Tag Archives: health education

The Conundrum of Caving to the Food Industry in the Battle Against Obesity

I just wanted to bring your attention to an excellent piece by Kelly Brownell of the Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity at Yale, in which she addresses the perilous slippery slope of appeasing the food industry and how that specifically impacts our fight against obesity.

He points out that all the research of calories in versus calories out, increasing exercise, cutting sodium, sugar, and fat, the problems with cutting physical activity from the daily routine of children, the abundant prevalence of fast food, and the cost of healthy, organic alternatives has been well and good – but that we are purposely avoiding and not addressing one of the biggest challenges in combating the increasing waistlines in America. The total avoidance of tackling head-on the way food is marketed, made, sold, and how quickly even healthcare organizations in need of a little extra cash may take a sponsorship or donation from a group directly contributing to many of the health issues that organization is tackling.

I know we live in a capitalist society. I know that the element most prized in this economic system is a competitive market and that supporters think private enterprise should be able to do whatever it likes in terms marketing and aggressive behavior towards consumers and that the individual is supposed to be able to make an independent choice. I also think that’s ridiculous. To assume that someone’s behavior is not influenced by the massive inundation of public messages, no matter how smart they are, disproves years of communication and sociological research. I always find it amusing when major corporations or businesses decry critics who say that advertising is harmful and misleading, when in fact most corporations and businesses are counting exactly on that – that the constant (and often subliminal, or in the least, very sly) messages they’re strategically slinging at us all the time are working their magic and ensuring that people will take the bait. As a critic of many advertising practices, a supporter of progressive paternalism (known to those on the opposite side of the aisle as a nanny state), and someone who has worked with people trying to change a range if disordered eating behaviors and poor nutrition habits, I found her piece particularly compelling and in agreement with her claim that the food industry has had plenty of time to prove itself trustworthy.

I think this line really sums it up: “When the history of the world’s attempt to address obesity is written, the greatest failure may be collaboration with and appeasement of the food industry. I expect history will look back with dismay on the celebration of baby steps industry takes (such as public–private partnerships with health organizations, “healthy eating” campaigns, and corporate social responsibility initiatives) while it fights viciously against meaningful change (such as limits on marketing, taxes on products such as sugared beverages, and regulation of nutritional labeling).”

Check it out.

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Filed under Advertising, Health Education, Media, Public Health

Why Doctors Think mHealth Will Cut Down on Doctor’s Visits

This is a great infographic, courtesy of Mashable, that details the vareity of ways mobile health improves patient outcomes and an individual’s ability to manage their preventitive behavior on their own. It’s a pretty robust outline:

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Filed under Health Education, Public Health, Technology

Reader Roundup (It’s Been a While…)

I am currently very guilty of completely falling behind on my (totally self-prescribed) schedule of at least weekly, hopefully twice weekly, original writings. I’m in a major data analysis crunch in my dissertation, and the stats interpretation is taking up a healthy number of my hours everyday. That being said, I’ve tried to keep up with my reading schedule, and with that in mind, I’ve done a little round up of some great articles I’ve read in the past couple weeks that I think some of my readers might enjoy. Without further ado:

For those of you interested in adolescent development, the Wall Street Journal had a great article about how the teen brain works, and how it’s changed: What’s Wrong With the Teenage Mind?

ESPN had a section on their website specifically devoted to viewers being able to comment on how much they hated female commentators. So, there’s that: ESPN Allowed People to Complain About ‘Female Commentators.’

Great details from the Huffington Post about what is at stake in an election year for women’s health, and how women’s health is used as fodder for politicos: What Does an Election Year Mean for Women’s Health and Rights?

Gail Collins, who I am a huge fan of, takes this to task as well, questioning how the allowance for employers who oppose birth control to deny coverage for female employees can be seen as a risky precedent: Tales From the Kitchen Table

Mother Jones, with excellent reporting as always, details The Republican War on Contraception – it’s even more frightening when all the facts are compressed into one terrifying testimony.

The International Center for Research on Women has a new series: HIV and AIDS: Are We Turning the Tide for Women and Girls? The chronicle case studies of women driven efforts to prevent HIV infection, projects that adapt to the need of the communities they work in (I’m always amazed that this essential element of global development remains sometimes misunderstood and underestimated), and innovative new endeavors is some great coverage on current global health initiatives aimed at reducing HIV infections and AIDS progression.

