Posted by: trmptmvn | November 30, 2010

Working at BYU is a pretty good gig…

I love attending Brigham Young University.  I have had many great experiences during my schooling here and have learned a lot about myself and what is important to me.  I found a major that I believe in and hope that I can make difference one day through Public Health.  It was only last semester though that I discovered a cool program that is available to BYU faculty and staff – BYU Wellness.  This program offers events to attend such as screenings, seminars, activities, and exercise classes, in addition to information on exercise, weight management, sleep/stress management, and disease risk/prevention.  What seems to be this websites main plug right now is the Holiday Weight Challenge – The Season of Giving, Not Gaining.  Clever much?  I applaud BYU for offering this program to those they employ, one, because it’s smart to keep your employees healthy, and two, because that is just an upright thing to do.

Since not everybody can be employed by BYU, here is a website that give you a quote for a wellness program where you work.  If you get a wellness program implemented at your place of employ you will be making it easier on yourself and others to make important health behavior changes.  Who wouldn’t want to make change easier!

Just an after thought….

Go Cougars!

Posted by: trmptmvn | November 30, 2010

Are Your Friends Making You Fat?

This was the question posed by Clive Thompson of The New York Times.  So here I am again talking about the social contagion idea.  I think it’s the real deal, and so do social scientists Nicholas Christakis and James Fowler.  You can find Thompson’s article here.  There is a ton of information in this article, but it’s tons of very intriguing information, which makes summarizing this article challenging but I’ll give it a shot anyways:

Christakis and Fowler were in desperate need of a large (and I mean large) data set so that they could study the connections between people and whether or not social contagions could spread using these networks, and fortunately for them they came across the Framingham Heart Study (more specific info on that study can be found at that link) which was exactly what they needed.  The Framingham Heart Study is the nation’s most ambitious project to understand the roots of heart disease.  Founded in 1948 by the National Heart Institute, the study has followed more than 15,000 Framingham residents and their descendants, bringing them in to a doctor’s office every four years, on average, for a comprehensive physical.  Each time residents are examined, every aspect of their health is quantified and collected: heart rate, weight, blood levels and more.  Over the decades, the Framingham study has yielded a gold mine of information about risk factors for heart disease.  Christakis and Fowler, from this study, created a map of the connections between the people in this study and were able to make some exciting (and even amusing) conclusions.  The following are quotes from the article, all of which articulate some of their conclusions better than I can:

“In their coming book, “Connected”, on their findings, Christakis and Fowler put it like this: “You may not know him personally, but your friend’s husband’s co-worker can make you fat. And your sister’s friend’s boyfriend can make you thin.””

“Obesity was just the beginning (of what was connected), social drinking, smoking, happiness, loneliness also had connections”

“…Christakis and Fowler hypothesize that these behaviors spread partly through the subconscious social signals that we pick up from those around us, which serve as cues to what is considered normal behavior.”

“Happiness is more contagious than unhappiness.”   (This one sets me at ease a little…)

“For most of us, within three degrees we are connected to more than 1,000 people — all of whom we can theoretically help make healthier, fitter and happier just by our contagious example. “If someone tells you that you can influence 1,000 people,” Fowler said, “it changes your way of seeing the world.””

If you think just those quotes is a lot to think about, try reading the whole article.  Oh man.  Regardless, I think the efforts and research of these two men is extraordinary, despite the fact that some (even those in the public health field) are not convinced by their extensive research.  Many of Christakis and Fowler’s peers put stock into the idea of a social contagion but need more definitive research on the methods of spread.  I sincerely hope that such definitive research will become possible soon because the networks we have with the people around us are an excellent tool to help ourselves and others to make behavior changes.

What do you think about Christakis and Fowler’s study?  Do you think the social contagion could be a tool for good?

Birds of a Feather

Posted by: trmptmvn | November 30, 2010

Stages of Change

The American Academy of Family Physicians wrote a paper under the “practical therapeutics” umbrella in March 2000, and I’m so glad I came across it.  It is titled “A ‘Stages of Change’ Approach to Helping Patients Change Behavior”, which is convenient for me – obviously I’m not a physician so I can use their words to tell you how best to change your behavior instead of using my mere still-in-college understanding of this topic to hopefully steer in the mostly correct direction.

(No worries, people, I’m not making this stuff up as I go.  This topic is important to me, so I wouldn’t make light of it.)

For the record, I would suggest that you read the paper (it’s not even that long), because these steps will make more sense in context.  Regardless, here they are with a little bit of explanation:

1) Precontemplation: Patient not thinking about change; May be resigned; No feeling of control; Denial: does not believe it applies to self; Believes consequences are not serious

2) Contemplation: Weighing costs and benefits of behavior, proposed change

3) Preparation: Experimenting with small changes

4) Maintenance: Maintaining new behavior over time

5) Relapse: Experiencing normal part of process of change; usually feels demoralizing

Now these stages are transtheoretical, so if you are interested in what theories/models are involved with these stages, again, check out the link.  Upon doing a little more research into the stages of change I found that there are always five stages but the name for each stage can vary, as evidenced here.

