Category: Interpersonal Communication

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

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

Fess Up Friday: mental health stigma = icky

antistigmaAbout that mental health stigma thing…

I’ve realized the hard way that it’s pretty icky. Let me explain:

UNC-Chapel Hill’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) student health unit was looking for people to write or video testimonials about their services. CAPS had really helped me when I had a moment of extreme academic stress, so when I saw the call for testimonials, I thought, “I can do this. I should do this. I will do this,” and fired off the email saying I was available. So far, so good.

I showed up for the video appointment, looked into the camera, and thought: “Who’s going to see this?” And froze.

I was supposed to give my first name, year and school. I did it, but even now I’m having second thoughts about the wisdom of that. I’ve told tons of people about my research interests (mental health in the African American community), and I’ve been candid with a number of classmates about my moment of academic stress. But now my face is on the Internet (I don’t have the link yet, or I’d feel obliged to post it here), advocating for UNC students “like me” to access mental health services.

I’m on the Internet telling the world I’ve accessed mental health services, which is the same as telling the world I had a mental health problem.

Even though I understand that no shame should attach to this, it was one thing to go down to CAPS when I needed help; it’s something else to trumpet to the world that I needed help and got it.

The mental health stigma thing… it’s pretty icky.

Mental health Monday: tackling the topic in the black community

The diva herself, Jenifer Lewis. Image courtesy of

The diva herself, Jenifer Lewis. Image courtesy of

She’s a real live diva. She’s done TV, live action and animated movies, cabaret and big stage work. You know her voice from Cars (“Flo”) and her face on Black-ish (“Ruby Johnson”). She’s played so many mothers and grandmothers that she’s called “the black mother of Hollywood.” And she has bipolar disorder. Be introduced to Jenifer Lewis.

Stephanie Stephens writes about Ms. Lewis in the lead feature of the Spring 2015 issue of bp magazine. The article caught my eye because of one of the pull quotes: “Nobody talks about this [in the black community]… not even the people who may have the disorder.”

Ms. Lewis is absolutely right. We—African Americans—don’t talk about this. In research interviews on this topic, I talked to many black women who’d said and been told: “What happens in this house, stays in this house.” Or even more explicitly, “That [mental illness] is a white people’s problem. We’re tough.”

Nobody’s arguing that black people are tough; we’ve had to be to survive. But we have mental health and wellness concerns just as often as other folks, and we’re not seeking help. That’s got to stop. As Ms. Stephens quotes Ms. Lewis: “Just do the work…There’s simply no other answer to this.”

The American Psychiatric Association has a 20-minute video you can view online if you want information on culturally sensitive ways to address this issue.

In the meantime, check out for warning signs of mental health issues and resources that can help anyone address them.  If the signs are there, start the work. Because as Ms. Lewis is quoted on IMDb: “You never know when you start a project just how good it can be.”

Pro-sanity Sundays: Why the Germanwings tragedy matters to you

img-handsNew events have pushed the deliberate downing of the Germanwings flight off the front pages.  Maybe now you’re wrapped up in the Iranian nuclear negotiations, or engaged in the whittling of the Final Four to the Victorious One. That’s normal. But before you shake your head one last time over the actions of co-pilot Andreas Lubitz, consider this:

Suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in the United States.  For young people ages 15 to 34, it is the second leading cause of death.  According to the Director of the National Institutes of Mental Health, Thomas Insel, M.D., mental illness is not the only cause of suicide. “There are many types of individuals at risk for suicide,” he wrote in a recent blog post. You might know one. You might be one.

There is help.  The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline—1-800-273-TALK—can connect you to local resources, whether you are suicidal or just worried about someone else. There will be a caring individual on the other end of the line, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Don’t suffer alone or allow a friend to do so. Connect, and live.

Type One Tuesdays: Conferences, Bonding and Life Long Friends…Priceless!



As Spring Break approaches and, hopefully, with the snow days behind us, we eagerly look forward to and begin to make plans for summer.  Do you have a favorite place to visit during the summer or a conference to attend?  Over the summer, there are many interesting and fun diabetes camps and conferences.  Two major national conferences that occur over the summer are Students With Diabetes (SWD)’s National Conference and Children With Diabetes (CWD) Friends for Life Conference.

