Research

Condom Nation

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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-16 07:00:38
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                    [post_content] => Male condoms help make sex safer, but are not always fun to use. Lubricated to encourage use, condoms are often packaged with only a small amount of lubricant that often requires reapplication. That’s why researchers at Boston University have invented a self-lubricating condom. Designed to become (and stay) slippery when wet, the researchers hope that their condom’s self-lubricant properties will increase comfort and make use more common. Although this new condom has not yet been tested during intercourse, results from durability and preference testing seem promising.

The condom is coated in a layer of water-loving polymer compounds and dried under UV light to create a surface-coating that stays slick. Researchers took care to measure the condom’s strength to make sure the coating didn’t weaken the latex underneath. They found that their condom can last for 1000 thrusts and hold 1 ¼ cups of water. Granted that the average act of intercourse lasts between 100-500 thrusts and results in a teaspoon of ejaculate, these condoms appear plenty equipped for the job.

A small group of participants performed a blind touch-test to compare the coated condom to dry and old-fashioned lubricated condoms. Nine out of ten participants reported that the coated condom felt the oiliest, and 73% said they liked it best. Almost all of the participants who ‘usually’ or ‘occasionally’ use condoms during intercourse said they preferred the coated condom and would consider using it regularly. Eighty-three percent of individuals who ‘never’ use a condom during sex reported that they would prefer an inherently slippery condom, while one-fifth reported the slippery coating would make them consider using one.

Cases of sexually transmitted infections are at record highs. Wearing condoms can prevent STI transmission. Yet glow-in-the-dark and bacon-flavored condoms don’t seem to be having an substantial impact on increasing use and preventing infections. A condom that stays slippery might just do the trick.

Graphic from Royal Society Open Science, "Friction-lowering capabilities and human subject preferences for a hydrophilic surface coating on latex substrates: implications for increasing condom usage," Benjamin G. Cooper, Stacy L. Chin, Ruiqing Xiao, Karen Buch, Ducksoo Kim, and Mark W. Grinstaff. Published:01 October 2018. 
                    [post_title] => Condom Nation
                    [post_excerpt] => Cases of sexually transmitted infections are at record highs. Could a self-lubricating condom make sex safer and be fun to use? 
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Cases of sexually transmitted infections are at record highs. Could a self-lubricating condom make sex safer and be fun to use?

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Research

Neighborhoods Matter for Sex Risk in Our Cities

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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-15 06:00:05
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-01-15 11:00:05
                    [post_content] => Black youth are much more likely to acquire sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV than White youth. Much of the research on STD and HIV prevention has aimed to change individual behavior, such as increasing condom use and monogamy in relationships. However, we have learned that STDs and HIV cluster in communities that are disproportionately affected by incarceration, economic disadvantage, boarded-up buildings, and other signs of neighborhood disorder.

In many cases, attempting to change individual risk behaviors has not made a major impact on these epidemics. The reasons are likely twofold. The first is partner availability. High rates of incarceration in many Black communities create a sex ratio imbalance where women are devalued and multiple partnerships among males are tolerated, leading to a lack of willingness among males to use condoms or women to negotiate condom use. The second is community characteristics. Since STD rates in majority Black communities are higher than those in majority White communities, even in contexts where people engage in the same behaviors, those living in majority Black communities have a greater chance of coming in contact with an infected partner.