I think that using these stages to monitor progress can be beneficial to physicians because they can give specific instructions to their patient during each stage so that the patient has a better chance to successfully change their behavior.  Even without a physician helping, a person to change could make use of these stages and perhaps have an easier time getting through the stages with this knowledge.  Would you agree or disagree?

Posted by: trmptmvn | November 30, 2010

Great American Smoke Out

So I’m about two weeks late, but I still want to call attention the Great American Smoke Out.  I heard about this in my weekly Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report email, and here is the link to where I’m getting my info about it.

The following is a quote from the article: “The Great American Smokeout (GASO), sponsored by the American Cancer Society, is an annual event that encourages smokers to quit for at least 1 day in the hope that this might challenge them to stop permanently. This year, GASO will be held on November 18.”  I think events like this are wonderful because they give people a definitive day to think “okay, I’m going to try to quit”, instead of saying to themselves “yeah, I want to quit, and I will soon…”.  We all know where “…and I will soon” is going – no where.  Quitting smoking is very hard, and the statistics about smoking are pretty bleak.

According to CDC’s page on smoking and tobacco use in 2009 the percentage of adults aged 18 years and over who were current smokers was 20.6%, and obviously that percentage doesn’t include the teenagers who are also smoking.  About 443,000 deaths are attributable each year to cigarette smoking.  How horrible and silly is that?  Really?  People know smoking is bad for them but they continue to smoke.  Behavior change is needed in a very serious way when it comes to smoking, and not just in the sense that people need to stop smoking for their health.  People need to decide to not be complacent concerning the Tobacco Industry and the lies they spread.  Don’t let them tell you what is correct – they are selling you a product that is killing you, and making a ton of money doing so.  Discover the facts from sources that don’t have millions of dollars hanging in the balance.  I suspect if you do that you’ll find plenty of reasons to make a change and quit smoking.

So this was something just plain crazy that I found while I was looking up cigarette stats, check out this link about the “most expensive cigarettes”, made by Lucky Strike cigarettes.  The picture is pretty, uh, telling.

Posted by: trmptmvn | November 29, 2010

Smoking, Obesity, and maybe happiness too

So this article largely inspired the name I gave my blog, “Be Happy, People.”  My apologies for waiting until now to share it with you guys.

This article is just excellent.  I found it in passing, actually while I was looking for another article, and found it to be very interesting mainly because the reader never gets a solid answer on whether or not happiness can definitively be influenced by their social network.  Normally, I’m pretty annoyed when I don’t get a firm yea or nay on an issue that affects me personally – I want to be happy as often as possible!  For me though, the difference with this article is that even if more research is done and they find that this happiness contagion isn’t exactly supported with solid research, that doesn’t really matter, just be happy anyways.  There is no harm in happiness, and I believe it will benefit our health even without official scientific documentation saying it will.

This chart comes from the page the article is on.  It shows how much our chance of being happy increases based on the relationship we have with people nearby.

Obviously, this post is geared more towards our responsibility to be keepers of our personal health.  I believe that as we strive to keep ourselves healthy, our example will encourage others to follow in our footsteps and make changes in their lives.  Actions really do speak louder than words.

So do you buy into the “social contagion” idea, why or not?  What do you think could be accomplished if this contagion had as much influence as, say, the passing of health legislation??

Posted by: trmptmvn | November 21, 2010

Bhopal

Alright, I’d like to preface my preface by saying I hope that you can follow my train of thought with this post.  I was really touched by all the aspects of this post and I hope that it might inspire you too, because I feel like they all tie together nicely.

Okay, next is my regular preface: this post is going to be quite a bit different than the others.  In fact, its almost a stretch on staying on topic, but I feel like I should add it anyways.  I hope you find it meaningful.

Thursday, November 18th was quite the public health day for me.  Many public health students at BYU attended a lecture by Ken Kyle, a master of public policy advocacy and (likely) public enemy #1 as far as the tobacco industry in Canada is concerned.  I very much enjoyed his lecture and I feel like his take-home message was that while public health advocates/teachers/whatever you want to call them are truly important and helpful, just getting one piece of health legislation passed will have a much greater impact on people deciding to change their behavior.

So I was thinking about that off and on throughout the day, wondering how I felt about that statement.  Later that night I was watching the end of basketball game on ESPN and some commercials for a show called E:60 came on.  Now I don’t profess to be an ESPN fanatic, but I was curious what the show was about so I decided to watch it when it came on.  In short, this show is about people who find themselves in interesting/hard circumstances but still enjoying the sports they love.