What interesting pieces have you read lately?

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Filed under Child Development and Child Health, Education, Feminism, Health Education, International, Politics, Public Health, Sexism

I’m Rarely Speechless.

But I was reminded of an instance this past fall when I was. You know what’s one of my least favorite things to witness? People in positions of power, authority or supposed trust mocking those who come to them for help, advice, guidance, or wisdom. Last year, there was a pretty striking example of this in Spain, which got a fair amount of attention abroad but received minimal coverage here in the States. It was brought to my attention by Stephanie, and I’d shelved it for a few months since I had a lineup of things to chat about, but it most definitely deserves attention. I will say that this is old news, and I usually try to only post about current events – but it’s only old news in the world of Internet, as it happened a few months ago (September-October 2011). I think the issues it brings up are obviously still relevant and the fact remains that it never should have occurred to begin with.

The Spanish Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists published a comic strip in their newsletter depicting images of physicians mocking patients – the physicians are always male gynecologists, and the patients are always female, and always drawn as unattractive with exaggerated features and shown with enlargement of their reproductive organs and functions. The comics mock women for uterine prolapses, for being informed about the birth process, for wanting to following non-interventionist labor procedures, imply that sexual interest is behind a doctor pap-smearing a patient every three months, mock elderly women and portray women with questions as insufferable. The link to the images is here (you will have to select that you want to see the pdf in the upper right corner of the page) – but I want to give warning that the images are graphic and can be extremely insulting. The words are in Spanish, but even if you don’t have elementary skills in the language the images do a pretty sufficient job of getting the message across.

There was obvious outcry, and petitions passed by many, to denounce the comics and ask them to be removed. But I remain absolutely flabbergasted that these were ever drawn at all, much less published by an organization that ostensibly commits itself to women’s and maternal health. Communicating with one’s physician is difficult enough for many people (men and women alike), and by publishing this, the SSOG has confirmed what are the worst fears of many – that their doctor doesn’t respect them, thinks they are foolish, thinks that their reproductive health needs are disgusting or gross, assumes sexual activity equals promiscuity, dismisses them if they have questions or are informed, that their doctor finds alternative therapies laughable and unsound, and that they as patients do not deserve to be treated with dignity – not to mention reinforcing the age-old stereotype of male gynecologists being driven by sexual interest instead of scientific, medicinal inquiry (and in this instance, the woman on the receiving end of a doctor’s inappropriate pursuits lauds HPV as a virus community comprised of an elite ‘club’ of women who are sexually active). It is particularly trying that the implications of the  gender binary here was so clear – the males were the physicians, in charge, in the know, firmly in the power position, and the females were weak, uninformed, unaware, and their reproductive health was repellent and the stuff of slapstick humor. It’s just an egregious example of an abusive power dyad.

This kind of impression can completely shut down any channels of communication, limiting the physician-patient relationship in its ability to be a health education opportunity, an encouraging behavior change environment, and most importantly, a place of trust and confidence. I wanted to highlight this issue mainly because of these points – that the physician-patient relationship has always had real promise, but that it cannot be effective if it isn’t mutually respectful and the patients aren’t seen as worthy of having dignity. That this was published in 2011 is to me a devastating indication of how in some areas, this seems very far off.

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Filed under Defining Gender, Feminism, Gender Stereotyping, International, Public Health, Sexism

This Fight is Literally Never-Ending

The Center for Disease Control’s Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH) will lose $10 million in funding if the Fiscal Year 2012 Omnibus Appropriations bill, which sailed through the House of Reps, comes to be. And to kick the prevention specialists at DASH while they’re down, the funding for absitence-only “sex education” will make an unwelcome return.