Our analysis aimed to characterize the sexual risk behavioral patterns of youth at age 20 and understand how early and current environmental factors relate to these sexual risk behavioral profiles. We used data from a study that began in 1985 as an intervention in elementary schools located in socio-economically distinct areas in Baltimore. The original study followed 2,311 participants (66% were Black) from first grade to young adulthood (ages 6-32) to understand how the classroom-based interventions (which focused on school achievement or aggressive behavior), early experiences, individual characteristics, and neighborhood environment impact behaviors in adulthood.
What distinguished high-risk youth from those who were not engaging in risky sexual behavior was their neighborhood context. Their neighborhoods were poor, unsafe, full of drug activity, violent, and crime-ridden.  
We found three patterns: high risk, low risk, and no risk. Only 13% of males and 15% of females were considered “high risk” behaviorally. High-risk males and females were primarily individuals having sex without a condom. About half of high-risk men and almost 20% of the high-risk women also had multiple sexual partners in the past month. In general, they were not engaging in the other sexual risk behaviors we examined. We then took these sexual behavior profiles and associated them with other risk factors. The risk of an STD in the high-risk group was 6-12 times that of the no-risk group. Those in the high-risk group were also much more likely to have dropped out of high school, have drug problems, have been arrested, and have had a teenage pregnancy. This pattern demonstrates that even relatively normative levels of sexual behavioral risk clusters with other risks. What distinguished high-risk youth from those who were not engaging in risky sexual behavior was their neighborhood context. Their neighborhoods were poor, unsafe, full of drug activity, violent, and crime-ridden. For men, neighborhood racism also predicted sexual risk behaviors. Baltimore, like many inner cities, is characterized by high rates of poverty, crime, and violence. The youth who grow up in these environments often feel powerless and may use sex to gain some control in their lives. Women may have few partners to choose from and little power in their relationships. For women, though, we found that church-going in the community was protective against risky sexual behavior. Our findings emphasize the importance of neighborhood environment when investigating sexual risk in urban communities. Results also suggest that, to reduce the disproportionate burden of STDs and HIV in urban communities, we need to invest in poor urban communities and provide the resources necessary to promote positive development and opportunity. This is especially essential now as drug use is pervasive, violence is on the rise, and concentrated poverty continues to grow in America’s cities. Feature image: Baltimore HeritageRowhouses, 2001–2011 Greenmount Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21218. Photograph by Eli Pousson, 2019 January 2. Public domain. Used for illustrative purposes only.  [post_title] => Neighborhoods Matter for Sex Risk in Our Cities [post_excerpt] => STDs and HIV cluster in communities that are disproportionately affected by incarceration, economic disadvantage, boarded-up buildings, and other signs of neighborhood disorder. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => neighborhood-factors-matter-for-sex-risk-in-our-cities [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-15 06:22:07 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-15 11:22:07 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.publichealthpost.org/?post_type=bu_research&p=6140 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => bu_research [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => BUPHP_Post Object *RECURSION* [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 ) [view] => BUPHP_Post_View Object ( [multipage] => [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => BUPHP_Post Object *RECURSION* [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 ) [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 )

STDs and HIV cluster in communities that are disproportionately affected by incarceration, economic disadvantage, boarded-up buildings, and other signs of neighborhood disorder.

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Research

It’s Time for Americans to Stop Sleeping on Sleep

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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-14 05:45:04
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                    [post_content] => Sleep is one of the most important things we do. Not sleeping enough or well can lead to poor job performance, the loss of friendships, chronic health conditions such as diabetes, and even higher risk of death. Yet, when life gets hectic or stressful, we often sacrifice sleep to make time for other activities.

Given the implications of sleep for almost everything we do as humans, my colleagues and I decided to take a closer look at which Americans were sleeping better than others and whether or not some Americans have been sleeping worse in recent years.

Using data from the National Health Interview Survey, we analyzed self-reported sleep duration for almost 400,000 American adults between 2004 and 2017. We found that, since 2012, Americans have become significantly more likely to report sleeping six hours or less. Six hours is the cut off, after which, the risk for a host of negative health conditions increases. People of color, particularly Black and Latino survey respondents, were likely to report short-sleep — defined as six or less hours in a 24-hour period.