Conferences provided invaluable information, networking opportunities and lifelong friends for people with Type 1 diabetes (T1D).  There are informative sessions that provide information on the latest technology, inspirational and encouraging presentations by successful T1Ds and social activities that provide time to meet and bond with fellow T1Ds.  The relationships made at the conferences provide a great resource for support on the other 364 days of the year when you are not with people who understand your disease.  I met one of my closest friends at the SWD conference several years ago.  Attendees at the conferences relate to each other in a way that is rarely experience in any other setting.  The commonalities between attendees and conference events create an atmosphere for bonding over just a few days.  Even if you don’t keep in touch regularly, some of these people will cross paths with you at other conferences or through other aspects of your life.  Recently, I reconnected with a person, who I had met at a Friends for Life Conference many years ago, when we both participated in a national group project.  It was so great to have a familiar person in the group!  Additionally, when you go back the next year, it is like a family or high school reunion, with the opportunity to also meet new attendees or create stronger bonds with people from previous years.  The experience is priceless.  Are you going to any conferences or camps this summer?  What is your favorite memory?  Don’t let your summer go by without a conference or two to make life-long friends!  Hurry and sign up before registration closes!

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Type 1 Tuesdays: Friends, Laughter and Entertainment — Oh My!

 As  you may have heard the proverb, “laughter is the best medicine,” and you may also know the benefits of spending time with family and friends.  However, have you thought of combining these two behaviors?  Laughter actually results in chemical changes in your body which has a positive influence on blood flow, immune response, blood sugar levels (diabetes alert!), relaxation and sleep.  Did you know that 10-15 minutes of laughter actually burns 50 calories?  Are you trying to lose holiday pounds?  Could laughter be the solution to your diet woes?  In addition, the health benefits of social support from family and friends include having a sense of belonging, increased sense of self-worth and feelings of security.  Therefore, spending time laughing and having fun with family and friends can double the positive impact on your health status while improving your mood as well.

This past weekend, I went to Tampa, Florida for Valentine’s Day weekend, where the Straz Center for the Performing Arts Center is producing the musical “First Date.”  It is a 96 minute show full of laughter that was especially enjoyable since it was also a great opportunity to share the evening with family and friends.  We laughed throughout the show and even after as we discussed the funniest parts of the show.  At the end of the evening, there was a sense of well-being and contentment.    Laughter and socialization truly are the best medicine, particularly for those of us with chronic illnesses.  Do you think you can add a bit of laughter and socialization into your routine?  I assure you that you will be glad you did!

iPhone: Is it also a Medical Alert Bracelet?

Did you get a new iPhone over the holidays, already have an iPhone or are considering getting one?  Whether you are a new or old Apple user, there is a great feature that could apply to you! Have you noticed the “emergency” button on the screen where you enter your 4 number passcode?  This is a cool feature, especially for those who have health problems, such as Type 1 diabetes.  In this area, you can enter your name, medical conditions, allergies, and an emergency contact information.

What does this mean to you?  If you are unconscious or having a medical emergency wherein you cannot communicate, your phone could literally save your life.

This feature is fairly easy to set up.  To set up your information, follow these easy steps:


  • Step 1: Go to the “Health application” on your phone.


  • Step 2: There should be a button on the bottom that says “Medical ID” and looks like a *. If you click on that logo, you come to a page where you can enter the information you wish to fill out.


  • Step 3: Enter the information you want entered. Make sure the “Show When Locked” is selected!


  • Step 4: Click “Done” when you are finished putting in your information.

Follow these easy steps to retrieve your “Medical ID” information:


  • Step 1: Now, when you are on the locked screen, if you select “Emergency,” a logo on the bottom will appear that says “Medical ID” below the keypad.


  • Step 2: If you click on “Medical ID,” the information you entered will be present on the screen.

In the past, people with medical conditions wore “medical alert” bracelets, which were institutional looking bracelets (sometimes made cuter with beads and other decor) or, more recently, they actually got medical alert tattoos (on one’s arm or wrist).  Are cell phones the future of medical identification?  Would you consider using this feature on an iPhone to allow people to have vital emergency information about you?


