Category Archives: Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

Jan 27 2015
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Diabetes: The Case for Considering Context

At Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Briana Mezuk, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, Division of Epidemiology; and Tiffany L. Green, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research. Both are alumnae of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program.

Tiffany Green Tiffany L. Green, PhD
Briana Mezuk Briana Mezuk, PhD

Approximately 30 million U.S. adults currently have diabetes, and an additional 86 million have pre-diabetes. The incidence of diabetes has increased substantially over the past 30 years, including among children. Estimates place the direct and indirect costs of diabetes at a staggering $218 billion annually.1 Like many other diseases, disparities on the basis of race and income are apparent with diabetes. Non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and socioeconomically disadvantaged groups are more likely to develop diabetes than non-Hispanic whites and socioeconomically advantaged groups. 

Despite the enormous economic and social costs associated with diabetes, it remains a struggle to apply what we know about diabetes prevention to communities at the highest risk. We have robust evidence from randomized controlled trials that changing health behaviors, including adopting a healthy diet and regular exercise routine and subsequent weight loss, will significantly lower the risk of diabetes. Unfortunately, these promising findings only appear to apply to the short-term. Even worse, results from community-based translation efforts have been much more modest than expected, and show only limited promise of reducing long-term diabetes risk. In response, leaders at the National Institutes of Health have noted that many efforts at translating clinical findings into community settings are “limited in scope and applicability, underemphasizing the value of context.”2

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Jan 12 2015
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The Imperative to Collaborate Across Disciplines to Make It Easier to be Healthy

Chevy Williams, PhD, MPH, is a fellow at Experience Institute, where she is learning and applying design thinking to social problems. Williams is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program at the University of Pennsylvania. 

Chevy Williams

Today, we can get access to just about anything in minutes or hours. Smartphones put a world of information literally at our fingertips. Within minutes, most of us can get food we want, entertainment we desire, even travel to another city. But seeing a doctor, an arguably more immediate need, is not so easy. Creating a Culture of Health requires our collective interdisciplinary expertise to make health and health care as accessible and user-friendly as other products and services we use on a regular basis.

Health Care in 2015 logo

Before I left academia, I heard the word “interdisciplinary” tossed around a lot, but I saw it practiced in very safe ways. Typical research teams of grants I was on or would review comprised researchers from only the social, psychological, and health and medical sciences.  As public health faculty, I’d hear statements like “Public health is inherently interdisciplinary.” This may be true since public health draws from multiple disciplines, but I couldn’t help but feel that such statements were more a reflection of inertia than anything else.

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Dec 2 2014
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Stress and Family Support – Two Important Social Determinants of Health for Hispanic/Latino Communities

Rosa M. Gonzalez-Guarda, PhD, RN, CPH, FAAN, is an assistant professor at the University of Miami, School of Nursing & Health Studies and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholars program. On Friday, December 5, she will be a panelist at the RWJF Scholars Forum: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health. Learn more.

Scholars Forum 2014 Logo

My research has focused on understanding and addressing behavioral and mental health disparities experienced by Hispanic/Latino communities. Although I initiated my research looking at substance abuse, violence, HIV and mental health as separate conditions that often co-occurred in marginalized communities, I soon realized that these conditions were just symptoms of an underlying phenomena— something my colleagues and I refer to as the Syndemic factor.

Rosa Gonzalez-Guarda

We have been studying the social determinants of the Syndemic factor in hopes of developing culturally tailored interventions that can potentially address multiple behavioral and mental health outcomes for the Hispanic/Latino community. From this research we have learned that interventions that address stress and family support offer promise for this community.

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Nov 21 2014
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Ebola as an Instrument of Discrimination

Jennifer Schroeder, Stephanie M. DeLong, Shannon Heintz, Maya Nadimpalli, Jennifer Yourkavitch, and Allison Aiello, PhD, MS, professor at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program. This blog was developed under the guidance of Aiello’s social epidemiology seminar course.

Allison Aiello Allison Aiello

Ebola is an infectious disease that the world has seen before in more moderate outbreaks in Africa. As the devastating Ebola outbreak in West Africa has taken a global turn, fear, misinformation and long-standing stigma and discrimination have acted as major contributors to the epidemic and response. Stigma is a mark upon someone, whether visible or invisible, that society judgmentally acts upon. Ebola has become a significant source of stigma among West Africans and the Western world.