So why exactly are more Americans reporting less sleep? We are still looking for clear answers but we do know that there is a strong connection between stress and sleep quality. Americans, in general, are stressed out.
An increase in smartphone usage also likely plays a role in sleep loss by bringing bright light, work, and stress into the bedroom.  
Results from the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey showed Americans are experiencing more stress than ever, and that concerns about the future of the country, money, and work are among the most significant sources. Other studies have indicated that Black and Hispanic Americans are increasingly anxious about violence, and this neighborhood-related stress may also negatively influence their sleep. An increase in smartphone usage also likely plays a role in sleep loss by bringing bright light, work, and stress into the bedroom. Studies show that the use of smart phones has increased from about 35% in 2011 to almost 80% in 2016. Given the strong links between sleep and health, our findings could signal increasing societal level health problems and widening racial inequality in health. For instance, quality sleep is critically important to cardiometabolic health and heart disease remains a top killer of Black Americans. The critical importance of restorative sleep warrants attention from policy makers to develop policies that reduce stress, such as minimizing work place discrimination and educating the public regarding the importance of sleep so that sleep can be prioritized. Other policies, such as those in France and Germany that limit employees from responding to emails in work hours could also benefit sleep. Finally, other policies that minimize socioeconomic inequality are likely to also benefit population level sleep inequality. In such a connected and stressful time it is especially important for Americans to prioritize their sleep whenever they can. The author would like to thank Suzanne Wilson for help on an earlier iteration of this article. Feature image: Andrew Guan on Unsplash [post_title] => It's Time for Americans to Stop Sleeping on Sleep [post_excerpt] => Americans, especially people of color, are significantly more likely to report sleeping six hours or less. Sleeping six hours is the cut off, after which, negative health risks increase. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => less-sleep-in-america [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-14 06:38:21 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-14 11:38:21 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.publichealthpost.org/?post_type=bu_research&p=6137 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => bu_research [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => BUPHP_Post Object *RECURSION* [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 ) [view] => BUPHP_Post_View Object ( [multipage] => [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => BUPHP_Post Object *RECURSION* [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 ) [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 )

Americans, especially people of color, are significantly more likely to report sleeping six hours or less. Sleeping six hours is the cut off, after which, negative health risks increase.

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Research

College Drinkers Call for Help

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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-11 04:55:51
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                    [post_content] => It’s no secret that most college students drink, often heavily. According to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, nearly 60% of college students report drinking within the last month, and nearly 40% report binge drinking.

Excessive drinking can lead to severe health consequences, including alcohol poisoning and even death. To mitigate these risks, many colleges have passed medical amnesty policies. These policies remove potential punishments for underage drinking if students call for medical assistance in an emergency.

A recent study published in the Journal of Adolescent Health assessed how a medical amnesty policy at Georgetown University affected calls to a college-based emergency medical services agency. According to the National Collegiate Emergency Medical Services Foundation, these agencies provide emergency medical services to college campuses and are sometimes staffed and organized by students themselves. The researchers analyzed the call data between August of 2014 and July of 2017 to assess the number of calls and the times they were made. The medical amnesty policy was implemented in August of 2014.
Calls were made earlier in the evening, and advanced life support was used less often.  
Before the policy was implemented, calls typically spiked in September and October, at the start of the academic year, and in April and May at the end of the year. After the policy was implemented, the average calls per day increased in the fall semester, but remained the same in spring. (The average number of calls over the course of the academic year did not change.) Calls were made earlier in the evening, and advanced life support was used less often. The researchers suggest that more calls were being made by and for students before they became severely ill. The researchers argue that such policies appear to alleviate student fears that calling for emergency help will lead to disciplinary action or other trouble. Medical amnesty policies have been implemented at colleges across the country, from Georgetown University to the University of Mississippi to the University of California, Davis. More campuses across the country are trying to pass these policies as diverse organizations push for passage of medical amnesty policies on both a college and state level. Students for Sensible Drug Policy is an international organization that grades campuses based on specific policies related to drug and alcohol use. Medical amnesty policies earn campuses the highest score on their list. The Medical Amnesty Initiative focuses on passing these laws at the state level to apply to the widest variety of colleges and universities. Feature image: Cebolla4/iStock [post_title] => College Drinkers Call for Help [post_excerpt] => Many colleges have passed medical amnesty policies that remove potential punishments for underage drinking if students call for medical assistance in an emergency. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => medical-amnesty-policies-on-college-campuses [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-11 10:26:04 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-11 15:26:04 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.publichealthpost.org/?post_type=bu_research&p=6141 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => bu_research [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => BUPHP_Post Object *RECURSION* [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 ) [view] => BUPHP_Post_View Object ( [multipage] => [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => BUPHP_Post Object *RECURSION* [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 ) [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 )

Many colleges have passed medical amnesty policies that remove potential punishments for underage drinking if students call for medical assistance in an emergency.

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Research

Women in Soccer and Brain Injury

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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-09 05:00:06
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-01-09 10:00:06
                    [post_content] => By name, neither of the two football sports indicate any risk to a player’s head during games, but both are strongly associated with concussions and head injuries. Continuing research chronicles American football players’ susceptibility to chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a type of brain trauma, but soccer players are also at risk of concussions that could lead to CTE.

