work toward a masters in this field has not been easy, but I’m so close to the finish line! From my studies, it seems RDs are excellent in a number of areas. They really understand how to help manage medical conditions and weight loss. They also can point out what diet trends are completely bogus with science.

Nutritionists/Nutrition Coach/Food Guru

Terms like nutritionist, nutrition coach and the like are not regulated. Anyone can use these labels. This isn’t to say they don’t have valuable nutrition knowledge. Many nutritionists have a wealth of nutrition knowledge from experience and self-study. Some of my favorite nutritionist on Facebook and Instagram provide excellent recipe ideas and encourage their followers to make healthy choices with amazing food photography. On the other hand, following nutrition advice from individuals not formally trained in food science can be dangerous. A nutritionist might not fully understand nutrition information or they may be misinformed. This can be dangerous if a nutritionist misinforms a large number of individuals, especially through social media platforms. Misinformation is particularly harmful when individuals are looking to receive information around serious medical conditions like diabetes and weight loss.

The next time you’re in search of food advice think about what you need! If you have a medical condition or you’re looking for advice on how to lose weight in a healthy way, you might want to look for advice from an RD. If you’re looking for meal prepping tips or fitness inspiration, a nutritionist can certainly help. There’s space for both in this food lovers community.

Practicing Good Sleep Hygiene

Like diet and exercise, sleep is an important part of living a healthy life. Sleep supports healthy brain function, healthy growth and development, and our immune function. For adults, the National Sleep Foundation recommends 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. But what happens if we don’t get enough shut-eye? This can affect our productivity, our ability to manage our emotions, and even our ability to fight off infections. In addition, a lack of sleep can increase our risk for obesity, heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

An important part of getting enough and better sleep is practicing good sleep habits or “sleep hygiene.” Here are some ways that you can practice good sleep hygiene:

Sleep more consistently. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning by setting your alarm. This will help to reinforce your body’s sleep/wake cycle.

Create an optimal sleep environment. It may be helpful to keep any work-related items/electronics in a room other than the bedroom. This will allow you to better associate the bedroom with sleep. Also, use a comfortable mattress and pillows, and try to reduce any light and noise that can affect your sleep. Blackout curtains, eye masks, and/or ear plugs can help with this. Finally, keep your bedroom at a cool temperature (60-75 degrees Fahrenheit) to facilitate sound sleep.

Establish a bedtime ritual. Listening to relaxing music, stretching, or reading before bed can be helpful to prepare you for sound sleep. Avoid activities that are very stimulating such as strenuous exercise or using a computer.

Put away technology. Using electronic devices such as your cell phone and computer before bed can make falling asleep more difficult. This is because the blue light that emanates from your phone and computer screens stimulates your brain, which can affect your sleep/wake cycle. Avoid using these devices 30 minutes before bed.

Avoid cigarettes, alcohol, caffeine, and heavy meals before bed. Caffeine, alcohol, and cigarettes can act as stimulants that can keep you awake. Avoid these substances 4-6 hours before bedtime. Additionally, avoid heavy foods before bed as these may cause indigestion, disrupting your ability to fall asleep.

If you must, nap during the day. Taking naps later in the day may disrupt your drive to sleep at night.

Happy Sleeping!

Helpful Resources: 

National Sleep Foundation

American Academy of Sleep Medicine

American Sleep Association

National Healthy Sleep Awareness Project (from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine)

References: 

Circadian Rhythm and Your Body Clock. (N.d.). Retrieved from  https://sleep.org/articles/circadian-rhythm-body-clock/

Healthy Sleep Tips. (2017). Retrieved from https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-tools-tips/healthy-sleep-tips/page/0/1

National Sleep Foundation. (2015, February 2). National Sleep Foundation Recommends New Sleep Times. Retrieved from https://sleepfoundation.org/press-release/national-sleep-foundation-recommends-new-sleep-times

The High-Tech World of Sleep. (N.d.). Retrieved from https://sleep.org/articles/how-technology-changing-the-way-we-sleep/

Twelve Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep. (2007, December 18). Retrieved from http://healthysleep.med.harvard.edu/healthy/getting/overcoming/tips

Peters, B. (2016, March 1). What Sleep Rituals Should Be Part of Your Bedtime Routine?  Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/bedtime-routines-and-sleep-rituals-for-restful-sleep-3014947

Why Is Sleep Important? (2017, June 7). Retrieved from https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/sdd/why

The Voice of Public Health

People get in to public health because they want to help others. They want to share their wealth of knowledge in a way that makes a difference.

