Category Archives: Health & Society Scholars 10th Anniversary

Aug 24 2012
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Science, Through a Policy-Maker's Lens

Allison Aiello, PhD, MS, is an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health, and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program. This post is part of a series on the program, running in conjunction with its tenth anniversary.  The RWJF Health & Society Scholars program is designed to build the nation’s capacity for research, leadership and policy change to address the multiple determinants of population health.

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You’ve seen it, used it, and probably even bought it. Its manufacturer claims it keeps your hands free of bacteria, and that it works better than regular old soap. For a couple decades now, Americans have been encouraged by soap manufacturers to buy anti-bacterial hand and bath soap, and many of us have taken them up on it, judging from its ubiquity on store shelves. It comes in pump bottles as well as traditional hand and bath bars, all relying on a similar active ingredient, a chemical called triclosan in liquid soaps and triclocarban in bar soaps. In fact, you can find triclosan in a range of hygiene products, including deodorants, toothpastes, mouthwashes, and more.

The marketing message behind all of them is the same: By killing bacteria—or more accurately, by stopping it from reproducing—the stuff makes us cleaner and safer.

Alas, I’ve spent years researching triclosan, and I can tell you that it’s not nearly so simple. Triclosan may have its uses, but as a soap additive, the bulk of the evidence is that it offers no particular advantage over using regular soap, while posing some worrisome threats to health and the environment. Given that, it’s a mystery to me why it’s allowed on the market years after the problems with it first came to light.

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Aug 8 2012
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Revolutionary Gerontology: The Intergenerational Questions

Cleopatra M. Abdou, PhD, is an assistant professor of gerontology at the University of Southern California, and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program. This post is part of a series on the RWJF Health & Society Scholars program, running in conjunction with the program’s tenth anniversary.  The RWJF Health & Society Scholars program is designed to build the nation’s capacity for research, leadership and policy change to address the multiple determinants of population health.

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Gerontology, the study of aging, is a diverse field that integrates the biological, social-behavioral, and health sciences, as well as public policy. This means that gerontological research addresses a vast range of questions. One type of question asked by gerontologists, including myself, has to do with intergenerational processes. My own research investigates the intergenerational transmission of culture, social identities, conceptions of stress and success, and, ultimately, health. For example, how do our notions of, and relationships to, family affect our health at critical points in the lifespan? More specifically, how do familial roles and responsibilities, such as marrying, reproducing, and caring for grandchildren, correlate with life satisfaction and longevity?

My four siblings and I are the first American-born generation in our family. Our parents came to the United States from Egypt in 1969, and I am strongly identified as both an American and an Egyptian. Anyone who has complex or competing identities knows that it’s a mixed bag—a blessing and a curse. Recently, as I boarded a plane in Cairo to return to the United States, I found myself sobbing with what I think was a kind of homesickness. As happy as I was to return to my immediate family and orderly life in The States, I mourned leaving the land of my parents and all of our parents before them, especially during this important time in Egypt’s history.

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Jun 25 2012
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Linking, Exploring and Understanding Population Health Data

By Michael Bader, PhD, an assistant professor of sociology at American University and an alumnus of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program (2009-2011). His scholarship centers on racial and economic segregation and how unequal neighborhoods might lead to health and nutrition disparities. His recent research focuses on the ways in which people interact within the built environment and how to measure the built environment. This post is part of a series on the RWJF Health & Society Scholars program, running in conjunction with the program’s tenth anniversary. The RWJF Health & Society Scholars program is designed to build the nation’s capacity for research, leadership and policy change to address the multiple determinants of population health.

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Data are the sustenance of population health research, and like the food that sustains us, it comes in many forms, shapes and sizes. Also like food, it's best appreciated in combination. A single data source in the absence of context is unfulfilling; but combining datasets that are rich with information and contours — now that's a meal!

One thing I've learned from collecting and interpreting population health data is that not all data sets are created equal. Pundits of late adore "big data"—the troves of market, network and geographic data extracted from our social media accounts. Population health research must learn to harness these tools, while at the same time being careful to avoid blind acceptance of their value.

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Jun 22 2012
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Same-Sex Marriage Policies Harm LGBT Health

By Mark L. Hatzenbuehler, PhD, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholar at Columbia University. This post is part of a series on the RWJF Health & Society Scholars program, running in conjunction with the program’s tenth anniversary. The RWJF Health & Society Scholars program is designed to build the nation’s capacity for research, leadership and policy change to address the multiple determinants of population health. Hatzenbuehler is a member of the program’s 8th cohort.