Soccer is the only sport in which “heading” is central to the game, but heading (and the collision between players’ heads) maybe related to severe problems with players’ central nervous system. Women players are at particular risk, but not because of differences in the frequency of heading between men and women. Indeed women are more likely to discuss their health and any troubling symptoms than men; despite this, women have shorter breaks from playing than men after concussions, and miss fewer work days.
Women players are at particular risk, but not because of differences in the frequency of heading between men and women.  
Since much of the research on soccer-related concussions features subjective reports, Todd Rubin and colleagues set out to use an objective brain imaging technique to compare head injury impacts on men and women. Using diffusion-tensor imaging, the researchers observed that there were sex-based differences in changes in brain tissue, specifically white matter, among amateur players. Participants in the study actively played soccer for at least six months a year between 2013 and 2016, and completed questionnaires on exposures to headings, past concussions, and medical history. Exposure to heading was assessed through questions that asked about indoor and outdoor soccer activity, as well as involvement in competitive games. Using this information, the researchers created a measure of total heading exposure. Study participants underwent magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion-terror imaging to detect in white matter abnormalities.
After looking at the brain imaging results, repeated heading affected about five times more white matter in women than in men.  
After looking at the brain imaging results, repeated heading affected about five times more white matter in women than in men. This indicates that female headers may suffer a higher burden of brain injury than men. Three regions of the brain showed high associations between heading exposure and changes in tissue among both men and women. But the regions where repeated heading had the greatest impact on brain tissue changes among women were the regions that exhibited lesser impact among men. The researchers concluded that although these changes in white matter may not manifest as a clinical issue (such as a change in behavior) right away, the accumulation of tissue alteration may eventually lead to more physically evident problems. Whether these changes are fully reversible over time remains to be determined. They propose carefully tailoring soccer safety guidelines to address the risks to male and female players, and emphasize that understanding sex-based differences in potential brain injury will help better prevent the debilitating effects of brain damage seen among so many college and professional football players. Feature image: isitsharp/iStock [post_title] => Women in Soccer and Brain Injury [post_excerpt] => Women soccer players are at particular risk. Brain imaging showed repeated "heading" may cause more brain injury in women than in men. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => women-in-soccer-and-brain-injury [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-10 11:02:04 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-10 16:02:04 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.publichealthpost.org/?post_type=bu_research&p=6110 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => bu_research [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => BUPHP_Post Object *RECURSION* [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 ) [view] => BUPHP_Post_View Object ( [multipage] => [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => BUPHP_Post Object *RECURSION* [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 ) [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 )

Women soccer players are at particular risk. Brain imaging showed repeated “heading” may cause more brain injury in women than in men.

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Research

Video Games and Violence: A Continuing Discussion

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                    [post_date] => 2019-01-07 06:00:36
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2019-01-07 11:00:36
                    [post_content] => More than 211 million Americans play video games, and worldwide 2.7 billion people play video games regularly. This makes video games one of the largest media platforms used across all age groups. Forty-nine percent of the most played video games feature some form of violence and aggression as a critical component.

The effects of this violent content on aggression and violence on the behavior of those who play video games is under debate and not clearly understood. My research team at the University at Buffalo Neurocognition Science Laboratory has begun to study and develop a computational model to identify the underlying social health factors and measure the potential causal relationships between violent and aggressive behavior and video game play.