In many ways, the source of this discrimination can be traced back to the legacy of colonialism and the western approach to infectious disease response in Africa. The history of foreign humanitarian aid has sometimes dismissed cultural traditions and beliefs. As a consequence, trust in westerners has eroded and has been compounded by a disconnect between western humanitarian aid approaches and a lack of overall infrastructure investment on the part of African national health systems. This is apparent in the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Some don’t actually think that Ebola exists; instead they believe that it is a hoax carried out by the Western world. All of these factors are facilitating the rapid spread of the disease.

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Nov 17 2014
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Is Louisville, Kentucky, the New Face of Asthma Healthography?

Meredith Barrett, PhD, is vice president of science and research at Propeller Health, a health technology company working to reduce the burden of asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program at the University of California (UC), Berkeley and UC, San Francisco. Learn about the RWJF Briefings @ the Booth at the APHA Annual Meeting on Monday, November 17 and Tuesday, November 18.

Meredith Barrett

Leaders in Louisville, Kentucky, know first-hand that where you live and work affects your health and well-being. During a special session at the American Public Health Association’s meeting this week in New Orleans, we explore how the air quality in Louisville neighborhoods impacts the health, economy and overall vibrancy of the community. And we’ll highlight how Louisville is the poster child for tackling tough issues like asthma head-on, top-down and bottom-up, through data and collaboration among individual residents, corporate execs, community organizers and public leaders. 

American Public Health Association Meeting & Expo

Asthma attacks are sneaky, expensive and debilitating, yet almost entirely preventable.

Asthma is one of the most common and costly chronic diseases in the United States, affecting more than 8 percent of the U.S. population. Despite decades of research and the development of effective treatments, rates of morbidity have not declined and health care costs reach more than $50 billion a year. Asthma also leads to more than 13 million missed days of school and 10 million missed days of work, negatively affecting educational achievement, employee productivity and regional business growth. But the most frustrating part is that a large proportion of these hefty impacts could be avoided with improvements in self-management, community policy and advances in digital health care.

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Nov 14 2014
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Are You Going to the American Public Health Association Meeting Next Week?

During this year’s American Public Health Association (APHA) Annual Meeting & Exposition, 10 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) grantees will give short talks at the first-ever RWJF Briefings @ the Booth on Monday, November 17 and Tuesday, November 18. Grantees from a variety of programs, representing numerous health and health care sectors, will share their insights on topics ranging from health literacy to obesity interventions to green building certification.

American Public Health Association Meeting & Expo

The briefings will take place at the RWJF exhibit space in the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center.

Grab a cup of coffee at the RWJF café and join a briefing! The schedule follows.

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Nov 12 2014
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Connected Health Approaches to Improve the Health of Veterans

Mitesh S. Patel, MD, MBA, MS, is an assistant professor of medicine and health care management at the Perelman School of Medicine and the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. He is a staff physician and core investigator at the Center for Health Equity Research and Promotion at the Philadelphia Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Center. Patel is an alumnus of the VA/Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Clinical Scholars Program at the University of Pennsylvania (2012-2014).

Mitesh Patel

Cardiovascular disease is the number one cause of hospitalizations, morbidity and mortality among the veteran population. Building a Culture of Health could address this issue by focusing on individual health behaviors that contribute to risk factors associated with cardiovascular disease such as physical inactivity, diet, obesity, smoking, hyperlipidemia and hypertension.

The current health system is reactive and visit-based. However, veterans spend most of their lives outside of the doctor’s office. They make everyday choices that affect their health such as how often to exercise, what types of food to eat, and whether or not to take their medications.

Connected health is a model for using technology to coordinate care and monitor outcomes remotely. By leveraging connected health approaches, care providers have the opportunity to improve the health of veterans at broader scale and within the setting in which veterans spend most of their time (outside of the health care system). The Veteran’s Health Administration (VHA) is a leader in launching connected health technologies. VHA efforts began in 2003 and included technologies such as My HealtheVet (serving approximately 2 million veterans) and telemedicine (serving about 600,000 veterans).

