The Power of Language in Public Health

While viewing the public hearing yesterday regarding portion control on sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) in New York City, it really bothered me how speaker after speaker, in particular those who opposed the amendment proposal, called it a “ban.” In fact, it is widely known as “the soda ban,” which has caused some to form an opinion on the issue before even knowing the facts. I too have been guilty of calling it a ban, but thought it was okay to do so because it is a ban – but only on SSBs larger than 16oz, and only in food service establishments. It is also easier to call it a ban because it is shorter and less clumsy to say than portion control. But often people just read the headline, hear the buzzword, and panic, thinking that soda is going to be taken away from them altogether. Yesterday however, I purposely used the hashtag “#sodaban” while live tweeting, so that my tweets would reach the general public interested in the issue.

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INFOGRAPHIC: The Supreme Court Got it Wrong; Obamacare’s Unconstitutionality by the Numbers

The Supreme Court yesterday upheld the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, in a landmark 5-4 decision. Unfortunately, they got it wrong. The PPACA, known colloquially as Obamacare, should have been struck down by the high court, as it is both unconstitutional and very costly:

  • Individual Mandate: Obamacare requires that all Americans carry health insurance or face an annual penalty. The federal government is effectively compelling individual citizens to enter a market, which is a clear violation of the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. The Supreme Court ruled that this was constitutionally valid as within Congress’ taxing power.
  • Medicaid Expansion: As the original Act is written, the PPACA would require states to expand Medicaid support or risk having their entire Medicaid federal funding cut off. This infringes on states’ rights. Fortunately, the Supreme Court did rule against these sanctions.

In response to the ruling, we have produced an infographic (below) titled, “The Cost of Socialized Medicine: Obamacare’s Unconstitutionality by the Numbers”, which illustrates the folly of the PPACA as well as some of the costs that will be borne as a result.

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The importance of taking care of ourselves…first.

I just had my annual physical (and want to remind you to schedule one if you haven’t already had one this year), and for the first time, answered “yes” to some of those routine questions and reported that my physical activity level had decreased over the past year. While I knew that I had been sacrificing some gym time for classes, meetings, or simply down time on the couch, it didn’t dawn on me how much stress had taken a toll on my body. My medical history had always been squeaky clean. My doctor looked up from the computer (that she had been using for electronic medical records) and said to me, “What happened to you this year?”

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To ban or not to ban – that is the large sugary drink question

The biggest story in public health this week is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposed ban on large sizes (over 16 oz.) of sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) sold in food service establishments such as restaurants, movie theaters and sports arenas. This includes sugar-sweetened sodas, energy drinks, juices and iced teas, and excludes diet drinks and beverages containing dairy or alcohol. Proponents of the ban state that eliminating large portion sizes of SSBs will help to curb the obesity epidemic by raising a greater awareness of appropriate portion sizes, making consumption of large amounts of SSBs a more conscious decision and decreasing intake of non-satiating empty calories. Opponents argue that the ban threatens freedom of personal choice, disproportionately affects lower income segments of the population and does not address the bigger issue of increased access to and availability of healthy and affordable foods. Jon Stewart took a satirical spin on the issue on the May 31st edition of the Daily Show, highlighting the many unhealthy foods and portion sizes that are “legal,” while washing it down with a large SSB would not be.

The proposal will be introduced to the New York City Board of Health in mid-June and will undergo a public hearing in July if approved for public comment. The final step towards approval occurs with a vote by the Board of Health as early as September, and the law could go into effect by March 2013. Although the ban proposal seems to be widely unpopular, the Board of Health is appointed by the Mayor, so the bill is very likely to pass.

Tweet your comments to @JMCelio.

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Fieldwork – never too early to start thinking about it!

Preparation for fieldwork occurs at least one semester before the start of the placement. Securing a public health fieldwork placement is not an easy or predictable process.  Some sites have internship positions open on a seasonal basis, and you want to make note of these application deadlines because they are often much earlier than when you would actually register for your fieldwork course at school. (For example, the deadline for my summer internship program was February 15th.) Other sites’ openings fluctuate as projects and grant periods begin and end. It is definitely advisable to look around early to get an idea of potential agencies or organizations you might want to work for, but much like finding an apartment, openings may only get posted as they become available.

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School Breakfast: An Opportunity for a Healthy Start

The federally subsidized School Breakfast Program began as a pilot project in 1966 and was made permanent in 1975. Students that meet Federal Poverty Level (FPL) requirements are eligible to receive free or reduced-price breakfast, which is typically served in the school cafeteria before instruction begins. The majority of students who qualify for the School Breakfast Program in New York City do not participate. To eliminate the stigma of a segregated location and the difficulty of arriving earlier to school, some schools in New York City have voluntarily implemented a classroom breakfast program to make breakfast more accessible to all students.

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On being a student in 2012

If it’s been many years since you were last in school, things have changed a lot. Continue reading

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Community Residents Hold The Key to Neighborhood Improvement

On April 18, 2012, I attended the New York State Public Health Association’s Pre-Conference Workshop: “Towards Health Equity: Transforming Communities through Engagement” in Troy, NY. A presentation given by Deborah Puntenney, Ph.D., Barbara Zappia, MPA, Lauren Snyder, RN, MPA and Miguel Melendez, BA focused on engaging neighborhood residents in the creation of opportunities for healthy living, using the principles of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD). Instead of emphasizing “what needs to be fixed,” or the negatives about a neighborhood (i.e. low income and low literacy levels, abandoned buildings, high crime rate), ABCD seeks to identify existing assets and empower its residents. Community members are involved in the process from day 1, as they formulate personally meaningful goals and identify neighborhood assets such as community centers, churches and vacant lots (that have the potential to become playgrounds, parks, gardens or housing.)

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2012 National Health Promotion Summit, Washington, D.C.

Me and Dr. Georges Benjamin, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association

I spent an exciting few days in Washington, D.C. last week, at the 2012 National Health Promotion Summit hosted by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) and the Association for Prevention Teaching and Research (APTR) on April 10-11. The Affordable Care Act‘s focus on prevention paired with Healthy People 2020‘s goals and objectives set the stage for national health promotion. During the Summit we discussed programs and policies that align with national prevention initiatives such as the National Prevention Strategy, Let’s Move, the National Partnership for Action to End Health Disparities and the National HIV/AIDS Prevention Strategy, and ways stakeholders from various disciplines and community roles contribute to achieving Healthy People 2020 goals and objectives.

Nothing is more important to our country’s future than the health of our people.”
– Secretary Kathleen Sebelius

The Health Summit featured national leaders in public health including keynote speakers U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Assistant Secretary for Health Howard Koh. Continue reading

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Dive into Public Health! Here’s how…

When I received my acceptance letter to the MPH program in March 2011, I was so eager to begin, I wished classes would start right away. Unfortunately, that was not possible – I had to wait until fall. In a way, this was a blessing because it gave me the opportunity to find other ways to dive right in. I’ll share a few things I’ve found very valuable:

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