A computational model is a mathematical process used to study real-time, nonlinear relationships to assess the likelihood that one factor in a context of many, causes a particular outcome. In this project, we attempted to understand the relationship between playing video games with violent content and perpetrating violence. In this type of research, simple analytical results are not possible, but the findings can help us to better understand the complex interaction of social and biological factors that might lead to violent behavior.
We developed three computational models to try to explain the origins of aggression and violence.  
We developed three computational models to try to explain the origins of aggression and violence: the General Aggression Model (GAM), the Diathesis-Stress Model (DSM), and a theoretical combined model (DSM+GAM). The GAM seeks to explain how aggression in virtual environments might lead people to imitate aggressive behaviors and become aggressive and violent themselves. The DSM model explains aggression and violence as arising from biological factors which make people vulnerable to the commission of violent acts. The final, combined model looks at the ways in which the biological predisposition and specific social factors interact to produce violent and aggressive actions in people who play video games. In essence, much of the debate about violent video game content revolves around the question of nature versus nurture.
In essence, much of the debate about violent video game content revolves around the question of nature versus nurture.  
Our research team combined data from multiple studies of over 1,000 gamers in grades nine through twelve using each model. We looked at multiple social factors (ranging from socio-economic status to playing video games) and biological factors (for example, Monoamines Oxidase A gene mutations) which have been linked to aggressive and violent behaviors. Each model allowed us to vary the estimated effects of each factor on the likelihood of violence in an effort to find the relative effect of each factor as a person played video games with violent content. Results illustrate that the models of aggression focused only on social factors or biological factors do not adequately predict or explain aggressive and violent behaviors as they arise from video game play. Results from the model that looked at interactions between biological and social factors were more compelling in that they illustrated socioemotional, cognitive, and biological vulnerabilities that interact to influence violent actions among video gamers. In other words, video games do not, in and of themselves, create aggressive behavior. Rather, the video game may act as a primer for violence and aggression when specific biological and social conditions are present.
Rather, the video game may act as a primer for violence and aggression when specific biological and social conditions are present.  
The complexity of the interactions between the biological and social has been an area of considerable research in almost all realms of academia. While this research project has helped to clarify the role of the biological and social factors related to violence in video games, it is by no means the end of the questions. In essence, we need to move past the question of whether or not there is a relationship between aggression and video games and instead focus on the how and why video games cause aggressive behavior. Once we understand how, why, and for whom video games increase aggressive behavior we can more easily develop interventions and policies, and work with public health professionals to begin to mitigate the negative effects of this relationship. Feature image: KsuperKsu/iStock [post_title] => Video Games and Violence: A Continuing Discussion [post_excerpt] => The effects of violent video games on players are not clearly understood. Lamb et al. developed a computational model to study relationships between aggressive behavior and video game play. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => video-games-and-violence-a-continuing-discussion [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2019-01-10 10:58:28 [post_modified_gmt] => 2019-01-10 15:58:28 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.publichealthpost.org/?post_type=bu_research&p=6084 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => bu_research [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => BUPHP_Post Object *RECURSION* [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 ) [view] => BUPHP_Post_View Object ( [multipage] => [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => BUPHP_Post Object *RECURSION* [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 ) [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 )

The effects of violent video games on players are not clearly understood. Lamb et al. developed a computational model to study relationships between aggressive behavior and video game play.

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Research

We DID Start the Fire

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                    [post_date] => 2018-12-20 05:30:33
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-12-20 10:30:33
                    [post_content] => If our energy use continues to increase at the current rate and pace, our planet is predicted to heat up by an average of 2˚C (3.6˚F) by 2040. Using data gathered from NASA and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Vox created a Weather 2050 map to demonstrate how temperatures across US cities will change over the next three decades.

The table below summarizes dramatic temperature increases predicted for US cities, leading to hotter summers and warmer winters. Temperature is both a reflection of and a main driving force behind climate. Warmer temperatures lead to warmer air, which leads to more evaporation and increases the amount of water vapor (precipitation) in the atmosphere. Together, precipitation and temperature impact climate patterns, causing water scarcity and drought in dry arid areas, and more extreme precipitation events in areas that are humid and moist.

Table showing change in average summer and winter high temperatures in LA, Houston, Chicago, and Boston

Fires are expected to increase, in frequency and intensity, as temperatures rise in hot and dry places. Western states, which are already experiencing devastating wildfires, can expect to see longer wildfire seasons. Between January to November in 2018, the US experienced over 52,000 wildfires that devastated 8.5 million acres of land and destroyed over 20,000 structures in California alone. Wildfires cause deaths, respiratory and mental health disorders, and increase pollution. Fire smoke and pollution increase the risk of low infant birth weight, worsen asthma, and raise the risk of stroke.

Areas along the Southern coast can expect to see increased intensity of hurricanes, as warming temperatures slow storm movement and increase rainfall. In 2017 Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, causing catastrophic damage as it slowly trudged across the island at 9 mph, killing thousands of people and leaving large parts of the island without power for over a year. Drownings, residential displacement, increased mental stress, and vector-borne diseases are all hurricane-related health impacts that will intensify in the oncoming years.