Mark Hatzenbuehler

The topic of same-sex marriage in the United States was once again front and center in the public discourse several weeks ago when North Carolina joined 30 other states in banning same-sex marriage. The debates surrounding same-sex marriage policies have been waged on many grounds—moral, legal, religious, and economic. Conspicuously absent from this debate has been a discussion of whether same-sex marriage bans harm the health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals.

In a New York Times article from May 11, Gary Pearce, a former advisor to Jim Hunt, a Democratic governor in North Carolina, explained that those who voted against same-sex marriage “genuinely and honestly believe it violates their fundamental religious beliefs.” He added, “They don’t really want to hurt people.”

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Jun 13 2012
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Examining Suicide from a Population Health Perspective

By Matt Wray, PhD, MA, an associate professor of sociology at Temple University and an alumnus of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars program (2006-2008). His research and teaching interests include the social determinants of health, cultural sociology, and the sociology of race and ethnicity. This post is part of a series on the RWJF Health & Society Scholars program, running in conjunction with the program’s tenth anniversary. The RWJF Health & Society Scholars program is designed to build the nation’s capacity for research, leadership and policy change to address the multiple determinants of population health.

Matt Wray

Consider two recent suicides that made headlines around the globe: In January of 2011, after authorities confiscated his belongings, beat and humiliated him, Mohamed Boazizi set himself ablaze in frustration and protest. Boauzizi was a 26-year-old fruit vendor, scratching out just enough money to feed a family of eight, despite unchecked harassment by local authorities. His self-immolation after harassment at the hands of Tunisian authorities helped trigger the Tunisian Revolution, and in turn, the Arab Spring.

In April 2012, Dmitris Christoulis, a 77-year old retired pharmacist in Athens, shot himself outside the Greek Parliament building, in what the New York Times described as "despair over his financial problems [in] this austerity-weary country." Greek media reported that he suffered from health problems and struggled to pay for his medications. He left a suicide note saying he could not face "scavenging through garbage bins for food and becoming a burden to my child.”

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Jun 11 2012
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Mindfulness and Yoga for Disadvantaged Urban Youth

Tamar Mendelson, PhD, is an assistant professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and an alumnus of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program (2004-2006). Her research interests include the development of prevention and intervention strategies for reducing mental health problems, with a focus on underserved urban populations. This post is part of a series on the RWJF Health & Society Scholars program, running in conjunction with the program’s tenth anniversary. The RWJF Health & Society Scholars program is designed to build the nation’s capacity for research, leadership and policy change to address the multiple determinants of population health. Mendelson is a member of the program’s 2nd cohort.

Tamar Mendelson
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Anyone who's ever spread a yoga mat across a floor will tell you that it's about more than flexibility. One of many benefits of yoga is that it helps those who practice it deal with stress in their lives. An emerging body of research points to the conclusion that yoga can have a stress-relieving effect.

One problem with the research base is that it's mostly focused on adults. But grown-ups aren’t the only ones who deal with stress in their lives. Children face it as well, and they often do it without the same resources—emotional, financial and otherwise—that adults have.

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Jun 4 2012
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Does Fear of Being Labeled "Difficult" Prevent Patients from Expressing Themselves to Doctors?

Dominick L. Frosch, PhD, is an alumnus of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program, and the recipient of an RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research. He is an associate investigator at the Department of Health Services Research at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute, and associate professor of medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. Frosch recently led a study, published in Health Affairs, which examined the reasons patients are reluctant to engage in shared decision making. This post is part of a series on the RWJF Health & Society Scholars program, running in conjunction with the program’s tenth anniversary. The RWJF Health & Society Scholars program is designed to build the nation’s capacity for research, leadership and policy change to address the multiple determinants of population health.

Dominick Frosch

Human Capital Blog: Why did you decide to look at this issue?

Dominick Frosch: The role of patients is really changing and, especially over the last decade, we’ve seen a growing emphasis on patient participation in clinical decision making. It’s especially prominent in what we call preference-sensitive care, where patients have multiple potential options for treatment, but the evidence doesn’t identify a clear, superior choice. Making a decision in these cases involves considering the trade-offs between benefits and risks. There’s growing emphasis that patients should have a role to play in these preference-sensitive situations because they have to live with the outcomes of the care they receive.

Until now, we have implicitly assumed that providing patients with information is sufficient to facilitate shared decision making. In reality we know quite little about how patients perceive the communication tasks that are necessary for shared decision making to happen in a clinical consultation, and our objective with this study was to develop a better understanding of that.

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