The DASH has proven time and again that the CDC, as well as state health agencies, are capable of creating health education initiatives that teach students and adolescents the best ways to stay healthy and prevent both chronic and infectious diseases. They have worked with school districts as well as other governmental organizations to not only create effective STI-prevention and teen pregnancy prevention initiatives, but also do an incredible job of monitoring the risky behaviors that teens are currently engaging in across the United States – including substance use and abuse, sexual behavior, drunk driving, physical violence, and depression and suicide, as well as tracking the rates of victimization that teens experience in the form of sexual assault and dating violence. Understanding how common these behaviors are, knowing in what areas and regions they seem to erupt more intensely, and determining what demographics on a national level are at greatest risk for some of these behaviors is essential for targeted education and prevention initiatives.

Without these prevention strategies, and without the ability to track the rates of risky behaviors to know how to develop such strategies, we will be left to treat the consequences (STI care, HIV treatement and care, babies born to teen moms), which are of course ultimately far more expensive. The CDC has (or had) the resources as well as the expertise with its impressive body of scientists and researchers, to do so. And lest we forget, abstinence only education? Doesn’t do teens any favors, and in fact leaves them woefully misinformed in how they should protect themselves when they do ultimately engage in sexual activity.

RH Reality Check details this upsetting news here. On the heels of Sebelius’ decision, this has been a pretty devastating month for adolescents.

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Filed under Child Development and Child Health, Education, Epidemiology and Population Health, Health Education, Politics, Public Health, Sexism, Women's Health

Looking for More Attention? Drop Some lbs.

At least that’s what Skinny Water is promising in their latest advertisement, which I spotted yesterday. The ad shows a woman facing a throng of cameramen snapping her picture, elegant earrings dropping to the top of the headline which says: “Skinny Always Gets the Attention.” Take a look:

Thinspiration, thanks to Skinny Water

A close-up, to see all the text:

Close-up, for good measure.

Below the headline and photo of the various flavors, it also says “Zero calories, Zeor sugar, Zero Carbs, Zero Guilt.” With all that’s not in this water, you might wonder what it does offer. The website tells me that depending on the flavor of water, they’ve added vitamins B3, B5, B6, B12, C, A, and E. They’ve also thrown in magnesium, folic acid, calcium and/or potassium.

Despite trying to market itself as healthy, Skinny Water is instead perpetrating the cultural message that the best – nay, only – way to ensure that you get attention is by being skinny. This of course positions them well to try to push their product on those women who have been pulled into this lie. This ad tells us that the best way to skinny is not through healthy food choices and exercise and an understanding of what “skinny” means for our particular body type and shape, but essentially through fasting – which is what zero calorie drinks are the equivalent of.

In fact, Skinny Water is doing precisely the opposite of what a health-conscious company and product should be doing. Promoting the idea that those who are skinny deserve attention more than those who are not creates communities that support harmful diet-related behaviors and disordered eating for the goal of a wispy appearance . Not to mention reinforcing the ever-present undercurrent of disapproval of those who are overweight – or even normal weight! – and do not bow to the hierarchy of beauty that says those who are thin are the best. It’s just one more item in the laundry list of products that tell women their size and appearance are what is most important and will attract loyal friends and fans.

In defiance of that, let’s use our brains to remind ourselves why Skinny Water is wrong. While the website details the added vitamins and dietary minerals of each drink, it’s far better to get your needed supplements through a healthy diet rich in cruciferous  and dark and leafy vegetables, fruits, whole grain and lean proteins. Washed down, in fact, by regular old water that keeps you hydrated and helps your body process and absorb nutrients. Skinny Water is telling its buyers that by adding these vitamins and minerals to their product, one can cut out food entirely and survive on a calorie-free but vitamin-rich manipulated water diet. Don’t be fooled! (I know you aren’t. Hopefully, you’re equally horrified.) For example, the“Power,” “Sport” and “Fit” drinks are all fortified with calcium, magnesium, and potassium – to help activate metabolic enzymes, keep your blood regulated, and support strong bones and teeth. Do you know what else can do that?  Bananas, yogurt, kale, almonds and cashews, and quinoa. Frankly, there seems to be little difference between the “Power,” “Sport” and “Fit” drinks despite the claim that they each support different “goals” of the drinker - which lends support to the conclusion that these are madly marketed products that don’t substitute a healthy, well-rounded diet and instead are capitalizing on the now-entrenched notion that women care more about being skinny than anything else.