Although most winters will become shorter, blizzards will intensify. In humid areas like Boston, warmer temperatures will evaporate more water in the air, increasing the intensity and longevity of nor’easters.

The summertime, however, is when we can expect to see the most damage. Heat waves are the number one predicted threat to city-dwelling residents, and cities in the Northeast can expect to see the greatest increases in temperature compared to the rest of the United States. Heat waves impact vulnerable populations the most, such as infants, the elderly, and homeless populations, who are less able to cool their core body temperatures at night and have less access to air conditioning. Heat waves cause dehydration, heat stroke, and death; they are a silent and unseen killer, as individuals often die alone, and cause of death is usually attributed to ‘stroke’ rather than ‘heat.’ Heat waves also increase the risk of causing a blackout from widespread use of AC units, placing whole cities at risk.

There is little question at this point that global temperatures will rise by 1.5˚C over the next decades, but do they need to go up as much as 2˚C by 2040, our ‘worst case scenario’ climate scenario? As individuals, there are actions we can take in addition to voting for environmentally-sustainable policies and the candidates who promote them. To reduce our carbon footprint and help prevent temperatures from increasing, we can invest in renewable energy, reduce our meat and animal consumption (especially beef and lamb), commute via ride share or public transportation, and incorporate sustainable practices into our everyday lives by turning off lights, turning down our heat, turning off our AC, and recycling.

It’s obvious what the public health implications of inaction are. If we don’t change course, our worst case scenario will become our daily life.

Feature image: Patrik Theander, Matches, used under CC BY-SA 2.0
                    [post_title] => We DID Start the Fire
                    [post_excerpt] => If our energy use increases at the current rate, dramatic temperature increases are predicted for US cities. 
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                    [post_modified] => 2018-12-20 05:51:28
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If our energy use increases at the current rate, dramatic temperature increases are predicted for US cities.

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Research

Social Connectedness and Public Health

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                    [post_date] => 2018-12-18 07:00:33
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-12-18 12:00:33
                    [post_content] => Social networks shape many aspects of human life, from influencing preferences and labor market outcomes, to facilitating trade and supporting informal markets in developing economies. A number of researchers have studied the relationship between social interactions and health outcomes, with many concluding the positive influence of relationships.

One of the challenges for researchers studying the relationship between social connectedness and public health outcomes is the absence of large-scale, representative data that measure individuals’ social links. We collaborated with Facebook to help overcome this measurement challenge. In particular, we constructed a new Social Connectedness Index that measures the relative strength of Facebook friendship ties between US county pairs.

Given Facebook’s scale, with 2.3 billion active users globally and 242 million active users in the United States and Canada, as well as the relative representativeness of Facebook’s user body, our findings provide the first comprehensive measure of friendship networks at a national level.

In our paper, we explored both the determinants and the effects of social connectedness. For example, Figure 1 shows a heat map depicting the likelihood that a resident of Cook County, IL (largely the city of Chicago), is friends with a resident in all other US counties.

Map of the US showing liklihood of friendships

A number of patterns emerge. First, most connections are to geographically close individuals. Second, past migration movements, such as the Great Migration of African Americans from southern states to the North between 1916 and 1970, have lasting effects on today’s social connectedness, as evidenced by the strong links between Cook County and the South. Many other interesting patterns emerge across the United States, linking today’s social networks to past and present migration patterns, and to the social, political, and economic composition of different locations.

While we found that, on average, social connections are primarily local, the geographic concentration of social networks differs substantially across the United States. In some counties, more than 70% of friends live within 50 miles. In others, fewer than 35% of friends live within 50 miles. Figure 2 highlights how the share of friends living within 50 miles varies across the United States.

Map of US showing share of friends who live within 50 miles

We find that the geographic concentration of friendship links correlates strongly with a number of important outcomes. Counties with more dispersed friendship networks have populations that are richer and more educated. Interestingly, we also found that the residents of these counties also have longer life expectancies, and lower rates of teen pregnancies.

While these correlations do not necessarily imply a causal relationship between social connectedness and public health outcomes, they do highlight the potential value of using the Social Connectedness Index data to study important research and policy questions. For example, one particularly promising direction for research is to study whether these data can help researchers better predict the spread of contagious diseases.