So then why don’t people hear public health messages?

Jim Garrow offers a fun, yet thoughtful read about why public health is boring.

One reason, messages go unnoticed is that public health has relied heavily on data and presenting rational arguments in an effort to persuade people to change behavior. Facts are important, I’m not denying that. But what really speaks to people?

Matthews and colleagues offer up the notion of speaking to deeper, moral values that connect us. Some practical, if not obvious, suggestions include:

  • Avoiding that intrinsic tendency of self-righteousness
  • Find common ground or at least empathy
  • Foster personal relationships, particularly with those who have different values than you
  • Tell stories that incorporate 6 moral foundational values (Care, Liberty, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, and Sanctity)
  • Understand your target community

People are more than numbers, and life is constantly going on around them. A wise teacher once told me we need to see people, know people, and care about people. We need to communicate, and then try again in different ways, over and over.

Dr. Anoop Kumar has a provocative post claiming “…this historic time is when your (public health) voice is most needed…You are being called to a higher purpose – to say what you know, to speak up for the good of our communities and our country…”

How will your voice be heard?

 

Sources:             

Garrow, Jim. Public Health is Boring. May 13, 2015. https://medium.com/rebel-public-health/public-health-is-boring-d7c9b9792787

Kumar, Anoop. A Clarion Call to Publich Health Mavens. May 19, 2014. https://medium.com/healthcare-and-public-health/a-clarion-call-to-public-health-mavens-c9775456ea7

Matthews G, Burris S, Ledford SL, Baker E. Advocacy for leaders: crafting richer stories for public health. J Public Health Manag Pract. 2016;22(3):311-315.

 

Apps, Websites, mHealth, Oh My!

Mobile health applications have taken off as opportunities for public health intervention coinciding with the increasing usage of mobile phones and mobile phone applications in everyday life. A search for “mobile app” in the Journal of Medical Internet Research returns over 1,000 results.

While some of these applications are certainly changing the way we approach our health and lifestyles, some of them can also do more harm than good. As a result, the FDA has developed guidance for the development of these applications to ensure their safety.

However, mobile applications aren’t the only option for providing health information and interactive experiences to users on mobile devices, though they’ve become an incredibly popular option. Many mobile applications could likely be created as websites using responsive web design to make them easily viewable from computers, tablets, smartphones, and so on.

This is especially important when thinking about your target audience. While younger audiences might use their phones regularly, older individuals might be less inclined to use a mobile app, but they might visit a website from their computer or tablet.

A website with responsive web design will also work across platforms (so users can switch between their phone, tablet, computer, or other devices) and will likely take less time and money to develop. They’re also easier to update and maintain for longer periods of time.

Also, if any of your users are like me, they might hate downloading yet another app to take up space on their phone. Apps contribute to clutter on your mobile devices and take up storage space that could be used for pictures, music, emails, and other content.

In a rush to utilize new technologies and meet users where they are, some of these mobile health applications have come out poorly.

Turner-McGreivy, et al. (2016), available from PubMed Central, provide a great comparison of responsive-design websites versus mobile applications, including an easy-to-use table.

Hate Crime as a Public Health Concern

Unless you have been living under a rock the past few months you are well aware of the social tension amongst citizens of the United States. Don’t get me wrong, it has never been ideal, but since the election of President Trump, we have been a country far from united.

In the first month following the 2016 election, there were over 1,000 race-related incidents. While the monthly rates have decreased, the overall occurrence of these incidents continues daily. I’m not here to take sides or point fingers, but instead, look at hate crimes from an often overlooked perspective.

