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Health communication about eating sugar and wrinkles

August 29, 2012

Another one of those incomplete messages came my way. I was reading again while waiting for a meeting. And the headline was ‘Face facts about sugar.’ There it was. A statement, with no link to the published medical research and no mention of a journal it was published in. The magazine is a 2012 one. But when I went to search for research related to the idea that “Consuming sweets can damage skin’s collagen”–the article’s claim–I found research that was published in 1998 and conducted on male rats [see]. OK, interesting. But it seems worthy of at least a descriptive study in humans. And worthy of including female humans. While we might not want to volunteer for a randomized clinical trial in which we get assigned to a group that eats, let’s say, the amount of sugar that is ‘average’ or eats no sugar at all, it seems like there may be some ‘natural’ study groups out there to observe and survey. Folks who simply don’t eat sugar or eat very little sugar. Let them provide photos of their faces, or some lab work relating to collagen levels. Compare the results to a group that eats more ‘normal’ levels of sugar. Factor in whether they are male or female, how old they are, and a few of the other correlates related to collagen–such as lifetime sun exposure [see, for example,].  It would be interesting to ‘see’ if there are differences in the appearance and would give us some actual ‘human’ face facts.


Another possible positive reason to drink coffee

April 14, 2012

A beautiful new granddaughter came into my life one week ago. And I am reminded of the meaning of sleep deprivation. And I am happy that I enjoy a good cup of dark roast coffee. Sitting in the piles of research I have been reviewing was an article about the incidence of gout in women and drinking coffee [see]. Following the behaviors of 89,433 women across time, 896 cases of gout were confirmed in the women, or about 1% of the women being followed. These women were found to consume less coffee than women who did not experience gout… I thought coffee drinkers among us would want to know this and talk about the possible health benefit with other coffee drinkers as well…

When the rubber meets the road and a health message includes numbers

February 8, 2012

  I am reading some research about how math anxiety leads us to avoid doing things that   might have math or numbers included. I read one study where it all came rushing back to me. I was a freshman at the University of Michigan and taking the first of three classes in calculus. I didn’t quite understand some of the homework, so I visited the graduate teaching assistant’s office and was told, “If you don’t understand this, you better get out while you can ‘cuz it only gets harder.” I wasn’t feeling anxious about math until that meeting. In fact, I have always loved math and have a high aptitude for math. But worry and anxiety washed over me. There was no one to ask about this that I knew. It was my second week at a huge university with 10s of thousands of students. The TA must know what he was talking about. I dropped the class. Only to pick it up again and complete the three calculus courses with success later.

Still, I read the research conducted by Jackson and colleagues and that experience came flooding back, as the researchers found that at the college level, especially freshman year, “Students were told to leave class if they did not understand the material.”

Perhaps such experiences and our own love for math and science leads us to spend time with our granddaughter and grandson doing math. Making it a game more often than not, with me playing with my grandson–who will be 4 years old in the next week–counting and arranging and rearranging.                                                               

Old science, new science, and conflicting science about coffee and caffeine–and health

January 12, 2012

Shortly before the holidays, I heard Dr. Oz talking about coffee. He played a game with audience members and emphasized that coarsely ground, light roast coffee made with cold water and NEVER microwaved is best when aiming for the benefits of coffee. Benefits? I thought. Isn’t it interesting how different stories emphasize different results?

On the hunt for the science I went. In 2009, a study reported that 3-5 cups of coffee a day related to a reduced risk –65% less — for dementia and Alzheimer’s disease [].

I was reminded of my discussion in my book, Talking about health, about old science, new science, conflicting science, and no science. I went online in search of some more science to discuss the coffee and caffeine health benefits. I found the Dr. Oz story:

An article in 1990 reports findings that the participants who reported drinking more coffee had a higher incidence of colon cancer []. 

A study reported in 1993 found no relationship between more than 34,000 women’s reports of caffeine consumption and breast cancer [].

In 2007, a study found that 2 cups of black tea or decaf. coffee each day related to reduced risk for ovarian cancer, but regular coffee did not show this relationship. Again, women self-reported their behaviors [].

Also in 2007, a study found that drinking 2 cups a day of regular coffee greatly reduced — 43% — risk for liver cancer [].

What does it all mean? Talking about health means thinking about when a study was conducted, who particpated, and how the research was done. Self-reports are different from clinical studies. I don’t know of any clinical trials where participants are given coffee over time and compared to participants who do not consume coffee. So the research depends on individuals reporting how much coffee they drink. And then clinical reports about their health status provide a picture of what might be making a difference in the health of some compared to others. So when talking about health, don’t lose sight of the meaning of shorthand expressions like, ‘drinking 2 cups of coffee a day reduces your risk for cancer’…

Could a cold shower reduce depressive symptoms?

November 29, 2011

I cannot say where I heard this recently. Something in the background while I was working at my computer. But it stuck in my brain. It was a report indicating that research had shown that taking a cold shower could improve mood. It didn’t say what research. Nothing new there…

I began to think about all the camping trips when showers were unavailable but a cold lake or river was nearby and provided a bathing experience. I thought about jumping into swimming pools with cold water. And I remembered camping facilities where the showers offered only cold water. Funny. As I thought about it, in every case I was in a better mood coming out than going in. I thought it was because I got the day’s sweat and dirt off me or had a nice workout swimming, but maybe not.