To facilitate such research efforts, we are eager to share these data with the broader research community. Other researchers interested in working with these data are therefore strongly encouraged to send a one-page research proposal to sci_data@fb.com. For an initial exploration of the patterns, please take a look at the recent visualization by the Upshot team at the New York Times. We hope that the broad accessibility of these data will allow researchers across the social and physical sciences to better understand the many dimensions and implications of social connectedness.

Feature image: StationaryTraveller/iStock.  Maps from the New York Times, The Upshot, "How Connected Is Your Community to Everywhere Else in America?, by Emily Badger and Quo Trug Bui, September 19, 2018
                    [post_title] => Social Connectedness and Public Health
                    [post_excerpt] => Using Facebook data, these researchers explored how geography and historic migration movements impact social networks.
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Using Facebook data, these researchers explored how geography and historic migration movements impact social networks.

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Research

Conducting Market Research to Improve Behavioral Health Policy

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                    [post_date] => 2018-12-17 07:00:02
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                    [post_content] => Advocates who strive to improve public health can learn a lot from advertisers who strive to sell products. To sell products, advertisers follow a systematic “audience research” process to understand their consumers. First, they conduct formative research to understand consumers’ opinions about a product. Then, recognizing that people’s opinions vary, they conduct audience segmentation analysis to identify groups of people (i.e., audience segments) who share similar opinions. Finally, with this information, advertisers develop persuasive messages tailored for each audience segment. These tailored messages are generally more effective than “one-size-fits-all” messages.

In an ongoing project, we’ve adopted this audience research approach to figure out how to more effectively communicate evidence about mental health and substance use (i.e., behavioral health) issues to state legislators. In a prior study, we documented what legislators want to know about behavioral health issues and where they turn for this information. We found that they want data on cost-effectiveness and budget impact, and that they primarily get information about behavioral health from advocacy organizations, state agencies, and legislative staff. Universities were not a primary information source.

In a more recent study, we conducted an audience segmentation analysis to determine if and how opinions about behavioral health vary across groups of legislators. The study used data from a 2017 survey of 475 state legislators representing all 50 states. The survey asked legislators their opinions about behavioral health (e.g., beliefs about whether treatments can be effective, attitudes towards people with mental illness), what influences their support for behavioral health bills, and whether they have introduced behavioral health bills.

Circles showing behavioral health audience segments of state legislators

We found that three distinct audience segments emerged, and named each according to its most salient characteristics. Their largest segment of legislators we named Budget-Oriented Skeptics with Stigma (47% of legislators). These legislators had the least faith in behavioral health treatment effectiveness, had the most stigma towards people with mental illness, and were most influenced by budget impact when deciding whether to support a behavioral health bill. This segment was predominantly male, Republican, and ideologically conservative.

Action-Oriented Supporters (24% of legislators) was the smallest segment. These legislators were most likely to have introduced a behavioral health bill and to identify behavioral health issues as policy priorities. Their support for a behavioral health bill was substantially influenced by the extent to which it was evidence-based. This was the most ideologically diverse segment.

The third segment, Passive Supporters (29% of legislators) had the most faith in behavioral health treatment effectiveness and the least stigma towards people with mental illness. But they were the least likely to have introduced a behavioral health bill.

Knowing about these audience segments gives us a better understanding of how we might tailor messages for legislators with different characteristics. For example, for Budget-Oriented Skeptics with Stigma, we might want to emphasize information about how behavioral health treatments can foster recovery and data about the cost-effectiveness of these treatments. We might also adapt messaging strategies that have been shown to reduce stigma towards people with mental illness among the general public. For Action-Oriented Supporters, we might emphasize evidence about laws that have been shown to improve population behavioral health outcomes.

By adopting a market research approach, we hope to generate information that can enhance how we communicate evidence about behavioral health issues to state legislators. The ultimate goal is to cultivate bipartisan support for evidence-supported policies that are likely to improve the lives of people affected by mental health and substance use disorders.

Feature image: Andrii Yalanskyi/iStock. Graphic from the author. 
                    [post_title] => Conducting Market Research to Improve Behavioral Health Policy
                    [post_excerpt] => Advocates who strive to improve public health can learn a lot from advertisers who conduct systematic audience research to sell products. 
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Advocates who strive to improve public health can learn a lot from advertisers who conduct systematic audience research to sell products. 