Photo Credit: Main Image by: Kimberly Hislop. All other photos by: Amanda Mezer

First Impressions: Do They Deserve a Second Glance?

“He’s a bit annoying / And overdressed / He’s got the kind of vibe that says “look at me, / I’m stressed!”/ Probably likes to cuddle / Long walks in the park” (“First Impressions,” First Date the musical) 

As Casey Clark forms her first impression of her blind date in the musical First Date, she also makes some snap decisions about who the person that is sitting in front of her is really like.  Did you know that research is being done on similar ideas, but it is based on online profiles, webpages, resumes and journals?

Dr. Francesca Carpentier, the Director of the Ph.D. Program and Associate Professor at UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication, studies people’s impressions on information given in a variety of formats after a primer of an online game with differing advertisements (neutral, romantic or sexual).  After participants complete the primer, the same information about a hypothetical person is then be presented from different sources, such as LinkedIn, a dating profile, a resume or an online journal.  The participant is then asked about certain traits and characteristics of this hypothetical person.  The participant who viewed the sexual ads in the primer, rated the hypothetical person desirable, sexy, racy, flirtatious, shallow, and rebellious, with no impact on reliability, friendliness and honesty.  It is also important to note that the context matters, as was shown by the variation in results based on whether the participant enjoyed the game played in the primer.  What do first impressions tell about you?  Is a first impression more about you or about the person you are meeting?

Photo Credit: Miroslav Petrasko

November is Diabetes Awareness Month!

Poetic Social Justice: An Approach for Type 2 Diabetes Awareness


Public health is often described as a science and an art, but have you thought about using poetry to tackle one of the most significant issues in the nation?

According to the 2014 CDC National Diabetes Statistics Report, there are 29.1 million people with Type 2 Diabetes in the U.S. Several lifestyle behaviors have been linked to the disease, but this public health problem, like many others, is complex and involves several social and environmental factors.

Youth Speaks, Inc. is an organization aimed at promoting, empowering, and create safe places for youth and young people for oral poetry such as spoken word and other works. The organization partnered with the University of California, San Francisco’s Center for Vulnerable Populations to create The Bigger Picture, a campaign to raise awareness about Type 2 Diabetes, including the institutional, environmental, and social factors.

Instead of traditional campaign messages, The Bigger Picture communicates through poetry developed and performed by youth sharing their stories and experiences with the disease, directly and indirectly. The art addresses issues such as physical effects, economic inequalities, class and access to health, and the food and beverage industries.

The poetry takes on several forms, such as metaphors to war and satires of industry, but they aim to start conversation among those affected, especially youth, and to reveal the larger institutional social, and environmental factors that play a role in the epidemic. Some of their pieces can be found on YouTube.

The Bigger Picture is also offering educational scholarships for youth who make great impacts with their statements or with their action.


Fist Bump for a Healthier Hello

I often struggle to decide which is more appropriate when greeting someone:  a handshake or a hug.  I usually default to the hug, ignoring whatever brief moment of awkwardness may occur.  I’ve never given much thought or due credit to a third and perhaps healthier option:  the fist bump.

A recent study found that fist bumps are actually 20x more hygienic than handshakes on the basis of how many germs they spread.  They are also 10x cleaner than high-fives.

The study published last week in the American Journal of Infection Control had volunteers dunk sterilized hands into a bucket of Escherichia Coli (E. coli) bacteria.  The volunteers then shook hands, high-fived, or fist-bumped with one another.

Handshakes transferred an average of 124 million colony-forming units of E. coli from one volunteer to another, which was more than high fives and much more than fist bumps.

The two most important factors in how many germs were transferred were the amount of contact area (high-fives and hand-shakes have a much larger contact area then the knuckles touching in a fist-bump), as well as the duration of the contact.

Another factor was the strength of the handshake.  For instance, researchers found that handshakes that were “moderate strength” transferred less germs than “strong” handshakes.

Researchers recommend that more people switch to fist bumping as a primary greeting.

“For the sake of improving public health we encourage further adoption of the fist bump as a simple, free and more hygienic alternative to the handshake,” they concluded.

What will your next greeting be?


Photo Credit:  gingher