Since this stayed with me over the past several weeks while I have been buried under papers and research and teaching, I decided to take a break and look up the research. I found a journal that presented a research question and rationale in 2008:  The researchers argue for a study to systematically consider the possible relationship. I cannot find where such a study has been conducted. If you find it, let me know… Inquiring minds want to know.

In the meantime, here is something beautiful to behold:

O-meg-a… How to talk about nutrition and omega 3?

August 17, 2011

As my husband completed his annual check-up this year, the doctor adivsed him to increase his intake of omega 3. So my ears perked up when Dr. Oz talked about the supplement [].

As with all supplements, it can be challenging to judge products and make informed decisions about their use. And this is not exception. There is a great example of this in where a nutritionist gives a different point of view than Dr. Oz gave about omega 3.

This is what I appreciated about this summary.

First, it does not present a recommendation that is EITHER — OR… Instead, it carefully describes omega 3 options. As a result, I am left feeling better informed about how to judge products containing omega 3.

Second, it provides research summaries, including the citations to the scientific articles that support the discussion. I was able to search out some of the work and get even better informed about omega 3. This helps me be a better consumer of this supplement and gives me confidence to talk to my husband about using omega 3…


What’s new under the sun?

April 20, 2011   GUEST BLOG POST by Caroline Gilson 
Over the years, the desire to be tan led to use of tanning beds. Somehow, tanned skin is seen to be sexy and attractive. As many people have continuously begun to be “addicted” to tanning beds, their skin has been put in a dangerous environment.
Tanning beds have a different type of UV rays called UV-B rays. UV-B rays are more harmful to the skin than the sun’s UV rays.  
The dangers of tanning beds have caused the need for educational programs to educate the public about the health concerns involving tanning beds. Research studies have been done to find out the best way to communicate about the tanning beds. One study in particular looked at the use of narratives, and statistics. (
This particular study discovered that both statistics and narratives could be effective in educating individuals about the dangers of tanning beds. Specific stories about real life people seem to grab people’s attention. Statistics about tanning beds on top of narratives help with persuasion and education about tanning beds.
The research has been done and now it is time to effectively educate the public about the risks of tanning beds. Hopefully, through health communication, society will make better health decisions…  

How does the media create compassion fatigue?

March 22, 2011

When we are traumatized by someone else’s trauma, we may experience compassion fatigue. While I discussed this in an earlier post in terms of vacations and leisure], it is worth talking about in terms of so many images and messages relating to Japan’s earthquake[s], tsunami[s], and nuclear power threats…  I daresay that anyone who has watched the news over the past week is experiencing compassion fatigue. How could we not be? The images are heartbreaking, frightening, and constant…

Susan Mieller, author of the book–Compassion Fatigue–[interview about the book at /compassion.html] emphasizes the role of media in creating this condition. We have to focus on what we can do and not what we cannot do. We cannot go backwards and second guess decisions about how nuclear power plants in Japan have been maintained. We can do what we can do to help the Japanese people…even if it means watching ‘American Idol’ for a bit of distraction and downloading some music. We can try to understand the role of nuclear power in providing energy in the U.S. and seek direct answers about how the existing plants have been maintained…

Why is belly fat bad for your health?

March 17, 2011

I guess we would have to be living under a rock not to have heard health messages about belly fat. What I remember hearing the most is something like, “Belly fat is bad for you.” or “You want to concentrate on that belly fat.”  And what I really got out of the messages had to do more with how we look–that belly fat is not attractive–than how it relates to health. I had seen a number of programs addressing how to get rid of belly fat [] but never really made a connection with why in terms of health. Until the other day…

I can’t even say what program was on as I was making a meal but I heard them say that belly fat is especially harmful for our health because it is fat that works it way between and around our organs. That it literally does harm by wrapping our kidneys, liver, and intestines in fat… that was a rather horrifying image. The program went on to say that one cannot have belly fat liposuctioned away…because it is wrapping and twisting its way through our insides. The fat that can be liposuctioned away is just beneath the skin… [see this for a discussion,]

To me, this is an example of one of those messages that needs to be clearer. I especially think that men are being shown as at risk for having belly fat…but the emphasis is too often placed on how the men look and not on what is really happening inside their bodies when the pounds add up around their middles…

Or will it be Pennsylvania trout that will be the canary in the mine for Marcellus shale?

February 22, 2011

There appears to be no shortage of articles about concerns relating to the environment and Marcellus shale drilling in Pennsylvania[e.g.,]. Fewer concrete examples exist of action in this area. One exception is the organization, Trout Unlimited. The organization is partnering with the State, where loss of funding and the economy has contributed to challenges in efforts to collect data regarding water quality in the State’s streams [].

Volunteers will be trained to collect water samples. That is an important first step. It is less clear what happens next. Where will the samples be evaluated? How will data be stored? It is important to plan for consistency and to identify now any problems related to evaluating the water samples. If we fail to plan now, then the findings will be suspect later. So certification of the folks collecting the water samples is important. But we don’t want their hard work and training to be lost in warehouses where samples stockpile with no one to evaluate and track them. We also don’t want results to be discounted because the assessment of samples isn’t consistent or valid…

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