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Research

The Problems with Plastics

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                    [post_date] => 2018-12-14 05:30:51
                    [post_date_gmt] => 2018-12-14 10:30:51
                    [post_content] => As of 2017, the world has produced 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic. That’s more than 52 million blue whales, 1.5 billion African elephants, or 112 billion people. Eighty percent of that plastic has wound up in landfills, in the ocean, in the guts of birds and animals, everywhere in our environment. Less than one tenth of plastic is recycled. In Plastic Pollution and Potential Solutions, Dr. Christopher Rhodes reviewed plastic production, plastic’s impacts on human and ecosystem health, and waste reduction efforts.

Plastics are primarily produced from crude oil, gas, or coal, and forty percent are discarded after a single use. Nearly half of all plastic products are discarded after a single use and take up to 1000 years to disintegrate. Larger items, such as plastic bags and straws, can choke and starve marine life, while smaller fragments (microplastics) can cause liver, reproductive, and gastrointestinal damage in animals. Humans are also vulnerable because we eat fish and other animals rife with microplastics. Rhodes reports that plastic particles also have been found in water, honey, beer, salt. Plastic toxicity in humans can lead to hormonal disruption and adverse reproductive and birth outcomes.
Humans are also vulnerable because we eat fish and other animals rife with microplastics.  
Dr. Rhodes highlights five efforts to reduce plastic waste in our environment: 1) reduction-of-use, 2) recycling, 3) creation of a circular economy, 4) breaking down plastic waste, and 5) manufacturing plastics that can be easily broken down. Reduction-of-use and recycling are two common efforts that involve discouraging people from purchasing plastics or encouraging re-use. Efforts to create a Circular Economy involve reducing and reusing plastic by supporting economies which focus more on regenerative systems that reduce waste and reuse materials. Somewhat less conventional efforts include breaking down plastic waste. Plastic-eating bacteria, discovered in Japan, have been cultivated and modified to digest polyester plastics (food packaging and plastic bottles). Although created for industrial recycling settings, the bacteria’s speed of digestion is extremely slow, and the potential effects from spraying it directly into our environment make scientists wary.
According to Rhodes, at our current rates of production and pollution, the plastic in our oceans will outweigh the fish by 2050.  
Oxo-biodegradable plastics (or, oxo-degradable) plastics are manufactured to be broken down by ultra-violet radiation and heat, more quickly than regular plastics. Even though oxo-biodegradable plastics can degrade up to 1000 times faster than traditional plastics, their tiny fragments persist in our environment as microplastics. Bioplastics, on the other hand, are formed from natural materials like corn starch that can be digested by bacteria and reabsorbed back into the environment. Although bioplastic waste is better for the environment, their production process is not. Researchers calculate that the agricultural and chemical processing involved in manufacturing bioplastics creates more pollution than regular plastics. According to Rhodes, at our current rates of production and pollution, the plastic in our oceans will outweigh the fish by 2050. Although 28 countries have legislated packaging mandates to reduce plastic packaging, the US government has not. Some states and local governments have stepped up to implement packaging policies aimed at reducing waste. California has set an ambitious goal to reduce packaging waste by 50% by 2020. But as with climate change, the problem is vast and global efforts at amelioration will be difficult. Feature image: Chesapeake Bay ProgramMicroplastics in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Microplastics from the Patapsco River are pictured at the laboratory of Dr. Lance Yonkos in the Department of Environmental Science & Technology at the University of Maryland in College Park, Md., on Feb. 6, 2015, used under CC BY-NC 2.0 [post_title] => The Problems with Plastics [post_excerpt] => As of 2017, the world has produced 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic. A report by Christopher Rhodes highlights five efforts to reduce plastic waste in our environment. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => closed [ping_status] => closed [post_password] => [post_name] => problems-with-plastics [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-12-14 05:40:53 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-12-14 10:40:53 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.publichealthpost.org/?post_type=bu_research&p=6035 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => bu_research [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => BUPHP_Post Object *RECURSION* [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 ) [view] => BUPHP_Post_View Object ( [multipage] => [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => BUPHP_Post Object *RECURSION* [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 ) [extra_args] => Array ( ) [owner] => [_trigger_error:WPLib_Base:private] => 1 )

As of 2017, the world has produced 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic. A report by Christopher Rhodes highlights five efforts to reduce plastic waste in our environment.

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