One of the stories this show highlighted was about children who love playing cricket in Bhopal, India.  The reason this story struck me is because these children are playing on amongst the ruins of the Union Carbide pesticide plant that was the cause of the world’s worst industrial catastrophe.  This plant leaked a toxic gas during the night in December 1984 that killed thousands and left many more thousands with disabling injuries.  The specific plot of land where these children play contains 300 – 400 times more HCH (the pesticide the plant produced) than the US allows to be in the ground.  These children have nowhere else to play cricket and playing cricket is all they have that brings them happiness.  Many of the children who play cricket there have disabling injuries, despite the accident taking place 26 years ago.  I’m not saying I have a solution to the problem, but I am saying that if legislation had been passed that something would have been done by now to prevent more people from getting sick.  Twenty-six years is a very long time to live with the results of that disaster, and many more years will pass where parents will have to watch their children suffer from birth defects, emphysema, and cancer due to this tragedy.

I went to bed that night thinking, “yes, legislation really is powerful, and yes, it probably does do more for behavior change than even the most well-meaning, educated, and driven people.”  Do you agree or disagree?

Here you can watch the video from ESPN and you can find more information about the disaster that took place in Bhopal here.  Please, at least watch the video, the images are very powerful.

Posted by: trmptmvn | October 31, 2010

November: American Diabetes Month

Yes, I am jumping the gun a bit (by the way, Happy Halloween!), but I was excited when I found out that November is American Diabetes month.  I found out from the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) that I get weekly in an email (see more about that below).  Here is the link to the article – it’s short, sweet, and to the point.

An interesting but sad quote from the article is as follows; “Although rates of diabetes-related complications… have declined, the number of persons in the United States with diabetes is projected to double or triple by 2050 if current trends in diabetes prevalence continue.”

Considering two of the best ways to delay or prevent diabetes are weight loss and physical activity, it is a sad truth that diabetes will likely continue to rise if those among us do not choose to make changes in their behavior.

I personally know a family who has had diabetes change their lives.  This family is good friends of my family, in fact, I have many fond memories growing up with the children in that family.  Their father was a military man with a booming voice, an interesting but enjoyable sense of humor, and much faith in God.  He was a very tall and strong man but also very overweight.  He was taking a number of medications for his relatively poor health considering his age.  Taking his wife completely by surprise one day last April he needed to be rushed to the hospital because of a heart complication.  He passed away the next day, with his only daughter and two of his three sons far away from home and unable to be with him.  His family was immediately embraced with warmth, love,  many kind words and helping hands in their time of need.  I dearly miss this man, who I have many fond memories of.  I sincerely believe that if he had worked to start getting his weight more under control, even if he had only started a couple months before his untimely death, that he would still be with us today.  Have the courage to be the person that says “you need to get your weight under control.”  Nobody wants to hear that or be the one to say it, but there are too many people in our circle of friends or in our families that need someone who loves them to help them change.  It is hard to be sure, but it is harder to lose that friend or family member.

Knowledge is power, so please look at this website which has a list of Type 2 Diabetes risk factors.  Be brave and help someone you love to change their behavior and perhaps save their life.

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If you would like to get the MMWR, you can at this website. Click “free electronic subscription” which is right under MMWR subscriptions.  Once you’re subscribed, I would definitely check out the “subscriber preference page” since you can use that to narrow down what topics you are most interested in.

Posted by: trmptmvn | October 29, 2010

Purpose, goal, and hope

I have a hard time blogging.  That’s just how it goes with me I suppose.  I am excited for the opportunity that has been presented to me to with this blog though and I hope that it can be all I want it to be.  While thinking about what my “opening statement” should be, not surprisingly I was lead to wonder what I want those who visit to take from this blog.  It took quite awhile, but I’ve come up with a purpose, a goal, and a hope for my blog:

My purpose is to show through scientific research and real-life examples how our personal behavior and the behavior of people we interact with truly does influence our health decisions, for good or ill.

My goal is to have stories and research and whatever else I can find that run the gamut.  I want everyone to be able to think of a family member, dear friend, or simple acquaintance with a specific health problem who’s life could be bettered if they made a change in their behavior.  I want this to hit home for everyone.

My hope is that in one way or another those who read this blog will be inspired to help the person that they know to change their behavior.  There is a lot of love in this world and helping another person to travel the often lonely road of personal change is a beautiful and very meaningful way to show love.

There are so many ways to help those struggling (whether they realize/will admit they are struggling or not) with a health problem.  Be an example of healthy living for others.  Help family and friends to find answers to health questions or concerns from reputable sources.  (I would suggest WebMD)  Be there to support them when they need it and offer help whenever possible.  Suggest they document their progress somehow, perhaps with a WordPress blog so that they can reflect on their struggles and triumphs.  And probably most importantly love them, because they need to know they are loved before they will have the desire to change.

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