The psychological and physiological damage accumulated by those who face routine discrimination is now considered by many as a public health concern in and of itself. Data from the American Psychological Association shows the impact of discrimination and racism can increase rates of chronic stress, depression, and anxiety; while a meta-analysis compiled by Cambridge University has shown it increases rates of the common cold, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.

While data continues to develop, it is now obvious how snide remarks and hateful actions do much more than simply hurt feelings. In times like these, it’s important to take an introspective look and ask what we are doing in response to this climate of hate.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

Fake Health News

Fake news has been dominating headlines over the past year. Although much of the publicity has been related to politics, fake news about health may be more widespread and difficult to identify.

But what exactly is fake news?

By definition, fake news is the deliberate spread of misinformation with the intention of making political or financial gain. Ultimately it may cause individuals to make health decisions that lead to harm or suffering.

How do you identify fake news?

HealthNewsReview.org is a health news watchdog at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health that offers 10 benchmarks to evaluate the truthfulness of health care reporting.

Before taking any article at face value, ask yourself the following questions. Answering no indicates a red flag for truthfulness or accuracy.

Does the story…

  1. sufficiently discuss the costs of the health intervention?
  2. adequately quantify the benefits of the intervention?
  3. avoid exaggerating potential benefits or ignoring potential harms?
  4. acknowledge the quality of evidence?
  5. avoid over-selling or exaggerating the findings?
  6. include comment from independent sources and identify potential conflicts of interest?
  7. compare the new intervention with those already available?
  8. clearly state how available the intervention is for consumers?
  9. show what is truly new or different about the intervention?
  10. mostly repeat a news release?

Kelly McBride, vice president of the Poynter Institute, acknowledged in an article in the Atlantic – “In science, good information is really boring. Science doesn’t leap ahead the way journalists like to cover it.”

Bottom Line: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

 

Transparency during Outbreaks-a Balancing Act?

Communicating about a potential public health concern can put a national voice in a tricky position. This was the situation the Indian government found itself in earlier this year when isolated cases of Zika broke out in the state of Gujarat.

Some argue that it is absolutely essential for the government to keep the public aware of even threats deemed low, as a step towards increased preparedness in the event of an outbreak (Scroll.In). The New York Times cites Dr. Swaminathan, the director-general of the Indian Council of Medical Research, as justifying the lack of communication as rooted in a need to prevent undue panic. Similarly, the Wire interviewed Dr. Ravindran, the director of emergencies in the Ministry of Health and Welfare , who reports that as the WHO did not declare ZIKA as a continued PHEIC (Public Health Emergency of International Concern), the government was not obligated to report these cases, as noted in the International Health Regulations. The cases were reported after being further investigated.

Which brings us back to a question of responsibility: What guides risk communication?

A document published in March 2016 by the WHO provides some guidance. They define risk communication as “the real-time exchange of information, advice, and opinions between experts, community leaders, or officials and the people who are at risk”. It goes on to identify who the at-risk populations are, the best channels for communication, and guidelines on content. By and large, it stresses the point that risk communication has the goal of empowering, above and beyond informing.

Social media have had a significant positive impact in real-time health communication in recent years. For instance, SMS/Tweets were used to identify vaccination locations during the 2009 H1N1 outbreak. On the other hand, such a large volume of information can be difficult to manage. An example of this chaos was witnessed in the Fall of 2014, when the United States saw an Ebola outbreak (Ratzan, 2014).

All to say…risk communication requires deliberation and thoughtful consideration. While the Zika cases in India continue to be a story that sparks a lot of push-back, rightfully so, it’s important to see the flip side of that coin.

 

 

 

 

Next Level Data Presentation

By Arshya Gurbani

It’s probably safe to guess that lot of people studying Health Communication feel strongly about data, how it’s presented, and the “story” it has to tell. I thought it was about time to re-watch this, one of my favorite TED talks, about using statistics effectively. Hans Rosling presents data on child mortality, but in doing so he layers it with context and bias and paints a picture that is remarkably clear and moving.  It’s good stuff–seriously, get some popcorn and a handkerchief before you watch/re-watch it!