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Filed under Education, Feminism, Health Education, Media, Public Health, Sexism, Women's Health

Bill O’Reilly, You So Crazy

Oh, Bill. I never cease to be amazed by some of the things you teach me. For example, how the brutal and horrifying rampage in Norway was not committed by a Christian (despite the rambling Christianity-soaked manifesto, and your O’Reilly-esque insistence that all terrorist attacks are carried out by Muslims regardless of any indication of their Islamic faith), simply because you don’t think a Christian would do that. Or like how your three visits to Africa assured you that you just can’t “bring Western reasoning into the culture.” Oh, and that the ACLU is second only to Al-Qaeda in how dangerous and threatening it is. And that poverty is a result being lazy and irresponsible, and if you just work hard and go to school, then, you know, you’ll make bags and bags of money and be just fine regardless of anything else or circumstance. Which sounds totally on point, since you also taught me that conservatives “see things in black and white, and liberals see gray.” Which sounds like nuance, and uh-oh, you’ve made me see that nuance makes things complicated…

And this past week, O’Reilly taught me this: “Many women who get pregnant are blasted out of their minds when they have sex and [are] not going to use birth control anyway.”

(First of all, if the women O’Reilly and the men he knows are having sex with are blasted out of their mind, I’d be interested in hearing how that consent discussion went. Perhaps his definition of consent is a little hazy. Recall - if she’s too drunk to consent, it’s not consensual sex.) 

But back to what he’s taught me. With this latest statement, I’ve learned that women – regardless of their sobriety level – are exclusively the ones who need to be concerned with contraception and infection (and that, in fact, they do a terrible job of this). Only one person in a two-person sexual encounter is responsible for ensuring the woman doesn’t get pregnant (hint – it is not the man). He’s also informed me that contraception is something only considered the exact moment before a sexual encounter occurs – not hours or days or months before – just in that whisper of a moment before the magic happens. If O’Reilly had actually engaged in sexual activity with the woman he harassed, maybe he would have just crossed his fingers that she was both sober and using birth control and not have give it a second passing thought or considered it his concern. So let’s all just do the same moving forward.

More seriously now – it’s unconscionable that someone supposes men should be able to have sex with a woman (a drunk or sober one) whenever they want and also not have to worry about or share the burden of responsibility to avoid pregnancy. We need to utilize as many tools as we can to prevent pregnancy, and that prevention should be shared equally between the two partners engaging in sexual activity. It would be great if health insurance took the lead and incorporated 50% (or 100%, if they were so inclined) of the cost of a partner’s contraception of choice into a man’s health insurance plan. I think that would be even more of a fighting point than co-pays being covered under plans.

Nancy Northrup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, did a great job and broke it down over at CBS News about why the hysteria over insurers now eliminating co-pays for women with contraceptive prescriptions that is bubbling over is not actually all that hysterical. In fact, it’s something that 28 states require to be covered by health insurance, something already covered (with those pesky co-pays) by government health insurance, and something that 99% of all women have used, regardless of religious affiliation.

Additionally, under the Affordable Care Act, virtually all of us will be required to have or purchase health insurance (a contentious point, still, largely among Republicans, but others as well). With what will be an added cost to the personal budget of many Americans, let’s take a snapshot of what the cost of birth control is: the pill is up to $50 a month (over $500/year), the NuvaRing is up to $70 a month (over $800/year) $500 – $1,000 for an IUD; even the morning after pill, used if other birth control methods failed or were forgotten, costs up to $70.  If you are currently one of the millions without healthcare and one of the millions without a job and an income, these costs are likely to be the first that are cut as you struggle to keep you and your family afloat. However. Pre-natal care costs, the cost of delivery, well visits for a newborn – and, you know, the food and clothing needs of a baby – are not going to be cheaper than the contraception options. Bottom line – prevention can be costly, and beneficial to all. Absence of prevention is even more costly, and frequently puts a lot of burden on all parties involved.