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Nov 5 2014
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Teen Take Heart

Steven J. Palazzo, PhD, MN, RN, CNE, is an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at Seattle University, and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar (2013 – 2016. ) His research focuses on evaluating the effectiveness of the Teen Take Heart program in mitigating cardiovascular risk factors in at-risk high school students.

Steven Palazzo

Difficult problems demand innovative solutions. Teen Take Heart (TTH) is a program I’ve worked to develop, in partnership with The Hope Heart Institute and with support from the RWJF Nurse Faulty Scholars Program, to address locally a problem we face nationally: an alarming increase in obesity and other modifiable cardiovascular risk factors among teenagers. The problem is substantial and costly in both economic and human terms. We developed TTH as a solution that could, if it proves effective in trials that begin this fall in my native Washington state, be translated to communities across the country.

The State of Obesity: Better Policies for a Healthier America, released recently by the Trust for America’s Health and RWJF, makes it clear that as a nation we are not winning the battle on obesity. The report reveals that a staggering 31.8 percent of children in the United States are overweight or obese and only 25 percent get the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity. The report also finds that only 5 percent of school districts nationwide have a wellness program that meets the physical education time requirement.

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Nov 4 2014
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In New Book, RWJF Scholar Explores Effects of Genetics on Environmental Science

Sara Shostak, PhD, MPH, is an associate professor of sociology at Brandeis University and author of Exposed Science: Genes, the Environment, and the Politics of Population Health. She is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program (2004-2006). 

Sara Shostak Sara Shostak, PhD, MPH

Human Capital Blog: Your book, Exposed Science, won two awards from the American Sociological Association: the Eliot Freidson Outstanding Publication Award from the Medical Sociology Section and the Robert K. Merton Book Award from the section on Science, Knowledge, and Technology (SKAT). Congratulations! What do these awards mean for you and your work?

Sara Shostak: Thank you! I am deeply honored that Exposed Science won those awards. This kind of recognition from one’s colleagues is tremendously meaningful on a personal level, especially as there are many scholars in these sections whose work has inspired me for years.  

More broadly, the dual awards signal something important about the connection between these two domains of inquiry—medical sociology and the sociology of science. That is, science and the politics of science are important foci of analysis for sociologists concerned with population health. The conditions under which scientists do their research—the political economy of knowledge production—is a critical context for what we do and do not know about human health and illness.  

Population health researchers often observe that in the United States, health disparities research tends to focus on differences between racial and ethnic groups, while in the United Kingdom the focus tends to be on variations by social class (or what U.S. researchers more often call socioeconomic status). Scholars of science, knowledge, and technology can help us understand how and why these differences emerged, and with what consequences. My book raises questions also about how any of these determinants get operationalized in laboratory-based research. All of these aspects of how science is done have direct implications for public policy, as well.

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Oct 28 2014
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Health Care Workers Primed to Lead Global Response to Ebola

Timothy Landers, PhD, CNP, and Jason Farley, PhD, MPH, CRNP, are Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholars. In his work, Landers focuses on the epidemiology and prevention of antibiotic-resistant infections, including the use of hand hygiene as a means of prevention. Farley evaluates treatment outcomes in multi-drug resistant infections including tuberculosis (TB) and Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) in patients with HIV, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa.

Timothy Landers Timothy Landers

The recent outbreak of Ebola virus in West Africa is a stark reminder that we live in a globally connected world and that outbreaks can occur without warning. As infection prevention specialists, we are acutely aware of the risks health care workers face in caring for the public, both now and in times of relatively less chaos.

The good news is that despite media reports, nurses, physicians, infection prevention specialists and other health care workers are in an ideal position to lead the global response to this disease.

Our experience with measures to address hospital-acquired infections—isolation precautions, hand hygiene, contact tracing and public health measures—are also the same methods necessary to contain the spread of Ebola.  

Jason Farley (smaller) Jason Farley

Building on experience addressing these infections, along with recognition of the differences in Ebola virus transmission, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) regularly updates the guidelines and is currently recommending enhanced versions of isolation precautions, including enhanced standard precautions, contact precautions, and droplet precautions. 

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