Remember how in O’Reilly’s world everyone is super wasted when they’re having sex – too wasted to worry about a condom? All these methods – the IUD, the birth control pill, the NuvaRing – can be taken or inserted well before sex. Some don’t ever come out, some devices like the NuvaRing are changed monthly. This is why these are called preventive measures. You are utilizing them well before you engage in sexual activity, so when you’re in O’Reilly’s alcohol-soaked sex fiesta and about to engage in consensual sexual activity, pregnancy is already well on the way of being stopped in its tracks. (Not STIs, let’s not forget. None of these protect against sexually transmitted diseases.) His excuse that they aren’t thinking about using contraception holds no water in the argument of preventive techniques like these that take the worry about pregnancy prevention out of the immediate sexual encounter (not 100%, though – no method is 100% effective, and I actually recommend using one of these birth control methods as well as condoms). I’d also add here that many women when drunk are still concerned with pregnancy prevention, so that weasle-y move of trying to make intoxicated women look like reckless players shooting for a fertilized egg is also inaccurate.

Bill’s “black and white” take on the issue of contraception seems to boil down to: women need to pay for their birth control, they need to pay for their pre-natal care costs and gynecological exams, they need to pay for the cost of having the baby. But the fetus was not put there by her alone. The desire to not get pregnant is not hers alone. Communicative partnerships and cost coverage in these areas leading to happy, healthy mothers and children would benefit everyone.

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Filed under Defining Gender, Feminism, Health Education, Media, Politics, Pop Culture, Public Health, Sexism, Women's Health

Yes, Summer’s Eve has Bad Marketing. Oh, and the Product is Not Good for You.

In light of all the on-point criticism of the ridiculous feminine hygiene ads and how they portray a woman’s relationship with her reproductive organs, I think we should point out a couple things.

First, douching is actually not good for you – it disrupts the balance of good versus not so good bacteria, which maintains a certain acidity level and in turn is key to a healthy vagina. Douching can destroy this careful equilibrium, causing an over-growth of the bad bacteria. This can lead to yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis; both of which are uncomfortable and cause symptoms that are more disruptive than the non-existent issues one thought they were getting rid of in the first place. More dangerously, douching can actually force unhealthy bacteria up into the uterus and ovaries, which if untreated can lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). This, more disturbingly, can cause infertility issues. While this may be rare, why risk the possibility by doing something that is unnecessary at best, but very damaging at worst?

The Summer’s Eve website has an “education” section, which does point out that some regular discharge is normal and offers some good snippets about the importance of wearing 100% cotton underwear. However, in their advice about yeast infections, they include “don’t sit around in a wet bathing suit,” “eat berries and yogurt often,” “don’t wear tight-fitting, non-breathable clothes,” and “eat less sugar,” concluding the list with “use pH-balanced washes formulated for the vaginal area.” Up to that last point, the list was fairly on target. In fact, the list I’ve gotten from my gyno every year has read very much the same with the exception of that last line. In fact, their advice has always been along the lines of: “do not use washes formulated for the vaginal area, even if they say they are pH-balanced, because your body balances that pH like a pro on its own.” Summer’s Eve says their products have been dermatologist and gynecologist tested – not only would I be interested in what that test entailed, but I have a sneaking suspicion that the conclusion was along the lines of “this isn’t going to kill you, no, but…” Especially since the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as a body of physicians do not recommend douching. I am more inclined to trust them than a Summer’s Eve label.

Interestingly, the site does admit that the vagina is like a “self-cleaning oven.” So…why do I need this product again?

Women and their reproductive organs have thrived for thousands of years. Those reproductive organs have done a remarkably efficient job of cleaning themselves all those years without the “help” of douching projects. It doesn’t take a genius to deduce that these people are trying to tell women that their vagina is supposed to smell like a Laura Ashley store. It’s not. It should look and smell the way it has for centuries. Vaginas have spawned babies for generations without the help of branding and perfume, and it seems the marketing efforts could be better spent educating men and women that the vagina isn’t supposed to be the fertile ground of daisy chain making and delicate blossoms.

Also, referring to your vagina as your “friend down under” seems a bit creepy. It’s not something that has its own personality, its own social life, its own favorite foods and activities. Better to think of it as a part of you, which it is, and the foundation of your holistic health as a woman.

Bottom line – if something seems off down there, swabbing it to make it smell like a field of marigolds is not the right course of action. Seeing your gynecologist is.

p.s. follow me on Twitter here!

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Filed under Defining Gender, Feminism, Health Education, Media, Public Health, Reproductive and Sexual Health, Women's Health